Saturday, January 13, 2018

Out at the Margins

Drew Brown has a post up at assemblyHUB on the subject of outreach to people who call themselves LGBTQ or some variation thereof. (In the interest of greater inclusion, the acronym keeps changing faster than anyone can keep up, including those who use it to describe themselves. Even the HUB can’t seem to type it the same way twice.)

Sexually transgressive lifestyles are the subject of numerous online debates between believers at the moment, but most are about whether churches should accept individuals who engage in deviant practices as active members. Pragmatic considerations about how Christians can carry the gospel to people living life out at the margins rarely come up.

When they do, they seem to veer to one extreme or another.

Avoiding the Extremes

I wrote about one interactive extreme a couple of years ago after viewing a video clip in which a preacher on campus at Arizona State had triggered a student with a sign warning that homosexuals will burn in hell. The effectiveness of such an approach remains doubtful. Over at the other interactive extreme is the Rachel Held Evans school of complete, uncritical and fawning acceptance.

Brown successfully navigates down the middle, which is a nice change. But he also posits a fundamentally false equivalence and raises plenty of practical questions worth discussing further.

A Parallel That Isn’t

First, the false equivalence:
“It is true that the Bible says in Leviticus 18 that homosexuality is an abomination. In the Hebrew, an abomination is something that is repulsive, and disgusting, both ethically and ritually. The Bible covers a lot about life and having a relationship with God. So, it seems pretty logical that if God has said a particular act is reprehensible to Him, then He shouldn’t have to give us a lot of instruction about it.

This is not all that God hates.

‘These six things the Lord hates, Yes, seven are an abomination to Him: A proud look, A lying tongue, Hands that shed innocent blood, A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that are swift in running to evil, A false witness who speaks lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.’ (Proverbs 6:16-19)

I don’t know about you, but I’m guilty of several of those charges.”
Fair enough. Me too.

One Abomination, Two Abominations …

But there’s a fundamental flaw in Brown’s reasoning here. It’s fine to compare abominations with other abominations. We’re all sinners, and we’ve all fallen short of the glory of God in one way or another. But hands that shed innocent blood sometimes get caught and go to jail, and those who own them try to make sure we don’t find out about it. They know we disapprove. The Wormtongues who sow discord among brethren do their work in secret, or else their manipulations would be ineffective. The feet that are swift in running to evil are distantly attached to heads that frequently swivel around to make sure the CCTV camera is not pointing at them when they arrive at their nasty destination.

Homosexuality, bisexuality, transgenderism and the rest of the sins that fall under the LGBTQ umbrella are different from other abominations in this one very significant way: there is no national movement to have liars’ parades, or to enshrine liars’ rights in law, or to normalize lying, or to get liars access to the bathroom of their choice, or to marry liars to liars because they are liars.

The parallel Brown draws is not a parallel at all.

Unsatisfying Answers

Thus when Brown quotes an actual exchange he had with someone, his propensity to compare apples with oranges means he isn’t actually responding to the question he’s been asked:
LGBTQ: Do I have to become straight to become a Christian, or can I be a gay Christian?

Me: I’m a sinner saved by grace, you can be too.

LGBTQ: But you said, God said it was an abomination.

Me: Did I tell you that I’ve lied, I’ve thought horrible acts and statements against my fellow human, I’ve caused fights. I have done all of those things, and Proverbs 6:16-19 says they are all an abomination too.
The first question is “Can I be a gay Christian?” Drew’s answer is what people in our court system call “non-responsive”. It doesn’t address the question as asked.

Another Stab at It

As much as I have trouble thinking on my feet in a witnessing situation (and I do), if I’m going to recommend an answer, it would be something more along these lines: “No, you don’t have to become straight to tell the world that Jesus Christ is Lord or to trust him for your salvation. But if you acknowledge him as Lord of your life, you also have to accept the very real possibility that he does not want you to act on your same-sex attraction, and that Christians who love you won’t be comfortable with you acting on it either.”

I agree, that’s too long and it’s maybe a bit lame. Feel free to do better. But I think it’s also more honest. Sure, it might end the conversation where Drew Brown’s response kept it going, but so did the words “Sell all that you have and give to the poor.” They too were offered in love.

The Lord never failed to confront the sin of those who were interested in what he had to say.

Sinners and Repentance

To be fair, Drew Brown is not recommending we avoid talking to sinners about sin. He says, “It is unloving to hide or deny the truth of the Bible.” I absolutely agree. He says, “Identify their sin; using 10 commandments here might work as a reference: lying, stealing, honoring parents.” That may be a useful idea. I definitely agree with Drew that Christ is the real issue, not a person’s LGBTQ leaning.

But I also think we need to answer direct questions as straightforwardly as possible. It really doesn’t matter whether Drew is referring to abominable things he did regularly back when he was an unbeliever or to occasional abominable slips in his performance since coming to know Jesus Christ. The fact is that bringing up our own abominations begs the real question, which boils down to “Can I continue to practice sin as a lifestyle once I become a Christian?”

You can’t. The Lord told the woman taken in adultery, “Go, and from now on sin no more.” That’s one important facet of our message to the world, just as Peter could later tell the Jews in Jerusalem, “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out.” Sure, Christ was the real issue at Pentecost, just as he is the real issue with any LGBTQ person we meet. But Peter does not postpone the discussion of sin for a later date in favor of preaching the beauty and simplicity of Christ.

Sticky Conversations

I do think Brown is on the right track here in many ways. Conversation, ‘sticky’ or not, is critical. It is admittedly difficult for Christians to get talking with gays, lesbians and transgender people in any kind of natural way because our lives so rarely intersect with theirs. We cannot possibly show Christ’s love to those who desperately need it without consciously and deliberately choosing to engage with them, and Brown is encouraging us to do that. Good for him.

But the real takeaway here is not that there are lots of different kinds of abominations, or even that the commission of abominable acts can be forgiven. Rather, it’s this question: Do you recognize your particular abomination AS an abomination?

If you don’t, we haven’t really got anywhere to start. Not yet.


  1. Hey, brother Tom the I tried to make a connection with the lesbian woman who was passing by as I was preaching in a park. She never stopped really. You're right, and my aim was to get her to acknowledge her abomination as something that separates us from a holy God. Sometimes it works and sometimes or doesn't. Had she stopped...

    The Lord knows.


    1. Was that how you read it, Drew?

      Oh well. Carry on, brother.

  2. It seems to me John 4, the woman at the well, provides a good parallel to this. The Lord didn't say, "Let's talk about getting you saved, and then we can talk about your multiple adulteries." He dealt with both issues as of-a-piece. He said, "Go, call your husband." Ouch.

    In other words, her moral misbehaviour wasn't a different thing, it was part of the same thing. It was one expression and a key symptom of her deep sickness-at-heart. And Christ was the answer to both problems at the same time.

    But he didn't compartmentalize them, did he? He faced the truth about her behaviour and the truth about her soul in the same, single encounter. To deal only with one would have left the other one as a dangling problem, one that would conflict with any possible solution in the other realm. But He got the whole problem solved at once.

    That's the kind of integrated approach and discernment we need: not a phoney either-or dichotomy between a person's moral and spiritual problems.

    So we shouldn't campaign against sexual deviancy in the absence of talk of salvation, nor deal with salvation as if it required no moral commitments. Either of those is a gross distortion of the gospel, I would say.