“Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
Proverbs 26:4-5 ESV
There is some profound wisdom in those verses. Navigating them in real life, however, can be quite difficult.
I’ve written extensively on the subject of homosexuality, almost to the point that people might think that I have a certain affinity towards it. The reality is, I see this issue as the greatest blind-spot of most evangelicals in being an effective witness of Christ’s love.
Recently, Thabiti Anyabwile wrote an op-ed (Read the article here) on his blog over at The Gospel Coalition website. In it he describes how he feels we as evangelicals should respond to the homosexual agenda. Although his account of the background information is helpful, his suggestion on how to deal with it as Christians couldn’t be more wrong.
Let me explain. Anyabwile recommends that we bring back the “gag-reflex” when discussing homosexuality. We need to gross people out so that they will turn away from their blanket acceptance of this sin. I have a number of problems with this approach.
First, the “gag-reflex” really is better defined as a prejudice. Based on the dictionary definition prejudice is a gut reaction. I’ll admit that prejudices have their place within the a critical thinking grid and not every prejudice is wrong simply because it is a prejudice. It just has to be measured by a final authority. This particular issue is one that I’ve written about and I’m actually in the process of putting together a curriculum that addresses this problem.
Second, a negative prejudice toward homosexuals is already pervasive among evangelicals to the point that they would swallow everything Anyabwile said like Kool-Aid without even giving it a second thought. This is called confirmation bias. Anything said to correct errors or provide clarity will either be ignored or attacked vehemently because it is not consistent with the presiding, presuppositional prejudice.
Third, the foundation for the argument is in the wrong place. What is the Church’s role in guarding marriage? Jesus lived in a much worse time period when homosexuality was not only pervasive, but it was encouraged by the Greeks and coupled with pedophilia. Yet Jesus never directly addressed that issue in his own Greek culture. He spoke to His people and called them to be salt and light. Anyabwile and other theologians who fall into the default evangelical conservative position are trying to make this about public policy and not pulpit ministry. I personally do not believe that the government has any right to define marriage at all; not for heterosexuals, homosexuals, or polygamists. Churches should define marriage. So if you want to find a liberal church that will marry you to a cow, I really don’t care because it doesn’t affect me personally. Those who are antagonistic toward homosexual marriage often feel that they are defending the two consenting parties and the national interests as a whole, but they really are only fighting for their own prejudices and the harm it causes to their sensibilities.
This doesn’t undermine the need for Christians to speak out against homosexuality, but I would also caution that we already address this one issue more than we need to. Homosexuality is a sin. It is destructive to culture. It should not be accepted. But the way to confront it is not to throw stones, it’s to proclaim the good news of salvation by faith alone in Christ.
Fourth, there is something we could learn from the homosexual agenda and Anyabwile gets this part right: the homosexual marriage advocates have been better evangelists than most evangelicals. What has grown the overwhelming support of gay marriage in the culture at large? Everyone knows a nice homosexual. Most of us even have someone close to us that is gay. As a result, over a long period of time, we the general public have factored this into our psyche and we have accepted the legitimacy of the homosexual way of life almost unconsciously. What Anyabwile is rallying for is that we shock people into remembering how gross the sin is. This is very poor evidential apologetics. Logically, should it not follow that we ought to explicitly describe heterosexual intercourse as a counter to heterosexual sin? I really hope not. How does this help us win homosexuals to Christ? It doesn’t. It just impedes any future dialogue where we can share the love and the saving grace of Christ with them. I submit that the reason homosexuals have changed public opinion is because they were winning support with the public while Christians were on their lofty pedestals throwing stones. In trying to be light, evangelicals have failed to be salt. Being salt requires we actually come into contact with the object being preserved. Oddly enough, while public opinion was swayed primarily because everyone knows and is close to a homosexual, the average evangelical has intentionally remained distant from this culture. Remove the salt and you get intensified rot.
If we really want to be effective at winning homosexuals to Christ, we should only talk about the subject as though we are talking directly to a homosexual we are hoping to win for Christ. It’s always troubling to hear people talk about homosexuality as though it is somehow leprous. The disdain in their voice reveals the hatred in their heart. Here’s a tip on the ethics of debate: form your argument in the spirit of evangelism, saturated with love and compassion.
Fifth, Christians need to stop hiding their bigotry in poor exegesis. A prominent Christian leader’s wife said recently, “If America doesn’t get its act together, God is going to have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” This is infuriating. The point of destroying Sodom was not to show the world how much God hates homosexuality (which is the exact same amount as he hates any sin). It primarily teaches what Lot failed to recognize and do. The evidence is found in the conversation that Abraham had with the LORD: “Will you destroy the city if there are 10 people living there that fear you?” (Paraphrase) Lot failed to do what would have prevented the cities from being destroyed. He had four daughters, two son in laws, and his wife. That’s 8 people. If Lot had kept his family and reached even two people and shown them what it meant to fear the LORD, God would not have destroyed those cities.
I ask people this question all of the time, “If you had a heterosexual unmarried couple as a neighbor, would you invite them over to your house for dinner in front of your kids?” Unequivocally the answer I always get is, “YES! That is our duty to the great commission.” Then I ask them, “What if your neighbors are homosexuals? Would you invite them over?” With an alarming majority of at least 90%, conservative evangelicals will say, “NO! I don’t want to give my kids the wrong impression that I approve of their lifestyle.” That statement proves that we have put homosexuality into a prejudicial bond that cannot be broken.
Whenever anybody says something on the internet, by default, it’s up for debate. Everyone must answer to the final authority. Thabiti Anyabwile clearly has a flawed perspective on how to handle the homosexual agenda. I would encourage you to consider my comments and be sympathetic to those who are lost. I’m not suggesting that you water down the Gospel. I just want to encourage you to demonstrate the Gospel. I would submit that there is no biblical precedence for what Anyabwile is promoting, and furthermore, I believe that the current distance between Christianity and the national consensus on homosexual marriage has come as a result of his kind of thinking. If you read my thoughts and are encouraged in any way, I hope it is encouragement enough to get you out of the message boards and into the culture in order to be salt and light.
Edit: August 27, 2013
Here is a response from Thabiti Anyabwile – On Homosexuality and Conscience: Responding to Criticism