I just became aware of this article, "Homophobia Has No Place in the Church," from a year ago at the "Desiring God" blog. In case you don't know, this is the blog of an organization run by (normally insightful and careful) Pastor John Piper. Piper didn't write this article, but it's highly disappointing that it appeared on Desiring God.
The piece is by a pastor named Nick Roen, who (according to the article) has revealed that he struggles with same-sex attraction. It epitomizes what is often wrong with even relatively conservative Christian dealings with the issue of homosexuality. In these dealings, Christians state that actually having homosexual sex is morally wrong, but they repeatedly undermine their own position by attacking any natural law basis for this position and by generally normalizing homosexuality (e.g., through teaching that it is no worse than any other sin and by encouraging "coming out") and watering down opposition to it. In the end, it becomes "just another sin," and this position fails to do justice either to the unnaturalness of homosexuality or to its current cultural urgency and the need, now more than ever, for us to speak clearly about it. The article runs almost entirely on implication, and here I'm going to draw out a number of these implications and point out their falsehood.
False implication #1: Feeling revulsion toward some sin means that there is something wrong with the person who feels the revulsion. The person who feels revulsion should feel bad about his feelings and seek to eliminate them. In no way should those feelings be taken as a clue that that sin is particularly revolting.
Simply put, homophobia means a fear of homosexuality and, more specifically, homosexual people. And while it is not the same as loving, biblical opposition to certain behaviors or beliefs, this fear-based attitude often leads to unhelpful stereotypes, prejudice, and even cruel mistreatment.
So, let’s call a spade a spade. Homophobia exists, and it has no place in the church.
Is your belief that same-sex sexual activity is sin based finally on solid biblical exegesis? Or is it really based on the fact that you don’t understand how someone could be attracted to the same sex, and this unknown seems to you just plain creepy? [LM: Nice false dilemma. It couldn't legitimately be based on both? And the sense of creepiness can't possibly have a legitimate place in our ethical epistemology?]
Furthermore, we are called to love with the very love of our Father (Matthew 5:45), which calls us to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:44–48). Such love casts out fear because it no longer fears God’s judgment and therefore is freed to love with lavishness (1 John 4:18). [LM: Roen stigmatizes moral disgust as "fear" and springs from this stigmatization into a manipulative, cloying misuse of these verses to imply that God is displeased if Christians feel disgust at homosexual acts or are alarmed at the influence of homosexuality in society or distressed by its ubiquity in their lives.]
Happily upholding Christian sexual ethics is not the same as harboring animosity toward an entire group of people simply because you find them yucky. [LM: Nice segue from natural revulsion to harboring animosity.]
So, let us examine our hearts, identify attitudes of fear and the roots of pride, wherever they exist, and put to death ungodly prejudices that ultimately hinder the truth. In our quest for biblical fidelity, we must not only uphold the truth, but do so in love (Ephesians 4:15).
Biblical love requires that we speak the truth. And when we speak out of homophobia, rather than in love, it is we who are in the wrong.
I can't help noting the irony: Roen is trying to shame "homophobes" for their feelings of revulsion concerning homosexual acts, but it seems highly unlikely that he would want homosexuals to feel shame for their homosexual feelings.
False implication #2: There is something wrong with any suggestion that parading one's sexually perverse desires in society and in the church is TMI (too much information), that doing so normalizes the perversion in question, and that other human beings legitimately do not want to be constantly forced to think (and have their children think) about the perversions that other people around them are attracted to. Hence, people who are Christians and have same-sex attraction, and even people who are unrepentant and active homosexuals, should be entirely free to parade their "orientation" in society and in church, and anyone who wishes they wouldn't should feel guilty about wishing that.
Is your opposition to so-called same-sex marriage based on a principled biblical definition of marriage? Or is it more influenced by a fear that same-sex couples might signal the unraveling of comfortable cultural norms and usher in the end of a once-pristine “Judeo-Christian society”? Or maybe your fear is more that one such couple might move in next door, and you might actually be pressured to befriend them?
Does your opposition to homosexual practice include the ability to lovingly welcome LGBT people into a Sunday service or other gathering with other Christians? Or does opposition for you mean that you wish they would just stay away so you aren’t made uncomfortable by their very presence?
False implication #3: The fact that a Christian has a sexually perverse desire shouldn't make any difference whatsoever to what activities he can engage in, and if you think that it should or even might limit, e.g., his ability to work with the youth group, you have a problem.
In standing for Christian sexual ethics, do you encourage and support those SSA believers within the church who are striving to remain faithful to biblical teaching by welcoming them into full participation in church life? Or does standing for biblical sexuality mean that they can come to church, but they can’t grow in influence or serve the body through teaching, and they should probably stay away from the youth group?
