Series

Social Justice or Kingdom Righteousness? Part 4

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In response to feedback that this series is a little dense for many, we will unpack the content so it is more accessible.

We are discussing what our Prime Minister considers the “fundamental reason” why the lease on the land has to be 99 years (and not longer or freehold). The reason is moral. If the land is not redistributed after 99 years, Singapore will have a landed and a landless class and this will surely lead to social unrest. Therefore the state has to take possession of the land to redistribute and rejuvenate it.  

The morality of the land distribution by the government begins with how the government has land to lease.

Land acquisition, improvement, and redistribution

Soon after Singapore became independent, the government passed the Land Acquisition Act (1966). This law gives the government power to acquire private land by compulsion for public development; and the amount of compensation is also determined by the government.  In 1949, the state owned 31% of the land, but by 1985, the state owned 76.2% of Singapore. (https://bit.ly/2wXOEnt).

The acquisition of private land is not unique to Singapore. Many countries do it because private owners can block public development. Private owners can be selfish, or they can demand exorbitant compensation, or use their ownership as blackmail against development.  The acquisition of private land is called “eminent domain” in the US, “compulsory purchase” in the UK, NZ and Ireland, etc. They all mean the same thing: the mandatory acquisition of land from an unwilling private seller because the interest of the state must take precedence over the interest of an individual.

This is different from private acquisition of land. In Singapore, private acquisition is determined by the willing sale of 80% of the share owners of the property. Most people think this is eminently just, even though some may be extremely disgruntled by the collective decision, or suffer from the sale. The principle is that a significant majority should have the power to change the status quo because they are acting in their interest.

However, we need to be careful and not give a government unbridled power to acquire land where no such majority is required. In the Bible, we have a case of an unwilling seller and the king’s forced acquisition of land.

King Ahab wanted Naboth’s beautiful vineyard, but Naboth did not want to sell. This troubled Ahab so his wife created false charges against Naboth and had him stoned to death. His vineyard was confiscated. God sent Ahab a message through Elijah the prophet, Go down to meet Ahab king of Israel, who rules in Samaria. He is now in Naboth’s vineyard, where he has gone to take possession of it.  Say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Have you not murdered a man and seized his property?’ Then say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: In the place where dogs licked up Naboth’s blood, dogs will lick up your blood—yes, yours!’” (1 Kings 21:18-19)

The king cannot acquire private property for personal gain. And the unjust use of law to deprive a person of his property and his life is an abomination in the eyes of God.

Let’s take the story of Naboth’s vineyard in a different direction. Let’s say Jezebel declared Naboth’s vineyard must be acquired for public good and he was not killed, but simply removed from his land. After the land was acquired, it was never used for public good. If that were the case, the evil may not be as heinous, but few will argue that it is acceptable.

I like to suggest two criteria that justify government land acquisition. (1) It is done for the public good; and (2) there should be fair compensation for the land that is acquired. The government must conscientiously demonstrate in every instance that the land it acquires is truly done for the public good.  People who are concerned with justice in society need to be the watchdog over the government and hold the government accountable. The acquisition of land for public good must be real and not a pretext.

Let’s consider a purely theoretical situation. Let’s say you own a piece of prime freehold land, but there is something about you the government does not like. The government acquires your land for “public good” and compensates you with (1) a piece of leasehold land that is not prime and (2) a paltry cash payment not enough to rebuild what you lose on the land. This course of action is fundamentally unjust even though it is done for the public good.

But there is more. Twenty years later, the land the government acquired from you is left fallow and no public good has come from the land you lost. Now it is clear that there is no kingdom righteousness with this acquisition. How can people hold the government accountable for every piece of land that is acquired?

The Christian community in Singapore is largely non-adversarial towards the government.  That is a good thing. We are not called to be contra-culture and we do not have a political agenda. But we do have an agenda of righteousness; of justice in society. In this regard, the Christian community in Singapore appears to be too pliant. We seem to accept government decisions and actions without question. This is where we have room to improve. We must be aware that no government is perfect, no matter how good that government may be. The people need to hold the government accountable. While this is true in all areas, it is certainly true in the matter of land acquisition. The Christian must want a righteousness in land acquisition that brings blessings to a nation, a kingdom righteousness that Jesus taught.

Hence, the moral references to land acquired for HDB housing are that (1) it is land acquired for the public good and (2) it is land that the government has paid fair compensation. On the second condition, we may be justified to ask if the government had paid fair compensation. But there is another side to poor compensation. If the land is acquired through a token sum from private persons, is the land sold to the public also based on a token sum?

The land the government acquires has to be improved. That costs money. When we finally get our HDB flat there are many costs in addition to the land acquisition cost. Let’s say the land costs $1million and all the improvements including the building of 100 flats costs $9million. This adds up to $10million. As a non-profit public housing entity, the HDB should then sell the units at cost, which is $100,000 each. This would justify land acquisition at the token sum of $1million.

Did the government charge us cost for the HDB flats? We don’t know because the public is denied access to such information. The issue of the lease renewal also renews this question. Are we paying cost? Many doubt it. I think it is healthier for the Singapore government to hold itself accountable to its people on the real cost of HDB flats and how the cost is broken down.

Solving the Problem of the 99 year HDB lease

I disclaim all cleverness or ability to think better than people whose paygrade I will never attain.  But what I want to explore with you are situations that are already in operation and ask if these are better moral and practical considerations to the problem of the 99 year HDB lease.

  1. Why can’t HDB flats privatize like HUDC and become private estates?

HUDC flats were privatized and they function like other private housing estates. The privatization of the HUDC has been overwhelmingly successful in that the land can be sold to private developers at market price. If the owners refuse to sell, the building gets older and eventually the lease runs out. So it is in their best interest to sell at some point before the lease runs out or the building becomes unmanageable. The government still makes money charging the premium differential for renewing of the lease to 99 years but is free from the duty of managing the housing.

The proposed VERS program is a type of a government guarantee that housing that is not desirable to the private market can be redeemed by the government. But as in all government acquisitions, the owner is left with no option. If we are made to pay for the land again, then it is unjust. Development costs must be paid, but the land is already paid by the citizens of this country and it would be unjust to make the citizens pay again.

  1. Do freehold properties create a class divided society?

Singapore has freehold properties. Do these properties get passed down in perpetuity? I think there are not many freehold properties owned by more than three generations; we don’t need to speak of perpetuity.

Let’s look at freehold condominiums. Do they create class societies through perpetual ownership? History does not bear it out. Further, the wear and tear on a building does not allow perpetual ownership. I am not entirely convinced of the argumentation that we will have a class-divided society unless the government takes back the land. I think it is good that we take steps to preempt a class-divided society, but we can ask if taking back the people’s land is the best way to do so.

 [To continue …]

Pastor Peter Eng

 

Social Justice or Kingdom Righteousness? Part 3

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HDB 99 Year Lease And Social Justice

The Prime Minister of Singapore recently unveiled the government’s plan concerning the 99 year lease for HDB flats. Singaporeans don’t use the label “social justice” in our deliberation, and that is just as well. The label does not shed light. But the way the 99 year lease is handled is a typical case concerning social justice.

The Prime Minister gave two reasons why the 99 year lease must stay. The first reason is the need to redistribute land to ensure social equality. The second is the practical consideration that buildings do not last beyond 99 years.

The Second Reason

We will discuss the second reason first. It is true that buildings do not last beyond 99 years. HDB flats, like other buildings, need rejuvenation after around 30 years. Things wear out and have to be repaired, and as social needs change, utilization of ancillary land or common spaces also change. While it is true that land rejuvenation has to happen, the question is why 99 years and not a lease that matches the actual longevity of the 30 years of a building?

All land in communist China is state-owned. The leases for residential land used to be 20-30 years. With the liberalization of the command economy, the leases were revised upward, up to 70 years. This led to a boom in construction and the appreciation of property prices. Homes can now become an asset that protects against inflation, and can be passed on to the next generation.

You would ordinarily expect capital decay over the duration of the lease. Long leases, when new, have an expiration in the far horizon, and that allows the land to appreciate (if the conditions are right). The long lease allows temporary appreciation, but the decay of capital becomes more aggressive as the lease draws to the end. In all cases, the lessee (private entity) returns the land to the lessor (the state).

