40 answers for Kevin DeYoung


Dear Kevin,

I read your “40 questions for Christians now waving rainbow flags” with interest. I don’t have a rainbow-themed avatar, but I have a good deal in common with those you were addressing.

Besides, as you say, it’s always good to “slow down and think.”

You describe your questions as “sincere, if pointed.” I took this to mean they were designed to elicit a response. So respond I have. As much as possible, I’ve tried to follow your lead—offering what I hope are sincere, if occasionally pointed, replies.

A few of your questions seemed redundant (e.g. #2 and #3, #29 and #30). In such cases I did not bother to repeat my answers. For you, each question may have had its own nuance, but I felt the same answers applied, at least broadly speaking.

One last point before diving in… I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that what we’re cheering for is definitely not “the sexual revolution,” if by that you mean an “anything goes” approach to sexual expression (which is what people usually mean by that term). I believe our sexual ethic should be shaped by Scripture, even if we occasionally have a different understanding of what that looks like.

All right. Onto the questions…


1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?

I’ve been wrestling with the relevant questions and issues for the last 4-6 years.

2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?

Well, given that “verses” are an artificial construct imposed on the Bible in the 16th century… none.

For me, it started with a friend who came out on Facebook. Then I reconnected with a relative who’s gay. I happen to think they were the best possible reasons to reassess my views. They drove me back to the text—not to see how many proof texts I could amass on one side or the other, but to see whether I could discern a broader ethic or principle, showing how God wants us to relate to his LGBTQ image bearers.

(For what it’s worth, I did revisit some of the popular proof texts, as well.)

3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?

“It is not good that the man should be alone” may not only be true if you’re straight.

“Better to marry than to burn” may not only true if you’re straight.

But mostly, I would say this:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

(Here’s more on how I see “love your neighbor” as the Bible’s sexual ethic.)

4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?

The same verses you would use to show that marriage between two opposite-gendered persons can adequately depict Christ and the church. (I’m pretty sure gender is not the main point of Paul’s analogy, since the church is not literally, anatomically female.)

5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?

I don’t think most first-century Jewish rabbis ever had the opportunity to imagine such a thing, much less decide how they felt about it. That’s not a category into which homosexual behavior typically fell back in the first century. But if Jesus had been incarnated into our world today, I think he may well have been okay with it…or at least, almost definitely not as bothered by it as some of his followers are.

6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?

Why do you use a passage in which Jesus is clearly talking about divorce to make a point about homosexuality? Context.

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

In light of his audience and the examples he specifically mentioned—namely, a man and a woman divorcing on grounds of porneia, women serving as pornai (prostitutes)—I think he was most likely addressing illicit forms of heterosexual sex.

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?

As part of a rhetorical device Paul used to convince his fellow Jews they were just as guilty as Gentiles before God.

9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?

Yup! As long as we understand “sexual immorality” (porneia) correctly. (See #7 above.) And as long as by “heaven” you mean the renewed creation.

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

In the case of Revelation 21:8, the key word is pornois (a variant of porneia). Refer to #7 above.

As you know, 1 Corinthians 6:9 uses a relatively obscure term, arsenokoitai (literally “man bedders”), the precise meaning of which has been lost to history. But given where it shows up in other “vice lists” from the early church era, it probably referred to some form of “economic exploitation by means of sex.”

William Stacy Johnson suggests it’s a reference “the hedonistic homoerotic practices that were widespread in the Roman Empire” and “were almost always performed by social superiors on social inferiors.” In which case, I’m not sure 1 Corinthians 6 is applicable to two people of the same gender in a covenantal relationship characterized by mutual affection and equality.

On the other hand, the fifth-century saint John the Faster thought arsenokoitai referred to heterosexual anal sex. So there’s always that option.

Are we really going to hinge such an important question on the meaning of one obscure, notoriously hard-to-translate word?

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

Augustine failed to grasp that sex is basically a good thing, that it’s a gift from God to his creation.

Luther failed to grasp that Jews and peasants are people too, and ought to be treated with respect.

Pretty much all of them failed to grasp that slavery is bad. So what exactly is your point? Just because a belief—one which, we should note, is not contained in any ecumenical creed or confession—has long been held by the church doesn’t mean it gets a free pass.

No, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss something Christians have thought to be true for centuries, especially when it comes to core tenets of orthodoxy—one of which this is decidedly not. But neither should we act as if our predecessors were infallible. It’s the task of each generation to discern how best to embody God’s intended reality in our world, knowing we will always do so imperfectly.

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

You seem to be suggesting that it’s imperialistic for us to commend the affirming view to our sisters and brothers in the majority world. Question: did this aversion to imperialism stop your fellow evangelicals from promoting anti-gay legislation in places like Uganda—legislation that exposes lesbian and gay Africans to harassment, imprisonment, and in some cases death?

Have you considered how imperialism tainted early missionary efforts in the majority world, the introduction of the Bible there, and how people were taught (primarily by white Westerners like you and me) to interpret it in the first place?

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

No. But I don’t think most people who hold the traditional view are motivated by “personal animus and bigotry” either. Just because someone opposes same-sex marriage does not mean they’re a bigot.

At the same time, just because you’re not a bigot doesn’t mean you don’t have room to become more loving. We all need to grow in our compassion and understanding.

