Introduction

I’ve managed to provoke a wide range of responses and emotions in my recent post on homosexual behavior and the human conscience. The response isn’t altogether surprising. It’s representative of the climate and world we live in. As many evangelical leaders have pointed out, we’re at the point now where there’s no longer any dispassionate position on homosexuality. You can mention it once in 20 years like Louie Gigglio, or you can be a former homosexual who only sings and preaches the grace of Christ like Donnie McClurkin, and you will find yourself vilified for opposing this behavior. It’s a time for God’s people to be full of grace and truth, sacrificing neither and proclaiming both.

I’m now in southern Africa, where internet connections and data speed are at great premium. So I’m trying to respond to some of the issues raised in the comments thread before disappearing from social media for about two weeks. I don’t want anyone to think I’ve shouted “fire!” in a crowded theater only to run away without giving an account. But this will have to briefly suffice before beginning ministry here in Africa.

The Original Argument in Brief

Since a number of people misrepresented or misinterpreted me and my post, I thought it would be helpful to state the argument in brief. No one commented on the lengthy discussion of how the rhetorical campaign for “gay rights” developed. Rather, most everyone focused on my call to speak in ways that address the human conscience. Here’s an outline of the thinking in that section:

1. The world suppresses the knowledge of God and righteousness (conscience) in unrighteousness. That’s the plain argument of Romans 1:18-32. Specific to our discussion, Romans 1 describes homosexuality as a shameful leaving of the natural use of the body and is the only NT passage that addresses lesbian behavior in the same way.

2. This suppressed, weakened, and distorted conscience means at least three things. First, such a person who suppresses the truth in unrighteousness does not know God and part of the judgment of God being revealed is the “giving them over to a reprobate mind” or distorted conscience (Rom. 1:18, 24, 26, 28). Second, the world’s suppression of the conscience means conversations about homosexuality need to return to first principle questions about sexual behavior that awaken or challenge the conscience so that people would not be lost. Third, without these first principle consciousness-raising questions, public debates about homosexuality, “gay marriage,” sex education curriculum, and so on will be based on secondary factors (at best) or be dishonest in its comments on the sexual behaviors in question (at worst). Without real discussion of the behaviors in question we’re in danger of enacting public policy that may be either amoral or immoral.

3. It is a Christian duty, especially as pastors, preachers, evangelists and counselors, to awaken the conscience so that both the ugliness of sin and the beauty of redemption in Christ may be seen and hopefully responded to in repentance and faith. No man with a dead conscience can live to God. If we want to see our family, friends, neighbors and coworkers saved in Christ, our ministry to them must necessarily include comments on sin that awaken their particular need and conscience.

The Criticisms Offered

In the lengthy comments thread that followed, a range of criticisms were offered. I’ve grouped them into four broad categories that I hope sufficiently capture the replies.

1. Pragmatic Critique: Speaking of sexual acts in the way I propose is likely to be ineffective in awakening the conscience or winning people over.

2. Critique of Conscience: Some people’s conscience will not find homosexual behavior objectionable, so preferences, tastes or “disgust” will not establish any agreed upon morality.

3. Hypocrisy Critique: Some people indicated that heterosexuals engage in the same sexual behaviors in greater numbers than homosexuals. They suggested that the sexual behaviors in question could not be wrong since heterosexuals practice them or that my argument against those behaviors amounts to hypocrisy.

4. Ad Hominems: Some people did not respond to the argument but attacked me instead. In their view, simply writing the things I wrote in the post demonstrates that I am “mean-spirited,” “bigoted” and “oppressive” toward people with same-sex attraction.

My Responses to the Objections

1. Pragmatic Critique. Perhaps it is true that what I recommend would be ineffective. But two things ought to be noticed in the resultant exchange.

First, I never offered these questions about sexual behavior as an end or a final statement but as a beginning to conversation and a return to first principles. I fully agree with all those who say appeals to conscience are not enough to carry the day. Fully agree. But I stand by my contention that the entire debate at a minimum (there’s much more involved to be certain) involves some public statement about the moral goodness and rightness of the acts themselves. For at minimum that’s what we’re being asked to “accept” or “approve” in all these debates. So, we ought not define morality without actually discussing the specific acts involved. We wouldn’t adopt any public policy without due consideration of the morality it enshrines. Who, for example, could pronounce prisoner interrogations “moral” without discussion of specific interrogation practices like waterboarding, torture, solitary confinement, and the like? Can we decide if our wars are just without some moral reflection on the use of drones? Certainly not. The same is true of debates regarding homosexuality.

Second, we ought not miss the fact that the substantial part of the comments thread did in fact focus on sexual behavior and its morality. Folks showed up on both sides of the issue and made their case. That’s the first order debate to have. That’s the debate that precedes and frames any subsequent debate about benefits, rights, and protections. Those who said this “will not work” ought to consider whether significant parts of the comments thread don’t prove that it can and does work.

2. Insufficient Conscience Critique: It is true that not everyone goes “yuck” at the description of the sexual acts in question. I regret using “gag reflex” as shorthand for the conscience’s reaction. I regret it for two reasons. First, though I contend abhorrence is one legitimate reaction of the conscience, it is not the only reaction. Second, using that colloquial expression was too liable to be misunderstood, misused and hurtful. Some people intentionally misused my words, falsely saying I called people “disgusting.” I did no such thing. But I do see how such a loosely defined and provocative term can be hurtful—not only to my cause, but more importantly to people. For writing in this way, I offer my sincerest apology to every reader, not just those hurt.

Here’s what I need to say regarding the conscience’s reactions now. First, reactions of conscience are not equivalent to taste preferences as some contended. Reactions of conscience involve moral reasoning while matters of taste may be little more than amoral preferences or signals from taste buds. Second, reactions of conscience may vary, just as some correctly pointed out. There is repulsion, but there is also guilt, shame, and approval among others. This is why I completely agree that these reactions cannot themselves establish morality. But they do, if we’re sensitive to conscience, call us to investigate moral questions, which was my basic point.

Let me use an example. A virgin wife on her wedding night and a 15-year old girl may both feel deep shame with their first sexual encounter. This is not uncommon. Shame, a reaction of the conscience, suggests to them something morally wrong has happened. But are they both wrong? What is “wrong” in their cases? Should they even feel shame? Is the conscience working properly? A host of moral questions arise. The teenager, perhaps under relentless pressure from a slightly older boyfriend, might feel both legitimate and illegitimate shame. She has willingly committed sexual sin, thus some of her shame is legitimate. But some of her shame feelings may be illegitimate because she shoulders guilt that rightly belongs to the boyfriend. The wife’s shame may be entirely illegitimate given her sexual acts occurred in the proper bounds of marriage. Perhaps she had an upbringing that made all sex and talk of sex taboo. But she has not, in fact, done anything wrong and need not feel shame. Her conscience needs to be informed by better moral reasoning—moral reasoning best grounded in Scripture.

In the comment thread, it seems to me that nearly everyone’s conscience reacted to those explicit descriptions used in the last post. Some were repulsed at the descriptions. Some reacted with “moral outrage” that I would ever write such things. But the fact that we had different and strong moral reactions illustrates the need to have first principle discussions. It also reveals that the consciences of some (you decide who) need to be informed morally. But if we cannot raise and answer these moral questions then it’s likely we’re being merely political in our concern or we’re afraid we can’t answer the questions credibly enough to move from visceral reactions of conscience (pro or con) to defensible moral positions that the entire public must adopt and protect no matter their own private conscience. Once again, this is what the public debate about homosexuality is at least about: what is moral and whose morality should be enshrined in public policy and practice for all to obey. We’re not simply creating space for people to do what they do in private quarters; we’re debating whether it should be the law and morality of the land.

3. Hypocrisy: Straight people do it, too. Frankly, I think sexual confusion in fallen culture is widespread. It’s even widespread in the church. And sometimes where the church is clearest morally and biblically, it still experiences methodological confusion when it comes to engaging a sexually confused world. Even when we’re clear about some moral issue, we do not automatically “get it right” when we engage actual persons who are still fighting or experiencing that confusion.

But just as we don’t want to base public morality on “gut reactions” alone, so we don’t want to base public morality on the prevalence of a behavior. In citing these things as practices in heterosexual relationships, we’re only giving evidence of how widespread sexual confusion is and how weak the conscience is in such matters. If these practices are wrong, they are wrong among heterosexuals, too. Nothing in my post should be interpreted as saying heterosexuals as a rule have their sexual lives in moral order. The evidence is much to the contrary and it raises its own moral questions, too.

But, there’s a tremendously important difference to note between heterosexuals and homosexuals who practice these things. Heterosexuals are not insisting that anyone treat their private practice as public policy. In the debate about homosexual behavior, it seems many of our gay neighbors want to say simultaneously, “Stay out of my bedroom” and “Make our acts acceptable and normal.” That, in my opinion, is where the hypocrisy occurs in this debate. Holding that these behaviors are private while insisting on their public acceptance amounts to either a glaring inconsistency, hypocrisy, or politics. And once again, we cannot and should not establish public morality on so incomplete and potentially dishonest a basis.

4. Personal Attack: “Thabiti, you’re a mean bigot.” I trust everyone sees that such statements are not arguments at all. It’s a personal attack. It barely deserves answering, except that these statements reveal other important realities about where the debate stands in the culture.

First, some want to “win” this discussion by bullying. Most of these folks chose not to answer the basic question—a question that could be answered in as little as two letters. Instead, they chose to try personal attacks. We see this kind of thing all around us—from Gigglio to McClurkin to the disgraceful and evil acts of violence and bullying committed against people with same-sex attraction. I condemn it all as unworthy of people made in God’s image. Nowadays, many of the victims have become the bullies and many well-meaning supporters have joined them in their bullying and prejudice. Without question Christians have blown it and acted sinfully in our encounter with homosexuals. But let’s not pretend it doesn’t happen both ways, and let’s not be so “morally outraged” we become what we say we hate. Let’s condemn this kind of behavior everywhere we find it.

Second, such statements should never come from Christians. I found reading vitriol from brothers and sisters both ironic and sad. Many of my brethren claimed they would be like Jesus in their love for persons with same-sex attraction (completely right and commendable) while they spewed invective in the public sphere. We all have inconsistencies in our walks with Christ and are growing by His grace in conformity to His character. But before we launch into personal attack, we should remember that Jesus never reviled in return (1 Pet. 2:23) and taught the disciples to turn the other cheek when mistreated. If we emulate Jesus in His love, we ought also emulate Him in His patient perseverance of mistreatment.

Third and finally, it seems to me the charge of bigotry and the like aims primarily to shut down debate and silence opposition with social stigma and epithets. So we need to ask ourselves: What does it mean for a “free and democratic society” to systematically silence the voice of dissent? It means we’re in danger of no longer being “free” or truly “democratic.” Those will be far bigger losses than any gains in homosexual rights can justify. For if we lose those things, we lose the very weapon for gaining and ensuring rights themselves. We have to have this debate in a manner that upholds our best ideals and ensures genuine participation from all.

Conclusion

That’s longer than I intended, but I wanted to give some attention to these four categories of critique. I hope it’s helpful in some way. Because I don’t have internet access in order to moderate and respond to comments, I ask two things. If you comment, please keep it civil and respectful. Disagreement—even strong disagreement—has always been welcomed on this blog and it is welcome now. But let’s disagree without being disagreeable. Also, if you comment, please be patient in awaiting any reply from me. I’m not ignoring you. I’m just not able to access an internet connection in reliable and timely ways.

One last thing. The views and opinions expressed on this blog are mine. They do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of any other blogger at TGC, of any member of the council of TGC, or of TGC as a whole. I write this to make it clear that if you find this problematic, the blame is my own. Direct them to me. The efforts of some to smear TGC are both unnecessary and uncharitable.

The Lord bless us all and grant us the light of His glory and grace.

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Comments:


93 thoughts on “On Homosexuality and the Conscience: Responding to Criticisms”

  1. Andy says:

    “Stay out of my bedroom” and “Make our acts acceptable and normal.” That, in my opinion, is where the hypocrisy occurs in this debate. Holding that these behaviors are private while insisting on their public acceptance amounts to either a glaring inconsistency, hypocrisy, or politics.”

    And yet you don’t have the heart of Christ, are a hater, bigot, intolerant, spend time kicking the family dog, take balloons away from little kids, or are just plain mean if you don’t completely and wholeheartedly agree with those who are pro these behaviors.

    Good post Thabiti.

    1. Joe says:

      But it’s not clear that anyone petitioning for marriage-equality is insisting on “public acceptance of private acts”. Why do some many people jump from “gay” to thinking or talking about gay sex? It’s creepy.

      Lets make it clear: Barack and Michelle Obama are a world famous married couple who have two children. Does that information automatically prompt anyone to start thinking or talking about their sex life?

      (BTW: I believe all sex outside of traditional marriage is sinful)

  2. Matt says:

    And yet somehow you failed to address the most serious and damning error of all. In all your posts about homosexuality you have never once, as far as I can tell in a search of your site, addressed the cross or the forgiveness of Christ.

    The fact is that in emphasizing a “gag reflex” you have spoken only to those who already agree with you – it does not change the minds of those who don’t. For those who agree with you, yes, it adds, in their minds, weight to their opposition toward “homosexuality”

    But here is the effect it has – and the only effect it has.

    I am homosexual. I am also a virgin and will remain so till I die because I believe that God reserved sex for marriage between a man and a woman. (you can argue all you want that I am not “really homosexual” since I don’t do the things you find so repulsive. but the reality is that, outside the Church, “homosexual” was invented to mean a person sexually attracted to his or her own gender regardless of behavior. And that definition has never changed nor wavered.)

    So, when I was 14 and a teacher suggested to my father that I might be gay and might needs some help, my father, instead of talking to me, simply stopped touching me. For 35 years my father has not given me a friendly pat on the back, a brief touch on the shoulder or a slug on the arm.

    Now I don’t think he did this on purpose by any means. I’m not even sure he himself is aware of how much he withdrew from me. But he did have a gag reflex toward homosexuality. And all he had ever heard was how perverted and disgusting homosexuals are. But he had NEVER heard a pastor speak nor demonstrate forgiveness toward homosexuals. So he did not know how to do it. He did not know how to show love to a gay son. And for this I directly blame religious leader such as yourself who proclaim a gag reflex toward homosexuality but do NOT say a single word about forgiving us. Pastors like you took my Dad from me when I needed him most. And for this, yes, I hate you.

