Conservatives in a “Basket of Deplorables”?
Hillary Clinton charged that many of Donald Trump’s supporters belong to a “basket of deplorables” because of (among other possibilities) their “homophobic” views. Many contemporary, creedally orthodox churches are likely to say, in response, “Don’t include us in that basket. If any LGBT+ person comes into our congregation, they will find that clergy and congregational members will welcome them just as they are and not make it a project to change their orientation.”
Most would add a rider something like this, “We will continue to hold that only heterosexual relationships are ordained by God, and the only human partnership that can rightly be termed a marriage is a partnership between a biological man and a biological woman. But if you don’t agree with us on those points, that won’t stop us receiving you as someone who has all the dignity of one who is created in the image of God. We won’t make you feel like dirt.”
So far, contemporary orthodox churches, so good. God’s church must derive its understanding of right and wrong from God’s word. The U.S Supreme Court and Social Justice Warriors (so called) want the world instead to derive its ethics from a different source, namely, whatever seems right to each individual. Every person supposedly has the right not to be questioned or challenged on their life choices. The Church is right to withstand this idea.
However, I don’t think we can escape the “deplorable” label – in God’s eyes, I mean, not Hillary Clinton’s – as easily as that.
In a Redeemer Report article ( accessed 2016/12/12, emphasis mine), Tim Keller wrote,
“Vines and Wilson relate stories of people who were sure that the Bible condemned homosexuality. However, they were brought to a change of mind through getting to know gay people personally. It is certainly important for Christians who are not gay to hear the hearts and stories of people who are attracted to the same sex.
And when I see people discarding their older beliefs that homosexuality is sinful after engaging with loving, wise, gay people, I’m inclined to agree that those earlier views were likely defective. In fact, they must have been essentially a form of bigotry. They could not have been based on theological or ethical principles, or on an understanding of historical biblical teaching. They must have been grounded instead on a stereotype of gay people as worse sinners than others (which is itself a shallow theology of sin.) So I say good riddance to bigotry.”
I hope that every conservative pastor and believer can respond to that “good riddance” with a resounding cheer of support. Nevertheless, Keller’s congratulatory cry doesn’t touch on the question of who was chiefly responsible for that bigotry which we must now discard. To that question I would answer, “In a large measure, conservative pastors of past generations and many still of our own generation.”
How many preachers have expounded Romans 1:18-32 as though Paul’s purpose was to give us a way of ranking sins from the least to the greatest, with homosexuality the worst of all? How many have failed to take from the passage the point that Calvin with his incisive insight makes in his comment on verse 28 (emphasis mine),
“…though every vice, as it has been said, did not appear in each individual, yet all were guilty of some vices, so that everyone might separately be accused of manifest depravity.”
How many preachers have made a similar mistake in their handling of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and singled out homosexuality as somehow pre-eminent in Paul’s catalogue of mortal sins, when in fact the unrighteous acts that Paul denounced in the preceding verses and that provoked his warning in verses 9 and 10 are acts of fraud and litigiousness – i.e., acts of robbery and greed. When preachers single out homosexuality for “trumpet blast” denunciation and are timid in their warnings against sins that the inspired Apostle rates equally vile, is it any wonder that congregations and society have been imbued with the idea that homosexuals are the vilest of the vile, and should be treated accordingly?
How many preachers have taken it for granted that the Hebrew word to`evah, translated “abomination” means something that causes a reaction of stomach-churning revulsion, and have projected that meaning into the scriptures and onto God? How many have therefore roared the word in their diatribes against homosexuality, building and confirming prejudice in their congregation? How many have failed to notice – or have glossed over the fact – that God uses the same word to describe adultery, graven images, and false balances? Those ideas don’t usually make our stomachs churn, and – anyway – God doesn’t have a stomach to be churned. Correct exposition, I contend, should use a definition that makes sense in all the contexts in which the word is used.
A recent docudrama on Australian television brought to light that in Sydney “in the 1980s and 1990s…There were 80 murders, thousands of assaults and 30 unsolved cases— the victims, all young homosexual men.” (Link accessed 2016/12/12).
Many of the murders were glibly written off as suicides and never properly investigated, police and public content with that outcome because, to their prejudiced minds, gay lives were of no consequence and the victims deserved their fate. I have no doubt that similar patterns – certainly assaults, and sometimes murders – could be found in many of the Christian world’s cities and towns.
My charge is that many “good” conservative pastors over many decades, in their blinkered and inept handling of what the Bible has to say about homosexual activity, have played a part in creating a milieu of bigotry and hostility whose outcome was and is such violence. We, the conservative Church and especially its pastors, have blood on our hands, even if, while we were mishandling teaching in regard to homosexuality, we were faithfully preaching, against vigilante action – “’Vengeance is mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” Because of what was trumpeted and what was omitted in the teaching, it was like passing a live grenade to a toddler and feebly urging, “Don’t pull the pin.”
I don’t think it will be good enough in the eyes of God to say to LGBT+ people, “That was then. We’re sorry about it, but we’re different now. Come to church and see – we’ll put our arm around you!” No, I think that conservative churches, while standing firm in their commitment to the Scriptural revelation, need to come to a more profound and appalled repentance at the evil they have done. Only then will their outreach to LGBT+ people be truthful and compelling.
I will have more to say on that theme in my next blog post.
Trevor Morrison, 13 December 2016
My thinks to Clay Jones for permission to use his cartoon in this post. Please visit his website at https://claytoonz.com/