Should evangelicals respond to homosexuality as they do divorce? Yes

An article in the Los Angeles Times, written by Randall Balmer, an Episcopal priest, argued this past weekend that since evangelicals have conceded with divorce and remarriage that it’s high time they do the same with homosexuality.    It’s not a new argument, and from time to time it gets trotted out as evidence of evangelical hypocrisy.  Why, the left asks, do you extend grace and mercy to those who are divorced and yet refuse to do the same to those who are homosexual?   After all, they continue, Jesus was very clear about the sinfulness of divorce while saying nothing about homosexuality.  

Laying aside, at least here, that at the foundation of this sort of reasoning is this idea that since we excuse one sin we should excuse another, I want to share one way in which I hope Balmer is right, and that those of us who are conservative evangelicals will learn from the ways we evolved over time in our views of divorce and apply the same to homosexuality.

But first, for a great explanation on why divorce and homosexuality are not equivalent, please refer to Russell Moore’s article HERE.  He explains why grace is and ought to be offered to the repentant person who has gone through divorce and how this is different from celebrating a person who sees nothing wrong with pursuing a same-sex sexual relationship.   Even where divorce is accepted it is not celebrated.  No one marches in Divorce Pride parades, and for good reason.

But there is a way in which I hope our response to the sin of homosexuality will mirror our response to the sin of divorce among evangelical circles.  As Balmer points out, where divorce at one time was seen as the unpardonable sin and carried with it so much shame and guilt, today those who are divorced or facing divorce are less afraid to share their pain and struggle.   Today, many churches rightly offer divorce support groups.  Today churches routinely hear members bear witness to how God has healed their past relational brokenness and how their past mistakes serve as lessons for their current relationships.

We recognize how even David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba – where a child was conceived out of wedlock and a murder was committed to cover up the scandal, enabling David to marry his pregnant mistress – God blessed this marriage after David repented of his sin (2 Sam. 12:24-25).   Grace and mercy are always available to the person who repents, no matter how sinful their deed.   Restoration is always God’s desire for us, and it’s available to all who call upon the name of the Lord, surrendering control of their own life to the will of God.

So, overtime, the church has rightly seen fit to offer the same grace and mercy to those who have gone through divorce, even if that divorce was for reasons other than scripture’s permitted one’s.  Likewise, evangelical churches ought to follow suit with regards to homosexuality.   Hopefully one day it won’t be seen as a bigger sin than others.   Hopefully we will provide more and more support for those who confess to same-sex attraction and strive to surrender those desires to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  Hopefully the stigma of shame and guilt surrounding homosexuality will dissipate, replaced with environments full of grace and truth, where those struggling can find mutual accountability, love and acceptance.  Just like divorcees experience today.

We are more sensitive to the needs of divorcees today and must become as sensitive to the needs of our brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex desire.  We can do this by repenting of our idealization of marriage as the cure for loneliness and begin preaching and teaching about the virtue of singleness and the joy that can come through a surrendered life to Jesus as our all-in-all over and above a person of either gender.  We can begin to offer support for those who choose faithfulness to God’s word on marriage over the culture’s, and in so doing become a more robust family of God who walks with, eats with, shares with,  prays with and bears with our brothers and sisters choosing celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage as prescribed by God’s original design.

May all of our evangelical churches be seen as hospitals for the broken, where people from all walks of life, with all sorts of struggles, can feel safe to confess those before God and others and be extended the hand of fellowship as we all strive to grow together in holiness, whether divorced, single, married or otherwise.

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7 thoughts on “Should evangelicals respond to homosexuality as they do divorce? Yes

  1. Reblogged this on Rev. Brent L. White and commented:
    Finally, a helpful insight about the analogy between divorce/remarriage and homosexual practice. Also, see the embedded link to Russell Moore’s fine post.