    (And, by the way,the idea the heterosexuals do not seek public acceptance of their private behavior is bull crap – what do you call all those movies, music, books and advertisements where sex is almost blatantly in your face if not “public acceptance”)

    Frankly, I don’t really care if the country approves same sex marriage or not. As it stands, as far as I can tell, pastors like you figure people like me have sex, find love, and go to hell or abstain from sex, repent and be ashamed of our feelings and go to hell anyway.

    Am I wrong about you? Then prove it. Do your job as a pastor and talk about forgiveness. Real forgiveness, not some form of forgiveness that is so qualified by “if this” and “if that” so that it becomes merely works righteousness. Because it seems the only forgiveness straight pastors today offer is something along the lines of: “if you are really repentant and feel really bad about yourself and want to die because you are so ashamed the maybe, someday, Jesus will take you to heaven to live forever with all those people who found you disgusting on earth.”

    I dare you, try talking about forgiveness for homosexuals.

    I bet you won’t.

    1. Are you serious? It’s not hard to find him talking about forgiveness. Just google it: “Thabiti Anyabwile forgiveness”

      This accusation eminds me of the reality-challenged post I saw yesterday accusing him of being anti-sex, not more than a few weeks after he finished a significant series preaching through the Song of Songs. He’d just spent weeks talking about the goodness of sex in marriage.

      And much of the criticism on this has complained that the Gospel Coalition is so focused on political stuff that they never talk about some other thing, when a simple glance through the site in almost all of those cases, or even of this blog, would likely have turned up far more discussions of whichever issue they were pointing to than there would have been on anything political.

      It’s fine to challenge the arguments here, especially if you’re going to get them right first before criticizing them (but from what I’ve seen very few are willing to do that), but don’t take it out of the context of what Thabiti Anyabwile and the Gospel Coalition in general are up to in ways that just won’t add up, which is putting gospel issues first, and that is something they do in the vast majority of their online material, even if critics don’t want to recognize that because the few things they bother to pay attention to might be on less-central issues.

    2. Ryan says:

      Matt,
      I hear a lot of painful longing in your post. You say that your father, upon finding out that you were gay, stopped showing physical affection towards you and did not know how to respond to a gay son. Since that then you have been left longing for such affection, but finding none. I am genuinely grieved at your father’s response to your own temptations and affirm with you that his response was wrong. I hope and pray that God will convict him on his sin and bring him to repentance before Him and you.

      You also point to the importance of true, gospel, free gift in response to faith and repentance forgiveness in the discussion of homosexuality. I am completely on board with you on that. With that said, I think you may be forgetting that an awareness of the gravity of sin is necessary before a person will be brought to repentance. Thabiti is trying to awaken an awareness to the gravity of the sin of homosexual behavior by describing it and hoping that the underlying awareness of right and wrong, which every person has, will respond aversely to the sin described. I do not see any statements that suggest that he thinks a truly Christian individuals struggling with homosexual desires are not covered by the blood of Christ and are in some innate way unclean and still sinners. I would curious where you received that impression in his post. I ask not because I want to be argumentative, but because you seem to believe there are only two kinds of messages from straight pastors: either homosexual individuals give into their desires and go to hell or they abstain and still go to hell (unless they hate themselves until the end of time, then Jesus might save). Please tell me if that is an unfair characterization of what you were saying. But I bring this up to say that there are pastors and churches out there that proclaim the true gospel, that we are all sinners deserving the wrath of God, but God in his love and mercy sends his Son down to pay the debt of sin and to turn away the wrath of God for all who believe, bringing believers through faith into the family of God for all eternity. You seemed to believe that you need to be ashamed because of your temptations (a message reinforced by your father and by other pastors you have heard). I simply wanted to say that if God’s Spirit is in you, there is no condemnation and you are holy in his sight. I also thank God for individuals like you who are, by his strength and might, trying to show the world the all sufficiency of God by displaying the family image and walking in a manner of life that pleases our Father.
      Grace and peace brother.
      Ryan

    3. Pam says:

      Matt, your comment brought me to tears. I’m sorry for how you’ve been hurt by churches and ministers who lose sight of forgiveness. Text on a screen is a poor substitute, but please consider this comment a hug from a sister in Christ.

    4. Nathan says:

      Matt, seems like there’s a lot of anger toward others re-directed at Thaibiti. He’s not responsible for other pastors or for other churches or for your father. Even if he had spoken of forgiveness, I’m not sure how it would have applied to you because you are not engaging in homosexuality, although you have (may I kindly say unwisely?) made it part of your identity based on temptations you experience. Thanks for battling with the flesh and living for God despite the inward trials. As random and frustrating as the battle is, I pray you will walk in the Spirit and not fulfill the desires of the flesh, and that God will abundantly supply all your needs according to His riches in glory. And surely one such as yourself who fully condemns this sinful tendency in his own flesh would gladly condemn it publicly while clinging to the hope of the new birth, the mortification of the flesh, the sanctification of the Spirit, and ultimately the deliverance from the body of this death.

    5. Duane says:

      Matt, I hear truth mingled with confusion in your comment. The truth is that there is forgiveness of sin and acceptance in Jesus Christ. And, though you seemed to want to lesson its true weight, forgiveness of sin from God channels through true repentance on our behalf. Unless you are an alien, and not human, you like me like everyone wars against powers and principalities. Turning away from your sexual desires towards other men is your battle front right now….your fight.

      However, the fact that you are compelled to give yourself the title of a homosexual who is a virgin in the church causes me to wonder just what a christian is. You see….God says that the body of Christ, the church, the “bride” as it is called does not consist of man or woman, Jew or Gentile . In other words, the things that once defined an individual no longer exist. We are one body with many parts, but we are one body. Homosexuality is not a type of “being”…..it is simply a sin. There are only two types of beings…..a man, and a woman. That is it. That is all God created and formed. A person is not a homosexual, but merely a man or woman held in bondage to sin.

      I will be on my knees for you. I would encourage you to include in your public declaration of abstinence to include the hidden undeclared weaknesses. More specifically, war also against the pull of internet porn and fantasies which lead to self gratification.

      Keep pressing…..no time to believe we’ve made it yet…..eyes forward brother…..the race has been won and is only now yours to run.

      …..peace

  3. Jonathan says:

    Brother,

    I offered much of this comment on the previous post, but comments are now closed there. I’m sorry if it’s repetitive. I appreciate your apologies here in this post, and the charity of your other responses. Certainly you’ve read your critics more carefully than I, but I’m concerned that you attribute ill intent to many of them too easily.

    I was deeply saddened, both by your post and by the hateful, uncharitable responses. I regret that I don’t have much positive to say, since you’ve received so much unfair criticism already. So much of your writing has been helpful to me, so much of it I’ve shared with friends. But I fear that in these posts, you’ve done exactly what you rightfully criticized Douglas Wilson for. If I recall correctly, you criticized him not for being racist, but for being racially insensitive. At least from my perspective, I can’t help but see that post in a similar light. If any of my LGBTQ friends (who know that I take a relatively conservative position on this issue) were to read your previous piece, they would see it as another in a long line of Christian words and actions that condemned, oppressed, and shamed them, and it would set back our relationship deeply.

    I trust bigotry is not what’s actually on your heart. That’s made clear by the charity of your responses to those who heap derision and scorn upon you. But I wonder if you would continue to stand by this post, if you reflect upon it through the lens I’ve offered? If Doug Wilson were able to inhabit your skin, your memories, your experiences, I believe that everything you had said to him would instantly ring true, become eminently clear to him. I wonder if you were able to experience the same from the perspective of the LGBTQ community, you would take more of the criticism and strong reaction to heart?

    I ask all this with much respect and appreciation for your ministry, and with sadness over how all of this has unfolded. I pray that you will be encouraged, and that this conversation would lead towards greater love and charity for us all, rather than greater emnity and division.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Jonathan,

      Thank you, brother, for taking the time to join this conversation and to share personally and warmly. I appreciate your doing so.

      I’m sorry the post saddened you and that you found it uncharitable. I’m also sorry you’re found the resultant comments unfair and unhelpful.

      I’m open to your charge of insensitivity. As you know, I think that’s a real issue and not simply a matter of some people being too thin-skinned. And while I know it’s a difficult charge to prove, I’d be happy for your pointing out any particular places where you think I’ve failed in this regard. If you followed the Wilson discussion, you know I try to be the kind of man that accepts accountability and seeks to make amends where necessary and right. In that spirit, I welcome your insight on the particular things I said that were insensitive. If you don’t want to have those comments get lost in a comments thread that’s already been discouraging to you, please feel free to email me personally.

      One of the things repeatedly alleged or insinuated in comments is that I don’t know any people with same-sex attraction or that I’m unfamiliar with their spiritual struggles. Nothing could be further from the truth. These folks don’t know my siblings, cousins, family friends, church members, counselees/parents working their way through the knowledge of their son or daughter’s homosexuality, or former co-workers. All that to say, I’m not unfamiliar with the LGBTQ community and its perspective. I’ve not walked in their shoes, so I’m not pretending to some kind of omniscience. But I’m not unfamiliar either. The struggles, hopes and fears of the community have been an issue in all of my most meaningful relationships (family, friends, coworkers, church) for the past 20 years. None of them would say I’m a “bigot” or that I’m unfamiliar or unsympathetic. None of them would read this post filling in the very wrong personal assumptions some others have.

      I’m thankful you’ve given me the benefit of the doubt. It’s been refreshing in the midst of such energetic response.

      I would be happy to hear from you. The Lord bless you and keep you!
      T-

  4. heather says:

    I find it interesting that The Gospel Coalition post articles that regularly have to be re-explained or apologized for. Maybe this should be their cue that its time to stop posting these types of extremely irresponsible articles. As a wife of an evangelical pastor from a large congregation, I am at any chance discouraging the reading and sharing of this irresponsible website.

    1. Steve Dawson says:

      Maybe it’s time that they actually edit what is written. These are supposed to be intelligent, thoughtful, Gospel oriented people who seem to be bent on stirring controversy instead of making cogent arguments. I suspect that most readers who objected to what Anyabwile wrote never really got past the “gag reflex”.

    2. You are kidding me, right, Heather? Perhaps all of the flack The Gospel Coalition receives is due to their unwavering determination to illuminate the Love of Jesus with His Truth? You can’t share half a Saviour, for then you are preaching another gospel. We’re called to love all men in the name of Jesus, not ignore their debauchery in the name of diversity. God is holy and cannot wink at sin, for sin is a big deal to God. So much so that He allowed Jesus to die on a cruel Roman cross to rescue us from its grip. Glossing over evil – whether our own behaviour or something our corrupt culture endorses – is to say in essence, “What you did is really of little value to me, God. My view of sin is different from yours, and frankly I’m not that disturbed by it.” Many true believers dare not stand up for what they believe for fear of being labeled intolerant, bigoted, hateful, judgmental and homophobic. “Tolerance” and “love” are two very different things. Tolerance sees your sin and embraces it. Grace sees your sin and hands you over to Christ’s healing embrace. You can’t understand God without seeing both love and holiness constantly working together. It was holiness that expelled Adam and Eve from the Garden, but love that even in that moment promised a redeemer (Genesis 3:15). It was holiness that caused God to turn away from His own Son while Jesus hung on the cross bearing the sins of the world; but it was love that had sent Him there, love that held Him there, and love that raised Him from the grave.

      “God chooses not milksops destitute of backbone, to wear his glory upon their faces. We have plenty of men made of sugar, nowadays, that melt into the stream of popular opinion; but these shall never ascend into the hill of the Lord, nor stand in his holy place, nor wear the tokens of his glory.” ~Charles H. Spurgeon Courageous Thabiti Anyabwile is bold and strong, for the Lord is with him.

      As Dorothy Sayers said, “I believe it to be a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offense in it. Seeing that Christ went about the world giving the most violent offense to all kinds of people, it would seem absurd to expect that the doctrine of His person can be so presented as to offend nobody. We cannot blink at the fact that gentle Jesus, meek and mild, was so stiff in His opinions and so inflammatory in His language that He was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever His peace was, it was not the peace of an amiable indifference.” Jesus said He came not to bring peace, but division. “Realize that the aim of the Prince of Peace is not peace with unbelief and disobedience. Those are the enemies that must be destroyed, lest they destroy. When the amnesty of Jesus is despised, division is inevitable. What we meet in the biting language of Christ is a form of love that corresponds with the real world of corruption, the dullness of our hearts and the magnitude of what is at stake in our choices. If there were no great evils, no deaf hearts and no eternal consequences, perhaps the only fitting forms of love would be a… soft touch and tender words. But such a world does not kill the Son of God and hate his disciples.” ~John Piper

      The humanitarian sentiment of the postmodern church makes them give that which is holy to the scornful and unbelieving. “We are saved by faith alone, but not by faith which is alone. That is, we are saved, not by anything we do, but by grace. Yet if we have truly understood and believed the gospel, it will change what we do and how we live. Unlike cheap grace, which means going to church and hearing that God just loves and forgives everyone, so it doesn’t really matter much how you live, anyone who truly understands how God’s costly grace comes to us will have a changed life. Costly grace changes you from the inside out. Actions must follow what one believes, else one cannot claim to believe it.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

      As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Those who try to use grace as a dispensation from following Christ are simply deceiving themselves. Isn’t it a blasphemous encouragement to sin boldy and rely on grace? Is there a more diabolical abuse of grace than to sin and rely on the grace which God has given? Is this not the sin against the Holy Ghost?”

      In Matthew 9:11-13, Jesus’ disciples were asked, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” He didn’t tell the tax collectors and sinners that they were fine the way they were. He didn’t join them in their sin in an attempt to relate. He wasn’t down with how they were living. He boldly declared that they needed His healing and His salvation. Does that sound like a meek and mild Saviour? Yes, He’s loving, gentle and forgiving, but He’s also a warrior who has zero tolerance for sin!

      If every other way that people use to try to get to God is wrong, then what is the most loving and kind thing to do for them? Is it to just let them go on living in ignorance and misery, even though you know they’re wrong and you have the truth that would rescue them? No, that is NOT love. It’s actually an act of love for a Christian to stand up and say, “You know what? What you’re doing and what you believe is wrong.” Yes, it’s narrow, and yes, it’s intolerant, but it’s also the most loving thing you can do for them, and it’s what God requires of His disciples.

