It was unfortunate to see this week Jen Hatmaker publicly affirm support for same-sex relationships in her interview with Jonathan Merritt. Her support is clearly not limited to a pragmatic consideration pertaining to public policy but also includes the affirmation that a sexual relationship between same-sex partners can be holy, and thus morally legitimate.
As we continue to witness, one-by-one, Christian leaders and public figures embrace the legitimacy of homosexuality, it is important to recognize the reality of what we are witnessing, which is nothing short of the gradual abandonment of the Christian faith. I know that Christians have always had in-house debates about this issue or that, and that we land on various points on the spectrum on everything from the mode of baptism to the nature of the Israel-church relationship. But there is no such thing as a Christianity without a Christian sexual ethic, and the current attempt of left-leaning Christians to create one simply cannot succeed. Here’s why:
1. Affirmation of same-sex relationships leaves one without any limiting principle in a sexual ethic. I notice that Jen Hatmaker, much like Anthony Kennedy in the Obergefell decision, presupposes that marriage is a commitment between “any two adults.” Opponents of same-sex marriage have argued for years now that, once the inherent heterosexual nature of the marriage relationship has been abandoned, there remains no reason to limit the union to two people. To my knowledge, advocates of same-sex marriage have never come up with a good reason to settle on the number two. It’s clear that what has happened here is that our marriage policy operates according to the principles of a tradition we have now tossed aside. We still think of marriage as a union of two because that is how the inherently heterosexual vision of marriage we inherited from Christianity directed us (Even polygamous marriages, never yet legally recognized in the United States, are marriages of two people to one another, with the added dimension that one of those partners is also married to others as well. In other words, a polygamous family is not a single marriage but a family made up of multiple marriages, a distorted version of the ideal). But now that the male-female union has become an optional variation of marriage, which has now been redefined into a broader concept that also encompasses male-male and female-female, it can’t be long before we realize as a culture that our sense of justice requires us to recognize male-female-male, or female-male-female, or female-female-female, or male-male-female-female-male, or any endless variation of romantic commitments among groups of people who wish to share their lives and their bodies with each other. Will Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, Jonathan Merritt, Brian McLaren, and others put their foot down when cultural pressure pushes in that direction? Will they take a firm, principled stance for limiting marriage to two because, you know, something about Christ and the church? If past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, don’t count on it.
This is the slipperiest of slopes, and we have slid halfway into full-blown paganism. There is nothing there to stop a further slide. Let the winds of culture blow, and left-leaning Christians will be there to form committees to study the issue for the next three years, issue a morally ambiguous report that calls for unity the next year, and then over the next couple of years join the chorus of the broader culture decrying traditionalists as haters. On sexual issue after sexual issue this will continue to happen, to the point that there will be nothing left of a Christian sexual ethic at all among those who now affirm same-sex marriage. Sexual complementarity is a fundamental component of human nature and a living picture of the union between Christ and his church. The farther we move from a one-flesh vision of marriage as heterosexual, exclusive, and permanent, the more we embrace a vision of reality that is essentially pagan. This is not a minor issue on which Christians can disagree. It is a continental divide between Christianity and non-Christianity.
2. Affirmation of same-sex relationships makes proclaiming the fullness of the gospel impossible. This is because proclaiming the gospel requires a call to repentance. If we call “holy” what God calls “sinful,” we necessarily regard repentance of it as unnecessary, and even harmful. In the interview, Hatmaker laments that “the church hasn’t treated the LGBT community like family.” That’s because they are not family, and to treat them as such would be harmful both to them and to us.
Let me add a caveat here, since I know that last sentence will be open to misreading. I am not saying that people who experience same-sex attraction cannot be Christians and members in good standing with our churches. I wholeheartedly affirm that they can be, and that many are. So that is not how I am defining “the LGBT community” here. I would regard that term to refer to those who embrace homosexuality, or bisexuality, or transgenderism, as fundamental to personal identity and therefore celebrate these things as positive goods. People who do so are living in open and unrepentant sin, and as such, they cannot rightly be recognized as members in good standing with churches of Jesus Christ. They are not family. The worst thing we could do to them would be to bless them in sin, giving them false assurance that leads them to assume that God will not judge the sexually immoral.
But the alternative to treating them like family is not to hate them. It is to love them and, because we love them, to extend the hope of the gospel to them. The same gospel that delivered us from our wretched sins (sins that we continue to fight) is the gospel that can deliver anyone. But we are not proclaiming that gospel if we are not naming sin for what it is and calling people to repent and find forgiveness in Christ. Affirmation of same-sex marriage (and other deviant sexual arrangements that will inevitably follow), by definition, is an implicit denial of the gospel. The church has stood firm on this question for 2,000 years, and the attempt to change that unified testimony is an attempt to change Christianity into something else entirely.
3. The new sexual ethic of LGBT affirmation is premised on a vision of humanity that is Gnostic rather than Christian. Gnosticism was one of the earliest heresies that threatened the Christian faith, and it has continued to pop up from time to time since it was decisively defeated in the first four centuries of the church. Gnosticism affirmed that at least some human beings are sparks of divinity trapped in physical bodies in a physical world created by a rebellious spiritual power, but that through attainment of secret knowledge, they may be able to ascend back into unity with the ultimate divine power from which they came. One entailment of this story is that the body is merely a shell in which is housed the true, inner person, who is substantially different from his/her physical form.
The LGBT movement similarly argues that the outer shell of the body is irrelevant to the question of true personal identity. This applies both to sexual orientation and to gender identity. Do you have male anatomy? That is irrelevant. If you are inwardly, sexually attracted to others with male anatomy (even though there is no natural “fit” there), the “true” you is determined not by your body but by your inner feelings. Your fundamental identity is “gay,” and any attempt by others to deny the legitimacy of that claim for yourself is a rejection of your inner being. Do you have female anatomy? That is irrelevant. If inwardly you feel like a man (whatever that is, since we have now thrown away all external means to distinguish male from female), then that is what you are. Your body is an empty, meaningless shell that houses an inner identity, divorced from the physicality of your nature. Any refusal by others to call you by the pronouns you have chosen constitutes an act of personal rejection that must be motivated by hatred.
This Gnostic vision of human nature is a thousand miles from the Christian faith. It is something altogether different from Christianity. Those who are drawn to this kind of sexual (anti-)ethic, such as Jen Hatmaker, are certainly free to make arguments for their position. It would be nice, however, if they would stop referring to themselves as Christians, because what they are advocating is something that is diametrically opposed to Christianity.