The day before Kaikoura’s massive 7.8 earthquake on 13th November, Brian Tamaki, leader of New Zealand’s Destiny Churches, was telling a congregation that the earth “convulses under the weight of certain human sin.” Explaining why Christchurch had suffered devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 which killed 185 people, including my friend Wally Tairakena, Mr Tamaki said:
“The land actually speaks to God. Out of the soil … Abel’s blood spoke to God from a murder. The earth can speak. Leviticus says that the earth convulses under the weight of certain human sin. It spews itself up after a while – that’s natural disasters. Because nature was never created to carry the bondage of our iniquity.”
Christchurch was struck because of its high murder rate, he said, and because a local MP, Tim Barnett, had campaigned for gay marriage along with his then partner Jonathan Kirkpatrick, an Anglican priest. Mr Tamaki told his audience that the “gay minister [had worked in] the church that was in the Square, the one that got totally wrecked by the earthquake”. However, Mr Kirkpatrick had actually served at St Michael and All Angels in nearby Oxford Terrace which survived the quake.
Mr Tamaki felt vindicated by the following day’s earthquakes, later blogging:
“Leviticus 18 is God outlining the types of sexual sins that when they are practiced to a point of blatant disregard to a certain depth of perversion that the land will actually react andspew up the inhabitants! No other sin in the whole of the Bible has any connection to earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions, but sexual perversions alone.”
I was tempted to reply publicly but, given our media’s frequent inability to listen for much more than sound-bites, I’ve tried to write this as a proper reply to Mr Tamaki. Of course, he’s wrong. Not wrong to consider Leviticus 18 but wrong to blame natural disasters on homosexual activists. When Jesus spoke on both of these issues, He spoke very differently.
…do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 1
Mr Tamaki clearly does suppose so but that tragedy was, as Solomon puts it, a matter of time and chance:
I again saw under the sun that the race is not to the swift and the battle is not to the warriors, and neither is bread to the wise nor wealth to the discerning nor favor to men of ability; for time and chance overtake them all. Moreover, man does not know his time: like fish caught in a treacherous net and birds trapped in a snare, so the sons of men are ensnared at an evil time when it suddenly falls on them. 2
The eighteen men were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jesus therefore counsels us all to be ever ready because we can all die at any time. His brother James advises us similarly:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.” Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapour that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.3
Of course, God can supernaturally intervene, as He did when He raised Tabitha from the dead4 Peter from prison,5 and Paul and all his shipmates from shipwreck, 6 but, in the natural order of things, none of us is guaranteed tomorrow.To make it personal, should I have supposed that Wally and the other 184 earthquake victims were worse culprits than all the people who live in Christchurch? No.
Singling Out Homosexuality
Leviticus 18 is a remarkable passage and it’s a shame that Mr Tamaki hasn’t read it more carefully – for three and a half thousand years, it’s been the Jewish understanding of sexual purity, the Christians’ for the last two thousand years, and Western Civilisation’s for at least half a millennium.
To be fair to Mr Tamaki, though, not many read it at all today – when was the last time you heard it mentioned, or read it yourself? Yes, it does say that when the land of Canaan was defiled, it “spewed out its inhabitants” 7 but that was a metaphor for God giving the land to the Israelites, not emptying it by “earthquakes, floods, and volcanic eruptions”. And it doesn’t single out homosexuality.
Leviticus 18 begins by calling the Israelites to reject the accepted norms of sexual behaviour among the Egyptians, where they had just been in slavery, and among the Canaanites, where they were headed:
You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you… 8
It then goes on to spell out these behaviours:
The prohibition of incest, i.e. sexual relations with immediate family members, could have saved Egyptian royal families such Tutankhamun’s from extinction. The menstrual prohibition and idolatry referred to the Egyptian and Canaanite fertility rites which also involved bestiality as well as male and female prostitutes. 15 In summary:
Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled… for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled16
So Leviticus 18 does not single out homosexuality, nor is there any linkage to natural disasters.
Sodom, Gomorrah, and Homosexuality
It may be that Mr Tamaki was actually thinking of God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah17 when he blogged that ‘no other sin in the whole of the Bible has any connection to earthquakes, floods and volcanic eruptions, but sexual perversions alone.’