      1. Steve Dawson says:

        Ginny,
        If an author (any author) must post an explanation of what they have written, then, either the subject was not dealt with in a thorough manner or the author didn’t do a very good job. It is the job of the author to ensure that the message is clear and concise.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Steve,

          Thanks for engaging me and others in this important conversation. Thanks also for calling me to account for the way I’ve written and the content of what I’ve written. I agree with you; an author’s ideal is to write in such a way that the reader can only see and understand what the author meant. I think I’ve failed to reach that ideal in the original post and others. I’m a fallible writer. That’s why I think any honest writer will indeed give explanations and clarifications for their writing. Seldom (ever?) will anyone write so flawlessly and clearly that nothing about their writing can be misunderstood.

          Yet having said all that, I think many comments in the thread indicate not so much the weakness of my writing (which weaknesses do exist) but also the willingness of many readers not to heed their responsibility to read well. Many people assert I said things that I simply did not write, do not mean, and have never written or meant. That’s a problem with the reader, not the author. No author can be responsible for readers who won’t acknowledge what is and is not said or readers who assume they know heart motives and feelings of the writer.

          You’re right to call me to account. I appreciate that. I think we should do that with some readers, too.

          T-

    3. Duane says:

      Interesting, Heather. It is interesting that you felt the need to describe yourself as a “Pastors wife” and that you also felt the need to title a pastorship and include that it was a “large congregation”. None of those things matter or give any extra credibility to your accusations. However, and test this one if you will, any accusation that comes from the flesh will require and find a need for man made and perceived credibility.

      Did not Jesus wearisomely have to re-explain His message time and time again to His listeners? Did not His teachings….the ultimate truth…..stir up massive controversy in the world He spoke to? What was the source for His doing so? What was His motivation? Do you find it interesting at all that it was the Pharisees, the self proclaimed and self righteous “knowers” of the truth that were the very ones who encouraged all who would listen to not believe in the teachings of Christ?

      I encourage you to resist the temptation to cast an accusation against another believer and what God may be doing through another believer for the edification of all believers. I find it magnificently wondrous how your motive and the true condition of your heart to speak out as one in the church with a measure of authority, has been exposed. Not as a revelation another could use as a weapon against you, but rather as a revelation for you to see in order to confess your own hidden sins and to give revelation and urgency in my heart and the hearts of all of your brothers and sisters in Christ to kneel beside in prayer. Peace and blessings from God be with you sister.

  5. Nate Collins says:

    Thabiti, I accept your apology for using the phrase “gag reflex.” I believe that you sincerely did not know that it would be received so poorly, or that people would be hurt by it.

    I’m still disappointed, however, with your general tone in these articles. I couldn’t find any acknowledgement that gay people (as well as Christians who struggle against their same-sex attractions) feel stigmatized by the Church. Is it possible that your articles unnecessarily add to this? As brother Mike pointed out above, it seems as though Christians (at least the ones that read TGC articles) don’t often need much encouragement to treat people with same-sex attractions different from everybody else.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Nate,

      Thank you for accepting my apology. I really appreciate that. It’s gracious of you.

      A question: What would you say is my “general tone in these articles”? And on what do you base that assessment?

      I ask not to be defensive, but to try and understand what in the post leaves people feeling like I’ve written as a bigot. That’s been alleged repeatedly with no specific reference. In the end, it seems as if folks didn’t like my strategy–its explicitness or its appeal to conscience and morality, or they disagreed with me, and decided to toss those terms around on that basis. I want to think better of folks than that and I want to be better than that myself. I’d be grateful if you had a moment and cared to offer at least your take on the “tone” and what set it.

      You asked: “Is it possible that your articles unnecessarily add to” the stigmatization gay people feel from the Church?”

      Yes, that is entirely possible. It is defintely not intended, but it is possible.

      I also think it’s possible to have healthy moral codes re: sexual behavior without demonizing people or rejecting them. That’s what I seek in these discussions. That’s partly why the conscience and clear public morality are important. I don’t want a world of irrational or unloving prejudice. I want a moral world. I trust everyone in this discussion wants a moral world. The issue is how are we going to define and arrive at it.

      Lastly, given the gracious comment you’ve just left, I suspect you would not want to leave that last sentence as it stands. There are many readers of TGC articles that would not be fairly characterized as not “often needing much encouragement to treat people with same-sex attractions different from everybody else.”

      Much love and grace to you in Christ Jesus,
      Thabiti

      1. Nate Collins says:

        Thabiti,

        Thanks for the reply! And yes, you’re right… I would rephrase that last sentence if I had to express it again. Thanks for assuming the best in me. In all honesty, I attempted to qualify it with the word “often,” but I wish I had said something like “some types of people who read TGC articles,” or something like that. My original phrasing implicitly accused all TGC readers of treating gay people poorly, and implicated TGC in this accusation, both of which I certainly did not intend to communicate. It was a sloppy attempt to highlight a characteristic of a segment of TGC’s readership that, in my opinion, consists of individuals who are predisposed to treat gay people differently because of their “gag reflex” to the issue of same-sex attraction.

        I say this, though, because I’ve observed it first-hand and been affected by it personally. I’m a student at a certain “flagship seminary” of a large denomination who experiences almost exclusively same-sex attractions. Before I was married, and before I began sharing my testimony openly like I do now, I had to sit through a group meeting with several other seminary students who spent 30 minutes telling gay jokes and talking in a generally crass manner about gay people. Needless to say I was stunned, partly because they seemed like guys who were otherwise quite nice, and dare I say even “normal.”

        That’s why I was so disappointed by these two articles. Whether you intended to or not (and of COURSE you didn’t intend to… I hope I didn’t sound like I was accusing you of intentionally stigmatizing gay people), there were two major effects of this article. First, it reinforced the sinful predisposition of some Christians to stigmatize gay people, whether their stigmatization is conscious or unconscious. Second, it did so both in the public view of the people who are the actual victims of this stigmatization, and in a manner that invalidated the pain they felt as a result of the undue shame thrust upon them by this stigmatization.

        As far as “tone” is concerned, I would only point out that — besides the “gag-reflex” phrases, i.e. “gut-wrenching, jaw-clenching, hand-over-your-mouth, “I feel dirty” moral outrage” — it came across as sterile. I know that, as a pastor, you’re keenly aware that there are countless stories behind every face. In my experience, however, evangelical Christians do not seem to be aware that people with same-sex attractions in some sense share a common story… one of hurt, pain, rejection, and shame. To the extent that any discussion about homosexuality that purports to be gospel-centered lacks this perspective, then it only reflects a half-truth.

        I’m grateful for the chance to dialogue with you here, and I’m definitely grateful for your commitment to a “bias for the best” in these types of exchanges. I rarely comment on blogs, so the medium is a bit foreign to me. If you would like to continue this conversation by email, you can click my name above this comment to go to my vCard, which has my contact info. Of course, I know you’re a very busy guy, so I certainly don’t have any expectations of continuing this discussion indefinitely!

        Blessings brother,
        Nate

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Brother, that’s an excellent comment! Thank you for sharing and opening yourself up to such a great extent. It’s humbling and heartening.

          Thank you for the specific comments re: tone. That’s extremely helpful.

          I’ll accept this as a very fine conclusion to our exchange here. But I would like to be in touch as an offer of friendship and gratefulness. The Lord bless you and keep you,

          Your brother,
          Thabiti

          1. Duane says:

            “Social stigma is the extreme disapproval of (or discontent with) a person or group on socially characteristic grounds that are perceived, and serve to distinguish them, from other members of a society. Stigma may then be affixed to such a person, by the greater society, who differs from their cultural norms.”

            My encouragement to you, Thabiti, would that you remain strong in your convictions and the truths you have a desire to express, fore were not those truths and desire placed within you by God Himself? The word “stigmatism” fits nowhere within the body of Christ. The body of Christ is pure and spotless and without wrinkle. There is no room for any man-devised compromise. As you are aware there are many many many people who declare themselves to be a follower of Christ who sadly are not. It would be an impossibility for a believer in Christ to defend any sin or any sinful behavior. The Gospel refines, and in order to refine it is abrasive against everything false. Whether it be thoughts, behaviors, or doctrines. The world will hate you brother. That means, many people will have the rage and hate that exists within them…the true condition of their heart….brought to the surface whenever Truth comes near. This is especially difficult when it is revealed just how many who sit in church pews every Sunday have yet to yield their lives entirely in order that their minds may be renewed.

            All sin is repulsive….and sexual sin has been given in Scripture an increase in repulsiveness and deadly consequences since it is the one sin that assaults both the body and the spirit. Stand in the strength and revelation knowledge given to you through the Love of God Almighty as He speaks through you. The world WILL embrace and accept homosexuality…that is the truth. But, the church must never embrace homosexuality or any other sin, but must reject it in the realization that it is not flesh and blood we war against, but rather powers and principalities. We truly do love the sinner or we ourselves would not be loved by our own fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. But, steadfastly and in love we must war against the sins of this world.

            Peace be to you my friend. You have my prayerful support my brother.

  6. Trevor M. says:

    Hi Thabiti,

    Thanks for the original post and this reply.

    Before I get too far in this comment, let me point out that I am in agreement with you on the “first principle” issue concerning the morality of homosexuality. Homosexuality is sinful. The Bible, specifically, Romans 1:26, in my opinion, makes this abundantly clear.

    I was glad to see you expanded on your thoughts on how Romans 1 factored into your original post. I have been studying that chapter for the past few weeks and a few things came to mind.

    Under your second point (2. This suppressed, weakened, and distorted conscience means at least three things.), you had three subpoints. You first pointed out that the person who “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness” as Paul says falls under God’s judgment in that their minds are given over to “futile thinking”, a “foolish” and “darkened” heart, and a “debased mind” (Rom. 1:22,28). I am with you 100% on this exegesis of the tragic reality of fallen mankind.

    My question for you comes in light of your application of this reality we see in Romans 1 of the futile, debased, mind by your call to stimulate consciences as you described in your first post.

    As I read Romans 1, it seems that the sinfulness of humans and God’s giving them over leaves humans with the *inability* to respond to whatever knowledge of God they may have in their conscience apart from special revelation and grace. Doug Moo puts it well in his commentary on Romans on p.118, “people who have turned from God are fundamentally unable to think and decide correctly about God and his will.” Therefore, it seems to me that efforts to stimulate the “gag reflex”/conscience by elaborating on the nature of homosexual sin are faulty because the mind and conscience of sinful humans has been so corrupted as we see in Romans 1. (Please let me know if I have misrepresented your thinking in anyway…I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed.)

    As any good critic should offer a better way than the method they are critiquing, let me try to do that here. If humans’ consciences are so debased and unable to think about God in the right way (I think you somewhat illustrated this with your wedding example), we shouldn’t rely on efforts to stimulate them in order to elicit a moral response. (On that note, I fully realize that you do not advocate establishing morality based on the reactions of conscience. Neither do I and I just want to point out I am not accusing you of that.) Perhaps a better (?) solution would be to restrict discussions of morality to arguments strictly from the Scriptures as opposed to factoring in the influence of conscience, which should then be coupled with far more earnest prayer on Christians’ parts for people and this world we live in, that God may indeed grant the grace to awaken and renew debased and corrupted minds.

    Again, thanks for your thoughts and consistently charitable interactions in this blogging world. Let me know if I was off based in my understanding of your arguments in any way.

    -Trevor

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Trevor,

      Great to hear from you, brother. Thank you for joining the conversation.

      I think we’re pretty much agreed up to the section where you discuss man’s inability. I do believe man is unable apart from the grace of God to respond to the gospel. But he is not unable to reason morally, even though our reason is fallible. Keep in mind that Rom. 1 says “what may be known of God” is really known, including His power and Godhead, but it’s suppressed. What is suppressed can be lifted. Since it’s known already, the apologetic task is to bring it to the surface. That apologetic task is necessary before you can actually do the work of evangelism effectively. If the conscience isn’t engaged, there would be no repentance; if there is no repentance, there is no true biblical response to the gospel.

      This is why I also think that some of the people who are shouting “where’s the gospel” or “the gospel is the answer” the loudest have probably unintentionally misunderstood the gospel at this point. They sound as if they imagine a gospel where confession of sin and repenting of our specific sins specifically is unnecessary.

      Also, when it comes to public debates, I don’t think we can restrict our arguments to biblical texts. First, not everyone assigns authority to those texts, nor should we try requiring them to. Second, those texts are much-debated in Christian circles themselves. I don’t think every interpretation is correct, but the Christian disagreement means we’re probably not going to get far if we restrict things to those texts.

      I hope that helps. Thank you for your substantive engagement of these points. The Lord bless you and keep you!

      T-

      1. Trevor M. says:

        Thanks for the response Thabiti. I haven’t considered how our apologetic task factors into the discussion at hand. A worthwhile topic for thought.

        I hear you about restricting our arguments to biblical texts alone. I have a bit more thinking to do on this part.

        Thanks again. Grace and peace to you my friend!

    2. When one allows one’s conscience to be seduced by the world, and chooses to live in moral rebellion and open disobedience to God’s authority, ultimately rejecting Jesus, one is no longer afforded Jesus’ wisdom and right thinking. It’s kinda like this – one chooses mental WILLness which leads to mental illness or lack of discernment for righteous living. Obviously, a true believer cannot reason with such a person, and must instead pray that the person will be transformed by the renewing of his/her mind, for in his/her sinful state, he/she is unable to take every thought captive to Christ.

      1. heather says:

        Ginny. Look in the mirror.

        1. I’m a fool for Christ. Whose fool are you?

          1. heather says:

            Actually, Ginny, truth be told, I was a fool for responding to your comment so unfairly. I apologize. Truly.

            1. Thank you, Heather. I truly accept your apology and forgive you. It is common for me to receive degrading remarks online, and extraordinary to receive dignified apologies. May peace be with you as the battle for your soul goes on.

  7. Elin says:

    This clarifications seems to suggest the only actual critiques were constructive; everyone else condamning the post gets shuffed under ‘ad hominems’ and thereby does not need to be answered to; instead they become the ones that have something to apologize for. I distinctly recall a fifth line of objections though, and I think most fell into that category. To say someone is a hater is a personal attack. To say that what is written and how it is written is out of line and outrageously insensitive to the point that it becomes hatefull, is not.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Elin,

      Thank you for contributing to the conversation and caring enough to do so.

      Two brief replies:
      1. This post does not lump those condemning the post in the “ad hominems” category. Many folks who condemned the post and offered some critique should be able to recognize themselves in one of the other categories. At least I pray that’s the case. I suppose I could have had a fifth category called “Post Condemnation” or some such title. In reply to such a category I would simply say that condemning free speech isn’t a good approach to protecting free speech. It would be tragically ironic if a community that has been kept from publicly expressing itself would become a community that returned the favor to others. However reprehensible we think someone’s position is, at least in the democratic West, we ought to protect their right to speak.

