Category Archives: Worldview
Can the Biblical Accounts of Jesus’s Passion Be Trusted?
It’s Good Friday, the day Christians celebrate the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It may seem odd to celebrate the horrific killing of the Son of God, and it may seem foolish to call such an evil act “Good.” But it is Good—infinitely so—because Christ died the death we deserve as sinners who have rebelled against a holy God. I can call this day “Good” because “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:19–20).
History or Gospel?
Whenever someone considers the claims Christians make regarding the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, one of the first things they ask is, “Did all this really happen?” Was there an actual man named Jesus? Did he really suffer and die like that? Could he really have risen from the dead? In other words, is the gospel story historical, or merely the stuff of legend?
This question was the subject of a Dateline NBC special entitled The Last Days of Jesus, which aired around the time the movie The Passion of the Christ was released. NBC anchor Stone Phillips interviewed several Biblical scholars about key episodes in the final week of Jesus’s life. Among the scholars interviewed was John Dominic Crossan, co-chair of the Jesus Seminar and author of numerous books about the “historical Jesus.” Crossan, who describes Judas as a “powerful piece of fiction” and who declares that the “Pilate of the gospels” is “absolutely unhistorical,” has this to say about what he sees as the gospels’ lack of historical authenticity:
It’s not that anyone is telling a lie. They are writing gospel. If you read a gospel as giving you straight history you are denying what it claims to be, namely good news. And if we were to confront them and say, well, that’s not history, they say, ‘I never said I was writing history. That’s your problem. I’m writing gospel.’
Crossan does have a point about what the gospel writers were trying to do. They were not trying to write an objective, historiographical account of the events of Jesus’s life. They were writing to persuade their readers that Jesus is the Christ, the only path of salvation for sinful man. They were not merely reporting historical fact; they were interpreting the events they were describing in order to make a theological or evangelistic point. However, that fact does not rule out the possibility that the events they recorded actually took place. They may have been proclaiming the good news, but they also saw themselves as proclaiming the truth — a truth which was historical as well as spiritual.
To his credit, Stone Phillips also interviewed scholars such as Craig Evans who believe the gospels to be historically reliable. Unfortunately, we never see these scholars actually address the specific challenges to the gospels’ historicity which get raised. I contacted Dr. Evans to find out whether he had been asked if Judas was real or if the gospels’ portrayal of Pilate was accurate, and he was kind enough to send me a partial transcript of his interview. In it he ably defended the veracity of the gospel accounts, but for whatever reason, his answers to those questions never made it on the air. Thus, although Dateline’s viewers were presented with scholars from both sides of the debate, they only got to hear the arguments of those who question the Bible’s historical reliability. The net effect of all this was that Dateline’s viewers were given the distinct impression that the gospels are of dubious historical value.
History and Gospel
John Dominic Crossan’s juxtaposition of history and gospel is typical of those who challenge the historical reliability of the gospels, but where is it written that a document must be exclusively one or the other? If I report that I met Christ when I was fifteen years old, at the end of a dock on a lake in Alabama, is it not possible to reject my religious affirmation without denying my historical assertions? In other words, you may dispute my claim that I did, in fact, have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ, but why accuse me of lying about actually being at the end of a dock in Alabama when I was fifteen years old?
Let’s take this personal example a little further. What if, at another time, I told you that I have spent all my life in Florida and that I became a Christian through a small church in Orlando? Now should you question the historical accuracy of my claim that I met Christ (that is, became a Christian) in Alabama? After all, I’ve just said that I’ve spent all my life in Florida! Of course, the apparent contradiction is easily resolved when I explain that I was in Alabama on a week-long youth retreat, and that I was, in fact, actually living in Florida at that time.
When I give a personal testimony of my salvation experience, I am relating historical facts for evangelistic purposes, but my religious motives do not lead me to bend, distort, or exaggerate the historical elements of my message. In other words, my statements are both history and gospel. Yet scholars like Crossan tend to approach the gospels with the assumption that their authors were not above embellishing the truth if they thought it would serve their theological purposes. Thus, any episode which can be clearly shown to further the goals of the gospel writers immediately becomes suspect. In my opinion, this a priori presumption of guilt leads people like Crossan to see contradiction, exaggeration, and error in all kinds of places where it doesn’t really exist.
Pilate: A Test Case
In order to assess the historical reliability of the gospels, let’s examine an episode in the life of Christ which has often been declared “implausible” and “absolutely unhistorical” by Crossan and others: Jesus’s trial before Pilate.
The gospels portray Pilate as reluctant to crucify Jesus, as doing so only in response to pressure from the Jewish priests and the crowd. Yet other ancient historical witnesses describe Pilate as a ruthless dictator who did not hesitate to resort to brutality. Philo speaks of Pilate’s “corruption, and his acts of insolence, and his rapine, and his habit of insulting people, and his cruelty, and his continual murders of people untried and uncondemned, and his never ending, and gratuitous, and most grievous inhumanity” (Philo, Embassy to Gaius, 302). Josephus tells of several instances where Pilate suppressed minor, religiously-inspired uprisings with violence. John Dominic Crossan summarizes Pilate’s relationship with his Jewish subjects like this:
He would not give in to a crowd. Pilate had his own way of crowd control, which is known as slaughter. He is not the Pilate of the gospels, the meek or the just person who is just trying to be a good governor but that crowd won’t let him go so he finally gives in. That is absolutely unhistorical.
When asked whether Pilate would have crucified Jesus to please the priests, Paula Fredricksen, another scholar featured in the Dateline Special mentioned above, responded, “Pilate is appointed by the Emperor. He doesn’t have to worry about pleasing the priests.”
Scholars who regard the gospels’ depiction of Pilate as unhistorical tend to argue that the gospel writers had an ulterior motive for describing Pilate as reluctant to crucify a righteous man without just cause. Because the gospels were written around the time of the First Jewish Revolt, these scholars see the gospels as an attempt by Christians to distance themselves from Jews. By whitewashing Pilate’s involvement in Jesus’s death and laying the blame squarely at the feet of the Jews, the gospel writers were trying to appease their Roman rulers and avoid being lumped together with the Jews who were proving so troublesome at the time.
Did the gospel writers gloss over Pilate’s cruelty in order to get in good with the Romans? Are Pilate’s actions in the trial of Jesus inconsistent with what we know of him from other ancient sources? Not at all.
To begin with, one of the gospels makes explicit mention of Pilate’s cruelties. In Luke 13:1, Jesus receives news about some Galileans “whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.” In other words, Pilate had ordered some Galileans to be slaughtered while they were in the act of offering sacrifices to God, an act which would have been absolutely reprehensible to Jews. Luke’s gospel, at least, does not try to cover up Pilate’s penchant for brutality.
