Tom Oden, writing in his book Requiem way back in 1995, explains how it happens.

The first step is always a study committee.

In response to claims for moral legitimization of behaviors widely thought displeasing to God, each of the mainline denominations has dutifully appointed elaborate study commissions to report back to the general legislative body on how the church might respond to this form of sexual orientation, practice, and advocacy. (152)

If the first study committee comes back with a traditional reading of the text, or if the legislative body dismisses the committee’s progressive interpretation, you can always assign another study committee amidst outcries that the recalcitrant conservatives suffer from “homophobia and reactionary stupidity” (153).

And if the traditional view cannot be overturned right away, try dismissing the whole controversy by telling people (with no small amount of chronological snobbery) that saner Christians understand this is nothing worth fighting over.

The fact that homosexual practice is not a weighty moral matter was asserted by the United Methodist Sexuality Report as a “consensus among Christian ethicists,” yet without any evidence to support this curious assertion. All the conspicuous Christian teachers who have resisted same-sex intercourse (John Chrysostom, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and other consensual ecumenical teachers) are weighed in the debate less heavily than selected modern proponents of moral relativism and utilitarian permissivism. (153)

The next step is admonish “the people of God to wait for a firm ‘scientific consensus’” on the matter (154).

Then some leading lights in the denomination can offer new exegetical avenues for avoiding the traditional understanding of familiar texts. Three evasions in particular are quite popular.

The first evasion is that the normative moral force of all biblical texts on same-sex intercourse may be explained away by their cultural context. This leads to the conclusion that any statement in the Bible can be reduced to culturally equivocal ambiguity and indeterminacy on the premise of cultural relativism…

The second evasion hinges upon a strung out interpretation on Romans 1:26-27…

The third evasion argues that when Genesis 1:27 declares that God created male and female, the text has no normative significance for how sexual behavior is to be understood, since it is merely a distinction with no further moral meaning. (154-55)

If all else fails, the final step is to announce triumphantly and with a terrific celebration of grace that “Christ is, in an amoral fashion, the end of the law” and charge others with legalism if they don’t share in your antinomianism (156).

Sadly, Oden’s warning has been prescient. With a lesbian minister installed in an RCA classis in New Jersey, more than twenty open and affirming congregations, a prominent professor at our more conservative seminary publishing a new revisionist book on homosexuality, and a number of overtures heading to Synod asking for new study committees, we in the RCA find ourselves in the middle of so much that Oden lamented.

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63 thoughts on “How Denominations Come to Tolerate, Accept, and then Endorse Homosexuality”

  1. Faithworks says:

    @Ras-excellent points. When a person wants consolation for sinful choices, they will construct a god to suit themselves (made in their image) and take only the attributes of God that will support the God they want, without full consideration to the whole council God. This is Idolatry.

  2. Paul Janssen says:

    Ooofff. Mote/Log in spades.

  3. Faithworks says:

    @Around the Horn. “The first step is always a study committee.” How true, how true!

  4. Austin says:

    No worries, these denominations that accept what the Bible clearly calls sin almost always die off. These are dying or dead congregations of people who know their church is a bad joke.

  5. Marsisme says:

    An interesting book for all those who have appealed to logic and debate: The Geography of Thought by Richard Nisbett (Free Press – Div of Simon & Schuster). To say the least, it will give you much to ponder. A necessary read for evangelicals.

  6. Andy says:

    @Austin: fully agree. a pity they aren’t prosecuted for false advertising, as jesus has well and truly left the building. a pity that heretical ‘churches’ don’t close sooner

  7. Matt says:

    The whole point of this article (and most of the comments) has been that as soon as churches start to study issues related to homosexuality they end up becoming much more open and affirming of gay people who decide to enter committed partnerships.

    Hmmmmmm

    So what you’re saying is that when most Christians sit down to actually study this issue they decide that an absolutist position that opposes same-sex relationships in all situations is indefensible.

    Hmmmmmm

    Don’t you think that should tell us something?

  8. Paul Janssen says:

    Why yes, Matt. It explains why so many people say “theres no need for dialogue!” “We don’t need to talk about it!” . . . . . because of exactly what you say. “Transformation” is valid, as long as it means what I want it to mean, right? If I’m a revisionist, then I want folks who are traditionalists to open their hearts to the Spirit so they can be transformed (i.e., so they can start thinking the way I interpret the Scriptures.) If I’m a traditionalist, I want revisionists to be transformed (i.e., so they can start thinking the way I interpret the Scriptures). What I miss from the traditionalists — which I hear openly from revisionists — is the fact that BOTH sides are interpreting the Scriptures. That’s an argument Brownson makes in his book. He knows he’s interpreting, and he openly admits it. But what I hear from traditionalists is “I’m just saying exactly what the Bible says.”

  9. Austin says:

    Matt, that isn’t at all what the article or Kevin’s post above says. How about some intellectual honesty?

  10. Greg Haislip says:

    I used to be gay, but over SEVEN years ago Jesus set me FREE! I am now free from the sin of homosexuality. Marriage is between 1 man and 1 woman according to the King James Bible (Genesis 2:24) so I am now married and my wife is pregnant by me. My wife used to be a victim of domestic violence in her first marriage, but Jesus set her FREE.

  11. Matt says:

    @Austin,

    It’s certainly possible that I misunderstood the gist of the article and comments, but I can assure you I wasn’t trying to intentionally misrepresent them.

    If the point of the article wasn’t to affirm that study groups lead inevitably to apostasy then what was the point?

    The post seems to lay out a number of scenarios:

    • If the first study committee comes back with a traditional reading of the text,…
    • if the legislative body dismisses the committee’s progressive interpretation,…
    • if the traditional view cannot be overturned right away, …

    but all the scenarios “start with a study group” and end with “denominations com[ing] to tolerate, accept, and then endorse homosexuality.”

    In this context, I took the phrase “The first step is always a study committee” to imply a certain inevitability, a slippery slope that true Christians would want to avoid because it leads inextricably to heresy.

    Other commenters also seemed drawn to the phrase’s evocative power, with three commenters quoting the phrase verbatim.

    Now you’ve got me curious. How do you interpret the post?

  12. Matt says:

    @ Greg

    It’s cool if you’re happy, but it seems really curious to me that such a high percentage of people who claim that they “used to be gay” get paid to say it.

    Suffice it to say, I wasn’t surprised to see the “Giving” tab on the “exgay” page you linked to your comment.

    Not a bad gig, if you can get it.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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