The other day I posted a video that has since made the rounds on the internet of John MacArthur responding to a listeners question on how to respond to an adult child who has admitted they were gay. MacArthur’s response was two fold: if the child isn’t a Christian try to evangelize them, and if the child is a professing Christian, use the process of church discipline: invite repentance, and if denied, cast the child out. I, of course, weighed in with strong disagreement to MacArthur’s position.
The piece in question was discussed by several sources such as Huffington Post, and eventually made its way to the desk of Dr. James White, from Alpha and Omega Ministries. White has since put out a video (available at the bottom) with a critique of my position (or what he incorrectly understands as my position).
First, it is important to note that I don’t know James White personally, and he doesn’t know me, which makes his comments all the more disappointing. However, as much as we probably would disagree on a lot of issues (he’s a Calvinist after all), I’ve been thankful for some of the work that Dr. White has done and enjoy watching some of his debates. Most specifically, he has been a vocal leader in combating the fundamentalist tradition of viewing the King James Bible as being the only acceptable and inspired translation– and I remain thankful for his contributions on that front.
However, on this issue, I believe he’s incorrect. In the video, he states that I lack “intellectual integrity” and laments that there are actually biblical scholars like myself—taking a shot at Patheos along the way– and warning that in the future there will be a lot more voices like mine who want to completely do away with Paul—which isn’t even my position, nor has it ever been. White also stated that the kind of Christianity I have is all the world wants because it doesn’t challenge anyone– which is funny, because I get a lot of nasty emails from fellow Christians because I’ve done exactly that– especially on issues such as idolatry, violence, etc. Furthermore, to hint that I believe in a version of Christianity that doesn’t challenge the way one lives is to show someone doesn’t know me at all– I’ve turned my life upside down to follow Jesus and have made radical sacrifices, as many of you know, in order to live this way. When Dr. White says that “liberals who mock MacArthur don’t understand what it means to take up your cross” (an obvious shot at me based on his first video), it’s almost infuriating when I think about my own lingering grief and loss (my oldest daughter for starters) that I’ve willingly placed on the altar of making Jesus my Lord.
Back to the critique: in the end, White defends MacArthur’s position as the correct position, which I still assert is an incorrect application of both 1 Corinthians and Matthew 18.
In the original video that started this whole discussion, it is important to note the context of MacArthur’s comments. The question wasn’t “what should I do if my child was in a same sex relationship”, it was: “what should I do if a child comes out as gay?”
Context is important: this was a question about orientation; this was not a question about behavior. For me, this was what was the most offensive about MacArthur’s reply as the current debate isn’t over orientation at all, the debate is about behavior. Even if traditionalists turn out to be correct in that homosexual behavior is a sin, this isn’t what was being discussed—the discussion was on the proper response to learning that your child has acknowledged an orientation. To place an individual under church discipline because of an orientation (something absent behavior) is wrong—regardless of where one falls on the debate over gay marriage. This is precisely what MacArthur argued we should do, and I am unapologetic in my opposition to that– regardless of where my theology of marriage may or may not land one day (I’ve been very open with the public that I am still wrestling with the theology on this issue).
Secondly, and this is the thrust of where I disagreed with MacArthur: he is taking a passage that was clearly talking about church membership and attempting to apply it to a nonexistent concept of “family membership”. My position isn’t that we throw out Paul at all—I affirm the inspiration and authority of the 66 books of the canon—but instead, my critique was that this is a horrible application of that passage (and Matthew 18 which is also talking about church). No lack of intellectual integrity at all with that—instead, I would counter argue that to apply principles of church membership to family dynamics would actually be the position lacking intellectual integrity. In fact, in his video, White specifically admits that this is a passage related to church membership. Yes, there IS a time to put people out of the church, but there is never a time to alienate a child from their family.
In addition, when we look at the context of Paul’s teaching, one of the contextual frames is someone who is in an immoral, sexual relationship (he’s sleeping with his own step mother!). Again, the context of MacArthur’s comments were that of orientation and family, not sexual relationship and the church itself. To attempt to treat these two context as if they are the same context, is erroneous at best, and I’d be shocked if White didn’t actually know that. Furthermore, one would also be in error to apply Matthew 18 which is instructions on what to do if someone in the church “sins against you”. When an adult child acknowledges a sexual orientation, it is not a sin against the parents- it is simply an acknowledgement of a certain disposition which the individual had no choice over. Both of these passages are being completely misapplied to the specific question that was asked of MacArthur.
Thirdly, White dismisses my contention that idolatry is not addressed in the church today by arguing that MacArthur would obviously confront someone who was “worshiping a statue of Mary”, but both White and I know this is perhaps the most over simplified definition of idolatry, ever. As long as we have bring your gun to church days, pointing out the hypocrisy that much of American Christianity is completely ignoring wide-spread idolatry, is fair game.
I think the most disappointing assertion (in addition to several unnecessary shots fired across the bow) is that I don’t believe there’s a time or place for church discipline, which is completely untrue—there most certainly is, and I would join with White in a lament that it is rarely practiced in some traditions. In fact, had the question been posed to MacArthur been that of “what should we do if a member of our church is involved in an immoral, sexual relationship”, as much as I have a tendency to dislike MacArthur, I would have agreed with the theology of his response.
But, that wasn’t the discussion. This discussion was on the proper response to learning that your adult child has a same sex orientation, and in this case, MacArthur and White are both incorrect to apply principles of church membership for immoral sexual behavior on (a) an orientation that is absent behavior and therefore neither moral nor immoral, and (b) the family unit.
To be correct in their opinion, they have a mountain to climb in proving that orientation is inherently sinful and that families should adopt principles of church discipline.
In the end, I probably could have taken more time with my original piece (I admit, I was rushed when I fired it off) but stand by my critique of MacArthur’s answer to this question on orientation and the family unit. I would also challenge some of White’s critique of me as simply being an inaccurate caricature of who he thinks I am. I am a progressive evangelical who, all things considered, still longs to see the Evangelical Church in America return to Christ-centeredness, something it has long since forsaken.
One area where I completely agree with White is his warning that we’re going to see a lot more voices pointing to Jesus as the center of faith and practice. Unfortunately, White seems to believe that must come at an expense to everything else in scripture, but this is simply incorrect. What we’re seeing in our culture is an awakening to the truth that Jesus must be the center of faith and practice for the Christian—something Jesus himself taught when he said that all scripture “points” to him, and that those who hear the teachings of Jesus and do them, are like a wise man who built his house on the rock. So, yes—you will be seeing a return to Jesus, but no, that’s not a bad thing. Finally, I would also agree that most people don’t want a Christianity that challenges them– the emails I get when I speak out about Christan lust for money, guns and violence, is proof.
I would assert that the position I have expressed does not lack intellectual integrity at all. The passages in question are about how to address immoral behavior within the church, which is not the question MacArthur was asked.
As much as I disagree with the critique in the video below, I remain thankful for some of Dr. White’s contributions to biblical scholarship and apologetics.
Here’s the video: