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What should the church expect as same-sex marriage moves forward?

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This probably is no shock to the Americans reading this, but Canadians don’t really get you.

We look across the border, and we marvel at the evil of your health care system (y’know, the one that has people seeing a doctor in emergency rooms within 15-20 minutes as opposed to eight hours or more.[1. According to 2014 figures found here.] But, y’know, “free” health care, or something). We are confused by your political structure (because you actually vote for the head of your nation, which is just weird). And we are baffled at how you keep having these wild, open debates about controversial issues like same-sex marriage.

Most of us here in Canada don’t get what all the fuss is about. In fact, even as the US Supreme Court deliberates on whether or not to redefine marriage in America (with a decision expected to come near the end of June), and despite it being the major news story for months in some way, shape or form, it barely merits a mention here.

Heck, you can barely get a mention of the fact that Ontario’s former deputy education minister plead guilty to charges of child pornography possession (and claimed a number of other horrible things to his chatroom friends on the Interwebs)!

But I digress (ish).

We’re not the same

Here’s the thing: we’ve already been through what you’re going through in Canada. Except not. See, we’re not a society that really has a great deal of open discussion about issues. There’s often a great deal of fiery rhetoric thrown about within a session of parliament, but it’s rare when people get hot enough to actually demand open discussion in the public square (though it does happen on occasion).

But we’ve been where you are, America (or so we think). And as many supporters of same-sex marriage will tell you, our society hasn’t apparently fallen apart.

And yet, many of us are unaware of what we’ve lost.

In some cases this is because we’ve never really had it to begin with.

It’s helpful to remember that Canada’s political system—and, more importantly, our culture—is entirely different than yours. The differences between us are much greater than socialized healthcare, maple syrup and superfluous Us. And despite what some Americans say, we’re not Communists. But we are socialists (note the lower-case). We have a form of democracy, but we are also a “freedom from” culture. We gleefully bought into the secular experiment and its values of personal happiness and the accumulation of wealth. We have determined that big government is best, because when the government makes decisions for us, life is certainly a lot easier (even if it’s not better).

Which takes us back to same-sex marriage. When it was officially made law in 2005, there was some public debate, but very little. And all of it was inconsequential. The decision makers had already made up their minds on what they were going to do, and went ahead more or less unscathed.

This happened because they understood that the best way to make a radical change is not to jump in with both feet, but to make subtle shifts over a long period of time. You introduce them through backdoor channels and get people comfortable with them, so they don’t even notice (until someone actually mentions it) that they’ve redefined the nature of parenthood, for example. Canadian children no longer have “natural” parents, merely “legal” ones (something Dawn Stefanowicz helpfully points out here). And gender matters not.

Further, though our Charter of Rights[2. The full document can be explored here. Witness the technological power of the Canadian Government—we can’t even bother to put a proper text version of the Charter of Rights online.] continues to describe our fundamental freedoms as being

  1. freedom of conscience and religion;
  2. freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
  3. freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  4. freedom of association,

the free exercise of these freedoms puts you at risk of prosecution. You can still state your belief about what marriage is or is not, at least according to the letter of the law—the law itself explicitly states this in clause 3, regarding religious marriage—but the spirit of the law is to squelch dissent, a position reinforced by a 2013 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada.

In other words, we are free to think what we want, and believe what we want… but it’s probably best to keep it to yourself.

How does it really affect the Canadian church at the moment?

And here’s what it’s meant for the church here, at least insofar as I’ve been able to see: evangelical pastors have been able to, at least to this point, conscientiously object to performing same-sex ceremonies. We have also, at least so far, been free to continue to teach what the Bible says about marriage and human sexuality, though technically I could be at risk for prosecution for simply having positively reviewed Kevin DeYoung’s latest book should someone feel that it represents hateful speech. There hasn’t been a great deal of witch hunting at this point.

To some degree, and in addition the aforementioned clause in the law, this is for at least two reasons:

First, many mainline denominations embraced homosexual unions long ago, so there was already a ready-made option for those seeking a religiously oriented ceremony, even if these denominations are all dying.

Second, and perhaps more significantly, evangelicals aren’t a much larger segment of the Canadian population than those identifying with the LGBTQ community. The best high-end estimates put us at around 10 percent of the population. Realistically, it’s probably about half that.

