On the weekend of January 10–11, 2015, about 1,500 people gathered in Portland, Oregon, for the annual gathering of “LGBTQ1 Christians” organized by the Gay Christian Network. Brandan Robertson was there and reported on the conference.2 I would like to comment on his report.
Robertson is (in his words) the “national spokesperson” for the organization “Evangelicals for Marriage Equality” (EME). He states that EME exists,
to help change hearts and minds of evangelical Christians on the issue of same-sex civil marriage. . . . We make the case that you can be a faithful Bible-believing evangelical while supporting the right of same-sex couples to be civilly married in the United States and that whatever your theology might be, it shouldn’t dictate what you should believe politically and socially about this.3
He also tells us in the MSNBC clip that “The latest poll shows that 43% of millennial evangelicals now support same-sex marriage, which is mind-blowing.”4 Mind-blowing indeed! But is it something to rejoice about, as Robertson and those 1,500 conferees did, or something to weep over?
He opens his report about the conference this way:
Four years ago I didn't think it was possible to be both Gay and Christian. Those identities were diametrically opposed in my mind. To be gay was to have adopted a false identity rooted in sin and to be Christian was to find ones identity in Jesus Christ alone. So any attempt to mesh these two radical identities seemed to be futile to me. One canceled the other. You were either gay and opposed to Christianity, or a Christian and opposed to homosexuality. There was no other option.5
Can a person be a faithful follower of Christ and a practicing homosexual?
It is strange that as a professing evangelical Christian who presumably reads the Bible, Robertson would think back then that it was “impossible” for a person to be a Christian and a homosexual. In 1 Corinthians 5:1–13, Paul rebukes the Corinthians for tolerating a Christian man who was in an immoral relationship with his father’s wife. In fact, much of the New Testament was written to address sinful behavior and wrong doctrine in the first-century church. The question is not, can a person be a Christian and have same-sex attractions? The answer is, of course. There are thousands of people in America and many other countries who have both same-sex attractions and are Christians. The question is rather, can a person be a faithful follower of Christ and a practicing homosexual? The biblical answer to that is, absolutely not, just as Robertson thought in 2011.
But what changed Robertson’s mind? He makes it clear that it was in part a result of meeting “live LGBTQ evangelical Christians” at this conference (and no doubt in other places over the past four years) who shared their “heart wrenching stories” of being “kicked out of churches, schools, and homes because of their sexuality and yet still embraced their faith and had a desire to work for reconciliation and reformation within the very communities that caused them so much harm.”6
In his article, he mentions that one of the speakers was Pastor Danny Cortez, whose New Heart Community Church was expelled from the Southern Baptist Convention last year because of their acceptance of homosexuality.7 Another speaker was Vicky Beeching, a prominent songwriter and worship leader in the UK, who came out as a lesbian in 2013.
But there were also a few “protesters” at the conference this year from “the infamous Westboro Baptist Church” in Kansas whose representatives declared with signs and songs, Robertson tells us, “God’s hatred towards LGBTQ people.” If they did say that, they were grossly wrong and are not representative of most evangelicals who clearly state that homosexual behavior is sin.8 See, for example, the compassionate but biblically truthful response by Jewish Christian Old Testament scholar Dr. Michael Brown, as he responds to Vicky Beeching’s “coming out.”9
Christians should not hate gay people (whether they profess to be Christians or not) just as they should not hate heterosexual adulterers or gossips or thieves or wife-abusers or abortionists or corrupt politicians, and so on. We are to love people because God does (John 3:16). In fact, Jesus commanded us to love even our enemies (Matthew 5:43–44), whether they are political, moral, or religious enemies.
But there is also a significant difference between hating a person and saying that the person’s behavior is sinful. God loves sinners, but He declares all kinds of behavior and words and thoughts to be sinful that sinners need to confess and repent of. And God does make it abundantly clear that those who persist in sin and do not repent before they die will suffer eternal punishment in hell, a fact alluded to by at least one sign that the Westboro church members were carrying.
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9–10)
But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
If we are to be faithful to Scripture, we must say, lovingly but clearly, what God says about sin, including the sin of homosexuality. And to be clear, I would hasten to add that the way people from the Westboro church spoke out against homosexuality is not helpful but rather hurtful to the gospel witness that Christians should be in the culture.
