Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Homosexuality, Evangelicalism and the Gospel

Note: The following article was published in the Tyndale student newspaper: Canon 25 (Apr. 2010).
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The most important cultural event in the past century was the sexual revolution, which was the rejection of traditional sexual morality by the middle class in North America and Europe during the 1960s (the intellectual elites of Western culture having already rejected traditional sexual morality). The sexual revolution is a denial that there is a Divinely created order in the world to which we must submit in order to be happy and fulfilled as creatures. Utilizing moral relativism and hyper-individualism, the sexual revolution sought to overturn traditional sexual morality, which upholds stable family structures that have child-rearing as their central focus, so as to promote the fulfillment of the individual through hedonism and choice.

Liberal Christians have followed the secular culture in abandoning traditional sexual morality. Since they had already lost their belief in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, it was easy to set aside the exegetical tradition of the Church that had universally condemned homosexual behavior. For over a century now liberal Christians have embraced first the social gospel and then liberation theology in place of the personal Gospel of sin and salvation. Therefore, as the culture becomes more hostile to traditionalists of all religions, liberal Christians have added sexual liberation from traditional morality to their message and have thus been able to avoid clashing with the culture and having to face persecution. Liberal Christianity substitutes experience for Scripture as the highest authority and substitutes the false gospel of inclusivism, which requires no repentance, no forgiveness, and no transformation, for the Biblical Gospel of sin, repentance, faith, forgiveness and transformation.

Evangelical, however, are in a different situation. We believe in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture and our very identity is defined by our confidence in the power of the biblical Gospel, through which we have forgiveness of sins, eternal life and a transformed life. We declare the good news that God can forgive any sin and transform any sinner, no matter how serious and entrenched that sin might be. Therefore, we are on a collision course with a culture that is determined to normalize all the forms of deviant sexuality that flow from the sexual revolution, of which homosexuality is just one.

How will Evangelicals respond to the sexual revolution in the long run and, specifically, how will we deal with the pressure to endorse homosexuality that is so pervasive in today’s secular culture? Sadly, I believe that Evangelicalism will divide over this issue. Homosexuality will be an issue of division because of the tremendous pressure exerted by the culture over this particular issue. There are many other issues raised by the response of the Church to the sexual revolution that are being discussed, disagreed on and worked through such as divorce, remarriage and new reproductive technologies. But the secular culture will not leave us in peace on the issue of homosexuality and many Evangelicals choose to conform to the culture and, in the process, will migrate into liberal Protestantism.

The Evangelical Left has been moving toward liberalism for some time now on a wide range of issues including the acceptance of open theism and panentheism, the embrace of left wing politics and economics, a watered down view of biblical authority, an uncritical endorsement of secular feminism, the rejection of the penal substitutionary doctrine of the atonement and downplaying of the necessity of personal conversion. Those who are enamored of such moves will likely be open to the approval of homosexual behavior as well. But what is at stake in such a change to the Church’s traditional teaching? Is disagreement on homosexuality merely a disagreement on a moral issue that does not touch the heart of the Gospel? One can only wish it were that simple.

What is at stake here is the truthfulness of the basic Gospel message. Are we sinners in need of salvation or merely good people in need of inclusion in the body of Christ without repentance? Are we under God’s judgment and in need of justification on the basis of the atoning blood of Christ? Are we lost and without hope apart from salvation in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit? Is there hope for people struggling with deep seated sinful patterns, vices and temptations that are now a part of their very being? Or is the Gospel only for good Church people who don’t have to change much in order to live the Christian life?

