In “Giving Your Child to the Devil,” the Dean of Women at an institute of Biblical studies writes that “loyalty to Jesus” required her to break ties with her son because he refuses to repent of what she regards as sin in his life. She has not seen him in two-and-a-half years.
God instructs Christians to break ties with our children and others in similar situations, she says, citing scripture.
She prays that “you love the Lord enough to choose Him over your children.”
What she calls her son’s “practice of sin” is not specified in her article, but others report that she published the article hours before her son married a man in a wedding she refused to attend.
“Giving Your Child to the Devil” goes much further than saying no to a wedding invitation, though.
RSVP No to a Relationship
Her article advises that God, via the Bible, instructs Christians to break ties altogether with a family member (and anyone else) who says he or she is a Christian but does not repent of sin that we identify in their life. These are sins to which they “have given” themselves, per the article.
Breaking ties involves withdrawing from the perceived sinner, including not eating, spending time, or associating with them.
Such advice is harmful, particularly to those who are already vulnerable. The Center for Disease Control cites studies showing gay youth are more than twice as likely to have attempted suicide than their heterosexual peers. Breaking ties can cause and exacerbate these struggles. Adults rejected by their families also often suffer significant adverse psychological and physical consequences, including depression.
And such advice conflicts with what the Bible actually says.
The article combines misinterpreting and misapplying scripture with ignoring the teachings of Jesus to arrive at its sad conclusion.
Overview and a Modification of the Article’s Prayer
Today’s post examines three scriptural errors in the article.
In doing so, today’s post explains that the Bible does not instruct people to break ties with their gay children and that loyalty to Jesus does not require it or even encourage it. Just the opposite, Jesus says to love them and treat them well. The same goes for gay friends.
I pray that you will love the Lord enough to choose Him and your children.
First: Jesus’s Teachings Are Largely Absent from “Giving Your Child to the Devil”
“Loyalty to Jesus” is recited at the beginning of the article, so lots of references to Jesus were to be expected.
But Jesus barely appears.
The original article cites 21 Bible verses, only one of which contains a quote from Jesus. An addendum to the original cites 32 verses while adding only four more containing a quote from Jesus.
This reflects one of the biggest problems with theology like that expressed in the article: Jesus’s teachings are ignored or given a tiny role.
Jesus: Love One Another, No Conditions
Jesus taught the opposite of breaking ties.
He explained that “all the law and the prophets” (commands and teachings of the Old Testament) hang on two commandments:
- “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
- “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
He taught that this love of neighbor means love of everyone—those like us and those not like us. Even of enemies.
As to “loyalty to Jesus,” Jesus himself taught how to demonstrate it: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus expresses no conditions on this love we are to have for others. It is not “have love for one another except for the one who refuses to repent of sin that you think is in his life.”
It is simply “have love for one another.”
Not That Version of Love
“Giving Your Child to the Devil” asserts that unconditional love for others is not so sunny. It includes breaking ties with family and “giving them up to the Devil,” per the article, because God has and will discipline humans by doing so.
Such a formulation misunderstands the meaning of unconditional. It also seeks license to act like God in disciplining others.
The article explains, “I think if people would read the prophets [(part of the Old Testament)], they’d be shocked to see how their short-sighted view of love is overturned by God’s genuine response of love.”
The article’s version of love is not the one God wants us to employ, though.
Instead, This One: A New Commandment from Jesus
Jesus gave us a new commandment on how we are to love.
He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
He repeated: “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”
In this same vein, he said, “I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.”
This is a radical new command: Followers of Jesus must love other people and do for them just like Jesus loved other people and did for them while Jesus was on Earth.
The new part is its specification of how to love, going beyond “love your neighbor as yourself.”
The version of love commanded is not “read the prophets” to figure it out, do what God does to punish, engage in “tough love,” or do what Paul told certain churches to do.
Instead, this new command asks us to do it the way Jesus did it while he was on Earth.
This Is How We Do It
Jesus’s love involved having a relationship with those in whom he or others saw sin.
Jesus’s example of love for “sinners” while he was on Earth included,
- eating with them
- talking with them
- inviting himself to their house
- allowing them to touch him
- accepting criticism that he was a friend of sinners
- sacrificing for them, including dying for their salvation
Jesus did not wait for sinners to repent before doing these things. He did not discipline them. He did not break ties when he saw unrepentant sin. He sought and maintained a relationship.