Right in the midst of the Westboro protest, Robertson informs us, “a beautiful rainbow appeared in the sky over the conference center, which seemed to many to be a clear ‘wink’ of approval of the conference from the Man upstairs.” About this rainbow, conference organizer Susan Shopland also remarked that God was “ever-so-quietly making his presence known.”10 But God is not the “Man upstairs” and the rainbow was not a sign of God’s approval of the conference, though it was a sign of God’s presence. There are only four references to a rainbow in the Bible, and all of them are associated with the holy majesty of God and judgment (Genesis 9:13–16; Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 4:3, 10:1). The latter three refer to visions of the glory of God on His throne. The only reference to an earthly rainbow is in Genesis 9. After the judgment of Noah’s Flood, it signified that never again would God destroy the earth with a global Flood. It was not a promise that God would never execute global judgment again. The book of Revelation and 2 Peter 3 make it clear that the next global judgments will be associated with the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. But there is absolutely no biblical basis for thinking that the rainbow over the LGBTQ conference in Portland was an expression of God’s approval of those behaviors and teachings. Given the fact that both Jesus (Matthew 24:35–37) and the Apostle Peter (2 Peter 3:3–12) use the Flood as a harbinger of the judgment to come and a call to holiness in believers, the rainbow over the Portland conference was, if anything, an expression of God’s disapproval of what was promoted at the conference.
Each morning at the conference, the participants gathered “for prayer and a time of passionate worship.” Robertson said that this conference “stands as a witness [to] the world that there are many LGBTQ individuals who are deeply committed to their Christian faith and are striving to live lives that uplift the name of Jesus while also embracing their God-given sexual orientation.”
Is our worship acceptable to God?
I don’t doubt for a moment that they experienced what they called “passionate worship” and that they were lifting up the name of Jesus. But the really important question, and a question that can be asked about all worship by professing Christians, is this: Is our worship acceptable to God? Whether it is acceptable to the worshippers or not is quite irrelevant. Jesus said that those who worship God acceptably (to Him) must worship Him in spirit and truth (John 4:24). We must worship God with sincere hearts and engaged minds, but also in accordance with God’s truth revealed in His holy Word. Otherwise our worship is unacceptable and can even be an abomination to Him. Don’t you think the Israelites thought they were passionately worshiping God in the golden calf incident in the wilderness (Exodus 32)? Quoting Isaiah 29:13, Jesus said the following to the religious leaders of His day:
Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do. (Mark 7:6–8)
But God through Isaiah did not condemn the people of Israel for being atheists or total pagans, but for being rebellious syncretists, mixing the worship of Jehovah (i.e., sacrifices in the temple worship, keeping sacred festivals, and so on) with wicked living, injustice, lack of concern for the disadvantaged and weak in society, and disobedience to God’s commands (see Isaiah 1:11–16). Solomon reflected the same indictment against religious practice that was unacceptable to God because of a person’s disobedience to God’s Word when he wrote, “One who turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination” (Proverbs 28:9).
Syncretism (mixing true and false religion) was a frequent problem in ancient Israel, and it has been a repeated problem throughout church history as well. We are not truly worshipping God (in a way acceptable to Him) when we are living in serious disobedience to His Word.
But, as Robertson rightly understood and believed four years ago, both the Old and New Testaments make it crystal clear that homosexual behavior is sinful (Genesis 13:13, 18:20, 19:1–13; Leviticus 18:22, 18:29, and 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11).11 And Paul also makes clear in Romans 1:26–27 that same-sex attraction is an unnatural, degrading (vile) passion and burning lust, just as Jesus makes clear in Matthew 5:27–28 that a man who lusts after a woman in his heart is involved in a form of adultery. Neither same-sex attraction nor heterosexual lusting after a woman who is not one’s wife (or after a man who is not one’s husband) is a gift from God to be embraced and celebrated, but is a sin to confess and flee. Therefore, a “gay Christian” is as much an oxymoron as a “lustful Christian” or “adulterous Christian” is. Both kinds of mental lusts are sinful and contrary to God’s will. And God can no more accept the worship of a person involved in a homosexual relationship or enjoying same-sex attraction in his mind than He can accept the worship of a person involved in adultery or fornication or enjoying adulterous thoughts or living a life of gossip or anger or lying or greed and trying to justify it as acceptable.
Robertson reported that at the conference he met numerous people who were “kicked out of churches, schools, and homes because of their sexuality.” Now if such a person were expelled from a local church because he (or she) told someone or it became known in the church that he (or she) had been involved in homosexual behavior and was struggling to deal with feelings of same-sex attraction, then I would say that church was seriously wrong to expel the person. The church is, among other things, to be a place for the spiritually and morally “sick” and “wounded” and “broken” to find the healing and liberty and redeeming grace to be transformed into the image of Christ. And there were multitudes of such people in the church of the first century, people who were cleansed and freed from all kinds of enslaving sins (1 Corinthians 6:9–11).
But if a person were in the church seeking to influence the church to accept and celebrate his (or her) homosexual behavior and same-sex attraction as a gift and calling from God, as apparently all at the LGBTQ conference were doing, and if the church sought to bring this person to repentance and could not, then by expelling him (or her) it would be doing exactly what God’s Word clearly says to do with Christians living in sin (e.g., 1 Corinthians 5:1–13).
