Monday, June 14, 2010

Core Values ... or Puritanical Legalism?

You'd have to be a hermit in the tundra to be unaware of how conservative Christians have upheld opposition to abortion, contraception, homosexuality and sex education other than "abstinence-only" as going against their beliefs. What you may not have heard is how it's been ratcheted up. These positions aren't just beliefs, or even "deeply-held religious beliefs" -- they are now deemed "core values."

So now we have a conservative Christian university student claiming a right to refuse to counsel openly gay clients because she claims it would contradict the "core values" of her faith.

On the flip side, a nun who approved an abortion to save a critically ill woman's life is not only fired from her post at Saint Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix but excommunicated from her church, because Bishop Thomas Olmstead apparently holds as a core value of Catholic faith that "the mother may in fact die along with her child."

When Jesus was asked: "What is the greatest commandment?" he did not talk about carrying pregnancies to term, rejecting anything outside of heterosexuality, or more generally talking about sexual purity. All of that was secondary. He answered the question about the greatest commandment -- the core value of his day -- thusly:

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, "You shall love your neighbor s yourself."

Let me go further, and give an example of how Jesus put this into practice. That would be when a Roman centurion -- not just a gentile, but an active participant in the military occupation of Judea -- comes to him asking that he heal his servant, who is seriously ill. And not just any servant. In the extant Greek, the centurion describes him specifically as his pais and entimos duolos -- denoting not just any male slave but one obtained to share his bed as his lover.

What did Jesus do? Did he tell the centurion: "Sorry, but helping a gentile oppressor, and a homosexual to boot, goes against my core values"? No, he said very simply and clearly that he would go to the centurion's house to heal the young man. And when the centurion asserted his belief that Jesus had the power to heal without having to step into his house, Jesus praised him for his faith, and did so.

The very phrase core value depends on the concept that certain beliefs and principles are dependent upon others. Belief in prayer, for example, depends upon the belief that you are praying to some entity or power worthy of receiving those prayers. And the belief that one should help those in need regardless of their station in life depends in turn on the core values that each human being, created in the image of the Divine, is worthy of respect and love -- even a sinner or an enemy.

To hold up specific doctrines about sexuality above the more central value of compassion is more than mere legalism. It is virtual idolatry. It is confusing means with ends, giving more weight to selected issues than to the central message of one's faith, and in that process, distorting that faith beyond recognition.

Jesus condemned Pharisees and Saducees for doing much the same thing. What would he who healed the "honored slave" of a gentile soldier, and without hesitation, say to those who would refuse to do so today?

1 comment:

  1. "To hold up specific doctrines about sexuality above the more central value of compassion is more than mere legalism. It is virtual idolatry."

    Oh, snap! You ARE right, of course, IMHO. I wonder if any people guilty of this particular wrongdoing will recognize it.