I recently received a letter from a lady on the other side of Moscow’s own little version of the national cultural divide. We had been scheduled to meet, and she was writing to cancel that meeting. According to the letter, the thing that concerned her was something that had to be addressed (by me) before we met.
Given the nature of her concern, this is something I am happy to do, and am doing here in this space. The issue is God’s law, or theonomy, and the status of homosexuals under that law. In order to address her concerns, I have to do two things. The first is explain a quotation of mine in the Daily News on December 11, 2003, and the second is to lay out what I believe the Bible teaches on how homosexuality should be addressed by the civil magistrate (if that magistrate were somehow to care about what Scripture teaches).
In that newspaper article, I was quoted as follows, “The Bible indicates the punishment for homosexuality is death. The Bible also indicates the punishment for homosexuality is exile. ‘So death is not the minimal punishment for a homosexual,’ Wilson said. ‘There are other alternatives.'”
When our controversy erupted here in 2003, the lion’s share of the energy expended was on the subject of slavery. The paper had reported that our history conference was on slavery, which it wasn’t, and that provided the bulk of the incendiary material at the time. I responded in a column about a week later, and in my response did not address the quotation about homosexuality. My correspondent took this as at least tacit acknowledgement that the quotation was accurate and sufficiently contextualized. The quotation was actually a gross distortion of my position, but at the time I had other fish to fry. I was busy trying to convince people that we were not holding a conference on slavery at the UI SUB ballroom. When the issue of my views on homosexuality became an problem later (with the problem apparently originating from that quotation), I did seek to address it. We have done that in detail — we published a special issue of Credenda on this subject, and I have written on it in some detail on this blog. And here I am again, addressing it again. But in doing this, I find it beyond ironic that I am catching flak here in Moscow for advocating execution of homosexuals on the one hand and catching flak from fellow Christians around the country for advocating legalization of homosexual marriages on the other. Talk about nuance! As it happens, the flak from both directions is based on misunderstandings and distortions. Some of the misunderstandings have been honest, but some have not been.
The basic answer with regard to the quotation in the newspaper is that in the last few years, I have been accused of so many nefarious things that I have not even begun to answer them all. Some of them I have not answered because I thought they were so silly that no one would believe the charges (and have sometimes been mistaken about this). Some of them I have not answered because we were following the principle of triage — we were trying to address the most inflammatory or defamatory issues first. All this said, it should not be concluded that an unanswered accusation against us is something we acknowledge or in any way grant.
Now on to the subject itself, and allow me to begin with the central concern of my correspondent. She was worried that this “incendiary pronouncement” of mine could lead some zealous young person to go off and take matters into his own hands, killing a homosexual in some vigilante way, and then defending himself because he heard “Pastor Wilson say” that homosexuals must die. Now if someone were to do something like that, taking justice into his own hands, and he killed anyone that would have been executed under Mosaic law — whether for adultery, or certain forms of sodomy, or sabbath-breaking — I believe that such a vigilante should be arrested, receive a full and completely fair trial, and then be executed. I believe that such behavior should be characterized both as lawless and completely outside the spirit of the gospel. I don’t know how to disapprove of such behavior any more strongly than I have.
But notice how I have disapproved of it. I believe that vigilante murderers should be executed. It does not follow that I think that vigilante murderers should be killed by vigilantes. The fact of the matter is that Christians believe that Scripture requires the rule of law. For instance, I supported the execution of Paul Hill, a man who decided to fight abortion by murdering an abortionist. I supported that execution even though I also believe that the abortion genocide is a gross violation of the Sixth Commandment.
One other comment on the problem of setting unstable people off. If such an awful thing were to happen, it would not be the result of my views aiding and abetting the process. I reject such thinking, period, and there’s an end on it. Such a travesty would be the result of someone taking encouragement from what was represented as being my view by those who did not take the trouble to find out what that position actually was. And it should be noted again that I did not correct that misrepresentation because I was in the middle of correcting a bunch of other misrepresentations at the same time.