So we’re in an interesting spot. There’s not a ton of political pressure to make an example of us because there simply aren’t that many of us for it to really make a big difference. You can’t scare people into conforming when there are hardly any who need to be conformed. (Then there’s the whole passive aggressive thing that we don’t need to get into…)

In Canada, though, our charge is simple: we need to clearly communicate the truth of the Bible faithfully and winsomely, all the while prayerfully and willingly accepting the consequences of going against the prevailing cultural and political orthodoxy.

How the church in North America moves forward

There isn’t a desire to challenge the standing law in Canada, not from the majority of the population nor from our government officials. Thus, same-sex marriage will not go away in Canada any time in the foreseeable future. And should it come to pass in America, and it seems all but inevitable that it will, it will likely be there to stay as well.

While that seems rather defeatist, consider what awaits on the other side. As strange as it is to say, this has the opportunity to be a refining tool. The creature comforts we’ve become so accustomed to will inevitably be stripped away from us. We should be preparing our friends and congregations for this reality. Tax exempt statuses will inevitably be withdrawn. Some pastors will likely face heavy fines or even jail time in the years ahead. In other words, the church in North America will suddenly start to look a lot more like the church in other nations hostile to Christianity.

But this should not be a deterrent to us in speaking the truth. We would all do well to remember Peter and John’s response to the Sanhedrin’s demand that they stop speaking about Jesus: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). And just as their trials bolstered their courage in the gospel, we must pray that the same will be true of us.

The gospel spread like wildfire in a world that was openly hostile to it. Perhaps it can again.

What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?

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Few issues cause more handwringing among Christians in our day than that of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. For some, it’s not a lack of clarity on what they believe, but about how to express it without being accused of being bigots, homophobes or hate mongers. So many in this group, because they are uncertain of how to speak winsomely, say nothing.

For others, the issue itself is extremely cloudy. They don’t really know or aren’t really sure what, if anything, the Bible says about the issue, and how to interpret what’s there. So when they read the arguments of affirming or revisionist authors, they have no idea how to respond or what to think. And because they aren’t grounded, they risk falling into serious error.

You can see why pastor and author Kevin DeYoung would be compelled to write a book on the subject then, can’t you? Which is why What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? exists. In this book, he wants to bolster the faith of those who know what they believe, but are unsure of how to communicate. He wants to bring clarity to those for whom the situation seems murky. And he wants to challenge those who, flying under the banner of Christ, would seek to revise what the Bible really says about homosexuality.

Where you start affects what you ask

Divided into two parts, DeYoung begins by first examining the texts which directly speak to humanity’s design and homosexual practice: Genesis 1-2, Genesis 19, Leviticus 18, 20, Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1. The inclusion of Genesis 1-2 might surprise some, since it is the creation account, but including it makes complete sense. After all, we can’t truly understand what the Bible says about homosexuality without first understanding how God created human beings.

For the Christian, there is nothing more basic than this: humans were created unique in all of creation—the man and the woman were made in the image and likeness of God. They were made to be something like him, as unity in diversity. And this is repeated referenced all throughout the Bible. It is the foundation and framework of marriage in Ephesians 5, and in Jesus’ own teaching on divorce in Matthew 19:4-6. It is a picture of the gospel, and a type of the marriage that is to come in the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 19). Thus, DeYoung writes,

Marriage, by its very nature, requires complementarity. The mystical union of Christ and the church—each “part” belonging to the other but neither interchangeable—cannot be pictured in marital union without the differentiation of male and female. If God wanted us to conclude that men and women were interchangeable in the marriage relationship, he not only gave us the wrong creation narrative; he gave us the wrong metanarrative. (32)

DeYoung’s point here is pretty simple: how you view the male-female relationship is inevitably going to influence whether the validity of same-sex marriage is even a question in your mind. If you function, as some Christians do, within the complementarian framework of gender—that is, each gender is uniquely designed to perform separate, but complementary functions—honestly, you’re probably not asking any questions about whether or not homosexual practice is compatible with Christian belief. In this framework, the two are not interchangeable, and therefore homosexual practice cannot be compatible with Christian belief. The conversation, therefore, shifts more toward answering the challenge winsomely.

