World magazine just released a story entitled “Wheaton’s ‘Gay Celibate Christian'” featuring comments from a campus worker in the chaplain’s office named Julie Rodgers. Rodgers takes upon herself the label “gay Christian,” which I’ve previously responded to in the Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.
The World story–characteristically well-reported–leads readers to an October blog by Rodgers. Here are selected quotations from it:
The best way I can describe my experience of ‘being gay’ is that with certain women I feel the ‘it’ factor: that sense of chemistry that longs to share life with them. … Most women feel that chemistry or longing for other men … while I usually feel like ‘bros’ with men.
…As God has redeemed and transformed me, he’s tapped into those gay parts of me that now overflow into compassion for marginalized people and empathy for social outcasts—he’s used my gay way of being for His glory rather than making me straight.
I will not respond at length to these comments. I’m sure that Rodgers is a spiritually vibrant person; her writing is lively, engaging, and compassionate. I’m also thankful for her commitment to celibacy–that is heartening. Her arguments, however, deserve even a partial response, especially given that they are gaining some small level of traction in the evangelical community. Here are three points to consider.
1. The Bible never speaks of positive components to our sins. Readers should know that the Scripture does not make the argument that Rodgers uses above, and that Wesley Hill–a gifted and gracious young theologian–has popularized. As my colleagues and I wrote in God and the Gay Christian?, the Scripture speaks of homosexuality in exclusively negative terms (see Genesis 19; Leviticus 18:22; Deuteronomy 23:17-18; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Timothy 1:10).
In other words, there is no positive component to bestiality. One does not gain a greater appreciation for animals having fallen prey to such behavior. There is no positive component to incest. You do not gain a greater love for children by molesting them. There is no positive component to gluttony. You do not increase your appreciation for food by being greedy.
This argument is deeply problematic. It is flawed at the core. Our sins do not enrich our perspective on life; our sins twist God’s good gifts and obscure the purposes of our bodies and our world. Sin never improves your outlook on the world. It always distorts it. Please hear me: there is nothing redemptive about sin. Grace, on the other hand, is the very substance of redemption. But sin has nothing to do with goodness. As far as the east is from the west, so far is sin from any positive moral component. This is basic Protestant theology; I’m channeling Edwards here, in particular. See The Nature of True Virtue, for example.
My evangelical brothers and sisters are playing with theological fire. They are falling prey to a distortion of the Word. This grieves me to my core. The Bible never indicates that sin helps us, enlightens us, or aids us. This is illogical to the point of incoherence. Sin always distorts. Sin always pollutes. Sin always corrupts.
We are carrying hot coals by our chest. We will be burned by doing so.
2. Homosexuality in Scripture is not neutral. It is evil. It has become common to argue that Paul did not have homosexual orientation in mind when he wrote about homosexual activity, and so homosexual orientation is neutral. But this fails to take into account his decisive words in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Such were some of you. Your identity was bound up in sin, and you practiced sin, Paul tells the morally compromised Corinthian church. But you must make good on the gospel: that’s what you were. You are such no longer.
These words will sound strong to some. But I am no stronger than Paul, an apostle of the crucified and risen Christ. Working off of the passage above, there is no sinful orientation, no pattern of immoral desire, that is morally above-board. We are all–heterosexual to the core or homosexual to the core–indicted by passages like this. We are all sexually immoral. But we cannot glean any positive aspects of our patterns of sinful desires. Corinthians drunks were to renounce their sin, both in terms of action and desire. Corinthian thieves were to renounce their sin, whether action or desire. Corinthian idolaters were to renounce their sin, whether action or desire.
These words will sound strong to some, but we are being forced to state and re-state them today: being gay does not in any way dispose you to better appreciate male friendship. The same is true with lesbians. All that God intends for men and women to share in friendship with the same sex can be and is experienced to the full by heterosexual people. We are not tasting 85% of the goodness of brother-to-brother or sister-to-sister friendship, while gays and lesbians experience 100%. Heterosexual people experience the fullness of friendship.
Christians who once owned a homosexual identity may well be freshly aware post-conversion of the delight of brotherhood or sisterhood. That is entirely possible. But that awareness does not owe to your sin, it owes to the work of transformation that God has wrought in your heart. Same-sex attraction did not create that delight. It stifled it, or took a virtuous desire in an unrighteous direction. Now, you’re freed to savor friendship without any sinful pull. As you dive into meaningful Christian fellowship, you savor that God has washed your relationships in his blood. You can enjoy friendship with the same sex. You are freed from the wandering of the mind.
This is true, as noted above, for all of us, whatever our sinful past and inclinations. The Christian who once was greedy can now enjoy a good meal with friends. But there is nothing about their gluttony that informs this newfound enjoyment; it is the transformation wrought by the Spirit that changes the heart from a stony one to a fleshly one that makes the difference. Christians who once abused children can now, with accountability, show kindness to their friends’ kids. But when they play blocks on the floor with them, there is nothing–absolutely nothing–of pedophilia that leads them to God-honoring delight while playing. This happiness is gospel happiness.
We will all still be forced to fight sinful urges as believers. Same-sex attraction will indeed be a reality for some, and we stand at the ready to strengthen our brothers and sisters who face this fight for holiness. Whatever our orientation, we all have the same fight, and we all have the same goal: conformity to Christ. Further, not all who experience same-sex attraction will get married. They may never find that they actively desire the opposite sex in a sexual way. We must and do have a category for this.
But same-sex attraction is not a neutral matter. When it comes to sexual identity, as my colleague Denny Burk has powerfully explored, the only appropriate form of sexual behavior and desire is covenantal marriage between a man and a woman. All other forms of sexual desire and behavior must lead to repentance.
I am deeply thankful for Wheaton College, for its leadership, for its influential role in the kingdom. It is my hope that its campus community will find scriptural clarity in these matters. At present, I am gravely concerned by the mapping of sinful patterns onto the Christian life. Such spirituality and theology would have boggled the mind of the apostle Paul and the apostles who wrote the early church.
Sin is not responsible for any good in the world. It is sin. It is destruction, chaos, disorder, and despair itself. Evangelicals must not allow a spiraling culture to set the tone for our sexual ethics. We must not chart a middle way when there is none.
Such were some of you, Paul said to the Corinthians. But you were washed, you were justified, you were sanctified. As the church, we are not perfect by a long shot. What we are, however, is transformed.