Neither do the gospels depict Pilate as being particularly eager to please either the priests or the crowd. When the chief priests bring Jesus before Pilate, the gospel of John portrays Pilate as dismissive: “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law” (John 18:31). Later he says to them, “You take him and crucify him” — knowing perfectly well that they have no authority to crucify anyone. When Pilate presents Jesus to the crowd, he repeatedly refers to Jesus as their “king,” almost as if he is enjoying the fact that they are calling for the death of a Jewish king. His famous act of “washing his hands” is not meant to appease the crowd, but to make it clear that they are responsible for Jesus’s crucifixion.
Why would Pilate behave like this? Why didn’t he just condemn Christ immediately and be done with it? Was it because he was so convinced of Jesus’s innocence? Was it because he didn’t want to participate in a miscarriage of justice? I don’t think so. The gospels do not portray Pilate as the “meek or just person who is just trying to be a good governor” (see Crossan’s quote above), but as a politician trying to work out the best way to handle a difficult situation.
Paula Fredricksen is right that Pilate was appointed by the Roman Emperor and therefore did not have to answer to the desires of the Jewish priests. But she is being far too simplistic when she says that he didn’t have to “worry” about pleasing his Jewish subjects. After all, the Jews could, and had, appealed directly to the emperor in cases where they felt Pilate was being unjust or doing something which violated their religious traditions. Philo reports of one instance where Pilate was harshly reprimanded by the emperor for not removing some objects from Jerusalem which the Jews found objectionable. Josephus tells us that Pilate was ultimately removed from office when his Jewish subjects complained about his cruelties to the higher-ranking governor of Syria. In other words, Pilate may have had all the power in Jerusalem, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t accountable to any higher authority or that he could do whatever he wanted. Like most politicians, Pilate likely spent a lot of time looking over his shoulder and trying to figure out how to hold on to his position or to advance his career.
So when the Jewish religious leaders came to him to demand the death of a popular preacher, Pilate found himself in a political quagmire. I doubt there was any love lost between Pilate and the Jewish authorities, but Pilate depended on them to help keep the Jewish populace in line. If he completely alienated them, they were sure to cause him further headaches in the future. On the other hand, if he put to death this popular preacher during the festival of Passover, he was likely to end up with a riot on his hands. And while Pilate certainly wasn’t afraid to put down a riot with violence, there was always the risk of more political fallout from such an action. Pilate may even have suspected the Jewish authorities of trying to set a trap for him. After all, whatever he did with Jesus, it had the potential to backfire.
Pilate therefore did what any good politician would do. He began by trying to pass the buck: sending Jesus off to Herod when he learned that Jesus was a Galilean (Luke 23:6-7). Luke notes that when Herod sent Jesus back dressed in an “elegant robe,” Pilate and Herod became “friends” where previously they had been enemies (Luke 23:12). This new political alliance seems odd considering that Herod failed to take the Jesus problem off Pilate’s hands, but apparently Pilate was so pleased with Herod’s mockery of Jesus’s claim to be king of the Jews that he began to see Herod in a new light.
Pilate then seized upon another opportunity to avoid responsibility for the condemnation of Jesus. All four gospels record that it was customary for the Roman governor to release a prisoner to the crowd at Passover: sort of a low-cost way to show the benevolence of Roman rule. At the time, Pilate had a prisoner named Barabbas who had led an insurrection. It is doubtful Pilate would have wanted to release such a man anyway, and it was apparently clear to him from his interviews with Jesus that this people’s preacher posed more of a threat to the religious authorities than he did to the authority of Rome. By releasing Jesus, Pilate could appear benevolent to the crowd, go forward with the execution of a political prisoner, and, perhaps best of all, irritate the priests who had good reason to see Jesus as a threat. If it had worked, it would have been a pretty savvy bit of political maneuvering.
Unfortunately for Pilate, the crowd did not give him the out he wanted. The priests, who had no reason to want a man like Barabbas released either, may have surprised Pilate by calling for his release rather than Jesus’s. The gospels say that they “stirred up” the crowd to call for Barabbas to be released as well.
Paula Fredricksen finds this whole scene to be “incoherent”:
The whole scene even if you look at it within the woof and weave of the gospel stories is incoherent. Jesus is popular enough to have been celebrated by pilgrims and danced into the city. He was so popular that he had to be arrested by ambush. That was the only way they could risk getting him without causing popular uproar. And yet by morning, there’s a hostile crowd screaming for his death. Where does this hostile crowd come from? Did it really exist? … It doesn’t square. If this were a script for a “Law & Order” episode, you’d say, wait a minute, this is inconsistent. And that’s where you have to sort through.
But is it really that hard to understand? Consider how quickly we can turn on popular celebrities when they get into legal trouble or do something scandalous and the situation immediately becomes more believable. In the four days since he had entered Jerusalem to great fanfare, Jesus had been embroiled in controversy: terrorizing the money-changers at the temple, challenging the religious authorities, prophesying the temple’s destruction, and on and on. By Friday, I’m sure some of those who had hailed him as Messiah were beginning to wonder if they had been mistaken. We must also consider the fact that Jesus was not universally celebrated on Palm Sunday — many Jews were likely suspicious of this latest Messianic figure and nervous about the attention he was receiving. When, on Friday morning, this man appears in chains and looking like he has been in a fight, these people likely would have felt that their suspicions were being confirmed.
Jesus may have been too popular to arrest publicly, but Fredricksen seriously underestimates the effect of his suddenly appearing to people disgraced and already in custody. The same people who might have been outraged to see Jesus arrested right in front of them could easily have felt disillusioned to see him bedraggled and in chains. Finally, we need to consider the composition of the crowd which gathered before Pilate that morning. Many of them may have been Barabbas’s supporters hoping to push for his release. Others were likely just curious onlookers wanting to see the Roman governor release a Jewish prisoner. Such people probably could not have cared less who was released, and could easily have been swayed one way or the other. They might even have enjoyed the irony of seeing Pilate release a known insurrectionist. The point is that there are lots of possibilities which make this episode entirely plausible and quite coherent.
Whatever the reasons, the crowd did call for Barabbas to be released instead of Jesus. Still, Pilate wasn’t completely off the hook. The whole episode could easily have been “spun” as another example of Pilate’s cruelty and injustice: Pilate releases a known murderer and crucifies a popular religious teacher. So Pilate goes to great lengths to show that this time, he cannot be blamed for the bloodshed. First, he has Jesus flogged. His soldiers crown Jesus with thorns and beat him with a staff. When he is returned to Pilate he is seriously disfigured, clothed in Herod’s robe, and wearing a crown of thorns. Still, the chief priests are not appeased. They cry out for him to be crucified.
Why would they not have been satisfied? The cynical answer is that a beaten and humiliated Jesus would have been even more of a threat to their authority. Jesus could have used his flogging at the hands of Pilate to curry sympathy among the Jewish people, as proof that he was more courageous and more faithful to God than the collaborating Jewish priests. The more sympathetic answer is that these men were zealous for the Law, and as a blasphemer, they saw Jesus as deserving of death — a flogging was simply not enough. Whatever their motives, these men wanted Jesus dead.
