jasonbwatson

August 31, 2015

Divorcing God

On August 26 Zach Hoag published a column in the Religion section of The Huffington Post entitled “Divorcing Josh Duggar’s Monster God.” In it, Hoag claims that the God that Josh Duggar, Jim Bob Duggar, Bill Gothard and others worship is a God that creates the behavior Josh Duggar has been in the news for recently–sexual molestation, addiction to pornography and extra-marital affairs. Hoag pulls no punches, writing, “I believe the root cause of Josh’s behavior is unequivocally linked to his faith and belief.” He goes on to say that Duggar worships a Monster God.

Hoag further clarifies the character of this Monster God, writing, “This Monster God promoted by both Gothard and the Duggars is a God for whom absolute power is the ultimate good – power that is uniquely delegated to men, to be especially wielded over women.” He says that this is a God of “unpredictable whim” whose “‘forgiveness’ is less about love and more about submission to his power.” He continues, blaming this Monster God for a courtship approach that “encodes power from the start” and claiming that under Duggar’s God, Josh Duagg’s wife “will exist to submit to Josh, and that is her ultimate good.”

Hoag makes the point that joining the “shame parade” over Duggar’s behavior will not help any, and with that I agree. Side note: no one seems to have any issue with the Ashley Madison site itself, nor have I heard anyone crowing about the site at any time over the last several years since it has been in existence–and it is not as if it was a secret, having been featured in TIME and other publications. Isn’t it interesting that we can “celebrate” a site designed to facilitate extra-marital affairs but then we pillory someone who avails himself of the site’s services… I am not at all suggesting that Duggar should get a free pass for his actions, and I am certainly not suggesting that an extra-marital affair is no big deal. But piling the shame on Duggar likely does more to make those piling on feel better about their own failings than anything else.

Back to the issue at hand, Hoag wants to skip the shame parade and instead initiate a divorce proceeding. Actually, two divorce proceedings would be more accurate. First, he certainly seems to suggest the Josh Duggar’s wife Anna should divorce him. It is unfortunate that there are some reports out there that Anna may be at least in part blaming herself for Josh’s behavior, but it is not unfortunate that her immediate reaction was not divorce. Part of the tearing down of marriage in America, of course, is the establishment of the position that marriage is not worth fighting for, that marriage is disposable and easily ended whenever it is hard, inconvenient or unfair. That the Duggars and Bill Gothard and many others do not take that position is absolutely not something to apologize for or hide from. The other divorce proceeding Hoag has in mind, though, is divorcing the Monster God. Here is what Hoag writes:

An unaccountable God whose unpredictable whim is the omnipotent law and the ultimate good that we worship, pray to, and promote should be promptly served divorce papers, because our freedom and true goodness is to be found beyond the bonds of that unholy marriage.

And in his place, let us join ourselves again to the One True God who is completely accountable to his own character, which is really and truly good, defined by the very character of Jesus and the fruit of Jesus’s Spirit.

To his credit, Hoag is not suggesting we divorce God, nor is he suggesting that the One True God approves of the behavior Duggar has admitted and Gothard has been accused of. Sadly, however, Hoag seems to think that the God that the Duggars and Gothard claim to worship is a different God than the One in the Bible, and I do not believe that is the case. We cannot define God by the behavior of His followers. That Duggar molested his sisters, is addicted to pornography and cheated on his wife tells us nothing about God. It may tell us a lot about Duggar, and certainly Duggar has forfeited the right to take positions of moral leadership, but that is all. There are many different views among many different people about what the Bible teaches about marriage, about gender roles, about leadership and submission. The Bible is abundantly clear and some of those things and less clear on others. That God hates divorce and desires husbands and wives to remain married until death is not in debate. Yes, there are biblical grounds for divorce, but pornography and adultery are not automatically such grounds.