In Singapore, private leases from the state for 99 years can be redeveloped and the lease can be rejuvenated back to 99 years through the payment of a premium differential. But that option does not appear to be available to the owners of HDB flats, that is, until the recent announcement of a Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme for HDB flats. This will not happen for another 20 years. It does, however, give an option to the HDB owner hitherto not known. The HDB flat owners will have the option to sell the remaining lease back to HDB which will get the lease back to 99 years. The price may be attractive (like in private collective sale) or it may not be attractive (since there is no competitive offer for the land).

The Bible and the Year of Jubilee

Let’s look at God’s heart on the matter of land distribution and leases. This can be found in the God’s assertion to Israel that all land belongs to him and it is his to give as he chooses. He chose the twelve land parcels for the twelve tribes (Levites get none and the sons of Joseph get two allotments). The land is subsequently further divided among the tribes, and this constitutes the permanent land owners.

In the Jewish calendar, there is to be a Jubilee year every 50 years. In the year of Jubilee, the land that is sold will be returned to the original owner according to his tribe. The way it works is that if a man sells his land for whatever reason, usually because of poverty, that land is really a lease, and that lease is to end with the year of Jubilee. So if it is only one year to the Jubilee, that land is leased for 1 year. If it is 49 years to the Jubilee, the land is leased for 49 years. The basic rule is that the lease will terminate on the year of Jubilee, and the land reverts to the original owner or his heir. A type of “reversionary right” to the land. This system prevents systemic poverty as the children of debt ridden parents have a chance to start afresh when they regain their ancestral land.

The First Reason

The land reversion based on a maximum of a 49 year lease in the Bible, to prevent intergenerational poverty, is somewhat expressed in the first reason why HDB leases expire at 99 years. The Prime Minister said,

“There is one fundamental reason why HDB leases are for 99 years. And that is, we need to be fair to future generations. … After that (99 years), the flat comes back to the state, the Government redevelops the land, and builds new flats for future generations. This is the only way to recycle the land, to ensure that all our descendants can buy new BTO flats of their own.

“If instead the Government sold you the flat on freehold … , sooner or later we would run out of land to build new flats for future generations.”

“The owners would pass down the flat to some of their descendants …. Those not lucky enough to inherit a property, they would get nothing. So our society would be split into property owners and those who cannot afford a property. That would be most unequal, and socially divisive.”

He is not wrong to say that a 99 year lease is a very long time. The biblical lease is half that time. He is also right to say that if the property is handed down in perpetuity and all the land is bought up, we create two classes in society, those who own land and those who don’t. And those who don’t own land will live in perpetual poverty.

Analysis

Even though the Prime Minister did not use the term “social justice” (for which I am glad), he is right in that there must be a way of equitable distribution of a nation’s assets. Unless we do so, there will be poverty and there will be a landed and a landless class. This will lead to the oppression of the poor and perhaps eventually an uprising of the poor landless people against the rich landed people.

There is one fundamental difference between the biblical Jubilee and state owned land sold on leases. It is the question of who holds the reversionary right to the land. In the case of Singapore, it is the state. In the case of Israel, it is the ancestral holding, that is private ownership. The entity that holds the reversionary right to the land is the true owner of wealth and has the real power. In a communist / socialist system, the land is owned by the state leased out to different entities for various durations. The Singapore government identified itself as a democratic-socialist government. The state acquisition of land and the leasing of land to entities is typical of a socialist government. It can be argued that this has to be done because of the real scarcity of land in Singapore. But it is primarily done as a matter of socialist principle. At the same time, Singapore is not completely socialist in that there are properties that are “freehold” or “fee simple.” We will not have a landed versus a landless class. But we do have a freehold vs a leasehold class.

I am not suggesting that the Jubilee system can be implemented in our day and age. And if there is a way to do it, I don’t know how. The main difference is that if the land that comes to the end of its lease is taken as true state land (owned by the people), the new lease of the land ought to reflect that. That is to say, if the land is sold, the proceeds go to the people. Alternatively, the land is developed (at a cost) but the land itself is free because it belongs to the people.

The Singapore government has not been forthcoming in how the cost of HDB flats are calculated, so we don’t know if the HDB pays for the land it develops (land that belongs to the people); or that HDB gets the land free (since it is for the citizens and the land belongs to the citizens). If the land is free for public housing, then the government would be rightly treating the land as owned by the people but managed by the government. If its citizens are made to pay for land they own (via the state), then there should be a justification for it.

The reversion of land for redistribution after a term of lease is consistent with the biblical principle of the reversion of land to prevent intergenerational poverty. The Bible is silent of who owns the land outside of the land of Israel, but the Bible is clear that God is the creator of the heaven and earth, and therefore the rightful owner. There will be a great reversion of land globally. When Jesus returns to claim the world for himself, he will assert himself as the creator-owner of the world. There will be a redistribution of land to the children of the king, who are the resurrected, and who live in the resurrected body in the new heaven and the new earth.

Before the realization of the great reversion of the earth to God, we can support the principle of land reversion to prevent intergenerational poverty. However, that begs the question, “To whom should the land revert before it reverts to God the creator?” The answer is left to us to determine. Every society will have its own set of circumstances and there should be open and careful deliberation on what actions will result in generations with opportunities to prosper regardless of what previous generations had done.

 [To continue …]

Pastor Peter Eng

 

Social Justice or Kingdom Righteousness? Part 2

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The Spirit of the Age

I recall with shame how foolish we all were. Even though I did not personally engage in it, I gave it tacit support. In the 70s, ideas of socialism and communism had gained strong intellectual traction in the public domain. Christians joined the spirit of the age, saying that the first socialist/communist manifestation is found in the Bible. Jesus tells the parable of three sets of workers who work different lengths of time in a day and they are all paid the same, much to the chagrin of those who work longer (Matthew 20:1-16). This seems to be a case of equal outcome to unequal input, supporting both communism and social justice. In another instance, we have needy people in the church and others with great wealth. The rich sold their property to feed the poor (Acts 2:44-45) – apparently, a communist ideal.

Is this the real meaning of Matthew 20 and Acts 2?

Acts 2:44-45 speaks of people putting money into a common pool to feed the poor. It is voluntary giving. Social justice strongly advocates the role and duty of the government to redistribute wealth, usually not without coercion. There is no similarity between the voluntary help to the needy and the coerced redistribution of wealth. The communist giver is motivated by fear and not love, and the communist recipient receives the redistributed wealth as a greedy entitlement with no gratitude.

Immediately following the statement that people sold their property to feed the poor, we are told, the believers “broke bread in their homes and ate together …” (Acts 2:46) This would be impossible if all their homes were sold. Acts 2:44-45 is a general and expansive statement celebrating the sacrificial giving of some in the community, not an absolute statement. It is not a prescription for action, nor is it an ideal for our perpetual emulation.

Not long after this event, there arose a couple who wanted the praise of man among the believers. They sold their property and claimed to have given all the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute. Peter’s rhetorical question in response to them is instructive, “Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal?” (Acts 5:4). The church never claimed an individual’s wealth. Private ownership was never discouraged.

We see this phenomenon again later in the book of Acts. When King Agrippa I persecuted the Christians by beheading James and throwing Peter into prison, the believers gathered in the home of Mary to pray for Peter. When God delivered Peter from prison, he went to Mary’s home to look for the other disciples. From the description we have, it was a big house with an outer courtyard and she had at least one servant employed in the household (Acts 12:12-17). If all the believers sold their homes, how did Mary come by this substantial home so soon after giving away everything?

The parable of equal reward in Matthew 20:1-16 has a context. Peter had asked Jesus, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” (Matthew 19:27). Jesus replied at three levels. First, the twelve will be as prominent in the Kingdom of God as the twelve patriarchs (19:28). Second, all who make sacrifices will be rewarded many times over (19:29). Third, “But many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first.” (19:30). Jesus then tells the parable of equal reward and repeats the same apothegm “So the last will be first and the first will be last.” (20:16). This forms the literary inclusio on the third group that will get a reward. The first two groups do not get equal reward, only the third group gets equal reward. This dispels the myth of citing this text as proof for equal outcomes.

