A long-standing friend and I stood at the window of a bar overlooking an indoor climbing gym. At that point he told me about a rebuke he received from a church elder on one of their evening meetings. As expected, it was over the issue of greeting each other with hugs instead of a stiff handshake. I asked him whether my name was mentioned. His answer was yes, the issue was between him and me. This particular case made it more of an annoying issue because I was not present to defend my case nor his, since these Sunday evening meetings were geared more for students and other people generally young enough to be my grandchildren.
In my annoyance I announced that all this began from a complaint made by the son of another one of our church members, and I told my friend directly that this young man, who is no longer with us, is in the closet. Hence all this palaver about such intimacy "spoiling the imagery of our church among unbelievers" and "to be to the likes all men" are so nonsensical and hypocritical. My friend defended his case by saying that hugging is the norm within African churches, as for some years he spent months doing missionary work, which included installing an electric power generator over a local stream, and making possible the building of a hospital. How the elder responded to such an answer I was not told.
The conversation continued about his own experience on how other college-age singletons had admitted to him about their struggles on sexual libido and fetishes when aroused by the appearance of someone of the same gender. His testimony backs my experience in encountering men who may appear godly and devoted to God on the outside but struggle secretly within when another good-looking fellow is in the same room. And too afraid or reluctant to share to others in case this may bring judgement, condemnation and possible feelings of rejection.
And my friend at the bar should know this well. There are some African nations with a Christian constitution where homosexuality is illegal and offenders can receive a death penalty. One good example is Uganda. On You-Tube, you can click on a video about a British presenter Scott Mills, himself openly gay, and investigating on why there is a high level of homophobia in Uganda along with such a fear of the death penalty. His findings has shown that the three main sources of homophobia were the churches, the Government, and politicians. Echoes of Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas and its late radically homophobic pastor, Fred Phelps, who enjoyed displaying street placards condemning homosexuals to hell, along with the rest of the USA for tolerating it. With such hatred and with many cases of physical abuse, even murders, it's no surprise that even here in the UK, known for its easier and liberal stance on the matter, people are still too much afraid to leave their tightly-shut closets.
|Scott Mills rebuked by a homophobic church leader in Uganda|
And despite of all this, hugging is as natural as it can get in African churches. And as my friend knows it, we hug each other often. And he is a married man with two daughters, just as I too am married and fathered three daughters. And to add to this, it's often a case of him desiring a hug from me as well as me from him. And about a year ago there was a case of an African visitor, himself a married man with children, who after getting acquainted with me, gave me a prolonged rib-crushing embrace, which took place within view of the English church complainer whose son is a secret gay. Not surprisingly, after remarking about the reluctance among Brits to display such emotion, this black charismatic character soon left our church for another fellowship elsewhere. Without doubt, I guess he was firmly rebuked, which prompted him to leave.
It is within me to hug other men in the church, whether they are married or single. However, I have a greater caution about hugging women, in case of offending, although there are some women I do hug. But these I know well enough not to take offence. Nevertheless, among countless man-to-man hugs over four decades, only one complained to the elders, which eventually led me to conclude that he is in the closet. And that is without ever suspecting his fetishes whilst he was still with us. And as I have already mentioned, he is by no means alone. There are a number of others found in churches whose libidos clashes with their Christian faith, and therefore struggle in their conflicts.
Yet I know where my elders are coming from. They'll be the first to quote Leviticus 20:13:-
If a man lies with a man as one lies with a woman, both of them has done what is detestable. They must be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.
Paul the apostle backs this up when he wrote to the Romans:-
Because of this (idolatry), God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations with unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty (STD? AIDS?) for their perversion.
So hugging is condemned! Or is it? Is there a difference between greeting someone with a hug and a scene resembling this:-
Before (Lot and his two guests) had gone to bed, every man from every part of the city of Sodom - both young and old - surrounded the house. They called to Lot, "Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them" (or, we may know them - KJV).
Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him and said, "No, my friends. Don't do this wicked thing. Look, I have two daughters who had never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don't do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof."
"Get out of our way," they replied. And they said, "This fellow came here as an alien, and now he wants to play the judge! We'll treat you worse than them." They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door. But the men reached out and pulled Lot back into the house and shut the door.
And so by hugging another man to greet him in church places me onto the same platform as these inhabitants of the city of Sodom, according to my elder's perception. Or for short, I can be classed as a sodomite! Incredulous. No, I don't believe this. Because even then there is a world of a difference between those Sodomites and these Christian believers who are struggling with their sexual orientation, their fetishes, and their libidos. And so the Christian singleton who totally abstains from any sexual contact even from his girlfriend or fiancee, he is praised by his colleagues as living a holy life, while at the same time his friend, who has a desire for another man standing nearby, is not only wondering whether he has ever been regenerated or not, but lives in fear of discovery and judgement. The snag is, the "spiritually pure" hetero who is engaged to be married and is perceived as living in godliness, is not necessarily free from a sudden rush of blood if he glances at another pretty female standing nearby.
