Should Parents Turn Gay Kids “Over to Satan”?

Since this post wound up being too long, I’ll get to the short answer to the titular question and say, “No.” And let me just add “duh.”

But noted anti-Catholic John MacArthur has a different perspective . He was asked a question about how a parent should respond to a child who is gay, and this was his response:

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There’s a problem of language here: he’s speaking Protestantese to people who only understand English. Most people will hear “turning over to Satan” and think “damnation.”

That may in fact be what MacArthur has in mind, and the dark depths of the Calvinist brain are well beyond my ability to understand. But let’s look at what he may be trying to say, on his own terms.

In the video, he suggests two ways for a parent to respond to a gay child. If the child claims to be a Christian, he is to be confront sternly. If there is no response, you’re to tell the church and there is to be a public “putting-out” of the child.  Shunning, in other words. You have to alienate them and separate them. You don’t eat with them. You “turn them over to Satan” as Scripture says.

If the adult child does not claim to be a Christian, it’s a “whole different issue.” You have to treat them like a non-believer, by bringing the Gospel to them directly and confrontationally.

Okay, so exactly what part of the Scripture is MacArthur misinterpreting here?

First up, 1 Timothy 1:18-20:

18 This charge I commit to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophetic utterances which pointed to you, that inspired by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among them Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.

Satan is a liar, not a teacher, so we cannot view this as a “learning” discipline. Hymenaeus and Alexander, who were teaching heresy, won’t learn to avoid error from the father of heresies. So what does Paul mean?

St. Thomas offers two interpretations:

First, that just as the Lord gave the apostles power over unclean spirits to cast them out (Matt 10:8), so by the same power they could command the unclean spirits to torment in the body those whom they judged deserved it. Accordingly, the Apostle commanded the Corinthians on his own authority to deliver this fornicator to Satan to be tortured. Hence, secondly, he discloses the effect of this sentence when he says: for the destruction of the flesh, i.e., for the torment and affliction of the flesh in which he sinned: “One is punished by the very things by which he sins” (Wis 11:16). Thirdly, he mentions its fruit when he says: that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, i.e., that he may be saved on the day of death or on the day of judgment, as was explained above (3:15): “but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire,” i.e., of temporal punishment. For the Apostle did not deliver the sinner over to Satan’s power forever, but until the time when he would be converted to repentance by bodily torment: “Vexation alone shall make you understand what you hear” (Is 28:19). This sentence of the Apostle corresponds to what the Lord observed, when he said to Satan: “Behold he is in your hand (namely, his flesh), but yet keep his life unharmed” (Jb 2:6).

To deliver this man to Satan can also be understood as referring to the sentence of excommunicating by which a person is cut off from the community of believers and from partaking of the sacraments and is deprived of the blessings of the Church. Hence it says in S. of S. (6:10): “Terrible as an army set in array,” i.e., to the devils. For the destruction of the flesh would mean that, being cut off from the Church and exposed to the temptations of the devil, he might more easily fall into sin: “Let the filthy still be filthy” (Rev 22:11). Hence he calls mortal sins the destruction of the flesh, because “He who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Gal 6:8). But he adds: that his spirit may be saved, i.e., that the sinner, recognizing his vileness, may repent and thus be healed: “I was ashamed, and I was confounded, because I bore the disgrace of my youth” (Jer 31:19). This can also mean that his spirit, namely, the Church’s Holy Spirit, may be saved for the faithful in the day of judgment, i.e., that they not destroy it by contact with the sinner, because it says in Wis (1:5): “For a holy and disciplined spirit will flee from deceit and will rise and depart from foolish thoughts.”

“Turning over to Satan” is excommunication, since the person is put out of the Church. He becomes part of the world rather than part the body of Christ, and is thus a subject of the Lord of the World: Satan. This is a medicinal penalty in Catholicism, meant to correct grave and persistent sin.

There is also the sense that “turning over to Satan” involves punishment of the body, in the hope that by the torments of Satan the sinner may be drawn back to the straight path.

Next, let’s look at 1 Corinthians 5:

1 It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. 2 And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. 3 For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment 4 in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

As the flesh will be glorified in salvation, so is it corrupted in sin, and the punishment of this flesh is the work of the devil.  As St. John Chrysostom writes: “For the gain is greater than the punishment: one being but for a season, the other everlasting.”

So we have this notion of the obstinate sinner being punished in order to draw him back to the church. Is that how MacArthur understands the passage? I don’t know. Calvinists tend to think most of us are damned, so I’m guessing he has something else in mind.

