News Sparking the Conversations
One month ago in Charlottesville, Virginia, violence broke out when a white supremacist rammed his car into a crowd, resulting in one death and 19 injuries. This sparked a nationwide discussion about racism, hate crimes, and the responsibilities of those in positions of influence to address these issues. Within the church, countless blogs and podcasts were released addressing how the church ought to respond to and interact with racists.
On August 29, the Nashville Statement was published, developed and signed by a coalition of evangelical leaders articulating a biblical view of gender, marriage, and sexuality. This also sparked a debate about religion, sexuality, and the way the church ought to respond to and interact with the LGBT+ community.
Thus, thoughtfully engaged believers have been saying a lot on these matters in the past month or so. The discussions that I’ve seen tend to generally go according to the following pattern:
[Broad Brush Warning]
Progressive Christian Response: It is critical to explicitly and emphatically denounce the sin of racism. You need to clearly demonstrate the evil for what it is, even if you lose support or face backlash from folks who are sympathetic to organizations like the KKK. Church leaders must communicate that it is explicitly contrary to the gospel to harbor racial hatred in your heart.
Conservative Christian Response: A public statement will have limited effect and may even cause more harm than good. It is better to take time and understand where folks with racist tendencies are coming from, befriend them, and work through close relationships to eventually win them over to a more God-honoring perspective of their fellow man.
Progressive Christian Response: A public statement will have limited effect and may even cause more harm than good. It is better to take time and understand where folks of the LGBT+ community are coming from, befriend them, and work through close relationships to eventually win them over to a more God-honoring perspective of human sexuality.
Conservative Christian Response: It is critical to explicitly and emphatically denounce the sin of homosexual behavior. You need to clearly demonstrate the evil for what it is, even if you lose support or face backlash from folks who are sympathetic to the LGBT+ community. Christian leaders must communicate that you cannot be a genuine Christian and practice homosexuality.
What About the Bible?
Mere weeks after these events, a blog on the subject already seems obsolete in our ceaselessly viral world (Houston flooding, Trump’s DACA decision, Irma, and various NFL protests have each held serve in the public consciousness since). The pace with which these issues are discussed leaves no room for contemplation or reflection. We’re having more important conversations than ever before, without any agreed upon standard by which to navigate or evaluate the salient issues. So subjective, immediate, and temporary responses are the norm when we so desperately require objective, measured, and lasting answers.
That’s why, as believers, we should never lose our overwhelming gratitude that we’ve received a Spirit-inspired compass which always helps us find true north, no matter how tumultuous the cultural tempest becomes (Ps. 119:105; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). So when it comes to evaluating the sins of our time, Christians must take the stance and tone that God has taken and communicated through His word. He’s the Creator, Redeemer, and Judge of the entire cosmos and its history from beginning to end. His people are obliged to respond according to His will and His way.
With that in mind, we don’t begin with how it seems to us best to respond to this sin or that sin (Pr. 14:12). No, we begin with the humility to go to God’s word and ask some questions we do not presume to automatically have the answers to.
Questions to Ask God
What does the Bible tell us about God’s intention for race and sexuality?
The Lord consummated His creation with the pinnacle work of intimately infusing humanity with His very image (Gen. 1:26-27). So every member of the human race is to be regarded with utmost and absolute dignity, value, love, and respect (Gen. 9:6). This care for all people is seen through God’s intention to bless all people through the lineage of Abram (Gen. 12:1-3), through the rescue of Nineveh (Jonah 4:10-11), through the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18-20), and finally in the eternal heavenly worship of folks from every tribe, tongue, and nation(Rev. 5:8-10).
God’s process of creating the first humans is striking. He first created a man, but noted that it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). So He made the perfectly complimentary partner that was suitable for him to have companionship, cooperation, and procreation (Gen. 2:21-25). The man and woman were made to fit together in every way, designed to glorify God as they obeyed the first command given by God to His image bearers, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” (Gen. 1:28)
Therefore the sinfulness of racism and homosexuality are rooted in their incompatibility with God’s intended design in creation.
Does God make explicit and direct statements against the sins of racism and homosexuality in the Bible?
