By Jemalie John
“We have reached a time of great crisis in the church. We are no longer growing as we should. I’ve looked it up, I’ve done the research. We are growing in America at an average rate of four members per church per year. We are growing in this Union at an average rate of five members per church per year. Eighty per cent of teenagers in America no longer attend any church. We are staring into the face of the first un-churched generation in modern memory, who are biblically illiterate. You do word association with them — you say ‘Michael’, they say ‘Jordan’; you say ‘churches’, they say ‘chicken’. Our methods of evangelism depend upon teaching people who already have a reverence for scripture. And when they hear the truth as we understand it — we expect that their reverence for scripture will make them join us. But how do you reach a generation that has no reverence for scripture? The church is aging. The average age of an American citizen is 34. The average age of a church going Christian in our churches is almost 60. I don’t have to tell you we’re losing our youth.”
The above is an excerpt from a sermon presented by Evangelist Whitley Phipps some three or more years ago at a camp meeting in the North Eastern Conference of Seventh-day Adventist. Phipps, in this excerpt, underscores a challenge that Christians now face in evangelism. In any conversation, the point of reference is crucial. If two or more persons are having a conversation about any issue and they do not share a common point of reference, the result is likely to be chaos. For many in our society, on matters that touch and concern morality, the point of reference is the Bible. If they are engaging with other Christians, having the Bible as the point of reference is appropriate and legitimate as either one can persuade the other by referencing the relevant scriptures. And so, by precept upon precept and line upon line truth may be discerned.
What happens though, when a Christian is engaging with someone who has no reverence for scripture? Herein lies the difficulty with advocating that the laws of the land, which governs every citizen and visitor, should be strictly along religious lines. For the Christian, he may think that it is advantageous to him, but if such law is oppressive to those who do not subscribe to his religious philosophy, that law will be an impetus to revolt against all of Christianity. For this reason, among others, I refrain from framing the discussion about the buggery law simply along religious lines. I do believe that advocating for a law solely or primarily for religious reasons is wrong and we need to be careful of the precedents we set. So, the conversation must be broader than religion although most persons in the society hold a particular view solely or primarily for religious reasons. And even so, the views most oft-expressed are not even biblically sound. Here are four considerations we as Christians should honestly consider:
- There is no scriptural authority to support the view that buggery or homosexuality is more sinful than any other sin. Why then did God destroy Sodom and Gomorrah? Is it because he has a special hatred for homosexuality? If you recall the minor prophet Jonah, Nineveh should sound familiar. The Bible describes Nineveh as a wicked city worthy of destruction. Jonah 3:4 records, “… Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” The word “overthrown” (haphak) is the same root word used in Genesis 19:21&25, describing what God did to Sodom. God thought Nineveh worthy of destruction but unlike Sodom, Nineveh was spared. Why? Is it because their sins were different? No. Jonah 3:10 – “And God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way, and God repented of the evil, that he had said he would do unto them; and he did it not.” God destroyed Sodom, not because of their specific sin but because they were unrepentant. It is the same destruction that awaits every unrepentant sinner, regardless of their specific sin.
We see this principle again in Romans 1:27-29 where, in verse 28, the Bible records, “… and even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind”. Reprobate here refers to someone beyond the hope of salvation, a person whose mind is set on wrongdoing, feels no conviction for sin and has no desire for God. In this case, the Holy Spirit is grieved — what the Bible refers to as the unpardonable sin. That is why Sodom was destroyed and that is borne out numerous times in scripture. It is the same reason behind the flood in the days of Noah — not the mere destruction of a city but a worldwide destruction (note carefully that Genesis 6:1-7 does not mention buggery at all but heterosexual marriages and procreation, wickedness and violence). The principle is recorded in Genesis 6. Notice carefully in verse 3 God said, “… my spirit shall not always strive with man”. Verse 5 — God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. So, we see a pattern consistent throughout scripture – destruction does not follow specific sins, but the reprobate mind that rejects mercy. “That last night was marked by no greater sins than many others before it; but mercy, so long slighted, had at last ceased its pleading. The inhabitants of Sodom had passed the limits of divine forbearance –the hidden boundary between God’s patience and His wrath. The fires of His vengeance were about to be kindled in the vale of Siddim” – Patriarchs and Prophets Cap 14, pp. 159. God has made it clear that He does not delight in the destruction of the wicked but desires that we all come to repentance (See Ezekiel 18:27). Ezekiel 16:48-50 gives pertinent guidance on the destruction of Sodom.
Less popular than the story of Sodom but no less profound is the destruction of thousands for fornication, adultery and idolatry (See Numbers 25:1-9 & Numbers 31). We can look too at the experiences of Samson, Solomon and particularly of David. “God had favored and exalted David, and David’s sin misrepresented the character of God and cast reproach upon His name. It tended to lower the standard of godliness in Israel, to lessen in many minds the abhorrence of sin; while those who did not love, and fear God were by it emboldened in transgression” – Patriarchs & Prophets Cap 71 pp 720. David, a murderer and adulterer, is referred to as a man after God’s own heart; not because sex with Uriah’s wife was “natural” but because he had a repentant spirit.
We also see from scripture that no special penalty awaits homosexuals at the end of life, but it is listed quite normally among other sins (1 Corinthians 6:9-10) and is not included in those mentioned in Proverbs 6:16-19. More importantly, in James 2:10 the Bible instructs, for whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. The concept, therefore, of a hierarchy of sins is unbiblical. This is critical to appreciate because we are in part discussing societal attitudes toward specific sinners. If we promote a scripturally unsound hierarchy of sins, it perpetuates the unChristlike attitude toward homosexuals, while we normalise other sins. We have already seen from our experience the implication this can have in the church context when we treat certain sins as trivial (see James 3:16). It will do us well to consider too the very origin of sin. So, I caution against following those who promote this hierarchy for it creates other implications. One such implication is that overcoming homosexuality is more difficult by virtue of it being a special condition. As unnatural as it is, homosexuals do not have a special problem — they have sin — and the same power available to us is also available to them.
- We see too from scripture on the basis of the Luke 12:48 principle that God treated differently with those of the household of faith, especially religious leaders, than He did with the pagans. He was strict with His chosen nation, who were to be to the heathen nations a witness; and even down to present day He declares in 1 Peter 4:17: for the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God. So, too, must we be more compassionate with those who are not of our household of faith, for many of them were trained in error or exposed to the lifestyle through early abuse and need our love & support — not our condemnation.
- There is no scriptural account of Jesus ever advocating for secular laws to confirm with His commandments. In John 18:36, Jesus (at his own trial) stands before Pilate and answers: “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from thence.”
Gill’s exposition on this text says Jesus answered, my kingdom is not of this world… By saying which, he tacitly owns he was a king: as such he was set up, and anointed by his Father from everlasting; was prophesied of in the Old Testament; declared by the angel, both when he brought the news of his conception, and of his birth; was owned by many, who knew him to be so in the days of his flesh; and since his resurrection, ascension, and session at God’s right hand, more manifestly appears to be one: he also hereby declares, that he had a kingdom; by which he means, not his natural and universal kingdom, as God, and the Creator and Governor of all things; but his mediatorial kingdom, administered both in the days of his flesh, and after his resurrection; which includes the whole Gospel dispensation, Christ’s visible church state on earth, and the whole election of grace; it takes in that which will be at the close of time, in the latter day, which will be more spiritual, and in which Christ will reign before his ancients gloriously; and also the kingdom of God, or of heaven, even the ultimate glory: the whole of which is not of this world; the subjects of Christ’s kingdom are not of the world, they are chosen and called out of it; the kingdom itself does not appear in worldly pomp and splendour, nor Is it supported by worldly force, nor administered by worldly laws; nor does it so much regard the outward, as the inward estates of men; it promises no worldly emoluments, or temporal rewards.
Jesus rules, not with the force of manmade law but in the hearts and minds of His people. Thus, in Daniel 1, 3 and 6 — God’s servants acknowledged the freedom of men to honour or dishonour God and did not advocate for laws that kept them safe from prosecution — even when those laws struck at the very root of religious liberty. “We need to learn that chastisement is a part of His great plan and that under the rod of affliction the Christian may sometimes do more for the Master than when engaged in active service.” – The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 480, 481.
What was important to Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah was not what the earthly law should be but their unwavering allegiance to God. Their experience stands as a testimony that despite man’s freedom to pass laws, we are always morally free to obey God. They understood the mission of Christ and stated boldly, “we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter” Daniel 3:16 NIV. Yet, we see how God was able to use them, the many imprisoned Apostles and early reformers who died the death of the martyr to highlight injustice and bring glory to His name. Meanwhile, the Jews believed that the Messiah would come to liberate them from the oppressive Roman yoke and how disappointed they were when Christ taught them to love their enemies and to be submissive. Is he the one, or should we look for another?
Moreover, when the woman caught in adultery was brought before Christ, condemned by law to be stoned to death, he instead revealed the hypocrisy of those who brought her thus to be stoned and offered her the grace, forgiveness and power to overcome that is today still available to every sinner — including the homosexual for whom He bled and died. Jesus was able to say to her — go and sin no more because, although she was an adulterer, she did not have a reprobate mind. It is amazing to me how Christ and His followers demonstrated unmatched love, respect and concern for the souls of even those who prosecuted them. Never did they return disrespect or render evil for evil. (See also Matthew 10.)
- We are free moral agents (see Ecclesiastes 11:9, Deuteronomy 30:19 & Joshua 24:15). The law of love being the foundation of the government of God, the happiness of all intelligent beings depends upon their perfect accord with its great principles of righteousness. God desires from all His creatures the service of love–service that springs from an appreciation of His character. He takes no pleasure in a forced obedience; and to [all] He grants freedom of will, that they may render Him voluntary service – Patriarchs and Prophets Cap 1 pp34.
Our first parents, though created innocent and holy, were not placed beyond the possibility of wrongdoing. God made them free moral agents, capable of appreciating the wisdom and benevolence of His character and the justice of His requirements, and with full liberty to yield or to withhold obedience — Patriarchs and Prophets Cap 2 pp48. In like manner, in the same way God placed the forbidden fruit within the reach of our first parents as a test of their allegiance, we should not seek to compel men as robots to honour God! This is especially so when that compulsion is fuelled by fear! Their loyalty to God must also be tested and it can only be appropriately tested if they have full liberty to yield or withhold obedience.
Thus, advocating for this freedom does not mean that Christians are compromising their Christian faith, are agents of the devil, are devoid of morals or are challenging God. No, we are simply reinforcing the God-given freedom to choose. Implicit in this freedom is also my personal freedom to honour God. God wants us to obey Him because we love Him, not because we are afraid of destruction. Only love can yield true obedience. The gospel is a message of hope and a message of love must be presented alongside a warning of divine judgment.
Religious error addressed, let us consider the other arguments. I will also state that being anti-buggery based on family life is a moot point. Decriminalising buggery is not in itself a prohibition of procreation among heterosexual couples. Buggery has been around for centuries and there is no imperial data to show we are nearing extinction, or we are at risk of extinction. On the contrary, global human population growth amounts to around 83 million annually. The global population has grown from one billion in 1800 to 7.7 billion in 2018.
As a public health issue, earlier this year, the national epidemiologist of SVG stated that the leading cause of death and morbidity in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are non-communicable diseases. These diseases include but are not limited to heart diseases, stroke, cancers, diabetes, chronic kidney disease etc. There, however, seems to be an absence of advocacy within religious circles for criminal sanctions to be introduced for things we know contribute to the leading causes of disease and death in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This is astonishingly so as God considers His health laws of no less importance than His moral laws. Do we then advocate for a state ban on processed foods or continue to share the health facts while allowing men the freedom to choose? What about HIV/AIDS then? According to the World Health Organization, HIV/AIDS is no longer among the world’s top 10 causes of death, having killed one million people in 2016 compared to 1.5 million in 2000.
In July 2018, the Assistant Director at the HIV/AIDS Unit said heterosexual relationships are the main mode of HIV transmission in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. She noted that the high-risk sexual conduct of persons, many of whom engage in unprotected sex, as well as the failure of some persons who know they are HIV positive but who fail to access care and treatment and continue to have sex with multiple partners, contributes to this rise in HIV cases here.
According to the assistant director, stigma and discrimination towards persons infected with HIV/AIDS remains prevalent, and this in part contributes to some persons shying away from getting tested. Based on these statistics, fornication, adultery and promiscuity ought to be criminalised in furtherance of public health, if the view of some is to be upheld. When we quote statistics relative to the greater susceptibility for HIV transmission through anal sex without highlighting the role promiscuity plays in those statistics, we do our scholarship a disservice and weakens our integrity, as we are not forthright in our presentation of the facts. As far as buggery and HIV is concerned and with a view to Christian reformation, it is incumbent on us to ensure that HIV infected homosexuals receive the access to AIDS-education and outreach, not to mention antiretroviral drugs and medical care.
This is where the thesis that anything immoral must be illegal breaks down. Apparently though, if you do not agree that immoral behaviours should be illegal, you are charged with defending immorality. Talk about conflating the issues; the logic of this escapes me.
We would be hard-pressed to deny or trivialise the adverse effects of fornication, promiscuity, adultery and divorce for they usher in STDs, teenage pregnancy, abortion, the challenge of continuing education, a financial burden etc. Each of those warrants a separate article in which we can in detail explore the role of the media in promoting licentiousness, the relational, emotional, physical and spiritual reasons to flee fornication.
We can take a narrow view, but the State must weigh all in the balance: the rights of Christians, minority groups, the impacts on the economy regarding trade, tourism, international treaty obligations, etc.
The only credible argument that I have found against decriminalisation is the notion that we must recognise that men and institutions remain free only when freedom is founded upon respect for moral and spiritual values and the rule of law. Thus, our local government officials and jurists, if they are truly interested in maintaining a stable and efficient society where most constituents hold a Christian worldview, guard against the international trend of denying equal protection to Christians under the law. The buggery law is not hinged on this. It is left to be seen whether we will develop our own Caribbean jurisprudence on this.
Based on the foregoing and the fact that homosexuality is always denounced while we have demonstrated our acceptance of and promote fornication and promiscuity, which category of persons do you think is more susceptible to having a reprobate mind? I do not think of myself as defending homosexuality but rather, highlighting the equal sinfulness of the sins that strips us of any haughty spirit toward homosexuals.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This quote resonates in my mind whenever I behold the arrogantly superior and disdainful attitude self-professed Christians demonstrate when addressing this sensitive issue. This attitude, more than anything, leads to self-righteousness and legalism and demonstrates that we have not learnt of Christ.
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected]
The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].