Pastor J. D. Greear currently serves as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Greear recently wrote a blog post on his personal site titled, “Three Ways We Go Wrong When Discussing Homosexuality.” This CRVoices post is the third in a five-part series carefully examining Greear’s claims in his blog post.
Greear’s post is well-intentioned and certainly not completely wrong. We should rejoice that he takes a stand in clearly proclaiming, along with the word of God, that homosexuality is sin. However, Greear’s post is also unhelpful with regard to some points of theology on the topic of homosexuality. Given the significance of biblical fidelity and compassionate ministry when it comes to the topic of homosexuality, these unhelpful aspects of Greear’s post are worth addressing.
In this third of five posts in this series, we carefully consider Greear’s first claim, “We’re wrong if we believe God doesn’t care about our sexuality.”
God Condemns Homosexuality
As one example of how Christians have gone wrong in conversations about homosexuality, Greear writes, “We’re wrong if we believe God doesn’t care about our sexuality.” Absolutely. But who actually believes that God doesn’t care about our sexuality? Some people might believe that in an attempt to excuse their sexual sins, but as far as Christians are concerned, haven’t we actually faced the accusation that we focus too much on sexuality and too much on sexual sins – like homosexuality – in particular? In any event, Greear is absolutely right to affirm, “He does care.”
Greear does a good job of citing the relevant passages directly addressing the sin of homosexuality, which is an allusion to the fact that Scripture also indirectly addresses the sin of homosexuality. And he’s right, “The biblical depiction of sexuality hangs on much more than these passages.” The passages Greear cites as directly addressing the sin of homosexuality are quoted here:
The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said, “My lords, please turn aside to your servant’s house and spend the night and wash your feet. Then you may rise up early and go on your way.” They said, “No; we will spend the night in the town square.” But he pressed them strongly; so they turned aside to him and entered his house. And he made them a feast and baked unleavened bread, and they ate. But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down. But the men reached out their hands and brought Lot into the house with them and shut the door. And they struck with blindness the men who were at the entrance of the house, both small and great, so that they wore themselves out groping for the door. (Genesis 19:1–11)
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 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. (Leviticus 20:13)
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26–27)
…the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine… (1 Timothy 1:10)
Greear quotes the final verse he lists, rather than merely citing it.
1 Corinthians 6:9b–10: “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (NIV).
Worth noting is Greear’s belief that the account of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19 is about homosexuality, which is encouraging, as this text is usually one of the first that Christians are willing to concede is not actually about homosexuality (when it is about homosexuality). Far from whispering about the wicked sexual sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, God wipes these cities out. Greear also calls attention to homosexuality as an abomination in Leviticus, which results in blood guiltiness and death. In Romans, the homosexual has succumbed to all-consuming, dishonorable passions, described as unnatural relations and shameless acts that merit a penalty. In the verses Greear quotes, homosexuals are seen among those guilty of sexual immorality, and will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Next, Greear writes, “Possessing a desire innately just shows us that we have corrupt hearts and we need to be born again.” The most charitable reading here is that Greear is acknowledging the claim that homosexual desire is innate, then going on to explain that even if that were true, it only, “shows us that we have corrupt hearts and we need to be born again.” More on the ‘innate desire’ claim in a moment, but so far, so good.
The Gospel and Gayness
Greear writes, “The gospel message is not ‘Let the gay become straight’ but ‘Let the dead—and that’s all of us—become alive.’” To be more precise, the gospel message, according to 1 Corinthians 15:1-4, is the message of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures. And amen to, “Let the dead—and that’s all of us—become alive,” but the dead coming to life does not preclude them from living in a way they never did before. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” When the “dead” homosexual becomes a living Christian, what becomes of his or her sin? Is the sinfulness of homosexuality part of the “old” that has “passed away,” or part of the “new creation” in Christ? The apostle Paul helps us answer this question in Ephesians 4:25-32:
Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:25-32)
Here, Paul commands believers in Christ Jesus to put away falsehood, put away anger, put away thievery, put away corrupting talk, put away “all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander.” So, even though the gospel message is not, strictly speaking, ‘Let the liar become a truth-teller,’ or ‘Let the angry become kind,’ or ‘Let the thief become industrious,’ or ‘Let the corrupt become encouraging,’ or (Greear) ‘Let the gay become straight,’ all of these becomings are brought about as part and parcel of the dead coming to life through the gospel of Jesus Christ. No, this soteriological reality does not entail that those born-again will never sin again, but being born-again is definitionally a re-birth where those dead in sin are made alive together with Christ.
The alternative to the biblical picture spelled out above is believing in such a thing as a ‘gay Christian,’ an identity and/or a self-conception that is certainly out of accord with the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 6:11, which follows the verses Greear quotes, Paul writes of the believers, “and such were some of you,” establishing that those who were “sexually immoral…adulterers…men who have sex with men,” are no longer that. In one sense, none of us are ever ‘straight’ in this life, which is not a biblical or theological term anyway, but Christians are not ‘gay’ either. In Romans 6:11, Paul writes, “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Indeed, “Let the dead—and that’s all of us—become alive.” But that means considering yourself dead—to sin—and alive, to God, as a result of the reality of the gospel in your life. If homosexuality is a sin, as Greear clearly affirms, then we must consider ourselves dead to it.
Lady Gaga Got it Wrong
Greear condones a mistaken meme of pop-culture when he writes, “If someone says, ‘But I was born this way,’ I don’t dispute that.” Greear should “dispute that,” because the claim is fraught with difficulty. Moreover, many of those who engage in homosexual practices or struggle against them do not default to the idea that they were simply “born this way” anyway. But even when they do, Greear knows the response, “possessing a desire innately doesn’t make it right.” Greear correctly affirms that “Anger or ambition or certain sexual desires are not right simply because they come from deep within me.”
However, Greear’s earlier use of “experience this,” referring to homosexuality, coupled with his admission that he does not “dispute” a person claiming to be “born this way,” is troubling. In that case, homosexuality becomes, for Greear, a congenital ‘given,’ to use language from Revoice founder Nate Collins; an “experience” for which one needs care. This softened language is indicative of a definite shift toward softer theology and practice than what the Church has historically held with regard to the sin of homosexuality. Such divergences in theology are typically used by people to absolve themselves of responsibility with respect to particular pet sins.
Greear closes with an analogy that is not analogous to the point he was just trying to make.
Imagine I said to my wife, “After being married to the most beautiful woman I know for two decades, sweetheart, sometimes I still find myself attracted to other women. So the only conclusion I can come to is that I must have been born polygamous. I’m going to have to be true to myself and pursue relationships with other women.”
Veronica would say, “I’m going to have to be true to myself and smack you upside the head with a 2×4.”
The reason this analogy does not work is that Greear just wrote he does not dispute the claim that a person was “born this way,” whereas his wife in this illustration does appear to dispute the claim that he was “born this way,” or at any rate, the idea is mocked in the illustration alongside of the idea that Greear must pursue relationships with other women. Of course, she also disputes the takeaway that Greear would have to pursue other relationships in order to be true to himself, but both inferences are wrong, not just the latter.