Jesus’s example of love for sinners included things often associated with family: meals together, conversation, going to the family member’s home, physical contact, being together, and sacrificing for one another.
That is the version of love commanded by Jesus.
Love the Sinner, Not the Sin
Before he gave his new commandment, Jesus differentiated his judgment of sin and his judgment of people while he was on Earth. His judgment of sin included communicating, usually via words, his view of sin.
He explained “If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day.”
Jesus’s example on Earth did not include deciding that a person’s sin means that he should not share meals with them, touch them, or talk with them.
When addressing a situation in which a member of a local church will not listen to an entire group of fellow church members about a sin that member committed against another member, Jesus did not teach breaking ties. Jesus taught to let that non-listening member “be to you like a heathen and a tax collector.” The precise meaning of this phrase is unclear, but one can be confident that it does not mean to break ties with the member, stop talking with the member, and avoid eating with him or her because Jesus taught that you ought to do just the opposite with Jesus’s example.
Indeed, what if Jesus had said let that non-listening member “be to you like the person who you think I should condemn the most”?
After Judas began his betrayal of Jesus, Jesus washed Judas’s feet, dined with him, received his kiss, and called him “friend.”
Calling Out Sin, Yes
Jesus discerned sin in people’s lives and criticized sin. He called the Pharisees a brood of vipers and hypocrites. He judged sin and spoke negatively about it. He encouraged repentance.
But, with his Earthly example, he did not display or speak a view that being with people or eating with them is an endorsement of their sin. Nor did he discipline them for sins against God by withholding from them a relationship with him.
Even when Jesus demonstrably called out the moneychangers and merchants in the Temple for making the Temple a “den of robbers” and drove them out to make his point, he did not make it so they must stop such things and repent before they return to the Temple. In other words, even though it was within his power to do so, Jesus did not cut them off from either a relationship with him or from the Temple.
Jesus asked them to stop. He communicated his view. He showed his authority, identity, and fulfilled prophecy. It is likely most had returned by the next day or even the next hour, though.
Cutting Ties, No
The how we are to love as asked by Jesus is not found by reading the Old Testament prophets or anything or anyone else.
The how we are to love is found in Jesus’s new commandment and example: the how is found in the example of Jesus while he was on Earth. Nowhere does that example include cutting ties with a family member for sin against God.
Second: “Giving Your Child to the Devil” Misinterprets and Misapplies Scripture
Instead of relying on Jesus’s teachings, “Giving Your Child to the Devil” primarily relies on six sentences in two letters written by the Apostle Paul (or in his name) to two churches. From those, she concludes that she must cut ties with her son and that God instructs us all to cut ties with Christians who are sinners.
Emphasizing part of one of the letters, the article says there are two types of sinners, non-Christians and Christians: “The inspired apostle Paul said they are to be treated differently. … [H]e was telling them that they were not to keep company or fellowship, not even to eat with a sinner who is a” Christian. The article goes on to say, “I’m not surprised that so many failed to see this distinction because it isn’t frequently preached, and it is even more seldom put into practice.”
These two letters by no means instruct family members to withdraw from or break ties with other family members for failing to repent of sin. And while it is not a leap to say that today’s churches can learn much from the letters, it is a big leap to say that every sentence in them is an instruction from God for us today.
Some of the problems with interpreting the letters as the article does are outlined below (1 Corinthians is emphasized by the article, so it is emphasized below; the comments apply to both letters).
Letters to Specific Churches About Specific Situations
The letters themselves explain that they are written to two specific churches. In the first one, 1 Corinthians, Paul says “I wrote to you” (my emphasis), meaning he wrote to a church, a group of believers, in Corinth, Greece, about 2000 years ago. Paul says “I have written to you not to keep company …. Therefore ‘put away from yourselves the evil person.” The second letter, 2 Thessalonians, was to a church in Thessalonica, Greece, at about the same time, and says “we command you, brethren, that you withdraw …. But as for you, brethren, ….”
In other words, the advice Paul provides were in letters to those specific churches about their specific situations in their specific cultures. It is not expressed as advice for families. It is not expressed as advice for churches in general for all time, either.
Can we learn something from this scripture? Of course. Must a church sometimes remove a member today? Of course. Is 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 a general command or instruction from God for churches and families today? The passage itself does not indicate that it is, and there is much indicating that it is not.
