Friday, January 30, 2009

Homosexuality, Evangelicalism, and Bigotry: A Plea for Clarity and Compassion

by Jake Magee
Someone recently asked me how he might graciously and tactfully respond to a homosexual friend who contends that Christians are being judgmental, bigoted, and unloving when they label the homosexual lifestyle as sin. Since this is pervasive in dialogues on the topic, I offer a few thoughts to hopefully help elucidate the conversation and allow Christians share Biblical convictions with clarity and compassion.

Here’s a basic question that comes to mind in thinking over the charge made: If, when, and how should people make moral evaluations on sexual behavior?

If and When?

Some homosexuals seem to imply that we shouldn’t make moral evaluations on sexual behavior. Notice that I’d rather use “evaluation” rather than “judgment” because “judgment” is term is loaded with a bunch of junk I’d prefer to avoid. By “evaluation,” I’m saying that we conclude that some sexual behavior is great, good, not so good, or bad. This is the proper meaning of “judgment.”

So, should one make moral evaluations on sexual behavior? Let’s distill this question a bit more and see if we make some headway: “can we make moral evaluations about behavior in general?”

Granted, this question borders on being simplistic. Murdering Jews in the holocaust is bad and saving Jews from the holocaust is good. Stealing from old ladies is bad and helping old ladies is good. Helping people because they are in need is better than helping people to get a favor in return. The list of behaviors of which we make judgments is seemingly endless. So then the answer is “Yes”; we can and must make moral evaluations about behavior in general.

Well, what about sexual behavior?

This too seems obvious to me. We make judgments about pedophilia, polygamy, bestiality, and rape. I understand that homosexuals will gasp at being lumped with most of these (and I think that their reversion is partially right), but that’s beside the immediate point. A homosexual also believes that it is sometimes proper to make moral judgments about sexual behavior; they’ll just disagree about what behaviors to make judgments about.

Here’s the point. Of the behaviors that they do make judgments on, it hardly seems to appropriate for someone (namely, the person whose behavior the homosexual is evaluating) to automatically label their evaluations “judgmental,” “bigoted,” or “unloving.” Making moral evaluations on sexuality isn’t default bigotry. Maybe our homosexual friends are responding to something else.


In this debate, there seems to be the confusion of moral judgments and judgmentalism. Some homosexuals are responding to how some may convey moral evaluations. And this is understandable. Some believers offer moral evaluations in a way less than moral. With that said, it is a leap of logic to conclude that evangelicals are wrong in their moral evaluations due to the way they are communicated. That’s like some concluding the homosexual lifestyle is immoral because some fringe radical homosexuals assault people in the name of their cause. This too would be a leap of logic. Again, it would be leap to conclude that the homosexual cause was moral because the cause was communicated with meekness and gentility. The message and the method need to be distinguished.

With that said, evangelicals have been strong on message and negligent on method. Here are a couple of ways that evangelicals fail to communicate well on this issue, as well as some proffered adjustments.

First, some fixate on this sexual sin and elevate it to a category it shouldn’t. Scripturally, homosexuality, heterosexual sin, as well as non-sexual sin are lumped in the same list of behaviors deserving the wrath of God and therefore requiring the atonement of Jesus to satisfy (1 Corinthians 6:9, 10; Galatians 5:20-21). This list includes drunkenness, fornication, adultery, theft, covetousness, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, and carousing. Within evangelicalism, these behaviors are spoken of less frequently and resisted far less vigorously than homosexuality. The solution, however, isn’t to speak less about or tolerate homosexuality in the way that we do other behaviors. Rather, our response it is to speak and resist more any and all behavior that fails to conform to God’s kingdom, and hold out Jesus as God’s solution for our chronic sinfulness. This transitions to my last point.

Some fail to communicate redemptively. Believers often communicate on this topic in a way that makes it appear that they’ve never been guilty of damning thoughts and actions. What an indictment on them, and perhaps an indication of the absence of God’s grace in their own lives. If we truly have a sense of the greatness of our sin and our Savior, then any and all approaches to our friends and family about their moral condition (be it homosexuality, heterosexual sin, or non-sexual sin) will be marked by humility and love, like one spiritual beggar telling another where to get grace.

I urge my brothers and sisters to engage this issue. Engage it, and don’t shrink from the emotionally charged rhetoric that has silenced those who would represent the Biblical position far better than some of our well-meaning but poorly articulated brothers and sisters. Engage it Biblically, thoughtfully, humbly, and redemptively.