The gospel of John, which records Jesus’s trial before Pilate in greater detail than any of the other gospels, describes the ironic conclusion like this:
From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”
When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge’s seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha). It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour.
“Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.
But they shouted, “Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!”
“Shall I crucify your king?” Pilate asked.
“We have no king but Caesar,” the chief priests answered.
At last Pilate had what he was looking for. There was now no way the chief priests could use this episode against him. Even better, he had their assertion that they had no king but Caesar.
I suspect Pilate enjoyed the irony of forcing a Jewish crowd and their Jewish priests to repeatedly call for the death of a Jewish king. Again and again, Pilate refers to Jesus as “your king,” as if to remind the crowd that the only king Jews could produce was this pitiful figure before him. And how did they reward their “king”? By crying out for his crucifixion!
The gospel of Matthew describes Pilate’s final bit of drama:
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”
Was this the protest of a just judge who was unwilling to accept the guilt of innocent blood? Or was it a crass way of taking what the crowd had just done and throwing it back in their faces? Either interpretation is purely speculative, but it is certainly possible to see Pilate as saying to his Jewish subjects: “This one is your doing. You who act so righteous and who have called me cruel, how are you any better than me?”
Whatever his reasons and motivations, Pilate had escaped the political trap, and had most likely enjoyed himself in the bargain. I suspect that he also enjoyed the priests’ objections to the notice which he had posted to Jesus’s cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” What a coup for a petty political dictator: he got to crucify a Jewish “king” and he couldn’t even be blamed for it. He got to warn other would-be messiahs about the dangers of achieving prominence, and in the process managed to extort a vow of loyalty to Caesar from the Jewish priests!
My point in all this is that the gospels do not whitewash Pilate or his soldiers while demonizing the Jews. Rather, they depict the complex multiplicity of factors leading to Jesus’s crucifixion. More often than not, it is the modern Biblical “historians” who end up flattening and oversimplifying history by failing to consider the full scope of the events being described. It is simply easier to dismiss the gospel writers as being unhistorical than it is to try to understand the subtle, hidden, and sometimes contradictory motives which drive people to do what they do.
Are the Gospels Historically Reliable?
So are the gospels historically reliable? Can we trust the accounts they give of Jesus’s passion, his death, and even his miraculous resurrection? Obviously, I believe we can. Have I proven the gospels’ historical accuracy in this article? Not by a long shot. But I hope I have shown that the gospel accounts cannot be dismissed as easily as scholars like Crossan and Fredricksen would have us believe. Yes, they are gospel, and we may choose not to accept the “good news” which they proclaim. But they are also history, and they should not be rejected as such simply because the gospels were written for theological and evangelistic purposes.
A few days ago, a number of evangelical leaders released a statement affirming the Bible’s clear teaching that “God has designed marriage to be a covenantal, sexual, procreative, lifelong union of one man and one woman, as husband and wife” and denying that He “designed marriage to be a homosexual, polygamous, or polyamorous relationship.” Known as the Nashville Statement, it contains a series of affirmations and denials regarding what the Bible teaches about human sexuality.
In any previous age, Christians and non-Christians alike would have looked at this statement, yawned, and said, “Of course that’s what the Bible teaches!” Yet in a culture where gender is seen as a fluid social construct and any kind of sexual “love” is regarded as good, the Nashville Statement is being reviled by progressives as an attempt by “powerful people of means” to “use the platform of the Church to demean the basic dignity of gay, bisexual, lesbian, trans, intersex, and queer people.”
This last quote comes from A Liturgists Statement, a progressive response to the Nashville Statement which offers its own set of theological affirmations. It is a stunning example of the self-contradictory and unbiblical worldview currently being promoted as “Progressive Christianity.” It also clearly demonstrates that what is at stake in this debate is nothing less than the Gospel itself.
The Liturgists Statement begins by casting doubt on the Bible’s clarity on the subject of sexual sin:
“Biblical” morality has been used to justify slavery, resistance to interracial marriage, genocide, and war. The scope of the Bible’s narrative allows a broad interpretation of what is right and moral, and both the church and society at large have moved toward universal justice and acceptance on issues once thought to be “crystal clear.”
In regards to Christians across the spectrum of sexual orientations and gender identities, it’s past time to accept and affirm them as they are. In the same way that we no longer accept the morality of slavery based on its inclusion in our scriptures, we can no longer project first century notions of sex and sexuality on people today. The very notion of “orientation,” or even “heterosexual” would be completely foreign to the authors of both the old and new testaments in the Bible.
This argument can best be summarized as follows: In spite of the Bible, our views on slavery have changed, so why not our views on sexual sin? The problem with this is that although the Bible was used by slaveholders to justify slavery, it was also used by abolitionists to call for slavery’s end, and over time, the biblical arguments against slavery proved more compelling than those in favor of it. It’s not that the Bible clearly said “slavery is good” and “freedom is bad,” and we suddenly decided to read the Bible a different way. On the contrary, the Bible promised freedom from human bondage in the exodus of the Old Testament and freedom from bondage to sin in the Gospel of the New Testament. In the end, slavery was rejected because it violated the clear teaching of Scripture.
The Liturgists Statement argues that “we can no longer project first century notions of sex and sexuality on people today.” It goes on to argue that concepts of sexual “orientation” or even of being “heterosexual” would be completely foreign to the biblical authors. Instead of making a biblical argument for their understanding of sexuality, the authors of this statement simply brush the Bible aside as irrelevant to the discussion. Those first-century biblical authors simply didn’t think about sexuality the way we do! Okay, so why do we think our understanding is right and their understanding is wrong? How is this anything other than chronological snobbery, the fallacious assumption that the thinking of our own age is inherently superior to that of previous ages?
By the way, shouldn’t the argument that the biblical authors had no concept of “orientation” and “heterosexuality” simply lead us to conclude that such concepts are unbiblical? The authors of this statement are not seeking to live in accordance with what the Bible teaches, but are simply trying to make the Bible conform to an external standard which is foreign to it. In the end, it is not the Bible, but rather some undefined concept of “universal justice and acceptance,” which they use as their ethical foundation.
The Liturgists Statement goes on to make a series of affirmations of what they believe about human sexuality. Here is the first:
We believe that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are fearfully and wonderfully made, holy before God, beloved and beautiful as they are.
The Bible does indeed teach that all people are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), their bodies being “knitted together” in their mothers’ wombs (v. 13). The Bible also teaches that all people are created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; 9:6), designed to reflect God’s glory on earth and therefore intrinsically valuable. Yet the Bible also teaches that human nature was radically marred and corrupted by mankind’s fall into sin (Romans 3:23; 5:12). Because of this, our only hope is to be set free from sin through the redemptive and transformative work of Christ (Rom. 6:19–23), by which we become a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). It is therefore contrary to the Bible to affirm that any person, apart from the saving work of Christ, is “holy before God, beloved and beautiful as they are” (emphasis added). It is only those who are in Christ who are “holy before God,” since they have had Christ’s righteousness imputed to them and they are being continually transformed into his image. If you tell anyone—whether gay or straight—that they are holy, beloved, and beautiful “as they are,” you tell them that they have no need of the saving work of Christ. Such “I’m okay, you’re okay” theology may leave them feeling “affirmed” in the short term, but it ultimately damns them to perish in their sins.
