Michael Brown is a very interesting teacher on Jewish issues, and his books and teachings have been very helpful to many Messianic Jews, myself included. His comments on the Messianic movement are often insightful if sometimes lacking nuance, and his video and audio presentations on theology are challenging and even refreshing.
It is along theological lines that I have primarily encountered Dr Brown, to whom I have approached on occasion for blog comments. I greatly many of his admire his Messianic teachings. Nevertheless, some of his politics might require a certain balancing.
Outside of Messianic circles, Dr Brown has become better known as a campaigner on what is described in the USA as ‘family issues’, with a focus on issues surrounding homosexuality.
Dr Brown is likely sincere and passionate in all he does, believing fervently in all his causes, so I can’t imagine it’s easy to campaign politically for family values in the USA, and the potential pitfalls must be myriad. Still, the political dimension to Dr Brown’s campaigning flags up a couple of question, which I feel merit further discussion and analysis.
This is after reading Michael Brown’s latest piece for Townhall, which claims that homosexuality cannot be avoided even when watching sport – even though Jason Collins is the first openly gay sports professional in American history. I do like Michael Brown’s theology writings about many aspects of the Tanakh, but I feel I need to say something about his approach on a controversial issue for believers.
Lively infamously pushed the Ugandan kill-the-gays bill, and wrote a book blaming homosexuality for the Holocaust, called The Pink Swastika. Despite the fact that the Nazis actively killed gay people, Lively seeks to draw a correlation between homosexuality and Nazism, which has been criticised for its revisionist tendencies by the SPL Center and by the evangelical academic Warren Throckmorton.
For the record I think it was unfair and somewhat barmy of the SPL Center to list Dr Brown on the same page as David Duke, as somehow forming part of the same ‘Radical Right.’ As if a Zionist Jew and a Nazi antisemite would be in the same movement! The content of the SPLC critique of Dr Brown however, highlights comments he made linking homosexuality with paedophilia, which itself seems rather harsh and unfair on gay people.
Dr Brown also interviewed the anti-gay activist Martin Ssempa, the transcript of which is available online. Ssempa is one of the key Ugandan supporters of the bill to kill gay people, and shows his church gay porn to incite them to hate homosexuals. Somewhat disconcertingly, Dr Brown suggests that Ssempa genuinely does “care” about gays, on Dr Throckmorton’s blog.
I’ll be honest. I think it’s a major concern when a prominent Messianic Jew who professes expertise on the subject of homosexuality, defends an activist who wants to kill gays. And also that he should be aligned politically with a revisionist historian who exploits the Shoah for aggressive politics.
I think there’s a huge difference between saying God has standards of behaviour for our sexual conduct, deeming everything sexual aside from the marriage bed between one man and one woman as a sin, and politically campaigning alongside those who blame gays for the Holocaust whilst also lobbying for Africans deemed as gay aggressors by a corrupt government to be hung.
The worst thing about this, is then Messianic Jews are perceived to be against gay people, because of hostile political views. This can alienate LGBT, Left and Liberal Jews particularly, and make them think that believing in Yeshua is a political statement and a judgement against them as individuals. Even if not the intended message, this is what many sexual-minority Jewish people are picking up when they hear about this wing of Messianic Jewish campaigning for family values, and I think it needs to be said that there are Messianic Jews who wish to foster better relations with LGBT Jews. I know of one Messianic Jewish pastor who led a service for a community of LGBT Jews; both groups feeling ostracised from the wider community.
That is not to mention the many Messianic Jews who also have homosexual feelings or have sexual identities which they are working hard to make sense of, and align with their faith convictions.
Bear in mind we also want to give a compassionate witness towards Jewish people who are gay, they are no more sinners than the rest of us. We need to factor in how they would react too to negative publicity about our speakers. Let the only offence be the gospel, not our politics or our aggression
To make my point clearer: let’s do a thought experiment.
Imagine if all the homosexuals stopped having gay sex, gay thoughts, gay relationships, gay self-identity, and teaching gay perspectives in schools and societies.
Now we are left with a world which is heterosexual in its entirety. Everyone is straight.
We still have a society which encourages fornication, adulterous relationships (portrayed in Hollywood and on soaps as something salacious and fun), and deliberately confuses sexual experimentation with liberation.
Half the adverts on TV have someone looking seductively into the camera holding a perfume or a beer or a crisp packet or a car, to convince us to buy it.
You go into schools today and you can hear how the kids are obsessed with sexting, porn culture, body parts and fluids, and it seems to barely register as a problem with the educational authorities. It feels as if no-one wants to admit this is happening or confront it.
We would still have this culture where women are objectified and treated as if their worth and value is bound up in how she looks or who she dates. And although it is improving, you can see from the way women are portrayed in newspapers and advertisements, the way women continue to experience discrimination in the work place, and from many other sources, how pervasive these problems are, and the extent to which her role in society can be shaped by unfair male expectations.
We would still have rape.
We would still have some men (or “lads”) saying that women deserve to be raped for the length of their skirts.
We would still have abortions, often the consequence of women who have rushed into a sexual relationship that they shouldn’t have, or were pressured into, and now feel they have no way out.
My point is, society is unlikely to improve morally, even if every believer were actively committed to combatting gay marriage, I don’t think it is either the best approach nor the most effective way to convey the key message of our faith in Moshiach – especially given the history of homosexuals, they are likely to react as a minority group to perceived discrimination and aggression.
And even if all these other issues were to instantly clear up should homosexuality disappear, we would still sadly have lust occurring within our own minds, which Messiah Yeshua equated with adultery – a sin deserving of death.
Some believers would not confront homosexuality per se, but only gay marriage. With divorce statistics very high, domestic violence, extra-marital affairs, partners denying each other or fighting with each other in front of their children, I would say that marriage itself as an institution would be in a poor state anyway, even if no gays wanted to marry.
I’m not saying we can’t identify sin as sin.
But neither do I believe there is a gay agenda determined to undermine believers.
We ourselves undermine Moshiach in our thoughts, and we would continue to do so were homosexuality not to exist.
Lust is a sin with many destructive outworkings, and I think if we over-focus on homosexuality which is just one of its many effects – which if we are honest does not directly affect us so much as some of the other things I have mentioned – we can miss a greater point that only Yeshua’s grace and healing can protect us from our own sin.
I recommend to fellow believers we have a radical rethink about the way we approach sexual politics and gender politics.
As a wider body of believers, I often feel we manage not to send out a united message on key issues such as racism, the resurrection, atonement and salvation, but do make itself loud and clear about homosexuality and marriage-as-an-institution. Surely something has to change if we want to be taken seriously.
If we are too aggressive in our public views, we will be met with an aggressive reaction, which we absolutely don’t want.
Messianic Jews must become known primarily by our love for all created in God’s image, before we begin commenting on the sins of others.
Whilst Dr Brown’s politics are not my cup of tea, it is nevertheless worth encouraging Dr Brown in his apologetic work and his towards many of his theological topics. But this issue is worth raising at this time, and may we all learn to be more sensitive and faithful, and above all, loving.