Next we ask what is with the third group that they get equal reward. Who or what is Jesus referring to?

The literary inclusio “the last will be first and the first will be last” tells us two things about the third group. The first is that there will be a reversal of sequence of reward for this group. The second is that there is equal reward.

Jesus is talking about who enters the kingdom of heaven. The Jews who first hear the Good News of the kingdom will enter last while the Gentiles who hear it last will enter first. The reward of inclusion in the kingdom of heaven is a generous reward. A denarius for a day’s work for a laborer was generous. But it was even more generous pay for an hour’s work. This is the meaning of God’s grace. A person who enters God’s kingdom one hour before he dies is saved no less than a person who lives for God his whole life. There is a reward that is both generous and common to all.

In the parable, the equal reward of eternal life is never based on the goodness of the unemployed men incapable of providing for themselves or their family, it is the gracious provision of the generous employer who gives meaningful and gainful employment. In the whole story of Jesus, there is an even greater imbalance of unequal input that produces the same outcome of eternal life. Jesus the sinless Lamb of God dies to procure our salvation. What more unequal input is there? But the outcome of equal reward of eternal life is all of grace.

The current Christian infatuation with social justice is similar to the Christian infatuation with communism in the decades past. We are children of our time. But the Word of God calls us to a wisdom that lifts us up in courageous thought that rises above the shifting opinions of the world.

I don’t want to muddle through social justice as I did communism. I don’t want to approach social justice with a desire to justify it or to castigate it. I need to know social justice on its own terms and not baptize it with Christian thinking. With that in mind, my first realization is that social justice has a different moral referent from Scripture.

The Referent

Why is something good or bad? Social Justice is a moral expression of humanism. “Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively….” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Humanism, 18 Aug 2018). In humanism, we humans decide what is right or wrong, and right or wrong depends on whether it benefits humans. Social justice as an expression of humanism emphasizes equal outcome, diversity, and the creation of supportive environments (as noted earlier).

In contrast, the Judeo-Christian morality draws from monotheism. Monotheism is the belief there is only one God the creator of all things who determines right and wrong. Right and wrong issues from God’s character and God’s commands. God’s commands are consistent with his character even if some commands relate only to human life (e.g. marriage). The end
result of justice in society is that it brings glory to God. In contrast to humanism, the good that is accomplished is not what satisfies human wants, but what brings glory to God. God is glorified in us, when we are satisfied in him. So ironically, human satisfaction is to be found in God, not in any human self-actualization collectively or individually.

Tom Holland (British author, not the actor of Spiderman) is an atheist who authored several prominent books. He held the typical humanist view that Christianity created a huge blot against the progress of human goodness ushered in by the Greeks and the Romans. The triumph of Christianity brought in superstition, the crusades, the inquisitors and, eventually, dour puritans. But in 2016, this scholar of classical studies wrote an article that shocked his peers. “Why I was wrong about Christianity” a candid admission of his mistaken view. “It took me a long time to realise my morals are not Greek or Roman, but thoroughly, and proudly, Christian.” (https://goo.gl/2Py6UW)

Holland’s realization helps us understand humanism and social justice (the moral system based on humanism.)

Humanism argues that the moral goodness in the world today arose on the back of the Renaissance, which is a rebirth of the Greco-Roman worldview. Tom Holland came to the realization that the Greco-Roman world was brutal and their moral philosophy does not resemble what he holds to be right and wrong. His humanistic moral values are ultimately traceable to Christianity, to Jesus and to Paul.

Humanism takes what the Bible affirms about human values and human rights and elevates this good and make it the ultimate good. This is why humanism looks so much like Christianity, and seems to agree so much with Christian morals. Humanism is an imitation of Christianity, humanism is not the legacy of the Greco-Roman world but the illegitimate child of Christian morality. In that sense, Holland is right to trace the morals of humanism back to Jesus and Paul.

Idolatry is to take a good and turn it into the ultimate good. Humanism is the idolatry of taking humans, God’s good creation, and turning it into the ultimate good. Humanism is the sin of rebellion against God as God. It is when we are enticed by the whisper of the serpent, “You will be like God knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5). Ironically, when we believe that lie, we lose our discernment of good and evil.

 [To continue …]

Pastor Peter Eng

 

Social Justice or Kingdom Righteousness? Part 1

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What is Social Justice?

My failure to understand social justice begins when I do the logical thing of putting together the two words “social” and “justice” to mean “justice in society.” But when I listen to discussions on social justice I know something is amiss.  Social justice is not about justice in a society. It is a term for a certain view of society. So what does it mean?

Different people understand social justice differently. Yet we can identify certain fundamental concepts in social justice without too much debate.

The first pillar in social justice is the equality of outcome.  Communism stands for the equality of input, and expects the equality of outcome. This has failed miserably for reasons history has already documented. Social justice is more sophisticated in that when the goal is the equality of outcome, it advocates unequal input to arrive at equal outcome.  Thus, social justice is better positioned to reach the goal of equal outcome by advocating unequal input.

Nowhere is this more apparent than “Affirmative Action” in university admissions. A school may decide it has too many successful students of a particular race, and decides that the underrepresented race deserves a leg-up by lowering the admission criteria for the underrepresented race, and conversely, raise the admission criteria for the overrepresented race. By this means, a university is able to admit the exact racial percentages they choose.  Of course, this can be done for graduation too. If not enough students of a certain race is getting a passing grade, they can just lower the passing grade for the underperforming race. That way, the school will get the graduation percentage they want from the races.

The University of Malaysia openly uses race in its admission criteria, ostensibly to give more opportunities to one race. Some other schools do it surreptitiously. A case in point is Harvard University. Experience tells us Harvard sets a much higher bar of admittance for Asians (and there is an ongoing lawsuit to hold them accountable). The same goes with medical schools because they think Asian doctors are overrepresented. Cambridge University does the same thing. A Singapore student with top grades will be rejected in favor of a student from a third world country. If you are in the academic loop, these stories are all too familiar to you.

I will be remiss to omit mention that not all admission restrictions are motivated by social justice. For example, a country has the social responsibility to provide qualified health care professionals, and decide that 95% of the vacancies should go to locals who fill the health care needs of the society.  The action is not motivated by some perceived injustice among people groups, instead it is there to fill a real social need.

Another expression of equality of outcome can be found in the expression “equal work for equal pay.” I have two real life cases that help clarify my thinking.

Many years back, I applied for an employment visa at the US Embassy, and was surprised by the experience of a blind interviewer. It became clear to me that this blind man was extremely competent. It seems to me that this is a strong case to support “equal work for equal pay.”

In another instance, I knew of a handicapped law student, confidently asserting that she did not want charity and she was the equal to any other student. At the same time, friends had to carry her books for her, help her take lecture notes, and even accompany her to the toilet because she had a high risk of falls. When she graduates, she will want equal pay for equal work. She can never do equal work, so should she expect equal pay?

The current peeve of media journalists is the lament over “income inequality” referring to the gap between the rich and the poor of a country (e.g. the Gini index). Hong Kong and Singapore are considered some of the “worst” countries in terms of income gap/inequality. Social justice assumes injustice is involved when the income gap is wide, and justice is found where the gap is narrow. But it does not take a genius to figure out that it is better to be poor in Singapore which has a big income gap than to be poor in Bangladesh which has a narrow income gap. Actual prosperity is clearly more important than the income gap. This obsession with income gap is puzzling to me. Why does concern for income gap take over the concern for quality of life? It takes a better mind than mine to work this out.

The second pillar in social justice is the desire for diversity. This includes concepts related to multiculturalism, and inclusivity.  The argument is that diversity enriches a community or a nation, individuals have a right to maintain their cultural uniqueness, and society needs to create inclusive spaces for the flourishing of diversity, usually without regard to what that diversity may mean.

We can easily see the need for both diversity or homogeneity. Singapore embraced multiculturalism through our official languages, through deliberate governmental efforts in cross-cultural interactions, etc. At the same time, without the homogeneity of a common language of business through which we can communicate with the rest of the world (i.e. English), we will not be able to flourish.  Diversity in social justice is different.  It is commonly used to address the issue of white privilege in America.

