About the previous post…

{Note to self: Firing off a one-and-done post on a heated debate needs to include some sort of statement clarifying the intentions/thoughts behind said post.}

Just to clarify:

1) Christian celibacy is to be celebrated. I wish all single Christians, regardless of sexual orientation, would practice celibacy in the absence of marriage.

2) The Church has no caste system. Those who battle homosexual desires are not lesser Christians, and same-sex attraction will be a lifelong struggle for some Christians.

3) Scripture never identifies the Christian by inordinate desires and/or “besetting sins.” In fact, the biblical witness consistently stresses the Christian’s identity is found “in Christ” (not in the flesh).

The previous post didn’t mean to denigrate a legitimate struggle (i.e. same-sex attraction, homosexual desires). It does, however, question the legitimacy of elevating any struggle to identity status.

In short, I’m just not convinced that the human condition has changed so much over two millennia that the Church now needs a taxonomy of the saints.

When the Church goes from queen to pawn

Joe Carter has posted an article at Canon & Culture entitled “The Most Influential Essay You’ve Never Heard Of.” His title is not hyperbole.

The essay is The Overhauling of Straight America and it offers a stunningly effective strategy for making homosexuality part of mainstream American culture–from 1987. Even now the piece qualifies as recommended reading for every Christian and required reading for every Christian blogger, teacher, pastor, and opinion maker.To wit:

When conservative churches condemn gays, there are only two things we can do to confound the homophobia of true believers. First, we can use talk to muddy the moral waters. This means publicizing support for gays by more moderate churches, raising theological objections of our own about conservative interpretations of biblical teachings, and exposing hatred and inconsistency. Second, we can undermine the moral authority of homophobic churches by portraying them as antiquated backwaters, badly out of step with the times and with the latest findings of psychology. Against the mighty pull of institutional Religion one must set the mightier draw of Science & Public Opinion (the shield and sword of that accursed “secular humanism”). Such an unholy alliance has worked well against churches before, on such topics as divorce and abortion. With enough open talk about the prevalence and acceptability of homosexuality, that alliance can work again here. [emphasis added]

I wonder which is worse: being drawn into backwater disputes or being played as dupes?

Live and let die

Last week World Vision’s president, Richard Stearns, announced a policy change that would permit the Christian organization to hire “someone in a same-sex marriage who is a professed believer in Jesus Christ.” And two days later World Vision reversed the decision when it became apparent that the organization stood to lose millions of dollars from their sponsors.

For many this was just the latest sign that conservative evangelicals would rather wage war than offer compassion.

An exasperated Jen Hatmaker chastised those who just can’t come to grips with the fact that the church will never have consensus on homosexuality. Rachel Held Evans asked whether the “‘victory’ against gay marriage” was worth the ensuing losses and submitted her resignation from evangelicalism.

Not surprising but still noteworthy was a contention shared by Stearns, Hatmaker, & Evans — namely that the church’s debate over homosexuality should be treated like the church’s debates over divorce/remarriage, modes of baptism, etc.

Agree to disagree. Live and let live.

But the debate over homosexuality is not like these other debates.

First, Scripture’s teaching on homosexuality enjoys a clarity & consistency the other issues lack. Homosexuality (along with all other sexual immorality) is explicitly condemned & prohibited every time it’s addressed. No exceptions. No “problem passages.” No arguments from silence.

Second, the consequences for getting it wrong on homosexuality are fatal. Practice what you will when it comes to baptism—infants or believers, sprinkle or dunk—you have no word spoken against you. But those who practice sexually immorality (regardless of orientation) are said to be barred from entering God’s kingdom (1Cor 6:9-10).

So which is the greater danger: promising peace when there is no peace or promising grace for all who would repent?

For my part I can’t see the love in subscribing to a live-and-let-live theology that offers cultural comfort for eternal death (Rom 1:32).