I do not know enough about Hoag to know what he has in mind when he writes about “the One True God who is completely accountable to his own character.” If he means the God of Scripture, then yes, we need to “join ourselves” to Him. That, in fact, is the only thing we should do. We should not join ourselves to individuals or “Christian celebrities.” When we follow a human, regardless of who that human follows or claims to represent, we are necessarily following a fallen, flawed individual–and fallen, flawed individuals will mess up. Of course we are all fallen, flawed individuals, and we all mess up. That is part of the beauty of Scripture–that God loves us and forgives us and wants a relationship with us despite the fact that we are fallen, flawed and messed up. One of the most unique aspects of the Bible is that it tells the entire story, warts and all. Even those individuals who are hailed as champions of the faith are not presented in airbrushed perfection. Instead, Scripture tells us about their mistakes and their sins. We know Abraham lied, we know Moses had a temper, we know David committed both adultery and murder, we know Peter put his foot in his mouth on a regular basis. Those are but four examples among many. That is why we cannot cast our lots with any person; instead, we must devote ourselves to God.

Josh Duggar or Bill Gothard or anyone else messing up does not mean that God messed up. It does not mean that the positions, principles or convictions they stood for are wrong. This is the same kind of thinking that results in blaming the NRA or gun manufacturers for gun violence. I may not agree with the Duggars or Gothard on everything–in fact, I know I do not–but I suspect that if it came down to comparing notes about what we believe the Bible teaches we would probably agree more than we disagree. I do not know Zach Hoag, and perhaps if he and I did the did the same thing we would find we disagree more than we agree. I just do not know. What I do know, though, is that it is possible to believe that the Bible teaches that men and women have unique roles within the church and within marriage, and that God intends for the husband to be the head of the wife, without believing that that same God also gives the male carte blanche to do whatever he wants–pornography, adultery, molestation, or more. In fact, I will go further than that and say that it is possible to believe that God created men and women to have unique roles within marriage and the church, that He intends for the husband to be the head of the wife, and He also does does not approve of adultery, molestation or pornography.

Josh Duggar messed up. No doubt about it. Bill Gothard may have, as well. Neither is a reason to divorce the God those men have claimed to follow and serve. If Hoag or anyone else things there is a god that teaches that the behavior Duggar has admitted to is acceptable, or at least excusable, for a man, then that god should be divorced. He would be a small-g god, though, not the One True God of the Bible. God’s children mess up, but God does not. God’s children may misunderstand or misappropriate His Word, but that reflects an error in them, not in Him. Let us now allow the misbehavior of God’s children to cast aspersion on God.

August 28, 2015

Killing the Messenger

You are likely familiar with the scene in Numbers 13-14 when the twelve spies sent to scout out the Promised Land come back and give their report to the people of Israel. The report is unanimous that it is a good land but ten of the twelve spies are focused more on the fact that the land is occupied by giants. “Now way,” they say, “can we take this land. We are like grasshoppers compared to those guys!” Caleb and Joshua, though, tell the people that their focus is in the wrong place, that God has promised them this land and therefore they have nothing to worry about. God is on their side! Verses 6-9 of Numbers 14 read like this:

And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.”

Sadly, the people do not listen to Joshua and Caleb. They are not swayed by the reminder of the fact that God will surely deliver the land to them. This is a pattern with the Israelites, of course. Despite all of the incredible things they saw God do, from the ten plagues in Egypt to parting the Red Sea, from providing water from a rock to manna from the sky, and oh-so-much more, the Israelites had an incredibly short memory. Every time the going got rough they started longing for Egypt again. “Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” they ask in verse 3. “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.” In their defense, the Israelites are equal-opportunity forgetters–they also forget the terribly conditions and the way they were treated when they were in Egypt.

The incredible thing about this story, though, is that the people do more than say, “No, we’re sticking with the ten–it’s too hard and we’re not going to try.” Not satisfied with opposing those who take a stand for God, the crowd wants to kill them. Verse 10 of Numbers 14 says, “Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones.” The rest of verse 10 makes it clear that God intervened and protected Joshua and Caleb. Still, I find it striking that the Israelites could not just disagree with them, they wanted to kill them.