White privilege is real. Rich, well-placed white parents open doors for their mediocre children who assume good jobs while higher performing non-whites end up with lower level jobs.  As a tool to rebalance white privilege, social justice advocates diversity as a test. While the goal of moving away from cronyism is good, using diversity as a measure or test of real social justice is foolish. The issue is not race but cronyism. Singapore and China have a tier of social-political elites. The children from this tier compete fiercely for good positions in the best government linked organizations, and for the most part, we can expect them to be at least fairly competent when they secure these positions. The cronyism is not race based, and no measure of diversity will reveal or address the systemic injustice in non-race based cronyism.

While Singapore ranks high in not having corruption as a society, Singapore ranks poorly for cronyism (The Economist, May 7, 2016). Social justice does right in arguing there is a privileged class with access to positions others do not have. But social justice does not do well by incorrectly making racial diversity the measure of justice in society.

I believe social justice uses diversity because their goal is equal outcome. If they advocate true meritocracy rather than diversity, the advocates in America fear what the result will look like. The racial representation they wish to see under the rubric of social justice will not materialize. Even though meritocracy is the obvious instrument of justice in society, it is ignored and race-based diversity is promoted in its place.

The third pillar of social justice is the creation of supportive environments to achieve equal outcome. For instance, ramps are required by law, so those using wheelchairs can access public buildings, restaurants, shops, etc.  The spaces closest to the entrance are reserved for the handicap so they gain easier access. More significant than these conveniences would be supportive environments for people to flourish. The poor may not be able to afford housing, buy food, pay for health care, or utilities, so these are provided for, or heavily subsidized, so they may have an environment that allows them to compete with others in the society. America has done this for decades, but only a small number used these environments to get out of their cycle of poverty. Many have observed that help is not helping the poor move out of poverty.

It is clear the Word of God calls the disciples of Jesus to open our heart and our purse to the poor and the needy. The difference between what Christians do and what social justice does is the execution. Social justice argues the government has the right to tax the rich and give to the poor. The biblical model is for voluntary generosity. There may indeed be a place for both.  We shall presently discuss this. 

 [To continue …]

Pastor Peter Eng

 

The Christian Approach to Homosexuality – Part 4

Peter Eng

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World Vision (a Christian Relief Organization) employs homosexuals. Many evangeli­cals who support World Vision object. We are not here to accuse or to excuse World Vision. But this is a good test case for us to understand our own views towards homosexuals. Should Christian organizations hire homosexuals? What about when they are only hired for services? For instance, should I knowingly pay for the services of a plumber when I know he is gay? (Most people don’t have a problem with that.) And how is that different from hiring someone full-time? Does it depend more on the job the person is hired for? For instance, is there a difference between hiring a homosexual who does maintenance compared to one who is in ministry?

Our conversation is not about hiring.  But I think the hiring issue causes us to think and clarifies our view towards homosexuals. The points below are not of equal length because they do not require equal treatment.

#1 Look at our sexuality with eternity in view

What will it be like in the (completed) Kingdom of God? That is, how do we function sexually in the resurrection? Let’s put our present day sexual concerns in light of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells us, “For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven” (Mark 12:25 cf. Matthew 22:30). Our marriage relationship and our sexuality will become irrelevant. (This is not only about marriage but also a polite reference to our sexuality.) 

This does not suggest our sexuality should be ignored as a moral issue because it concerns only our current existence. As much as family, marriage, and sexuality are all of great concern to us now, and God has given us distinct guidelines for life here in this existence, homosexuality falls under the same level of concern. We will continue to sing God’s grace and love into eternity, and we will be pleased to know that any contention about issues of sexuality will pass into oblivion. Our struggles with sexuality, whatever they may be, will be no more

#2 Judgment begins with the household of God

The Apostle Peter gives us the principle that judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17). When we make the assertion that homosexuality is wrong according to the moral standards given to us in the Word of God, we are not suggesting that heterosexuals are better people. In the area of our sexuality, heterosexual people are no less sinful, no less failures, and no less in need of redemption or in danger of judgment.

If we remove the sin of homosexuality from the text in 1 Corinthians 6, it reads, “Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, who worship idols, or commit adultery … or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” Homosexuality is wrong, but should not be singled out as the only thing that disqualifies us from the Kingdom of God. Adultery is specifically mentioned here. Beside sexual sins, the other sins that keep us from the Kingdom of God are: idolatry, theft, greed, drunkenness, etc.

Evangelical Christians who submit to the authority of Scripture need to recognize that homosexuality is not isolated as a special sin that keeps us from the Kingdom of God.  There are many other sinful aspects of life that would prevent us from entering the Kingdom of God. Many heterosexual people indulge in sexual sins. Many commit adultery. Heterosexual misbehavior is not excused any more than homosexual misbehavior. While we have spent much space asserting the sinfulness of homosexuality, we do so because too many people assert that homosexuality is not a sin. We do it not because it should be singled out. It is like if some group decides to assert that adultery is not sin. We then have a push back to assert it is sin.

The current homosexual assertion that homosexuality is not sin is one reason for our current push-back. We know that the argument has become increasingly strident, and in part, it is due to homosexuals asserting that homosexuality is a choice issue, not a moral issue.

At the same time, we need to recognize that homosexuals are discriminated by much of society. They are not persecuted the way Christians are persecuted, but in some instances they are killed because of their homosexuality.  I think Christians have added to the problem. Let me explain.

Let’s say homosexuals are bullied in a community, in school, in the military, or at work. What is our response as Christians? Do we stand with the person or against him? We can join the crowd and marginalize him further because of his sexual sin, or we can stand with him because he is a person made in the image of God and in need of redemption.

Now, when we look at our own attitudes, we see it is easier to join the crowd in marginalizing a homosexual than to behave as Jesus did. The person is first a human being before he is a homosexual. When we look at 1 Corinthians 6, we see that adultery is confronted in the same way as homosexuality.  To help us clear our own head, and heart, it is useful for us to compare how we respond to adultery and homosexuality, because we see Scriptures placing them beside each other.

I suspect heterosexual sin is more prevalent than homosexual sin! Some place the incidence of adultery to be around 50%, but it is likely that it is no lower than 30%. In a country like America we see adulterers sitting comfortably in churches singing praise to God as though they have done no wrong.  On our part, we see no evil, hear no evil and say no evil.

If we will be fair to homosexuals, why do we not address the sexual sin of adultery with equal vigor as we do the sin of homosexuality? I think if we dare to look within us, we will find the answer, notwithstanding the point that we are in a push-back response to the assertions made by the homosexual community.

Many of us have deep seated animosity against people who practice homosexuality.  Perhaps in part because we are not them, so we can afford this animosity. Perhaps we are deflecting our own guilt onto them. Perhaps we are not guilty and like to use them as examples that we are not sinners like these people. The reality is that homosexual people have suffered prejudice.  They respond to this prejudice by asserting that homosexuality is not a sin. That is also incorrect!

At some point, we need to ask if the current homosexual assertion that homosexuality is not wrong is the result of the prejudice they have suffered, and if we have contributed to their current assertion.

Let’s take a step back and ask, “Why?” Why do we have this prejudice in the first place? 

I believe that in part, we see homosexuality as worse because it is a perversion of the natural order of sexuality.  Adultery, on the other hand is a sin by excessive indulgence, or in taking pleasure beyond where we have the right to do so. Adultery is engaging in normal sexuality to sinful excess. Homosexuality is engaging in abnormal sexuality.

There is some justification to say that homosexuality is worse than adultery, like it is to say incest is worse than adultery.  But what the Bible makes clear is that either homosexuality or adultery disqualifies us from the Kingdom of God.  If we leap from the 50th floor and die, does it make any practical difference if we leap from the 49th floor and also die?  Do we say it is terrible to leap from the 50th floor but quite alright to leap from the 49th?

At the same time, I am puzzled. If we have 5 people leaping from the 50th floor and 100 people leaping from the 49th floor, which should be the greater concern if we can address only one issue at a time? Would it not be that we would do a triage of trying to save as many people as possible first? Why do we address homosexuality so much more than adultery when adultery is more common than homosexuality?

