Two reports caught my eye this week.
One: In 2007, 90 percent of evangelicals said their church forbid (63 percent) or strongly discouraged (27 percent) “homosexual behaviors.” In 2020, that figure has dropped to 65 percent (33.7 percent forbid, while 31.4 percent strongly discourage).
Two: In 2008, 34.4 percent of evangelicals between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five supported same-sex marriage. In 2018, that figure had risen to 56.1 percent.
Could this data be related? Are evangelical churches changing their position on same-sex marriage to align with and attract younger adults? Are younger evangelicals changing their position on same-sex marriage because their churches are? Or are both happening?
When perception is reality
For twenty centuries, orthodox Christians have known that the Bible forbids same-sex sexual relations. (For more, see my website paper, “What does the Bible say about homosexuality?”)
However, as we noted yesterday, we currently live in a “post-truth” culture that is convinced perception is reality and truth is whatever you believe it to be. Tolerance is the cardinal value of our day, while intolerance is the cardinal sin.
This insistence on relative truth and subjective morality directly contradicts the fact that all Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16) through the work of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21) as unchanging truth (Matthew 24:35). Jesus was clear when he told his Father, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Nonetheless, the “perception is reality” approach to truth is applied today to moral issues across the spectrum of life, from abortion to euthanasia. It flies in the face of logic (to claim there are no absolute truths is to make an absolute truth claim). And it is applied subjectively to behavior we wish to tolerate rather than objectively to all of life. (Otherwise, 9/11 would be Osama bin Laden’s “truth” and racial sin would be the racist’s “truth.”)
But there’s another dimension to the story, one that evangelicals who affirm biblical morality may not always consider.
“Acceptances precedes obedience”
Dr. Preston Sprinkle, president of the Center for Faith, Sexuality & Gender, notes that we are most likely to vilify the sins we are least likely to commit. He writes, “In many ways, Christians have treated LGBT+ people the same way the Pharisees treated tax collectors. And so Jesus’ approach to tax collectors gives us a good model for how we are to embody the gospel toward LGBT+ people.”
How did our Lord treat them? His example shows us that, as Sprinkle notes, “acceptance doesn’t equal affirmation.” Rather, “acceptance precedes obedience.”
Matthew and Zacchaeus were both tax collectors when Jesus called them. His acceptance of them did not imply affirmation of their sins. Rather, it led to a relationship that produced obedience and transformation in their lives.
Sprinkle adds that even if we could convince people to live by biblical morality, “We’re saved by faith, not sexual purity” (his emphasis). Our job is to stand for biblical truth but to do so with biblical grace.
Why we must not “self-censor our gospel witness”
I am glad that two-thirds of evangelicals say their churches still affirm biblical morality with regard to same-sex marriage. I grieve for those churches who do not and wonder how many of their members are missing the truth they need on this and other crucial issues.
For our sake and those we influence, we must not waver in our commitment to biblical truth. It has been noted that we don’t break the commands of God—we break ourselves on them. A man who jumps from the tenth story of a building doesn’t break the law of gravity—he illustrates it.
Nor should we withdraw from the declaration of unpopular truth. As Janet Denison notes in her latest blog, “When the faithful self-censor our gospel witness, we give up the power to lead others to faith.”
Here’s our best response: affirm and share biblical truth with biblical grace. “Speaking the truth in love” is our mandate and should be our mantra (Ephesians 4:15). People need to know what God says about sexuality and other areas of life, but they also need to know that we are sharing his truth out of gratitude for his grace.
Why “grace is given”
We are all broken sexually and in every other dimension of our lives. We were sinners when Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8) and we are still sinners today (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8, 10). We are all in need of Jesus’ acceptance and transformation.
When we give others what we have received in a spirit of compassion and gratitude, we glorify our Lord and invite others to join his family.
As St. Augustine noted, “Grace is given not because we have done good works, but in order that we may be able to do them.”
What grace will you pay forward today?