The Article Conflicts With Jesus’s Teachings
Since Jesus’s example and teaching did not involve breaking ties with sinners, the article’s interpretation of a few sentences from Paul’s letters to say that loyalty to Jesus requires Christians today to break ties with certain sinners immediately raises suspicion.
Indeed, after Jesus’s resurrection, Jesus asked Peter three times if Peter loves Jesus. Peter answered “yes” each time. Every time, in reply, Jesus instructed Peter to tend and feed Jesus’s sheep and lambs. “Sheep” and “flock” are often used in scripture to refer to Christians (and others). When Peter professes his love and loyalty to Jesus, Jesus asks only one thing of Peter: tend and feed his sheep and lambs.
It is impossible to “tend and feed” other people if you break ties with them.
And Ignores the Context of the Letters
In textual interpretation, context is crucial. Her article invokes no context, though.
The books in the Bible named Corinthians and Thessalonians are letters written by Paul to two churches specifically. They are written in the style of a personal letter to a small group of people. Paul had a personal history with the two churches to which he wrote. He had visited them and had written to them before.
In 1 Corinthians 5, he addressed a specific issue: one of the church members was having sex with his stepmother. The church “gloried” the member’s behavior. And Paul was responding to a letter from that church—a letter we do not have.
So, we know some context, but there is much more we do not know: What were the questions the church asked in its letter(s) to Paul? Had Paul previously given that church special instructions about not having sexually immoral people assemble with them because of particular problems the church was having? Was he punishing that church for “boasting” about the sin among them? Was there some tradition in that community that called for excluding such people? Honor-shame? For just a while?
Had the church members agreed to govern themselves by what Paul said? Had Paul preached or spoken on this topic such that he could write in short-hand? What were the details of what Paul said in his earlier letter to which he referred? Was it unclear that having sex with your stepmother (it is uncertain whether his father was still alive) or some other actions constituted sin, and Paul was sending a message that it is?
Interpreting 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 is like walking into the middle of a back-and-forth conversation in which we cannot participate and that includes people we do not know, that is about events with which the speakers are intimately familiar (and we are not), and that is occurring in a foreign country, in a foreign language, and in a foreign culture. And we hear only part of one side of the conversation.
Do we ignore what we learn from this conversation? No, but we are not so confident in our interpretation that we start cutting off family members and contradicting Jesus’s teaching.
Choosing a harsh interpretation without reference to important context and declaring the interpretation to be generally applicable to churches and families today when the text gives no indication that such general applicability was intended and when the text is directed to specific churches in specific cultures highly likely yields an incorrect interpretation. When that interpretation contradicts prior teachings from Jesus, misinterpretation moves beyond highly likely.
Agree with the Article? You Have Changes to Make
If you think the article is right and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 is God’s instructions for us today, then you have adjustments to make.
Women, you must never pray without your head covered. And men, you must not pray, in your car or elsewhere, while wearing a cap. Men must not have long hair. We should all speak in tongues. Two or three prophets should speak during each worship service (no more, no less). If a Christian hits your car and injures you severely, you cannot sue him. You should remain in whatever situation you were in before you were saved.
Also, “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak ….” There are no exceptions for women talking while teaching children in Sunday School, saying hello to others, or keeping the nursery, by the way.
All of this is found in 1 Corinthians and must be done (or not done) today when interpreting like “Giving Your Child to the Devil.”
What if the Accused Sinner Doesn’t Think it is a Sin?
The passages under discussion do not deal with the situation in which the accused Christian does not believe his or her action is a sin.
Are these sins? — Drink a single beer? Use musical instruments in a worship service? Have an abortion in the second week of pregnancy? Get a tattoo? Intentionally miss a Sunday morning service to go to a football game? Unmarried and living together? Say the s-word or the f-bomb? Divorce and remarry when adultery has not occurred but abuse has? Fellowship with Baptists? Wear a low-cut blouse? Dance in front of the opposite sex? Swear to tell the truth in court? Work on Sunday?
If a Christian does one of these things while not believing it is a sin (and is not going to repent for it) and you, if you are a Christian, think it is a sin, you must stop eating and associating with that Christian under the article’s way of interpreting 1 Corinthians.
Some Christians disagree on whether same-sex marriage is a sin under a proper interpretation of scripture. Matthew Vines’ book, God and the Gay Christian, is a good introduction. I am in the midst of writing a series of posts looking at what “both sides” say about this issue. `
It Will Be Very Lonely If We Can’t Eat With Sinners
None of us can go to another church pot-luck if we interpret 1 Corinthians the way in which the article interprets it.
