Tag Archives: same-sex marriage

“Such Were Some of You”: The Language of Christian Identity

Can a Christian ever call themselves a “sober alcoholic?” Or a “non-practicing adulterer?” A “celibate gay” person?

The controversy over the Revoice conference has died down some, but the main topic continues to provoke earnest discussion among evangelicals: Is it ever appropriate to use the terminology of “single” (or “celibate”), “gay,” and “Christian” within the same sentence, to describe some believers? Does such language inherently betray a compromise of a Christian’s identity, as being founded only upon our relationship with Christ? Or even worse, does it wrongly identify a Christian with their sin?

A driver’s license tells us a lot about a person’s identity, but there is a deeper question for Christians: How should a believer “identify” themselves?

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Is the Temptation to Sin, Itself, Sin?

Most Christians know that temptation is what can lead us into sin. However, when we experience temptation, is that experience, in and of itself, sin?

There has been a very lively debate in evangelical theological circles in recent months, on this very question. The occasion for the debate has been the Revoice Conference controversy, the question of same-sex attraction, and how it relates to sexual orientation, lust, and behavior. But the implications are far reaching, as the debate gets to the very heart of how all believers progress in our sanctification.

Sanctification 101: Temptation vs. Sin

As a new believer, back in my teenage years, I struggled intensely, just as almost every high school boy does, with sexual lust. I really needed help in this area, and I got some great advice once at a Christian youth music festival.

The main speaker put it this way: If you see a girl, and you find yourself attracted to her, that is not sin, in and of itself. Instead, that is an opportunity for you to thank God that you can appreciate the beauty of another human being. So, praise God for beauty, but then take your eyes off of that girl, lest you fall into sin! You have been presented with an opportunity to sin, but it is a temptation, for which you can resist, and say no to. In our obedience, God can give us those little victories, as we progress forward in following Jesus, by trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit to transform us.

But if you find yourself drawn to take a second look at that girl, and allow your imagination to run away, then you are in real trouble. That would be lust, and lust would be sin (Matthew 5:27-28 ESV). Resisting temptation at that point is not enough. You must repent of your sin, and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. In other words, there is a clear distinction between temptation and sin, and the two are not necessarily the same. We resist the one, and repent of the other.

That nugget of wisdom has served me well over the years, convicting me at times where I have needed to be convicted of my sin, which is sadly, yet honestly, a continuing difficulty for all Christians, and giving victory at other times, when God gave the strength to say, “No,” and I followed in that obedience.

Sanctification 101 Twisted Around

Strangely though, there are some Christians who seek to turn that simple advice, that I got as a teenager, and flip it on its head. In classic Christianity, marriage between a man and a woman is the sole arena for sexual relations. Any sexual expression, in thought or deed, outside of that, is sin. But a well-intentioned, theological movement, among some Christians, regarding same-sex attraction, in response to challenges from the culture, adds a peculiar, mind-blowing twist.

Apparently, it is not enough for some Christians to reject same-sex relations, either in thought (fantasizing about it) or deed (physically engaging in such behavior). Pay attention to that, as it is important. The teaching goes beyond that.

Consider the words of prominent Baptist theologian, Albert Mohler, (from The Briefing), who gives an otherwise thoughtful, trenchant critique of the tendency to confuse one’s sexual identity with one’s spiritual identity in Christ. He raises some important questions, observations, and cautions, with which I support. Yet despite having a prophetic outlook, and crucial voice in the conversation, in this essay, Dr. Mohler makes this shockingly broad statement: “The Bible identifies internal temptation as sin….We are called to repent both of sin and of any inner temptation to sin.

What are we to make of this?

Repenting of sin, I get. But repentance of temptation?? How does one go about doing that? Was the advice I received as a teenage boy, as applied to thinking about girls, in error?

For such Christians, in a nutshell, the mere presence of same-sex attraction in a person’s life is inherently lust, and therefore, it is inherently sin. Same-sex attraction, awakened by temptation, is surely a disordered desire, a fallen part of human nature, and it can lead to sin, but is it actually sin itself?

Advocates of this view also want to say that all sin is sin, and that same-sex sin is just as sinful as any other sin. But there is a theological inconsistency problem with this view that is very disturbing. You can not have both without twisting what I call “Sanctification 101.”

If you extrapolate that way of thinking out to include all sexual attraction, consistently, outside of marriage, heterosexual as well as homosexual, you reach a very, very strange conclusion. Let me explain, in a few steps, why I believe that this view is misguided at best, a theological error that has far reaching negative consequences, if left unchecked.

