There are some topics I had rather not discuss in public. At the top of the list is the ethics of same-sex relationships. Does my hesitancy arise from discretion or cowardice? Do I think I am incompetent to take on the subject or am I afraid of being cancelled? Is the time not yet right to engage in this battle or is it already too late? I confess that I have many faults, and I am probably not aware of most of them. But I am aware that I like being liked and that sometimes I allow this desire to keep me from speaking a word I ought to speak.
“The World is Changed.”**
For many reasons, I believe that I ought to speak now about the (Christian) ethics of same-sex relationships. The contemporary church woke up on June 26, 2015 to find that the Supreme Court of the United States had struck down all laws that limited marriage to man and woman (Obergefell v Hodges). The culture had been moving steadily in this direction for some time—since the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Mainline churches (Lutherans, Episcopal, and Methodists) have been mired in controversy and division over non-celibate gay clergy and gay marriage since the 1990s. Why not speak earlier?
With regard to politics and the courts, I did not think it was my calling to get involved in a culture war, that is, a political battle over who controls the culture, conservatives or progressives or radicals. With regard to the controversies within the mainline churches, I am not a member of a mainline church and have no standing to enter into their deliberations. Besides, mainline churches have long been dominated by a liberal theology soft on the cardinal Christian doctrines and coy or dismissive of biblical and apostolic authority. It is in their DNA to attempt to keep up with progressive culture. Hence I was not surprised by their openness to same-sex relationships. So, what has changed?
I began my eleven-part series reviewing Karen Keen’s book Scripture, Ethics, and the Possibility of Same-Sex Relationships with this explanation of what has changed (September 10, 2021)*:
However, within the past five years a significant number of pastors, professors, authors, and church members who claim to be evangelical, bible-believing, and orthodox have spoken out in favor of the church accepting same-sex relationships on the same or a similar basis as that on which it accepts traditional marriage. I am not speaking here only of something far away and limited to books by authors I do not know. I am speaking also about pastors, professors, and church members I know personally. I do not see how any church or parachurch institution can avoid this internal discussion for much longer. We are past the point of “the calm before the storm.” The storm is upon us. And it will not end until it exhausts its energy.
Keen and others like her argue that you can remain true to evangelical theology, hold to biblical authority and inspiration, faithfully practice biblical morality AND affirm committed same-sex relationships as legitimately Christian. I do not believe this can be done, and I wrote my review to refute her case. In that review I followed her argument in description, analysis, and critique but did not develop my own approach. In the present series I want to show why in order to affirm same-sex relationships you must revise the meaning of biblical authority, undermine the coherence of biblical morality, and accept revisionist biblical interpretation and progressive morality, which places all moral authority in individual experience. As I see it, such an approach is either naive, self-deceptive, or disingenuous. In any case I am convinced that it will lead those involved to accept the marriage of liberal theology and progressive morality that dominates mainline denominations. And the movement will not stop there. Once you accept the progressive understanding of morality, the pressure from the left flank will only grow stronger. You will feel pressure to drop even liberal Christian theology to become secular and, then, ever more radical. The fateful decision was made long ago when, for progressive culture, individual feeling replaced traditional wisdom as the surest revelation of the right and the good. This poison may be slow acting but it is relentless nonetheless.
*Many of the thoughts I will develop in the next few essays I touched on briefly in this series. For anyone serious about this topic I suggest you read these eleven essays, which began on September 10 and ended on November 8, 2021.
**From Galadriel’s Prologue to the Lord of the Rings:
“The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air. Much that once was is now lost, for none live who remember it.”
I noticed you did not use the word sin in the transcript. You did make a remark about right and good??? Jesus talked about sin in 14 verses and he was not afraid of anyone. You say you are afraid??? Sin is a heavy subject and is mentioned 112 times but what do you think??
Happy New Year.
I will get to that. I did not say I am afraid. It was a question. I have no hesitancy in designating “transgression of the law” sin. But calling same-sex activity “sin” is not an argument; its a conclusion. My self-chosen task is to argue that despite sophisticated arguments to the contrary, it is indeed unlawful and therefore sinful.
Hello Ron, God’s blessings and a happy New Year to you.
You’re absolutely right in your sentiments and conclusions, I agree with you.