      2. I agree there’s a difference between calling someone a hater and saying they’ve written in outrageously insensitive ways. Completely agree. I could have missed those comments in between travels and sporadic internet connections, but I don’t recall anyone making that distinction or pointing specifically to what they found “out of line and outrageously insensitive to the point that it becomes hateful.” I’d actually welcome that feedback and would hope to profit from it. But as best as my faulty memory recalls, most of the personal attacks were, in fact, personal attacks, not demonstrations of your latter category.

      I think your comment here advances understanding. Thanks for leaving it. The Lord bless you and keep you,

      Thabiti

  8. Alex Jordan says:

    Dear Thabiti,

    I appreciated the 2 articles very much, as I agree this is a conversation that needs to be had in the Church. The culture and society at large don’t just want homosexuality to not be thought of sinful, but also to be fully embraced and even celebrated. And because pro-homosexual arguments have for years been relentless, through channels including television, movies, media, politicians, and even segments of the church, public opinion has been deeply impacted and even the Christian community has bought into many lies. Yet the Bible simply and plainly teaches that homosexual behavior is sinful but that Jesus Christ forgives and will free one from this sin, just as He frees all people who come to him from all their sins. The Bible speaks of sinners completely forgiven of their sins through the cross of Christ and thereby washed clean of their sins, sanctified and justified by the powerful cross of Christ (1 Cor 1: 9-11). The Christian having been forgiven of sin is now no longer identified primarily by their sins (“that is what some of you once were”). We are now identified with Christ– so that in Him, a person is no longer a homosexual, an adulterer, an idolater, a liar, a greedy person, a thief, etc. Does this mean that a person who has come to Christ and has been forgiven and cleansed automatically ceases having same-sex desires? It seems this does not happen very often. I’m sure this makes the Christian walk very challenging and at times very discouraging for someone trying to be faithful to Christ yet leave behind same-sex attraction and/or behaviors. The church really needs to better help sexual sinners including those with homosexual tendencies to not feel so stigmatized, as they often do. So that we all might see how great the cross is that forgives and washes clean from all manner of sin. At the same time, the Church must not begin watering down the message and teaching that homosexuality is not sin. I think your original post was trying to make the primary argument, reminding that homosexual behavior is contrary to what God designed sexuality to be about. It’s not hateful to simply relay what the Bible teaches on this topic, and at the same time point people to the liberty of the gospel of Christ. It’s to be expected that secular society angrily rejects such a message, but it is deeply disturbing that those who say they believe in Christ and what the Bible teaches have often attempted to give fancy arguments to try to deny that homosexual behavior is sinful. It certainly is not easy to overcome sexual sin (I know from my own walk with God), but it must be done and the first step is agreeing with God in what He says about sin.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Dear Alex,

      Thank you for joining the conversation. Thank you also for providing really thoughtful balance about what the gospel requires, the realities and struggles of sanctification, the church’s failures, and realism about our apologetic and evangelistic task. Grateful for you,

      Thabiti

  9. Alex Jordan says:

    Oops, the verse I meant to reference in my previous was 1 Cor 6:9-11.

  10. Aaron says:

    Thabiti,

    I’d like to comment on this paragraph above: “Second, we ought not miss the fact that the substantial part of the comments thread did in fact focus on sexual behavior and its morality. Folks showed up on both sides of the issue and made their case. That’s the first order debate to have. That’s the debate that precedes and frames any subsequent debate about benefits, rights, and protections. Those who said this “will not work” ought to consider whether significant parts of the comments thread don’t prove that it can and does work.”

    I”m not sure this is a true assessment. This is where Carl Trueman and other theologians took issue with you. That believers can do better than a plead to conscience, etc. . . . I think it’s a bit redunctionistic to assume that the comments thread on your blog, or even other published responses represent those who WOULD NOT have a gag reflex towards explicit homosexual behavior like you presented in the first post. Yes, the discussion did “go there” in the comments of your first post, but that’s not necessarily a Gallup/Pew Forum-like statistical representation of views on this issue. That’s what some of the published critiques of your first post have been referring to. There just isn’t a large swath of people anymore who have a conscience who automatically rebuff those behaviors. Are you thinking here, that a solution is for more homosexuals to become Christians and then see their consciences formed in this way? Of course we want that to be true. But, that’s different than saying “we just want everyone to share our convictions about what is morally repugnant”. That sounds like a fundamentalist argument, to me. Thanks for being courageous enough to step into these waters, though. I appreciate it.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Aaron,

      Thank you for joining the conversation, friend. Thank you for bringing insightful questions and push backs. I welcome them and welcome you.

      In response, I never contended that the comments thread was somehow representative of Gallup/Pew-like statistical polls or representation. I simply pointed out, in response to those who said raising sharp questions of conscience would not lead to a discussion of the behaviors in question, that such a discussion did arise in the comments thread. That discussion involved people pro and con on the question with lots of good comments from each side.

      I appreciate the views of Trueman and others, men and women for whom I have undying respect. We simply disagree about strategy here. Let me also hasten to say I would not commend my approach in every situation or to the exclusion of others. I’m saying that as a starting point these sets of first principle questions must be on the table somewhere or the conversation is woefully incomplete.

      Also, I’m not sure it’s accurate to say, “There just isn’t a large swath of people anymore who have a conscience who automatically rebuff those behaviors.” In the same way you rightly point out that my comments are not a representative opinion poll, I think we need to hold your comment to a similar standard. I just don’t think we can be dogmatic about such a contention, especially when (a) we know everyone has a conscience and it reacts ,i>in some way to moral problems and (b) the pscyhometrics of measuring such a contention is bound to be confounded with social desirability effects.

      Sorry for the pscyhobabble in the last phrase; I am a recovering social psychologist :-). Thanks for stepping into these waters yourself. I appreciate your courage!

      For Jesus,
      T-

  11. One of the responses I’ve seen to the original argument has to do with the connection between disgust and ethics, and I don’t see anything here defending the initial reasoning in a way that I find responsive to those criticisms. I think the issue is philosophically complex, and my attempt to get at those issues has ended up long and not worth trying to summarize in a comment here, so I’ve posted it at my blog and just linked to it from here. I do think the original argument is badly misrepresented by most of the critics, but I also have some hesitations about parts of it.

  12. Andrew Burton says:

    For me, the part of the conversation I’m most interested in is the one covered in point 3 above: the author’s assertion (admirably consistent, I think) that forms of sexual contact between gay and lesbian couples that trigger his gag reflex are no more acceptable when practiced by heterosexual couples. Out-of bounds sexual activity is described by the author as “sexual confusion.”

    From this, I infer that the only non-confused sexual act is for a married heterosexual couple to come together in a set of acts which lead to penis-vagina intercourse. I think I’m right in believing the author (who I hope will correct any misapprehension) would classify mutual masturbation, ejaculation on a partner’s body and any other non penis-vagina intercourse as representing sexual confusion.

    I have two fundamental problems with this. First, it defines a tiny playing field. I’m assuming manual stimulation is OK provided it’s a precursor to the main event. Otherwise, it’s really hard to see why bit A of the body is Wrong but bit B is Right. Non-confused sex, for Christians, is steak every time, to use a culinary metaphor. Woe betide the couple who find manual stimulation enjoyable, and wish to continue! That way confusion, and the path to sin, lies.

    Second, many heterosexual couples find penis-vagina intercourse painful or impossible to complete. Some men struggle to achieve or sustain, or cannot achieve, erection. Some women find the insertion of a penis into the vagina excruciatingly painful. What are they to do? They may love each other deeply, want to please each other sexually but – sorry, no dice.

    It seems a tiny, cramped, impossibly rigid view of a panoply of human acts so often performed with love. But it’s hard for me to see the author’s views leading to any other place.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Andrew,

      Thanks for your comments here and advancing the conversation about the behaviors in debate. I appreciate that.

      A couple quick replies:

      1. Yes, I do believe we need to have consistent ethics for sexual behavior. That stems from a basic assumption that sex has design, purpose and meaning. However we arrive at consistent expectations, it needs to account for those things and be maintained for all.

      2. I think you limit intercourse itself in a way that potentially rules our a host of other acceptable sexual behaviors that are themselves natural. I would not do that.

      3. Sexual confusion involves at least a couple of things: sexual activity between inappropriate partners (including adultery, fornication, molestation, homosexuality, and a host of other inappropriate settings or pairings) and improper or unnatural use of the body (again, see this principle in Romans 1).

      4. Some body parts, of course, have multiple functions. That’s been pointed out in the earlier comments thread as an objection to my post, but that retort fails to adequately account for natural function. For example, the mouth has multiple functions. It’s used for eating, speaking and for romantic kissing among other things. That multiple use is entirely natural. The mouth is appropriate in foreplay–whether via romantic words or kissing. But even kissing would not be appropriate between two men or two women. Why? Though it may bring pleasure and even communicate meaning, it fails at complying with design.

      5. So when people object that the penis and vagina are also used for discharging waste, therefore my argument fails, they fail to account for the dual use of those body parts. The same cannot be said for the anus. That’s not its function or design. So using that as an example, yes, some activity with some body parts fall outside the bounds of appropriate sexual activity.

      I don’t think that’s a tiny or unsatisfying playing field. I think it’s a set of boundaries established by our Creator inside which is true human flourishing and pleasure.

      6. Finally, though there are circumstances that might properly be called exceptions (you list a couple in your next-to-last paragraph), we don’t want to establish the mean or norm with the exceptions. Exceptions do not invalidate the rule.

      I hope that helps. I appreciate your push back and your tone. The Lord bless you,

      T-

      1. Thank you for your comments on this particular topic, as it relates to a recent book I read and was very disturbed by…Mark Driscoll’s book ‘Real Marriage’.

        To be honest, I saw no true boundaries in what he writes in the chapter on so-called permissible sex acts between married heterosexual couples, which is unbiblical. We are to be in the world, but not of it. When we reject the world and die to ourselves, that also means we reject allowing the world into our bedrooms, as not everything is permissible.

        For further commentary see Denny Burk’s review. I am unsure why people (incuding the Driscolls) think there are no boundaries in the marital bed except what a couple agree upon. Does this stem from a misunderstanding of Paul in 1 Corinthians?

        See Denny’s comment from his review, as it may be useful in the current conversation:

        The Driscolls read “all things are lawful” as if the phrase were Paul’s own declaration of Christian freedom, but that is mistaken. Almost every modern translation and a near consensus of commentators treat “all things are lawful” not as Paul’s words but as a slogan that Corinthian men used to justify their visits to prostitutes (cf. 1 Cor 6:15). The NIV captures the correct interpretation: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say — but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor 6:12).

        The Corinthians may have been riffing on themes they had heard from Paul (cf. Rom 6:14;7:4, 6). But they had twisted Paul’s law-free gospel into a justification for bad behavior. Thus the
        phrase “all things are lawful” is not an expression of Christian freedom from the apostle Paul, but rather an expression of antinomianism from fornicators! Paul’s aim in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 is to correct the Corinthians’ misunderstanding. One
        of the reasons for the Corinthian error was the fact that they viewed the physical body as inconsequential in God’s moral economy (cf. 1 Cor 6:13b). Yet Paul refutes the Corinthians on this point and gives them an ultimate ethical norm with respect to their bodies: “You have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God with your body” (1
        Cor 6:2 0).

        Driscoll begins his ethical assessment with “Is it lawful?” and he answers the question based on whether or not there is an explicit prohibition of the behavior in Scripture. As we have seen, this is a misapplication of Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 6. Paul’s question is not “Is it lawful?” but
        “Does it glorify God with my body?” To miss this is to miss the entire point of the text. Sex exists for the glory of God, and Paul only commends activities that glorify God with the body. In order to answer the question “Does it glorify God?,” one has to have an understanding of the purposes that God has given for sex and whether or not a given activity fits with those purpose…”

        I hope this is of some use to your readers. I found it helpful so thought I would share it. As Christians, surely we are to hold ourselves to the highest moral standards…always seeking to glorify God. Just remember, God really does see all. Really. Think about it.

        1. Sherry, this is the Truth which is Jesus! May you have His peace that passes all understanding as you daily fight the battle for your soul.

  13. Omar says:

    “But, there’s a tremendously important difference to note between heterosexuals and homosexuals who practice these things. Heterosexuals are not insisting that anyone treat their private practice as public policy.”

    While it is true that activists for gay marriage in particular or public acceptance of homosexuality in general are making the argument that their private behavior be given public policy imprimatur, it is not entirely accurate to say that heterosexuals are not insisting that their private behavior ( between consenting adults etc. ) not be given the same imprimatur. The fact is that over the last few decades heterosexuals have changed their cultural understanding to such a degree that privacy concerns became a crucial point in things like overturning contraceptive laws that restricted the legal sale all together or at least restricted these to married couple– the wider availability of which is now considered part and parcel of life, whether one agrees or not, but were not seen as such in a bygone time. Clamors for acceptance of gay romantic unions in the cultural at large and in public policy specifically did not occur in a vacuum: they came with and alongside changes in heterosexual mores.
    So the statement has to be properly qualified in historical perspective

  14. Pam says:

    Gay people are the bullies now? So the teenager who read your post in tears because your words felt so hateful is now the bully? The person who self-harms or kills themself after hearing one too many sermons telling them that God hates them is the bully? When’s the last time you heard stories of straight people being kicked out of home for being straight? Those things don’t happen to straight people, they happen to gay people. To trivialise the very real bullying that gay people go through by suggesting that disagreements you face are equivalent to bullying is to slap those who’ve had very real struggles to the point of wanting or even trying to take their own life. Words have meaning. Your attempt to twist the term bullying is pretty poor.
    Gay people pushing back against the homosexuality is sin/should be illegal/should be punished argument aren’t bullies – they’re simply using their voice to put forth their position. And they are allowed to do that, whether you agree with them or not.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Pam,

      I think it’s disingenuous to take my reference to very sharp personal attacks in the comments thread of the previous post and apply them to teenagers and persons so hurt they take their own lives. You know that’s not what I said or intended, neither is it a necessary implication.

      Nor did I trivialize the bullying and mistreatment aimed at people with same sex attraction. In fact, I condemned it.

      The voice of people with homosexual attractions has been welcomed here and will continue to be. Some have come and argued their position without any editing or hindrance from me. I welcome such conversation especially when people disagree. That’s when we all benefit, if we can keep from misrepresenting one another.