It is a lot to unpack, so I will just try to hit the highlights in this blog post, as best as I can. I will put in bold the main points and objections, if you want to skim through first, and come back later to digest. You might put this blog post in the “TL;DR” category. But these are weighty issues where sound bite answers will not suffice. So here we go… Continue reading


What Al Mohler Gets Right … and Wrong … about the Revoice Conference

 

Al Mohler, the president of Southern Baptist seminary, and host of The Briefing, a podcast I recommend, is an important voice in evangelical Christianity, offering moral clarity and biblical perspective on critical, cultural issues challenging the church today. So, it is with some thoughtful hesitation that I must offer a rejoinder to a recent commentary he gave on WORLD magazine’s, The World and Everything in It, radio and podcast program.

In Dr. Mohler’s three and half minute commentary, he expressed grave concerns about the Revoice Conference, a new church conference, being held this week in St. Louis. A look at their website summarizes its purpose, that of “supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.

What bothers Dr. Mohler the most is the rather broad use of LGBT-type terminology and identity language when it comes to sexuality. In particular, Dr. Mohler is alarmed by one workshop session entitled, “Redeeming Queer Culture and Adventure.” He concludes that the organizers of Revoice are trying to embrace something that is, in reality, contradictory. In other words, you can not affirm any redemptive aspect of “queer” culture and at the same time hold to a Scriptural model of sexual morality.

Dr. Mohler has a point here. If I was leading the workshop, I would steer away from the “queer” terminology, as it has such negative connotations in the church today. Furthermore, many Christians are becoming confused as to what to think about gender identity issues. In this respect, Dr. Mohler is totally right. If someone identifies themselves as a “gay Christian,” without clarification, it could be very, very troubling, as our identity should be founded on Christ, and not upon our sin.

Sadly, however, Dr. Mohler’s critique completely misses the reason why the conference is being held in the first place. It is time to set the record straight.

When Exodus International, the largest “ex-gay” ministry in the world, ceased to function back in 2013, it left a huge void as to how Christians can faithfully minister the Gospel with those who wrestle with same-sex attractions, all while western societies appear to be racing towards the legal acceptance of same-sex marriage. Christians can be thankful for testimonies from authors like Rosaria Butterfield and Christopher Yuan, and those in the Restored Hope Network, who despite great difficulties, have found deliverance from their struggle with same-sex desire.

However, not every Christian shares that same set of positive experiences.

A small, yet still significant, group of believers in our churches have been doing everything they can to try to change their sexual orientation, and yet the hoped for deliverance has never come. They have tried counseling, psychotherapy, prayer, parental reconciliation, even shock treatment, and still, they wake up in the morning, still finding themselves attracted to members of the same sex. And yet they honor the Bible’s teaching on sex and marriage.

They feel sidelined by the church. They remain silent in our congregations, fearful of being exposed. How can the church effectively offer the love of Christ, and the support of welcoming community, to these people?

The Revoice Conference exists to try to answer that very question.

Contrary to Dr. Mohler’s puzzling view that the Revoice leaders “want evangelicals to accept LGBTQ identity as permanent,” like trying to pull the wool over our eyes, there are believers in our churches who are trying to figure out how to live the Christian life, when their sexual attractions do not appear to be changing, as Dr. Mohler would expect them to be. Author Gregory Coles is one of them. I have several such Christian friends.

I am not able to attend the conference this year, but I am very glad that this conference exists, as it is an attempt to fill that void with praying people who care about this “sexual minority” group. The thought of hundreds of otherwise silent believers standing together, singing their praise to Jesus, is really exciting!

I probably will not agree with everything being “revoiced” at this conference. Nevertheless, we need to have conversations about this in the church, including between the likes of Dr. Mohler and the Revoice Conference leaders.

But can I make a plea for one thing? When having these conversations, let us please not throw people, who are finding it difficult to flourish in evangelical churches, under the bus in the process. Let us embrace them with joy instead!

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Single, Gay, and Christian: A Review of the Book and Its Criticism

Let me tell you why this is such a great book. Author Gregory Coles has a lot of guts.

In his memoir, Single, Gay, Christian, Coles tells his story, growing up in the evangelical church, loving Jesus, who nevertheless made the slow and disturbing discovery that he was attracted to other men, and not to women. But unlike many of those who “come out” with this self-realization, Coles understands that his sexual orientation does not biblically give him permission to enter into a practicing, same-sex relationship. Yet it does give him a unique perspective to live out a life of committed celibacy, and live that life out to the fullest. This is a story that needs to be heard.