The article says “the specific sin is irrelevant. My response would be the same if he were unrepentant with regard to any sin.”
Are there any men in the pot-luck line who have looked at a woman, besides their wife, with lust recently? Today at church?
Any women in line who gossip? Any men who use contemptuous, harsh, or bullying language on social media? Men who are covetous of one of the cars in the parking lot? Any ladies who drank a little too much wine the night before?
We better head to our cars and get out of there, per the article’s mode of interpretation, no matter how good the green beans smell. We cannot return until all those Christians repent and stop sinning. I think we are going to be watching TV preaching for a while!
“Of course, I’m not talking about sins of momentary human weakness, sins committed in the moment, or sins we are trying to fight,” says the article. “I’m talking about sins to which we have given ourselves.”
But the church folks repent. Really? Haven’t they been doing the same thing for years? Is that repenting? You know they have repented of those sins? Did they do it publicly? What about all those “sins” that they do not think are sins, but you do?
So That’s Why
The reason the article’s family-and-friends-exclusion theology “isn’t frequently preached, and is more seldom put into practice,” as the article laments, is that such theology is a misinterpretation and misapplication and conflicts with Christ’s teachings.
Third: On the Rare Occasion Jesus Appears in “Giving Your Child to the Devil,” He Is Misconstrued and Something Really Important is Forgotten
Jesus is cited only twice in the article, and he is misconstrued both times.
One is addressed here because it is used to argue that Jesus’s unconditional love involved letting someone walk away, not calling the person back, and not changing the terms of having a relationship when the original terms are very challenging for the other person.
What the Article Says Happened
The article says: In Mark 10:21-22 a man “came to Jesus and asked him what he needed to do to be saved. Jesus told him, and the man was unwilling to do it. But don’t miss this. The text says that Jesus, looking at him, loved him. But he let him walk away. He didn’t call him back. He didn’t change his terms. He loved him, but let him walk away.”
What Really Happened
The scripture says: the man asks “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” After hearing the man say he has kept the commandments, Jesus loved the man and told the man he lacks one thing: “go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor ….; then come, follow me.” When the man heard this, “he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.”
The scripture does not say “the man was unwilling to do it,” as the article asserts. The man was shocked and went away grieving (an unsurprising reaction!). But we do not know whether the man was willing or unwilling to do it or whether he sold his possessions or not. The text does not tell us.
Nor does it say Jesus “let him walk away,” implying Jesus broke ties with the man. Instead, Jesus told him to walk away, to “go.” That is exactly what he did. The text does not report Jesus breaking ties with him.
A Bigger Miss
The article makes another major error by asserting Jesus “didn’t call him back. He didn’t change his terms.” In other words, Jesus’s unconditional love did not include calling the man back or changing the terms Jesus offered for eternal life, per the article.
Fortunately for all of us, the article is completely wrong on this point.
Not long after talking with the man, Jesus rode into Jerusalem to die on the cross for the man and all of us, thereby calling the man and all of us back and thereby completely changing his terms for inheriting eternal life in a most profound way.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” See John 3:16.
Jesus’s love for the man did not include letting him walk away. It did not include breaking ties. It did not include holding fast to his terms.
Instead, Jesus’s unconditional love included doing everything he possibly could to have a relationship with that man and with us.
I sympathize with the author of “Giving Your Child to the Devil,” as well as her son. I hope they reconcile soon and wish them well.
Certainly, there are occasions when one can, and often should, cut off or limit contact with another person—after suffering abuse, when it is threatened, or to remove yourself or someone else from a dangerous or toxic situation, for example. A local church will sometimes need to ask a member to leave due to disruptive behavior or other reason. And, of course, disciplining for sin against God is different from disciplining a minor child for a behavioral issue.
My point is that the Bible does not instruct parents or anyone else to break ties with a gay family member or friend. Loyalty to Jesus does not require it. Just the opposite. It is not close. Jesus’s teaching and Earthly example make all the difference.
I pray that you will love the Lord enough to choose Him and your children.
