Richard Dawkins once wrote, “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” That’s because prior to Darwin, naturalists didn't have a credible alternative to the biblical creation model. Along comes Charles Darwin and proposes an explanation of how life emerged on earth without appealing to God. Naturalists eagerly accepted Darwin’s account, making their worldview more complete and justified.
This reminds me of a similar phenomenon occurring with many believers who have friends or family who identify as gay. Up until the last 30 years, Christians believed they only had two options. One, they could agree with Scripture that homosexual behavior was sin. This meant, in their mind, they were not loving towards their gay friends or family. Two, they could dismiss or downplay the biblical prohibition of homosexuality. This approach, however, didn’t feel like they were being faithful to Scripture. Neither option was ideal.
Along comes pro-gay theology and offers them a third way to maintain fidelity to their faith and their gay friend or family. Rather than accepting Scripture’s straightforward (and exegetically sound) teaching on homosexuality, some believers embraced a new interpretation. It requires hermeneutical gymnastics to try to make it work, which is one reason why I reject it. Nevertheless, many Christians are looking for a way to harmonize their Christian faith with their desire to condone homosexual behavior. While Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist, pro-gay theology has made it possible to be gay-affirming Christian.
If homosexuals are bullied, we need to protect them. If they’re unjustly discriminated against, we need to help them. If they’re treated with contempt, the person hurting them should be stopped. If a family member comes out as gay and then is belittled, harmed, or vilified, then the offending family needs to be corrected. If Christians ridicule people who identify as gay or lesbian, they need to admonished. If a church doesn’t welcome seekers of all stripes (including people who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual), then it needs to change.
But none of these circumstances are reasons to reinterpret Scripture to affirm homosexuality. Nor do they justify Christians making an attitudinal shift to endorse homosexual sex, homosexual unions, or same-sex marriage.
That’s why I’m mystified by the recent trend of some believers to adopt pro-gay theology.
Earlier this month, I attended the national conference of The Reformation Project in Washington D.C. Its founder, Matthew Vines, calls himself a gay Christian and is dedicating his efforts to changing the perspective of the Church to gay affirming. He and his allies don’t consider this a minor project. They use the term “reformation” because they see this mission in line with the noble reform efforts of Martin Luther. They intend the Church’s transformation to be just as significant as it was post-Luther.
But why reinterpret the biblical text? According to one evangelical ethicist, it’s because LGBT Christians have been mistreated by the Church. David Gushee, who spoke at the conference I attended, explains his rationale in a Washington Postarticle. He explains that gay and lesbian people have “received contempt and discrimination for centuries” and that biblical sexual ethics have led to an attitude that is “bristling with bullying and violence.”
Even if he’s entirely accurate, what’s the appropriate action? The Christians who have bullied, treated with contempt, and unjustly discriminated against homosexuals should be punished and corrected. It’s very simple. What should be done, then, with the biblical passages that teach homosexual behavior is wrong? Nothing. The problem is with human action, not divine revelation.
The same is true with any moral command in Scripture. Suppose the biblical sexual ethic against adultery led some Christians to assault adulterers. The correct course of action would be to bring the criminals to justice, not reinterpret the biblical prohibition against infidelity.
But Gushee’s solution throws out the baby with the bathwater. He says “we need to reconsider the entire body of biblical interpretation and tradition related to this issue.” Really? Some Christians (and lots of non-Christians) engage in “unchristlike” behavior, and that requires we reinterpret the moral demands of Scripture?
Why would Gushee call for such a drastic reversal on thousands of years of biblical interpretation? For someone who is described (by the inside flap of his book) as “America’s leading evangelical ethics scholar,” shouldn’t he exhibit clearer thinking? Can’t he distinguish between the moral commands of Scripture and the mistaken behavior of some Christians?
It’s possible something else is motivating him. His article explains his change of heart was from his “growing contact with LGBT people…The fact that one of these LGBT Christians is my dear youngest sister, Katey, has made this issue even more deeply personal for me.”
That didn’t surprise me at all. It’s not uncommon to accept pro-gay theology if a family member or close friend is gay. That’s not only true of Gushee, but also of James Brownson – The Reformation Project’s other scholar – who said his son was gay.
You might think I’m committing a genetic fallacy – the mistake of disqualifying a person’s position because of the origin of their belief (e.g. sympathy for a gay relative). As C.S. Lewis once said, “You must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong.”
I’m not saying, though, that Gushee, Brownson, and others are mistaken because of their family allegiance. They’re mistaken because their reinterpretation of Scripture is wrong. Period. (It’s not my point to make that case here, although I've argued this in my book). Knowing that, it’s now fair to explain why they’re wrong. Close relationships with homosexual friends or family can motivate one to accept a gay-affirming view of Scripture. I feel the same temptation regarding my gay family and friends.
But you don’t have to abandon Scripture’s moral position in order to maintain a loving relationship with someone who identifies as gay. Many Christians are able to stand for biblical truth while being compassionate. Their relationships with gays are characterized by the same qualities as their relationships with other friends and family. Yet, they still hold to the God-given moral parameters in Scripture. No compromise needed.
I’m sad all believers can’t see this solution. Instead, they abandon the authority of Scripture because the LGBT community has been wronged by hurtful people or someone they know self-identifies as gay. Neither of these reasons is sufficient for adopting pro-gay theology. Both reasons do warrant, however, a change in attitude and behavior on the part of people who do wrong. In other words, people should change, not the Word of God. That’s doable since God has always been in the business of changing lives.
