Just over a month ago New Life mega-evangelical Ted Haggard was outed by his gay lover. Now another evangelical preacher has resigned after being confronted by church elders. Paul Barnes of Grace Chapel in tony Englewood, Colorado recorded a taped confession that was played last Sunday for the 2,100 member congregation. According to the Reuters story and the Denver Post, Barnes was outed when an anonymous tipster told church leaders that he heard someone threaten “to go public with the names of Barnes and other evangelical leaders who engaged in homosexual behavior.” So if this tipster’s source is credible I guess that closet door will be swinging wide open in the weeks or months to come.
While it’s tempting to do so nonbelievers should refrain from gloating over this sad event. Where Haggard was cocksure and politically active against gays and lesbians — for instance publicly supporting Colorado’s Amendment 43 to prevent gay marriage — Barnes is described as being very private and introverted. An associate pastor said that he had never heard him preach about politics from the pulpit. I truly hope he is able to put his life back together and work things out with his family and community.
One of the church elders in the Post story was asked if this opened up the evangelical community to charges of hypocrisy. He had an interesting reply, saying hypocrisy is valid only “if you look at perfection being the mark, because the next person who stands at our pulpit is going to be guilty of not being perfect as well. Does that mean we have to change what we say about the word of God? We can’t do that.”
This is the same argument that gets evangelicals in trouble time and time again. The Church used to believe that the Bible taught that the Earth was at the center of the universe. They fought bitterly against Copernicus’ heliocentric theory even long after it fell into general acceptance by those without a religious agenda. On most matters Christians can never agree on what the so-called word of God says. They often read into the biblical texts whatever they want it to say or think it might say. Then they form a hundred denominations for a hundred interpretations. Several million southern evangelicals found support in Scripture for the institution of slavery in the 18th and 19th centuries. Now strangely no evangelical understands the word of God to support slavery.
Now it’s homosexuality’s turn. Like the heliocentric theory and slavery before it, most folks don’t see being gay as a sinful indulgence, Satanic possession, or a lifestyle choice but simply a condition into which one is born. Barnes himself said he struggled with being gay since he was 5 years old. It just won’t do for evangelicals to ignore this reality, throw up their arms and say, “What can we do? God says it’s wrong so it’s wrong; nothing we can do about it.”
Of course God says no such thing. It’s The authors of the Torah who insist that God told Moses about certain priestly rules and what people ought and ought not to do. And we have absolutely no idea who wrote Leviticus — scholarly consensus at this point suggests the documentary hypothesis of Torah authorship in which four or five different authors over several centuries wrote the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. I can tell you this: the words didn’t come from a burning bush. They came from men. At most we know that some priests several centuries before Christ thought that being gay was an abomination. Wow. Tell me something I didn’t know. As for the Apostle Paul, all we learn in his letters to the Romans and the Corinthians is that Paul thinks being gay is being disobedient to God and such people won’t go to heaven. Again tell me something I didn’t know. This is coming from the guy who goes on to celebrate the virtues of celibacy. It’s no surprise he’s against sex.
It’s time for evangelicals to face reality and consider the possibility that human sexuality is a lot more complicated than the written opinions of certain priests in the ancient world.