      The Lord bless you and keep you,
      Thabiti

      1. Pam says:

        I am glad you welcome the voices of LGBT individuals. Your above point on bullying didn’t seem to be quite the same as what you’ve said here. This is obviously going to always be a controversial topic to discuss, but I do think Christians are often too thin-skinned about criticisms we face, and sometimes have a tendency to dismiss all criticism as ‘bullying’ or ‘persecution’ when it’s just disagreement. I apologise if I read into your commments an attitude that you don’t have, it’s just something I’ve seen quite often in Christians’ comments, and especially around issues like this.
        I do still think that broadly describing criticisms Christians who oppose same sex marriage/homosexuality receive as ‘bullying’ is wrong and trivialising of real bullying. But I accept that you didn’t mean your comments about bullying to be about broader criticism, but about very specific comments.

  15. Annie O'Connor says:

    The fight to legalize gay marriage is not the same as fighting to declare it is moral. The first article equivocates the two, to a highly problematic outcome, and this one fails to address the issue.

    In fact, this article goes so far as to claim, “In the debate about homosexual behavior, it seems many of our gay neighbors want to say simultaneously, ‘Stay out of my bedroom’ and ‘Make our acts acceptable and normal.’ ” But the argument I hear is, the morality of straight sexual activity has no bearing on the legality of straight marriage, so why does the morality of gay sexual activity have any bearing on the legality of gay marriage?

    The legalization issue asks the question “Should LGBT people have equal rights under the civil law of the US?”

    If you think that LGBT people DO have equal rights already, take a look at this infographic produced by the Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2012/may/08/gay-rights-united-states). It explores states’ rights regarding not just marriage for gay people, but other such basic rights as protection against discrimination in housing and employment. (It does not address the implications of federal law on the states, and predates the DOMA ruling.) It is easy to see that there are many rights for LGBT people that are simply unprotected across most of our country, and others that are outright prohibited. Marriage is one part of the issue.

    The main assumption of the article is that if something is immoral it should be illegal. Do we really want to fight to create a society that only allows marriage where moral sexual activity takes place? If so, we would have to implement very strict auditing processes for straight people applying for marriage licenses. Almost none would be allowed to marry.

    Since complete conservative-religious sexual morality is not required of straight couples seeking marriage, I fail to see why the strict standard would suddenly be relevant when the sexual orientation of the couples in question changes. This is a double standard, and is exactly why the law cannot abide it.

    You encourage here the awakening of our consciences, which is highly estimable. But the assumption that those who support same-sex marriage simply have suppressed their conscience is disingenuous; most who support it do so as a direct result of their inability to suppress their consciences on the matter.

    I will forgo making any defence of the morality of monogamous sex within the confines of a (same sex) marriage, because I know that such a discussion in this venue is unlikely to be either productive or beneficial. I appreciate that this is alluded to in the above article. (If anyone is interested for their own sake, I recommend http://www.gaychristian.net/greatdebate.php)

    But regarding the moral issue, it is important to note that gay teens are at higher risk for suicide. (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=98782569) So, whatever it is the church is doing to share the love of God with this demographic, we are failing miserably. By allowing and encouraging ourselves to be “grossed out” by sexual practices, we are encouraging ourselves to be grossed out by God’s children, who are in pain. We thus increase their pain. This is something truly abominable, and I have yet to see what The Gospel Coalition plans to do about it.

    Instead of fretting over the morality of what other people do, should we not focus on the morality of our own (at best complicit) participation in the creation of a society where this particular demographic feels so thoroughly unwelcome that death seems a respite?

    Shame on us for not being the first place hurting people turn for help.

    1. Wesley says:

      “The fight to legalize gay marriage is not the same as fighting to declare it is moral. The first article equivocates the two, to a highly problematic outcome, and this one fails to address the issue.”

      Sadly, though it is not stated this way, these are exactly the same things, or, at least the are inseparably tied. The legalization of same sex union is about – in part – normalizing behaviour that is inconsistent with biblical morality. If we were to state the same issue 10 years form now when – undoubtedly – those with pedophiliac desires for example, today, you might see more clearly how ties they really are. To say that a man who loves his 12 year old son and wants to marry him should have the same rights and government sanctions as a heterosexual couple would be both implicitly and explicitly asking the government and the society to agree that the behaviour associated with pedophilia is acceptable and moral. It is, at the end of the day, the mute point once one has moved to discussing marriage. Your argument – like many of our LGBT neighbours – seems to want to skip over the morality point and focus on the “rights” issue. Thabiti and many others are simply pointing out that this is a point we can’t just lightly “skip past” without dire consequences in the near and far future.

      1. Annie O'Connor says:

        It is not currently illegal for two men or two women to have sex. Is the absence of sodomy laws, etc, a slippery slope? Surely eliminating such laws did more to normalize the sexual behavior than marriage could: those laws are actually specifically related to the sexual practices of those with same-sex attraction.

        And here is a major distinction we must remember. Same-sex sex acts are not illegal. Sex with minors is ALWAYS illegal.

        Do you think sex between two men or two women (adults able to give consent) ought to be illegal? Or do you only think that marriage should be illegal for them?

        And if you don’t think their sex acts should be illegal (even if they are immoral), then haven’t you set yourself on the same slippery slope you have presented to me? (Rhetorical question, of course. I do not believe there is a slippery slope there for either of us to be on.)

        And I don’t intend to skip the morality question, I just believe it belongs in a different place than the discussion of marriage. The link in my original post to the Gay Christian Network has information supporting both the morality of sex within a marriage, and supporting the immorality of all same-sex sexual contact. They accept and support people who hold either to be true and offer a safe venue to discuss and explore the morality question, as well as how to act out the gospel to LGBT people no matter what your understanding of the morality issue is.

        1. Wesley says:

          Annie –
          thank you for you reply. Two things i would say in my own:
          1: Sex with minors is CURRENTLY illegal. Already pedophilia has moved from a psychological disorder to a sexual preference. How long before their own “rights” to love are being denied?
          2. As to the question of legality i would say that even you don;t believe your own point. There are many things which are not presently illegal that are, at the same time, harmful and bad for human flourishing. E.g. it is not illegal to smoke cigarettes but it clearly is harmful and bad for human flourishing. Beyond that, the biblical understanding of what marriage actually is, makes the idea of “gay marriage” untenable. I don;t think either (gay sex or marriage) should get someone thrown in jail, but i do think you have to agree that the concept of morality transcends legality.

  16. David S says:

    Mr. Anybewile,

    I profoundly disagree with you about the sinfulness of homosexuality. I won’t go into the biblical arguments (as I’m sure you and I both know how the other interpret the relevant scriptures). It disappoints me, however, that you fail to extend any grace to those who believe differently than you do. Instead, you use a grossly facile interpretation of Romans 1 to indict all people who are gay as willfully denying God. Your moral certitude is graceless and hurtful to faithful Christians who are gay. I would hope you can have the humility to understand that.

    The most offensive part of your original post was not the ick-factor argument. It’s been a failed part of the moral-depravity argument for years for all of the reasons you attempt to defend above.

    What’s truly offensive, that you have not addressed, is that your language completely dehumanizes flesh-and-blood people who are gay. You wrote “Interviewees speak of their elation and their desire to have others recognize their ‘love'”. You chose to mock the love same sex couples; you use quotation marks to claim it is something less than real or true. To suggest that people who are gay have no capacity for love, or that the relationships they form are somehow inauthentic or inferior, is more than insensitive. You attempt to diminish the very humanity of people who are gay. Your original post and this clarification try to reduce people who are gay to Godless hedonists.

    It am particularly saddened that this remains your perspective even with gay people in your life. Your willful dehumanization of them must be painful for all involved. I urge you as a fellow believer to examine recognize people who are gay as children of God, created in his image.

    1. David S says:

      Mr. Anyabwile, My apologies for misspelling your name.

      1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

        That’s okay. Apology accepted. You’re not the first ;-)
        T-

    2. Annie O'Connor says:

      Thank you for saying this.

    3. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi David,

      Thank you for contributing to the conversation. A few quick replies:

      1. I completely respect that you disagree with me about the ethics of homosexual behavior and I respect that you would express said disagreement publicly.

      2. I deny that “moral certitude is graceless and hurtful.” If we claim that clarity about right and wrong are harmful, we’ll soon be unable to speak the truth in love. We won’t be able to make any pronouncements about what’s morally good and right, including a pronouncement like yours when you write, “I profoundly disagree with you about the sinfulness of homosexuality.” That’s a moral truth claim, and if it’s to be taken seriously alongside your contention that moral certitude is harmful, then it too is harmful. But I don’t take you that way. I think you’re very probably morally certain about a great number of things and you hold/express that certitude without hurting others.

      3. I see how you could take offense at my comments about “love.” I really do. But I would ask you to keep that comment in the narrower context of behavioral acts in which I intended. Or, to state it the other way around. I would happily and loudly affirm that people with same sex attraction are not only capable of but also regularly demonstrate remarkable acts of love. If we take the rest of 1 Cor. 13 (love is patient, kind, etc), we would zero problem finding expressions of love in same-sex relationships. The entire post is about a much smaller issue: sexual behavior. And biblically, I just can see how we could call any sexual sin “love.” When I say “any,” I most certainly include first and foremost heterosexual sin. Adultery is not “love.” Fornication is not “love.” And so on. Consider reading the section on “Rejecting unbiblical definitions of love” again and note (a) that I admit “strong emotions and affections (i.e., love) are involved and (b) that I’m really talking about the sexual behaviors in question. All that to say, I do not deny the existence of love in a host of ways in same sex relationships. I was focusing throughout the post on the morality of the sex acts which are part and parcel to the discussion.

      4. I have not and do not reduce people experiencing same sex attraction to “godless hedonists” and nor do I deny their humanity. Quite the contrary. I affirm their humanity, made in the image of God. I believe the behavior to be sin and that doesn’t make them any less human than the rest of us sinners dealing with whatever sin Christ has yet sanctified. To say I “try to reduce people” or there’s “willful dehumanization” is simply not true. That some could feel that way, I concede with sorrow. To say I set out to do that, I deny.

      Thanks again for commenting. All the Lord’s best to you,
      T

  17. Wesley says:

    Thabiti –
    man i feel for you and appreciate all the effort you’ve gone through to respond to and correct responses to your last post.
    one thing in particular i appreciated – especially on this commemoration day of MLK’s “I have a dream speech” is your mirroring of his words then to not become what we hate in our responses to what we perceive as injustice. It is commendable the grace that you have shown in the face of such hypocrisy from those who claim to be Christians. Sadly, it seems we now live in a day and age where any Christian who does not adopt what i like to call “Rodney King pluralism” i.e. “can’t we all just get along theology” is considered divisive and intolerant. Even a brief survey of church history will show you that those who were willing to be seen as such were the very ones we claim today as our “church fathers.”
    God keep you and sustain you bro. Trusting God to use you mightily in S Africa and in your continued ministry at your home church and TGC.
    God’s peace –
    W.

  18. Adrenalin Tim says:

    > “In the debate about homosexual behavior, it seems many of our gay neighbors want to say simultaneously, ‘Stay out of my bedroom’ and ‘Make our acts acceptable and normal.'”

    When I married my wife, I registered our relationship with the state. Nowhere did I have to describe for the state what I planned to do with her in our bedroom. Never did I have to detail to our officiant what “our acts” would be in the privacy of our home. I didn’t have to ask permission or request approval or acceptance from anyone else for the way that my wife and I express intimacy with each other.

    I expect it is the same with you, Mr. Anyabwile. It is really none of my—still less the government’s—business what you and your wife get up to. Swing from the chandeliers; wrestle in chocolate pudding; play with handcuffs, whips, and chains—I really don’t care, and neither does civil law. You don’t need to ask anyone to “make [your] acts acceptable and normal”, because nobody has a prurient interest in “your acts”. You don’t need to ask anyone to “stay out of [your] bedroom”, because nobody is in your bedroom, graphically describing for others what you & your wife [may or may not] get up to, attempting to inflame their moral conscience against you.

    1. Wesley says:

      = relevant to your comment here i think

      “The fight to legalize gay marriage is not the same as fighting to declare it is moral. The first article equivocates the two, to a highly problematic outcome, and this one fails to address the issue.”

      Sadly, though it is not stated this way, these are exactly the same things, or, at least the are inseparably tied. The legalization of same sex union is about – in part – normalizing behaviour that is inconsistent with biblical morality. If we were to state the same issue 10 years form now when – undoubtedly – those with pedophiliac desires for example, today, you might see more clearly how ties they really are. To say that a man who loves his 12 year old son and wants to marry him should have the same rights and government sanctions as a heterosexual couple would be both implicitly and explicitly asking the government and the society to agree that the behaviour associated with pedophilia is acceptable and moral. It is, at the end of the day, the mute point once one has moved to discussing marriage. Your argument – like many of our LGBT neighbours – seems to want to skip over the morality point and focus on the “rights” issue. Thabiti and many others are simply pointing out that this is a point we can’t just lightly “skip past” without dire consequences in the near and far future.

    2. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Hi Adrenalin Tim,

      Thanks for your comments and joining the conversations. Two questions:

      1. In response to your first paragraph, why did you not have to do those things to marry? Why has the State required almost no heterosexual couple to do such things when they marry? What are the moral assumptions, if any, involved?

      2. Are you suggesting that heterosexual and homosexual conduct are morally equivalent or morally neutral? If so, why do you believe that?

      Finally, you’re correct. No one is in our bedroom and the State shouldn’t be in any bedroom. But the effects of approving same-sex marriage will not only confer rights (some of which even some opponents of same sex marriage might be happy to see conferred), but also entail a significant change in our moral understanding of homosexual behavior. What will we teach/continue to teach in high school and middle school sex education classes, for example? Will parents be allowed to opt out or opt in (which matters a great deal in terms of parental responsibility for minors in these areas)? What will be the implications for something like hate speech acts which we’re seeing played out in other countries? These are real world implications already in play without a public moral consensus on the behaviors in question. If we want honest societies and honest public policies, we need to consider these things.

      I pray the Lord richly blesses you,
      Thabiti

      1. Adrenalin Tim says:

        Thabiti,

        Thanks for engaging with me. It increases my respect for you that you are willing to read and attempt to understand comments from detractors.

        1. Why did I not have to tell the State how my wife and I express physical intimacy? I assume it has something to do with the rights to privacy and self-determination and the “pursuit of happiness” that are considered rather important in modern democratic governments. (See the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for one example of a widely-accepted artifact that articulates this view of “dignity and rights” that is centered on the individual’s self-determination.)

        The rights, benefits, and responsibilities of marriage have virtually never been dependent on the type, frequency, or any other details of the couple’s intimacy. It’s been ten years since the US Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional laws that ban certain voluntary, consensual sex acts between couples, whether married or un-.

