‘Third Way’ Applies to Rules, Not People

love people

Thursday I wrote about the Third Way re. the LGBTQ issue and was surprised by responses from two friends who know my heart and value my work.

I knew I had written some profound truth in that post—no regrets there—but I also knew Liz and Michael had found cracks for people to treat LGBTQ people as a subclass. I did not want misinterpretation any more than they did.

What happened? I wondered, as I searched for the disconnect between what I’d said and what others could potentially hear.

Then it emerged: The Third Way is how we must approach RULES, not people.

By the Third Way, I contrast with the binary of for or against, yes or no, acceptance or rejection. We seem to do that with LGBTQ (and most other) biblical issues. Just yesterday, when my friend reposted another post from my blog, someone commented, “Why do we have to label LGBTQ? Can’t they just say no and not do it?” I know, she misunderstood on so many levels, and I answered her back. But that is my point. She felt entitled to reduce a real issue with real people to an either/or about rules.

The Third Way allows us to set aside rules, behavior (…and sin)—as we understand them—by showing us we really don’t understand them. We look at the outward appearance, the outer shell and behavior, and we attribute motive.  God knows the heart, and God alone has the prerogative to assess that heart.

I advocate the Third Way to suspend judgment—to say, “I don’t know someone’s heart. I can’t know it. And I’m not qualified to judge.”

When we apply the Third Way to people, we create a subclass, the marginalized, on some kind of probation because their actions are not quite up to our standards. The only example we have of people doing that in the Bible is the religious leaders, whom Jesus scorned! [Matthew 25]

We must use the Right Way with people. In order to treat people that Right Way, as he always did, Jesus affirmed a Third Way with the rules and expectations of people.

In modern history, Bible verses were used in court to justify slavery. If the many verses that apparently support slavery conflict with actual people held in slavery, we must take the Third Way on those verses. We must say, “I don’t know what they mean. But clearly, they cannot justify the brutal enslavement of a race of people, which they’ve been wantonly used to justify, because that goes against everything Jesus demonstrated to us.

In fact, he taught us that the law was made to meet the needs of the people; people were not made to meet the requirements of the law. Instead of shackling any more people, let’s set those rules aside until they make more sense.”

Watch The Crucible to see how abject fear can drive us to adhere to rules that end in death for people, to whom the rules were given.

This is exactly what has happened to the LGBTQ community: real people, whom God loves, have been condemned, shunned, vilified, imprisoned, beaten and murdered for 6 or 7 verses we’ve badly misinterpreted. The rules were never meant to be used that way. Ever.

Jesus applied the Third Way to the law (behavior, interpretation of sin) to PROTECT people.

Jesus challenged the religious leaders who accused him of breaking the law. He said [Mark 7:9], “You skillfully sidestep God’s law in order to hold on to your own tradition.” Does this sound at all vaguely familiar, as people put their tradition over real (LGBTQ) people? Jesus associated with a known extorter  [Luke 19], an actual “sinful woman” [Luke 7:39] and other outliers [Mark 2:16], when the religious leaders thought he should have known better. But that seems to be who Jesus preferred to hang out with.

Jesus applied the Right Way with people. Jesus always put people above the (letter of) the law (and so fulfilled the spirit of the law).

He healed people on the Sabbath, which clearly broke the letter of the law. [Here] When challenged by the religious leaders, he said, “You pull your little lamb from the ditch when it’s fallen and don’t tell me you don’t! You suspend the law when its implementation doesn’t make common sense.” Jesus is the one saying this, so if you’re going to get huffy, get huffy at Jesus… and you’ll be doing just what the religious leaders did (and so prove my point).

You who are detractors accuse me or other advocates of not taking the Bible seriously. But you are the ones not taking your Bible seriously!

Just read what Jesus says in his interactions, for heaven’s sake! See that Jesus came to give people life, not to enforce the law!  He is not saying, “Do a better job of enforcing the rules, would you?” He’s saying, “Back off the law enforcement—you’ve done enough damage as it is!” Just read how Jesus talks to the legalists, and take heed!

Jesus showed us to apply the Third Way to the law, not to people. In other words, he’s saying, “You don’t understand how to apply this law, and your attempts at it are destroying people. So stop trying to apply it, and instead help people.”

That’s what Jesus meant when he told us in Mark 12:30-31 to love God and love others, and this sums up all the other rules. Paul goes on in Romans to say: “Love does no wrong to others, so love fulfills the requirements of God’s law.”