Coles grew up, in what appears to have been a missionary(?) family, serving in Indonesia. Aside from living in a different country, Coles spent his growing up years in an evangelical church sub-culture. But he knew something was different about himself, when compared to other boys in his church youth group. His discovery about his sexual attraction to males was not something that hit him overnight, and he tried his best to change his orientation, to conform to social expectations. He did not fit the stereotype of someone who was “gay.” He did not have a distant, emotionally detached father. Rather, he enjoyed life, loved God, and had a great relationship with loving parents.

Even through college, and into his early years as a church worship leader, back in the United States, Coles’ efforts to become “ex-gay” simply did not work. The hoped for change in his sexual attractions never materialized. Coles had hit a roadblock: Prayer and therapy did not produce the expected results, that many of his Christian friends had promised, and that he himself desired. This is where Coles’ story today gets controversial, at least to a certain segment of the church.

He makes a concerted effort to study the Scriptures, to best understand God’s perspective and purpose for human sexuality. Contrary to revisionist views of homosexuality, that are gaining popularity within liberal-minded congregations, Coles concludes that sexual relations, as through “gay marriage,” is not an option, for someone like himself, who seeks to be a faithful follower of Jesus.

But neither does Coles embrace the “ex-gay” narrative championed by many evangelical Christians, that suggests that “gayness” necessarily implies a certain “lifestyle.” The typical “ex-gay” narrative believes sexual attraction to be merely a choice: a choice that can be reversed through the appropriate therapy, or intense prayer. Rather, Coles seeks to embrace his identity as a celibate gay Christian man, which explains the title for his book. As a single, gay Christian, Coles seeks to explore how his sexual orientation might inform his understanding of who God created him to be.

Coles self-identification as a single, gay Christian will strike many other Christians as being repugnant, or at the very least, confusing.1 After all, our identity as believers should be, first and foremost, grounded in Christ, and not somehow paired with our sin, right? We should never celebrate temptation. Rather we are to flee from temptation. You can be a single Christian, sure. But it would be best to leave the “gay” out of it, or perhaps, embrace something like “ex-gay.” To be “gay” and “Christian,” are mutually exclusive categories. Another book reviewer, “Pastor Gabe,” a Baptist pastor in Kansas, drills down on this as the fatal flaw in Gregory Coles’ book.2

The criticism is fairly common among more than a few Christians. But it is too fixated on semantics and labels, and it makes some questionable assumptions, that need to be challenged. What Greg Coles is talking about is completely different. In this book review, I will try to interact with some of Coles’ critics. Listening to Coles’ story, the “ex-gay” thinking comes across as wrong-headed. We can address some of those questionable assumptions below, but let us first examine the central idea behind its wrong-headed-ness. Continue reading


What Was the Sin of Sodom?… (Taking A Closer Look)

Colorado cake artist, Jack Phillips, who recently won a Supreme Court case, in a United States freedom of religion case, that opponents say legitimizes discrimination against gay persons. (credit: Sam Brasch, Colorado Public Radio)

To bake the cake, or not bake the wedding cake?

Nothing gets a group of Christians animated like the topic of same-sex marriage. Go ahead. Try it. The next time you are in a Bible study, or share a meal with believers, just mention “same-sex marriage.” I guarantee you that for the next twenty minutes, the conversation will be anything but boring.

Ever since the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision, Obergefell v. Hodges, that legalized same-sex marriage, many Christians have besieged themselves with questions as to how to reach gay and lesbian people, while still affirming the Bible’s teaching that God created marriage between only a man and a woman.

Some say that Christians have focused too much on the issue of same-sex marriage. Others are concerned that the church is gradually capitulating to the culture, in accommodating “the sin of Sodom.”  A recent Pew survey even suggests that among younger evangelicals, there is an increased acceptance of gay marriage, at least in terms of its legality, in the wider culture, if not also, in the church.

Many say that the church needs to “preach the Word.” Specifically, we should preach against “the sin of Sodom.” Every Christian should surely agree with that.

However, the problem is that we often fail to understand what “the sin of Sodom” really is. Is “the sin of Sodom” gay marriage? Would this include a society’s increased acceptance of gay marriage as normal? What really is “the sin of Sodom?”

Let us take a closer look at the biblical text, and see if the common, traditional understanding of “the sin of Sodom” actually matches what the Bible teaches. Continue reading


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