        2. Yes, I do believe that both same-sex and opposite-sex intimacy are equally capable of being conducted in life-affirming or life-denying manners, depending on the context. I understand that this gives us different starting points with which to address the morality of same-sex intimacy, but it does not necessarily require that we differ in re the legality of same-sex intimacy, or of the codification and legal protection of relationships between same-gender individuals.

        > “Finally, you’re correct. No one is in our bedroom and the State shouldn’t be in any bedroom.”

        But that’s exactly what you appear to be arguing for, when you make your case against legal equality for same-sex couples based on what they [may] do in their bedrooms.

        > “But the effects of approving same-sex marriage will not only confer rights (…) but also entail a significant change in our moral understanding of homosexual behavior.”

        Who is the “our” there? And why do you believe that anyone at all has to think about “homosexual behavior” simply by the fact that my gay neighbors can file joint tax returns, be legally considered each other’s next of kin and beneficiary, etc.? Almost nobody thinks about “heterosexual behavior” when I casually mention my wife in conversation, or add her to my insurance paperwork, or claim joint custody for any children we adopt together, or…

        Questions of school curriculum are only tangentially (at best) related to questions of equal marriage rights. Gay people exist—and some even have sex sometimes(!)—with the full protection of civil law, whether or not they are able to have their relationships legally recognized as marriages where they live.

        “Hate speech” laws are a non sequitur, when we’re talking about the U.S. As long as we have a First Amendment to the Constitution, there can be no such thing. Put it this way: as long as Fred Phelps walks free, you have nothing to fear. And I assure you, if anyone were to threaten your right to vocally oppose same-sex behavior, I’ll be the first to join you in protest.

        I appreciate your prayers and blessings, and wish you peace and all good.
        —A.T.

        1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

          Hi Adrenalin Tim,

          The respect is mutual, dude. A couple quick replies:

          1. You’re correct to say the rights of marriage have never been dependent on frequency of sexual activity. But it has been at least implicitly and sometimes explicitly based on the type of activity. For example, we have laws that protect minors from adults and until recent years we’ve never recognized same-sex activity as satisfying the requirements of marriage. My point in asking the “why” question was simply to illustrate that the universal assumption has been the normative and morally right nature of heterosexual unions. That’s no accident of history or sociology. It’s written on the conscience.

          2. You actually answer a different question than the one asked. I asked if you thought they were equal morally. You replied by saying both types of relationships can work well or work poorly. It seems you’re taking a more pragmatic approach to the question. But pragmatism can never really answer the ought question, on the will it work question. In that regard, you’re correct. We would have two different starting points.

          And you’re correct that our starting points don’t necessarily preclude us from arriving at identical or similar policy positions re: the legality of the acts themselves. For example, I would not favor anti-sodomy laws precisely because I’d want to protect privacy from state over-reach. I could also imagine a range of important protections that could be structured in a way that guaranteed real equality in various areas while it kept the private private. Yet, protecting private activity is quite a different policy from the range of things that would be public endorsements of the activity.

          I don’t think you read me correctly when you assume I’m in favor of government forbidding same sex behavior. I’m not. I’m in favor of asking questions about the underlying morality in question and allowing that, in tension with other important moral concerns (justice, etc.), to determine our policy approach.

          3. The “our” is the entire public. I concede (happily and willingly) there are many areas where a homosexual couple could enjoy the same privileges of heterosexual couples without introducing the notion of sexual acts. You list some good examples.

          But you miss my point, or perhaps you dismiss my point. There are other policy implications that directly address or raise sexuality and sexual behavior. School curriculum issues are not tangential at all. They follow from our approach to the moral and marital questions. Debates in this area have been long-standing. In many respects debates in this area have preceded the now more public debates re: marriage. What we will teach our children with taxpayer funds about the morality of sexual behavior involves us all. Neither side should attempt to define that agenda without honest interaction about the moral questions, imo.

          And it seems to me hate speech laws are closer than you think, if developments in the U.K. and Canada are any indication. I’m no prophet nor the son of a prophet. We’ll simply have to wait and see on that one.

          All the Lord’s best to you, friend.
          Thabiti

          1. Adrenalin Tim says:

            Thabiti,

            Thanks for the further engagement.

            1. I would consider age a different question than what I referred to as “type”. I would dispute the notion that the nature of the sexual union itself has ever been a primary consideration when a State has recognized a couple as “married”. Refer to my first comment—I never had to pledge to penile-vaginal intercourse, let alone exclusively, when I registered my marriage with the state.

            2. Sorry for being unclear. I was intending my answer to be relevant to your question—when I said that same-sex and opposite-sex intimacy could both be “life-affirming or life-denying”, I did perceive that as a moral, and not just pragmatic, statement. My heuristics for determining moral behavior are closer to a helpful/harmful axis than to a “good”/”bad” axis in the abstract.

            From my perspective, when something is life-affirming, it is moral, and vice-versa. The things that bring agape, self-sacrificial love, and shalom, wholeness, are the things “against which there is no law”. And yes, I would say that the physical intimacy expressed between spouses, of any gender configuration, can be just such a Good and Beautiful and Moral act. (But I ramble. Onward!)

            I have to admit I’m still unclear as to what your ideal legal system would look like. I believe you when you say you would not support a return to “anti-sodomy” laws, but the general shape of your arguments seem to be right in line with those who do. For example, much has been made of US Supreme Court Justice Scalia’s dissent from the 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas—the court ruled that moral disapproval was an insufficient basis on which to criminalize consensual, intimate, private behavior, and Scalia predicted that without “moral disapproval”, nothing stood in the way of same-sex couples petitioning for equal marriage rights.

            3. I actually agree with you that issues of sexuality and sexual behavior are important public policy issues. School curricula is one such area. I guess my point is just that I find it unfortunate for that to be tied logically to the issues of marriage and civil rights, when I don’t see them as very related. To wit: some people (gay or straight, opposite-sex or same-sex couples) engage in anal sex. They do, and they will, regardless of whether or not my gay neighbor can sponsor his foreign partner’s immigration. Questions like: do we tell children? do we give them the best scientific information about safer sex methods? if so, when? in how much detail? These are legitimate questions, and they do deserve to be taken seriously. I don’t mean to minimize that, it’s just that I think that these questions can and ought to be considered separately from questions of the legal status of the couple next door.

            For what it’s worth, I find the lack of free speech in Canada & the U.K., and anywhere else that doesn’t have such a glorious First Amendment as the U.S.’s, rather disturbing. Again, I will oppose any effort to implement “hate speech” laws in the US. There may be some unlikely alliances that form if that ever becomes an issue in earnest.

            One further point: I would like to echo another commenter’s recommendation that you check out Professor Richard Beck; his response to your article on his blog and his book Unclean dig into some of the psychological and theological issues that you evoked, and why those strike people as problematic.

            Cheers,
            Tim

  19. Curt Day says:

    Three comments here. First, when you write:

    Heterosexuals are not insisting that anyone treat their private practice as public policy.

    Please realize that that is the case for homosexuals too. They are not asking for their private practices to become public policy. What they are asking for is the kind of respect that allows for them not have what they practice in private prevent them from being recognized as being married. Because the issue of for many of us heterosexuals is this, we find their private practice so disturbing that we work to prohibit them from living together as spouses. So in a sense, some heterosexuals who are against equal rights for gays want private practice to be the basis of public policy. They want private practice to be the grounds for which public policy denies gays the right to be recognized and treated as spouses even though the same private practices when exercised by heterosexuals are not to be grounds used to deny them their right to be married.

    Second, the mistake made by many Christians who feel we must legislate our sexual morality is this, we must use society to punish certain sins that only the Church is called to punish its members for. The argument given for demanding that Christians support laws that prohibit same-sex marriage is that if we don’t legislate against it, we are supporting sin.

    Such is a poor argument. That is because the New Testament recognizes a space in society that is to be given to those whose sin would disqualify them from being in good standing in the Church. And one of the sins that would so disqualify people leads to worse consequences than homosexuality does. That sin is the rejection of Christ. And not only do we not legislate against that, we protect the rights of others to believe and preach another gospel.

    There is good reason to protect that right. That good reason is the historical examples provided by our Reformed forefathers. Think of how Luther preached that unless society punishes the Jews for their unbelief, society is guilt of complicity in that unbelief. And when you look at how Luther wanted society to punish the Jews, you will find that one of the few differences between him and Hitler was that the latter wanted to use extermination. One may also venture back to Geneva and look how they burned heretics and witches at the stake. Such was a very dark time for the Church.

    Or look at how even the Puritans treated the Quakers in the new world. They legislated against them. Persecuted them. And even martyred them. Why? Because they were legislating the Christian values and these values required that they reject some of the beliefs of the Quakers.

    In addition, the practical problem for many of us Christians is that when we use our beliefs to legislate against the morals practiced by others, when the pendulum swings the other way, our beliefs will become the target. And this is unnecessary because there is no reason why our calling homosexuality sin implies that we must legislate against it. Such an implication unnecessarily reduces the space in society set for those whose practices and/or beliefs disqualify them from being in good standing in the Church. The Church is not called to dominate society.

    Finally, one of the reasons why many of us Christians reject the right of homosexuals to have their same-sex marriages recognized is that we believe that if they move into the marriage neighborhood, the property values will go down. And such a belief implies that there is this huge difference between heterosexuals and homosexuals. And proof of the belief in such a huge difference lies in the practices that we put in the slippery slope neighborhood of homosexuality.

    The Biblical problem with such reasoning is that following the Romans 1 verses that do describe those who wrongfully practice homosexuality, which, btw, is an effect, not a cause, of unbelief, comes Romans 2:1. Romans 2:1 says that we should not judge others because then we would condemn ourselves for we do the same. See, Romans 2:1 tells us that Romans 1:18ff is personal about us rather than informational about others. Of course that does not mean that we copy all of the sins that result from unbelief, and there are many common household sins listed in Romans 1 as resulting from unbelief. But it does mean that we too worship and serve the creature rather than the creator and thus this leads us into certain sins. Thus we are on the same level as the people we wrongfully apply the yuck factor too.

  20. James M Sharp says:

    why not stick to the biblical terminology of romans 1? the Holy Spirit seemed content to use “natural/unnatural, degrading passions, etc. but addresses the root cause of lust (fallenness). all of those same terms could, at different times, be used to describe every sinner. grapic, descriptive language tends only to inflame and often excites less than honorable thots and images in the mind of the reader.

  21. susan says:

    As an avid reader of your blog, I just wanted to say thank you for your adherence to Scripture in all matters, including your humbleness. You speak the Truth even when it isn’t comfortable. This is good.

  22. Betty Borrough says:

    —Heterosexuals are not insisting that anyone treat their private practice as public policy.
    —In the debate about homosexual behavior, it seems many of our gay neighbors want to
    —say simultaneously, “Stay out of my bedroom” and “Make our acts acceptable and normal.”

    What a load of bull.
    I will agree:
    Heterosexuals aren’t insisting that anyone treat their private practices as public policies, they simply want to be able to talk about, and express through hand holding etc…, their relationship as loving partners.
    They, further, want and have, governmental recognition of their relationships, when recorded as husband and wife. This is not a governmental recognition of what they do in the bedroom.

    That YOU don’t automatically conjure up ‘what they do in the bedroom’ is YOUR response.

    However:
    Homosexuals ALSO aren’t insisting that anyone treat their private practices as public policies, they simply want to be able to talk about, and express through hand holding etc…, their relationship as loving partners.
    They, further want, and have, governmental recognition of their relationships, when recorded as husbands or wives. This is not a governmental recognition of what they do in the bedroom.

    That YOU DO automatically conjure up ‘what they do in the bedroom’ is YOUR response.

  23. Joy says:

    “In the comment thread, it seems to me that nearly everyone’s conscience reacted to those explicit descriptions used in the last post. Some were repulsed at the descriptions. Some reacted with “moral outrage” that I would ever write such things.”

    I think you’re overlooking the third reaction, which is that some people react to explicit prose about sex acts with the exact opposite of disgust. One person’s disgust-prose is another person’s pornography, and I find both have the same effect of dehumanizing people by reducing them to their private parts. I hope you will consider this potential reaction when you attempt to provoke moral outrage about sexual matters.

    1. Thabiti Anyabwile says:

      Thank you, Joy. I will. The Lord bless and keep you,
      Thabiti

  24. Reed Prince says:

    Thank you for being brave enough to take discussion of this issue to a biblical and moral level.

  25. Aric Clark says:

    This is no defense at all.

    #1 – Pragmatic Critique – I find your reply here to be an incredible example of confirmation bias. You repeatedly asserted in the comments and here that the fact people passionately disagreed with you proved you had successfully provoked their conscience. I suppose if everyone had agreed that would have been confirmation you were right too. Or if no one had spoke it would have been confirmation that no one has the courage to talk about this issue like you. Nonsense, your argument failed and people reacted not because what you said had any validity, but because it was offensive and hurtful.

    Don’t mistake me – I was not offended because you dared to write sexually explicit words. I actually found your description dry and narrow and your assumption that it would be shocking charmingly quaint. I was offended because you use the logic of disgust selectively to single out lgbtq persons in a way that can only do harm to everyone.

    #2 – Insufficient Conscience – You suppose that disgust is a legitimate reaction of the conscience, which it is not. It is a misplaced survival mechanism – and a terribly dangerous one at that. The most disappointing deficiency in your arguments and in your defense here is that you did not address Dr. Richard Beck’s points about disgust psychology http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2013/08/on-love-and-yuck-factor.html (He has literally written the book on purity and disgust psychology in Christian theology. PLEASE read it.) Having not addressed the very best work there is on disgust/purity I don’t think you have much ground to stand on.

    #3 – Hypocrisy – yup Heterosexuals do all these things in greater numbers. Here are the relevant studies (http://www.nationalsexstudy.indiana.edu/). And this does matter because you are singling out LGBTQ persons in your article. If you oppose these behaviors regardless of who does them then you have no grounds for specifically opposing same-sex marriage on the basis that the behaviors trip your gag-reflex, because so would most heterosexual relationships. If it’s anal sex that you find immoral then to be consistent you need to argue for it to be illegal rather than same-sex marriages to be illegal since a same-sex marriage may or may not include that behavior. An argument against same-sex marriage based on sexual behavior will never make any headway because the behaviors are the same regardless of the genders involved.

    And I will happily be direct and say that there is nothing inherently immoral about oral or anal sex, and I don’t think you could make a case these things were immoral either from scripture or reason.