I think we live in a day and age when this will becoming more and more the reality. We already live in a world when taking a stand for biblical truth is unpopular, when those who speak the truth are shouted down and told to shut up. They are labeled as intolerant or having some kind of phobia. Eventually, though, I think we could find ourselves in a situation like Joshua and Caleb found themselves. Such an environment already exists in some parts of the world, and we would be naive to think it could not happen here. Freedom of speech no longer means what it used to. We already see economic repercussions for having an opinion or taking a position that is not politically correct, from city councils asking for pastor’s sermons to cake shops being find exorbitant sums for declining to bake cakes for homosexual marriage ceremonies. Non-profit organizations fear losing tax-exempt status if they stand for biblical principles. In other words, we’re already heading down this road.

Yes, I know it is a long way from fines to executions, but I am not sure it is quite as long a way as we think. Standing for the truth will become more and more expensive, I fear, and the cost may soon be much more than money.

August 25, 2015

He is God and we are not

I have addressed in this space before there fact that I think too many people have become far too casual in their attitude toward and approach toward God. I realize there are differences of opinion as to how one should dress for church, and there is certainly no biblical text which clearly presents a case for dressing one way or the other. Still, I will always be of the opinion that one should dress differently–read “better”–to go to church than to go about his or her ordinary daily activities. If there is no difference in the clothes I wear to the grocery store, the ball game, the workplace and church then there is, in my opinion, a problem. To me the casual attire worn by so many to church indicates that church is not a special place. Sure, the church building is just a building and the people there are just other people, but those people are gathered in that building for the purpose of worshiping Almighty God–and that is not to be taken lightly.

Back in June there was a daily devotion in Tabletalk entitled “To whom are we speaking?” In this entry, the author presents another side of the overly casual approach that many seem to have toward God. “Knowing the identity of the One to whom we are praying is essential. Over the past few decades, there has been a move toward reducing formality in our culture and making all of our relationships far more casual than our forefathers would have considered them. Although we could perhaps find some positives in this, it is also true that we have lost much in the process.”

I can remember when the transition began from addressing pastors as Pastor Smith to Pastor Adam. As a young person it did not feel appropriate to me, given my upbringing and the ingrained habit of not referring to adults by their first names. I have heard the arguments about leveling the playing field, not elevating themselves above others, etc., and if that is someone’s personal preference then I suppose I can get used to that. That, in other words, is not something we need to argue about or fight over. What we do need to take far more seriously, however, is our view of God.

The devotional writer suggests that we have “lost an awareness of the One whom we approach in our worship and prayer. All too often we view God as merely a friend. Now certainly it is true that Jesus has granted us the privilege of calling Him ‘friend’ (John 15:15), and we are not denying the truth that our Savior is our friend in the sense of being our loyal–indeed, our only perfectly loyal–companion. However, the problem is that we have turned the concept of the Father and Son as our friends into the Father and Son as our ‘pals,’ as persons who are on essentially the same level that we are. Our Creator, as friendly as His disposition may be to those who have been declared righteous in Christ, is not our pal; rather, He is our Lord.”

Scripture makes it clear that those who encountered messengers of God were awestruck, reverential and even afraid. Other than the time that Jesus lived on earth as a human, I can find no support in Scripture for approaching God–the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit–with anything other than reverence, awe and humility. I have met a number of “celebrities” during my life, and never have I approached one of them with the bonhomie with which I would approach my brother or a close friend. No doubt if I did so they would find it unimpressive and presumptuous on my part. Now, you may argue that that is because I do not have a relationship with those individuals and therefore I could not presume to put myself on their personal level. I could grant that point, but I believe it goes beyond that. There is a scene in the movie The American President in which Michael Douglas, playing the president, and Martin Sheen, playing his friend and chief of staff, are having a very frank and personal conversation. Douglas’s character at one point tells Sheen’s character to drop the “Mr. President” and talk to him they were old friends. Sheen’s character refuses, though, because even though they were old friends and knew each other “back when”, Douglas’s character had risen to the office of President of the United States, and that position demanded respect and certain decorum. Regardless of their lengthy friendship, there was no place for a casual buddy-buddy interaction.