The Liturgists Statement then affirms:
We believe all people have full autonomy over their bodies, sexual orientations, and gender identities, and the diversity of identities reflects the creative power of a loving God.
This affirmation clearly articulates the heart of the philosophy behind our culture’s view of human sexuality: the desire for absolute “autonomy” over one’s personal identity. The notion that a fundamental aspect of our identity (our sex) lies beyond our control is completely galling to modern man’s fetish for self-determination.
The irony of this affirmation of “full autonomy” is that it completely contradicts the preceding affirmation that “all sexual orientations and gender identities are fearfully and wonderfully made.” The first affirmation asserts that homosexuals and transgenders were “born this way,” and that it is therefore unloving to ask them to change their sexual orientation or gender identity. But the second affirmation asserts their absolute autonomy over their own “bodies, sexual orientations, and gender identities.” In other words, if they choose to, they are able to change any of those aspects of themselves.
So which is it? Are those who embrace homosexual desires or who reject their own biological sex born that way, and therefore unable to change their sexual orientation or sense of their own gender identity? Or are they autonomous beings capable of choosing any number of options when it comes to orientation and gender? If the latter, why not choose to identify with the gender and orientation which corresponds to the body they were born with?
The second affirmation also asserts that “the diversity of identities reflects the creative power of a loving God” (emphasis added). The irony of this statement is that when it comes to sex, only one pair of corresponding identities and orientations actually has “creative power”: the heterosexual coupling of male and female. All the rest of that “diversity of identities” is completely sterile and incapable of creating new life. If God has chosen to show his own creativity by making some people desire members of their own sex or feel as if they were born with the wrong body, he has done so while simultaneously denying those individuals the “[pro]creative power” he grants to heterosexual couples. The theological implications of such a view of God are troubling to say the least.
The third affirmation of the Liturgists Statement attempts to make an argument from Scripture:
We believe that God is love, and that ‘anyone who loves is born of God and knows God’. (I John 4:7) God is honored in any consenting and loving relationship between adults, and therefore, all such relationships deserve honor and recognition.
Note the equivocation when it comes to the use of the word “love.” The Bible says that love is from God (1 John 4:7), and then a few verses later explains what kind of love it is talking about: “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (v. 10). The context of this passage is not at all focused on sexual relationships, but on God’s redemptive love for sinners. Yet the Liturgists Statement uses this passage to argue that “any consenting and loving [sexual] relationship between adults” is an expression of divine love. Such an ethical principle will inevitably lead to absurdity. For example, is “God honored” by the consenting and loving relationship between a man and his mistress, even though that relationship constitutes a betrayal of the man’s wife? Is marriage a requirement for God to be honored in a “consenting and loving” sexual relationship, or is any sexual relationship to be regarded as God honoring?
The last affirmation I’ll deal with draws an unequal equivalency:
We believe that same-sex relationships and marriages are as holy before God as heterosexual marriages.
The equivalency being affirmed here is that same-sex marriages are equally “as holy” as heterosexual ones. Yet notice the inequality which got slipped in there. On the homosexual side, it is “relationships and marriages” which are regarded as holy, while on the heterosexual side, it is only “marriages.” Is this just an unintentional slip? I don’t think so. The Liturgists Statement is careful not to require marriage as a condition of holiness for same-sex relationships. After all, that would condemn the many homosexuals who prefer serial monogamy or outright promiscuity to the long-term commitment of same-sex marriage. An ethic of universal acceptance of any sexual relationship cannot impose marriage as a requirement for holiness, even though it is the only kind of heterosexual relationship which the Liturgists Statement describes as holy.
While the Liturgists Statement is written in the form of a Christian creed, it ends up being an illogical jumble of contradictory affirmations and theological assertions which strike at the very heart of the Gospel. The Bible proclaims that a just and holy God lovingly provided the solution to human sin and corruption in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ.
The corruption of sin is readily apparent in the countless ways we have perverted and twisted God’s good created order. Hands designed to cultivate and keep the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15) are now used to commit murder (Gen. 4:8). That’s a perversion of God’s good design. Mouths designed to taste God’s goodness and praise his holy name are now used to engage in gluttony and cursing. That’s a perversion of God’s good design. The sexual distinction between male and female designed to fill the world with love and new life gets discarded in favor of sterile forms of coupling between members of the same sex. That too is a perversion of God’s good design.
All these perversions result in misery and death, and the only hope for any of us is to turn away from our sins and trust in the finished work of the resurrected Christ (Rom. 10:9–13). The good news of the Christian gospel is that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). The Liturgists Statement rejects that gospel in favor of the empty promise that sinners are “holy before God, beloved and beautiful as they are.” Rather than calling sinners to repent and believe, the Liturgists Statement simply redefines sin so that Christ and the cross are no longer necessary.
By way of contrast, hear the message of hope contained in Article 12 of the Nashville Statement:
WE AFFIRM that the grace of God in Christ gives both merciful pardon and transforming power, and that this pardon and power enable a follower of Jesus to put to death sinful desires and to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.
WE DENY that the grace of God in Christ is insufficient to forgive all sexual sins and to give power for holiness to every believer who feels drawn into sexual sin.
Ultimately, the Nashville Statement is not merely about defending the Bible’s teaching about marriage and sexuality, and it is certainly not about “demean[ing] the basic dignity” of LGBTQ persons. On the contrary, it is about holding fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is the only hope for sinners of every stripe and color of the rainbow.
When star-crossed Juliet was contemplating her difficulty with Romeo’s last name, she famously observed that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” In other words, Romeo’s hated name was not central to his nature; which was clearly good. Conversely, when we apply a pleasant-sounding name to something horrible, we do not thereby make it any less horrible.
This past week my wife and I took our son to Tallahassee for his college orientation. As we were driving around campus, we turned a corner and saw perhaps the creepiest billboard we’ve ever seen:
It starts off innocently enough: “Hey students, need a summer job?” Well, what college student couldn’t use a good summer job? This is targeted marketing at its best!
But then the horrible reality of this summer job opportunity is made clear: “Date a Sugar Daddy.” This message is reinforced by the image of a young woman applying a little too much makeup. So rather than encouraging college students to apply for an internship, work at a summer camp, or even flip burgers, this billboard is urging them to make an “arrangement” with a wealthy benefactor. And while this kind of arrangement is described as a “date,” it is all too clear that money can be expected in exchange.