Do you think Jesus’ injunction to first remove the log out of your own eye before you try to remove the speck of sawdust from your brother’s eye applies to us in our approach to sexuality?

When we place homosexuality and adultery side by side, we begin to see our own picture emerging. We see we have been discriminating against homosexuals. We see our own failure and our own double standards. We see that perhaps we should not be the guiltless party entitled to cast the first stone.

Jesus told the crowd ready to stone the woman caught in adultery, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” (John 8:7 KJV), the principle applies to homosexuality. Let the one who does not commit adultery, who does not have sexual sin, who does not watch porn, who is not greedy for money, who does not love things more than God … cast the first stone.

Jesus does not excuse the sin of the woman caught in adultery.  What Jesus brings to the table is the sin of the other people who surround this woman caught in adultery. Jesus is asking for equal justice.

I like to suggest to you that we need to affirm two things: (1) homosexuality is sin because the Bible affirms it; (2) homosexuals have been unfairly targeted and are right to say they have suffered discrimination.  In the first point, I know I will have evangelicals agree with me readily.  But in the second, I am out on a limb.

I hope to persuade more fellow evangelicals the sinfulness of homosexuality does not give us the right to behave the way we have been behaving towards them. We need to apply the same rules. That is one way to determine our own bias. Next we need to stand in their shoes to determine if our actions are righteous.

#3 Standing in their shoes

Let’s return to the test case of World Vision. Does World Vision allow openly adulterous people to be employed? If so, they need to allow openly homosexual people in their employment. If they allow one and not the other, there is an immediate failure in being consistent. So let an employer ask if he employs adulterers and homosexuals, and use that as a platform in social justice. We are not discussing if World Vision should or should not do this or that. My suggestion is this: if we will have justice we can let the stones fly or let the stone lay on the ground. We cannot have selective stoning. There is grave injustice in selective stoning.

Next, we need to stand in their shoes. Let’s say you have employers who are homosexuals and you apply for a job. He looks at you and sees you are heterosexual. He decides he will not employ you because you are heterosexual, would you accept that?

But I need to qualify. There is a clear justification for a religious organization not to employ people who continue to engage in activities contrary to their moral requirements and there is no injustice in that.  A Christian organization can dismiss practicing homosexuals as it dismisses practicing adulterers.  A Buddhist organization can dismiss people who eat animals just as a Muslim organization can dismiss people who eat pork. But there must be a consistent adherence to the tenets of one’s own belief system.  We cannot selectively fire people for one and not another when they fall under the same consideration.

Perhaps another scenario is this. You discover that among your employees, one is an adulterer and one is a homosexual. Do you fire both of them, one of them, or neither? If yours is a secular business, do you fire them?

The challenge we face is this: If we are sympathetic to the injustice suffered by homosexuals, people think we accept homosexuality. But that is not the case. Not any more than the suggestion that when Jesus defended the woman about to be stoned, he justified her adultery. We affirm both the sinfulness of adultery/homosexuality and also affirm the need for a righteous and compassionate handling of sexual sins. Jesus gave us many examples.

Many of us have friends and loved ones who are homosexuals. We face the tension of loving them without approving their action.  This struggle brings home the attitude we ought to have. The Christian view towards sin is redemption. We all need redemption from sin as much as the homosexual or the adulterer. At the same time, we are much more than our sin.  The homosexual and the adulterer is more than his sin. He is the person Jesus loves. He is the person for whom Jesus died.

#4 Homosexuality and the law of the land

The challenge we have before us are man-made laws and man-made protocols. If we submit to the moral laws of God and construct our legal system according to God’s moral law, we will have a different approach to many things. The world’s justice system is not aligned with Scripture. So how do we address the issue of homosexuality in a country’s legal system?

In previous conversations, we talked about the Singapore Penal Code S377A.  It is a very imperfect law.  But there is nothing in its place if it is abolished. I do not think all imperfect laws should be abolished as the resulting vacuum is worse. S377A continues to serve the function of identifying homosexuality as wrong. For me that is the most important function of S377A.

S377A is quite bad in that the penalties connected to it are terrible.  Let’s use adultery as a comparison again. Does an adulterer get sent to prison? I think not.  At the same time, adultery remains in the books as something wrong. Homosexuality should be recognized as a moral wrong but not singled out for disproportionate penalties. As there are penalties for the adulterer so the homosexual should not expect to go scot- free. The good thing is that Singapore has applied a light hand on S377A and as a legal system, we have not made victims of homosexuals.

Conclusion

I like to propose to you the biblical view of homosexuality as follows:

  1. Homosexuality is a sin. Adultery and other sexual sins are also addressed in the Bible and homosexuality is not singled out as a sin for special attention.
  2. All sexual sins are linked to our present corruptible body, and all sexual sins will be resolved when we rise from the dead and live in the fullness of the Kingdom of God.
  3. We use adultery as a comparison to search our own hearts concerning possible bias against homosexuals and have discovered that there is merit in the homosexual complaint that we discriminate. We must desist.
  4. The Christian approach to homosexuals and adulterers is one of redemption.  We affirm they need help and we are called to be agents to help them, not to inflict harm on them.
  5. The State has laws that are more confusing than consistent. The law of the land is not particularly helpful in the redemption of homosexuals (or adulterers). We are called to reach people at their place of need and empower their life with the presence of the Holy Spirit who transforms the heart and the mind.

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The Christian Approach to Homosexuality – Part 3

Peter Eng

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Romans 1:26-27
26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God. 11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Timothy 1:9-11
For the law was not intended for people who do what is right. It is for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders. 10 The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching 11 that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God.

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Don’t Jump in Yet

I would love to have you in the discussion! But if you missed out on the earlier articles in the series, you need to read them so we can discuss more meaningfully.

1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1

The Apostle Paul makes it clear that homosexuality is a sin in Romans 1. In the two references we are discussing today, Paul does not argue why homosexuality is a sin.  One sustained argument is good enough. However, these are the most contested passages by those who say Scripture does not prohibit homosexuality.

In 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul mentions two terms: “male prostitutes” (Greek: malakoi) and those who “practice homosexuality” (Greek: arsenokoitai). The first is mentioned only here in the NT. The fundamental meaning of malakoi is that which is soft; so “effeminate” (KJV). That is polite speech that may give the wrong impression, that males on the softer side are judged. The judgment is not on men who are soft. NLT is right to take this as the one who plays the female role in male homosexuality; probably a polite designation for “male prostitute.” My own preference is that it refers to men who play the female role in homosexuality.

The second word translated “homosexuality” in both 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:9, is arsenokoitai (singular: arsenokoites), a word that people, who justify homosexuality, vehemently deny to be referring to homosexuality. For their abundant denial, they have produced scant word study evidence to prove their case. They insist it only refers to pederasty. Almost all lexicographers understand this to be men who practice homosexual acts. This is a compound word arsen (a male, with implication of his sexual role) + koite (bed). This refers to a man who goes to “bed” with a man. Koite/bed as a polite reference to sex, is well known, and today (especially in Chinese), the sexual meaning of koite (bed) has become “coitus” in the English language. The objectors refuse to recognize that the Bible is explicit, but uses polite language.  This is about as explicit as one can expect the Bible to be.

This idea of homosexuality is congruent with the flow of the text. Paul first talks about the sin of the male who plays the part of the female, and then the male who plays the part of the male with another male. I think this discussion on whether the Bible rejects homosexuality suffices. The objectors will never be convinced and this is already too much uncomfortable detail for others.

Now, we come to the crux of this conversation. “What is the Christian approach to homosexuality?” Most Christians accept the point I have been making, that homosexuality is not acceptable in God’s eyes, that it is a sin. This in itself does not frame our attitudes towards people who practice homosexuality. For this, I wish to begin with a passage not directly related to homosexuality. 1 Peter 4:17 says: “For the time has come for judgment, and it must begin with God’s household.” 

[Next Week: Judgment begins with God’s Household]

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The Christian Approach to Homosexuality – Part 2

Peter Eng

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Romans 1
26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other.27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
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1 Corinthians 6
Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality,10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.11 Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
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1 Timothy 1
For the law was … for people who are lawless and rebellious, who are ungodly and sinful, who consider nothing sacred and defile what is holy, who kill their father or mother or commit other murders.10 The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching 11 that comes from the glorious Good News entrusted to me by our blessed God.

