While the growing movement to legalize same-sex marriage has raised many issues, it has also exposed deep cracks in the framework of American Christianity. Among those fractures is the fact that church denominations are either accepting the homosexual lifestyle or at least struggling with the lifestyle’s implications in their general assemblies. Some rogue or splinter churches cater specifically to those involved in homosexuality, and these churches are blossoming. Accommodating homosexuality requires an often subtle, often masked theological shift that is slowly gelling into an acceptable “choice” within Christianity. In fact if Christians follow the implications of this theological shift to its logical conclusion, we may find that we are not in a church that is historically Christian at all. In short, the Christianity that allows for support of the gay lifestyle will also be a Christianity that will allow for unbelief.
A number of books are popularly available at the local Barnes & Noble that assert common theological arguments for the acceptance of the homosexual or “gay” lifestyle. One of the books you may run into as you dialogue with your gay friend, parent, or child, is the best-selling Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America by Mel White. Any discussion of the church with someone in the gay community who is serious about belief will invariably include a reference to this book, among others, because of its pre-conviction that “gay” and Christian can be synthesized. Historically and traditionally, Christianity has taught that people may not do whatever they like with their bodies (see Rom. 6:13 and 1 Cor. 6:19–20). However, in an effort to appear open-minded, tolerant and loving, many in the church have moved to permit, if not embrace, what we must call “pro-gay theology.” This change on the part of the church has followed the culture’s psychological, political and ethical embracing of the gay agenda: Anything that you do with your body, as long as no one is hurt, can be tolerated and appreciated. The Church has not moved in this direction through cultural influences alone.
Philosophical views within the Church—the way we look at Scripture and what it says about our world today—have made the assimilation of pro-gay theology a possibility. Charles Hartshorne, American philosopher, theologian, and writer, has said that even God is considered “in process” through His relationship and association with a changing world. Process Theology seeks to look at the deepest problems of humanity today, refocusing the gospel on these problems and issues, and then “listening” to God’s Word to find the salvational answer to the basic questioning of this age. Ultimately, Process Theology intends to reinterpret the Christian message and teaching, in light of the new focus. For the gay person in the church, sexuality is that new focus. Pro-gay Theology also synchs up qUite well with today’s secular, postmodern relativism. As an example, many choose a church today because they like the praise music at one church more than another, or because the people that attend a certain church are more like themselves. These reasons are not wrong, but the taste of the individual is often placed above what is actually taught as truth. Taste or the desires of the heart take precedence over truth, and truth is rather secondary. Man is in process, as is truth, and God is allowing us to finally go our own way. God has decided that we are finally at the point in the process where it’s time to take off the training wheels, so to speak. As modern man cuts his apron strings from God, and even the Church, he realizes that he becomes totally responsible for his life, making decisions without looking to God. Unfortunately, when you have no God to be guilty before, you have no need for a God to be redeemed by.
But how did issues of homosexuality become the skirmish point along the ramparts of what is church orthodoxy? Why has this issue been the most contentious issue for nearly every mainline denomination? The answer may be that as concern for individual salvation decreases, attention toward social concerns, such as personal rights and justice, increases. In the process, man takes on roles formally left to God. This theology alters our relationship to God, men, and the Church. Instead of a church focused on what everybody everywhere and at all times has believed, now we have individuals listening to what everybody everywhere all over the world today believes. These times, and Pro-gay Theology specifically, are based on a belief in the God.
Where the Debate Occurs
While Hermeneutics is often where this debate rages, the true field where the discussion is played out is elsewhere. Today’s gay man or lesbian says, “When it comes right down to it, I know it in my heart. I’m gay. My desires confirm this.” All other arguments, biblical or otherwise, are a distraction from this central commitment. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, states, “The homosexual agenda is pushed by activists who are totally committed to the cause of making homosexuality a sanctioned and recognized form of sexual activity, and the basis for legitimate family relationships. Every obstacle which stands in the way of progress toward this agenda must be removed, and Scripture stands as the most formidable obstacle to that agenda.”