(This quote also implies #2--that "SSA believers" have a right to be telling the entire congregation that they have a desire to engage in acts of sodomy, and that the congregation should be "welcoming" of this.)
False implication #4: Taking precautions that involve treating a same-sex-attracted person differently in a social context is a sign of, if not equivalent to, being unloving. (E.g. Not having a homosexual man, even a Christian and celibate one, take your boys' youth group on an overnight camping trip.)
Therefore, our comfort, our convenience, our safety, or our perception of our country’s values are no longer valid reasons to operate in any way that is opposed to genuine biblical love. [LM: Because obviously, worrying about our safety and desire for privacy in such a way that, e.g., you wouldn't put a homosexual man in a dorm room with another man, or you wouldn't allow a man who thinks he's a woman to use the women's bathroom at your church, is opposed to genuine biblical love, right?]
False implication #5: Homosexuality is no worse than other sins.
When we love in this manner, we expose homophobia for what it really is: pride. It is an attitude that puts beneath us others whose sins and temptations we deem “more depraved” than our own, as we wickedly proclaim with the Pharisee, “Well, at least I don’t struggle with that” (Luke 18:11).
The truth is that sin is sin, temptation is temptation, and “men who have sex with men” is listed right alongside greed, drunkenness, deception, and slander as worthy of exclusion from the kingdom (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). All equally damnable. Who among us is innocent?
False implication #6: There are no natural-law reasons against homosexual practice, only reasons drawn narrowly from biblical exegesis. Everything else is "phobia" and "thinking homosexual people are yucky."
See again this dichotomy:
Is your belief that same-sex sexual activity is sin based finally on solid biblical exegesis? Or is it really based on the fact that you don’t understand how someone could be attracted to the same sex, and this unknown seems to you just plain creepy?
Biblical exegesis is a wonderful underpinning for belief, and love is a worthy motive for action. Fear is a horrible reason for both.
No room here for natural law reasoning, not even as a way of achieving a deeper understanding of what we learn from biblical exegesis. Everything is either "thus saith the Lord (why? heck, I have no idea!)" or else "fear."
So let's go back and say something about each of these in turn.
On false implication #1: Actually, it's just fine to be disgusted by homosexual activities. The Apostle Paul appears to have been, and he teaches it as a biblical view. (If we're into "biblical exegesis.")
Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
"Degrading," "unnatural," "indecent acts," and "dishonor[ing]" to one's own body. That doesn't just sound like a vague or sterile prohibition. It's a prohibition based upon the specifically degrading nature of homosexuality.
In general, it just isn't true that we shouldn't feel revulsion toward any particular sin or that revulsion is per se unloving. We would see that if we were talking about a sin that wasn't fashionable. Those of us old enough to remember when homosexuality was unfashionable can see the arbitrariness of Roen's nonsense. Why is it still okay (presumably) to see pedophilia, cannibalism, and bestiality as disgusting, but you're a mean, bad, unloving, un-Christian, phobic, fearful person if you think of homosexuality as not only wrong but (to use Roen's word) creepy? It's the sheerest fashion of the times--the last gasp of a system of ethics that elevates consent as the only inviolable moral norm. (And for that matter, cannibalism could be carried out with consent.) Our culture has grown desensitized to homosexuality, it has been normalized among us, and now Christians and other normal people are being guilt-tripped for being creeped out by a sin that dishonors the human body. That's just emotional manipulation based on a cultural fad. Both the Bible and common sense teach that some sins are not only wrong but also disgusting and that our disgust is a sign that our minds are unwarped in that particular respect. So let's stop pontificating about the evils of thinking that certain sins are yucky.
On false implication #2:
There is no reason why everyone in your neighborhood and your church needs to know about all of your secret sexual sins or temptations to sin. If a man has a p*rn habit, he doesn't need to be telling the entire church, and probably shouldn't be, unless there are special reasons to do so (e.g., perhaps to explain why he is under church discipline). If a person is tempted to have sex with members of the same sex, he doesn't need to be sharing this with everyone. There is such a thing as discretion, and there is more than a whiff of exhibitionism in the contemporary idea that the only way to be "real" is to tell everyone about your darkest sins and temptations.
Moreover, in the case of homosexuality, the persistent insistence on "coming out" and demanding that the church be accepting of one qua "homosexual person" has a very strong tendency to identify the person with his sin temptation. Notice that Roen uses the "LGBT people" phrase in the article as a case in point. A person with this problem should be discouraged from grounding his own self-acceptance in an entire community's willingness happily to hear that he has a perverse inclination and then to act like it doesn't matter. Nor should we be judging Christians (as Roen unquestionably does) as deficient if they would rather not know about this. St. Paul again:
For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. (Ephesians 5:12)
I guess Paul was a homophobe who valued his own comfort more than love.