    #4 – Ad Hominem – Since something which is disgusting is unclean and pollutes other things around it, when disgust is involved you cannot say that you have separated between the behavior and the person. This is just a verbal slight of hand. If you say the person has engaged a behavior that is disgusting you are saying quite clearly that they are unclean/impure. Unclean things are themselves pollutants that have to be expelled. It is not an accident that disgust and purity language underlies movements toward ethnic cleansing.

    You’ll note that nowhere have I addressed your person, but without hesitation I say that you have behaved in a way that is dehumanizing and hateful, because the language of disgust is inherently dehumanizing. Every oppressed group has had supposedly disgusting characteristics imputed to them as part of the way that the dominant group maintains distance and superiority.

    It is simply not possible to label behaviors as disgusting and pretend that you haven’t ascribed that label to the person themselves. In the same way that I cannot say someone behaved “niggardly” and then claim there was no racist overtones.

    #5 – Scripture – ultimately you’re argument fails the hardest when it comes to your failure to address the abundance of scripture that directly contradicts your suggestion that disgust is a mechanism of the conscience we should use to begin moral discernment. Many of us who responded to you (http://twofriarsandafool.com/2013/08/the-connection-between-my-conscience-and-my-disgust/) pointed out the persistent unavoidable trend in the New Testament of Jesus and his disciples moving directly AGAINST the dominant purity/disgust orientation of their society. Jesus touched the unclean and corpses, made common cause with the poor, befriended sex-workers, welcomed gentiles and eunuchs into his community, and willingly died in the most disgusting possible way for his culture. The weight of scripture is thoroughly against you on this – and you didn’t even address it at all.

  26. Serving Kids in Japan says:

    Dear Mr. Anyabwile,

    I’ve read both your articles, and many of the comments on both threads. While I appreciate your patience and thoroughness in discussing this issue, there are points on which I strongly disagree.

    First, in your original article here on this subject, you seem to take it for granted that certain sexual acts (such as anal or oral intercourse) are sinful in and of themselves, no matter who participates in them. I find that very difficult to accept. I don’t see anywhere in scripture where such acts are even spelled out, let alone explicitly condemned. I think you should be cautious about going too far “beyond what is written”, and labeling as un-Christian or unbiblical things that are never mentioned in the Bible at all.

    Second, I want to point out something you may have missed. In the social debate over LGBT rights and marriage equality, I think there is another reason why arguments from the Bible or traditional morality are falling on deaf ears. And it has nothing to do with finely-crafted arguments by “the other side”, or the seared consciences of believers and unbelievers.

    You wrote out some very graphic descriptions of certain sexual acts, apparently to inflame moral disgust in your readers. For myself, as a person and as a Christian, I prefer to reserve my moral outrage for deeds much worse than sex (of any kind) between consenting adults. One of those deeds is the molestation of children within the organized church, and the failure of Christian leaders to address this ongoing problem. The scandals of the Roman Catholic church are perhaps best known. More recently, though, this same horror has been discovered in evangelical congregations as well. Most notably, the leadership of Sovereign Grace Ministries stands accused of not only shielding perpetrators of child sexual abuse, but also participating in that abuse in some cases. Making matters worse, evangelical leaders outside of SGM but affiliated with it (including some members of TCG) have often proclaimed their unabashed support for the likes of C.J. Mahaney, in spite of these disgusting accusations.

    So, Mr. Anyabwile, if you were to ask me whether consensual homosexual behaviour sickens me, my answer would be: Not anywhere near as much as the rape and abuse of defenseless children sickens me. I don’t know how much these cases are on the minds of the public at large, but they’re certainly on mine. I don’t think we as Christians have any right to be wailing about the “decay of public morals” when some so-called Christian institutions are so badly corrupt. And I suspect that many people will have no patience for any such pronouncements of judgement from Christendom until we learn to clean up our own house first.

    Please give my points all the consideration you can. Thank you.

  27. John Parker says:

    Thabiti is certainly entitled to his opinion. So, I’m not clear on why we always have to play outrage toward anyone we disagree with?
    The chiefmost problem that I personally have with Thabiti’s original blog is his remedy toward re-engaging Christians on the issue of homosexuality, and in particular the sexual part of it.

    My very simple question to him is… Is this particular (and IMO non-biblical)idea of seeing sin as gag-inducing a remedy toward other sins pervasive in our culture and indeed even more prevalent. Why are we never asking even more broad questions about things that infect the church and society at large, like… Racism, Materialism, Greed, our failure to feed the poor, our rampant divorce rate? Why, oh why?!

    I wait for the day when I see Christian leaders move beyond, the easy button issues that affect the least of these and into broader areas of hidden infection. Sure Thabiti touches on racism, in a tepid sense amongst a primarily all white Reformed audience, but I’ve never heard or saw him suggest that we should induce a gag-reflex toward many of his racist Southern Baptist Reformed brothers. That we should re-imagine these men and women as those who are professing Christians, although they couldn’t possibly be, because the whole law hinges on loving others, esp. those within the household of faith. Oops, see, we could get graphic and grimy on all fronts of sin. Not just on these easy-button issues, that won’t rock the good-ole evanglical boat to hard.

    Again, I long for the day when our discussion of sin is more even-handed and “fair”. Then, the world may lend an ear to hear, because we’ll essentially (from their perspective) be preaching the whole counsel of God, and not just the convenient parts……

  28. Adam Miller says:

    Dear Rev. Anyabwile,

    I’m starting to get a grasp on the divide here. We both agree that we want to keep sin putrid and not weaken our stance for political correctness. I made those assertions in my response to your first article.

    I’m thankful you recognized that the term ‘Gag-Reflex’ lacked accuracy and sensitivity. However, I don’t think your response here adequately corrects the damage that it might have caused.

    I see the gag-reflex as a prejudice. We can call it conscience, but even a conscience must be measured against final authority. People have consciences that won’t allow them to drink caffeine. Would you agree that this is detrimental to the gospel because it puts an undo burden on grace? I would hope that you would never council someone in such a way that would further ingratiate their conscience about caffeine. A better example might be alcohol and teetotalers. You are familiar with the tension there. I am reminded from a line from Dr. Carson when teaching on I Corinthians 8-10 where he said that even though he was a teetotaler, if anyone were to tell him that he couldn’t drink alcohol and love God, he would tell them to pass the port. I would think you would agree that we need to protect the gospel more than people’s consciences.

    What bothered me and what many of my brothers have pointed out is the fact that your first article does little or nothing to confront what I would consider an even greater problem in Christianity today. Here, you rightly defended yourself from accusations from being a bigot, but I wonder how many others who have justified in their bigotry.

    I would have appreciated a much more balanced response to Christians who already hold a blinding prejudice towards homosexuals. To rephrase your article in such a way that drives people to the Scriptures before they can draw their own conclusions. I realize that this is not always easy to do. I’m not even good at it. We are flawed and we often reveal gaps in our own logic when we put ourselves out there in a pubic forum. But this is the higher standard of accountability that pastors like us are called to.

    I have addressed some concerns in my initial response and I won’t get into all of them here. I do, however, hope we can address the ethics of debate. Namely, we should only talk about the subject as though we are talking directly to a homosexual we are hoping to win for Christ and we should form our argument in the spirit of evangelism, saturated with love and compassion.

    To me, this isn’t about politics. That’s a whole different issue. My political views doesn’t even allow for this sort of debate. I think it is much more about a particular apologetic.

    I do come across liberal Christians who have a low view of Scripture and therefore a carefree attitude about sin, but to confront them on homosexuality doesn’t get to the root of their problem. I can also assert that this tactic will fairly never be effective as a witnessing tool. I have even been so bold as to tell people flat out that they are dead and blind with effectiveness (So I’m not suggesting we can’t shock those we are witnessing to), but I don’t feel the need to go toe to toe with a homosexual about their personal life when there are so many other things to choose from to demonstrate a need for a savior. The only people that are left are those who already have a predisposition against the homosexual agenda. Your article is only speaking to the choir and confirming people’s biases. The average Christian that I run into is so prejudice against homosexuals that they treat them like lepers and don’t go anywhere near them, not even to share the gospel. This is why I submit that speaking to people’s prejudices is counterproductive. Jonah is the only illustration that comes to mind as a brutally honest evidential apologist, and although he was successful, he certainly isn’t the model for evangelism today.

    How we think about Sodomy as Christians is important and I think you and I would agree. I don’t need to dunk my head in the gutter to get a fresh perspective. All sin should grieve our hearts, and more so the sins that blind the hearts of men and give them over to a reprobate mind. I’m not for watering down the Gospel. I just don’t see how being explicitly graphic and intentionally offensive is helpful toward the endgame which is to win the lost for Christ. I don’t see how making people feel homosexuals are ‘icky’ produces anything more than the Jewish/Samaritan divide.

    “I discipline my body (which includes my built in prejudices) and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (I Corinthians 9:27)

    If there is any good that can come from writing blog posts like this I hope it is for that end.

    Your brother in Christ,

    Rev. Adam J. Miller

    1. John Parker says:

      For the record, many of us who love scripture, yet hold to the view that it’s necessary to separate church and state when it comes legal vs moral issues, find it offensive to constantly be referred to as having a “low view of scripture”. I hold a very high view of scripture for instance, and therefore revile the politicized faith that American Christianity has become since the Reconstructionist movement led by Rushdoony and Shaeffer, that polluted modern day Christianity.

      Here’s a very simple question for you. The bible considers divorce (excluding infidelity), racism, and homosexuality to be sinful. Which of the three immoral acts should Christians actively pursue making illegal. For instance, when the Ku Klux Klan marches through a city, should it be illegal, even though they have freedom of speech to express their hateful views, since they are morally wrong? As Christians should we push to make their right to sin illegal? As for divorce, the bible clearly calls it sin, hold one spouse being unfaithful. Should we pursue divorce being made illegal therefore? It’s morally wrong, it destroys society, and it’s harmful to children.

      For the record, morally I can’t and will never support two people of the same sex marrying. Yet, I find it difficult or complex however to limit people’s rights under civil law. How do we separate a secular democracy from sound biblical Christianity. Can we really install a Theocratic system on top of something so worldy like secular democracy where people actually vote for morality. If we lived in a Theocratic society like Israel I would say of course, but since we don’t I see the need and value of separating one from the other (church and state) as Martin Luther did (the doctrine of two kingdoms).

  29. Frank says:

    Very well said Pastor Anyabwile. If only more Christians in the west had the courage and moral fortitude that you do, Pray for us! We have become a faith of cowards.

    1. How right you are, Frank!

      What has happened to, “Be bold, be strong, for the Lord thy God is with thee.”

    2. Matt says:

      What in the hell are you talking about?

      There was absolutely nothing in this post or the one before it that didn’t repeat what I have heard dozens of times from “Christians.” If there is one topic “Christians” are not afraid to be obnoxious, rude and as disgusting as possible in condemning while utterly withholding forgiveness from people who are repentant, its homosexuality.

      Frankly, Mr. Anyabile’s post was one of the most cowardly posts I have ever seen as it was calculated to win him the approval of those who already agree with him plus the added bonus of feeling good for being a “martyr” without actually sacrificing anything. Earning the ire of those you don’t like anyway hardly qualifies as courage.

  30. Melissa says:

    I just found your blog thru the Janet Mefferd show and have been reading your posts. You are such a wonderful and composed writer. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  31. Rachel says:

    Dear Rev Adam Miller, There is a need to go toe-to-toe with a homosexual person’s private life because the lifestyle is to be taught in schools. You may ask “What’s to teach if it’s not human reproduction?” If the visual aid already being used in schools called “The Bottom Line” issued by Terrence Higgins Trust is anything to go by, then there is no need for qualms about frankness. In fact the use of dolls to illustrate positions and the coarse language used, without being in the general context of human reproduction, was something I found quite scary.

    I would never want to add to the distress of a person in the grip of same sex attraction who may be struggling with matters of conscience. I know and love various people with same sex attraction. However there is a ferocious homosexual lobby which seeks to impose that lifestyle on the consciousness of others. In fact, so that you are aware, there is a much wider agenda going along on the crest of this wave which extends to the imposition of a new order by Western Democracies covertly upon their own people. Once hastily implemented they wish to export this unifying idea by coercion to the rest of the world. In Western democracies God is now largely relegated to nothing more than “a beard in the sky”. Secular humanism is coming in which puts human will before God’s will, the opposite I think, of what you signed up to as a pastor? And the underlying aim is the destruction of the human family. This is a dire threat to future generations of children, but children alas are rarely given a thought – it’s all about what adults want.

  32. Dan Allison says:

    Stand tall, Pastor Anyabwile. Millions agree with you, and “get” what you are saying. Thank God for brave men like yourself.