Tangential thought (or, when my brother-in-law beat Al Mohler to the punch)

Lending my voice to the Duck Dynasty controversy would be something like offering a whisper to a windstorm. If you’re (un)fortunate enough to have real winter where you live and you’re just now emerging from a blackout and you want to know what all the shouting is about you can bring yourself up to speed here. On the other hand, if you’re (un)fortunate enough to be without real winter or blackouts you can sample some mature Christian responses to the fallout here, here, here, and here.

Since I have nothing original to offer how about a tangent instead? This morning I was thinking about the stark contrast between Phil Robertson’s declaration concerning sin & homosexuality and the mealy-mouthed statements we sometimes hear from an array of popular pastors (assuming they even speak of such things). By now every Christian in the public spotlight should expect to be solicited for statements regarding sexual morality. Like it or not it’s a major battle front for the American church today. So assuming media savvy preachers have a modicum of forethought what explains for some of their lackluster answers?

Enter Al Mohler’s post on the Duck Dynasty flak. Nearing the conclusion he writes:

So the controversy over Duck Dynasty sends a clear signal to anyone who has anything to risk in public life: Say nothing about the sinfulness of homosexual acts or risk sure and certain destruction by the revolutionaries of the new morality. You have been warned.

Could risk aversion explain why a man who makes his living speaking God’s words offers less clarity on a matter of biblical morality than a man who makes his living by quacking? Set aside the uncouth comments, the camo, and the grooming habits (or lack thereof). Maybe the key difference between Phil Robertson and the media mogul pastor is that Phil doesn’t need positive press to keep the business (i.e. Duck Commander) running. After all, if the media doesn’t help you make bank it’s unlikely they can break your bank. The prime time pastor on the other hand may have significant capital tied up in the market of public opinion. Should the media turn on him the costs would be too great to bear.

Too cynical? Maybe the aversion to risk is fueled by misguided altruism–a desire to protect staff, a ministry platform, or connections that you can leverage for the greater good. My brother-in-law made this very point about a year ago and now that Mohler has seconded the notion I guess I should give it more consideration.

Positive press can be a blessing and a curse–especially when a Christian leader thinks he needs it.

 

Do we suppose that we can be more loving & inclusive than God?

These next two days are monumental as SCOTUS takes up oral arguments on the definition of marriage. Regardless of the court’s ruling the pressure will continue for the church to accept what God forbids. Praying that the church in America isn’t deceived into thinking she can be more loving than God.

If the eternal destiny of unrepentant, practicing homosexuals is at stake, or even a full relationship with God in the present life, then it would be a “cruel abuse of religious power” to give false assurance that [1 Cor 6:9-10 and 1 Tim 1:10] do not condemn homosexual behavior. It can be as much a cruel abuse of religious power not to say what Scripture says, however unpleasant it is to hear, as to say what it says in a cold and callous manner. To think otherwise is to indict Jesus himself, who was not shy about using Scripture to warn people of impending judgment. Similarly, within the story line of Genesis 2-3, should we say that the serpent, upon reassuring Eve that she would not die if she ate from the tree forbidden by God, was adopting a more loving and inclusive stance than God?

-Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice

Some notes I’m likely to revisit soon

A mother of an adult son asked if I could offer some insight on the debate over whether or not Christianity is compatible with a homosexual lifestyle. Apparently her son found himself discussing this matter with a friend which led him to query his mom which, in turn, led her (a church member) to me. The following response, by no means exhaustive or polished(!), is what I gave her to deliver to her son:

Statements that would seek to make Christianity compatible with a homosexual lifestyle are in bold. Following the bold text is a brief response that endeavors to faithfully represent God’s word on the matter as revealed in Scripture. This interaction assumes that parties on both sides of the discussion believe—at a minimum— the Bible is the only authoritative rule for faith & conduct. 

1) God made me this way/I was born this way. The foundation of this argument is the belief that homosexuality is justified by the mere existence of same-sex attraction (SSA) and/or a genetic predisposition to homosexuality. But experiences, desires, and/or pre-dispositions aren’t self-justifying. The mere fact that a desire exists says nothing about whether that desire is good or bad. We need a standard by which to determine which desires are right & wrong, healthy & unhealthy, etc.

