A popular sermon by a popular preacher has caused no small stir, and since I have referred to it elsewhere, it may be worth looking at it in more detail. Of course the intentions of the sermon were good, and the pastor had some helpful points he was trying to make, but unfortunately too much falsehood and sloppy thinking crept into the sermon for it to be of much value.
It was about the contentious issue of homosexuality, and how the pastor and the church welcome homosexuals with open arms. While it contained some truths, there were too many half-truths and incorrect remarks made for it to be seen as a positive contribution to the debate.
It was the second in a five-part series which Rob Buckingham gave at Bayside Church in Melbourne a few years ago. He said it was very heavily influenced by the book Unchristian by David Kinnaman. I have done a review of that book elsewhere, and I must say I found it to be disappointing in many respects: billmuehlenberg.com/2010/04/04/a-review-of-unchristian-by-david-kinnaman/
And in many ways I found this sermon to be quite disappointing. It was simply a rehash of the arguments put forward by the homosexual lobby and the theological revisionists. I deal with all these objections in my new book, so I will not repeat them all here. But one straw man after another was set up and then knocked down.
Instead of actually dealing with the Scriptural revelation on this topic, we had one long emotive and rather humanistic yarn presented. Incredibly he begins by saying he will ‘not be making a moral statement on homosexuality’. One might as well discuss greed or racism in a sermon, and say ‘I will not be making a moral statement on such issues’.
In which case why even discuss these subjects? The Bible is a moral book which makes moral and theological statements all the time, and that is just what we should be doing. We cannot pretend there is no moral dimension to these matters. Indeed, the rest of his sermon was one long moral denunciation – of those who take a different position from him.
Anyone who dares to speak out against the sin of homosexuality is not Christlike, loving, accepting, compassionate and tolerant. To show how judgmental and illogical his sermon was, he also begins by raising the oldest straw man in the book: Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.
Homosexual activists of course drag him up all the time, to suggest that this is what biblical Christians are like. But I do not know of one Christian leader anywhere who holds to the biblical view on homosexuality who has anything good to say about Phelps. His stance is not at all Christian and we want nothing to do with him. So why even raise this matter? Indeed, he does this more than once unfortunately.
Thus the logical fallacies in this sermon come to the fore here. Here we have the classic case of guilt by association: Phelps is a horrible person, and so too therefore is anyone else who speaks up about homosexuality. Anyone who takes a differing stance than Bayside is in the same camp, and is just as reprehensible.
He then makes the first of three main points, that homosexuals are no greater sinners than anyone else. So tell us something we don’t know pastor. Of course they are not greater. Whoever said they were? So this is just another straw man he shoots down.
Yet even he gets quite tangled up here. He goes on to say that there are in fact degrees of sin. Yes that is true, so there is a real sense in which some sins may in fact be greater than others. If one sin is called an abomination while another is not, and if one sin warrants the death penalty while others do not (at least in the Old Testament) then yes, one can speak of greater and lesser sins.
Every single sin ever committed sent Jesus to the cross. So in that sense no one sin is better or worse than another. Yet Scripture does discuss degrees of future punishment or blessing, based on what we have done. But I have dealt with this elsewhere, so I encourage you to go there for further details:
He commits more serious errors in this first section of his sermon. In true theological revisionism form, he assures us that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was not about homosexuality, but things such as social justice issues and a lack of hospitality. I again cover that furphy in my book in some detail, so I urge this pastor and others to have a read of it. Both Testaments make it absolutely clear that homosexuality was in fact the major sin being committed here, among others.
He then offers another myth that homosexuality is obviously not a big deal since it is only mentioned eight times in the Bible. Actually it is mentioned more than that, but it also has to be seen in light of the entire biblical revelation concerning God’s standards for human sexuality. These teachings run from Genesis to Revelation, and it is simply disingenuous to ignore these clear teachings.
The second main point he makes is equally a no-brainer, and one has to ask why he even raised it. He says that Jesus died for everyone, including homosexuals. Yes of course he did. I am not aware of anybody denying this. Maybe Phelps does, but we all can and should ignore that nutter.
So telling us this is of course stating the obvious. If he actually believes that those who take the biblical position on homosexuality think otherwise, then he is way off base here. It goes without saying that every single person on planet earth is a sinner, and Jesus of course came and died for sinners. So this really adds nothing to the debate.
His third major point is how Christians should respond to and treat homosexuals. Much of this is of course basic Christianity, and is not anything remarkable. But he speaks of “false assumptions and generalisations”. Here he gets into some real moral and theological confusion.
He says for example that “there are moral gay people”. This needs to be unpacked. Of course all people are moral beings, simply because they are made in God’s image. But that is not the issue here. The issue is, is homosexuality, according to Scripture, a moral or immoral activity and lifestyle?
It is everywhere regarded as immoral, wrong and sinful. This is absolutely clear in the Bible. And in my book I spend a lot of discussion on this very issue. So if the pastor is suggesting that homosexuality is moral, then he is clearly wrong and he is clearly rejecting the plain teachings of Scripture.