  33. EJ says:

    Dear Mr. Anyabwile
    I read your original post regarding the importance of the “Gag Reflex” in discussions of Homosexuality a few days ago. I also read your second post, regarding the responses and comments you received from the first post. I don’t remember everything that was said in the first post, and I do not think I could write this letter as gently as I would like to if I read it again, so I will mostly be basing this off of what was said in the second post. Frankly, I don’t think I’ll be able to address it as gently as I ought to even so, but I feel the need to say something, so I’m going to try. If I come off as aggressive, or personally hateful or angry towards you, in apologise in advance.
    ***
    In the comments, I noted that you seemed genuinely confused as to why people were angry with you. So here’s my best attempt to explain why I was angry.
    I regret using “gag reflex” as shorthand for the conscience’s reaction. I regret it for two reasons. First, though I contend abhorrence is one legitimate reaction of the conscience, it is not the only reaction. Second, using that colloquial expression was too liable to be misunderstood, misused and hurtful.
    You’re right, that was a very bad decision on your part. A gag reflex does not indicate moral outrage, anger, or abhorrence. The idea of killing my sister is completely, violently abhorrent to me, but talking about it doesn’t make me gag. Among the things that do make me gag are vanilla pudding, macaroni and cheese, the smell of rotting food, and the smell of vomit. None of those are morally objectionable, though two of them are objectionable on health grounds. The one thing they do have in common, is that I would characterise each and every one of them as disgusting. In fact that instant gag reflex is almost the defining trait of a disgust reaction. Which brings me to my next point
    Some people intentionally misused my words, falsely saying I called people “disgusting.” I did no such thing.
    Actually, you did exactly that. You didn’t use that specific word, but that doesn’t mean you didn’t convey that message. When you talk about human beings by saying that their behaviour triggers your gag reflex, what you are saying is that their activities are extremely, viscerally disgusting to you.
    Most people have a hard time separating people from their behaviours. That’s why “hate the sin, love the sinner” is usually bad advice – hating the sin very easily, and very frequently bleeds over into hatred, or at least hateful action, towards the person responsible for that sin. To do otherwise feels unjust, and unrealistic. You may not have explicitly said that gay *people* are disgusting, but it is natural and predictable for people to take that message from what you did say
    That being the case, it is unfair to say that people are “intentionally misusing” your words. They are not; they are paraphrasing the message that you sent in your original post – a message that you *did* send, even if you did not intend to. If one person is claiming that you said something you did not intend to say, that person may be malicious, and twisting your words. But when many people are saying it, a good first reaction might be to determine whether you sent the wrong message by mistake.
    You have asked several people for specific feedback about what you did wrong in that post, and I know that this mistake is one you are already aware of. However, I want to emphasise how serious a mistake this is. Being called disgusting, foul, vile and corrupted is not a new experience to the LGBT community; it is a repeated trauma, an attack that has been thrown at them again and again, used as an excuse for all kids of violence and harassment. When your words carry that implication, regardless of your intent, you are ripping at a deep, painful wound. I have been taught, largely, I think, by people like you – advocates for racial equality and reconciliation, among others – that part of being in community with people who have been oppressed is having an awareness of where those wounds are, so that you can step carefully around them. Even if all that happened in this instance was that you failed to step carefully, that is still a serious concern.
    Again, I want to say that I appreciate that you are aware of this mistake, and that it was a mistake, and you apologised for it. I do not want to come across as beating you up for something you have already recognised and attempted to fix. But I could not tell, from your apology, that you fully understood how hurtful, and how predictable that harm was, so I wanted to be clear.
    For writing in this way, I offer my sincerest apology to every reader, not just those hurt.
    On behalf of this one reader, I accept your apology.
    Here’s what I need to say regarding the conscience’s reactions now. First, reactions of conscience are not equivalent to taste preferences as some contended.
    No, they are not. But “gag reflex” applies much more strongly to matters of taste than it does to matters of conscience, so this goes back to the primary miscommunication discussed earlier.
    Let me use an example. A virgin wife on her wedding night and a 15-year old girl may both feel deep shame with their first sexual encounter. This is not uncommon. Shame, a reaction of the conscience, suggests to them something morally wrong has happened. …[the 15-year-old] has willingly committed sexual sin, thus some of her shame is legitimate. …But [the new wife] has not, in fact, done anything wrong and need not feel shame. Her conscience needs to be informed by better moral reasoning—moral reasoning best grounded in Scripture.
    I think what you are trying to say here is that conscience is not a reliable indicator that something is wrong either, as it can be manipulated or influenced by a confusing upbringing, or high-pressure situations. As a result, conscience acts not as a final standard to show us right and wrong, but as a screening test, to show us which things might be wrong, so that we may hen consult scripture to determine where our true standard lies. Is that correct, or am I misreading you?
    In the comment thread, it seems to me that nearly everyone’s conscience reacted to those explicit descriptions used in the last post. Some were repulsed at the descriptions. Some reacted with “moral outrage” that I would ever write such things. But the fact that we had different and strong moral reactions illustrates the need to have first principle discussions.
    You are correct that the descriptions raised strong reactions, but I think you may be misattributing them. The fact is that, like the young bride you described above, most of your readership was raised in a culture where sex, and especially the details of other people’s sex lives, are highly taboo. Giving detailed, specific descriptions of *any* sex act, as you did, is considered bad behaviour in our culture. You put what came very close to pornographic content on a christian website, and people were shocked. That does not necessarily reflect on the nature of the specific sex acts you chose to describe.
    If these practices are wrong, they are wrong among heterosexuals, too. Nothing in my post should be interpreted as saying heterosexuals as a rule have their sexual lives in moral order. The evidence is much to the contrary and it raises its own moral questions, too.
    Again, you are missing the point. Yes, heterosexuals do those things, and maybe in some instances that is indicative of moral or sexual issues in that couple, although it’s debatable – the Bible does not exactly contain a reference manual on what constitutes acceptable sex within the bounds of marriage. But the main intent was to point out what I said above – that we are disgusted, not by this or that specific act, but by hearing about other people’s sex lives in general. Therefore your argument that having a strong reaction to descriptions of sex indicates that that sex is wrong, is inherently flawed. We would have strong reactions to any description of sex, because the *description* is itself taboo.
    But, there’s a tremendously important difference to note between heterosexuals and homosexuals who practice these things. Heterosexuals are not insisting that anyone treat their private practice as public policy. In the debate about homosexual behavior, it seems many of our gay neighbors want to say simultaneously, “Stay out of my bedroom” and “Make our acts acceptable and normal.”
    Since you were asking for specific feedback, here is your second huge mistake. Gay people are not asking for legal recognition or public acceptance of their *sex*. They are asking for legal recognition and public acceptance of their *marriages*. By treating the latter as if it is the former, you are reducing a couple’s entire life together to one tiny aspect of that life: sex. You are discounting the humanity and depth of their relationships – shared hobbies, common bills, sharing chores, cuddling on the couch, arguing about TV shows, listening to each other vent about a bad day, choosing to go to your partner’s favourite restaurant instead of yours, bringing home flowers just because, biting your lip instead of yelling because you’d rather hurt yourself than them, holding hands, rubbing their shoulders when they’re sore, having them rub your shoulders when they’re sore, eating dinner together, flicking soap suds at each other, laughing together until your ribs ache, getting chicken soup when your sick and knowing they’d do anything to make you feel better, plus a thousand other things.
    If you are married, I am sure you relationship with your wife is more than just frequent sex. I had the opportunity recently to hear a wonderful married man and woman of God talk about their relationship. They spoke about their love for each other, the character traits they saw and admired in each other, the ways that they sought God together, and the ways that they chose to serve one another. They talked about trust, and loving disagreement, and working in partnership. They didn’t talk about what they did in the bedroom, because that is private, but they were still able to talk about their marriage, because marriage is more than sex.
    By acting as if it is only heterosexual marriages that are more than just sex, you are suggesting that homosexuals do not have real, complex, human relationships. You are implying that they are mindless sex machines, only interested in other people for purposes of sexual gratification, without the love and human connection involved in heterosexual relationships.
    Like the issue of gay people and/or gay sex being ‘disgusting’, this is a pre-existing injury. Gay people have been depicted time and again as depraved sex addicts, incapable of real love. Their relationships have been disrespected and discarded. Gay couples who come to the church may be told that of course they can be Christian – but not together. This demand is an implicit statement of exactly the attitude I have just described. Break up with the person who has been your life partner fr the last fifteen years. Throw away the person who has stood by you through good times and bad, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Give up your best friend, your other half. If we phrase it that way, the way we would phrase it if we were talking about a heterosexual marriage, it sounds unreasonable. Yet we make it anyway, and gay people do not miss the implication of that. They hear the reality of what we are saying loud and clear: “Your love is not real. Your relationships are not of value.”
    I would not be surprised to hear that you did not intend to send any such message. In fact, from your responses in the comments, I have faith that you would not have intended to say such a thing. But again, the implications of the argument are not a secret. If you read responses by gay people to comments that express that same sentiment – that gay marriage is obscene because it demands public recognition of gay sex – you would find many variations on exactly the explanation I just gave. Using that argument is hurtful, and, as with your first mistake, that hurt is predictable and avoidable with a relatively small amount of effort.
    “Thabiti, you’re a mean bigot.” I trust everyone sees that such statements are not arguments at all. It’s a personal attack.
    Yes, it is a personal attack on you. But it is not just an indicator that the person saying it is mean or ruthless and thinks they can “win” by hurting your feelings. I am not telling you this in the hopes that you will be hurt or offended by it, I only want you to see the perspective these people are coming from: For a person who does not know you, who met you for the first time through that post (as I did), the impression that you are bigoted and towards gay people, and do not consider them to be full human beings is easy to come by. While I believe that you do not *intend* to send the message that gay people are disgusting, incapable of love, and that their relationships are without meaning, the fact is that you have sent those messages, and some of us who read these two posts received those messages. That being the case, it is possible that at least some of the people who called you a bigot are not just out to hurt your feelings, but that that was genuinely the impression of you they received from the very little they know of you.
    Second, such statements should never come from Christians. I found reading vitriol from brothers and sisters both ironic and sad.
    I agree. Please understand that for some of us, reading your posts, we felt every bit of that vitriol coming from you, *even though you did not mean it*.
    I don’t dare invite my best friend to church. I am not afraid that she would be told “we don’t believe gay sex is biblically sanctioned.” I am afraid that she would be told that she is disgusting, despicable, corrupted, and unloved. That she is rejected and abandoned by God, and that he will not help her until she ‘fixes’ herself and stops being attracted to girls. None of those things would be said in so many words. They would be implied, and assumed, and hinted at, in the arguments people chose to make, and the lines of conversation that people chose to focus on. They would be subtle, but they would be present, and my friend is not stupid. She would know what she was being told, and she would feel every comment like a fist.
    I believe that you have no intent to hurt me, or the people I love. I hope that if you met my friend, knowing she is lesbian, that you would nonetheless treat her as a person, to be loved and valued and listened to. But I know all too well that many Christians would not, and so does she. And when your words follow the well-worn path of one of those familiar veiled insults, it is easy for some part of my mind to attribute all the others to you as well, along with the worst intent behind them. This is not to say that such an attribution is fair, reasonable, or acceptable – only that it happens easily, if one is not on guard against it. I know this happens with me, and I do try to guard against it, but I don’t always succeed. When I read your first post, and again at certain points reading this one, I was viciously angry at you. The fact that I contained that anger behind my keyboard instead of spilling it all over you in it’s first blind fury, does not excuse the fact that it existed, and I am truly and sincerely sorry for that response.
    I do want to remind you that we are not just being nasty because we think it gives us an edge, or because we think it’s okay to hurt people. I imagine that you may have had moments where you wanted to hit back, and make the other person feel a bit as bad as they made you feel. If you are like me, you might well have felt that way in response to the very personal attacks we are discussing. Or maybe you didn’t; I believe I am more vengeful by nature than most people I know, so I cannot just extrapolate from myself to you. If you do have that impulse, then I sincerely respect and admire your restraint and wisdom, to hold it back and respond with grace. But not everyone has that maturity. Some of us are still reaching for it.
    What does it mean for a “free and democratic society” to systematically silence the voice of dissent? It means we’re in danger of no longer being “free” or truly “democratic.”
    This is just a running bug-bear of mine: you are not being silenced. You are being yelled at. It’s not pleasant, but it’s not a threat to democracy. Freedom and democracy require that you be able to speak, and have your voice heard. They do not require that your opinions be accepted or agreed with. There is a massive difference between being systematically silenced, and being loudly disagreed with. This is the latter.

    1. EJ says:

      sorry for the formatting mess – I originally wrote this in Word, and the formatting didn’t transfer over. I realise that makes it difficult to sort out which parts are quotes and which are my words, and I apologise for that.

  34. Melody says:

    Sin is gross, saddening, sickening, mind boggling. It should bring a reaction. When it doesn’t then children never get disciplined. People are allowed to take advantage of other people while others look away or sometimes cheer on.
    When sin is no longer gross it will be hell.

  35. Duane says:

    I have read these comments and the original posts that preceded them and I am quite honestly a bit troubled. I don’t want to be long winded nor do I want to be over simplistic, but perhaps just an instrument to prick at the consciousness of the reader.

    If we are of the church, or if you will, the bride of Christ we know that we are not of this world. This is difficult within the “church” because so many attenders of church are living a life in the world, or, more accurately, “of the world”. Hypocrisy is rejected by both Christ and the world. Hypocrisy separates man from God and hypocrisy is vehemently denied by the world in order to maintain its back bone….self righteousness.

    The voice of what we want to believe is the church in regards to homosexuality is absolutely futile at best because it is not empowered. I’m not speaking about individual believers, I’m speaking about the church that is of this world. Homosexuality and all sexual deviant behavior is here to stay as long as this world exists. It is of this world. Homosexuality and sexual deviant behavior was addressed in the Bible. God presented His view of these things clearly, and expressed plainly that believers in Christ must flee from these acts and temptations. Paul gave the clear response of action when it is found in the body of Christ.

    The church wants to be the moral authority and moral police outside the church when the immorality that has penetrated the church absolutely disqualifies it to do so. Our voice as believers, the voice of our church “leaders” needs to be clearly spoken to the world, however, the effort to effect change MUST be kept only within the church itself.

    The church, as God conceived, is a community from heaven that has descended on earth to display the life of God’s kingdom. By its way of life, its values, and its interpersonal relationships, the church lives as a countercultural outpost of the kingdom of heaven. We are to live that out. So many of us have lost sight of, or honestly never knew, what the true purpose of the bride of Christ, the actual church, the body of Christ is. The world has constructed faux churches, denominations, doctrines and breathed death in them. Disguised as “light” it appeals to the self righteous flesh of man. Again, I am not speaking about individuals.

    The fight against the moral corruption of this world by the so called church is a faux fight…..moral corruption is the world and this world WILL pass. The institutionalization of church was not of God. We wrestle with all of the death and decay around us because the odor of death and decay is something we try so hard to perfume over within ourselves. The purpose of the church is that it IS God’s created bride for His Son Jesus Christ. The purpose behind all of creation IS to give His Son a beloved.

    The bible teaches that “many will see the narrow way, but few will enter”. Few will enter because few even know what it is to be a part of the church….the true church. We are not here to repel and try to correct the sins of our culture and the world which we live in. Not one of us can accomplish that. Sin is not corrected, immorality can not be corrected. They can only be forgiven. That is what our lives and our voice should say. The bride is the reflection, the glory of the immeasurable love of Jesus Christ. Few church leaders were “called”….that is the sad truth.

    So….resist the temptation to weigh in on the state of the world. It is a distraction and your heart, mind, and thoughts are being captured…literally….by the enemy. It is a snare. Instead….examine yourself….realize the love of Christ beyond your personal intellect…..and be a beacon…..not a voice of the world…..for all to see. It is absolutely impossible for ANYTHING of this world….which is darkness….to be a true light. Live believing and understanding that you are a new creation….you are part of the bride….the beloved of All Mighty God.

    ….peace to all of you in Christ. My prayers are lifted for all……may the light of our lives open the door to share the Gospel to this lost world. May we honestly and truthfully love the lost…..because it is only through that love….that any will be saved.

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Thabiti Anyabwile


Thabiti Anyabwile is assistant pastor for church planting at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition. You can follow him on Twitter.

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