  2. I’m not sure that I agree. Those who have gone through a divorce don’t have “Divorced Pride Parades.” Be wary of anytime someone says that tolerating a sin more in the future will be a good thing.

  3. I can also think of divorce as an instance of doing marriage poorly and non-heterosexual marriage as doing something other than marriage. There are many ways of doing marriage poorly (many of which we find depicted in the Bible) just as there are many doings that are not marriage.

    If we, like many today, take marriage to be best described as a social institution (plus nothing else), then any way the institution evolves in any society that has marriage will simply be an evolved form of that institution. Taking this (minimalist) account of the institution of marriage, society can simply decide that any doing (action) it likes to be marriage.

    Another angle worth consideration might be to broaden our conception of sin. Usually when Christians speak of sin they have in mind what I call “active” sin. These are the sins that are constituted by our actions – our doings or not-doings (sins of commission and omission). When we look at the salvation Jesus offers, we see a broader range of issues addressed. I think of Romans 4. Paul’s been talking about the depth and universality of sin. Now he starts talking about Abraham. Abraham “believes God and it is credited to him as righteousness.” Yeah Abraham! Why does he need this righteousness? Because he’s a dirty rotten low down sinner? Well, probably so. That doesn’t fit the context of Gen. 15 where the quotation originates, however. There Abraham’s problem isn’t that he’s been off sinning, but that, confronted with his mortality after battle with the kings from the east, he’s uneasy. God has promised him children – to make him a great nation, in fact. But he’s getting older and there’s no sign of children. His problem here, in plain English, is childlessness. Childlessness isn’t what I would call an “active” sin (and I usually get in trouble whenever I even broach this subject); rather, it’s a “passive” sin, a sin he suffers from. Some of the things we need forgiveness for are entirely outside our control. They’re not things we’ve done (or failed to do). They’re things that have happened to us, part of living in a broken world.

    • Richard, your points are perhaps interesting from an academic perspective, but, at heart, it is non-Biblical speculation. Unless I misunderstand your point, I fear you have chosen to abandon the Biblical view of both marriage and sin in favor of your own constructs for these terms. From a Christian perspective, this can only end badly. A misunderstanding of sin is usually indicative of even deeper theological errors. Your exegesis (eisegesis?) of Romans 4 demonstrates this: You have moved far afield of the meaning of Romans 4 (i.e., Paul’s discussion of justification by faith even for those who were under the Law).

      I implore you to take a break from speculative theological works and immerse and ground yourself thoroughly in the Scriptures. The academic world seeks after and thrives on “new” ideas and constructs, but these are all dross where they do not align with God’s Word.

      • The idea that the salvation we have in Jesus is more than forgiveness for our active sin is unbiblical? As I read the NT the healing ministry of Jesus (& its connection to sin [Mark 2, John 9, for example]) such a conclusion seems natural. Have you never been among people broken by sin, not only their own, but the sins of others and the brokenness of the world?

        What do you make of Abraham’s justification in Gen. 15, a pre-Law setting?

        What biblical view of marriage have I left? When I talk about a “we” taking marriage purely as a social institution, I’m not advocating for that point of view but reporting what I see happening in America today. For most Americans, a pragmatic approach toward institutions like marriage is what makes the most sense: if it doesn’t “work” as currently practiced and imagined, reimagine it and do something else. If Americans, the people among whom I live, take marriage that way then I have to deal with it whether I like it or not.

      • Richard, the issue is your redefinition of the word “sin”. This has led you to also have to redefine other terms, in particular, “forgiveness”. Your concept of “active sins” is not Biblical. Sin, as understood consistently throughout the Scriptures, is any thought or action not in accordance with God’s Law and will. (If you have Scripture references that you believe deviate from this definition, please provide them.)

