This section of McLaren’s book is going to be much harder to review than those discussed up until now, due to the sensitive nature of the subject matter. McLaren’s seventh question deals with human sexuality, and in particular homosexuality and the church.
Rather than dive into the chapter, I want to start by acknowledging some things. I am no saint. Through the course of my life and dating relationships, I have done a number of things that I regret. While God has blessed me with a beautiful wife, and though I have experienced his grace in growth of holiness, I have no lofty throne from which to look down upon “sinners.” I know plenty of Christians who saved themselves for marriage; I am not one of them. I have used women for my own fulfillment, both through pornography and in relationships. While there was plenty that I did not do in the past thanks to the restraining grace of God, there was much that I did do as well. Sin is sin. I deserve rejection, death and hell as much for those sins (and ten thousand others that have nothing to do with sexuality) as any man or woman, no matter what they’ve done or who (regardless of gender) they’ve done it with. While in what follows I will be arguing against McLaren that homosexuality is in fact sinful, I want to get this established up front: I speak of sin as one for whom it has been a native country, not some far-off land where only others live.
With that out of the way, let’s look at the question at hand. McLaren starts his discussion with a scathing satire of what he calls “fundasexuality,” using the paranoid and dehumanizing language these people apply to the gay community against them. I certainly agree with the starting place of his critique. There is not question that the graceless approach many Christians took to the issue, and particularly the way they handled the AIDS issues of the 80s and 90s, is reprehensible. It has far more to do with the one holding the hammer than our savior hanging on the cross.
However, Brian then makes his positive case for the complete acceptance of homosexual lifestyles within the church, and this is where I have to disagree. His argument, while complex, rests on two fundamental arguments: the meaning of grace and anthropology. On the first count, Brian argues that the pattern of the New Testament is unconditional acceptance of the “other.” His prime example here is the Ethiopian eunuch (the “sexually other,” a “nonheterosexual”), who Philip evangelizes on the road to Damascus. For Brian, these examples demonstrate that the church should openly welcome the “sexually other” in the form of homosexuals into its ranks and refuse to view their behavior as sinful.
Leaving aside the rather glaring difference between a eunuch and homosexuality (I don’t think most men who have performance problems want to be considered nonheterosexual), there is a leap in logic that takes place here. Yes, Jesus is open and accepting of all kinds of people, and particularly those who are regarded by society as sinners and outsiders. He welcomes them in the midst of their sin, but he never leaves them there. Every person who would follow Christ in the gospels, whether rich and religious or poor and broken, is called to die before they can live. Free grace welcomes them as they are, but that same grace transforms them. It kills their sin. All those who refuse Christ’s call, whether a rich young ruler or an ungrateful leper, are proving that they are rejecting His welcome as well as His cross.
Part of every Christian’s calling is to repent of the old and put on the new. Brian is perfectly willing to issue this call himself in some situations. He readily exhorts the greedy, bigots, hypocrites, the rich, and those unconcerned with the environment to repent and put on the new life of Christ. I can only issue a hearty amen. But that’s not the end of repentance. If Scripture tells us that these things are sinful, which it does, it also tells us other things are sinful, many of which out modern ears don’t like to hear. However, it is I who am the hypocrite if I demand repentance of those I don’t like and give cheap grace to those I do.
Brian’s second argument is anthropological. Basically, he makes the case that homosexuality is a genetic predisposition, and that as such it must mean God approves of it because otherwise he wouldn’t have created people that way. This is where his earlier denial of the fall comes into start focus. I would readily agree with some of Brian’s concerns. Gay people, like straight people, are made in the image of God and so are worthy of dignity and respect. Absolutely. However, the problem is that the homosexuality issue isn’t only about anthropology (a theology of humanity), but also hamartiology (a theology of sin).
In the biblical story, there are two things which make us the way we are. The first is creation: God forms man from the dust, breathes life into him, and puts him in the garden to tend and steward it. The second is the fall: man rebels against God and his God-given mission, and so is deeply fractured and warped by sin. I agree with Brian that some people are born with homosexual desires. However, I’ve been born with a proclivity toward pride, a desire for human approval, a selfish streak a mile wide and sexual urges which can (and have) lead me to sin. Wickedness is something we’re all born into. This does mean that we should be humble and empathetic in our dealings with those with same-sex attractions, but it doesn’t mean we should assume it’s the way it’s meant to be. One cannot take half the biblical story (that God made humanity) without the other half (that humanity is far from what God made it to be). To make the leap from what we are like in our brokenness to what God intended is ultimately to make the whole affair moot – there ends up being nothing in the world God wants us to change.
While those are the two main arguments, Brian makes a third, subtler one as well, and it deeply disturbs me. Brian’s case seems to rest on a pragmatic willingness to compromise with sin. He notes that homosexuality cannot be “cured” in the naive way that some evangelicals have wanted to cure it, and thus concludes the whole effort is worthless. Then, toward the end of the chapter, he comes dangerously close to going further still. He notes the promiscuity of young people today. Without coming out and saying it, he suggests that since our efforts at keeping young Christians from sexual promiscuity don’t seem to be working, maybe we should abandon them too. I won’t lie; this makes me mad. I have born the burden of such sins – memories I wish I never had; the fallout of my own poor choices in this area. While we shouldn’t be naive or legalistic, to simply give up the fight because it’s hard is to willingly allow sin to deeply scar our children – an option I cannot condone.
So how do we as Christians biblically address homosexuality? I would suggest that the best contemporary model we have is recent way many Christians are thinking through the issue of pornography. As an evil rampant in our culture, it is not something we can take lightly. We don’t believe we can cure it with a weekend class or two. Those struggling with these lusts will face a lifetime of temptation, and at times will fall. A structure of love, accountability, grace, and repentance helps such people both live with their guilt and move forward in the process of sanctification. I do not know a single young man who has not struggled to some extent with this sin, and I know the problems it causes, but I have also experienced and have seen the power of the gospel slowly but surely bring healing and change to their lives. This same sort of posture, one of unconditional love coupled with the hard call of repentance and as much help as is humanly possible to support people in their struggle with sin, is more Christian than either Brian’s solution or the self-congratulating homophobia of those he attacks.
One final word: I mentioned at the beginning that this was a hard post to write. Part of the reason is that I have friends who are gay, and I realize some of you might read this post. I debated even addressing this question for that reason; I don’t want you to let written words on the internet overrule the very real and enjoyable conversations we have and time we spend together. I bear you no ill will. However, those of you who do know me realize that I am deeply committed to God as He is revealed in Christ. Part of me wishes I could tell you it’s all okay, that there’s no problem with the choices you have and continue to make, but that’s not an option I have. What I can tell you is that I do love you as Christ has loved me. You are a human being who bears his image, and you are no more a sinner than the rest of us. But I worship the God who comes to every sinner, cleanses them, and calls them to follow him and die to everything but Him.