There is a growing problem among Christians of all denominations in interpreting Scripture. It isn’t a new problem, either. For centuries Christians have had a problem with interpreting Scripture in context. It is much easier to take a few select passages and absolutize them. Then the interpretation of all other passages must be bent to fit in with the interpretation of the absolutized passages.
One example of this is the belief in sola scriptura. Those who hold this belief must take the few passages which speak of the importance of Scripture, and bend their interpretation to mean that only Scripture is the measuring stick for the truth of different beliefs, practices, ceremonies, etc. All other passages of Scripture which seem to conflict with this view must, subsequently, be interpreted to fit with this belief.
There is a growing problem, however, of Christians absolutizing certain passages of Scripture to make it seem as if Christ’s ministry was primarily concerned with social issues. Such Christians treat Jesus as if He was merely a great moral teacher. His focus was bringing peace, love, tolerance, etc. into the world.
Such an interpretation misses the true meaning of the Gospel. Yes, Jesus did bring love into the world, but not primarily in a social sense. He did preach showing respect and tolerance to all people, but never did Jesus forbid calling sin sin. Never did Jesus forbid us from properly rebuking sinners. Never did Jesus command us to accept sin. We must accept the sinner, yes; but we never should accept sin itself.
Preaching the so-called “Social Gospel” ignores the fact that when Jesus was presented in the Temple, Simeon predicted Jesus would be the “rise and fall of many”. Jesus Himself said He came “not to bring peace, but a sword”.
The “Social Gospel” also ignores the fact that Jesus made a whip out of chords and chased certain merchants out of the Temple, because they were extorting the faithful Jews trying to purchase materials necessary to make the required sacrifice out of money. This is no “Social Gospel” Jesus taught us. He taught us love and tolerance, but He also taught us tough love. If God is so easygoing, then explain Hell?
As for Jesus being a mere moral teacher…that is completely false. When Jesus was asked if He was the Son of God He said, “I AM.” There were multiple ways to say I am in ancient Hebrew. Jesus used the form reserved for God Himself after He used that form to announce His name in Exodus. There are many instances in the New Testament that bears out the fact that Jesus claimed to be God.
The main point here is that the “Social Gospel” misses the point. We can, and should, be kind to all sinners. In fact, we must be, because every single one of us are sinners. This does not equate, however, with accepting sin. We Catholics have a saying for this. It says, “Love the sinner, but hate the sin.”
One of the biggest issues within the “Social Gospel” is homosexuality. Anyone who opposes the lifestyle is branded as a bigot, or a homophobe. The fact is, the Bible refers to homosexual acts as an “abomination”, and Jesus gave no indication of changing this view. Every reference He made to marriage and sex was to one man and one woman. Jesus gave no indication that homosexual acts were to be accepted.
I am not advocating being rude to homosexuals. I am simply advocating Catholic Teaching, which demands we separate the dinner from the sin. Even St. Paul speaks of a war in his body. St. Paul says, in fact, that he often does “what he does not wish”. In other words, we know sin is wrong, and may not will it generally; but we incline toward sin, and therefore, we may will it in certain circumstances without willing it generally. So the sinner is not his sins.
This is how we must view it. Only in this way can we treat the sinner properly. Someone who has homosexual tendencies is not doing anything wrong by having the tendencies. I have the tendency to be short-tempered. If I learn to control this tendency and not lose my temper (or lose it out of proportion), then I am not committing sin. Having an inclination to sin is not, in itself, sinful. It is what we do with those inclinations that can be sinful.
I can not stand it when my children talk back to me, argue with me, or question me when I give them orders I shouldn’t have to give them in the first place. Sometimes I have the tendency to get too angry about these things. (Some days are better than others.) Yet, when I control myself and don’t overreact, I am not committing sin. In fact, I am doing the will of God in fighting an evil tendency in myself.
You can not simply explain this away by claiming that homosexuality is no mere evil inclination, mental illness, or disordering of human nature. I have often heard the claim that homosexuality is an orientation. This is a poor defense. The human being is more than his/her “sexual orientation”. Who you are attracted to does not define you. A human being is a composite of things, and can not be identified merely by sexual preference.
One may not be able to choose their sexual preference, but to act on it is a choice. I am attracted to women, but not to all women. There are certain physical and character traits a woman must possess. Further, while there is more than one woman on Earth who possesses these traits, I have made the choice to commit myself to only one of these women. I choose to be with only one woman who possesses the traits I am attracted to.
It is no different for homosexuals. They are attracted to people of the same sex, and that can not be controlled. What they can control is acting on it. Not all straight people sleep with everyone they’re attracted to. Some choose not to sleep with anyone at all! Homosexuals are equally capable of making the same decision.
The “Social Gospel” would have us believe that homosexuality is primarily a social issue. Since it involves human sexuality, however, it is not. Sex is primarily meant for procreation. Since the creative act is really dependent on God, the act is sacred. Engaging in sexual acts preventing procreation, therefore, is sacrilege. (The exception, of course, being the use of NFP for grave reasons.) Homosexuality is just such an act.
So far I have focused on the “Social Gospel” turning primarily spiritual issues into social issues. Earlier, however, I mentioned how the “Social Gospel” tended to make Jesus’ teachings be primarily about social issues. It tends to distort Jesus’ message. The “Social Gospel” would have us believe Jesus primarily came into the world to teach us that everyone is free to make their own choices, and we should never criticize these choices.
In fact, this is the opposite of what Jesus taught us. People are free to make their own decisions, but there are right and wrong decisions. All actions-no matter how private they may seem-have social effects. There is no such thing as a purely private sin. Masturbation and pornography have social effects. This is a fact that can not reasonably be denied. Hence, we must oppose all sin. We can not accept sin.
The “Social Gospel” would have us believe Jesus came to eradicate suffering, unhappiness, and inequality from our lives. How then did He, Who is God, allow Himself to suffer and die for our sins? Why did He allow inequalities to exist even among His closest followers? Not all if Jesus’ Apostles received the “keys to the kingdom of heaven”! Jesus did not even attempt to erase poverty when He was on Earth. Actually, He taught us to accept our lot in life. That does not mean we can’t work to better our situation. It simply means that we must accept what we can not change. Isn’t there a prayer about that?
The fact is, the “Social Gospel” is enormously flawed. Jesus did not come primarily to correct social wrongs. Certainly we should work to correct social wrongs, but such was not Jesus’ main point. He came into the world to “testify to the truth”. The truth that He has given us in Scripture, and in the Teachings of the Church He established on the “rock” that is the papacy!
Peace in Christ,
David J. Pollard
American Catholic Solidarity