Well there’s been a fair bit of back and forth on the upcoming Revoice Conference, self-styled: “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.”
I have several thoughts on all of this, but for the time being, I want to explain just one. You can find a fair bit of other helpful commentary over on the Warhorn Media site, Doug Wilson’s fingers have been busy here, Steven Wedgeworth has also responded, as has Andrew Walker. On the other hand, Matthew Lee Anderson has attempted to hold the two positions closer together, critiquing the critiques here.
I was grateful to correspond with Ron Belgau briefly on Twitter a couple weeks back. Ron is one of the cofounders of the Spiritual Friendship website with Wesley Hill, he has written extensively on the topics of homosexual temptation and spiritual friendship, and is one of the presenters at the Revoice conference. And I may get a chance to summarize more of my concerns at some point, but for now, I simply want to point out one thing.
And that one thing is the importance of understanding and articulating the nature of homosexual sin. Yes, the Spiritual Friendship and Revoice folks state clearly that homosexuality is sinful and that homosexual lust must be mortified. But that is not all that the Bible says. The Bible says homosexual sin is an abomination:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Lev. 18:22)
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Lev. 20:13)
But that particular terminology is not just old KJV for “really bad.” The Bible also explains what abominations are and what they require in response:
For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. (Lev. 18:29)
And you shall not bring an abominable thing into your house and become devoted to destruction like it. You shall utterly detest it and abhor it, for it is devoted to destruction. (Dt. 7:26)
The you shall inquire and make search and ask diligently. And behold, if it be true and certain that such an abomination has been done among you, you shall surely put the inhabitants of that city to the sword, devoting it to destruction, all who are in it and its cattle, with the edge of the sword. You shall gather all its spoil into the midst of its open square and burn the city and all its spoil with fire, as a whole burnt offering to the Lord your God. It shall be a heap forever. It shall not be built again. (Dt. 13:14-16)
So this is my question: In affirming the biblical condemnation of homosexuality, have the proponents of Spiritual Friendship and Revoice sufficiently reckoned with this biblical data concerning the abomination of homosexuality? It is not merely sinful, it is the kind of sin that defiles the land. It is the kind of sin that defiles the whole city. It is the kind of sin that defiles the cattle of the city. It is the kind of sin that even defiles the spoils of the city. It’s the kind of sin the requires such a wholesale repudiation that the city itself must not be built again.
Abominations were not merely sins alongside other sins for which ceremonial washing and sacrifices and restitution might make things right. Abominations were a class of high-handed sin that required radical amputation, complete removal, holy hatred, utter destruction because of the way they bring sin upon the land (cf. Dt. 24:4). In the prophets, it was the shameless celebration of abominations in Israel that served as a central argument for God’s coming destruction of Israel and exile from the land (Jer. 6:15, 8:12, Ez. 16:50, 18:12-13, 22:11-15).
Please understand me carefully: I am not suggesting that we in the Christian era are called to perform these exact punishments or acts of herem warfare on homosexuals today. But I am insisting that these laws are true and faithful expressions of God’s eternal, holy, and fixed disposition towards those sins. And the New Testament makes it clear that God’s holy presence in the New Covenant is not less fierce, but more (Heb. 12:18-29). Therefore Christians are called upon to act with even greater vehemence, holy hatred in confrontation and repentance of this sin. This means we must not only mortify the sinful acts we have committed and the lusts we have harbored, but in the case of these sins, we must figure out how to burn the whole city of sin in our hearts to the ground, including the spoils. God says it is an abomination, and that means we must burn the whole thing down and not rebuild it in any way.
But didn’t some of those cities have nice architecture? Didn’t some of those cities have thriving cattle industries? Didn’t some of those cities have a lot of wealth and riches and thriving economies? Yes they did, and God explicitly said not to take any of it. It was all defiled. Burn it all. Cut it all off. God didn’t say to sift through it all and try to figure out which parts were really virtues underneath all the gunk. Jude seems to have something of this imagery in mind when he exhorts: “save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 1:23).
But what if the garments are really nice garments, carefully woven, rare, or expensive? Hate them because they are stained by the flesh. And note that we do this in order to “show mercy with fear.” Recall also that this general exhortation comes following an explicit mention of homosexual lust: “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 1:7).