This is a huge idea. Certainly enough to keep us busy for the rest of our lives.

I just wish we would believe it.

11 thoughts on “‘Third Way’ Applies to Rules, Not People

  1. Susan, thanks for this post. I find it impossible to use a checklist of rules to discern another’s heart. True discernment takes relationship and showing love in the midst of difference. Thank you for sharing that we would be better as a Church if we learned to welcome and embrace all people. -Lindsey

  2. Susan, I really like where you are going with this because as I was processing it and pondering it this weekend I began to realize that there may be a deeper issue going on in Christianity (at least the Christian faith here in this country).

    When I hear people talking about the third way the focus often tends to be on making it easy for those who believe that same sex relationships are wrong. I understand that many people feel like we have to do this in order to have people form relationships with lgbtq people and see who they are and hope that through those relationships their eyes will be opened …. but I keep going back to feeling like there must be a deeper and more serious problem with Christianity if we have to postpone justice for lgbtq people because Christians won’t take the time to form meaningful relationships with lgbtq people on their own.

    I think what you have written here starts to get into these deeper issues that we need to be dealing with and addressing.

    Thanks for continuing to wrestle with what it means to make the here and now a reflection of the kingdom of God!

    • Yes, Liz, I’ll tell you what the deeper issues is: it’s behavior-focus instead of relationship-focus. Period. We see people as subject to approval. And we say they’re subject to God’s approval but it’s really our OWN approval we’re subjecting them to. The church claims to live by the Bible, but it won’t take the Bible’s word for it that Jesus came for reconciliation (with God and with others), and that the work of God is to believe the one God sent. The church has made it all about behavior. Earning our way. Like very other faith. Christians claim to be different, but they are like every other world religion, by focusing on behavior. And the church does not trust God as they claim. If we trusted God, we would love people instead of shoving them in a box so they don’t threaten our interpretation of the Bible. I have long believed now that the LGBTQ issue is just one card pulled out of a house of cards, which is behavior. The church is CONSUMED with behavior, when it’s supposed to be about faith — Jesus said that several times. Thanks for your comments, insights, and hard work. ❤

  3. Yes. Oh yes.

    I have pondered for years the fullness of Matt 5:13, “Christ came… to complete the law.” Some renderings say, “… to end the law.” I believe it applies here beautifully, especially, if not everywhere we deal with moral issues.

    As I savored the heart of this post, I was thinking of Jalapeño Crawfish Chowder at Gruene River Grill. Oh, how I love it… so much so that I attempted to piece together the recipe and make it myself just last month. It was a winner! But it was not precisely according to the recipe. Along the way, I learned that while technique and portions and ingredients are all important, what’s most important is one’s ability to look beyond the rules of the recipe (and most others) to grasp the nuances of flavor palettes, texture and color combinations, and presentation. Some may have allergies. Some prefer 2% milk to heavy cream, cilantro instead of green onion. So I bent the rules. I cooked with heart, for family’s sake. It was “O’Bannion Soul Food.”

    Our tendency to settle into self righteous application of rules continues to baffle me, and enslave so many. Why do we do that? Is it to appease our owns conscience, or maintain the comfort of a cultural distinctive? The caged bird who refuses to fly out of the open gate, and the duck in the mud puddle with the limitless lack over the next hill… all these come to mind. If the “law” is a tudor, then Love is the Master. Don’t relationships trump rules? Love transcend law? All we have to do is leave the cage, to consider what’s beyond the next hill.

    How I pray this discussion continues in spirit and in truth. Surely, it is key to our spiritual evolution, the maturing of the Body Universal that leads to perfect love in Christ. Surely, that is the Way, the Truth, the Life… the tangible gift of grace… even grace personified. I believe it. And I live for the day when our (the Church’s) reality merges with our theology. Love wins. Amen.

    • Beautifully said, Tami. LOVE “If ‘law’ is a tutor, then Love is the Master.” That’s absolutely it! Also LOVE your food example. The inverse is that I (not being the chef you apparently are) have made dishes USING the recipe and produced less savory results! Rules without love is revolting! Why do we do it? Fear and selfishness. It’s somewhere in there. Fear of the God we’ve internalized. Fear of loss of community and belonging. Those are debilitating fears. And selfish holding of power and/or money. Those are the areas that have got people hamstrung. But love wins, amen.

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