Sunday, February 14, 2010

When Radical Amputation is Wrong

"You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell" (Matthew 5:27-30).

I was recently at the Desiring God pastor's conference. It was a great time and I came back very refreshed and invigorated. I went with a very close friend and we had hours of conversations about biblical and ministry issues. It was truly great. One incident stuck out in my mind and I thought I'd share it.

The conference was in the Minneapolis Convention Center and most of the pastors stayed in the Hilton. There is a skyway that connects much of downtown, including our hotel and the convention center. On the way to one of our sessions, clusters of pastors were walking along the skyway when an attractive young lady dressed in a fairly short skirt rounded the corner coming the opposite direction. She obviously worked somewhere downtown because her clothing was fashionable yet professional. You could have heard a pin drop. You'd have thought the poor girl was a rattle snake, not a human created in the image of God.

A hallway full of pastors looked straight ahead like robots. No smiles. No "Good morning. How are you?" I haven't seen such discipline since standing at attention in formation in the Army. Here's the funny thing though. I guarantee you every pastor in that hallway knew precisely what that girl was wearing. So I immediately made fun of the situation to my friend, saying something like, "A hallway of pastors can't even smile at a girl passing by? What is wrong with this picture?" (Actually I hinted that we haven't come so far from the blind Pharisees days).

Now, I understand that lust is a serious thing. The above text makes that point clear. You don't want to go around lusting. But here's the problem. The lust wasn't killed in the hearts of those pastors. What is the difference between treating a cute girl as an object by lusting after her or treating a cute girl as an object by totally ignoring her existence because of your own selfish heart? Either way the girl isn't treated as fully human, worthy of love and respect. It's pure legalism of an ugly sort that allows for a hallway full of pastors to go to a conference on Christian happiness congratulating themselves for how well they fight the fight against lust, even though they had to dehumanize a girl in the process.

John Piper's biography of C. S. Lewis was fantastic. One small part of it really hit me when it came to this incident in the hallway. He said that morality (law) is like a crutch that righteous people don't need. Sometimes we need laws to function in the same way that sometimes a person needs a crutch to walk. But the object isn't to stay on the crutches forever. Healthy people don't need crutches and righteous people don't need laws to make them love others. Is the state of Christianity so weak that a bunch of Christian hedonist pastors gathered from all over America need to look at every pretty woman through the lens of Matthew 5? When do we move beyond Matthew 5? We can't even look at a girl, can't even say hello, can't even talk to her without lusting? For real? Then we're in serious trouble! But if we can, then we should. Our first instinct shouldn't be to close our eyes. It should be to reach out in love. Put the crutches away and start treating women as women, created in the image of God and worthy of acknowledgment.

As I started watching people's interactions more after that hallway incident, I realized it wasn't an isolated thing. It seems the natural inclination for pastors, when passing hot girls, is to totally ignore them like they're not in the room. Interestingly enough, older or not as pretty of women get to be treated like human beings. They get a smile or a word of greeting, and maybe even a conversation. They're not inherent Jezebels out to send poor Christian men to their dooms. Only the hot ones are worthy of totally ignoring so that they never get a smile of kindness except from men who want one thing from them. My friend summed it up best. How can a pastor who can't look at a pretty girl without lusting shepherd a congregation of them? I guess blindly with no arms.