The same is true of our relationship with God. Yes, He does allow us to call Him friend. Yes, He does stick closer than a brother. Yes, we have been given the privilege to go directly to God in prayer without the need for any mediator. The fact, though, remains, that He is God…and we are not. Let us not forget that. Let us approach His throne boldly but reverently, unashamedly but also unassumingly.

August 21, 2015

Reflections on Psalm 56

Filed under: Spiritual Growth — jbwatson @ 8:50 pm
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For those reading this who know me personally, please do not be alarmed by this poem. I am not feeling particularly oppressed or abandoned, I am not struggling or angry. At times, though, I find it helpful to read through Psalms and re-work their themes into my own words. I find that it helps me to more fully comprehend what the psalmist is saying, perhaps even feeling, which in turn gives me a greater appreciation for the faithfulness of God that he also remembers.

Reflections on Psalm 56

It feels at times like I’ve been run over,
Caught in the stampede of life.
Everyone rushes from one thing to the next,
Lives marked by chaos and strife.

There seems no end to those who oppose me,
Their animosity, enmity, scorn.
They have no regret for their hatred or rancor,
They seem not one bit forlorn.

At times like these I may question and fear,
Wondering where I can turn.
When I look, though, to You Lord, it is then that I find
There is still much I can learn.

What can man do to me? You gently remind me.
What have I on earth now to fear?
My tears and my heartache are known to you, Lord–
The words of my heart You do hear.

When I put my trust in my God above,
I will praise Him and not be afraid.
For I know that He keeps me wrapped up in His love,
And His faithfulness never will fade.

August 20, 2015

Finding Meaning

Last January, after a trip “back home” to the east coast my mind was wrestling with a lot of “what ifs”. The trip had taken me back to the area where, at one time, I had envisioned spending most of my life and my career. The trip had reminded me of the friends I have who are doing what I thought I was going to do with my life. Eventually the spider webs cleared, the pity party was called off and I was reminded that the Lord has a specific plan for me–even if it is not what at one time I thought it would be. I would love to say I have conquered that particular weakness, but I have not. The reality is, in my heart I wanted something bigger, better, more impressive, more meaningful that what I am doing now. That sentence in and of itself should reveal that I sometimes feel like I am not doing much where I am–something I hate to admit. I suspect, though, that you may have similar thoughts at times–wishing for more. I do not know what your more might be–it could be money, influence, possessions, recognition or any number of other things–but I know I am not the only one who sometimes wants more.

Recently similar thoughts have crept into my mind again. As the start of a new school year rolled around and the enrollment was not what I wanted it to be, it did not take long for the “I could be at a bigger school” thoughts to pop up. Again, I was really asking myself if I am doing something that matters, or at least something that matters as much as I want it to matter.

Thankfully, I recognized pretty quickly this time that my mind was going in the wrong direction and I began to think, pray and read things that would hopefully get me back on track. In some cases it was not even intentional!

The truth is that what matters in God’s eyes is often the same thing that seems to matter in the world’s eyes, and what matters is God’s eyes is often not glamorous. There is a great line in the not-so-great movie Pearl Harbor. In it, we see the story of two friends, Rafe and Danny, who survive Pearl Harbor and enter WWII as fighter pilots. Rafe is one of the top fighter pilots in America, and when America holds back on joining in the fight against the Germans, he volunteers to go help the British. When he arrives in Britain, he is being shown around the airfield by the British commander when he sees airmen shot up in the previous day’s battle. While they are walking, a messenger informs the commander that two more British planes have been shot down.
The commander turns to Rafe and asks, “Are all Yanks as anxious as you to get themselves killed?” Rafe quickly responds, “I’m not anxious to die, sir. I’m anxious to matter.”