For the egalitarian, however, the challenge is significantly different. If you believe that gender distinctions fundamentally have no bearing on your role and responsibility, you’re more than likely having to deal first with the compatibility issue. I don’t say this to disparage those who do hold this viewpoint, but merely to show that what we believe about male-female relationships may have drastic affects on our starting point on this issue (and potentially our end point).

What’s the fruit we’re talking about?

Part two of the book focuses on answering the common objections to the historic orthodox view of homosexuality:

  • the Bible’s limited discussion of homosexuality in general;
  • the cultural distance argument (that is, the kind of homosexuality the Bible talks about isn’t the kind revisionists advocate the inclusion of);
  • our lack of condemnation of sins such as gluttony and divorce outside of the biblically permissible reasons;
  • the church being a safe place for broken people and sinners;
  • being on the wrong side of history;
  • the fairness of encouraging same-sex attracted Christians to commit to life-long celibacy; and
  • love as the overriding attribute and characteristic of God.

Each topic, as should be expected, is handled very carefully, though DeYoung is not afraid to be a little jabby in places. On this point, it’s important to remember that DeYoung is not being hostile toward those who experience same-sex attraction, nor is he particularly hostile toward revisionist authors. What troubles him greatly—and shines through on every page of this book—is his overriding concern about the seemingly blind acceptance of false teaching in our midst, and the diminishment of the authority of Scripture as a result.

This is especially apparent when DeYoung writes on the fairness issue, countering the oft-cited “good fruit/bad fruit” claims of of Matthew Vines and other authors who ask, “If embracing their sexuality were really a step away from God… why are so many ‘gay Christians’ spiritually flourishing?” (116) In other words, how can it be wrong if it’s yielding “good fruit”?

The problem, DeYoung argues, is that the definition of “good fruit” proposed is wrong. In revisionist writing, experience has a tendency to trump the what Scripture says. Thus, the good fruit is fulfillment, satisfaction or personal happiness. It is a feeling. This is necessary for us to remember in a culture driven by experience—what we feel is not unimportant, but we cannot escape the fact that as fallen human beings with hearts and minds corrupted by sin, our feelings will lie to us. “The heart wants what the heart wants” is true enough; however, what the heart wants is not always what the heart needs. Tim Keller said it well in a recent conference message, when the heart wants something, the mind will find it reasonable and the emotions find desirable. Thus, we should probably be a little more clear about fruit is, biblically.

Instead of a feeling, Matthew 7:21 reminds us, good fruit is obedience. One only bears fruit when doing the will of the Father. Thus, if one is doing something contrary to the will of God, it is bad fruit, regardless of what we feel.  We must remember “there are no genuinely healthy trees apart from obedience to Christ and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-24)” (118).

Falling on deaf ears

As true as this is, and as beneficial as it is to be reminded of it, the reality is, as much as we might want them to, the revisionists aren’t likely to heed the warning DeYoung issues in this book. As I read the book, I kept thinking of how they might attempt to refute his claims. To be sure, those who hold the affirming position of same-sex relationships will almost certainly stand against it’s message, but those who do will be doing so on a shaky foundation.

The place I could see those standing in opposition to this book’s message appealing to most readily is experience.Because DeYoung doesn’t deal with same-sex attraction personally, one could argue, he doesn’t have a basis for writing this book. It’s a desperate argument, and a poor one, but one could still attempt to make the case. However, we should always remember that experience does not trump the Bible. Experience, as I said earlier, doesn’t supersede truth. And one does not need firsthand experience of something to be able to speak intelligently about it. Do we really expect pastors to develop a porn addiction before they can speak out against it? Or get divorced? Or become a drunkard?

And even if the argument were valid, one could just as easily point to Sam Allberry’s excellent book, Is God anti-gay?, which largely makes the same case as What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?—but he does so as a man who experiences same-sex attraction. Nevertheless, no matter how winsomely communicated, and no matter how rigorously defended, revisionists will likely remain entrenched in their position, despite its intellectual and theological dishonesty.