However, while the ‘brimstone and fire’ in that text18 sounds volcanic, this was not a natural disaster that killed innocents but supernaturally targeted to avoid the nearby village of Zoar,19 and Jude’s condemnation of the ‘gross immorality’ 20 of the guilty was for attempted homosexual gang-rape of visitors.21
Mr Tamaki’s confusion may have been caused by the English word ‘sodomy’, coined to describe homosexuality, but the Scriptures are explicit as to why God judged these cities. Speaking to Jerusalem, He said:
“Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy. Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”22
Their ‘guilt’ was not ‘sodomy’ but arrogance, hedonism, and refusing to ‘help the poor and needy’, which fuelled their self-exaltation and ‘abominations’, i.e. sexual immorality of all kinds. Remember, these were Canaanite cities, living as described above.
So Genesis 19 also does not single out homosexuality, nor is there any linkage to natural disasters.
Jesus on Homosexuality
Every time Jesus spoke on sexual immorality,23 it was to help His 1st Century Jewish audience to better understand their Law. Challenged for not washing His hands ritualistically, He rejected that ritual as man-made tradition, pointing out that no one is defiled by what they eat but by what they think:
Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications [Grk, porneia – sexual immorality], thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man24
No one listening would have been in the slightest doubt of what He meant by sexual immorality – they were Jewish and they’d had their definition for one and a half thousand years already. Besides ‘adulteries’ and Leviticus 18’s definitions, the Law forbids sexual relations before marriage,25 prostitution, both heterosexual26 and homosexual,27 and rape, both heterosexual28 and homosexual.29
Jesus’ teaching on defiling thoughts and desires was based on the Law’s definition of defiling sexual behaviour.30 He didn’t have to spell it out to His all-Jewish audience and He didn’t come to change it:
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “”For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.31
And He didn’t single out homosexuality.
Paul on Homosexuality
When Paul wrote to the Roman or Corinthian Christians, he was writing to Gentiles whose 1st Century cultures still embraced many of the ancient Canaanite practices – the Temple of Aphrodite in Corinth, for example, had 1,000 prostitute priestesses in service.32 Given their lack of Jewish understanding, he had to spell out sexual immorality for them:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.33
Notice how similar this is to Ezekiel’s description of Sodom as selfishly indulgent? Stealing, coveting, and swindling, instead of caring and giving; drunken and arrogant, instead of self-controlled and respectful.
And Paul didn’t single out homosexuality.
Us and Homosexuality
Today, our society tells us that we have to single out homosexuality, some like Mr Tamaki to condemn it but the vast majority, in a deafening chorus, to exonerate it, to remove it from the list of our Judaeo-Christian heritage definitions of sexual immorality.
In New Zealand, we decriminalised homosexuality in 1974 and rightly so. We decriminalised pre-marital sex and adultery much sooner, though damages could still be sought for adultery until 1975. We legalised abortion in 1977 and prostitution in 2003, which leaves only incest, rape, bestiality, and sex with minors as criminal sexual behaviour.
There is much debate needed today as to what part the laws of any nation can and should play in curbing particular behaviours. While everyone agrees that murder, theft, rape, kidnapping, and sex-trafficking should be illegal, few today would argue for the criminalising of sexual immorality other than for incest, rape, and bestiality, and to set the age of consent. I certainly would not.
Regarding homosexuality, however, some believe it should be a crime to even discuss its morality. Last year, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference published a defence of traditional marriage in a pamphlet called, Don’t Mess With Marriage. They began by urging their parishioners to accept anyone ‘with deep-seated homosexual tendencies… with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided’. They then presented their case for marriage:
Some suggest that it is unjustly discriminatory not to allow people with same-sex attraction to marry someone of the same sex… If [however] marriage is an institution designed to support people of the opposite sex to be faithful to each other and to the children of their union, it is not discrimination to reserve it to them.
The Church was called before Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commission on the grounds that the pamphlet was ‘offensive, insulting, and humiliating’.34 In September this year, the Mercure Sydney Hotel was forced to cancel a conference booking of Anglicans, Catholics, the Marriage Alliance, and the Australian Christian Lobby, gathering to discuss how to respond to their nation’s gay-marriage plebiscite, because of threats to staff.35
How Should We Respond?
It should go without saying, but always with love and respect, and without compromising the message of Jesus. This means we shouldn’t be singling out homosexuality, whether to link it to natural disasters or to redefine it as sexually pure. The desire for same-sex partners is as natural for some of us as heterosexual desire is for the rest of us. The desire for pre-marital sex and adultery is also natural but it’s defiling, and that’s the real issue. As we saw above:
Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications [Grk, porneia – sexual immorality], thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man.36
If we want to help anyone find God and eternal life, we have to stay on message:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.37
Our homosexual friends and family need to hear (often) that they are loved and that they are not alone, that we all need to curb our naturally occurring sexually immoral desires:
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.38
So what’s the way of escape?