Stephen Cole, a pastor, wrote in Leadership Journal about reading a biography of Charles Spurgeon and praying that God would bless his ministry to become like Spurgeon’s. Which, being translated, can also mean fame and accolades. One day, during the time period he was reading the book, he was jogging when he had the thought, “What about John Spurgeon?” He was Charles Spurgeon’s father. He was a pastor, and the son of a pastor, but if it were not for the world-famous ministry of his son,we never would have heard of him. Cole wrote, “As I jogged, I thought, ‘Would I be willing to serve God faithfully and raise up my children to serve him, even if I never achieved any recognition? Even if no one but my own small congregation knew my name?’”

Then I was driving down the road listening to a CD by Christian artist Rebecca Friedlander. She has a song entitled “Driving” which talks about the desire for more prominence and greater influence. It is written as someone speaking to the Lord, and the chorus is the Lord answering. After telling the Lord of her desire for a more prominent ministry, and how she might even do it “better” than those whose ministries she cites as an example, the Lord answers her and He says, “What is that to you? You’re doing what I told you to / and as long as you are pleasing me, you just leave the driving up to Me.”

Jon Bloom, in May, wrote an article that appeared on the Desiring God web site, an article entitled “You Are God’s Workmanship”. In it, he writes, “No, there is nothing boring about you and there is nothing boring about what God has given you to do today. If you are bored, remember what Chesterton said: “We are perishing for want of wonder, not want of wonders.” Wonder at this: God has prepared just for you what he’s given you to do (Ephesians 2:10). Nothing you do today is unimportant. God is keenly interested in the smallest detail. You don’t need a more wonderful calling; you may just need more strength to comprehend the wonder of his loving ways toward you (Ephesians 3:17–19).”

Just last Friday, a Stephen Altrogge article appeared on Desiring God entitled, “When God Messes With Your Life Plan”. That title got my attention, because frankly, that is exactly what I sometimes feel! In this article, Altrogge wrote this: “Are you in a place you never expected to be? Has God taken you on a path you never would have willfully chosen? Take heart. God hasn’t deserted you. He hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t made a mistake. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He knows exactly what you need and where you need to be.”

A couple of Sundays ago I was listening to RC Sproul lecture on Ecclesiastes. The emphasis of Sproul’s lectures was on the meaning of life, the only way in which we can find significance, and the importance of what we do and how we live right now. Sproul referenced his column in Tabletalk, the one that is entitled “Right Now Counts Forever”, and he explained that there are two historical, secular views of the importance of our actions: right now counts not at all, or right now counts only for right now. Ultimately, he said, those are really the same thing—-because if right now only counts right now, it doesn’t really count. However, we know that our actions, our behaviors, our influences will have lasting meaning.

“We are all concerned with the lasting significance of life,” Sproul said. “Any hope of finding significance in your life that is limited to this world is an exercise in vanity (futility).” But, “We live in time and for eternity.”

What we do-—regardless of what position we may hold—-what each of us does this year, and every year, will count forever. One way or the other, it will make an impact. A lasting impact. My prayer is that I will continue to surrender my own selfish goals and schemes and be content allowing the Lord to use me where I am, or wherever He would have me be. May that be your prayer, as well.

August 11, 2015

Would you jump too?

You may have heard or read already about City Church in San Francisco announced this past March that the church would “no longer discriminate based on sexual orientation,” by which the church meant that sexually active gay and lesbian couples in homosexual marriages would be permitted to become members of the church. This was a reverse of position for the church, which had taught the church “was holding and would hold to the historic Christian view of homosexuality,” according to a report in the July 11, 2015 issue of WORLD. This change “shocked” church members and “surprised” a group of some 40 pastors who subsequently sent a letter to Fred Harrell, the pastor of City Church, questioning the process by which the decision was made as well as the decision itself. I have written enough here at other times on the biblical position on homosexuality that I need not elaborate on it here, and that is not the main point of this post. Rather, I want to consider one of the reasons cited in the WORLD report for the City Church position change.