‘What are we to believe? And there was division among them…’
I’d like to offer some thoughts on primary beliefs, Christian theology, and the nature of sin, which may impact upon some folk’s deep-set convictions in Christian ethics (and as your last book did mine).
There is nothing irreligious within renaissance art or literature, and reformation theology per se, and yet even today we are bombarded by media images of a god with flowing robes, a long white beard, who rides in a cloud surrounded by cherubs. Therefore by any comparison either visual or non-visual, sadly many children are going to prefer ‘Superman’ or ‘Iron Man’. I’m not being flippant or joking here. Plato warned us about myths didn’t he? So please can we leave our own personal visualizations for the length of this reply, since there are no pictures in the bible- just illustrations added much later.
Humanity, in their most unconstrained general understanding has hitherto based the question of “what to believe in?” on three main criteria- the seen (the known, reality, nature, the sciences, propaganda, and to some extent existence), the unseen (thoughts, feelings, ideas, stories, the spiritual and many of the philosophies of the theoretical sciences), and the mystical (the unknown, the mysterious, the inexplicable, the frightening and to some extent the spiritual). Virtually nothing that I can say, do, write or evangelize will change or convince most of you to question your own set of primary beliefs- because these are so fundamental to our character, personality, our being and our multilateral stability that this questioning process is intimidating, painful or taboo. So I am not going to even try, but I am going to ask Christian friends to look at my part-list of Godly attributes below (as Ron has done in his first essay) and then ask you to try to relate them to your own belief concepts. This is called communicability.
We many of us, fervently believe we understand that our God is sovereign, love, truth, and light, and that His supreme power extends into perfect goodness in His eternal word and eternal will (or faithfulness). Placing the word ‘Divine’ or ‘Pure’ in front of these attributes to express their heavenly origin, we develop human aspirations from them in actions that we call worship or faith, fellowship, prayer, scriptural study, and theology (see Galatians). And we do many of these things in social gatherings (ecclesia) which we then endeavour to continue in daily life, as the bible instructs, with sincerely applied Christian ethics (see also gifts of the spirit). The importance of the intimate relationships that we form with ourselves, each other and God in relation to these fundamental ‘truths’ cannot be overstated, and this primary belief has brought us all to where we are today (whether we are Christian, religious other, non-secular, pagan or post-modern pretenders). Ron tactfully says we are in a storm now. I think that it is worse than that. How many of us can truthfully claim that we love God the way that Jesus says in his new covenant, and also really love each other, everybody and ourselves in that same way? And demonstrate it before our Father in Heaven.
JRR Tolkien writes “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us” and “it is not the strength of the body, but the strength of the spirit that matters”.
Making a parallel point about OT scripture, I would like to briefly mention a modern archaeological discovery relating to divine will, the word and the love of God. Have you ever wondered specifically “why did God send Jesus our redeemer when he did?” Obviously we need and needed Jesus right then, but recent discoveries of tablet scripts in Serabit el-Khadim quarry (and in Egypt) dated accurately to the time of Abraham, indicate beyond any reasonable doubt that the Canaanite workers there had somehow received the written word. This cannot be taken too lightly, as this proto-sinaitic script allowed the chosen ones to start to make carvings which lead some 750 years later to the ancient Hebrew records of the early OT. And also, the transliteration of simple Egyptian glyphs has lead to that same proto-sinaitic script becoming the building block for very nearly all modern alphabets- a leap from abstract shapes to letters that is almost inconceivable. One reason for this blessing, I believe is that as worshippers of the one true God, the Canaanites were able to begin the process towards making a permanent written record of the Word. It is said that “what is in the New Testament revealed, is in the Old Testament concealed”, and John repeats a similar phrase of Jesus’ in his gospel. See also, Isaiah 44:6 and Revelation 1/22 regarding the alpha and omega. So it is tantalizing to think that not only did God’s plan for Jesus include the timely gift of a text for writing OT history that itself heralds Jesus, but an accurate description in the NT of how that Word will be spread thousands of years into the future- exactly as Jesus said “unto all the nations”.