And where heterosexuality is concerned, there has always this perception within churches that to cohabit outside marriage is wrong and sinful. No, I am not advocating cohabitation. But I am rather surprised, and somewhat relieved too, by not seeing a chaperone whenever a church member pairs off with a girlfriend and start to deepen their relationship. Am I being cynical here? In the church I attended between 1975 and 1990, there was a deacon who was a self-appointed chaperone and always interfered whenever a young man, normally a graduate, gets friendly with a similarly aged female. Fortunately for Alex and myself, there was no chaperone to interfere with us before we married, since this was long after I left that church. Therefore we did cohabit for a few months before we married, including having sex. When a member of my former church - who was chaperoned along with his future partner before they were married - found out about us living together without a wedding ring on our fingers, he got quite cross about it.
He began to lecture me about sex being reserved for married couples only. He then blushed as he attempted to splutter out the second chapter of Genesis. As he was blushing, I could almost see the accusing finger of God pointing at him rather than at me. The reason for this was simple. He was, and still is, a staunch evolutionist, and therefore denied the historicity of pre-Abrahamic Scriptures and in effect calling God a liar. Little wonder if I were to say to any unchurched:- Cohabitation without getting married is against my religion - I would put anyone off seeking faith in God, and be a slippery path towards atheism.
The way I see it, this is rather a delicate subject. Especially when I read things in the Bible, particularly in the Old Testament. For example, Abraham slept with at least one woman aside his own wife Sarah. He slept with Hagar, who gave birth to Ishmael. Then his grandson Jacob was a bigamist, for he married both Leah and Rachel within a week of each other. And I doubt whether any church at present would endorse bigamy. Then there is the case of King David. And here I read something of specific interest. Yes, we all agree that David sinned against God when he slept with Bathsheba, because she was the wife of another man, Uriah the Hittite, a soldier for Israel who was very loyal to David. But what Nathan had to say in judgement to the King I find interesting:-
This is what the Lord the God of Israel, says:
"I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master's house to you, and your master's wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this has been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own.
2 Samuel 12:7-10.
The issue here is that God gave Saul's wives and concubines to David. So apparently David did not sin against God when he slept with all these women. Instead, this was in keeping with Middle Eastern culture and tradition - for a king or rich aristocrat to have a harem of concubines. King David had ten concubines, according to 2 Samuel 15:16 and 20:3. This was perfectly normal. In fact, Jesus himself used the same Middle Eastern custom in his Parable of the Ten Virgins to illustrate the Kingdom of God (Matthew 25:1-13). They were all virgins. Five were wise, five foolish. When the king arrived, he took in the five who were readily available to form his son's harem. They were distinguished from the son's actual bride, the king's legal daughter in law.
So with all I can perceive, it is sinful to lie with another man's wife. And this applies to divorce, about which Jesus says that anyone who marries a divorcee commits adultery (Luke 16:18). Apparently, as God sees it, a divorcee is still married to the former spouse. So according to Jesus' words, to marry someone divorced is to commit adultery. And becomes even worse than that. All the guy has to do is look at a woman lustfully and his has committed adultery with her already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28). I suppose this could apply to someone who has a fetish for someone of the same gender:- I say to you, if any man looks lustfully at another man, he has committed sodomy with him in his heart already. Little wonder any Christian with this problem struggles and often falls away.
And this whole matter seems grossly unfair. A man looks at a woman with lust and he is condemned, even if he does nothing to her. Then we read of David having ten concubines, any one of them welcomed to his bed. Or how about David's son Solomon, perhaps the most wise king throughout all history. Not only had he impressed the Queen of Sheba with his wisdom but managed to get a thousand wives and concubines into his bed! That is one woman each night for three years (1 Kings 11:1-4). It is worth noting here that Solomon married and slept with foreign women, those who were not of Israel. Solomon's sin was allowing himself to be led astray into idolatry. If he had kept his harem within the realm of Israeli women, more likely he would have stayed true to God, and the splitting of the nation between Israel and Judah which followed his death might have been avoided.
It's so messy, coming to think of it. So controversial. Here is Abraham, Jacob, David and Solomon sleeping around rather freely. Even Jesus used the harem in one of his parables. Then come to the present, and we see the church judging any believer or member having sex outside of marriage. Really, as one of the guilty party myself, where do I stand?
And it's here where the Gospel comes in. Gospel simply means Good News. Very good news indeed. Because as Paul also wrote to the church in Rome, all one has to do is believe in his heart that God raised Jesus physically from the dead and confess him as the Messiah, the Son of God, and he will be saved (Romans 10:9-13). This is the promise of God, that his salvation is open to all believers, regardless of his background or what he has done. Whether a married man faithful to his wife or a pimp with prostitutes or a homosexual out on a cruise - salvation is open to all.
Open to all who believes in his heart the Resurrection of Jesus. He who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God - 1 John 5:1. The Death, Burial and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth regenerates the heart, the threefold revelation brings new desires, which includes a new spirit which cannot sin, and the ability to turn away known sin. But not out of compulsion or legalism. Nor for the fear of punishment. Rather, by the gradual replacement of old, sinful desires with good, God-honouring wishes. The work of grace.