Marvin Olasky reported that in October 2014 City Church elders met and a majority of them decided to accept a gay man as a member of the church without any requirement that he remain celibate. However, the individual did not join the church and, according to Olasky, “almost all church members remained unaware of the imminent change.” It was in January that Harrell pushed the elders to make that vote the church’s official position, and the five elders present at the meeting agreed. Here is where my concern heightened. Olasky reports that there were “two developments” in January that prompted some at City Church to believe the time had come for the church to change its position on homosexuality in general and homosexual church membership in particular. What were those developments?

First, “two big evangelical churches in other cities–GracePointe in Nashville and EastLake in Seattle–announced they would now admit non-celibate gays.” That is the extent of Olasky’s commentary on that motivator and I do not know anything further about the impact that may have had on the City Church position change, but this rationale smacks of the age-old parent-to-child question, “If all of your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?” The decision by any church to compromise the teachings of Scripture should be an impetus for other churches to shore up their own position and ensure their own adherence to the Truth, not an excuse to join in and throw out the biblical instruction. This is why Paul instructed that believers need to test what they hear in church against the Bible, so that they are not misled by the “position of the moment” being espoused by any teacher or church when that position is contrary to Scripture. (This is also why, by the way, men literally gave their lives to see through the translation of the Bible into language the people could read for themselves–so that churches and church leaders could not mislead the people by ignoring parts of the Bible or claiming Scripture said something it does not say).

Second, Olasky reports, “An article in The Guardian on hip Bay Area churches focused on new entries: Reality, Epic, C3, and The Table. City Church didn’t receive even a mention.” Sadly, this too is an incredibly childish motivation. This reads like one child seeing that another was getting more attention than he, so he decided to throw a tantrum or do something outrageous in order to ensure that all attention shifted back his way. Churches that concern themselves with being labeled “hip” by any publication, much less a secular one that tends to lean to the left, are clearly churches whose priorities are in the wrong place. I do not know how much connection there is between the article and the church decision, but it troubles me deeply to think of any church suddenly embracing any position that contradicts Scripture even in small part in order to attract media attention or improve some kind of hip-ness rating. Jesus said that the world will hate His followers because the world hated Him first. Peter said that followers of Christ are blessed when they are insulted or persecuted for the name of Christ. I am unable to find anyplace in Scripture that commands, encourages or even suggests that Christians are to seek out the approval of the world.

City Church was not the first church to flip-flop on the issue of homosexual marriage or homosexual church membership and it certainly will not be the last. Anytime a church, a pastor or teacher or any individual Christian, for that matter, does a 180-degree change on any position to which he held previously there needs to be careful evaluation and examination of why the position or conviction was changed and whether or not that change was truly informed by Scripture–and a proper interpretation and understanding of Scripture, at that. Sometimes there may be legitimate reasons and sometimes the change will be one that needed to be made. When the change results in a new position that is clearly contradicted in Scripture, though, Christians need to take a stand and call the position change what it is–error, false teaching, heresy. When the change is motivated by a desire to follow the crowd or get back into the in-group, not only should the position change be questioned, so to should the very church making the change. Any church that changes a foundational position of the church’s faith for such shallow and temporal reasons will surely have other, far deeper problems.

August 3, 2015

Impossible to Dismiss

On June 8, Eastern University professor and well-known Christian speaker Tony Campolo released a statement in which he urged the church “to be more welcoming.” That is a very nice-sounding euphemism for what he really did, which is “call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.” Campolo is no stranger to more liberal positions within the church, but this endorsement contradicts what Campolo himself has written in the past and is based on, well, nothing really other than Campolo’s stance that holding to the biblical position on homosexuality is not effective and does not demonstrate the love of Christ. He said that his position change came about after “countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil.” I am in no position to doubt or question the sincerity of that statement. I am, however, willing to question what Campolo was studying and/or praying–and with whom he was conversing–that his “countless hours” brought him to this conclusion.

