The scandal of the evangelical conscience

Megachurch pastor Andy Stanley recently preached a sermon on the tension between grace and truth, in which he shared the story of a gay couple who attends his church. Stanley neither condemned nor condoned their homosexuality; he simply told their story.

That same week, a video of another pastor, Sean Harris, went viral. He could be heard telling parishioners to punch their effeminate sons and break their limp wrists.

Andy Stanley’s decision to mention homosexuality without clearly condemning it prompted a backlash among some evangelical leaders like Al Mohler. A leading Christian website ran a front page story about the dust-up. It was suggested that Stanley was guilty of “total capitulation to the spirit of the age” (to use the words of one of Stanley’s critics) for not expressing his opposition to homosexuality.

On that same evangelical website, there was not one mention of the now famous sermon by Sean Harris.

To be fair, Harris is not a megachurch pastor. Nor is Charles Worley. Or Curtis Knapp. These individuals represent a small, fringe corner of the church. They don’t speak for everyone. They don’t speak for most Christians who oppose homosexuality.

Their following may be mercifully small; however, thanks to the wonders of social media, their platform is anything but.

  • Nearly 400,000 people have watched a video of Sean Harris advising parents to punch effeminate sons and break their limp wrists.

In recent weeks, these individuals have become the face of the church to our gay and lesbian neighbors. Which is what makes the silence of evangelical leaders so unfortunate.

This is where we could use a little of Al Mohler’s indignation. Surely this is more deserving of a front-page story on a leading evangelical website than what some megachurch pastor didn’t say about homosexuality.

Even if you believe homosexual practice is at odds with the Bible, you probably understand there’s something else incompatible with the way of Jesus: hate.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10, NIV)

As Christians, we have a debt of love to our gay and lesbian neighbors. This debt obligates us to speak against the violence and hatred of men like Sean Harris, Charles Worley, and Curtis Knapp. Silence is not an option.


* BTW, someone by the name of Adolf already tried this. During World War II, Hitler sent thousands of gays to concentration camps, along with Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the mentally disabled, and other “undesirables.” You know, in case you were wondering where Charles Worley gets his inspiration. For more, see “Nazi Persecution of Homosexuals” on the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

Related post: They Can’t Take Your Baby Jesus at Homebrewed Theology

10 thoughts on “The scandal of the evangelical conscience

  1. I completely agree with your premise that love trumps hate for all Christians in all situations. But I am at a real loss for what that looks like when we encounter gay friends, family members or co-workers in real life. Is silence an option there? HOW do we hate the sin (if that is our true conviction) and love the sinner? Somehow Jesus managed it, but I am struggling.


    1. I wrestled with the same question for a long time, and eventually came to four conclusions. I don’t know if this is helpful to you or anyone else, but I hope so.

      (1) “Love the sinner, hate the sin” may not be the most helpful starting point. It tends to define the other person in terms of one characteristic which we all share, regardless of our sexuality. We are all broken; we are all sinners. But all of us are much more than that, too. In the gospels, it was the Pharisees who labeled those they didn’t like as “sinners.” Jesus didn’t seem to have much use for such labels. Maybe a better starting point is for us to see people as God sees them.

      (2) The right to speak into someone’s life has to be earned. When that right hasn’t been earned (or when it’s been lost), sometimes silence IS the best option. I remember listening to Bryan Stevenson (a well-known advocate for criminal justice reform) describe a conversation with a German legal scholar who was explaining why his country could never reinstate the death penalty. He said that after Germany had killed so many innocent people in WWII, they had forever lost the right to take another human life. The same principle applies, I think, to homosexuality & the church. We don’t have a great track record of loving our GLBT neighbors, in light of which maybe we should relearn how to love our neighbor before we presume to lecture them about right and wrong. Besides, it’s not like GLBT persons are unaware of what most Christians (not all) think about their sexuality.

      (3) I appreciate that you qualified your question with “if that is our true conviction,” because quite honestly, I think it’s time we took a long, hard look at our convictions. If we are going to label someone’s sexuality (something they didn’t choose for themselves) as unacceptable to God, we owe it to them and ourselves to make sure we’ve got this right. I’ve come to believe that the Scriptures paint a far more nuanced picture than most evangelicals want to admit. The case against homosexuality rests on a handful of proof-texts, held together by the assumption that Scripture endorses one (and only one) form of sexuality. This argument, in my opinion, is far more tenuous than many evangelicals are willing to admit.

      (4) Speaking of the Bible & sexuality… in the Scriptures, God seems perfectly willing to work with people whose sexuality deviated quite far from what is often assumed to be the one and only acceptable norm. Abraham married his half sister, yet he was the father of the Jewish faith (and our spiritual forefather, according to Paul). David had several wives and concubines, yet he was deemed a “man after God’s own heart.” Now I’m not saying there aren’t ANY normative principles we should live by, and I’m certainly not endorsing incest or polygamy. But the point is, God doesn’t seem nearly as hung up about sexuality as we do sometimes. So the question is: if you believe homosexuality isn’t what God wants for people, does that mean GLBT persons can’t have a relationship with God unless they renounce their sexuality? If you answer yes, then how do you account for God’s relationship with people like Abraham and David?

      (Apologies for a comment that is longer than the original post!)


  2. Nearly every person who acknowledges an aversion to homosexuality does so on the basis of what he or she believes the Bible has to say. In their mind, there is no doubt whatsoever about what the Bible says and what the Bible means. Their general argument goes something like this: Homosexuality is an abomination and the homosexual is a sinner. Homosexuality is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments. Therefore, if we are to be faithful to the clear teachings of Scripture we too must condemn homosexuality. Needless to say, this premise is being widely debated among evangelicals today and seriously challenged by biblical scholars, theologians and religious leaders everywhere.

    It rarely occurs to any of us that our reading of Scripture is profoundly colored by our own cultural context and worldview. In light of the post above and since I happen to speak and write on this topic, I thought you might find some of these posts of particular interest and relevance. I would particularly recommend the following:

    “Genesis 19: What Were the Real Sins of Sodom?”
    “Leviticus 18: What Was the Abomination?”
    “Romans 1: What Was Paul Ranting About?”
    “Romans 2: Paul’s Bait and Switch”
    “Genesis 1: Turning the Creation Story into an Anti-Gay Treatise”
    “Why No One in the Biblical World Had a Word for Homosexuality”
    “Exegesis: Not For the Faint in Heart”

    (Links to these and more posts may be found by simply clicking the link below and then selecting the “Archives” page.)

    -Alex Haiken


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s