Pastoral responses and an urgent plea

Whether they are uncertain of what to believe, or simply struggle to effective communicate the truth, this book will be a great help to its readers. What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? offers clarity on disputed texts, pastoral responses to the common arguments, and most importantly, an urgent plea to hold fast to the truth in the face of mounting pressure to compromise. Lord willing, we will all carefully consider what DeYoung has to say in this book.


Title: What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?
Author: Kevin DeYoung
Publisher: Crossway (2015)

Buy it at: Westminster Bookstore | Amazon

“Stop feeling that way” doesn’t work

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Last night, Emily and I had an interesting discussion about a little booklet we’d been reading, Help! My Teen Struggles with Same Sex Attractions. Although the booklet had some good points throughout, and presents a solid (albeit extremely brief) rebuttal of common redefinitions of the so-called “hammer” verses on homosexuality, there was something just not quite right about it. In fact, if I had to sum it up in a couple of words, it would be this: naïvely simplistic.

Unless I’m completely misreading it (which I hope I’m not), the approach seems to be, more or less, “repent or you’ll keep being gay.” Keep contemplation and confession logs. Have Bible verses around the house to remind you of what God’s Word has to say on the issue. If your teen does these things, then they won’t succumb to temptation.[1. This also appears to be a reflection of the author’s embracing of the nouthetic counselling approach.]

Now, obviously, repentance is right when sin is committed either in the heart or in the body. If a Christian who deals with same-sex attraction entertains immoral thoughts, he or she should repent of that (just as a heterosexual Christian should). If he or she commits an act of sexual immorality with a member of the same sex, then repentance is required, just as it would be for Christian doing so with a member of the opposite sex. The response on the part of the one committing sexual sin, whether in the heart or in the body, is the same whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, absolutely. And likewise, those temptations can only be resisted with a new heart, one inclined toward Christ, and a new identity, that of being a child of God in Christ.

But the booklet does not seem to make a distinction between temptation and action itself. Based on some of its language, it seems to view the issue of inclination (which may or may not be welcomed by the one dealing with it) as an act of rebellion itself. But the reality may be more complicated than this.

We should not forget that sin wreaks havoc on every aspect of creation. This is why some of us are predisposed to be overweight, even when we have healthy eating habits, or why healthy people’s bodies suddenly turn on themselves as cancerous cells develop, or why hard working people live in poverty. It’s not that these people have necessarily done anything to cause these things: they simply are as a result of living in a fallen world.

Sin represents a disruption in God’s good creation that affects everything.

So, too, it is with our affections. We are naturally designed a certain way; and I believe God’s design is for men and women to be attracted to members of the opposite sex. But the fall disrupts even this aspect of God’s good design, in effect inverting our orientation for some of us. While this does not excuse acting upon these inclinations, it should serve as an important reminder: we should not treat a teenage or adult Christian as though they rebelling against God simply because of these inclinations. If we fail to recognize this, we may do far more damage to Christians—including our own children—than we realize.

This is not to say we should be soft on sin. Far from it. It is simply a recognition that we can’t expect “stop feeling that way” to work, no matter how many memory verses we post around the house.

Seven books to read on Christianity and homosexuality

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Last week, recording artist Vicky Beeching, whose songs are sung in thousands of churches in America (possibly even yours this weekend), announced, “I’m gay. God loves me just the way I am.” And she is just the latest among many who are either coming out as gay or in favor of same-sex marriage.

Far too many of us struggle to know how to respond. Is there a biblical case for same-sex relationships? Does the Bible really condemn it? Can we just “live and let live”?

If we’re going to be people who truly love our neighbors, we need to be people who tell the truth. And in order to do that, we need to know what the truth is—what God’s Word has to say about homosexuality. Here are a few books that I’ve found helpful and you might, too:


God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

This one might be the surprise recommendation to some of you. But it’s one I believe we all should be paying attention to as it purports to offer a biblical foundation for the compatibility of homosexuality and Christianity. For that reason alone, it will almost certainly be the book progressive Christians will be appealing to on this matter (in fact, one of them—Rachel Held Evans—wrote a glowing endorsement for it).