In 1988 Campolo wrote a book entitled 20 Hot Potatoes Christians Are Afraid to Touch. I am not sure how well it sold, but I happened to have a copy of it on my bookshelf, so I took a look. I suspected that even in 1988 the issue of homosexuality would have been one of the hot potatoes, and I was right; the ninth chapter of the book is called “Does Christianity have any good news for homosexuals?” In that chapter Campolo calls for believers to get over their homophobia and reach out to the gay community in love. I cannot disagree that Christians are to show love to homosexuals. Campolo also wrote, “I am not asking that Christian people gloss over biblical teachings or ignore their convictions that homosexual acts are sin.” Even in 1988 Campolo was insisting that some homosexuals are born with their homosexual inclinations and that it is not a choice they are making. (Interestingly enough he stated that this was much more likely true for homosexual males than females, that the research into homosexual female behavior was “much more confusing” and that female homosexual activity was much more likely to be the result of “sociological/psychological causes”). Still though, despite making a number of claims that would tend to take a relaxed stance on homosexuality, Campolo ultimately came down on the side of Scripture and its clear teaching that homosexual behavior is a sin. For example, Campolo wrote:

[P]ersonally I hold to a belief that homosexual behavior is wrong, regardless of what motivates it. I hold to this position not only because I disagree with my homosexual friends about this particular scripture [Romans 1:26-27], but also because for centuries the consensus of church leaders and theologians has been that homosexual behavior is against the will of God. I believe that our contemporary reading of Scripture should be informed by the traditions of Christendom. The traditional interpretations of Scripture should not be considered infallible (else there would have been no Protestant Reformation) but they should be taken seriously.

Campolo then went on to explore the position that Paul was writing, in I Corinthians 6 and I Timothy 1 about pederasty, not about a mutually and consensually chosen relationship. Yet, he still followed that up with this statement: “Please remember that I do think that homosexual behavior is contrary to the will of God.” In his nest Tevye-esque attempt to explore what might be “on the other hand,” though, he next posits that the New Testament does not give nearly as much attention to homosexual behavior as it does to other sins like neglecting the poor, that Jesus never taught on homosexuality, and that “the fact that homosexuality has become such an overriding concern for many contemporary preachers may be more a reflection of the homophobia of the church than it is the result of the emphasis of Scripture.”

Shifting back to “the other hand”, Campolo speculates on the possibility of homosexuals living in celibate covenants, suggesting that such relationships would be possible. He wrote that he refrained from calling them marriages, though, because, by his way of thinking, marriage “implies a sexually consummated relationship” while a covenant “connotes a lifelong commitment of mutual obligation which does not necessitate sexual intercourse.” Just a paragraph later, then, Campolo writes, “On the one hand, our obedience to the teachings of the Bible and the traditions of the church necessitate that we withhold approval of homosexual intercourse. Even if the New Testament case against homosexual intercourse is not as pronounced as some people think it is, there are still passages in the Old Testament that speak directly to the issue which I find impossible to dismiss (see Lev. 18:22, 20:13).” Finally, Campolo wraps up the chapter with a proposal for some sort of homosexual Christian communities in which homosexuals could live together, be honest about their orientation and make special efforts to encourage one another to live lives that glorified Christ, all while simultaneously “holding in check” through “loving and prayerful support” the “temptation to consummate sexual urges”.

If, after reading that, you’re thinking Campolo may have some kind of philosophical/theological version of bipolar disorder, you’re not far off. Quite simply, in his 1988 writings, Campolo wanted badly to affirm homosexuals. He believed that homosexuals needed to be shown the love of Christ and be treated with love by Christians, and that is correct. However, it is clear that he was trying to find every possible way to affirm homosexuals and provide explanations for homosexuality as well as opportunities for living a life that celebrated homosexuality while remaining chaste. (His homosexual communities is an incredibly bizarre notion, in my opinion; try, for example, putting a bunch of males and females together in a community and ask them to affirm the fact that they are sexually attracted to each other and then also encourage each other not to have sex. Let me know how that works out….) Still, despite his clear desire to affirm homosexuality, Campolo in 1988 was not willing to ignore the clear biblical teaching that homosexual behavior is sin. Now, though, 27 years later, he has changed his mind and yielded to what I suspect he wanted to do back then–said that, despite the biblical teaching, we should celebrate, embrace and welcome sexually active homosexuals who have married.

