In a recent article, Barnabas Piper criticizes Christians for the manner in which they confront the sin of homosexuality. The problem with these confrontations, argues Piper, is that they are not equally distributed over other sins. What about the sin of fornication? Or divorce? Why do these not get equal attention?
This is certainly one of the most common objections to Christians who confront homosexuality. But, I think there are a number of problems with it. Let me mention just a few:
1. This objection can be a distraction from the real issue. When someone is confronted with sin, one of the most common defenses is to “accuse the accuser.” Maybe they weren’t compassionate enough. Maybe they weren’t gentle enough. Maybe the confrontation wasn’t executed precisely right.
While these reverse accusations might even be true, they are often made in order to deflect attention from the main issue, namely the sin in a person’s life. There is no better way to avoid repentance than to say to one’s accuser, “Oh, yeah? Well you sin too.” The best defense is a good offense.
It would be like complaining to the police officer about getting a speeding ticket simply because he didn’t give everyone in your lane a speeding ticket.
Thus, when Christians have the courage to confront a sin like homosexuality in our culture (and yes, it does take courage), I am not sure the main focus needs to be on how poorly they confront other sins.
2. This objection is not entirely accurate. I think it is substantially misleading to suggest that Christians are not busy confronting sins like divorce, adultery, and fornication. Sure, there are plenty of churches out there that are unwilling to address these issues (just like there are many churches that don’t even preach the gospel). But, for the most part, evangelical churches are quite willing to speak out on these matters. Youth groups encourage sexual chastity, church’s offer sexual addiction seminars, and ministries offer help to save troubled marriages that are headed for divorce.
These sorts of things are missed because they are not as public. The reason that Christians are speaking out against homosexuality publicly is because they are being forced to do so by the aggressive homosexual agenda in this country. Christians are simply responding to the issue incessantly raised by the media and by popular culture. If the media kept pounding away on the issue of adultery, I am confident Christians would respond to that issue as well.
3. This objection is theologically misinformed. Piper’s concern that Christians prosecute all sins equally is based on the fact that he sees all sins as the same. He states, “What we fail to recognize is that every sin from the mildest gossip to the wildest orgy is a mark of the fall, proof of sins twisting God’s good creation.” Yes, every sin is a mark of the fall. And any sin is worthy of God’s eternal condemnation. But, and this is key, that does not mean every sin is equally heinous.
Missing in Piper’s analysis is a careful discussion about how some sins are more grievous than others and therefore warrant a more vigorous Christian response. I appreciate Robert Gagnon’s fine response to this problem:
Some sins, by virtue of being more foundational violations of God’s ethical standards, are more severe than others. Saying this does not excuse any sin nor justify hateful reactions to those who commit greater sins. It simply underscores the absurdity of claiming that all sin is equal in all respects before God. Cutting in line is not the moral equivalent of Hitler’s killing of 6 million Jews, and anyone who argues that it is has lost his or her moral compass. Having sex with one’s mother is worse than gluttony or slight gossip. Is this not obvious?
Homosexual practice is a direct violation of what Jesus understood to be the foundation for all intra-human sexual ethics—“male and female he [God] created them” (Genesis 1:27).
If the sin of homosexuality hits at the core of what it means to be human, and thus hits at the core of our being made in the image of God, and is the very issue being raised perpetually in our culture, then Christians ought not to be chided for challenging it more than other sins.
Mark Lamprecht (@hereiblog) says
Good reply. Scripture also tells us that sexual sins are the only sins committed against the body. And homosexuality is singled out in Romans 1. I think the perspective about those pushing the homosexual agenda is important.
We don’t have groups of people organized who are pushing those others sins as acceptable lifestyles. However, there is a sense in which many of those others are, sadly, already accepted. But that does not mean we should add to those sins. And, of course, recovery ministries are usually seen as a good thing until it is one that helps people “recover” from homosexuality.
Yes, there is a double-standard, but I’m not convinced Christians are the ones guilty of it.
Kate Snyder says
The double standard is greatest in the professing apostate church because of rampant divorce and remarriage, which Jesus defined as adultery. Unless this sin is removed from the body of Christ via repentance, the hypocritical outcry against homosexuality has little power to affect change. The blind leading the blind…and the ditch is darkness.
I am yet to see the Bible normalise sin. It is humanity that seeks to rationalise what God is opposed to. God disciplined Moses for his disobedience & shows no favouritism. Warnings can be an act of care & love given in a spirit of genuine concern of what may eventuate if not heeded. Great rejoicing also when a warning is heeded.
It’s also like you said in point 2 & the media presents an edited form of reality to the viewer with a particular bias at times. Perhaps the objectionable young person in the article has fallen for that without considering a more informed view of what really happens in Bible/Spirit driven churches.