It is misleading to young people in our churches to identify people as "LGBT people" and to act like this is no big deal. It is a big deal. If someone has same-sex attraction, that is, at a minimum, a tragedy for him. It would be better in most cases if he could keep this tragedy a more or less private matter, revealing the information on a need-to-know basis. Nonchalance about dark temptations, much less dark acts, is not next to godliness. Forcing nonchalance about same-sex attraction by dint of insufferable scolding like Roen's is bad for everyone involved.
To false implication #3: It should be obvious that a same-sex attraction, even in the case of a person who is committed to celibacy, makes a difference to the sorts of ways in which one can and should serve in the church. Nor is such a principle confined to same-sex attraction. A person who has an urge to embezzle shouldn't be the church treasurer. A person who struggles with porn addiction maybe shouldn't be the church's IT guy, because of the misuse he might be tempted to make of the church Internet service. By the same token, a person with same-sex attraction should not be involved in activities that require him to be spending time overnight, in showers, in rooming together, etc., with members of the same sex. And, to be blunt, given the close association of homosexual attraction with ephebophilia, there is a legitimate question as to whether a same-sex-attracted man should be set up as a role model to boys and young men in general, due to the temptations this could generate. Also due to the fact that boys and young men need (really need) heterosexual male role models.
These are all sane and sober concerns, but Roen pretty clearly dismisses all such thoughts as fear and unkindness.
To false implication #5: Roen's use of phrases like "temptation is temptation" and "sin is sin" strongly suggest that all sins are equally bad.
This is clearly unbiblical. Ironically, the very fact that Paul (and others) bother to list certain sins as particularly noteworthy (Roen mentions one of these lists) falsifies this claim. Paul emphasizes the special harm of sexual immorality to the person (I Cor. 6:18). Jesus directly states or implies on repeated occasions that some sins are worse than others. (John 19:11, Matt. 10:15, Matt. 12:31, Luke 17:2)
It is also contrary to all moral intuition. If you really think that losing your temper and snapping at your dog is just as morally bad as torturing a child to death, you need to have your head examined.
But suppose we envisage Roen as backing off from the implication that all sins are equal and merely taking his stand on the list he happens to mention--that is, the one in I Corinthians 6:9-10. Perhaps he would argue that even if all sins aren't equally bad, at least homosexuality is no worse than covetousness and drunkenness, both of which are mentioned in this particular list. The verses occur after Paul has been castigating the Corinthians for taking one another to court in civil suits, saying that they are defrauding one another and making a spectacle of themselves for unbelievers. He then continues:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Paul loves lists, and such lists of sins are scattered throughout the Pauline epistles and aren't always the same. (See, for example, the "works of the flesh" in Galatians 5:19-21.) He certainly does say here that no one who commits--presumably, continues to commit or is stubborn in clinging to--the sins listed here will inherit the kingdom of God.
Roen takes this as an opportunity to say that all are "equally damnable" and to ask rhetorically, "Who among us is innocent?" This is a common ploy of those who want to say that homosexual practice is no worse than any other sin in any way. First assert that all sins (or all of some list) can send you to hell, and conclude that all "damnable" sins are equal. Then say that everyone is guilty of one of these, so it's "Phariseeism" to say, even as a carefully considered opinion, that there is something worse about some particular sin.
Note, again, that consistently applied this form of argument would be ludicrous. Imagine a similar article written about torturing children. Paul doesn't even list torturing children in I Corinthians 6 among those things that will prevent one from inheriting the kingdom! He lists others that are all "damnable," and "who among us is innocent"? Therefore (rewritten)
When we love in this manner, we expose [fear of those who torture children] for what it really is: pride. It is an attitude that puts beneath us others whose sins and temptations we deem “more depraved” than our own, as we wickedly proclaim with the Pharisee, “Well, at least I don’t struggle with that” (Luke 18:11).
So all of this is just a silly rhetorical technique. Which brings us back to the list in I Corinthians 6. The fact that any of these sins can take you to hell (as can many others) does not mean that they are all equally bad in a variety of important senses. It doesn't mean that they are all equally harmful to the self and/or to society, equally difficult to put aside, or even equally grave qua sins in a given instance. (It's the persistence in following sin rather than God that takes one to hell, not just a sin's gravity on a given occasion.) Nor does Paul say that they are. On the contrary, in this very passage, just a few verses later, he says this about sexual sins:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (I Cor. 6:15-20)
If these remarks apply to having sex with a prostitute, they apply a fortiori to homosexual acts, which Paul explicitly says in Romans 1 are dishonoring to one's own body.