So how does Campolo justify this new position without simply saying, “The Bible is wrong?”

First of all, he re-defines marriage. He acknowledged in his June 8 statement that many Christians agree with Augustine that the sole purpose of marriage is procreation, which would “negate the legitimacy of same-sex unions.” Others, though, including Campolo himself, believe there is “a more spiritual dimension of marriage.” This dimension is of greater importance than procreation, indeed is of “supreme importance” and includes the belief “that God intends married partners to help actualize in each other the ‘fruits of the spirit,’ which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, often citing the Apostle Paul’s comparison of marriage to Christ’s sanctifying relationship with the Church.” Marriage, Campolo said, should always be “primarily about spiritual growth.”

Should marriage promote spiritual growth? Of course. Husbands and wives should encourage each other, support each other, pray for each other, even lovingly rebuke each other at times. However, that cannot be the primary purpose of marriage because that could be the primary purpose of any number of relationships. Indeed, it is the primary purpose of the church and the relationships between believers within the body of Christ. Procreation and the raising of children is what sets marriage apart from any other relationship. Remember, in 1988 Campolo said that marriage “implies a sexually consummated relationship.” God designed the male and female to fit together in the physical act of sex and to enjoy sex within the marriage relationship. Redefining marriage as Campolo suggests not only diminishes the importance of procreation and parenting but it necessarily eliminates the biblical teaching that sex is to be limited to marriage. Campolo may suggest that is not what he said, but it is the logical outcome of what he said. If the chief thing that sets marriage apart from any other relationship is no longer the biblically-approved sexual relationship then how do we confine sex at all? Does sex not then become just a physical activity that can be enjoyed between any two individuals who so desire to engage in consensual sexual activity?

Second, Campolo, like so many others who have flipped their position on homosexual activity, was swayed by seeing “so many gay Christian couples whose relationships work in much the same way” as the relationship Campolo has with his wife. In other words, because there are homosexual couples who seem to love, support, encourage and aid each other, it must be okay for them to marry.

To his credit, Campolo acknowledges that he might be wrong: ” Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.” He concludes his statement, though, by suggesting that this issue of homosexuality is much like previous positions held by sincere believers who claimed biblical support for keeping women out of teaching roles in the church, prohibited divorced and remarried individuals from being part of a church fellowship and even the practice of slavery. This, of course, hints at some of the ways in which Campolo disagrees with some believers, since there are still plenty of Christians who do not believe the Bible permits women to be in positions of leadership within the church, including the office of pastor or elder. I am one of those individuals. There are still plenty of believers who believe that divorced and remarried individuals are welcome to be part of a church but cannot hold leadership positions if the divorce took place after becoming a Christian and for any reason other than those that are biblically permissible. I am one of those individuals. Most importantly, however, Campolo seems to ignore the fact that while there were some individuals who used Scripture to support the practice of slavery, there is nowhere where the Bible explicitly states that slavery is okay. Indeed, it was belief in the biblical teaching that all humans have dignity and worth, that all humans are created in the image of God, that lead so many of those who opposed slavery to fight for its abolition. The Bible does, though, explicitly state that homosexual behavior is an abomination and a sin. It does not matter how many nice, loving homosexual couples Campolo knows, and it does not matter how he or anyone else wants to redefine marriage–there is simply no way to change that fact. Indeed, I will end by quoting the 1988 Tony Campolo in opposition to the 2015 version: “There are still passages in the Old Testament that speak directly to the issue which I find impossible to dismiss.” Me too.

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