I think the difference between embracing homosexuality as a lifestyle and other sins is that there is a conscious volitional commitment to a particular sin. Rarely would someone willingly be known by their sin. An alcoholic would not knowingly outwardly commit themselves to alcohol for life, they may in fact do so, but it would be odd for them to base their identity on it. It’s almost like openly joining a cult. Embracing homosexuality is a choice that must be calculated in a person since it will define them in many ways. Other sins usually don’t necessitate such deliberation, some do, but most people contemplating a particular sin in no way want to be defined by it for life. A man who cheats on his wife is not publicly saying I am forever and infidel. There is a flaunting of sin with homosexuality that other sins do not require. Now as a culture changes and embraces perversion this would not remain as flagrant since in some ways the shock factor or volitional aspect would only be there in a society that does not wholeheartedly embrace sodomy. Yet the stifling of the conscience must still occur, the obvious contempt for nature must still remain, the obvious blurring of gender must still go on, etc… even where homosexuality is tolerated well. Which would be harder really, convincing someone that they should repent of lying or of lusting or that someone should repent of the biggest decision in their life in some ways?
Kate Snyder says
There has been a conscious volitional commitment to adultery as well. Look at what has occurred in Western society regarding remarriage in the past 100 years. Remarriage was considered adultery in the church for about nineteen centuries.
So, your statement, “Rarely would someone willingly be known by their sin,” is no longer true because the definition of adultery has changed. It’s a huge societal shift. Sin is no longer sin. Today we have pastors on their second wives (while the covenant spouse is still living) and no one bats an eyelash. One could say it’s cultish to embrace and flaunt adulterous marriages in Christendom, as if it’s nothing, but it’s been going on for decades. The shock factor is gone. And the endorsement of adultery is one reason we have a frighteningly growing acceptance of homosexuality in many denominations, which gay activists have rightly called us out on, labeling Christians as hypocrites.
What will the American church look like in 2113? I doubt there will be even one Protestant denomination where homosexuality is not fully accepted as a non-sinful lifestyle with same-sex marriages joyfully celebrated. But there will be a small, faithful remnant of genuine believers who still believe homosexuality is sin, just as today there is only a handful that hold to Jesus’ clear definition of adultery.
It is the task of the church to proclaim the truth until Christ returns @ the Father’s bidding. Homosexuality & fornication may happen, divorce also along with re-marriage & when it does the church should deal with it as Christ himself would have. The seven letters in Revelation describe how a church can miss the mark as much as get it right…what an encouragement to be faithful & how patient & forgiving is God?
Whatever a situation two wrongs don’t make a right. If a church has got its message or holiness out of order that is no comfort to homosexuality or the church in question, again like the police person/ticket example.
The remarriage/divorce/fidelity issue is not as straightforward (or rampant? point 2) from what I can tell. Would I be excluded from the gracious place of heaven for being married to a woman who had been married before & whose husband had forsaken her for another? Or does God give His blessing on us & our children?… are there any biblical circumstances at all that may give a different bearing… after all Jesus also said anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart ? And anyone who hates his brother is a murderer?
Each individual has to appear before the Christ & give an account. No matter how much solidarity exists at present on earth regarding this or that. As far as a defence goes there will be no finger pointing…Christ will ask each of us what we did concerning His gracious message, did we build on it, or reject it in favour of another.
You’re right, but the societal shift is not complete, so there is still a boldness needed to commit to Sodomy that other sins would not require. You have to agree that “coming out” as a homosexual involves different decisions than those an adulterer would face. An adulterer may calculate perceptions/judgments/consequences from a small group of people but a homosexual must make these calculations based on what everyone will think of them. As people are cradled in their sin this might get more comfortable, but still it is different. I do see your point and agree with you for the most part. I think in arguing for Christian involvement in the culture that this is a benefit or common grace that we have taken for granted, namely, that Christians in past generations had a shaming effect on the pagans, but now we are too much like them to ever shame them.
t l says
Perhaps Barnabas Piper did not go far enough to make his point. What is utter depravity, unless it’s the complete lack of virtue of any kind? We don’t win any bonus points by choosing to commit one sin instead of another. God can’t look upon ANY sin – isn’t that what makes them equally abhorrent? We are so accustomed to sin that we don’t realize how thorough and visceral it is in each of us. That is what makes Christ’s sacrifice for us so beautiful. That’s what forces the necessity of salvation. The Ten Commandments aren’t listed in order of severity, as much as they build upon each other to create an impregnable whole. Might those of us who want to think that some sins are worse than others actually undermining the integrity of the entire argument?
JB Chappell says
Ironically, this post seems to commit the same error it accuses Piper (and others) of: namely, being a distraction from the main issue. Maybe not every sin is equally heinous, but it nevertheless remains the case that homosexuality bothers Christians, particularly evangelicals, FAR more than other sexual sins. I’ve been to many churches, and there aren’t many issues that elicit as much pounding on pulpits as much as homosexuality does. And given that Jesus commands us to consider the logs in our own eyes before pointing out specks, I do think that it is fair to criticize imbalances in how Christians confront sin.
When you read through Romans 1-3, about the downward spiral from suppression of knowledge, to the exchange of the glory of God for images, to the almost abandonment by God… there are steps on the way and I think Christians, noticing this in the culture, has experienced many of the steps and has to some degree accepted them, but has held out hope. The final outcome is in the form of homosexuality and other similar perversions, so, there is a sense of equality with divorce or heterosexual sexual sin, but the culmination is not there yet as Romans lays it out.