The advertised website (which I’ve concealed because I don’t want to promote it) is even less subtle. The main page shows a woman dressed in lingerie standing provocatively in front of a fully-dressed business man with a wolfish stare. The tag-line beside this image reads “Intimacy with a Twi$t.” I guess that’s supposed to be clever, but a “twist” implies something unexpected, and exchanging intimacy for money is hardly something new. In fact, it’s commonly referred to as “the world’s oldest profession”!
Dating a “Sugar Daddy” is a nice way to sugar coat the exchange of money for sex, but prostitution by any other name still smells anything but sweet. What’s more, the attempt to lure female college students into thinly-veiled sex work reeks on numerous levels. It communicates to young women that their sexuality is a commodity they can use to get ahead in life. It urges them to look for a man who can take care of them—not a husband who will love and sacrifice for them, but a “sugar daddy” whose gifts come at a shameful price. Conversely, it encourages wealthy men to exploit young women who may be struggling to pay for college. Worst of all, it dresses the whole seedy affair up as a “date” with a wealthy man—the kind of fairy tale imagery many young women associate with romance.
As I drove away, it occurred to me that the decision to prostitute oneself in this way is really just the next logical step beyond the way many college students are already handling their sexuality. Rather than seeing it as something to be valued and saved for a future spouse, many girls offer it in exchange for a nice dinner, a few drinks, or a boy’s empty flattery. After giving it away to a few penniless college guys, they may wonder what’s so bad about using it to get something in return. American culture has so commoditized and cheapened sex that prostitution is no longer unthinkable—just as long as we are careful to call it by another name.
Some feminists might argue that it can be “empowering” when a young woman chooses to use her sexuality to benefit herself materially, but that line of thinking has always struck me as playing right into the hands of men who want sex without responsibility and commitment. My perspective on this is reinforced by the image used to sell these “arrangements” on the advertised website: it is the fully-clothed businessman who holds the power, while the woman is partially undressed for his enjoyment. In the end, she is just one more commodity for him to purchase and consume.
A woman’s sexuality is indeed a powerful thing—not when it is carelessly given away, nor when it is cynically bartered for material gain. It is at its most powerful when used according to God’s design: to bind a husband and wife together as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). That has the power to encourage a man to give his whole life to a woman, as opposed to merely handing her a few Benjamins.
I pray that the girls who see that billboard will learn Juliet’s wisdom in reverse: prostitution cannot be made to smell sweet by any other name.
What are we to make of the death of Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman? Is this one more case of a racist system enabling a white man to get away with murdering a young black man? Is this a simple case of self-defense which is being distorted by those who benefit from stirring up racial animus? What can we learn about racism from this case?
Ultimately, the only complete account of what happened that night comes from George Zimmerman himself. Since murderers are prone to lie in order to protect themselves, it is perfectly understandable that many people find his testimony suspect. However, since the weight of the evidence presented at trial corroborates many of the details of Zimmerman’s story, no one should be surprised that the jury did not believe the prosecution had established Zimmerman’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Thus, while it is certainly possible that Zimmerman pursued Martin until he provoked a confrontation in which he murdered the teen in cold blood, there was no clear evidence that such was actually the case.
What’s more, there is very little evidence that Zimmerman is, in fact, racist toward blacks. In fact, there is a fair amount of evidence to the contrary, such as his black former business partner, the help he offered his black neighbors, and his activism on behalf of a black homeless man who was allegedly beaten by the son of a Sanford police officer.
Those who are convinced Zimmerman was motivated by racism point to his words on the phone with the police dispatcher that night: “F—ing punks! These a—holes always get away!” In their minds, the people Zimmerman was referring to were young black men like Martin. Those who do not see Zimmerman as being motivated by racism would argue that the people he was referring to were simply the criminals (whatever their race) who had perpetrated a string of break-ins and acts of vandalism in Zimmerman’s neighborhood.
It appears to me that those who are convinced Zimmerman targeted an innocent boy simply because he was black must set aside the clearest facts of the case in favor of wild conjecture designed to suit their preconceived notions about how the world works. That is why most of those who cry “racism” in the Zimmerman case tend to talk more about the ongoing reality of racism than about the facts surrounding Martin’s death.
Now, I am perfectly willing to have a discussion about ongoing racism against blacks. As a white man, I am even willing to admit that I may have trouble recognizing such racism when it occurs. I need a reliable guide who can open my eyes to the racism I miss or gloss over. However, I cannot find a reliable guide among those who are currently minimizing Martin’s vices in order to portray him as a saint, who are trivializing the injuries Zimmerman sustained, and who are otherwise ignoring or distorting evidence in this case. They simply don’t strike me as honest.
Nevertheless, I do understand that the fate of Trayvon Martin has struck a chord with many blacks who have felt like they are guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of a society that “favors whiteness.” We will never know for certain whether Zimmerman followed Martin because he was black or because he was, in fact, acting suspiciously, but these people know all too well their own innocence in the face of suspicious glances, hastily-locked car doors, and unwanted scrutiny. They know what it’s like to be viewed with suspicion simply because they are black, and they see that experience reflected in Zimmerman’s suspicion of Martin.
No one likes to feel misjudged, especially when you’re being judged for something you can’t control, such as the color of your skin. It can certainly be galling to feel you must behave a certain way in order to get around people’s prejudices. I think this is what is behind the complaints of some black people that they must dress and act “white” in order to be accepted in white circles, get a good job, or avoid unnecessary hassle by the police. It is unfortunate that such prejudices are still very real. Yet what is the solution? How do we overcome those prejudices? Where should the battle be fought?
Many of the activists who lobby for racial equality (or for that matter, gender equality, gay rights, etc.) believe the fundamental problem is a corrupt “system” which codifies inequality and privileges “whiteness” (or “maleness,” “straightness,” etc.). The problem is not just that individual people are racist or sexist or homophobic, but that the societal deck is stacked against whole groups of people, denying them equal opportunity, consigning them to an endless cycle of poverty, encouraging criminality, and marginalizing them. The next time you hear the talking heads on TV discuss the problems of inequality and prejudice, listen carefully for how quickly they move past criticizing some individual’s particular act of racism to criticizing the “system” and discussing problems of poverty and opportunity. Much of this thinking can be directly traced to the philosophical teachings of Karl Marx, who saw economic inequality as the root of all human evils and who promoted the revolutionary overthrow of the system he regarded as unfair.
The problem with Marxism and the reason the alternative system he proposed has been such an abysmal failure is that it disregards the real cause of all human evils: the sinfulness and corruption of the human heart. As liberationists of various kinds are quick to point out, the Bible has much to say about social injustice and economic inequality. But where exactly does the Bible aim those criticisms? Not at the corruption and injustice of some political or economic system, but at the corruption and injustice of individual people. It is the kings, the judges, the rich, and the strong whom the Bible lambasts for exploiting the poor, the weak, the orphan, and the widow. After all, the “system”—whatever system that is—is run by individuals whose hearts are “deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9, NIV). If there is racism in the “system,” it is because there is still racial prejudice in the hearts of the individuals who make up the system. And that means all the individuals who make up the system: both those in power and those who are disenfranchised.