We need to pray for any Christians we know who are trapped in this unbiblical thinking and sinful behavior. They are deceived by Satan (Revelation 12:9) and by their own sinful hearts (Jeremiah 17:9), just as we all can be, if we don’t submit to God’s Word. And we need to pray for wisdom and the right opportunity to lovingly and humbly share the truth of God’s Word about His holy standards, the saving grace of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit for such deceived Christians to become, one day, like the Corinthians, people who can say, “Such was I once, but I’ve been washed, I’ve been justified, I’ve been and am continuing to be sanctified by Jesus Christ” (see 1 Corinthians 6:11).
Robertson has a new book coming out in October 2015 titled, NOMAD: Not-So-Religious Thoughts on Faith, Doubt and the Journey Between. About the book his website says the following:
Are you on a spiritual journey . . . “wandering” from place to place, denomination to denomination, church to church, but you still feel unfulfilled and lost? It's time to change the way you see wandering and accept your invitation to the “nomad” journey. Often in Christianity, wandering is seen as negative. If you wander, it generally means you are veering off the "narrow path" and are headed for destruction. But what if wandering was your key to experiencing God in brand new ways? In Nomad, Brandan Robertson invites you to embrace wandering as evidence that the untamable Spirit is drawing you into a deeper, richer faith than ever before. While many feel condemned or disconnected for wandering, Nomad leads spiritual seekers on a liberating journey that recaptures the vastness and awe of faith. It opens the un-churched up to a God Whose greatness can't be contained by man-made buildings. And for the 'religiously unaffiliated, ' you might just see your journey, hear your voice and identify your struggles in the pages ahead. To all the “Nomads”—get ready to discover a faith without borders.12
It is hard not to conclude that Robertson is on a wandering journey from faith (that he used to have even four years ago) to increasing doubt. Where he will end up and his rejoicing readers will end up, only God knows. But according to Scripture, it won’t be a good place spiritually.
Robertson tells us that the January conference was immensely influential on him.
As I walk away from this weekend, I can honestly say that my life has been changed. I have experienced God's truth and love in a more profound way that I ever have before. I have glimpsed into the future of the Church and am filled with hope and expectation. And I anticipate that one day very soon, the Church will finally become the place where all people can be welcomed, affirmed, and celebrated for who we are, just as God made us to be. May it be so.
But he didn’t experience God’s truth about sexuality at this conference. He experienced very sincere, but sincerely wrong Christians twisting Scripture to defend their lifestyle and thinking. God didn’t make a person to be a homosexual, just as He didn't make a person to be a fornicating, adulterous heterosexual. May it always be true that an LGBTQ person can come into our local church and feel welcomed and affirmed as a person made in the image of God and as a fellow sinner in need of the saving grace of Christ. But may it never be so that the church of Jesus Christ will be a family that tolerates practicing LGBTQ people who claim to be Christians and who want the church to affirm and celebrate their sexual immorality.
The Christian faith is not a faith without borders. Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13–14).
About 600 years before Jesus, the prophet Jeremiah told this to the people of God:
Thus says the Lord: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention.’ Therefore hear, O nations, and know, O congregation, what will happen to them. Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster upon this people, the fruit of their devices, because they have not paid attention to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it.” (Jeremiah 6:16–19)
And 700 years before that God told Joshua the following:
Be strong and of good courage, for to this people you shall divide as an inheritance the land, which I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, that you may observe to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may prosper wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:6–8)
And 40 years earlier, God commanded all the children of Israel through Moses, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2). This is the constant message of Scripture from beginning to end. Stick to the Word of God. Submit to its teaching in morality and in every other area. Walk in the Spirit and you will not carry out the lusts of the flesh (Galatians 5:16), whether homosexual or heterosexual lusts. Love Jesus and all of His teachings.
There is a narrow path, a good way, a road to spiritual success and the true knowledge of God, a path clearly laid out for us in the Word of God. We dare not turn to the right or the left from it.
Christians are wandering, lost in a land of doubts and coming up with all kinds of ways to twist the Scriptures to justify their doubts and nebulous “faith without borders.”
What we are observing in the church in America, indeed in the whole former Christian West, especially among the younger “evangelical millennials” is truly troubling. Christians are wandering, lost in a land of doubts and coming up with all kinds of ways to twist the Scriptures to justify their doubts and nebulous “faith without borders.”
We need to pray earnestly for revival and reformation! And we need to cling to the Word of God as the culture and many in the “church” become increasingly hostile toward God’s Word and toward those who believe and teach its truth. But let us do so with humility, patience, and grace, even as that Word commands us to do (2 Timothy 2:24–26).