By Rob Schwarzwalder
Evangelical leaders across the country are grappling with how to address the issue of homosexuality.
They are debating one another through public tweets. Sermons ring with worried qualifications, many of which amount to a plea of desperation: We're against homosexuality but love homosexuals, so please dont hate us.
Such pleas are met with derision by many homosexual activists, who say that loving the sinner but hating the sin is a false formulation, since their identity as persons is rooted in their sexual self-identification and practice.
When a physician sees a bleeding wound, he can do one of three things: Ignore it; demean it as minor and put a band-aid on it; or treat it appropriately, even if to do so causes pain.
Some Evangelical pastors and speakers appear eager to treat the wounds of broken human sexuality in one of the first two ways. Palliative affirmation and willful blindness come more easily than speaking the truth in love.
Why? Because it is a natural human tendency not to want to be misinterpreted, and mature Evangelicals are wise to avoid derision of/or hostility toward persons with same-sex attraction in their public comments (or private ones, for that matter).
It is also a natural human tendency to want to be liked, to receive popular approval, to be acceptable in the broad pathway of public esteem. Thus, some Christian spokesmen seek to cover the grimness of homosexual sin by covering it with a blanket of soothing reassurance.
Christ calls us to something very different: To join grace and truth, of which Jesus was full (John 1:14). Although Jesus did this perfectly, His followers have not. Therein lays the rub: Are our attempts to mirror the character of our Savior so inept that we concede failure and then endorse, even passively, sin?
Biblical teaching on human sexuality is clear: As a group of orthodox Anglican pastors put it some years ago, Heterosexual marriage is upheld in Scripture and Christian tradition to be the only appropriate context for acts of physical sexual intimacy." This is the instruction of the Bible from its opening through its closing pages.
Scripture offers us no latitude on this subject. Its teaching is clear and definitive.
At the same time, Christians are called by God's Word to affirm the dignity of every person, his belovedness by God, and his value as an image-bearer of his Creator. Such an affirmation cannot exclude anyone by virtue of his or her moral conduct. If it did, all of us would be on the outside of the human family.
Informing much of this discussion is the insistence of activists that homosexual conduct be recognized as normal and moral. Not just by society, but by the believing church.
Additionally, many of us work with persons who profess same-sex attraction and/or have friends and relatives who espouse their own homosexuality. Thus, we are particularly concerned that we not be harsh, vicious, or even crass in our commentary about or our conduct toward same-sex attraction. Our desire to be charitable is grounded both in the love of Christ and our relational experiences.
Yet not to oppose that which is wrong is to dishonor God and disregard the well-being of our fellows. To accept and even champion what Scripture describes as immoral is to jettison fidelity to the God of the Bible and actively to refuse to do good to all men.
Why? Because the ordinances our Creator has established for our inner lives and external behavior are designed for our well-being. They have not been imposed to frustrate us, to create anguish, or cruelly to thwart the full expression of our humanness. And when those ordinances are disregarded, sin in its full and ugly flower emerges and grows. As pastor and theologian John Piper said recently in a discussion of homosexuality, Christians, more clearly than others, can see the tidal wave of pain that is on the way. Sin carries in it its own misery.
Put another way, when Evangelicals affirm sexual conduct which runs counter to the Word of God, they are endorsing a way whose end is death. This is true whether one is describing fornication, infidelity, homosexuality, or any other type of sexual practice not in keeping with Gods plan for men and women. The misery that Dr. Piper describes is inevitable if believers affirm any kind of sin as acceptable whether that sin is fashionable and depicted as normative (e.g., heterosexual cohabitation, homosexuality, etc.) or whether it is socially (and rightly) unacceptable (e.g., anti-Semitism, racism, etc.)
To love people who identify as gays or lesbians means to extend grace to them: to welcome them as friends, to care for them when ill, and to respect them as persons whose creation was ordained by the God of the universe and for whom the Son of God died.
Such love will oppose attempts to legalize homosexual marriage, as to do so would vindicate a corruption of that which God intended. Marriage is a social institution, not a strictly private one. One obvious implication: the way children are raised, envision themselves, and understand the world.
Moreover, if consent and affection are the only criteria for marriage, as argued by those calling for same-sex unions, then any manner of consensual relationship multiple partnerships included has to be considered for legalization. The plausible implications are stunning.
While churches should and do welcome everyone into their worship services that of course does not mean that churches must affirm the actions or beliefs of those in attendance. To love homosexuals means that believing churches cannot accept those practicing or advocating homosexuality as members, ministers, or leaders any more than persons living in any other kind of sexual sin.
And such love means being willing to accept accusations of bigotry, hatred, and ignorance if, on behalf of truth and love, our yes to God and no to sin means that our antagonists refuse to hear what is, for them, a difficult message, however lovingly expressed. Christians should be mindful that such attacks will come, and not internalize them when they are unjustified.
Wrapping a cloak of affection around a man about to spin off a cliff might evoke warm feelings in both the giver and receiver of such. It will not save the man from a precipitous fall. Let us not love men and women into destruction. Does not the life-giving Gospel offer something much better?
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice-President of the Family Research Council and a member of the Evangelical Theological Society.