You might have noticed a post called “Why Homosexuality Is Not Like Other Sins” by Jonathan Parnell making the rounds today. This post is the latest in what I call the “Piper Pattern” that almost all writers associated with Desiring God blog or the Gospel Coalition unfortunately fall in to: create false black and white sides to an issue, take down both of these straw-man arguments, and then argue that you have the first true “third way” (all the while ignoring that viable third, fourth, tenth, even twentieth and fiftieth ways already exist).
Parnell starts right off the bat by saying that “homosexuality is celebrated by our larger society with pioneering excitement. It’s seen as a good thing, as the new hallmark of progress.” Of course, ignoring all of the mountains of research that prove that people who are of any sort of LGBT persuasion face more bullying, more discrimination, and more rejection than any other group. Apparently, moderate displays of decent LGBT characters on a few semi-popular TV shows now counts as “larger society.”
Next, Parnell decides to speak for all Christians – a task that even Paul was not willing to do (see Romans 14) when the church was in its infancy and it might have been possible to do so: “As Christians, we believe with deepest sincerity that the embrace of homosexual practice, along with other sins, keeps people out of the kingdom of God.” The problem is, there are many gay Christians that have been advancing the Kingdom of God, even leading many, many people back to Christianity (just read the comments section on anything associated with the Gay Christian Network).
Then Parnell says “The issue is sin. That’s what we’re against.” This is very true…. but it is also true of the Christians that believe that homosexuality is not a sin. Most of them are not walking around going “I know its a sin but I don’t care.” They believe so deeply in the problem of sin that they don’t want to call something a sin that isn’t. People like Parnell might not agree with that, but they at least need to be honest about what the issue really is.
So then Parnell starts to create his false black and white straw man sides. “There are the growing numbers, under great societal pressure, who praise homosexuality. We might call them the left.” Here’s the crazy thing about “societal pressure”: most people related to this issue don’t have to deal with it, if the numbers of people who are LGBT are true. Most people, like me, don’t really know that many people that are gay or transgendered or bisexual or anywhere else on the spectrum. Therefore, there is no one in our face trying to make us change our mind (and I am sorry, but intense media coverage or constant postings and arguments on Facebook do not qualify as societal pressure since most people don’t change their minds due to any of it). No one has ever pressured me on this issue. Most people I know who are LGBT never speak up about the issue. Those that do now live in states where they have marriage equality. No one has been in my face about the issue. I could easily just think “homosexuality is a sin” and keep it to myself and there would be no problems in my life. However, I have this nagging issue of respecting any written word enough to be completely honest with what it says, regardless of whether or not I agree with it or if it fits my personal outlook on life.
“The current debate is plagued by this binary lens. Those on the left try to lump everyone who disagrees with them into that right side. If you don’t support, you hate.” Has Parnell actually been following the debate? Its never binary. What rock does this statement come from under? Technically, it is usually those on the “right” (as Parnell describes it) that bring the concept of “hate” into the conversation. Many times when they get accused of doing something “unloving”, they are the ones that say “how dare you accuse me of hate!” I see it happen all the time. For example, I could point out how it is not loving to mis-characterize and oversimplify the two sides in this debate. That is not saying it is hate. That is just saying that Parnell’s approach is not loving. If I were to say that exact statement, many of my right-side friends would scream :how dare you accuse me of hate!” How do I know this? Because it has happened many, many times. I’m not throwing out a theory here. I am recounting actual events.
Where is Parnell not being loving? With statements like this: “Distancing ourselves from both the left and the right, we don’t celebrate homosexual practice, we acknowledge God’s clear revealed word that it is sin; and we don’t hate those who embrace homosexuality, we love them enough to not just collapse under the societal pressure.” You see, many of us have so much respect for the Bible that we are not collapsing under societal pressure, but rather investigating for ourselves and finding that it is in no way clear about this issue. There have been thousands of blog posts, comments, and books written about this very respect, yet Parnell chooses to either be ignorant of all of that or just wants to flat out misrepresent a side that he doesn’t agree with. That may or not be hate in your book, but it is not loving.
But Parnell is right in saying that homosexuality is not like other sins. Interesting tidbit about the word “homosexual” from Wikipedia:
“The first known appearance of homosexual in print is found in an 1869 German pamphlet by the Austrian-born novelist Karl-Maria Kertbeny, published anonymously, arguing against a Prussian anti-sodomy law. In 1886, Richard von Krafft-Ebing used the terms homosexual and heterosexual in his book Psychopathia Sexualis. Krafft-Ebing’s book was so popular among both laymen and doctors that the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” became the most widely accepted terms for sexual orientation. As such, the current use of the term has its roots in the broader 19th-century tradition of personality taxonomy.”
So how did the word jump from the first century writings of Paul over 1800 years of society to never again be used until 1869? Well, that’s because it was never in the Bible in the first place. Where you see it used in the Bible currently is problematic. Paul was using some Greek words that are difficult to translate, with one even being a word he might have made up. The words that he does use are much more complex and sinister than our modern day word “homosexual”. You can read this post for a more detailed look at the difficulty many scholars have had in translating those words. Unfortunately, most translators caved to societal pressures themselves and used the word “homosexual” because they didn’t want to rock the boat in their own church circles. Either that, or their bias was so great that it blinded them to the inherent problems in the original Greek in the first place.
None of this necessarily has to change your views on what the Bible calls sin, but it should at least show you that those who use the word “clear” to describe this topic do not respect the Bible enough to be honest about the complexities of the issue and therefore should not be writing about the debate. And that those of us that say that a Christian can be gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual are not necessarily caving to social pressure in any way. We are just trying to take Romans 14 seriously.