We are being tested here as to the real content of our faith. Homosexuality is a deep seated disorder that is not always in every situation freely chosen by the person involved. That, however, does not make it part of the original good creation. In a fallen world, many of us struggle against such deep seated moral disorders and will do so for our whole lives. The Gospel does not promise instant release from all sin and temptation, nor does it promise that we can totally overcome a homosexual orientation in this life. But it does promise that if we walk by the Spirit we will not fulfill the lusts of the sinful nature. A life of obedience and joy in the Holy Spirit is available to all people including drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, those addicted to heterosexual sex and those who struggle to overcome the painful effects of sexual abuse. For some this may involve a life of celibacy, which can be a witness to the Kingdom of God and a spiritually fruitful way of life that brings joy and friendship in Christ. What the world thinks is a “fate worse than death” can be a fulfilling and joyful life in Christ.

Our faith will be tested in the years ahead in at least three ways. First, it will be painful to watch former brothers and sisters in the Faith drift away into liberalism, thus escaping the persecution that will come upon all who stand firm for the traditional teaching of Christianity, and it will be tempting to join them. Second, our commitment to the Faith once delivered to the saints and the authority of Scripture will be tested as more and more arguments are mounted against traditional exegesis, sometimes by those who can talk the Evangelical lingo because they themselves have been raised within Evangelicalism and are on the way out of the movement. This will require steadfastness and discernment. Third, our confidence in the power of God’s Holy Spirit will be tested as we are told over and over again that the Spirit is helpless against the power of a homosexual orientation and that people cannot change something so fundamental to their identity even with God’s help. We must resist the temptation to lose confidence in the hope and freedom promised to those who humbly seek the strength that comes from trusting in God to change us and empower us for holy living.

What is at stake? Faithfulness to the Gospel itself is at stake. The authority of Scripture, the Lordship of Christ and the transforming power of the Spirit are all implicated in this moral issue. The stakes could not be higher, but those who endure suffering and persecution in this life because of their faithfulness to Christ and the Gospel can look forward to joy and peace in the Kingdom of God. And anyone struggling with the temptations of same-sex attraction can find forgiveness, healing, peace and strength to live the Christian life at the same place we all find these things – at the foot of the cross.

9 comments:

Leo said...

Just for the record. Although I understand your need to defend your belief with every means possible - fair or unfair - it is incorrect to link Open Theism with the acceptance of homosexual sin. Frankly, it's way over the top. I say that as an Open Theist that believes homosexual acts are as sinful as pride, lust, stealing or anything else clearly defined as sin in the bible. You'll be taken a lot more serious if you tone down the rhetoric a bit. Now, if you have actual proof of any leading OT scholar that promotes this idea please post it.

- Leo

Craig Carter said...

Leo,
I'm not connecting Open Theism directly with openness to homosexuality. Any given individual could hold one without holding the other. I'm glad you don't agree with normalizing homosexuality.

It was just a list of areas in which Evangelicals are leaning leftward. Each is an example of moving away from the orthodox consensus. Open Theism is a drift away from classical orthodoxy, in my opinion.

jonathanturtle said...

"Homosexuality is a deep seated disorder that is not always in every situation freely chosen by the person involved."

Really? How do you know this? A deep seated disorder? How would you defend a statement such as this?

"For some this may involve a life of celibacy..."

Is this the ONLY fruitful way of life that is open to a homosexual? Are there perhaps other options? What are your thoughts on a monogamous homosexual relationship?

"First, it will be painful to watch former brothers and sisters in the Faith drift away into liberalism..."

To be honest, I find it sad that those whom you would call "brothers and sisters" are limited to those who supposedly agree with you on the issue of homosexuality. Really? Anyone who disagrees with you is no longer your brother or sister?

Personally, I find you far too divisive on this issue. I'm not saying that we have to all agree and support one another's opinions but can't we disagree well with each other? Wouldn't that be a witness? I'm sure you mean well, at least I hope you would, but I find your rhetoric extremely alienating and void of compassion.

Out of curiosity, are there any homosexuals in your life that you would count amongst your friends?

Peace,

JT.

Craig Carter said...