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Wait! Wait!

Before I begin this discourse with you on homosexuality as a sin in the NT, it is important, perhaps even vital, that I skip ahead and emphatically state that homosexuality is NOT the only sexual sin pointed out in Scripture. I will elaborate on this point later, but I fear I will lose my audience who do not have the patience to come to the end of the discourse. My position is that: (1) homosexual acts are sinful—just as (2) certain other heterosexual acts. In view of the reality of both (1) and (2), how do we as Christians regard homosexuality? How should we posture our heart, and align our actions to how God wants us to treat those who are still caught in a sin?

Homosexuality in the NT

Three passages in the NT discuss homosexuality: Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10.There are two areas of discussion associated with these texts: (1) the words used for homosexuality, and (2) the context. As it is easy to miss out the whole issue on account of the minutiae, let’s discuss the context first and specific words thereafter.

Romans 1—Context

We must not let the issue of homosexuality hijack Paul’s message to the Romans. He is talking to them about the Good News of Christ as “the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

The Good News concerning Jesus Christ is able to save us from the wrath of God against all who reject God by worshiping idols (Romans 1:18-23) In response to their rejection of God, God abandons them to sexual impurity that leads to the degradation of the body (Romans 1:24-25). A case in point is the widespread shame of homosexuality which serves as evidence that God has abandoned them to their body-destroying sexual abuse(Romans 1:26-27). Their personal depravity is not limited to homosexuality but 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip.30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents.31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy.”

Paul is describing the lives of people in a certain type of society. He simply uses the generic “they.” He could be referring to Rome, but in principle, it would apply to any society. Homosexuality is singled out as an example of impurity that destroys the body. But other sins are not neglected.

The most stinging statement is left to the last, 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.” In the Bible, both the OT and the NT, the final expression of sin is “mocking.” This is the sin that mocks all things good and praises all things evil. This is reflected here in those who justify their evil deeds by gathering companions for their evil.

The process starts when they “suppress the truth by their wickedness” (Romans 1:18) and is completed when they “encourage others to do them [the same evil they do] too” (Romans 1:32).

On the sexuality issue, the right place to begin is Romans 1:24 “God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.

There is a degrading of the body with certain sexual activities. Here Paul is non-specific. The great sin of rejecting God has resulted in a sexuality that degrades the body.

There are many sexual practices that degrade the body. Sexually transmitted diseases must cross our minds. But that is not all. The degrading of the body by turning people into objects is another degradation of the body. This was very common then, when slaves were used for sexual gratification. A life that is ruled by sexual lusts degrades our life in ways too numerous to recount. Then Scripture points out one specific expression of sexuality that degrades the body—homosexuality.

“God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-27).

Is homosexuality selected because it is more evil than other sexual misconduct? Perhaps, but we can think of worse sexual misconduct. I like to suggest from the context that homosexuality is selected for two reasons: (1) it illustrates the degrading of the body; and (2) it is misconduct that some refuse to recognize as such, and mock those who say it is sinful.

sharing-the-gospel-with-homosexuals1-1030x600The Bible rejects both female and male homosexuality. The text is clear that the judgment is against the act of homosexuality. But an act is never done without first the desire to do so. Homosexuals were “inflamed with lust for one another.” Yet, it is clear that the activity of homosexuality is the point mentioned here.

With reference to men, specifically, the consequence of their action is that they “received in themselves the due penalty for their error.” This is polite speech. Pardon my more direct speech at the expense of politeness just in case we don’t get the point—Scripture is saying that homosexual men received in themselves [their bodies] the consequences of their homosexual activities.

Anoreceptive intercourse regardless of man-man or man-woman, significantly increases bowel incontinence. Not only is this common sense, it has also been documented in scientific studies. (One example: Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine).

I am no sex expert on homosexuality and it would be too indelicate for me to say more. But the above suffices to demonstrate the point that unnatural sexuality can damage the body. (HIV had not arisen then, so I will not raise it in the interpretation of the text.) There are many ways to abuse our bodies, and male homosexuality is one.

“Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done” (Romans 1:28).

God abandoned certain people to their foolish thinking and to their sinful action. In modern day language, we will say, God let them choose their own way of thinking and their own actions without intervening to stop them. The law of God was abandoned and they could do what they wanted, and thought what they liked. That is what happens when the social restraints of a nation’s law freely allows homosexuality.

Here Scripture may be hinting on the contrast between the Jew who had the law of God as a restraint on the Jewish nation, and the Greco-Roman world that did not have such restraints.

But we must not lose sight of the point of the passage.  It is about the power of God saving everyone who believes!

Romans 1—Words

How then can anyone see a justification of homosexuality in this text? We must not underestimate human creativity. The pro-homosexuality argument goes this way:

The issue is about what is “natural.” Scripture is talking about people who are not using their bodies in a natural way. In the case of a homosexual, the natural use of the body is to engage in homosexual acts. So God’s judgment is not on homosexuals to whom homosexuality is natural, but on people who are not real homosexuals, but pervert their heterosexuality to homosexuality. The rest of the argumentation is so tortuous that I am not sure if it is worth following.

Let’s appeal to integrity in reading. Scripture starts with a gasp of horror at the depth of sexual depravity, which is usually initiated by men, by saying the depravity has gone so deep that women are also engaged in homosexuality. The very literal translation (NASB)says:“for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural,” and call to attention that there is a separate and distinct word in the Greek for “function,” also translated “use” (KJV), “way,” (NLT) and “sexual relations,” (NIV). All the versions can only translate the Greek one way, i.e. by demonstrating that it is the act that is rejected and not some hypothetical construct of what constitutes “natural” with whom. It’s the physical function that is addressed.

The text is clearly talking about the act itself that is not natural. Any woman-woman or man-man sexuality is action that is not natural.  There is no discussion about what is natural to a person as opposed to what he actually does.

The point that the homosexual acts are committed by those who first “burned with lust” disqualifies the view that there is a naturally occurring homosexuality that is acceptable.

Some try to argue that Scripture is condemning the Greek custom of pederasty (taken over by some Romans), of older men taking teenage boys and making lovers out of these. Romans generally disapproved of this, but the boys were not criticized unless they continued their effeminate role into adulthood.

Apart from pederasty, coerced homosexuality was rare and attracted much unwanted attention. A case in point was when Emperor Nero kicked and killed his wife Poppaea, but then missed her terribly. He saw a young man, Sporus, who looked like Poppaea. Nero had him castrated and married him. 

If we allow the argument that coerced homosexuality is the issue, we are saying that the wrath of God falls on the young boys (or Sporus) who were not homosexual by nature but were subject to an erotic relationship with older men (or Nero). So God picks on the victim!!! You be the judge of whether or not we ought to make God judge the victim and justify the perpetrator.

It is more honest to say, “OK, that is what the Bible says, but I do not accept its authority.” That ends the discussion based on the Bible and we can discuss using other bases for consideration. The reality is that not many Christians or honest readers can accept the “natural” argument to justify the meaning of the text, and thankfully, such a reading has not gained wide acceptance.

[Next week: 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, etc.]

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The Christian Approach to Homosexuality – Part 1

Peter Eng

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Leviticus 18
22“Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.
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Leviticus 20
13“If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.
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Romans 1
26That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other.27And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved.
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1 Corinthians 6
9Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality,10or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.
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1 Timothy 1
10The law is for people who are sexually immoral, or who practice homosexuality, or are slave traders, liars, promise breakers, or who do anything else that contradicts the wholesome teaching.

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The LGBT community is completely off target when they accuse Christians of homophobia. Homophobia is the fear of homosexuality. Christians disagree with the practice, but are not afraid of it. I think the reality is that homosexuals are the fearful ones. They are afraid of the truth about homosexuality and have been engaged in aggressive dissemination of false information. The LGBT are heterophobic. Regardless of this reality, phobia is not a productive defining relationship between the Christians and homosexuals. Today, I will discuss with you how Christians should relate to homosexuals.

My position is the mainstream evangelical position, so I am advocating the evangelical position in what I present here.