Buy it at: Amazon


Is God anti-gay? by Sam Allberry (reviewed here)

Sam Allberry’s book is one of the finest you will read on the subject. He writes not simply as a pastor helping Christians wrestle with the implications of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, but also as a man who deals with same-sex attraction. So for him, the temptation to compromise on what the Bible says would undoubtedly be strong. It would certainly make it convenient for him. Instead, he reminds us of the simple truth: “God’s message for gay people is the same as his message for everyone. Repent and believe.”

Buy it at: AmazonWestminster Bookstore


Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill

Like Allberry, Wesley Hill writes from the perspective of a man living with same-sex attraction. And like Allberry, he writes from the perspective of one who truly believes the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality and marriage. His approach is a little different than Allberry’s in that the message of his book finds its heart in the hope of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11: that although some of the Corinthians practiced homosexuality, and adultery, and were thieves, drunkards, and swindlers, “you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


The God of Sex by Peter Jones

Peter Jones broadens the discussion away from merely talking about homosexuality as if it were “the” problem, to the larger issue, which is one of worldview. For Jones, fundamentally, what we’re seeing is a clash of worldviews at work, the continued battle between the truth and the lie (Romans 1:25). Examining the relationship between sexuality and spirituality through this lens allows us to see how both worldviews see sex as sacred, but with purposes in mind.

Buy it at: Amazon


Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield

Rosaria Butterfield is another writing from first-hand experience, having been in a relationship with a woman for several years before her conversion to Christ. While the book is principally the story of her conversion, her thoughts on the conflict between the two opposing ideologies—especially given that she was a chief advocate for gay rights at an academic level—is fascinating.

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore


The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage by Erwin Lutzer

It’s been about five years since I read this one, so a lot of the details are fuzzy. However, I do remember it being you’d expect from its author: biblical, careful, pastoral and extremely helpful. While he does strongly express the serious implications of homosexuality and same-sex marriage on society, his point is not to condemn this sin as though it existed in a vacuum. Essentially, even as he equips us to think biblically about the issue before us, he also gives readers a gentle warning (and rebuke) to not ignore the other serious sins among us, whether greed, adultery or gossip.

Buy it at: Amazon


Bonus book: Love into Light: The Gospel, Homosexuality, and the Church by Peter Hubbard

This is not one I’ve read (yet); however, it is one that a number of friends and fellow bloggers have recommended. Here’s a look at what Tim Challies had to say in his review:

Hubbard writes as a pastor, as a counselor and as a man deeply marked by the gospel of divine grace extended toward human sin. He insists that the gospel makes all the difference, for before the cross we are all the same, we are all sinners, we are all in desperate need of grace.… The gospel makes all the difference and the gospel is exactly what Fred Phelps and so many others have thrown away in their misguided, hate-filled attempts to address homosexuality. “If our attitude toward a gay or lesbian person is disgust, we have forgotten the gospel. We need to remember the goodness and lovingkindness that God poured out on us. God should have looked at us and been disgusted. Instead, without condoning our sin, He loved us and saved us. And I want everyone to know that kind of love!”

Buy it at: Amazon | Westminster Bookstore

That’s a few of the books I’d recommend checking out. What about you: what books on this issue have you found helpful? 


Photo credit: Joe Parks via photopin cc

Book Review: Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill

Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill

There are few subjects touchier than the question of homosexuality and Christianity.

In recent years, in order to shift the portrayal of Christians as vicious homophobes, many mainline denominations have fully embraced homosexual practice as compatible with Christianity, as have some in “post-evangelical” circles, such as Tony Jones.

Given the enormous pressure to affirm and embrace homosexual practice, it can be really tempting to go along with it, or worse to give unsatisfying, pat answers to hard questions about Christian faithfulness and homosexuality.

So what do you do if you earnestly believe that God’s Word is true, and what it says about homosexuality is in fact the truth?

What if you truly believe that homosexuality is a serious sin as outlined in Scripture?

And what do you do if you believe it—and you’re gay?

Wesley Hill seeks to answer that question in Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. What qualifies him to do so?

It’s his struggle.

Washed and Waiting tells Hill’s story of seeking to be faithful to Christ while struggling with homosexuality; at the same time it provides an encouragement to gay Christians who are convinced that “their discipleship to Jesus necessarily commits them to the demanding, costly obedience of choosing not to nurture their homosexual desires” (p. 16). Read More about Book Review: Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill