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In Bible,Christianity,freedom of religion,homosexuality,morality,Politics,Scott McClare,secularism,Worldview

Scrubbing the Sin List

By Scott McClare

Do you believe that Christians should be compelled to stop regarding homosexuality as a sin? According to his op-ed article published on Good Friday, New York Times columnist and gay activist Frank Bruni does.

Last month, the state of Indiana passed SB 101, a state version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which has been part of U.S. federal law since 1993. In short, RFRA prohibits the government from burdening a person’s free exercise of religion, unless it is to further a compelling state interest and does so in the least restrictive manner. RFRA is not absolute protection of religious practice, but it does provide one avenue of recourse for those who feel that their religious rights are being unduly restricted.[1]

After Indiana SB 101 was passed, prominent politicians, corporations, celebrities, and the media immediately piled on the state and threatened boycotts. The backlash was so intense that governor Mike Pence promised swift revisions to the law. One media outlet found a Christian-owned pizzeria whose proprietors said they would not cater a gay wedding; the restaurant received threats that caused them to close for several days.

By Justin Eagan [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia CommonsThe shaming of Indiana might lead you to believe that SB 101 was an anti-gay bill targeting homosexuals for discrimination. For Christian florists, bakers, restaurateurs, and photographers, the issue has not been refusing to serve a certain class of clientele. The pizzeria might decline to cater a gay wedding, but they also stated that they would not refuse to serve LGBT customers who patronized their business. Barronelle Stutzman, a Washington florist who was sued and fined for discrimination after declining to supply flowers for a same-sex wedding in 2013, had been happily selling flowers for a decade to the couple who sued her. Rather, the issue has been participating against their consciences in a religious ceremony.

With his column, “Bigotry, the Bible, and Lessons from Indiana,”[2] Frank Bruni joins the anti-Indiana dogpile, asserting that SB 101 was intended to target gays. However, he sets a poor intellectual tone right from the start by employing the bandwagon fallacy. Homosexuality and Christianity need not be in opposition, he writes, because “several prominent denominations . . . have come to a new understanding of what the Bible does and doesn’t decree.” In other words, several liberal denominations have decided that homosexual behaviour is compatible with authentic Christianity, and so should you. However, the three largest Christian denominations in the U.S.—the Roman Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, and United Methodist Church—currently all officially declare homosexual behaviour to be incompatible with Christian belief and practice, though each denomination has varying degrees of internal dissent.[3] Bruni wants us to get on the bandwagon, but can’t explain why we should get on his bandwagon.

Bruni’s next fallacy is the one C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”: assuming that old ideas are intrinsically inferior to new ones. He writes that viewing LGBT people as sinners “prioritizes scattered passages of ancient texts over all that has been learned since—as if time had stood still, as if the advances of science and knowledge meant nothing.” By contrast, he recommends the views of “gay Christian” authors and supporters such as David Gushee, Jeff Chu, James Brownson, and Matthew Vines. The Christian church has declared unambiguously that homosexual activity is sinful for nearly 2,000 years, but everything that really needed to be said about LGBT issues and Christianity was published in the last two?

(Bruni argues that scriptural opposition to homosexuality is sparse and obsolescent, whereas Vines, whom he cites favourably, claims that the Bible is authoritative but its teaching on sexuality is misunderstood. I wonder whether Bruni recognizes his contradiction?)

The biblical teaching on homosexuality is “scattered” and “sparse,” we are told. What of it? A truth told infrequently is nonetheless the truth, and the scattered pronunciations on homosexuality in the Bible are uniformly negative. (For more details, refer to my earlier post, “God Hates Shrimp?“)

Bruni also approvingly cites Matthew Vines’ argument that people in the apostles’ day didn’t know about homosexual orientation or loving, committed same-sex relationships. However, Vines was simply wrong. In 2000, James B. DeYoung’s examination of ancient Greek literature, such as Plato’s Symposium, clearly shows that their understanding of homosexuality was very much like ours. They discussed homosexual orientation and desire as well as behaviour, committed and promiscuous relationships, obsession with the body and physical attractiveness, even a form of “gay pride.”[4] Paul may or may not have read Plato specifically, but we can be reasonably sure that as an educated and well-traveled man, he was aware of these issues.

Bruni’s secular worldview clashes sharply with the Christian worldview in two significant ways in this article. First, he sees morality as fluid and evolving, based on the march of progress and the winds of public opinion. If right and wrong are malleable, then of course we can add or subtract sins from the catalogue as we please. Hence he closes his op-ed in agreement with gay activist Mitchell God, who says the church must “take homosexuality off the sin list.” However, for Christians, morality reflects the character of a perfectly just and righteous God, “with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).[5] The church can’t take homosexuality off the sin list. It’s not our list to edit.

Second, Bruni agrees with Gold’s assertion that “church leaders must be made” to stop thinking of homosexuality as sinful. He advocates a statist worldview in which government must correct the moral positions of organized religion and its practitioners if they fail to comply with the spirit of the age. He fails to recognize that government itself is subject to the laws of God. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29), said the apostles to the authorities, because they were told not to do the work the Lord Jesus had given them. The civil government’s authority comes from God (Rom. 13:1), and hence it has a duty to promote godliness and to let the church be the church. This is why Paul instructed Timothy to pray “for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). The church must be free to carry out its divine mandate of proclaiming the gospel of repentance and forgiveness of sins through faith in Christ. RFRA laws like SB 101 provide one avenue of recourse for Christians and others who religious exercise has been unjustly restricted by an overreaching government.

It is somewhat surprising to see one of the world’s most influential newspapers give voice to such a radical screed. Frank Bruni’s op-ed is long on assertion and opinion, but short on arguments supported by evidence. It is little more than an ultimatum: “Join the 21st century with the mainline Protestant denominations, ‘gay Christian’ authors, and myself, or else.” Or else what? I’m not an alarmist. We don’t need to fear the guillotines or lions, but advocates of sexual liberty are becoming more vocal in their call to restrict religious liberty. We need to remember that we are in an ongoing spiritual battle, and the tools of spiritual warfare are the same as always: practical holiness and effective apologetics. “[T]he weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).


[1] For examples of successful and unsuccessful RFRA challenges, see Mollie Hemingway, “Meet 10 Americans Helped by Religious Freedom Bills Like Indiana’s,” The Federalist, March 30, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, http://thefederalist.com/2015/03/30/meet-10-americans-helped-by-religious-freedom-bills-like-indianas/.

[2] Frank Bruni, “Bigotry, the Bible, and Lessons from Indiana,” New York Times, April 3, 2015, accessed April 12, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/05/opinion/sunday/frank-bruni-same-sex-sinners.html.

[3] For the sake of argument, if Christianity is defined broadly enough to include the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, then the five largest denominations (the fifth being the Church of God in Christ) officially oppose homosexual practice and same-sex marriage.

[4] James B. DeYoung, Homosexuality: Contemporary Claims Examined in Light of the Bible and Other Ancient Literature and Law (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2000). See especially Excursus 3, “Homosexual Behavior and Discussion in Plato,” 205-13.

[5] Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (ESV).