Now, to the substance of the discussion:
All Christians who believe in the inspiration of Scripture believe that God was just and holy and right to require the death penalty under Moses the way that He did. In other words, no consistent Christian can “apologize” to modernity for the treatment that anyone received under the law of God in the Old Testament, whether that person was an adulterer, homosexual, or necromancer. The nation of Israel was in covenant with God as a holy people, and their holiness code required certain things of them. The standard was strict and high. The Christian church is in that position today, but the Christian church does not have (and ought not to have) the power of the sword. This is why in certain instances the New Testament substitutes excommunication for execution. God’s people are still summoned to holiness, and that holiness is still defined by the Bible, and only by the Scriptures. The standard is still high, still grounded in the character of the triune God.
Having said this, we have to consider how such Old Testament laws are to be interpreted and applied today, if at all. After all, the Old Testament is not the Word of God, Emeritus. In recent decades, there was a school of thought among some Christians that such laws were to be applied “straight across.” In other words, the death penalty should be applied today for adultery, sodomy, etc. In response to that position, critiquing it, I have argued that things weren’t that simple. The Old Testament contains instances of individuals receiving penalties that were far less than what the Mosaic code required. For example, David was guilty of adultery with Bathsheba, and was not executed. Certain kings exiled homosexuals, or banished them from the house of God, which was not the strict penalty apparently required by the Mosaic law. This meant that there was a certain latitude in the law; it could be applied as a case law system where the principles were observed, with adjustments made according to circumstance. This is not relativism; it is how common law works. I was not arguing, as the newspaper represented me as arguing, that there are two (and only two) appropriate things to do with someone convicted of homosexual behavior — execution or exile. That is not my position. The context of the quotation had to do with my exegetical rejection of the view that execution for homosexuals was mandatory.
The whole situation was made more gloriously complex with the arrival of Christ, and His sacrifice on the cross for sins and sinners of all stripes. The woman caught in adultery was not stoned, and she was not stoned because of how Jesus caught and trapped the Jewish leaders in their own misapplication of the law. In principle, the same scene could have played out in the same way with a homosexual in the center of the ring, surrounded by Pharisees. And had it been, the Pharisee would have departed, and the homosexual would have been told by Christ to “go and sin no more.” The former homosexuals in the church at Corinth were urged by the apostle Paul to exult in their forgiveness, and not to volunteer for execution, or kill themselves because they deserved to die. Christ came to save the world, not destroy it. And He came to save the world from its sins, and this would include the sin of homosexual acts. The point of the gospel is to bring salvation and forgiveness to the world, and not death to the world. We don’t need to bring death to the world because the sin that pervades the world is “death in transgressions and sins.”
So the world to which this salvation is being brought is a world in love with death. In Proverbs, Wisdom says that all who hate her love death. And those who hate sexual wisdom love sexual death. But the Christian answer to this is not the sword of the magistrate. Our weapons are not carnal, St. Paul says. Our weapon is the gospel of Jesus Christ, a message which brings death to the sin, and resurrection to the sinner. And yes, this includes the sin of homosexuality, and resurrection for the homosexual.
There are a number of other questions I am leaving unanswered. One of them has to do with the governmental treatment of certain individuals convicted of certain homosexual acts in some unnamed Christian republic five hundred years from now. They are reasonable questions, but please keep in mind that I am in a series of controversies of some unreasonable people, and so I will answer generally. In such a republic, would homosexual acts be against the law, and if so, what would the penalty be? Like I said, reasonable questions. Yes, such behavior would be against the law — just like it was throughout all fifty states just a few short years ago. And what would the penalties be? The answer to that question requires a certain level of cultural maturity (beyond what is currently in evidence) — that has to take into account careful exegesis of the Old Testament texts, the nature and purpose of common law, the circumstances of each particular case, the flow of redemptive history, and the forgiveness that is offered to everyone in Jesus Christ.
It is not hard for me to imagine a secularist differing with all of this. But the one thing he should be careful to do is not to misrepresent it.