Jonathan,
Why do you single out homosexuality as if to promote it from sin to non-sin? Why not adultery, fornication, or stealing or lying? What is so special about homosexual sin that we should have to be puzzled about whether or not it is sin just because we live in a pagan society that tolerates it along with a dozen other sins condemned by Scripture? Should we view cohabitation as not a sin anymore? Far more people do that than commit homosexual acts. I don't get it.

You call me divisive, but it seems to me that I'm just speaking up for the Bible and Tradition and the mainstream of Christianity against those who are trying to divide the Church by imitating the world. Pastors are supposed to guard the flock against the wolves who will come in with revisionist doctrine and loose morals.

Yes, of course I have friends who struggle with homosexual temptation. Not all homosexuals think that homosexuality is a good thing to be flaunted and not all homosexuals demand that society approve of homosexual behavior. Those who do may even be the minority of homosexuals. There are a number of lifestyle options open to homosexuals; to narrow it to just one - namely giving in to sinful temptation - is not necessary or good.

Andy said...

Very well said Craig. Objective truth is objective truth...sin is sin. There's no way to get around it unless you jump on the slippery slope of watering it down.

jonathanturtle said...

"Why do you single out homosexuality as if to promote it from sin to non-sin?"

First of all, I don't think I'm the one singling out homosexuality here. I simply responded to an article that you wrote, in which you singled out homosexuality. But I digress. Secondly, I never attempted to promote homosexuality from sin to non-sin. I just asked how you can be so sure that it is a "deep seated disorder."

You say that you're "just speaking up for the Bible and Tradition" which I think is misleading. To suggest that you have a corner on "the Bible and Tradition" is misleading. I wonder if perhaps it would be more honest to say that you're "just speaking up for a particular interpretation of the Bible and Tradition." Also, out of curiosity what does your interpretation of the Bible and Tradition have to say about monogamous same-sex relationships (marriages?!). I know the B&T have much to say about sexual immorality, and while much of homosexual practice would fall under that category I'm not sure that *all* homosexual practice falls under "sexual immorality."

"There are a number of lifestyle options open to homosexuals; to narrow it to just one - namely giving in to sinful temptation - is not necessary or good."

I couldn't agree more. Yet I find it interesting that you have only suggested one possible option, namely chastity.

I guess the question I have is are these the only two options? Are homosexuals to be reduced to choosing either chastity *or* "giving in to sinful temptation"? Surely there is another option?

When it comes down to it I'm not sure the scriptures have much to say about monogamous, sexually moral, homosexual relationships. I think our challenge is not to simply write off homosexual activity as immoral (we don't do that with heterosexuals) but to ask ourselves *when* is homosexual activity immoral (like we do with heterosexuals).

To be sure, I don't buy what society tells us about sexuality - that desire is good and natural and that we should always say 'yes' to our desire. Yet, at the same time I'm troubled by a Christianity that isn't willing to think any deeper than "all homosexual activity is immoral, all the time."

As a side note, it looks like there is going to be an interesting and important discussion on David Fitch's blog about this very issue. I'm sure your voice there would be constructive.

http://www.reclaimingthemission.com/on-being-missional-and-the-gaylesbian-peoples/

Peace.

p.s. - @Andy, the tricky thing with throwing out words like "objective truth" is that there is no such thing as an objective person!

Leo said...

Jonathan,

Thanks for the link to Reclaiming the Mission. Looks like good stuff. Certainly a question that has been on my mind.

- Leo

Gregarious said...

Jonathan,

I don't think I've ever had the opportunity to speak with you at Tyndale, but I thought I should say something here because what you've written was quite shocking to me.

When you said that you were not "the one singling out homosexuality here," you have equivocated on Dr. Carter's phrase "singling out." You point out the fact that he's written about the topic of homosexuality, which we all know is obvious. But your point is not helpful because his question to you, "Why do you single out homosexuality as if to promote it from sin to non-sin?", is a question about your consistency since homosexual intercourse (to be less ambiguous than "activity") is clearly condemned in Scripture along with other sinful acts such as theft, murder, adultery, and idolatry. His question is, How can you justify selecting one sin to rationalize and not another? To respond to this point by appealing to the fact that he wrote about the subject of homosexuality is misleading and evasive.