What is homosexuality?

Homosexuality is the indulgence of sexual activity among people of the same gender. An easy reference point is heterosexuality. What we consider sexual behavior between a man and a woman can be applied to sexual behavior between people of the same gender. Homosexuality is the physical act of a “romantic” relationship between man and man or woman and woman.

The participation in sexuality is a physical act, but it originates from the desires of the heart. As much as heterosexual sensual activity starts with the cultivation of a desire, the same applies to homosexual sensuality. It is therefore right to say that homosexuality includes the cultivating of romantic passion for people of the same gender.

What is not homosexuality?

Homosexuality is not the preference for the company of, or admiration of, or a personal commitment and devotion to a person of the same gender. People of the same gender have lived together in devotion to each other as friends, as leader-follower, or simply as singles who have found companionship and comfort with each other. Such relations must not be misconstrued as homosexual.  Jonathan loved David; Jesus loved John; etc. The homosexual success in wrongly grouping same gender commitment to each other as examples of the normality of homosexual romance is incorrect. There are same gender connections that are clearly not homosexual in nature.

When people in the LGBT community discovered Abraham Lincoln shared a bed with another man at a point in his life when he was poor, they argue that Abraham Lincoln was gay. This is no different from older Chinese culture where we see poor men sharing bed with the same gender.

Poverty is not the only reason. Chinese aristocrats sometimes decide to drink and talk the night away with one another, and when they are drunk, to just sleep in the same room.

When two persons of the same gender share a life together, it does not mean homosexuality. It can be quite the opposite.  The Chinese Bible-women were evangelists who took vows of celibacy and were mutually supportive of each other as they preached the Gospel in two-person teams. This phenomenon extends beyond religious motivation. In Singapore’s history, the early twentieth century saw the phenomenon of the samsui women and the amah (or ma cheh). The samsui were a sisterhood of women who did construction work and wear a red bandana to identify themselves. The amahs were domestic workers who serve rich families. Both these groups take vows of celibacy and form sisterhoods. Social conditions sometimes promote same gender bonds without suggestion of homosexuality.

A similar situation happened in America after the transcontinental railway was completed. America did not allow the immigration of Chinese women, and made interracial marriage illegal. This resulted in many celibate Chinese men working in America as miners, launderers and domestic helpers.  Their all male contacts were by necessity and in no way suggested homosexuality.

Cultural expressions differ. Singapore has Bangladeshi men to assist us in our construction, and they live in all men dormitories. When they are not working and strolling in the streets, we would see some of them holding hands. It is easy for some people to think there is some gay activity going on, but that would be wrong. Holding hands among men is an expression of deep friendship for them.

The LGBT try to corral as much same gender relations into their camp as possible, giving the impression they are normal by arguing we are all along a spectrum of homosexuality or heterosexuality with bisexuality in the center.  The deliberate comingling of the normal and the LGBT is used to convey the impression of normality. We need to reject this confusion. The reality is quite to opposite. If we conduct a poll, we will find the vast majority are heterosexual but only a fringe are LGBT. The numbers (and function) determine normality. If we find some frogs with one hind leg and some with three, four or five legs, we do not conclude they are all normal, on a spectrum of one to five hind legs. The numbers and the biological construct of two hind legs make that normal.

We also reject the notion that attraction to people of the same gender should culminate in a romantic liaison. It is entirely possible for some people of the same gender to feel attraction to the same gender. Too many rush to the conclusion this is a homosexual tendency. It can certainly be cultivated into an appetite for homosexual romance but there is no such necessity.

At the same time, it is important to note that the lack of social comfort with a different gender does not suggest homosexuality. If I am awkward with women it does not make me a homosexual. Misandry (the hatred of men) and misogyny (hatred of women) are particular conditions. These can look very much like homosexuality but they are not. For instance, a young girl who has been raped can develop a social comfort with other women and a hatred for men, and thinks she is lesbian without her truly being one. A young boy can be raped and feel great shame in the event, and develops a lust for the power that the other men had over him. This can develop into a desire to exercise control over other men through sexual conquest, and he can mistakenly think he is homosexual when he is not.

Is there a genetically programmed homosexual? In my humble opinion, I think most people who think they are homosexual are not. They have suffered from some environmental damage to them. But I will give allowance for a very small number of people who are born homosexuals. How small? I will say they are as infrequent as true hermaphrodites (people born with both male and female parts). But I am wandering into speculation here.

Now that we have discussed the phenomenon of homosexuality in itself, we turn to the biblical view of homosexuality.

Homosexuality as a sin in the OT

Leviticus 18:22 “‘Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin.”

Leviticus 20:13 “‘If a man practices homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman, both men have committed a detestable act. They must both be put to death, for they are guilty of a capital offense.”

Another passage to consider is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18:16–19:29.

The implication concerning Sodom and Gomorrah is that homosexuality was the sin that significantly contributed to their destruction. “So the Lord told Abraham, ‘I have heard a great outcry from Sodom and Gomorrah, because their sin is so flagrant.’” (Genesis 18:20). Homosexuality was not singled out. When the two messengers arrived in Sodom, the problem they encountered was homo-sexuality (Genesis 19). This resulted in the destruction of the cities. It is right for us to note that homosexuality was not the only evil done in the city. There were some things done in the city that merited their destruction, and homo-sexuality was the prominent sin that was clearly described. It is unlikely that we can deduce from this passage that homosexuality was the only or primary sin that caused their destruction. We can say confidently it was the final sin that caused their destruction.

The two passages in Leviticus are found in the context of prohibitions of certain sexual activities such as bestiality, etc. It is clear that the context outlines what God considers perverse sexuality. There is no getting around the fact of the prohibitions grouped together.

These regulations were for national Israel. So were all the commands such as the Ten Commandments. Israel was called to be a holy nation accountable to God. Those who breach these regulations will suffer the appropriate penalty for their infraction. All sovereign states need a penal code and this is Israel’s code.

At the point, we are simply answering the question of what the OT teaches. And it should be incontrovertible that homosexuality is regarded as a sin in the OT.

[Coming weeks: NT teachings; homosexuality compared to others sins; the Christian response; the role of Christian morals in society; etc.]

The Christian Approach to Homosexuality – Part 2

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A Certain Way to Return to Joy – Psalm 128

Peter Eng

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A Song of Ascents, of Solomon.

Psalm 128

1 How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways
2 When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands,
You will be happy and it will be well with you.
3 Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
Within your house,
Your children like olive plants
Around your table
4 Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the LORD.
5 The LORD bless you from Zion
And may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
6 Indeed, may you see your children’s children.
Peace be upon Israel!

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We are reading the Songs of Ascents, songs sung by Jews returning to the land of Israel from their exile in Babylon, or pilgrims visiting the holy city on a special occasion. So what have they to do with us?

They are more relevant for us than for them!

Zion is more than a place. Jesus told the woman at the well “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain [Mt Gerizim] or in Jerusalem.  … But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. (John 4:21,23, NLT).

There is a New Jerusalem; it is the Kingdom of God. In the consummation, we will see the New Jerusalem come from heaven to earth figuratively (Revelation 21:2). It will be the fulfillment of our prayers when we say “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

The blessings expressed here for OT saints are ours in fuller measure because we are called to return from a more deadly exile to a more glorious city. From the kingdom of death to the new heaven and the new earth.

Therefore, Jesus reminds us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33). In this psalm we have a description of the life of one who lives in acute consciousness of God. In the OT the term “fear of the Lord” is used. We find this call to “fear” God alien and say it is “reverence.” But when we do that, we water things down. We water down how we ought to live before God (in fear) and then expect a full measure of blessing from him.

The fear of the Lord is the consciousness, awareness, accountability to God who is able to take away our life in a moment if he so chooses. We are totally dependent on him for life, health, and every single joy in life.

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There is a certain way to live so that we appropriate the fullness of what the Jews experience only in part. They return from national exile; we return from the kingdom of sin and death to everlasting life. The Lord blesses them out of Zion, that is, through the good administration in Zion. The blessings of God will flow to us through the growing realization of the Kingdom of God on earth, and most fully when he brings in the new heaven and the new earth! Kingdom blessings are here now, and will be hereafter.