But here’s where we get to the really fun part with MacArthur, because he and other fundamentalists are awfully selective when it comes to what they think is worthy of divine punishment. See, there are other people who should be turned over to Satan, according to Paul:

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; 10 not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? 13 God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you.”

Here we have the distinction MacArthur is attempting to make: Paul is not referring to the “immoral of this world” (non-Christians), but to he who “bears the name of brother” (Christians).

Please note, however, the list of people included.  Is MacArthur suggesting we turn people over to Satan for speaking harshly of others (“revilers”) and stop eating with people are greedy? Drunks are to be put out of the church? In fact, are all the “immoral” to be put out of the Church and cut off from family? You’ll have a pretty small church.

Elsewhere, Paul identifies others deserving of harsh judgement. Among them is “any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body.” That means anyone who fails to recognize the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Like John MacArthur.

In fact, Paul makes this link direct in 1 Corinthians 5 when he writes “let us celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” This is the Eucharist.

The Council of Trent took a more sensible line, tempered by mercy, as taught to us by the One who ate with sinners:

Should they, however, happen to sin in any manner through human frailty, that precept of the apostle is to be observed by them, that they reprove, entreat, rebuke them in all kindness and patience, since benevolence towards those to be corrected often effects more than austerity, exhortation more than menacing, charity more than power. But if, on account of the grievousness of the transgression, there be need of the rod, then is rigour to be used with gentleness, judgment with mercy, severity with lenity; that so discipline, salutary and necessary for the people, may be preserved without harshness; and that they who are chastised may be amended; or, if they be unwilling to repent, that others, by the wholesome example of their punishment, may be deterred from vices; since it is the office of a pastor, at once diligent and kind, first to apply gentle fomentations to the disorders of his sheep, afterwards, when the grievousness of the distemper may require them, to proceed to sharper and more painful remedies; but if not even these are effectual in removing those disorders, then is he to free the other sheep at least from the danger of contagion. (Trent, Session 13, De Reformatione, Chapter 1)

It’s worthwhile to note that this decree follows one on the Eucharist. Thus, in context, Paul is not recommending that parents stop having dinner with their kids, but that the Eucharist should be withheld from people engaged in obstinate sin, whether that sin is sodomy or greed. Notably, this power is reserved to the Church, not the individual or the community.

And, of course, merely “coming out”–the criteria which is used by MacArthur–is not enough to trigger any of this. Declaring one’s sexual preference is separate from engaging in gravely disordered sexual acts. The acts, not the ontological state, are the sin.

So how are we to respond to a child who comes out? 

MacArthur missed the one word that should have led all the others: love. With love. How parents navigate this tricky minefield of modern sexuality is no easy thing, and we can hope that the Synod on the family turns its attention to offering real guidelines for dealing with children and loved ones with mercy, love, and faith. It’s not easy. The world has gone mad and our children are not immune to this madness.

There’s a fine line to be walked, and we need a little guidance on how to walk it. Do we attend a gay wedding? No, because that would be creating a public scandal. But do we stop talking to a gay child?

Of course not, and there is nothing in Paul or anywhere else to suggest that we should. You can’t just yank out a line from Paul, isolate it, and use it as a one-size-fits-all guideline. This is just Religion by Proof-Texting, not the faith of a living Church.

The obsession of Christian fundamentalists, and in some sectors of Catholicism, with homosexuality is an unfortunate byproduct of our times. Political and social issues are becoming entangled with the faith, and some are losing perspective on the reality of sin.

It’s kind of strange to see people talking so much about the sinfulness of sodomy (which affects the non-sodomite not at all) while giving little attention to the other three sins that cry out to heaven: murder,  oppression of the poor, and defrauding workers of their just wages.

We don’t see a lot of Bible-belters carrying signs that say “God hates defrauding workers of their just wage.” But drag sodomy into the discussion, and suddenly some people get very interested in letting you know what they think. This has more to do with the individual and his insecurities than with the sin itself.

As for me, I intend neither to sodomize nor to be sodomized, and so the sin is of little interest to me, except in the way it indicates a general decline in the public’s understanding of healthy sexuality and the continuing erosion of marriage. If a child of mine fell into that behavior, I would be heartbroken and do I would could to help him or her find the way to live a life of faith in chastity.

It would not be an easy road to walk, but I would not leave my child to walk that road alone.

As the Fathers of Trent observed, “rigour [is] to be used with gentleness, judgment with mercy, severity with lenity; that so discipline, salutary and necessary for the people, may be preserved without harshness.”

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.


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