Jude says that Sodom and Gomorrah indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire (Gk. “went after strange flesh”), and they were burned in fire as an example of eternal punishment. Remember also Lot’s wife who looked back and was turned to salt. Lot’s wife was reckoned with Sodom and Gomorrah by her backward glance, and there is no indication that her backward glance was an explicitly homosexual lust. Rather, it was a desire of some sort for the city, for her house, for her life, for her friends back in Sodom. And imagine the theological or philosophical protests she might have made. She wasn’t desiring to have sex with other women, she just liked the culture of Sodom. She knew sexual immorality was sinful, but Sodom really was in a lovely location on the plain — didn’t God create that good location and that natural beauty? Couldn’t she appreciate that while repudiating the sexual sin? No, she couldn’t. Abominations defile the land, and she was called to flee all of it.
My point in all of this is simply to underline the grave seriousness of underestimating the defilement of homosexual sin. The Bible clearly requires Christians not to treat homosexual sin as simply one sexual sin among many. All sexual sin is serious and potent, but the Bible teaches that homosexual sin is a particularly heinous form of defilement that infects not merely the hearts and minds and bodies of those who participate in homosexual lust or acts but everything around them is infected. Everything is defiled, even their cows grazing in the field, even their spoils.
Now, please hear this next part carefully: this means that we are all defiled. I am defiled with the abomination of homosexuality. My city, my church, my family, my nation is all defiled. Nothing is untouched by this stain. And related, the same thing goes for the abomination of abortion, the blood of innocents offered to the false gods of convenience, choice, sexual anarchy, and all the rest. The blood of those millions of babies is on my hands and on yours. We are all affected, and we are all infected. We are all defiled. This is what abominations do. They defile the land, all of the land, everything.
So this is not an exercise in pointing fingers or an exercise in self-righteousness. The point of all of this is to proclaim the only hope any of us have: the blood of Jesus Christ. Only the blood of Christ can make us clean. Only the blood of Christ can take away the uncleanness in our hearts, in our hands, in our minds, and in our land. But the very last thing we need is any kind of sectioning off of any area of our lives or experiences or communities that we claim are somehow not defiled, that are not unclean, that don’t need to be burned down. Yes, I know that there are practical questions about what to do after someone has repented. But despite the protests to the contrary that the Spiritual Friendship guys and gals have taken the biblical data sufficiently seriously, I am doubtful. I see websites and conferences dedicated to rummaging around in the spoils of gay culture. I see homosexually tempted men and women trying to save some of the clothing defiled by their sin rather than a wholesale willingness to hate even the garment stained by their flesh. But this is to exempt some part of their human experience from the trauma of the cross. Jesus demands everything, all that we are. We must be crucified with Christ. Everything we are must die in Christ in order to live. You may not take any part of “gay culture” or “same-sex attraction” with you. That city must be burned to the ground and never rebuilt if Christ is to live in us and raise us to new life.
Finally, our failure to proclaim the shamefulness of homosexual acts and desires, the defiling and degrading nature of those passions, is a failure to proclaim the full gospel. The gospel, the good news of Jesus, always begins with condemnation. It always begins with the bad news, with guilt and shame and darkness. All of the protests regarding the full throated condemnation of homosexuality driving same-sex tempted folks out of the church, all the hopes of being a refuge for homosexually tempted people, to the extent that we do not clearly state the detestable nature of homosexual sin and the way it defiles the land is a failure to proclaim real grace. We are healing wounds lightly, and therefore we are preaching a watered down Jesus. We proclaim the shame of a naked man suffocating on a Roman cross. We proclaim the darkness that covered the earth in the middle of the day. And in that shame, in that darkness God meets us with His mercy.
I actually do think there is something true amidst all of the confusion — I do think that a significant part of homosexual lust is driven by male hunger, specifically father hunger. Boys who are not loved well by their fathers are often left hungry, desiring fatherly/brotherly love. And like a man dying of thirst in the ocean, salt water can look and taste wonderful, and even contain some properties that are needed, and yet the whole thing will actual exacerbate the problem, leaving you more dehydrated in the end, even more starved in the end. So I do want to state emphatically that all men need brothers and fathers, and those men who have lacked those important masculine relationships do need to find them in the Church, in the brotherhood of the saints, in Christian friendship (and there are analogous needs to be met for women). But I also believe that a great deal rides on how we articulate this. And a poor articulation is a set up for disaster.
God the Father summons every one of us from the pig pen of our selfish abominations and degrading passions through the blood of His perfect Son, and when He calls us, He calls us to leave everything behind. Leave everything you thought made you who you were. Offer it all up as a burnt offering, a living sacrifice. Burn the spoils. And be sure: He welcomes every lost son who comes to Him with open arms, but He will not leave you the same. He will change you far beyond what you thought possible.