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 Post article. 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.