Are young black men still viewed with suspicion when they walk through a department store? Then we need to address the racial animus in the hearts of the department store personnel. Conversely, if a disproportionate number of shoplifters happen to be young black men, we need to realize that the suspicions of the department store personnel are not merely a matter of racism.
Young black men are not the only ones who get “profiled” in department stores. A few years ago my then preteen daughters and their friends were asked to leave a store because the store owner said, “I don’t trust you!” As good kids who were only looking through greeting cards and giggling too loudly, my girls were incensed at the prejudicial treatment they had received. And while I believed that store owner was totally out of line, I also tried to help my girls understand that he probably has had problems with girls their age in the past. How can he possibly know they are good girls who would never think of shoplifting?
Those who focus on the racism within the “system” are always fighting for political change while bemoaning the ongoing presence of racist attitudes. At the same time, they have to whitewash (forgive the pun) the problematic behavior of certain black individuals who reinforce negative racial stereotypes and make white racists feel their views are justified. Finally, they imply that every white person who abhors racism is really racist without knowing it because they are still part of a fundamentally racist system.
Those who focus on fighting the racism within the human heart are attacking racism at its source. Whatever our race, we all tend to indulge in racial stereotypes and to view the “other” with suspicion. Whatever our opinions of George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin, we all tend, like them, to prejudge (and misjudge) people by their appearance and the group to which they belong. Whatever our cultural background, we all tend to assume that our culture is just a little bit better than all other cultures. It all boils down to sinful people trying to think better of themselves by thinking worse of others. In the end, racism is merely one symptom of the universal human condition, and it, like all other sins, can only be eradicated through a transformation of the heart.
Are Christians “called” to have “amazing sex”? According to a recent article for Relevant magazine, the answer is a resounding “no.” In that article, Rachel Pietka rightly takes the Christian abstinence movement to task for “exaggerating … the benefits of saving sex for marriage.” She also correctly points out that modern Christians’ preoccupation with having amazing sex within marriage “smacks of an inferiority complex that wants to compete with mainstream culture’s view of sex rather than modeling a rightly ordered sexual ethic to the world.” However, she also uncritically accepts one aspect of “mainstream culture’s view of sex” which I believe to be seriously mistaken: namely, the notion of “sexual incompatibility.” Consequently, while Pietka makes an important point, she appears to end up with a view of sex within marriage which is far too pessimistic.
Pietka begins by citing a few reactions against the Christian abstinence movement’s tendency to over promise the joys of remaining virginal until marriage. Among these, she focuses on an article entitled My Virginity Mistake, written by Jessica Ciencin Henriquez. Henriquez attributes her “quick divorce” to her sexual incompatibility with her husband and blames her teenage abstinence pledge for keeping her from discovering the lack of a sexual spark before she tied the knot. Henriquez’s account of her premarital commitment to purity was undermined by sarcastic references to her relationship with Christ, comments about underage drunkenness, and other indications that her “press[ing] on in stubbornness” was driven more by legalistic righteousness than a sincere desire to please God. In spite of this, Pietka draws the conclusion: “Henriquez’s story is important because it highlights an issue the abstinence movement rarely acknowledges: sexual incompatibility within marriage.”
Pietka never bothers to define “sexual incompatibility within marriage” or to explain its causes and symptoms; she merely asserts that “Couples may find themselves incompatible in the bedroom” and that sexual incompatibility is a “cross” that some Christian married couples will have to bear. The ethical point she wants to make is that “bad sex” (also never defined) is “neither a reason for divorce nor an excuse to stop investing in a marriage.” That is certainly an important point. God never promised that sex between those who were virgins when they married is inherently more ecstatic and satisfying than sex between the promiscuous or even the perverted, yet much Christian teaching about abstinence seems to make that very promise. Marriage is about more than “amazing sex,” and the absence of “amazing sex” is not a reason to “put asunder” what God has joined together (Matthew 19:6).
While Pietka’s point is an important corrective to the excesses of much recent Christian teaching about sex, the idea that a husband and wife may be “sexually incompatible” strikes me as terribly pessimistic and rooted in worldly assumptions about sex. One such assumption is the notion that sexual pleasure is primarily the result of chemical attraction and physical stimulation. The implication of that belief is that great sex depends on finding the right partner and using the right sexual techniques. If a couple does not experience a sexual “spark,” they must try to generate that spark by employing the right technique. If every technique has been tried and ecstasy does not result, then the problem can be written off as a lack of sexual chemistry between the partners. No one is to blame; they just need to find someone who is more compatible. While Pietka would deny that those struggling with “sexual incompatibility within marriage” should look for a more compatible partner, she nevertheless seems to accept these basic assumptions about sex.
I’ve been married long enough to know that sexual intimacy and ecstasy have far more to do with what’s going on in each partner’s head and heart than on which nerve endings happen to get stimulated. The most erotic physical contact can be dulled if one or both of us is tired, sick, stressed out, distracted, frustrated, feeling unattractive, or worried about a child knocking on the bedroom door. Conversely, whenever we are absolutely enamored with each other, even the most incidental touch can feel electric. The aforementioned article by Henriquez on her “virginity mistake” revealed that she was distractedly making grocery lists during sex and that she and her husband no longer kissed with the same intensity once they were married. She likewise admitted that she “was not a willing student” but then complained that “he was no teacher, either.” I read all that not as an indication that this couple was “sexually incompatible,” but that they had unrealistic expectations and did not deal honestly with their deeper issues.
Many Christian advocates of premarital abstinence have oversold virginity as the key to ecstatic marital sex. Remaining a virgin until marriage is not merely a means to an end, a pragmatic delaying of sexual gratification so that sex will ultimately be more satisfying. On the contrary, premarital abstinence is a virtue to which Christians are commanded and called by God. Failure to keep that command does not ruin one’s chances for sexual satisfaction, and success in keeping that command is no guarantee of a great sex life. At most one can say that the virginal bride and groom may have less baggage to deal with in the bedroom than those who have had previous sexual partners. To the extent that such a lack of baggage can facilitate a frame of mind and condition of heart conducive to passion and intimacy, it can be understood to help lead to great sex, but it’s really just one ingredient of a much more complicated recipe.
As Christians, we are not “called” to have amazing sex, and sexual satisfaction is not a promised attribute of the Christian life. Nevertheless, Christians who are having problems in the bedroom need not resign themselves to bearing a cross of “sexual incompatibility.” Rather, they need to realize that their struggles are more likely a matter of head and heart than of chemistry and mechanics. It is then they will be able to turn for help to the God who has the power to change hearts and minds.
Like “amazing grace” and “amazing love,” amazing sex is a gift from God. We can’t demand it as a reward for premarital abstinence, but neither should we be afraid to ask him for it.
“Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” —James 1:16–17, NIV
Tonight I went to the web-page of my local newspaper looking for a local perspective on a national news story. In the “Popular Stories” section, I happened to notice a headline about an “abolitionist” who fights “modern day slavery.” I read the article about a local man who has devoted his life to fighting the slavery driven by the modern sex industry. It recited the horrible abuses I know exist but which are largely hidden from my sight: children and teens, runaways and illegal immigrants, lured or abducted and forced to perform unspeakable acts to titillate consumers of internet porn. The article included chilling quotes like this one: “With the Internet, the child-porn industry has exploded. There’s a huge demand to see children in porn, from teens to infants.”
Just like the modern drug trade, the modern slave trade is driven by demand—the demand of seemingly respectable people who see very little wrong with their “harmless” acts of voyeurism.
After reading this article, I returned to the newspaper’s home page and looked again at the “Popular Stories” section. Right next to the above-mentioned article was a thumbnail picture of a woman at the beach, with a headline praising the bikini body of this ex-wife of a popular sports celebrity. The juxtaposition of these two stories was striking. The one article reminds us that the voyeuristic consumption of internet pornography results in the abuse and exploitation of countless innocents, while the second article invites us to ogle a woman who wore a bikini to the beach!
I didn’t click on the thumbnail of the bikini-clad woman or read the accompanying “article,” but the thumbnail itself looked like a telephoto shot taken by paparazzi from a distance. While I suppose this celebrity ex-wife may have been looking for that kind of attention, it is far more likely that this photo represents an invasion of her privacy—an unwanted act of voyeurism which is now being featured on the home page of an ostensibly “respectable” newspaper.
The appearance of these two articles right next to each other is a visual reminder of our cultural ambivalence toward voyeurism. On the one hand, we recognize a direct connection between pornography and exploitation; on the other hand, we use more “innocent” forms of voyeurism to sell products, drive web traffic, and entertain ourselves. Yet even the telephoto shot of a bikini-clad woman is fundamentally an act of exploitation. If we were stalking this woman in person and snapping pictures of our own, we would quite reasonably be regarded as creepy. But if a creepy paparazzo takes the picture, we see nothing wrong in consuming the result of his creepiness: namely, the objectification of the woman in question.
Ultimately, the difference between child pornography and the countless embarrassing or private moments which are now “caught on camera” and spread via the internet is merely one of degree. Seemingly “harmless” acts of voyeurism still objectify people and invade their privacy, but even worse, they desensitize us to darker and more exploitative forms of voyeurism—the voyeurism that drives the enslavement of the innocent.
If we want to combat the growing epidemic of sexual enslavement, we ought to begin by examining our own hearts to see where we contribute to its spread. What forms of voyeurism have you and I developed an appetite for? What invasions of privacy do we excuse as harmless? Which people do we find it acceptable to ogle and objectify?
Remember, it is demand which drives the sexual slave trade. To reduce that demand, we need to curb our own appetite for voyeurism—in all its forms.
Debates about gay marriage and gay rights are often cast in terms of love and hatred. Dan Cathy’s remarks about “traditional marriage” have been roundly condemned as hateful to gays. The thousands of people who flocked to Chick-Fil-A restaurants on Wednesday have likewise been criticized for communicating a message of hatred toward gays. I have seen a number of blogs in the past few days complaining that by participating in this event, Christians have missed yet another opportunity to show the love of Christ to the homosexual community.
The problem with these criticisms is that they fail to articulate what Christian love toward homosexuals should actually look like. As we discussed in a previous post, Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) activists see anything short of unqualified acceptance as “anti-gay.” Thus, they would regard any disagreement with their worldview or opposition to their agenda as “unloving” and even “hateful.”
Yet sometimes real love must manifest itself in ways that the recipients of that love regard as unloving. For example, I have a nephew who died of leukemia at age nine. His father often had to hold him still while he underwent incredibly painful treatments, and I am sure little Chad wondered how his daddy could love him and let him experience so much pain. Yet it was precisely because Chad’s father loved him that he subjected him to the pain he hoped would save his life.
A friend addicted to alcohol might think that the best way you could show love to him is to buy him a drink. Yet if you really love him, you’ll do the very thing he regards as unloving and deny him that drink. What’s more, you’ll do everything you can to help him break his addiction, even if he comes to hate you for it.
If Christians take the Bible seriously when it says that homosexual acts are sinful (1 Corinthians 6:9), and that all sin leads to death and eternal separation from God (Romans 6:23), then the only truly loving response is to call homosexuals to repentance and offer them the good news of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Merely letting them embrace their sin with our tacit approval is the least loving thing we could do. In fact, it is the ultimate act of hatred.
This does not mean, of course, that Christians have not often condemned homosexuals in an unloving and unredeeming way. All too often we have acted as if homosexuality is the height of depravity or a somehow unforgivable sin. We have forgotten our own sinfulness and need of a Savior and voiced our disgust at sins to which we may not happen to be tempted. In contrast to such moments of judgmentalism, we are called instead to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
When I was in my early twenties, a dear Christian friend of mine grabbed me on my way into church and said he needed to talk. He was obviously upset, so rather than going into church, we walked to a nearby lake. When we got there, he said, “Last night I went over to someone’s house for the express purpose of sleeping with them.” We were both single at the time, and we both believed the Bible teaches that premarital sex is a sin. My friend was confessing a sexual encounter that did not merely involve unexpectedly succumbing to temptation, but which he had purposefully chosen to pursue.
But there was more. I could hear the fear in my friend’s voice as he asked, “Do you love me, Dave?” I assured him that I did. He then blurted out, “It wasn’t a woman!”
My friend took an awful risk that day: that I would react with disgust, condemn him, reject him, or tell him I could no longer be his friend. Yet on the contrary, I admired the courage it took him to leave the man he had slept with, come to church and seek me out, and confess a sin he feared I might regard as unforgivable.
The first thing I did after he said this was to reach out and put my hand on his shoulder. I wanted him to know that I was still there for him, that I didn’t reject him, and that I didn’t regard this sin as somehow making him unclean or untouchable. He was still my friend, and I wasn’t going anywhere.
I then listened as he told me things about his past he had never told me before: about the male camp counselor who had molested him when he was in his early teens. He then tried to assure me that our friendship had never been about same-sex attraction. I brushed that aside as something that would never even enter my mind. We talked for a long time, encouraging each other with the truths of the gospel and praying together for forgiveness and renewed strength.
My friend knew that day that I truly loved him. Yet I never told him that what he had done was okay. I never encouraged him to embrace his same-sex attractions as his true sexual orientation. I never soft-pedaled the fact that what he had done was a sin. I simply assured him that I understood what it is to be a sinner and that what he had done didn’t make him any more a sinner than I am. Together we asked God to “have mercy” on us as sinners, and together we went away “justified” (Luke 18:13–14).
