This week Jen Hatmaker, an Evangelical writer and speaker, came out as LGBTQ+ affirming in an interview that has set part of the Evangelical Internet on fire.
Hatmaker has long been influential in the Evangelical world, so this public shift is not being taken lightly by the establishment. As one of my friends in the industry put it, we’re “watching her be Rob Belled,” which is a fitting description of what’s happening. As is true for just about every other Evangelical who comes out as LGBTQ+ affirming, she’s likely to see her speaking invitations and book deals quickly disappear.
Beyond being a career death-blow for Evangelical figures to come out as affirming, she’s also now the object of wrath for hateful commentators across the internet, including one well-known blogger who is so hateful on a daily basis that I will simply refer to him as The One Who Shall Not Be Named.
One of the first words used to condemn those of us who cross over into welcoming and affirming our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in the Church of Jesus Christ is the dreaded word, heretic– and I’ve already seen Hatmaker denounced as a heretic a hundred times over in the past few days.
In the past, Christians in power used this word to literally destroy other Christians– often this included the confiscation of property, and execution by fire. Essentially, to say that one was a heretic was to say they believed something so erroneous and so wrong, that they could no longer even be considered a Christian. Today, it’s used with the same intent but different means: it means that you are now out, and “dead to us.”
But does being LGBTQ+ affirming actually make one a heretic?
Um, no, it doesn’t. Being LGBTQ+ affirming does not make you a heretic.
First of all, the word heresy or heretic has most traditionally referred to one who disagrees with the creeds of the Church– documents which for most Christians have spelled out what is considered orthodox (the opposite of heresy) Christian belief. These creeds have stood as the orthodox test since the earliest years of Christianity.
When these creeds were written to establish orthodoxy, there was no inclusion of any discussion of human sexuality. Mainly, because it wasn’t even on their radar– the idea of loving, committed, life-long, monogamous, same-sex relationships is a popular modern question, but it was not a popular ancient one. (Even where this was discussed in ancient times, the entire discussion was framed with ancient understandings of sexuality– understandings that are completely different than what we know today.)
Thus, one can be completely affirming of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters and still totally affirm the creeds of the Church. This means, no, being LGBTQ+ affirming does not make you a heretic in the way heresy has historically been judged.
Furthermore, if you want to get real down and dirty with fun stuff like biblical Greek, the word heresy actually refers to a strongly held belief that divides or separates. Funny thing: those of us who are affirming of our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters are doing the opposite of dividing and separating. We’re actually tearing down the walls that divide, removing the barriers that separate others from the Lord’s table, and are welcoming in the excluded.
Heretics do the opposite.
The true heretics are the ones who hold such rigid beliefs that they divide, separate and exclude– because that’s what the word *actually* means.
So, the next time you point a finger and declare an LGBTQ+ affirming Christian to be a heretic, drawing a line that separates them from the rest of the Church, just remember that there are four fingers pointing back at you, and that the real heretic might be the person in the mirror.
Dr. Benjamin L. Corey is a public theologian and cultural anthropologist who is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary with graduate degrees in the fields of Theology and International Culture, and holds a doctorate in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary. He is also the author of the new book, Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, which is available wherever good books are sold. www.Unafraid-book.com.