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Sexual hypocrisy and the western church

  • 25 September 2018


Jesus condemned the Pharisees for following the letter, but not the spirit, of the law. They valued religious observances that made them look holy, but which ordinary people could not easily follow. In western Christianity, pharisaic-like hypocrisy is also evident, but over the centuries chastity and sexual austerity became the measures by which the goodness of people would be judged.

And just as loud prayers and costly animal sacrifices did not measure the true holiness of the Pharisees, so too has sexual propriety provided a false measure of one's closeness to God in the western world. If someone has multiple sex partners but is helpful to strangers, are they better or worse than someone who has only slept with their spouse but is racist or unkind?

Principles of charity and humility must instead underlie our moral discernment. When Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the outsider, looked down upon by upright Jews, was the person who fulfilled God's law to love others. Jesus made it clear to his followers that they needed to be humbly aware of their own failings rather than judging others, 'Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?' (Matthew chapter 7 verse 3).

Jesus did not denounce people for their human frailties. He refused to condemn the woman who had committed adultery (Jonn chapter 8 verses 1-11), and spoke to the woman at the well, despite her five husbands plus! (John chapter 4 verses 4-18).

This is not to say that someone seeking Jesus will not be called to a life of greater chastity, but it should be seen as a part of their journey, not the whole. Jesus presented a clear invitation for the woman at the well to follow a more holy life. He similarly offered the path of righteousness to the adulterous woman when he told her, 'from now on do not sin again' (John chapter 8 verse 11).

The challenge for the Church is to be invitational in the same manner as Jesus himself, offering God's love, first, and his call to holiness second. Many Christians today are inspired by Pope Francis' teachings about homosexuality. Under Francis' leadership, the Church is coming to recognise the need to compassionately embrace the God-given dignity of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The same sense of mercy is also evident in Francis' moves to be more