I also agree with Dr. Carter that a homosexual orientation is a disorder. You implicitly accuse him of arrogance and dishonesty by claiming that he "suggest[s to]...have a corner on "the Bible and Tradition."" What corner? The history of biblical interpretation unflinchingly upholds the fact that Scripture condemns homosexual intercourse. This is not something ambiguous or difficult to ascertain. Even a cursory study of church history on this issue will demonstrate that this has always been the historic teaching of the Church. Tellingly, dissent over traditional biblical interpretation about homosexuality has only arisen as a result of the sexual revolution, which is Carter's point. So if anyone thinks they have a "corner," it's the person who thinks they can interpret Scripture contrary to the witness of the Fathers, Medievals, Reformers, and Post-Reformers. The burden of proof is on you, unless you're suggesting you think you "have a corner" on these things.

And it is quite understandable why he would identify a homosexual orientation as a "disorder," since he recognizes the primary created purpose for sexuality: procreation. However, as a result of the sexual revolution, marriage and parenthood, and sex and procreation have been torn apart. This I believe is one of the root issues for you since homosexual intercourse (monogamous or otherwise) cannot ever lead to children and parenthood. God did not design human beings that way and the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate to the contrary. So when someone's sexual desires are oriented contrary to the good order of God's creation, then it is plain that such desires are disordered. And again, a homosexual orientation is only one kind of sinful disorder.

I also found it very strange that you think that somehow scriptural condemnation of homosexual intercourse only applies to non-monogamous relations. Again, the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that such a distinction is consistent with Scripture. I'm also curious to know how consistent you are with this. Do you think pre-"marital" intercourse between same-sex partners is permitted by Scripture? What about pre-marital intercourse for a heterosexual couple? I ask this because if you say that such practices are prohibited by Scripture, then I'm wondering how you could think that. If you think they are permissible, then what do you think the biblical purposes for marriage are?

Gregarious said...

(continued)
You said: "When it comes down to it I'm not sure the scriptures have much to say about monogamous, sexually moral, homosexual relationships."

You're right, they don't have anything to say about it. But that's because Scripture condemns that form of sexual intercourse outright. There is no distinction made because no such distinction can make that form of sexual relation permissible. And again, if you're consistent then why don't you apply the monogamy principle to incestuous relations? That form of sexual intercourse is also forbidden without any distinction.

You said: "I think our challenge is not to simply write off homosexual activity as immoral (we don't do that with heterosexuals) but to ask ourselves *when* is homosexual activity immoral (like we do with heterosexuals)."

No, homosexual intercourse is forbidden by Scripture outright, so there is no "when." Whereas, only certain specific forms of heterosexual intercourse are forbidden. Why is it that Scripture makes distinctions for different forms of heterosexual relations and makes none for homosexual relations? If monogamy where the issue, then Scripture would have made such a distinction, since it does make that distinction about adultery for heterosexual relations.

You said: "I'm troubled by a Christianity that isn't willing to think any deeper than "all homosexual activity is immoral, all the time.""

As Carter has pointed out in his article, it ultimately comes down to the authority of Scripture. If you reject the authority of Scripture, then you're not a Christian. That is the first form of temptation that Carter speak of when he refers to "former brothers and sisters." If you do affirm it, then approach it honestly otherwise there is a real danger that is faced by trying to make sense of personal experiences or to justify convictions that contradict clear biblical teaching.

That being said, I'm also troubled by Christians who don't understand how complex sexuality is and who reduce it to simply a choice or an innate disposition. Moreover, the depth that our sexuality affects us profound. Nevertheless, the apparent inability to overcome such profound inner turmoil must never define our hermeneutic.