I can’t help but be reminded of Paul’s exhortation to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-5) to stand firm in the truth:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
This is precisely what the Church is facing now. People are looking to justify their desires, whether for homosexual behavior or to affirm those who practice it.
Paul’s charge, however, is intended for those of us who will stand firm. We are to preach the Word of God and be ready to “reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.”
This is the sober reality we face. Will we turn away from the truth? Or will we fulfill our ministry? Remember, God will judge us.
I’m told writing this post won’t matter. I can clarify until I’m blue in the face and nothing will change. It doesn’t matter what Christians actually think or believe about homosexuality. It seems the world will still believe what it wants to believe no matter what anyone says.
But I still have hope. So, I’m putting this out there. The most common misconception about Christians and homosexuality is that Christians hate homosexuals. Though there are some things Christians have done to contribute to this impression, it’s largely untrue.
Let me first speak for myself. I can honestly say I don’t hate or feel animosity towards people who identify as gay or lesbian. Keep in mind that I’m, allegedly, one of those right-wing fundamentalist fanatics who say homosexual sex is sin. I travel around the country teaching about the Christian worldview and often address the topic of homosexuality. I’m the one the media refers to as “a Christian minister who serves up homophobia to congregations across the country.” If there’s any kind of person who is supposed to hate homosexuals, it’s me. I’m the activist.
But I don’t. Not even a little. I have family and friends who identify as gay and lesbian and I love each of them. They come over and spend time with me. There’s no malice. I’m not angry. They're always welcome in my home.
I realize I don’t speak for every Christian, but I know and have met a lot of Christians across the country. I’ve been travelling and specifically talking about this topic for over a decade. I’ve met Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Coptics, Presbyterians, Evangelicals, Seventh Day Adventists, Mennonites, Methodists, Anabaptists, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Orthodox, and others. Guess what? I don’t find they hate homosexuals. In fact, they’re often frustrated that no one believes them that they, as Christ commanded, love all people. Of course I’m not claiming to have performed a rigorous poll. But if hate largely represented the attitude of most Christians, you’d think I’d run into it when I spoke up on homosexuality.
Are there some people – even Christians – who hate homosexuals? Sure, you can find them. They often get disproportionate media attention because of their noxious speech or behavior. Others can be found on internet forums and in the comments sections of blog posts or articles. But you can’t broad brush all or most Christians this way.
Two years ago I met a Christian who was genuinely hateful towards homosexuals. At first, I didn’t believe he was serious because it’s rare to find that attitude in the Church. He explained that his father (now deceased) used to disparage homosexuality and that’s what instilled hate in him. Even though he admitted he felt this way, he knew it was wrong, confessed his sin to me (a stranger to him), and asked for help to change.
Even though it’s rare to find bona fide haters, many homosexuals tell me that Christians show hate to homosexuals by what they do. “You may not feel or say you hate homosexuals, but your behavior – denying marriage equality – is hateful in itself. Your actions speak louder than words.”
That doesn’t logically follow, though. People have been legislating against one another since voting began. That’s part of the political process. People might vigorously disagree on public matters, but it doesn’t mean they hate each other.
Furthermore, even though Christians agree with the biblical prohibition of homosexual sex, it doesn’t mean we hate people who violate it. This is an important and obvious distinction that seems forgotten. The Bible, for example, is opposed to gluttony, but we don’t hate gluttons. The Bible is against drunkenness, but we don’t hate people who drink too much. The Bible is against pre-marital sex, but we don’t hate people who have sex with their boyfriend or girlfriend. The Bible is opposed to stealing, but we don’t hate thieves. Yes, the Bible is opposed to homosexual sex, but we don’t hate homosexuals.
In fact, the Bible commands us to do the opposite. We’re called to love our neighbor. Indeed, Jesus commands us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:43-44). I’m not saying homosexuals are the enemy – they’re not and I make that clear each time I teach. My point is that we’re not given room to even hate people who are against us. That’s because our enemies are also made in the image of God. They deserve dignity and respect.
Loving homosexuals – indeed all people – is consistent with what our King commands. That’s why the Christians I see are eager to live accordingly.
It’s my Stand to Reason employment anniversary this weekend. I’ve been working with STR for 10 years, and I’m just getting started.
I can summarize by saying this: It’s my dream job. I love working for STR. The people I work with are talented, intelligent, kind, and – most importantly – love God with all their heart. I also get to meet great people at events where I speak.
Here are two quick lessons I’ve learned along the way.
I’ve found a lot more unity within the Church than I expected. I speak to a wide diversity of churches and denominations: Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic, Coptic, Calvary, Anglican, etc…you name it. Although there are theological differences – both great and small – I always find myself surrounded with people who love our Lord Jesus and want to serve Him in the best way they can. Look, I know we have a lot of work to do in the area of church unity. I’m not oblivious to that fact. I’m just saying I find a lot of kindred spirits even among Christians who are theologically different from me. I’m welcomed (and trusted to teach) in many places I wouldn’t have expected to have an influence.
The biggest threat to the Church is…the Church. I know I often teach on Islam, homosexuality, and abortion, and that might suggest I consider one of those topics as the biggest threat. They’re not. Yes, they’re significant external challenges that the Church must face, but the bigger problem is internal. I believe the more important question is whether we’ll rise to stand firm against the challenges or fall and capitulate to cultural pressure. There will always be new challenges that will come our way. Some big and some small. It’s our response, however, that worries me. I’m seeing a lot of believers who are unable to stand their ground and instead are giving up ground. That encourages the enemy. That’s why my focus is always on training believers to stand firm.
It’s a privilege for me to serve God through my work with Stand to Reason and I’m looking forward to the next decade of ministry with STR.