This psalm looks at God’s blessing from a husband’s perspective, and from a family with grown children. He will have a fruitful wife. She will bless the home with children and with many other good things. The children will be like olive trees around the table, meaning that they will help supply the need of the home. They will grow up strong, independent, and bless the home when they are grown up. And the mature couple are at that point in life when they are about to become grandparents and see their children’s children.

This bucolic picture of prosperity and happiness can be easily adjusted to an urban lifestyle. The point is that there is a certain way of life that brings in God’s blessings. It is the life that is lived in a healthy “fear of the Lord,” and when we “walk in his ways.”

Many of us are so blind to our own faults that we do not even know when you are not walking in the way of the Lord, and then wonder why we are deprived of blessings others seem to have.

Many of us are also blind to the blessings that God has already bestowed on us, and we do not realize that even hardships are blessings from him. Hardships as blessings are hard to understand, but they come from the same loving hands that give us the blessings we do understand.

There are years of plenty and years of leanness. The patriarchs of old were not spared from drought or famine regardless of their spiritual condition. But even in lean times, there is a blessing for God’s people that others cannot have.

In times of plenty, when we leave the kingdom of death, we can expect blessings of plenty from the Lord, under ordinary circumstances. Many of us are not counted worthy to suffer for Christ, and if we should be called to this great blessing, it purifies us and prepares us for the eternal kingdom as nothing else can.

We do not seek the blessing of persecution, but let us then seek that blessing of peace and plenty from our sovereign Lord. We do so in the fear of the Lord, knowing that we don’t even deserve what we have. We seek the blessings in humility and not as spoilt children. We seek the blessing always checking on the condition of our heart.


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A Victim of Failure Returns to Joy – Psalm 127

Peter Eng

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A Song of Ascents, of Solomon.

Psalm 127

1 Unless the Lord builds the house,
They labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city,
The watchman keeps awake in vain.
2 It is vain for you to rise up early,
To retire late,
To eat the bread of painful labors;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.

3 Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate.
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Unbearable Intensity. There are times when the truth of God comes upon me with such unbearable intensity that I become spiritually and mentally floored. I feel exhausted by the enormity of truth and there is no way I can speak about it, much less share it meaningfully. I was writing the series “Return to Joy” and became floored by Psalm 127. This is because I had experienced crushing failure and this psalm calls me to a joy that seems so far from personal reality and yet it strikes home with such intensity. Until I internalize it, until the Word of God has done its work in me, I cannot talk about it.

The Holy Spirit of God calls to my mind this psalm as we enter this New Year, and this article is first a lesson I need to articulate for myself, and then a lesson that may also bless your heart.

King Solomon built the first temple to the LORD, built a fledging nation, built his own palace, etc. This great builder of buildings is not talking about stone, brick or mortar. We know his emphasis when we see his exhortation to us about children in the second half of the psalm. There is truth here relevant to physical buildings and the defense of a city, but the normal person is to understand this psalm as the building of a household. This includes a physical home, but goes far beyond that. The home is for the development of the people, the children, in the home.

This psalm is placed in the collection called “Songs of Ascents,” songs used by Israelites when they journey to the temple in Jerusalem as returnees from the exile or as pilgrims. It is a song that celebrates God’s blessing after the experience of crippling failure.

The Israelites lost the war against the Babylonians. They were captured and sent into exile, and had only the clothes on their back. Some have enjoyed a measure of success after seventy years in exile, but they were all acutely aware of devastating loss experienced by their parents.

“We need to build our household in such a manner that God will bless.” That is the lesson that personal and national judgment from God has taught them. Some may have been obedient to God, but there is a national judgment and no one is spared the pain of that devastation. “Therefore, as a family and as a nation, we must now build with God’s blessings in view,” would be the singular resolve of a humbled people.

We can experience loss as the result of personal foolishness, or through the wrongs done by other people. Even when we did not do wrong, it is hard not to escape the feeling that God has not been good to us. We can see what we lose, but cannot see what we retain. We can see what we want, but cannot see what we have. And when we finally recognize the kindness of God even in the midst of adversity, we are ready to rebuild under a new commitment to live and work in such a way as to actively seek God’s blessings in what we do.

We Lose Our Joy When We

The life and work of a person living outside of God’s blessing is an incredibly busy life with little to show for it. We lose what we make. We rise up early and retire late. The food we eat is the meager wage of painful labor. But the one who is blessed by God is able to work in confidence, and sleep in peace. “For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” The Lord’s beloved is like an investor who continues to enjoy growth as he sleeps. He is like the farmer who does not have to watch his crops grow. He is the mom or dad who does not have to supervise the children’s education or the company they keep.

The truth of this psalm comes to us more powerfully in our modernity than at other times. We are so connected that there is no rest from work. We are reachable 24/7. We are reachable even when we are on vacation, when we are resting, or spending time with family. The curse of toilsome labor in place of fruitful labor comes with the fall of man, and with each passing year, we pierce ourselves with more rest-depriving technology.

Let 2014 be different. Let us discover the blessing of the Lord, even the blessing of rest.

But the courage to rest can be difficult. Solomon tells us that our hearts must be tuned right before we can rest. We must internalize the reality that “Unless the Lord builds the house, / They labor in vain who build it.” I know I tend to make “me” the first reference point in my labors, but I need to change that. The blessing of Yahweh has to be the first reference point. All my labor can be reduced to busy work unless the Lord builds my household. When we do God’s will, and do it God’s way, “He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.”

I often hear investment trainers boast of how they make money work for them, or how others work for them. They do nothing and the money keeps coming in. God had already revealed this to Solomon 3,000 years ago. And the key to this is who builds the house. If God builds our household, which is focused more on the family than the assets used to run the family, the work continues even when we sleep. I find it amazing that God is saying, “I love, you, I don’t want you to be anxious, I want you to sleep well, and to this end I will continue to bless you even as you sleep.”

If I do not find 24 hours enough, it is not because God has made a mistake by creating days that are too short. I am not spending my time rightly. This is especially true if you are already very well organized and there is still not enough time in a day. The issue is then not organization but much deeper.

The blessing of the Lord that gives rest does not refer to cushy jobs. Some jobs will be tough! But even tough jobs must give way to rest; especially tough jobs—they must give way to rest.

Some Christians choose to believe that when they tithe, God will give them a good easy life. Other Christians choose to work as though God wants them to burn out and die prematurely. Neither is true. Labor is necessary for our well-being; so is rest.

How we labor and what we labor over are both vital. We cannot really labor and rest rightly until we know the object of our labor. One simple word defines out labor: children.

For people with biological children, the point is self-explanatory. We love our children and more than any other motivation for work, we are motivated by our children’s success in life. As much as this is natural, it is also inadequate.

Take a look at singles, the best example being Jesus himself. He had no biological children, but he labored, rested and unhurriedly did the work of God. And if skeptics will not believe him, just have them look at what he accomplished in 3½ years of work! Has any human, or can any mere mortal work 3½ years and accomplish what he did?

All the armies that have ever marched
All the navies that have ever sailed
All the parliaments that have ever sat
All the kings that ever reigned put together
Have not affected the life of mankind on earth
As powerfully as that one solitary life.
James Allen

Today, 2.2 billion people, a third of the world’s population call themselves Christians. Jesus is the perfect example of how a person can be without biological children, and yet have more spiritual children than any biological act can produce.

In truth, he calls us to the same path when he says, “Go and make disciples of all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Behold, I am with your always, even to the end of the age.”(Matthew 28:19-10).

The victim of failure returns to joy when he restarts his life with God’s blessings in view. In view of the strong delusion going around Singapore, I need to specify that the life of success in our children (biological and spiritual), and in the ability to rest, is not the materialism that some preachers promise you. They say God will make you rich. That is not God’s reference point to bless you. He will bless you when you focus your life on raising godly children and give you the means to do so, including material means. And as you fulfill his will in your life, he will give you rest.

In New Testament language, raising godly children is called “discipleship.” When “making disciples” becomes the goal in our life, the blessings of fruitful labor and restful sleep described in Psalm 127 become our lot.

Failure is a call to reboot our life to live in the blessing of God, to realign and find success in building a household that is also the household of God.


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