Christianity has historically taught that the only authoritative standard we have for such matters is the word of God contained in the Scriptures. On this objective standard we make two observations: (a) Scripture says that due to Adam’s sin humanity has been corrupted in every part of our being—body, mind, emotion—and  and that even our own hearts deceive us (see Psa 51:5; Rom 3:9-12; Eph 2:3; Jer 17:9). (b) Scripture categorically asserts that homosexual conduct is sinful (Rom 1:26-32; 1Cor 6:9-11; 1Tim 1:8-11). Therefore, the question is not “are these feelings/desires real?” but “are these feelings/desires right?”.

2) The Bible doesn’t condemn loving/committed homosexual relationships but promiscuous homosexuality. This argument assumes that because God is love He would never condemn a loving relationship. Scripture speaks to this in two ways: (a) not all love is good love (1Jn 2:15-16) (b) God clearly does prohibit certain unions—even certain heterosexual unions (Lev 18:6ff; 2Cor 6:14-15). Scripture categorically condemns homosexuality regardless of personal motivation, fidelity, or relational context.

3) The Bible’s prohibition is relative to the cultural context and/or concerns abusive homosexual behavior (particularly in regard to pederasty). Closely related to #2 in that the attempt is to establish two classes of homosexuality—healthy/sanctioned & unhealthy/forbidden. Again, Scripture makes no distinction between types of homosexual conduct or unions. Voluntary homosexual unions were not unheard of in the historical & cultural context in which the Bible was written. Even so, the human authors of Scripture (under the guidance of the Holy Spirit) offered no exception clauses in their prohibitions against homosexuality. To suggest otherwise is to attempt to rationalize a way around the clear message contained in Scripture.

4) Jesus never spoke against homosexuality. This is an argument from silence but an argument with a reasonable explanation. First, Jesus fully endorsed the moral/ethical standards established by the OT law (Mat 5:17-19) which contained explicit prohibitions against homosexuality (Lev 18:22). By affirming the righteousness of the Law Jesus affirmed the “rightness” of forbidding homosexuality. Second, the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day shared the OT view concerning homosexuality. As such, Jesus would have had no occasion to address a non-existent problem or debate.

5) All Christians sin. Even if homosexuality is a sin, why should it be singled out as a “disqualifying” sin? Scripture doesn’t deny that Christians will sin. However, the good news of salvation includes a call to repent of & forsake sin (Mat 4:17; Luk 24:46-47; Acts 26:19-20; 2Tim 2:24-26). Consequently, Scripture denies that a true child of God will knowingly embrace sin (1Jn 3:5-10). As other passages of Scripture make clear, all sin—including homosexuality—is renounced by those who have experienced a new birth in Christ (Rom 6:22; 1Cor 6:9-11; Gal 5:19-24; Heb 12:14). We readily acknowledge that a Christian who repents of his sin will still battle against the very sin he has abandoned, but for those battles God promises His strength, support, and ultimate victory (Gal 5:16; 1Thess 5:23-24; Heb 4:14-16).

Of mice and ministers

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” {Acts 20:18-21, ESV}

My previous post engendered some conversation with friends & family on the nature of Christian witness in the public square. To review: Louie Giglio withdrew from the presidential inauguration after it was revealed that he had preached a biblical message on homosexuality sometime in the 90s. Reading his public statement I interpreted Giglio’s move as a thinly veiled retreat from the cultural battlefront (see previous post) while others saw the move as the proverbial “ounce of prevention” thwarting the slander & caricature of the Christian faith.

Those who wish to give Giglio the benefit of the doubt raise three points in his defense: (1) there’s no evidence that Giglio has changed his views on homosexuality (2) Giglio had no chance for a fair hearing so long as it was to be filtered by the MSM (3) refraining to speak in public prevented a spectacle and allows Giglio & Co. to reach out to the homosexual community privately and/or personally.