And the envelope continues to be pushed. With at the very least great honesty, William M. Kent, a member of the committee assigned by United Methodists to study homosexuality, declared that “the Scriptural texts in the Old and New Testaments condemning homosexual practice are neither inspired by God nor otherwise of enduring Christian value. Considered in the light of the best biblical, theological, scientific, and social knowledge, the biblical condemnation of homosexual practice is better understood as representing time and place bound cultural prejudice.” Listen closely to Kent. He is not denying that the Bible expressly forbids homosexual practices; he acknowledges that the Bible does specifically that. But Kent is saying that the post-modern man must abandon the Bible in light of modern “knowledge.” He first says that the Scriptural texts are not “inspired by God,” and then even if they are, they are bound up in an ancient “cultural prejudice.” Kent’s ultimate is man’s reason as set above the wisdom of the God revealed in Scripture.
Another approach taken is one that denies that the biblical passages actually refer to homosexuality at all, or that argues that the passages refer to specific non-consensual or oppressive homosexual acts. Some argue that Paul’s references to homosexuality are actually illustrations of pederasty (the sexual abuse of young boys [see I Cor. 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10]), homosexual rape, or “non-committed” homosexual relationships. Using this approach, gay theologians point out that the Levitical texts should be dismissed outright because of the other Levitical commands all Christians routinely ignore. Mel White, ghost-writer for former clients Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Ollie North, and Pat Robertson, writes about his early years in evangelicalism:
I grew up really believing that God was on my parents’ side and that any of my intuitions, desires, or feelings that didn’t conform to theirs had to be straight from hell.
If going to dances could lead to hell, is it any wonder that I didn’t even think about bringing up the issue of homosexuality? By then, I had memorized the Old Testament lines from Leviticus that say a man who sleeps with another man is an abomination and should be killed. Of course a little earlier in the same text, anyone “who touches the skin of a dead pig” is also called an abomination (Lev. 11:7–8). There goes Monday night football.
While these approaches are creative, it should be obvious that these are not ambitious in their exegesis. Though White labored many years to be obedient to the Word of God, he decided he could no longer be at war with his body and found a scientific and social paradigm that fit this need:
No one bothered to explain to me the difference between “sexual-orientation” and “sexual preference.” Now I understand my mistake. Today scientists explain that sexual orientation is involuntary, something that happens to two gametes at conception, or to a fetus in the womb, or to an infant in childhood. A few folk in the middle of the sexual-orientation scale are stimulated in both directions. They may have a choice…I believed that I could change my preference from homosexual to heterosexual by an act of pure will, aided by God, by daily diScipline, and by the beautiful young woman at my side. “All you really need to get over this homosexual thing is a good woman,” or so I heard. Sadly, I was wrong. My sexual-orientation, like everybody elses, is forever, and to ignore or to deny that fact can be a fatal mistake.
There are a number of issues to address here.
First, White’s presuppositions—the primacy of his feelings—lead him into some familiar territory. The distinction between sexual “orientation” and sexual “preference” is a popular, modern view that says the Bible cannot be trusted to address what is happening in homosexuality today because Scripture draws no distinctions between the outward homosexual act and the inward homosexual orientation. It is the latter orientation, often referred to as “sexual inversion,” that is understood as genuine homosexuality in today’s discussions. In addition, the Bible does not address what causes the homosexual condition, or inversion. The argument, as White here and others have stated it, is that homosexual orientation was unknown in biblical times. First century Christians must have thought that these were heterosexuals distorting their heterosexuality.
Therefore, Scripture speaks only to the acts of a heterosexual who perverts his or her own sexuality, and does not address those who have a “God-given” propensity for homosexuality. And since science tells us that the individual is not morally responsible for his sexual preference (because it happens in the mother’s womb), then homosexuality is the moral equivalent of being born handicapped. Ultimately, the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality is irrelevant in the light of modern day discoveries. While this argument is again, creative, it falls short of strong exegesis of Scripture. All men are born of Adam, and have inherited the sinful nature. In addition there are clear passages that speak to our orientation or inward desire to sin, and that the act itself is not what makes a sin a sin. The thoughts or desires themselves are sufficient (see Matt. 5:27–28).
