One of the things revealed by our ongoing debate over the business of “same sex attraction” (SSA) is the fact that we are focusing almost entirely on the wrong issues. We are examining and measuring tremors on the surface when we should be tracking the massive shifts that are taking place with the tectonic plates down below. We are nervous about those tremors, as we should be, but the reason is that they are representative of what is happening at the tectonic level.
Among professing evangelical believers, all sides thus far agree that homosexual copulations are a sinful activity. And on one side of the line,it is being assumed that this all that is necessary to defend the “historic and traditional position on human sexuality.” But this is not even close to being true.
What we need to do is have a debate that really would be a debate, where there would be people drawn up on both sides. And right now we do not need a debate over whether homosexual actions are prohibited or not. At least on paper, everyone sort of agrees there. What we need to debate is whether or not homosexual actions are vile, and whether homosexual temptations are instances of being drawn to something that is vile. And on this question, the evangelical world is sharply divided.
And it is this question that is going to determine, a generation hence, whether or not evangelicals will have held the line on same-sex sex. The tectonic plates,after all, have something to do with what eventually happens on the surface.
Close to Home:
These tectonic shifts are not just happening in liberal spaces. Few organizations have done as much for the modern defense of biblical orthodoxy as Desiring God has. And yet, some really troublesome assumptions have even managed to get published there.
Take the example of Nick Roen. Now to be fair, this piece was published before the Revoice conference happened, and before Wesley Hill wrote his appalling book on spiritual friendship—which sort of shoved all the chips out to the middle of the table—but still, the problems with it should have been evident even back then.
The basic contrast in the article is between a biblical love for God’s standards and for people(yay) and fear of those whose behavior is loathsome to us. Love good, fear bad, right?
“Or is it really based on the fact that you don’t understand how someone could be attracted to the same sex, and this unknown seems to you just plain creepy?”
“Happily upholding Christian sexual ethics is not the same as harboring animosity toward an entire group of people simply because you find them yucky.”
In other words, it is simply assumed here that a biblical position is one that formally disapproves of same sex actions. It is also assumed, without argument, that if someone has to fight a gag reflect when thinking about said same sex activity, then the person who has that reflex is the person with a real sin problem. And the name of that sin is homophobia.
The problem is that Scripture never identifies “homophobia”as a sin. In fact, by all the standard definitions and descriptions of homophobia (including the ones here in Roen’s piece), the Bible is itself manifestly homophobic.
The issues of orthodoxy and orthopraxy are not settled simply when one checks the “sinful” box alongside a named sin. There are certain sins the Scriptures require us to recoil from. We are not just told to “disapprove” of them all. We do not have a biblical worldview unless and until we respond to and describe sin the way Scripture does.
There are four words in the Hebrew Old Testament that are rendered as abomination. The most significant of them (toebah) is found in the following passages.
“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination” (Lev. 18:22).
So the one thing we do not get to do is interpret abomination as“something that is just technically sinful.”
“If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them” (Lev. 20:13).
Now to give you a feel for the kind of scriptural company that toebah keeps, consider this passage from Ezekiel.
“As for the beauty of his ornament, he set it in majesty: but they made the images of their abominations and of their detestable things therein: therefore have I set it far from them” (Eze. 7:20).
And Jeremiah . . .
“And first I will recompense their iniquity and their sin double;because they have defiled my land, they have filled mine inheritance with the carcases of their detestable and abominable things” (Jer. 16:18).
The same attitude toward sexual miscreants carries over to the New Testament. The concept of abomination is not just a Mosaic thing.
“And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh” (Jude 22–23).
The yuck factor then does not need to be the product of bigotry, irrational fear,or prejudice. The yuck factor is something God wants us to have. Now it is quite true that this is not all He wants us to have, but there is nothing wrong with having it, and something quite wrong when it is missing.
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret. But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light” (Eph.5:11–13).
We do not know precisely what sins Paul had in mind here in Ephesians, but we do have a general idea. And these are deeds that are shameful even to talk about, even among those who are not doing them, and have no inclination to do them. They are that shameful, and the people who want to do them are that shameless.
“Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves” (Rom. 1:24).
On the subject of homosexual practice directly, the apostle explicitly ranks it as being a matter of shame and dishonor. The word here is atimazo, and it is the shame that gives itself over to an unnatural uncleanness. The teaching of Romans 1 is not simply that same sex activity is “wrong,”but that it is also perverse and unnatural. We are not being biblical people unless we embrace the whole package—and this means that, as our relativistic world defines homophobia, we must lean into our “homophobia,” as their dictionary would have it. I have written before that all our culture wars are actually battles over the dictionary.
And pieces like Roen’s are capitulations at just this point—we are letting the unbelievers assume their new posts as the general editors of lexicon of sin. And in that new lexicon, hate is not a family value. Finding homosexual attraction creepy is the real sin.
But contrast this with the Scripture. Just a few verses later the apostle Paul reinforces his point.
“For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman,burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet” (Rom. 1:26–27).
The word modifying affections here is atimia, and vile is a good translation. And a moment later, when men do that which is “unseemly,”the word there is aschemosyne, and shameless deeds about covers it.
And so what we must do is compare the adjectives. Both Roen and the apostle Paul would be in agreement that same sex copulations are a “sin.”But Paul describes it as vile sin, shameless sin, unseemly sin, and, because he would be in full agreement with the Old Testament—which is profitable for instruction and training in righteousness—it is also detestable and abominable sin.
Roen says this:
“When we love in this manner, we expose homophobia for what it really is: pride. It is an attitude that puts beneath us others whose sins and temptations we deem ‘more depraved’ than our own, as we wickedly proclaim with the Pharisee, ‘Well, at least I don’t struggle with that’” (Luke 18:11).
This is quite an error. It is the sin of flattening sins.
Now of course every form of pride is a cancer that eats out the soul. And of course the self-righteous man is the one who goes home unjustified, unlike the other. But how many complacent 21st century Christians offer up smug little prayers of their own? “I thank thee, God, that I am not like that Pharisee in the parable.” There is more than one way to be self-righteous, and more than one way to walk home unjustified. People can preen themselves in self-congratulatory ways for their open tolerance just as much as others do for their censorious condemnations.
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you” (1 Cor. 5:1–2, ESV).
But the sin of self-righteousness is a particular attitude of being wiser than God, and smugness knows no boundaries. And it has to be said that the new Pharisees are doing a lot of damage in their condemnations of those faithful Christians who simply want to submit to what the Scriptures teach us plainly about what sins are loathsome.
“The truth is that sin is sin, temptation is temptation, and“men who have sex with men” is listed right alongside greed, drunkenness,deception, and slander as worthy of exclusion from the kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-10). All equally damnable. Who among us is innocent?”
No, and when I say no, I mean no a couple thousand times. All are equally damning, but they are not all equally damnable. There is a profound category mistake in all of this. It is true that a man can go to Hell for incorrigible vanity, and it is also true that a man can get there because of serial murder. This does not put vanity and murder on all fours together. There is a falsehood here that is functioning as a wrecking ball when it comes to our understanding of Christian ethics.
Among those who oppose the ongoing normalization of homosexual affections, it is commonplace to preface their opposition by confessing that we are all sinners, and that all sins are equal in the sight of God. In other words, whether we agree with Roen on this point or not, we frequently act as though we do,especially when the cameras are running.
Now the first part of this is unquestionably true—we are all sinners, and without the blood of Christ we are all damned equally. But being damned equally is not the same thing as being equally damned. The second part of this sentiment—that all sins are equal in the sight of God—is demonstrably false. All sins are equally sinful, but not all sins are equal sins. I mean,think about it.
First, God says that He considers certain sins monstrous and other sins not.
“Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin” (John 19:11).
“Neither hath Samaria committed half of thy sins; but thou hast multiplied thine abominations more than they, and hast justified thy sisters in all thine abominations which thou hast done. Thou also, which hast judged thy sisters, bear thine own shame for thy sins that thou hast committed more abominable than they: they are more righteous than thou: yea, be thou confounded also, and bear thy shame, in that thou hast justified thy sisters” (Eze. 16:51–52).
So the Scriptures do not say that all sins are equal. Quite the opposite.
Second,God says that in the judgment, He will deal with different sins differently,according to their heinousness. It is not just a matter of what God says, but also a question of what He will do.
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation” (Matt. 23:14).
“And that servant, which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:47–48).
When God judges all men according to their works, we may be permitted to think that their works will enter into it.
Third,God requires us to respond differently to different sins. We are to apportion different penalties to different sins, according to their gravity.
“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?” (Matt. 7:3).
A beam in the eye is greater than a mote in the eye. Right?
Love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet. 4:8). And love also refuses to put up with a certain kind of sinning in anyone who professes to be a brother (1 Cor. 5:11). This is because sins are not equal. If sins were all equal then we would be required to treat two professing Christians in exactly the same way—the man who lives a dissolute life of debauchery and an aging grandma who complains too much about the weather.
The Drumbeat for the Next Round of Compromises:
Christians need to learn the basic lesson that he who says A must also say B. The drumbeat for the next round of compromises has already started. Here, check this beauty out.
Is pedophilia a sin? Is it a sin just like any other? What I would like to ask all you boys and girls to do is go back over everything that was said by Roen about same sex attraction (SSA) compared to all other sins, and plug that teaching into this new presenting problem—small boy attracted (SBA). And the message I would bring to the larger evangelical community is this one: stop being stupid.
Nick Roen says, rightly, that we must be people who love. That much is true. He says, wrongly, that we must not fear—rather, we must fear God. We must love God and His law, and we must fear Him. We must fear God and We must be characterized by a deep and abiding love for the law of God. And this means that we love rejecting what it rejects, and we love rejectingsin the way the law rejects sin, using all the same adjectives. The fear of the Lord is to hate evil (Prov. 8:13). Hate is too a family value.
A great blessing is promised those who have a real love for the law of God.
“Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Psalm 119:165).