This past weekend, Larry King interviewed a popular Christian music star who came out of the closet. Naturally, this created quite a fracas in evangelical circuits which led Larry to bring on the performer, as well as a pastor. In watching some of the clips, I felt sorry for the pastor who seemed to have the cards stacked against him. While he sought to reach out in love, he was slammed as being judgmental.
His experience is shared by many who seek to reach out to homosexuals and lovingly confront their sin. But in the end, they only seem to affirm the already prevalent stereotypes which smear the church. Why is this the case? Trevin Wax provides some thoughtful insight regarding how to avoid common pitfalls and lovingly call them out of the darkness.
1. We need to shift emphasis from the truth that “everyone is a sinner” to the necessity of repentance.
“We’re all sinners” comes up again and again in discussions like this. In her Larry King interview, Knapp realized the power of having the pastor admit that he too is a sinner. Once she received this admission, she had the upper hand in asking, “Then why are you judging me instead of me judging you?”
Whenever the discussion centers on “homosexuality is a sin… but we’re all sinners,” the traditionalist inevitably comes across looking like he is singling out homosexuality as a worse sin than all the rest. His protests to the contrary always ring hollow.
But this is the wrong way to frame this debate. We are not saying that some of us are worse sinners than others or that homosexuality is a worse sin than pride, stealing, etc. We are not categorized before God as ”better sinners” or “worse sinners.” Instead, we are either unrepentant or repentant. True Christianity hinges on repentance. The pastor on Larry King Live eventually made this point later on in the broadcast, but the rhetorical damage had already been done.
If we are to reframe this discussion along biblical lines, then we must emphasize the necessity of repentance for the Christian faith. The point is not that the pastor and the Knapp are both sinners. It’s that the pastor agrees with God about his sin, while Knapp remains in her sin without repentance. That is why he is questioning her Christianity, for Christian teaching makes clear the necessity of repentance as the entryway into the Christian family.
Ultimately, the debate is not about homosexuality versus other sins. It’s about whether or not repentance is integral to the Christian life.
2. We must not allow ourselves to be defined by our sexual attractions.
There is a difference between homosexual attraction and homosexual behavior. Whenever this discussion takes place in public, the homosexual advocate inevitably merges these two concepts together and then fashions an identity based upon this attraction. The traditionalist is then considered judgmental for telling the homosexual that she should not be true to herself.
But the assumption that we are defined by our sexual attractions is a modern one and should be questioned. If I lust after a woman other than my wife, and yet choose not to act on that sexual urge, am I not being true to myself? Is it not better to be true to someone else rather than true to one’s desires on certain occasions? Could it be that the suppression of an illicit sexual attraction can also be considered true to oneself?
This is where the whole idea of Christian virtue needs to be revisited. Our goal is not authenticity. It is to be true to the self that is redeemed, transformed by the gospel and the power of the Spirit, under the authority of God’s Word.
That is why we must make distinctions between sexual urges and sexual behavior. One might not choose one’s temptation (the “I was born this way” argument is true of all sinners, after all), but we do choose our behavior. We are not animals, led helplessly by instinct.
Right now, the gay rights advocates are claiming that their opponents have a low view of humanity. Actually, it’s the traditionalist who has the high view of humanity, understanding that we are more than our sexual urges and we have an inherent worth and value that leads us to do more than simply act on whatever instincts we feel.
3. We must expose the arrogance and judgmentalism of those who would so flippantly dismiss the witness of Christians for two thousand years.
No matter how gentle and humble the traditionalist may be, the notion of being “judgmental” will continue to be thrown at him by those who see homosexuality as a legitimate behavior for a Christian. I thought the pastor did well in his stated affection for Jennifer and his insistence that ultimately God is Judge.
But why is it that the debate always takes place with the homosexual as the one “being judged”? Knapp positions herself as the martyr, facing condemnation for her beliefs, though it is she who advocates views that directly contradict the testimony and witness of Christians for the past two thousand years.
Despite the veneer of humility (she admits her lack of knowledge in Greek and Hebrew), Knapp points to recent scholarship that says we have misunderstood the Scriptures that appear to deal with homosexual behavior. This point of view is not humble at all. Knapp has flippantly dismissed the consensus of two thousand years of Christian scholarship and witness, not to mention the vast majority of Christians outside the West who continue to see homosexual behavior as sinful.
Unfortunately, the arrogance and imperialism of this view is never exposed or questioned in these discussions. For once, I’d like to see someone gently point out the implicit judgmentalism of the “homosexual behavior is legitimate” view.
4. We need soft hearts toward Christians struggling with same-sex attraction.
Jennifer Knapp’s point of view appears to be liberating and compassionate. It’s actually condemning and dismissive. How so?
Consider the people in our churches who are struggling with same-sex attraction and temptation. Consider these believers who are walking alongside other Christians, choosing daily to remain celibate, to crucify these desires as a part of their painful sanctification. Knapp dismisses the legitimacy of struggling with such attractions by saying that one should just give up the fight, for homosexual behavior is not even a sin. This kind of hard-heartedness toward fellow pilgrims is not coming from the traditionalist pastor, but from Knapp, who considers herself to be liberated from that struggle.
In closing, it is good for us to remember those who are struggling in our churches. For too long now, Christians have acted as if this struggle is non-existent or we have questioned the sincerity and salvation of those who wrestle with this specific temptation. We ought to repent of our rush to judgment, our cruel jokes about this sin, and our mockery of those who struggle in this area.
Even though we continue to hold to the increasingly unpopular view that homosexual behavior is sinful, we recognize that many Christians are involved in the struggle – whether silently or openly – and we should commit to prayerful pilgrimage with them.
All of us are sinners. True Christians are repentant sinners. And God’s grace is mighty to save us and change us – every one of us and every part of us.