You might think that direct, formal statements are cold and unhelpful. But what pattern does God set in His word? Does He, in His holy and perfect love, explicitly condemn sin?
The Lord clearly defines hatred (racism certainly included) as a manifestation of a wicked and evil heart. 1 John 2:11 says “The one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes,” and Paul writes to the Colossians in chapter 3, “you must put them all away: anger, wrath… seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.”
Likewise God doesn’t shy away from stating that deviations from His design for sexuality are evil. He makes clear that a homosexual lifestyle is a demonstration of an unrighteous heart and disqualifies people from the Kingdom of God in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” He also says in the opening chapter of Romans that homosexual behavior is the debased result of rejecting His revelation in nature, “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. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”
God is clear. Racism and homosexuality are both in blasphemous disregard of Christ’s design in creation and His purpose in redemption. Scripture doesn’t shy away from stating it as such. Taking a cue from the Lord in His word, Christians should be ready to explicitly state the wickedness of both racism and homosexuality.
Does the Lord speak of deeper relational or environmental causes of these sins? Does Scripture leave room for approaching sinners, not only as perpetrators of wickedness but also as victims of it?
With loved ones in your heart and mind, you might be asking, “Where’s the compassion in these formal and detached statements condemning sin? Don’t these manifestos only serve to further alienate the very folks we’re supposed to reach with the gospel?”
This is an incredibly important question to ask.
If you think that “telling them the truth about their sin” is the extent of the compassion you ought to show, I’d venture to question if you’ve ever really experienced the transformational kindness of Christ Jesus. If you don’t take time to consider the relational dimension of your theology or ethics, you’re missing the point of the history of the universe. Do you remember? God’s primary purpose in creating the cosmos was to glorify Himself by entering into covenantal and redeeming relationship with His people (Is. 43:6-7). So your correct opinions on matters like race relations and human sexuality are utterly pointless if you do not live them out in a redemptive manner (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
You must learn to see people of every background as not only perpetrators of the Fall, but also victims of it. Until you have this vantage point of compassion, you’ll always be handicapped in your witness because you’ll disdain the broken people Christ came to heal. You may be inclined to respond with angry versions of the statements mentioned earlier, “Homosexuality is an abomination!” or “Racists are bigoted and hateful idiots!” Whether or not these statements is true becomes irrelevant, because you may have just unwittingly outed yourself. It’s very possible that you’ve opposed the agenda of God Himself because you don’t believe He will glorify Himself by redeeming racists and homosexuals by the blood of the cross (Matt. 16:21-23).
A robust understanding of the consequences of the Fall will remind you that you ought to anticipate brokenness in every nook and cranny of the world. We have broken homes, broken schools, broken political structures, broken justice systems, broken family trees, broken histories, broken bodies, broken minds, broken relationships, and even broken affections.
Sometimes broken people show their fractures when they fly a flag bearing a swastika. And sometimes broken people show their fractures when they fly a flag bearing a rainbow. Each of these broken people have stories to tell – stories where they’ve wrongfully suffered at the hands of another, stories where they inflict wrong upon another, and stories where they’ve done good for another.
The stunning truth you’ll see if you pause long enough to notice, is that these racists and homosexuals look an awful lot like you – complicated, sometimes heroic, deeply flawed, wonderfully talented, frequently confused, broken, and in desperate need of redemption. Your flag of rebellion might not represent the LGBT+ agenda or the racial elements of the Confederacy. But we all once proudly saluted the colors of sinful humanity before the Spirit of God taught us to humbly raise our arms in surrender to the overwhelming grace of Jesus Christ. So we need to think back to what it was that won us over, and remember His eternally perfect victory strategy.
The way of Christ is one of unspeakable and unmatched humility (Phil. 2:1-11), to live among the rebels (Jn. 1:14), to serve them (Matt. 20:28), to heal them (Lk. 5:31), to feed them (Matt. 14), to speak truth to them – to DIE FOR THEM (Rom. 5:8). Jesus never shied away from calling a spade a spade or speaking bluntly about sin. But He lived out His days honoring His Father by touching lepers, accepting outcasts, healing those most hated by society, and cleansing the sexually deviant.
For the hot-button issues of our time, we need biblical clarity AND Christlike compassion.