I understand that those who see same-sex attraction as something you’re born with and can’t help will regard my actions that day as terribly unloving. However, showing someone the love of Christ doesn’t mean leaving them to die in their sins, but offering them the hope of deliverance from sin which can only be found in Jesus. After all, the same Jesus who said, “Neither do I condemn you” also said, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He then offered us the hope that only His love can give:
I am the light of the world. Anyone who follows Me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life. (John 8:12)
That is the love that Christians have to offer homosexuals. It is not a love that leaves them groping about in darkness, but one which enables them to experience the light of life. It is not necessarily the kind of love they are demanding, but it is the very love they need.
In fact, it’s the very love we all need.
Jesus once said, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged. For with the judgment you use, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1–2). In other words, the basis by which we condemn others will inevitably be used to expose any hypocrisy on our part. When church leaders and “family values” political candidates abandon their families or are caught in extramarital affairs, their opponents are perfectly right to scoff at their so-called “family values.”
In much the same way, it is legitimate to apply to Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) activists the same measure they use when they accuse someone of being “anti-gay.” In yesterday’s post, I examined what these folks really mean by “anti-gay.” They do not mean that someone bears open hostility toward those who self-identify as homosexual. On the contrary, they apply this label to anyone who does not accept their understanding of sexual orientation or who opposes any part of their agenda. As I wrote yesterday:
It is not enough to be tolerant of homosexuality in general, to be sympathetic to the difficulties homosexuals face, or to love homosexuals as sinners who, like all of us, struggle with their sinful predilections and addictions. On the contrary, it is necessary to accept their understanding of the world, their assumptions about human nature, their views of what constitutes moral behavior, their reading of the Bible, and ultimately, their theology. Fall short of total agreement, or at least, of unqualified acceptance, and you can count on being regarded as “anti-gay.”
LGBT activists have been very careful to frame their agenda as “a campaign for full LGBT equality” rather than as an attack on Christianity, the Bible, or so-called “traditional family values.” They would understandably chafe at the accusation that they are “anti-Christian,” “anti-Bible,” or “anti-traditional family.” Yet if we apply the same standard they use to determine who is “anti-gay,” how can we conclude anything else? If being “anti”-something means falling short of total agreement or unqualified acceptance, then LGBT activists are clearly “anti-Christian” according to their own standards of judgment.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not think it is helpful to brand LGBT activists as “anti-Christian” any more than I think it is helpful for them to brand those who disagree with their worldview as “anti-gay.” Using such inflammatory labels does nothing to promote dialogue or understanding. I’m simply trying to make the point that if we will condemn as “anti-” anyone who disagrees with our worldview, we are gearing up to fight the kind of sectarian wars which result in many casualties and few converts.
The recent brouhaha over Chick-Fil-A’s “anti-gay” stance has reached something of a crescendo. Tomorrow, August 1, 2012, has been designated Chick-Fil-A Appreciation Day by television talk-show host Mike Huckabee, who is encouraging people to support the company by dining there. Meanwhile, gay-rights activists are organizing “kiss-in” protests at Chick-Fil-A restaurants on Friday, August 3.
Chick-Fil-A has been criticized as “anti-gay” by Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender (LGBT) activists for some time now, but the latest dust-up appears to center around two things. First, a group called EqualityMatters, which describes itself as “a campaign for full LGBT equality”, published a list of so-called “anti-gay groups” to which Chick-Fil-A’s charitable foundation has contributed. Second, in an interview with Baptist Press, Chick-Fil-A president Dan Cathy described the company as “guilty as charged” with respect to its support of the “traditional family.”
It is Cathy’s comments in particular that seem to have LGBT activists seeing red, but they must be careful how they express that outrage. While they can be quite vitriolic in their criticism of Cathy’s statements, they must nevertheless be careful not to dispute his First Amendment right to make such statements. Consequently, many of Cathy’s critics have retreated to the seemingly more secure position of criticizing the company’s financial support of “anti-gay” organizations. I’ve heard a number of Cathy’s critics say something like, “Sure he has the right to say whatever he wants. The real issue is that Chick-Fil-A gives money to support an ‘anti-gay’ agenda!”
The disturbing thing to me in all of this is that this “anti-gay” label is never clearly defined. On the surface, to be “anti-gay” sounds like it means to bear open hatred and hostility toward homosexuals. The Cathys have protested that they are not “anti-gay,” by which they mean that they will not deny service to homosexual customers or deny employment to applicants on the basis of their homosexuality. But that is not what LGBT activists mean by “anti-gay.”
Look at EqualityMatters’ list of so-called “anti-gay groups,” and it becomes clear that they regard as “anti-gay” any person or group which:
- understands the Bible to condemn homosexual acts as sinful
- affirms the value of “traditional marriage” (generally understood to mean monogamous heterosexual marriage for life)
- disagrees that “marriage” should be legally redefined to include homosexual couples
- believes that homosexuals can and should leave the “homosexual lifestyle”
- (apparently even worse) attempts to help people leave the “homosexual lifestyle”
In short, LGBT activists regard anyone who does not accept their understanding of sexual orientation or who opposes any part of their agenda as “anti-gay.” Any Christian ministry which promotes a biblical understanding of sexuality is therefore “anti-gay.” It is not enough to be tolerant of homosexuality in general, to be sympathetic to the difficulties homosexuals face, or to love homosexuals as sinners who, like all of us, struggle with their sinful predilections and addictions. On the contrary, it is necessary to accept their understanding of the world, their assumptions about human nature, their views of what constitutes moral behavior, their reading of the Bible, and ultimately, their theology. Fall short of total agreement, or at least, of unqualified acceptance, and you can count on being regarded as “anti-gay.”
I believe many—if not most—Christians who oppose gay marriage or otherwise disagree with the agenda of LGBT activists do so not because they bear personal animosity toward those who self-identify as “gay.” Most Christians are horrified at the antics of the Westboro Baptists who seem to delight in declaring that “God hates fags.” Most Christians would rightly oppose the persecution of homosexuals or the abrogation of their Constitutional protections. However, many Christians, no matter how tolerant or willing to “live and let live,” are constrained by their understanding of Scripture to regard homosexuality as a “lifestyle” which cannot be condoned, promoted, or embraced. They are likewise constrained by their understanding of Scripture to want to strengthen the “traditional family” by opposing divorce, pornography, infidelity, spousal abuse, and anything else which contributes to its disintegration.
As far as I can see, the Cathys’ position on these matters is hardly exceptional. It is a position consistent with their Christian worldview and their understanding of the Bible. They are only “anti-gay” insofar as their Christian worldview disagrees with the worldview of the LGBT activists, and their only sin appears to be that they lend support to those who agree with their worldview.
Because I too hold to a Christian worldview, I will be supporting the Cathys by taking my family to Chick-Fil-A tomorrow. It may mean that LGBT activists will likewise label me as “anti-gay,” but I reserve the right to disagree with their definition of the term.