He then says it is a myth that there is an organised, militant homosexual lobby which is subverting and challenging the Christian faith. He is dead wrong there. Not only in hundreds of articles on my website, but in massive detail in my book, I make it quite clear that there most certainly is such a thing.
He is just living in ignorance, denial or delusion here. He does not want to believe such a thing exists, so he just wishes it away. Of course to say this does not mean every homosexual is involved in such activist groups, or supports them. Many homosexuals are not and do not. But to deny the reality of organised and militant homosexual lobby groups bent on assailing the Christian faith is foolish and naive in the extreme.
He also says homosexuality is not a simple issue. Well, yes and no. We have already noted that the notion of all sins being the same is actually not all that simple, and we need to tease out the Scriptural nuances on such a topic. But as I carefully and thoroughly document in my book, the biblical condemnation of homosexuality is universal, absolute, unequivocal and unambiguous.
He also mentions what he sees as another “myth”: that homosexuals choose to be that way. This can indeed be a complex issue, depending on what exactly you mean by this. I spend lots of time in my book with a huge amount of documentation dealing with this. I even provide numerous quotes by homosexuals themselves who do say there is a real element of choice involved.
My short reply here is this: we are all born with an orientation away from God and to sin and self. That is true of all of us, not just homosexuals. But Christ came to deal with our sinful orientations, desires and dispositions, and to set us free.
He does not call us to wallow in our sin and selfishness, but to be radically transformed by the power of his Holy Spirit. We lie to homosexuals and do them no favours when we tell them God accepts them as they are and has no desire to see them delivered from their deadly sexual addiction.
He closes with another emotional story by a homosexual. The person says he used to struggle with his orientation and desires, but then he felt God told him to “stop fighting these struggles”! He says he is now glad to be at this church which “loves me and affirms me for who I am”.
No, that is not who he is. He is not a homosexual. He is a heterosexual made in God’s image, but because of the fall his intended condition has gone awry, just like every single one of us. None of us are the way we were meant to be. That is why Jesus came – to deal with the sin issue, and to get us back to where God wants us to be.
Jesus is in the business of changing lives – not leaving us in our sin-soaked condition. Any church which does not tell sinners they can and should change is not telling them the gospel. We do harm to any sinner when we falsify the biblical data so that people can be left to feel good about themselves and their sin.
Earlier on the pastor very incorrectly used an example to prove that homosexuals are born that way. He referred to the South African runner Caster Semenya who is reportedly a hermaphrodite. Here the pastor betrays his ignorance, implying that all homosexuals have actual chromosomal or biological abnormalities which they cannot do anything about.
This is simply not the case with homosexuals. It is however the case with a very tiny proportion of people who have a genuine condition known as intersexuality. As I document in my book, these very few people do have real genetic abnormalities which result in sexual confusion. There can be ambiguous genitalia, chromosomal imbalances – eg, having an extra sex chromosome – and so on. This can be found in conditions such as Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia, Turner Syndrome, and Klinefelter’s Syndrome.
But this is an altogether different matter from homosexuality. Yet this pastor totally confuses all this. Here he is, preaching and teaching on this, when he is evidently rather uninformed and ignorant of the actual situation. Such misleading and inaccurate remarks help no one. If we are going to teach people about such matters, we had better get our facts right first.
Much more could be said about this sermon. Sadly it is filled with so much misinformation, unhelpful information, and biased and just plain wrong information, that it is not going to ultimately help much. Sure, homosexuals will flock to a church which preaches such messages.
They will love hearing that there is nothing wrong with what they are doing and that God thinks everything is just peachy. But as I wrote in my companion piece to this, the real gospel deals with real sin and a real saviour. It sugar coats nothing: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/11/22/are-we-selling-out-the-church-of-jesus-christ/
The main concern this pastor has is pastoral. And that is fair enough. I too deal with pastoral concerns all the time as I interact with homosexuals and others in my ministry. The biblical ideal is always to do two things, and to do them simultaneously. As Paul says, we are to “speak the truth in love”.
Homosexuals like everyone else need to be loved. But they also need to be told the truth. Indeed, if you do not tell a sinner the truth about his condition, you do not really love him. And the most loving thing a Christian can tell a homosexual is that they do not have to be homosexual.
There are many thousands of homosexuals the world over who have left their lifestyle and have found new life in Christ. That is the good news that they desperately need to hear, not that they are born that way and must stay that way. Just how loving, compassionate and Christlike is that?
Indeed, I conclude my book with two very moving stories of a homosexual and a lesbian who have both been gloriously transformed by Christ’s love and power. Both are now happily married with children. They have left their old sinful lifestyle behind, and have become new creations in Christ.
That is the loving, Christlike gospel message which not only every homosexual, but every sinner needs to hear. Thus while this pastor is doing much good and is to be commended for many things he is involved in, on this issue I simply cannot go along with what he is saying and doing. So I will keep him in my prayers, and I hope he will do the same for me.