Respect: the Bible sets the tone for the church's conversations.

Author:Ervine, Clyde
Position::Cover story


IS ABOUT HOW WE EVALUATE AND TREAT OTHERS. It's not so much about civility or good manners, but about attitudes and behaviours rooted in how God treats us that should shape how we treat others.

Respect has long been thought a good thing. In naming it the preeminent value, Aristotle argued that respect lay in moral worth rather than military might. Yet enlightened as that may seem, it didn't occur to him to include slaves as those to whom respect was due. Respect long retained an elitist air as something merited by the few, or something due to the powerful. That view was challenged by 18th-century philosopher Immanuel Kant, who proposed that respect is owed to "every rational human being." Kant said all people should be respected irrespective of moral worth, for each "and every reasonable agent exists as an end in himself." Kant, a Lutheran, linked respect to the Bible's command to love our neighbour.

Nowadays, respect is taken as foundational in a democratic society; yet it remains elusive. Respect is complicated. Derived from the Latin word respicere, its literal meaning is to look back at or to look again. To respect is to pay attention to or consider something, regardless of moral merit. To respect something doesn't mean that we necessarily approve of what claims our attention; the opposite of respect isn't disapproval, but contempt.

Church history is replete with people both giving and gaining respect; yet the church's failure to practice respect has been spectacular at times. Rooted in Palestinian obscurity and suspect for centuries within the Roman Empire, which so often persecuted it, the church gained official status in the Empire following the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312 AD. Thereafter protected, the church, now in the position to give respect to others, refused to grant it to others, not least Jews. As for Muslims at the edge of the Empire, I need only mention the word 'Crusades.' At least in the West, the church has more often than not found it hard to enjoy power and practice respect at the same time.

The history of church disrespect toward LGBT folk is well documented. Though few expect the church to endorse all sexual relationships, the church has had a heightened contempt for gay people, even though we turn blind eyes to violence, oppression of the poor, sins of speech, as well as various types of heterosexual sin, all of which the Bible condemns.

The Bible tells us to respect or honour God, parents and leaders; that was uncontroversial in the biblical world. But something subversive shows up in the Bible to challenge the rules then in place as to whom respect was to be given. Recall how Jesus broke conventional rules about whom to include or exclude from meal-tables. He shared table-talk with tax-collectors and prostitutes, both of whom flagrantly defied the Commandments, listening to those whom others despised, including women and children whom others silenced. There's not a word in the gospels that leads me to believe that Jesus would withhold respect from LGBT folk.


Respect was a key issue for the Apostle Paul. In 1 Corinthians he accuses the church in Corinth of treating some of its members with contempt: "As a church, I hear that there are divisions among you... when the time comes to eat, each... goes ahead with your own supper ... one goes hungry and another becomes drunk... do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?"

Paul critiques what happens within Corinth's house churches. As socially prominent members celebrate the Lord's Supper in the dining...

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