the tentmaker

daily thoughts on the common lectionary

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Location: Sharpsburg, Georgia, United States

"...because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together — by trade they were tentmakers." Acts 18:3. Tentmaker is a title taken by bi-vocational pastors. As such, I am both a pastor and a project manager. I am a pastor of a local congregation of moderate, accepting and affirming people who worship in the Baptist tradition. We call our church "Hope Memorial Baptist" and we are about 40 in number. I am also a project manager of major construction projects for the State of Georgia. My home and church is in rural Coweta County, between Peachtree City and Newnan, with a mailing address of Sharpsburg, Georgia.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

My letter of response

Here is how I propose to respond to the letter I referred to below:

Thank you for your letter commenting on my sermon. I appreciate your heart-felt concern for my welfare and the welfare of the congregation. And, given the scripture you provided in your letter, I understand the concern you have for your own welfare.

Although your letter does not say so directly, it assumes that same gender relationships are sinful and that those who engage in such are, therefore, sinners. Also implied in your letter is that all persons who engage in same gender relationships are to be condemned by the Church and all Christians. This implication is certainly supported by a considerable segment of popular opinion. But it is not the only opinion on the subject, even within the Church.

I have followed the debate in the Church regarding the sinfulness of same gender relationships for some time. I have tried to understand both sides of the argument. At present, I have formed no clear opinion for myself. Also, I have not received any clear direction from God about this matter, except as to the treatment of persons so engaged. After reading all that I can find on the subject, I am not qualified to say whether the engaging in same gender relationships is sinful or not. As with all issues of human behavior, I believe that ultimately the answer is between God and the person so engaged.

Now to the matter of sin and the treatment of sinners in the Church. The Apostle Paul tells us that we “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The Catholics categorize sins as being either venial or mortal, depending on their severity. I think that the Bible teaches that there is no distinction between levels of sin. Again, the Apostle Paul tells us that “the wages of sin is death.” Man has created laws that categorize criminal behavior as misdemeanors, felonies and capital crimes. But these categories are man made. In God’s eyes all sin is a capital offense. Whether the sin is a “white” lie, infidelity, murder, drug abuse, ill treatment of a child, or same gender relationships, sin is sin and “the wages of sin is death.”

This is certainly one of the theological strains in the Old Testament where salvation is seen in the righteousness of man, or the ability of each man to keep the commandments of God. But the truth of the matter, as Paul tells us, is that we cannot do that. We cannot, no matter how hard we try, faithfully and consistently keep God’s commandments.

We all deserve the punishment for sin. But...yes, thanks be to God, there is a but. “The gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” You see, I believe that when God became man in the person of Jesus, he realized that we poor mortals could not resist the temptations of sin. And because he loved us so much, he himself provided a different way to righteousness than by our own efforts. He, in fact, made it a gift such that “even while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”

He died for sinners. He died for murderers, drug addicts, adulterers, speeders, spouse abusers, liars and gays and lesbians. And he came to earth to save sinners. He also came to demonstrate through his own life how we should treat our fellow men. There is a passage in Luke 7:36-50 and another in John 8:1-11 that illustrates how Jesus treated sinners. He treated them with compassion. He treated them with acceptance. He did not condone their actions, but he forgave them.

You see, I believe that all men are children of God, even the vilest of sinners. And I believe that because we are all His children and part of his creation, that we all should treat one another as we should wish to be treated. The second commandment following the greatest is that we should love our neighbors as ourselves. To me, this means acceptance. It does not mean condoning sinful behavior, but it does mean loving people with the love of God (1 Corinthians 13.)

Yours truly,


Blogger HeyJules said...

Way to go, Joel! :-)

9/10/2006 6:43 PM  
Blogger Hikingalong said...

What a wonderful way to answer the letter you received. If only people could understand that there are no degrees to sin and that all sin is vile in God's eyes, we'd be better off. Just because we hate the sin doesn't mean we can't love the sinner. We are commanded to love. We need to stop being judgemental and qualifying our love for others and just love them as Christ loved. Amen, brother! You keep on preaching it!

9/13/2006 5:40 PM  
Blogger Bad Alice said...

That's a great response. My first reaction to that woman's letter was to be really ticked off. She wrote in just the sort of language that boils my blood, particularly the idea that salvation is conditional on holding a particular set of beliefs (repent or your blood will be on your own hands). Urg. Way to go to respond with love and consideration,

9/14/2006 11:25 PM  
Blogger the tentmaker said...

It did make my blood boil. I got the letter on Thursday and didn't write the response until Saturday after considerable ruminating and prayer. I'm glad that God was able to help me to put aside my hurt feelings and let me be the minister he wants me to be.

To have responded in kind would have been a disaster for the church and the community and neither of us would have received any benefit.

Thank you for your kind words.

9/15/2006 8:30 PM  
Blogger Tripp Hudgins said...


This is a very nice letter. Well done. It covers the requisite bases and is, I think, the truth of the issue.

Once we start kicking out the sinners, there will be no church left!

Peace and all good things to you and your penpal.

9/17/2006 10:57 PM  
Anonymous laststopformiles said...

Not too far from me a Baptist Church was kicked out of the Baptist State Convention (NC) for baptizing two "allegedly gay" men. To understand truly the fear, hatred and confusion behind this woman's letter one must understand the sentiment of American culture as a whole. Homophobia is not unique to the church. It's a facet (albeit an ugly one) of our culture that stems from typical American gender stereotypes, individualism and the concept of the American dream (you are what you make yourself to be). These features of our culture are ingrained in all of us, making the mere idea of homosexuality instinctively repulsive.

The question is not "How should I respond to this woman?" (i.e. "How should I retaliate?") This woman's problem isn't that she's unloving or unsympathetic. Her problem is that she's failed to identify herself sufficiently with the counter-cultural message of the Bible regarding the treatment of and love of others. She's failed to be a disciple of Jesus. She's failed to see herself as a part of God's story. She's too ingrained in American culture and not ingrained enough in following Christ. You and she are in completely different places. It might help to try and meet her where she is.

The proper question is "How can I bring this woman a step closer to becoming a true disciple of Christ and shedding the culture that promotes hatred and intolerance." People like to slam the message of the Bible and say it condemns homosexuals. But Christianity is a scapegoat for the real problem: American culture.

By the way, I'm a Baptist minister in the South, and I feel at least a portion of your pain.

9/20/2006 10:00 AM  
Blogger net said...

Amen and amen.

9/23/2006 10:41 AM  
Blogger Jared Cramer said...

a very gracious response, thanks for sharing it.

10/03/2006 12:43 PM  

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