On Tuesday, May 10th, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to approve a change in their ordination standards. The statement from the PCUSA website provides more details. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, posted a blog about this change.
Basically, they removed the constitutional requirement that all ministers, elders, and deacons live in “fidelity within the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman or chastity in singleness.” That stipulation was removed in favor of the wording, “submit joyfully to the Lordship of Jesus Christ in all aspects of life.” While not an explicit endorsement of ordination of homosexual clergy, many commentators believe that the major prohibition for such has now been removed.
Upon hearing this news, I decided to check out the PCUSA website to confirm. Perhaps they would have on the main page some rationale for the decision, or maybe some information about the vote, etc. Surely this was a big enough issue for them to put on the main page of their website.
On arriving to their website, the report of the vote was snuggled below the main article, “Presbyterians Fight Modern Day Slavery.” This article’s description is as follows: “Millions are being forced into labor – yet, Christ calls us to proclaim release to the captives. Help wipe out human trafficking…” I took a screenshot of the page the morning after the resolution was passed (see image at right).
However, I couldn’t help but notice the irony of human trafficking and homosexuality juxtaposed on the same page. Here, on the main page of the PCUSA website, was the report of what will likely be their endorsement of ordaining practicing homosexuals while at the same time arguing against modern day slavery and human trafficking.
Why do I find this ironic?
In the New Testament, there is a particular Greek word that is used to describe human trafficking. The word is andrapodistes (ἀνδραποδιστής) and is translated as “enslavers” (ESV), “kidnappers” (NASB), and “slave traders” (TNIV, NLT).
Louw and Nida define it as “one who sells persons as slaves, including one who kidnaps persons and sells them — ‘slave dealer, kidnapper’” (L&N 57.187). The word occurs only once in the New Testament, in one of Paul’s letters (we will get to it in a moment). It is a term that accurately describes the same horrific practices that the headline article on PCUSA website describes.
However, the article regarding human trafficking on the PCUSA website strangely does not include any reference to this unique New Testament word that illustrates – indeed condemns – this unlawful act! To be sure, they quote a few verses from Jesus regarding the liberation of “captives,” etc., but no mention of the Pauline passage that clearly reviles such a practice.
This is where the irony comes in.
Here is the passage where that lone occurrence of andrapodistes in the New Testament, in Paul’s first letter to Timothy:
“Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, 9 understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted” (1 Tim 1:8–11 ESV).
Did you catch that?
In one of many New Testament “vice” lists, Paul here condemns as “unlawful” and “contrary to sound doctrine” the capture of persons for slavery. But notice the vice that immediately precedes it: “men who practice homosexuality.” This phrase is conveyed in the single Greek term arsenokoites (ἀρσενοκοίτης). Elsewhere Paul uses this term for homosexual practice, along with another term malakos (μαλακός), to describe the unrighteous:
“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 [μαλακός, malakos], nor homosexuals [ἀρσενοκοίτης, arsenokoites], 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9–10 NASB).
Here you have Paul listing human trafficking and homosexuality right next to each other in a list of vices that are contrary to Christian practice and which the law rightfully reproves. PCUSA condemns the one and has now apparently openly embraced the other.
Perhaps the author of the article criticizing the practice of human slavery is not aware of the Greek word, andrapodistes. Or, worse yet, perhaps they were aware of it and feared that citing the verse they would be caught in a major self-contradiction. For on what authority would they cite such a passage as disapproving a practice they disapprove of while it also condemns the practice they now embrace as acceptable for clergy?
This visit to the PCUSA website was an enlightening example of how common it is for some to arbitrarily select which moral issues they think the New Testament addresses. According to PCUSA, the New Testament evidently is very clear regarding human trafficking and modern slavery but ambiguous at best about sexual immorality and homosexuality in particular.
Although I am criticizing PCUSA’s arbitrary selection of which New Testament vices are applicable today, I do not want to minimize the work that they are doing to eradicate the horrific practice of human trafficking. Their endeavors are commendable and we would do well to learn more about what we can do about it.
The page of resources on learning more about human trafficking can be found here.