Second, this view suppresses the fact that God, the author of Scripture and the Creator, does not need His revealed will updated or qualified by modern psychology. He is an eternal and omniscient God. But White has presupposed a god that is not the providential governor of nature, creation, and history, and so therefore does not see that God would not need modern psychology to guide His revelation. Again, quoting White, “in those days (the fifties), we were all victims of blind, unreasoned fear and hatred of homosexuality that had been passed down generation after generation without much thought and almost no careful historical, culturat or linguistic study of the ancient biblical record, let alone of the new data being gathered by the medical, Scientific, and psychological communities.” Scripture will not interpret Scripture, but new data will.
Third, what is most troubling about the comments of White, and those that argue as he does, is that, while he accepts that there is such a thing as sin, man’s facility for reason seems to be the one area of the mind that is untouched by sin. In essence he is saying, “The Bible doesn’t speak to our problem, so we must determine what is to be said about gayness.” He is holding himself—his fallen feelings and reason—above Scripture rather than living in submission to it. The theology of White is a system of unbelief, or is un-Christian, because it presupposes man’s feelings are the ultimate standard in viewing the world. Thus the gay theologian has redefined what it means to be a Christian, into something that is historically non-Christian.
Some Practical Concerns for Ministry
The force of “political correctness” has a huge effect in our day. The “gay Christian” with whom we as Christians speak, will not push his argument outside the borders of another person’s well-being and will endeavor to keep his thinking consistent within those lines. And as previously stated, many churches now maintain, by social pressures from outside and within Christendom, that homosexuality should be normalized, seeing gays as an oppressed minority. In the Church today, tolerance is an absolute, and if it is to attract people it cannot appear to be less tolerant than the surrounding culture. This places the person appealing for the truth of the Gospel, in the position of the guilty oppressor. So how can the Christian approach his dialogue with the professing gay Christian who is stuck in unbelief despite professions to the contrary? As we see all the time at Harvest USA, one of the cornerstones of gay ideology is the fact that they feel religious people (or “fundamentalists” to the religious gay or lesbian) don’t understand and are out to negate them. To the extent that we have conflict with them, Christians are affirming their worldview. If we are to walk in their shoes, we must at some level deal with their contention that they are an oppressed minority and the orthodox believer is the oppressor. After all, when we witness to our straight friends who may be fornicators, at least they do not have Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson decrying their lifestyle on “Nightline.”
But the person involved in the gay lifestyle has much invested in being oppressed. He must not be allowed to live his life based on what Jerry Falwell or his other reactions or desires tell him—or we leave him in bondage to sin. He also has a welldeveloped, ghettoized, subculture to which he may return where he appears to be consistent with his thought. The straight fornicator does not. But the “truth” his subculture provides is mythic. The gay man must be pressed on what Paul claims he knows to be the truth. Is the truth based on feelings or the Word of God? The gay man is not unique or misunderstood. We who witness must know that, “He is just like me. He is caught in sin. I don’t want to deny myself anything either. He is in no way exceptional. It’s just that he or she has a unique conspiracy theory thgt every one, and especially evangelicals, are out to get him.” We exist in the same, single circle of God’s world.
The person involved in homosexuality cannot be allowed to assert his “gayness” based merely on the fact that he is oppressed. Nor can the quality of interpersonal feelings, commitment and respect which may or may not exist between homosexual partners, affect our reaction. Good or bad attitudes or intentions do not make the gay life For us to accept the homosexual lifestyle as satisfactory in any way, loving attitudes included, is to say that we are attempting to be more humane than God Himself. Homosexuality is demonstrated unbelief, and involves rejection of the truth of God and the goodness of God. It also represents unbelief that real change is possible. Our approach must also be balanced so that the fulness of God’s revelation is communicated, and His grace is seen as sufficient for all sins, in all situations, for all people. Only as we faithfully, consistently hold forth a potent, full-strength Gospel of hope through the power of the risen Christ will unbelief of all sorts including pro-gay theology—be answered and vanquished.
Reprinted from Harvest News, a publication of Harvest USA – a ministry affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA).
David C. Rowe is a member of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City and a student at Westminster Seminary near Philidelphia. He has been a volunteer leader in the “Foundations” support group for men seeking freedom from homosexuality. He previously worked for a major media network in Manhatten, where he dealt with these issues on a daily basis.