(The picture is one I took in January in Jericho of the tree or its progeny, at least by tradition, that Zacchaeus—tax collector, someone others considered to be a sinner, and “wee little man was he”—climbed so that he could see Jesus. Jesus said ““Zacchaeus, make haste and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” So he made haste and came down, and received Him joyfully. But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, “He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner.” Then Zacchaeus … said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Luke 19:1-10.)
Notes and Sources
I would like to thank my friend Amanda Kerr for her comments on an earlier version of this post. All opinions, errors, omissions, etc., in this post are my own.
Article under discussion: http://www.teachinghelp.org/giving-your-child-to-the-devil/.
“others report …: https://www.facebook.com/Cortezdanilo (May 9 post).
Scripture quoted throughout is from either the New King James Version or the English Standard Version.
“Love the Lord …. love your neighbor ….”: Mark 12:30-31.
“Every neighbor … enemies.” Luke 10:25-37; Luke 6:27-36.
“By this ….”: John 13:35.
“A new commandment …”: John 13:34; Andreas J. Kostenberger, “John” in Baker Exegetical Commentary, p. 423 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic 2004).
“My command …”: John 15:12.
“I have set you an example ….”: John 13:15.
“eating …”: Mark 2:15-17; Luke 15:2; Matthew 9:10-13.
“talking …”: John 4:1-27.
“inviting himself to their house”: Luke 19:5-7.
“allowing them to touch him”: Luke 7:36-50.
“accepting criticism …”: Luke 7:34.
“dying …”: Luke 23:26-43.
““If anyone hears my … last day.”: John 12:47-48.
“He called the Pharisees ….”: Matthew 23:13, 33
“But neither did he view being with people as an endorsement of their sin.”: Luke 7:34.
“did not include punishment …”: See, throughout the Gospels; John 8:1-11.
“Even when….”: Matthew 21:12-13; John 2:13-22.
“member of your local church sins against you …”: Matthew 18:15-17; Douglas R.A. Hare, Matthew p. 214 (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press 1993) (“No certainty on this question seems possible.”); Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, p. 469 (Leicester, England: Inter Varsity Press 1992).
pagans / heathens / Gentiles: Luke 7:1-10 and 10:25-37, Matthew 15:21-28 and 28:18-20, John 4:1-40; tax collectors: Matthew 9:9-13; 11:19; see also http://biblehub.com/commentaries/barnes/matthew/18.htm; The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VIII, p. 378 (Nashville: Abingdon Press 1995); The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1779 (Nashville: Abingdon Press 2003) (“often interpreted as exclusion and shunning. But in the Gospel, they are objects of mission. Disciples are to include them in the assembly. The community follows the shepherd’s example.”); David L. Turner, “Matthew” in Baker Exegetical Commentary, p. 445 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic 2008); http://www.patheos.com/blogs/thepangeablog/2012/01/26/treat-them-like-a-tax-collector-reflections-on-matthew-18-church-discipline-and-andrew/.
“Even after Judas ….”: John 13:1-5, Matthew 26:50.
“criticized sin … encouraged repentance”: See, for example, Matthew 5:21-42; Luke 13:1-5.
“He called the Pharisees …”: Matthew 23:13-15, 27, 33.
Six sentences: 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 14-15.
“The letters are …”: 1 Corinthians; 1 Thessalonians; 2 Thessalonians.
“Sheep and flock …”: Psalm 23; Psalm 95:7; John 10:9-15; John 10:27; Matthew 18:12-14; Matthew 25:31-46; John 10:1-5; 1 Peter 5:1-3; etc.
“never pray without your head covered (1 Corinthians 11:5). … men, you must not pray … with your cap on (11:4). … man, you must not have long hair (11:14). … all speak in tongues (14:5). Two or three prophets should speak … (14:29). … Christian hits … cannot sue him (6:1-6). … remain in whatever situation you were in (7:20-24). …women should remain silent (14:34) ….”
“feed my sheep ….”: John 21:15-17.
cited only twice: citing Matthew 10:37 and Mark 10:21-22.
What Really Happened ….: Mark 10:17-22; Luke 18:18-25; R.C.H. Lenski, Interpretation of St. Mark’s Gospel p. 439 (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House 1946) (“omit mention of the final outcome”); The New Interpreter’s Study Bible, p. 1889 (Nashville: Abingdon Press 2003) (“… the parable is opened-ended. Is the rich ruler’s final response a negative one? Luke does not tell us ….”).
“Jesus rode into Jerusalem to die on the cross …”: Mark 11:1-15:47.