Time is the problem however. As Tolkien says above and scripture reminds us (see Genesis, Ecclesiastes 3:11 et al). The issue of infinite time (or time and infinity) in our ‘understanding’ of God’s eternal and sovereign nature needs to be readdressed. You may not agree, but when you’ve read this commentary, perhaps reread paragraph two and four again? The choice is entirely yours. From Aquinas to Arminius, from Kant to Wesley, and from Nietzsche to Zoroaster there is a potential problem with HUMAN time; though I shall not be using old or new circular arguments with relativity or quantum mechanics (as I could easily do).
If we try to limit God in any way, including His sovereignty and eternity, then we fail to acknowledge His “yesterday, today and tomorrow-ness” aspect, as Jack Lewis puts it. We are ignoring the power that God has to be infinite, super-temporal, supra-temporal, a temporal and non-dimensional (irrespective of the mathematical arguments for fixing God in split epochs). And in so doing, we introduce our own limited theology requiring that God Himself should then require a ‘human-like’ memory… if God is indeed a temporal, and existing to act across all times (at one instant if that helps you!) then why on earth does He need a place to store memories?? This is a bit like a reverse logical application of ‘imago dei’ : God made man in his image, so God must have man-like qualities. Absolutely not! God made Jesus because GOD IS A ‘SPIRIT’. In and amongst these imaginary God memories is a repository that you(pl.) may have deemed exists for your(pl.) individual record of “sin”. Not necessarily consciously.
Why? God sees your sin from yesterday, your sin from today, and your sin from tomorrow all together- and it ‘hurts’ Him. The disappointment, or our falling short of expectation (“sin”) in God is likened to a “pain”, but that again is a human corporeal thing. If the record of “sin” or pseudo-pain was in any way stored and recorded inside God or the Godhead, it would be a contradiction in terms, and would instantly be burnt up; please refer to John of the Cross’ writings about the Dark Night and the Shadow of the Cross (1542-1591) for an acknowledged treatment of ‘what’ cannot approach God.. A debate beyond the scope of this commentary. Jesus says “pray that you do not come into temptation” and “- go in peace, and sin no more” not for his benefit, nor any wilful lack of suffering (far from it!), but because our sins make our souls incompatible with God. Forgiveness is not a medicine that we may continue to take in sinfulness (see Hebrews 10:26), it is a gift necessary to mediate our obvious separation and inexorable eternal death apart from God. Intrinsic to our redemption is that we carefully repent and try very hard not to disappoint Our Father in Heaven.
God is not miscible with or in any part compatible with bitterness, hatred, evil or sin. Jesus accentuates this point in St John’s gospel chapter 8 (and it is an important thread for John’s audience see John 8:44 ‘father of lies’). If our Lord Jesus Christ tells us that evil thoughts are just as bad as evil deeds- then we (all Christians) could at least listen to him, and understand that designating a repository for recording sin inside the Godhead is just as unsavoury as thinking it; the Holy Spirit is a helper that Jesus told us we are in desperate need of, undoubtedly a source of divine power and goodness- but also a conviction for sin. Jesus says “sin is it’s own reward”. Sin must remain around the neck of and in the soul of the sinner (who refuses to repent), until “it will either be forgiven, or it will not be forgiven” repeated for our benefit in John 20:23. Our Lord tells us in his prayer to petition for forgiveness as we forgive others, and the regular nature of this prayer indicates the importance of dealing with sins quickly; the practice of undertaking regular confession in the Catholic church is a good example of this. Ron’s blog is a tribute to his dogged attitude toward identifying, calling out mistakes, and making valuable insights into interpreting where scripture has been misapplied, or worse, used as a blanket pass for continuing in sin (God forbid).
Therefore, to avoid condemnation, the only way to awaken and rise up, to remove the burden of sin upon our souls, is to acknowledge the Power of the conviction of the Holy Spirt of God, and thence to be saved from that sin by welcoming Jesus Christ the Redeemer into our hearts and with him, the gift of Divine forgiveness according to Almighty God our Saviour’s Holy plan. Living with Christ should not only reflect outwards his refulgent light, but will enable us to live a truly ethical Christian life, at total peace within the knowledge of the philosophy of Jesus’ heart. As the prophet says.
Let me leave you today, with thanks for reading this, and a hope that we can all think more about where we are going and what we believe, and how that can really impact our world and our faith with these words-
“So that you will know, that he Son of man has the power to forgive sins on earth- take up your bed and walk. Now go home, and sin no more.”