        Circumstances and external forces are not sin. These include such as things as sickness, hunger, temptation, demonic possession, imprisonment, and even “childlessness”. These may (or may not) be a result (directly or indirectly) of sin, but they are not sins and therefore do not require forgiveness. Actions such as healing, casting out demons, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, releasing captives from prison do not fall in the category of forgiveness. Blessings bestowed by God, even ones that remove or alieviate suffering or improve circumstances, are very different than “forgiveness”. Forgiveness is needed only for sin, i.e., violations of God’s commandments.

        Almost all evil and evil circumstances do trace back, at least at the root level, to sin at some level through 1) the Fall of man and the Curse, 2) the actions of our adversary, the Devil, and/or 3) the hardness of man’s heart. The sins of one group often make another group miserable and oppressed. In those cases, the sin lies with the first group. God desires repentance from the first group. The first group can repent and be forgiven. The second group are oppressed. They have no need of forgiveness for the sins of the first group. They desire freedom from their oppression, but this is different than claiming that the oppression is the second group’s “active sin” that needs “forgiveness”.

        I urge you to abandon these extra-Biblical concepts of sin and forgiveness. They are particularly unhelpful in that they obfuscate the conversation since they deviate from normal definitions of the terms, and, if drawn out further, will result in misunderstandings of, at a minimum, the nature of God, Christ, and the Atonement.

        In your examples from Mark 2 and John 9, there is a clear distinction made between healing and forgiveness of sins. In Mark 2, Christ showed that He had authority to forgive the paralyzed man’s sins through the sign He provided by the action of healing the man’s paralysis. In John 9, the blind man’s sight was restored and his blindness was “so that the works of God might be displayed in him”. This was a case of healing as a sign. The man later worships Christ, so we can assume repentance and forgiveness of sins at least at that point, but this is not explicitly stated.

        Regarding Abraham’s justification (Romans 4), Paul’s point is that the process of justification hasn’t changed. Righteousness has always been imputed to us through faith. Abraham’s sins were the same types of sins that are common to all men (1 John 2:16, cf., 1 Cor, 10:13). Being prior to the Law, Abram falls into the category Paul describes in Romans 2:12-16. Not having the Law, but, by nature knowing the law, this is the basis under which Abram sinned and required justification. All have sinned and need righteousness restored (Romans 3:23,6:23). Abraham believed God and fully trusted His Promises — Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Romans 4:3, Genesis 15:6). There is nothing in the passage to suggest Abraham and Sarah’s circumstances were a form of “sin”.

        I also apologize for my misunderstanding of your intent regarding your discussion of the re-definition of marriage.

  4. Thank you, Chad, for the most cogent response to date to my question of why or why not full inclusion of LGBT within the life of the church is like the full inclusion of divorced and remarried people in the church. Unfortunately, I’m still not convinced (and you are free to just chalk it up to being my problem).

    Your post mostly focuses on the pain of divorce and I am in full agreement with you that all of our churches need to do a better job at ministering with them in their time of pain. However, divorce is not the point I wish to make. It’s divorce and remarriage to another person. Jesus said that to divorce and remarry another was to commit adultery. In Matthew’s telling of the story that you point to, Jesus allows an exception: divorce because the other partner is unfaithful. Unfortunately, in Mark’s telling, there is not exceptions. Remarriage after divorce is committing adultery period.

    One person commented to me that divorce and remarriage is a one-time sin of adultery that can be repented from as you and Russel Moore argue. However, isn’t the adultery ongoing? Every time the couple has intercourse the adultery is recommitted. And would you ask a divorced and remarried couple to remain celibate forever, as many ask gays and lesbians to remain celibate?

    Finally, divorce and remarriage is a conscious deliberate act, sometime rightly entered into and sometime trivially entered into. To the best of our knowledge, being gay or lesbian is not chosen. They are who they are and there is no changing (repairative therapies don’t work). Would you ask them to deny their love for another and never enter into meaningful, monogamous marriages with someone they love? We don’t ask that of divorced people.

    Anyway, I liked your post even if I am not fully convinced.
    May the Peace of Christ bless your ministry.
    Pastor Gary

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