Interview with

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Audio Transcript

Welcome back to this new week on the podcast on this Monday. Well, 2023 ended with two huge declarations that got a lot of attention online and led to a pile of emails for you, Pastor John. First, and most talked about, the pope said Roman Catholic priests can now “bless” (so-called) same-sex couples, which is a move that confused and angered many Catholics and non-Catholics alike, as you would expect.

According to the Vatican’s statement, this blessing is “for couples in irregular situations and for couples of the same sex, the form of which should not be fixed ritually by ecclesial authorities to avoid producing confusion with the blessing proper to the Sacrament of Marriage.” This so-called divine blessing is for “those who — recognizing themselves to be destitute and in need of [God’s] help — do not claim a legitimation of their own status, but who beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit.” The pope is trying very hard to thread a needle here.

More bluntly, two weeks after this, Reuters reported that Burundi president Évariste Ndayishimiye called on his citizens to respond in a different way. “If you want to attract a curse to the country, accept homosexuality,” he told journalists. Then he said, “I even think that these people, if we find them in Burundi, it is better to lead them to a stadium and stone them. And that cannot be a sin.” This was a statement made to his predominantly Christian nation, perhaps drawing from a text like Leviticus 20:13. So, Pastor John, how would you respond to the pope and the president of Burundi?

Well, let me preface my thought with the fact that I’ve tried very hard to understand the pope and that needle that you said he’s trying to thread. I can’t quite make sense out of it. It just seems contradictory. But let me take it for what I do see.

I think the New Testament directs us away from the kind of blessing that the pope is endorsing and directs us away from the mob rule or the official capital punishment that the president of Burundi is endorsing. In other words, the New Testament is pushing us away from both of those steps.

And I think the New Testament also gives Christians another way to disapprove and another way to love those that we think are walking in behaviors that are ultimately and eternally destructive. So, let’s start with the Old Testament and the threat of the president of Burundi to stone those who practice homosexuality.

Excommunicate, Not Execute

Do the laws of capital punishment in the Old Testament — for things like adultery, dishonoring parents, having sex between two men or two women — define the way that the Christian church is to deal with those sins? And the answer is clearly no.

We’ve had several podcasts in which we try to unpack how the Old and the New Testament relate to each other. And I say that without denying the authority of the Old Testament — with its validity for Israel at the time and its ongoing authority for Christians, with an awareness of how the coming of Jesus the Messiah has changed things.

“When you curse others, you want them destroyed. When you bless others, you want them saved.”

When the New Testament deals with immorality like adultery or incest, which would have been a capital crime under the old covenant, the way it handles that sin — for example, in 1 Corinthians 5 — is to excommunicate the sinner from the church rather than execute the sinner. In the church, the new people of God (which is not a political or ethnic or civil body), excommunication has replaced capital punishment in cases like this.

Blessing Sin?

When we turn to the instructions of the pope that faithful Catholic priests may bless same-sex unions, we need to be very careful how we are understanding the nature of blessing.

I’ve tried, like I said, to understand the wording of the pope’s proposal, and I have listened to a Catholic priest defend the pope’s proposal, and I cannot escape the impression that even though the effort is being made not to consecrate the so-called “irregular situations” as marriage, nevertheless, the very effort to provide an official way for there to be a blessing on a kind of same-sex togetherness, which the Bible warns is evil and eternally destructive, inevitably communicates that the pope does not hold that biblical view, at least not with the same ultimate seriousness that the New Testament does.

And the reason I say that we need to be careful how we understand the nature of blessing is that the New Testament does tell us several times, very clearly,

  • “Bless those who curse you” (Luke 6:28).
  • “Bless those who persecute you” (Romans 12:14).
  • “Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called” (1 Peter 3:9).
  • “When reviled, we bless” (1 Corinthians 4:12).

Now, none of those uses of the word bless is intended to signify an official or unofficial gathering in which you bring people together who in their hearts are celebrating sin. That’s not what blessing means. Whether it’s two men having sex or people celebrating fraud or celebrating witchcraft or celebrating slander or celebrating devil worship, whatever the sin is, the biblical commands to bless our adversaries, our opponents, our enemies are not a command to hold a service in which you extend a hand of blessing over those who are celebrating behaviors that lead to their own destruction and which God calls an abomination.

That gathering will not communicate the biblical truth of heartbreak and danger and warning. If you made those dangers and those warnings part of the service of blessing, we know the so-called couple would reject it. They would reject it. If the warning of hell were made part of the service of blessing, if the sin were called an abomination in the service of blessing, the couple would not have the service.

Longing for Another’s Good

The meaning of blessing in Luke 6:28, Romans 12:14, and the others is that we seek the temporal and everlasting good of our enemies — or those we disagree with; they don’t have to be just enemies, but just anybody we disagree with. That’s what blessing means. We seek the temporal and everlasting good of our adversaries, both with words and with deeds, even if it costs us our lives. We are not eager for the destruction of anyone. Blessing is the opposite of cursing. When you curse others, you want them destroyed. When you bless others, you want them saved.

We want our words and our actions to count for their good. It’s not a blessing to give the impression of treating lightly something that God treats dreadfully. It feels kind — it’s not kind. It feels tender, but tenderness is not love where clarity and firmness are needed to save life.

The form the blessing takes in Romans 12:20 is this: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” In other words, the aim is not affirmation but contrition and repentance and salvation. We want them to be our brothers or our sisters in the presence of God forever, forgiven and transformed into the likeness of Christ.

Final Warning

And before I go, I think I should conclude by warning Roman Catholics that they need to be especially concerned about this pope, Pope Francis, because this is not the first time he has gone astray. He has espoused unbiblical thinking in other ways, not only on this matter.

I watched him in a video counsel a child — about a six- or eight-year-old child — who had lost his father in death. The child said that his father was an atheist — never went to church, didn’t believe in God — and then he asked where he was. And the pope said that his father was in heaven. The pope said that that was the case.

“It’s not a blessing to give the impression of treating lightly something that God treats dreadfully.”

Now, that’s very contrary to what the Roman Catholic Church and all other Christian churches have taught. I doubt that this pope believes anyone will suffer eternally in hell. I could be wrong about that, but if so, then the warnings of 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 — that those who practice homosexuality will not enter the kingdom of God — lose their ultimate seriousness for him. That’s the direction our culture has moved for decades, and that’s where the pope appears to be moving as well.

So, by all means, let us bless those who curse us — but not extend a blessing over a same-sex union.