New York Times: There you go again …
David W. Hegg
In the June 15, 2016 edition of the New York Times, Jeremy W. Peters and Lizette Alvarez wrote a piece about the Orlando massacre. You can read the original article here. Their primary point is that there remains a deep political divide in America regarding issues of sexuality, despite public expressions of care and concern by representative Republicans.
I appreciate their drawing attention to the fact sexuality - and homosexuality in particular - continues to be hotly debated throughout our country. I also appreciate their recognition that the horrible murder spree at the Pulse Club has become the stuff of political posturing on a grand scale. That so many are using this horrible massacre for personal and political advancement speaks to the increasingly selfish condition of our national soul.
But, despite the article’s benefits, it provides yet another example of how poorly the New York Times understands, interprets, and reports on religious issues. Molie Hemingway, in her own article on the Times reporting of this incident, gives several other examples where the paper ran stories that contained errors any Sunday School teacher with an open Bible would have recognized as absurd. You can read her insightful article here.
My particular concern relates to their report of a Republican congressman who read from the biblical book of Romans. The Times article asserts the congressman read a “Bible verse from Romans that calls for the execution of gays.” Such a gross error in understanding the biblical author’s meaning is reprehensible, and cannot go uncorrected.
Here is what the verse actually says:
Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1.32, English Standard Version).
In fairness, the congressman quoted from the King James Version of 1611: “Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.” (Romans 1.32, King James Version)
This verse falls at the end of a carefully argued section in Paul’s opening chapter to the Roman church. After bringing greetings and explaining his love for the recipients, Paul begins his defense of the gospel of Jesus Christ. He is “not ashamed” of the gospel “for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (vs. 16).
Paul loves the gospel because it reveals the righteousness of God, the absolute perfection of his commands and judgment. And, in good evangelistic fashion, Paul proceeds to show the good news of Jesus is only good when seen against the backdrop of the bad news of sin.
Paul declares the wrath of God is also revealed, against the wickedness of mankind who suppress the evidence of God found in creation in order to live according to their selfish desires. He chooses the unnatural sexual choices of homosexuality as a prime example of how far these wonton desires can go. In the end, he illustrates the final fall into pervasive wickedness through the lives of those described in the text under consideration, who understand their homosexual behavior deserves death, and not only persist, but recruit others to follow their path.
Notice the first part of the verse 32: Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die … (Romans 1.32a, English Standard Version).
Four things need to be recognized here. First, Paul is speaking of those who “know God’s righteous decree.” Those who “deserve to die” are those who actually agree with God’s assessment of them. They know God’s righteous decree, understand the penalty for transgression is part of that righteous pronouncement, and continue in their wickedness anyway. Paul simply intends to show just how twisted the human heart can become in its attempt to live as far away from the truth of God as possible. Those described know their deeds are unnatural, wrong, and an act of rebellion against Almighty God. Yet, they continue in their wickedness, and are actively recruiting others to join in their perversion.
Second, Paul nowhere calls for “the execution of gays” as Peters and Alvarez state. Rather, the apostle says their actions “deserve death.“ It turns out Paul knows every sin deserves the same sentence. According to a later text in Romans, in God’s eyes “The wages of sin is death!” (Romans 6.23a, English Standard Version).
Any sin - and every sin - constitutes a crime against the court of heaven, punishable by death. The reason all of us are dying, little by little, and do not know when our lives will end, is because we all have sinned, as Paul writes in Romans 3.23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God …”
Third, Peters and Alvarez insinuate a Republican congressman intended to convey that this verse calls for the execution of homosexuals. But the verse says nothing about execution, or in anyway grants permission for others to carry out such a sentence.
While it is true the Law of Moses did establish capital sentences for many deeds considered aberrant by God for his people Israel, Paul is here speaking to a largely Gentile church. And those who have studied the New Testament know Paul was the loudest voice declaring those following Jesus – both Jew and Gentile - were no longer under the Law of Moses. No one playing with an open Bible and an open mind could ever deduce from this text that Paul was calling for the execution of homosexuals.
In fact, Paul was only chronicling the descent of humanity into perversion in order to magnify the amazing love and grace of God in providing forgiveness for the sins of all who will repent, and entrust their lives to Jesus by faith. Paul’s message to homosexuals is not that they must be executed, but that can be forgiven by their gracious, loving Creator.
In the second half of a verse quoted above we read “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6.23, English Standard Version).
Paul was all about the magnificent grace of God whereby every sinner, and any sinner, can escape the penalty due them and find forgiveness, and acceptance before Almighty God. No sin lies outside the power of God to forgive.
Lastly, Peters and Alvarez are guilty of hypocrisy in their use of the Bible. Unless they are prepared to grant validity to the Scripture as a bona fide repository of authoritative truth, they can’t use it against those they oppose. You can’t stand on an argument coming from a source you yourself refuse to recognize as reliable. And if they do grant it a measure of credence, they owe it to the Bible to read and understand the meaning the original author intended his readers to understand from the words he chose. Clearly, they did not take the time to understand the Apostle Paul.
In conclusion, I wonder what is really going on in Peters and Alvarez. As writers for a prestigious newspaper, I assume they are educated, highly intelligent, and talented. One wonders, then, what motivated them to malign the congressman, and grossly misinterpret Paul.
Perhaps they are the kind of people Paul recognized in his day. They know what truth looks like, but they prefer error because it allows them to dismiss God, live on their own terms, and still consider themselves good people. I truly hope that is not the case. My prayer for them, and for everyone, is they will come to see the free offer of forgiveness through faith in Jesus as life’s very best option.