Concerning #1, I find it more than a little disconcerting that the American church has come to expect so little from her pastors. When Christians must review our leaders’ public statements to see if there’s any clear, irrefutable evidence to show that one foot landed outside the doctrinal line you can bet that that game will not result in a W for the church. The prevent defense has never won a game and we’re kidding ourselves if we think we can effectively take part in the contest without causing any offense. Our message will either be foolish or offensive to those who oppose the gospel. Show me a pastor who doesn’t offend worldly sensibilities and I’ll show you a pastor who’s stopped preaching salvation from sin. [btw, didn’t Rick Warren face the same kind of bullying upon his invitation to participate in the 2008 inauguration?]

Concerning #2 and 3 I think two clarifications are in order. First, Giglio didn’t shy away from a debate but an accusation—and an accurate one at that. Exhibit A for the prosecution was a clearly articulated sermon which labeled homosexuality as sin while also proclaiming salvation for all who would turn to Christ. [Would that all our accusers would quote us accurately & in context!] Second, and perhaps more significant, the hand-wringers & teeth-gnashers weren’t seeking an explanation from the pastor anyway. The left wasn’t asking “How could Giglio say that?” but “How could Obama choose him?”. The onus was on the President to apologize for or defend his invitation, but what we ended up with was Giglio lamenting the fact that he and his “priorities” were misunderstood.

Further, the premise that Giglio (and Passion City Church) shunned the public scrutiny for the sake of personal evangelism doesn’t add up unless we assume that Atlanta’s homosexual community is essentially clueless when it comes to what orthodox Christianity has to say about their lifestyle. If that were the case, Giglio was wise to pull back so that he and his church could continue to evangelize incognito. File this notion under the heading “willing suspension of disbelief” and move on.

In the end, I can’t escape three recurring thoughts concerning the inauguration fiasco: (1) exchange homosexuality as the point of contention with a societal sin such as abortion, racism, or slavery and many more of today’s Christians would find Giglio’s statement grossly inadequate (2) it seems that popular culture has digressed to the point that high-profile pastors must seriously consider whether or not prophetic omission has kept them viable and palatable to cultural elites (3) we should confidently preach equal opportunity salvation—for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike.

Rejection or retreat?

While most of the bloggers and Twitterati bemoan society refusing an evangelical pastor a platform in the public square, very few seem willing to consider the evidence pointing to an(other) evangelical retreat. Just two days after he was announced as a participant in the inauguration, Louie Giglio submitted a letter to the White House stating that he was withdrawing from the program. Reports are mixed but not necessarily contradictory: Giglio quickly bowed out of the program soon after the White House, recognizing the selection to be a problem, told the Presidential Inauguration Committee to “fix it” [the NYT seems to have removed this portion of the story from their initial report].  

Since the catalyst for the dis-invitation was the characterization of Giglio by a liberal news group as a man who “preached rabidly anti-LGBT views,” many have rightly pointed to the growing intolerance of orthodox Christianity in an increasingly secular society. But just as significant as the charge brought against him is the manner in which Giglio responded.

Let’s admit up front that a high profile pastors are in an extremely difficult position. I for one wouldn’t be immune from withering criticism if, like Giglio, my statements (scripted or not), sermons, and surmising was dissected in public view. Nevertheless, I can’t shake the disappointment I experienced when I first read his letter to the White House (and, later, the full statement). Here’s what stood out to me:

1) A seemingly greater desire to avoid conflict rather than to graciously represent the truth. I don’t doubt that the White House was more eager to drop Giglio than he was to withdraw, but Giglio’s public statement spoke louder than any sermon from the 90’s. At its best the letter was an apology for being misunderstood; at its worst it was textbook capitulation. Any guesses as to whether the tolerance police read it for better or for worse? Sadly, Giglio is one more high profile pastor (must be something in the Atlanta water) that has signaled his unwillingness to speak on the issue of homosexuality even when someone else brings it to the floor. As Steve McCoy poignantly tweeted: “make us respond on homosexuality and we will tap out. We’re scared to death.”