One can maintain quite plausibly that there are senses in which homosexuality is worse than covetousness: It does more harm to the body, it is a sin against nature (the nature of the body). It harms the soul in a unique way by teaching the soul to love perversion. It tends to be taught to others and hence is spread in a deliberate and explicit way that is not the case with covetousness. In its normalization, it attacks marriage and the male-female bonding that is the very glue of society. In another sense, of course, homosexual acts and deliberately indulged covetousness are apples and oranges. But one is an act of perversion and the other isn't, and that's a relevant difference.
To false implication #6: Roen's narrow biblicism and sweeping, sneering dismissal of natural law arguments is particularly pernicious. It has implications that go far beyond the issue of homosexuality. The Bible does not teach explicitly against suicide and euthanasia. The Bible does not teach clearly against abortion. The Bible does not teach clearly against war crimes.
What if, instead of talking about active homosexuals, we were talking about a general who came home from a war zone and proudly declared that he had wantonly killed civilians? Perhaps he would cite the Bible's passages on the slaughter of the Canaanites to argue that doing so isn't always wrong, and then give a consequentialist defense for his decision deliberately to take out an entire village, including men, women, and children. What if there were a church member who took up the profession of abortionist and pointed out that the Bible never explicitly says that abortion is wrong?
Wouldn't Roen, to be consistent, have to tell people that they are "in the wrong" and "Pharisees" if they condemn these acts on the basis of something other than "solid biblical exegesis"? How dare they just feel that the war criminal or the abortionist is "yucky"!
The point could be extended. Slavery is a notorious example of something on which explicit biblical teaching is murky, but I doubt that Roen would want to call people "Pharisees" if they think that slavery is uniquely bad. Given biblical injunctions not to spare the rod, one could argue that what we would now consider quite excessive corporal punishment is not clearly taught against by "sound exegesis," so perhaps we shouldn't get up on our high horse against church members who beat the tar out of their children.
My point is not to deny that there are biblical principles that are relevant to these issues. My point, rather, is that if anything biblical teaching against homosexuality is much clearer and more explicit than biblical teaching against acts that people like Roen would definitely want to condemn in the strongest possible terms. The convenient biblicism with which he snarkily dismisses the natural law is not something he will want to hang on to in other contexts.
Moreover, the Bible itself teaches that there is a law written on our hearts and that those who do not have special revelation can know right from wrong. Paul's condemnation of homosexuality in the Romans 1 passage comes in the context of discussing pagans who didn't have the special revelation of the Old Testament, yet he holds them guilty for not living according to the law written on the heart. It is therefore supremely ironic that Roen and others like him should speak as though we, in our post-Christian age, should be debarred from opposing homosexuality on any basis other than "solid exegesis." Heaven forbid that we should appeal to people's sense of the teleology of the body that makes them feel that homosexual acts are perverse! Roen's narrow biblicism at this point is unbiblical.
Indeed, since the male-female complementarity is, according to Genesis (part of the Bible!) built into the design plan of mankind, we would expect that people would be able to see that rejecting this complementarity in sex is unnatural. The Bible's own teaching about the origins of sexuality directs our attention to the extra-biblical human sense of teleology in the human body.
It's a really, really bad idea to give people the impression that biology has nothing to tell us in this area, that revulsion has nothing to tell us, and that the prohibition against particular acts is and should be based on the Bible alone. Let's face it: Man is endlessly inventive for evil. People have already come up with obscene sexual acts (please, no examples in the comments) that aren't explicitly addressed in Scripture. We really should not be treating sexual ethical norms as black-box prohibitions that come from God and that we have no way of knowing the reason for.
The ideas represented by Roen's article are, sociologically, unstable. A church that systematically scolds people for an aversion to homosexuality, that systematically reduces the prohibition against it to a black-box biblical fiat, that systematically encourages those with same-sex attraction to "come out," that acquiesces in identity terminology like "LGBT people," that insists that those with same-sex attraction are in no way limited in their ministry and activity options, and that prides itself (were we talking about pride?) in its acceptingness towards "LGBT people," is in the end going to be a church that doesn't condemn homosexual acts. Young people raised with suppression of the natural law are going to disdain it, as they have been taught. This will make it extremely hard for them to see what is wrong with homosexual practice at all, which will make them much more friendly to twistings even of the Bible's clear prohibitions. We see this happening right now, already, in the evangelical church. No doubt you know young people like this, and so do I. Roen's vision of a welcoming, gay-friendly (in some senses) church that places no special social stigma upon homosexuality but that still condemns it from the Bible just isn't something that is going to last.
The alternative is not "hatred," though Roen and a fortiori the homosexual activists think that it is. The alternative is an informed understanding of the natural law, of who we are as human beings, and of the tragic evil of dishonoring that law with our bodies.
Robert Gagnon has been an especially eloquent voice for the right position. Here is his brief and well-considered response to the Roen article.
Related post here.