Firstly, like any alcoholic wanting freedom, we have to face our failings – every one of us needs forgiveness and cleansing from anything that Jesus says defiles us. We need to repent:
…do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.39
Our society’s redefinitions of sexual morality are deceptive and solve nothing:
…Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, …will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.40
If we give our lives to Jesus as Lord, we are not only washed clean but ‘sanctified’, made saints, set apart to God, and ‘justified’, which is completely forgiven.
Secondly, as Paul says, while the Law of Moses spells out sexual purity, only the indwelling Holy Spirit can enable us to live in it:
For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.41
We all need to be born of the Spirit, just as Jesus said, and look at what God promises us all:
“I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”42
If we ask Him, and only if we ask Him, He will transform us inwardly. He will remove all that is ‘stone’, hard, cold, insensitive, and dead, and give us a heart that is soft, warm, sensitive, and alive. He will also come to live inside us, giving us new desires and a whole new motivation for living. He’s done it for me and He can do it for anyone. Ask Him.
Ready for Anything
Accidental deaths are always shocking because lives are cut short but no one is shocked when someone dies of old age – sooner or later, we are all going to die. We just hope it’s later rather than sooner. Surely, then, the most important question we all have to ask ourselves is, am I ready to die? There’s only one antidote to mortality and that’s immortality, and only One has immortality:
Lift up your eyes to the sky, then look to the earth beneath; for the sky will vanish like smoke, and the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants will die in like manner; but My salvation will be forever…43
The whole earth is wearing out like a garment. Or as my old physics teacher explained the Second Law of Thermodynamics, everything that exists is degenerating into a more disordered state. Creation was perfect but ever since the Fall, it’s been all downhill. And it’s not just in the natural realm – we can abuse, impoverish, and kill each other increasingly more efficiently and in vaster numbers than ever before. In the last hundred years, atheistic dictators like Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot, or religious despots like Hitler and Hiro Hito killed over 270 million as I cover in Slouching Towards Bethlehem, 44 Today we hear of Islamic fundamentalists slaughtering in Syria, Sudan, Nigeria, Libya, and Yemen, or terrorists in New York, London, Brussels, Paris, or Berlin.
As discouraging as this seems, Jesus offers us a remarkably different perspective:
When you hear of wars and disturbances, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end does not follow immediately…Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be great earthquakes, and in various places plagues and famines; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven…45
Our wars, man-made famines, and Climate Change (man-made and/or natural), will be interspersed with Mr Tamaki’s natural disasters like great earthquakes, plagues, and tsunamis:
…and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.46
These won’t be caused by gay activists but by political and religious leaders and the earth simply wearing out. But we have an extraordinary hope – the same Jesus who warned us that this would all take place also said:
But all these things are merely the beginning of birth pangs.47
Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory… when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.48
So… are you ready for anything? If not, you can pray like this:
Lord Jesus, I will trust You and surrender myself to You. Please forgive me for everything I’ve done wrong. Please come into my heart and change me into whatever You want me to be. And remember me when You come in Your Kingdom!
- Luke 13:4-5
- Ecc 9:11-12, emphasis added
- Jas 4:13-16
- Acts 9:36-41,
- Acts 12:3-10
- Acts 27:23-24
- v. 25
- Lev 18:3
- vv. 6-19
- v. 19
- v. 20
- v. 21
- v. 22
- v. 23
- Deut 23:17
- Lev 18:24 & 27, emphasis added
- Gen 19:1-29
- Gen 19:24
- Gen 19:17-23
- Jude 7
- Gen 19:4-5
- Ezek 16:49-50
- E.g. Matthew 5:32, 15:19, 19:9, Mark 7:21
- Matt 15:19-20
- Ex 22:16
- Lev 19:29
- Deut 23:18
- Deut 22:25
- Gen 19:5-7, Jude 1:7
- Lev 18:24
- Matt 5:17-19
- Strabo, Geography, Book 8, 6:20
- 1 Cor 6:9-11
- The Australian, 24-25 Sept, 2016, Inquirer, p. 19.
- Matt 15:19-20
- Matt 5:8
- 1 Cor 10:13
- Luke 13:4-5
- 1 Cor 6:9-11, emphasis added
- Rom 8:3-4
- Ezek 36:25-27
- Isa 51:6
- pp. 121-128
- Luke 21:9-11
- Luke 21:25-26
- Matt 24:8
- Luke 21:27-28