2) The repeated attempts to distance himself from the sermon at the center of the debate. By all accounts the sermon Think Progress unearthed–“In Search of a Standard-Christian Response to Homosexuality”–was merely an expression of the Church’s historic, traditional teaching on homosexuality complete with the offer of hope, healing, and forgiveness through Jesus Christ (I’ve read the so-called offensive portions but haven’t heard the entire sermon). On the one hand, Giglio never apologizes for the sermon; on the other hand, he never comments on the message choosing instead to repeatedly (4x!) stress how out-of-date the sermon is. I fail to see how the age of the sermon should be a mitigating factor in the criticism unless Giglio (a) is embarrassed by the sermon (b) no longer cares about the issue (c) no longer holds the convictions he espoused in the sermon. None of these options are attractive.

3) The failure to clarify his current stance concerning homosexuality. If you deem it best to bow out of the discussion the least a pastor can do is leave everyone with a clear understanding on where he stands as he exits. The closest Giglio ever comes to clarifying his position today is to say “God’s words trump all opinions” – not exactly Luther nailing the 95 theses to the door.

4) The failure to seize an unexpected opportunity. Giglio and his team characterized the uproar over homosexuality to be “a fight on an issue not of our choosing.” So much for being ready in season and out of season. Perhaps more distressing is the admission that they would surrender their momentary platform in the public square because the undesired attention doesn’t best serve “the core message and goals we are seeking to accomplish.” Exactly what kind of core message & goals would dissuade a pastor from standing up to attacks rooted in biblical preaching?

Yes, a Christian pastor was denied a voice in the public square. Sadly, I suspect that in this case the line between secular rejection and Christian retreat has been rendered very blurry. 

The chicken, the blogger, & the pastor

If I profess, with the loudest voice and the clearest exposition, every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christianity. Where the battle rages the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle-field besides is mere flight and disgrace to him if he flinches at that one point.      –Elizabeth Rundle Charles, The Chronicles of the Schoenberg Cotta Family

In my mind the American church (AC) battles the spirit of the age most visibly on both a cultural and a theological front. The cultural front comes in the challenge over so-called gay marriage while the theological front is found in the debate surrounding theistic evolution which will inevitably be brought to bear on the doctrines of biblical inspiration & inerrancy.  Concerning the former, recent events should dispel the AC of the notion that we can remain neutral.

Most recently, Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy granted an interview with the Biblical Recorder in which he stated, “We are very much supportive of the family – the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.” Proving that “innocuous” has no place in today’s dictionary for the tolerant, advocates for so-called gay marriage became apoplectic. For merely voicing support for biblical marriage Cathy was accused of hate speech & intolerance.

Following calls to boycott Chic-fil-A, Christian blogger Jonathan Merritt (no relation to yours truly) penned a piece for The Atlantic in which he opined that our culture is diminished when we join our commerce to our politics. His espoused philosophy: judge a business by its products/practices not by its politics. As payback for failing to condemn Cathy & Chic-fil-A Merritt was outed by a gay blogger who claimed he could provide evidence of Merritt’s homosexuality. In an interview with Ed Stetzer, Merritt provided an overview of his personal story which included his commitment to “the Bible’s unambiguous standards for sexuality.”

Now compare the respective positions & confessions of a fast food president and a blogger with the silence of an influential pastor. In a sermon entitled “When Gracie Met Truthy” Andy Stanley recounts his refusal to allow two men in a homosexual relationship from serving as a host team in a North Point affiliated church not because they were in a homosexual relationship but because one man’s divorce (from his wife) hadn’t yet been finalized. Stanley clearly articulated the sin of adultery but was noticeably silent on the sin of homosexuality. When asked to clarify his conviction concerning homosexuality Stanley declined and referred people to the sermon series instead because “I figure that’s better than a sound bite or an interview.”

No, in this case a pastor must speak to the issues confronting the church today. Dan Cathy & Jonathan Merritt have proved their mettle in the latest skirmish. I hope Pastor Stanley hasn’t decided to flinch.