14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?

What if one of them is abusive? Are you suggesting that’s better than two gay dads who provide a loving, safe environment and don’t abuse kids?

15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

“There is no evidence that the development of children with lesbian and gay parents is compromised in any significant respect relative to that among children of heterosexual parents in otherwise comparable circumstances.”
–Patterson, “Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents,” Child Development, 1992

“Children raised by lesbian women do not experience adverse outcomes compared with other children.”
–Anderson, Amlie & Ytterøy; “Outcomes for Children With Lesbian or Gay Parents: A Review of Studies From 1978 to 2000,” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 2002

“Extensive data available from more than 30 years of research reveal that children raised by gay and lesbian parents have demonstrated resilience with regard to social, psychological, and sexual health despite economic and legal disparities and social stigma.”
–Perrin & Siegel, “Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents are Gay or Lesbian,” American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013.

16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

In my opinion, the state does have an interest in prioritizing the placement of children in households with two parents—though there are also loads of single parents who are wonderfully qualified to adopt. As I’ve indicated in my responses to #14 and #15, I’m not nearly as convinced as you are that gender is the critical factor here.

Churches, on the other hand, have every right to advocate for whatever arrangement they find most compatible with their understanding of Scripture. If we’re talking about faith-based adoption agencies that receive federal funding, then the answer is a bit more complicated. (And I won’t pretend to know what it is.)

17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?

Sure. Marriage is a stabilizing force in families and communities.

Marriage can also be a powerful tool for regulating sexual activity—providing an appropriate context for healthy sexual expression and discouraging harmful sexual activity—e.g. limiting (one hopes!) the number of sexual partners someone has and thereby reducing the transmission of disease.

Some of us just don’t see how these ends and purposes have anything to do with the gender of the participants.

18. How would you define marriage?

Depends if we’re talking civil or sacramental marriage.

Civil: a state-sanctioned union of two people in which they share a common household (finances, property, etc.).

Sacramental: a divinely sanctioned union of two people in which they covenant to love each other exclusively, serve one another, nurture one another (socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically); and form a family with one another (which may or may not include children).

19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?

No, gross. The negative effects of inbreeding are well documented.

20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?

Yup. As Jon Stewart said, nobody is born a polygamist.

Besides, if anything opens the door to polygamy, it’s patriarchy, not homosexuality.

21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?

On the basis of responsible legislation which excludes inbreeding and polygamy (as well as marrying your pet goat) from the legal definition of marriage.

22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?

Of course. Marriage still requires consent from both parties. Kids cannot consent to being married—or be held to just about any legal contract, for that matter.

23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?

Well, my 4-year-old might think so, given how many times she’s asked to “marry” me. But most reasonably intelligent adults understand this is not the case.

24. If not, why not?

Because same-sex marriage is about one previously excluded class of people being given access to the institution; it does not fundamentally alter the nature of that institution. Marriage is still at its core two people uniting in an intimate relationship and forming a common household. The idea that gays getting married somehow renders the institution meaningless is silly.

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

Yes, absolutely. The Supreme Court was weighing in on the fourteenth amendment, not the first.

Caveat: please don’t mistake public disagreement for persecution. Christians who oppose same-sex marriage have the right to not be persecuted for their beliefs. None of us have the right to not be criticized.

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

Yes, if there is genuine persecution or discrimination taking place.

For example, if Coca-Cola fires someone because they signed a petition supporting traditional marriage, I would strongly object. If they fired someone for relentlessly badgering their LGBTQ coworkers, not so much.

On accreditation… I don’t wish to see Christian schools punished for maintaining a traditional evangelical view on homosexuality. But please bear in mind that accrediting agencies are private organizations. They have the right to set their own criteria. If they choose to rescind a school’s accreditation over its policies on homosexuality, it’s not necessarily valid to play the “government persecution” card.

Related question: if a wedding photographer has the right to refuse to serve a gay couple, shouldn’t a private accreditation agency have the right to refuse to serve a college it considers anti-gay?

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

Bullying is bad, period.

But are you really going to equate the bullying of evangelicals and Catholics with the bullying of gays and lesbians? Especially when 40% of the homeless youth population is LGBT? Especially when LGBT youth are 4-6 times more likely to attempt suicide?

Who’s the bigger bully here?

28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?

I hope churches that marry same-sex couples will offer premarital counseling beforehand, mentorship opportunities with older married couples, counseling for those in struggling marriages, etc. In other words, pretty much the same kind of support they offer to heterosexual couples.

To your point, perhaps this is an opportunity for all of us to commit ourselves to strengthening marriage.

29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?

LGBTQ members of the church should be held to the same standard of sexual ethics (fidelity within marriage) as heterosexual members.

30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?

See #29.

31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

Preach and teach God’s Word as they always have. (They’re not all Bible-burning liberal apostates.)

32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?

I would define love as an active, robust commitment to the flourishing of others—a reflection of God’s commitment to our own flourishing.

Also, as all that’s necessary for the fulfillment of the law (see Paul in Romans 13)

33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?

Probably the same ones that you would… 1 Corinthians 13, Romans 13, etc.

34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?

Love is obedience to God’s command, according to both Jesus and Paul. If you love God and love (i.e. seek the good of) your neighbor, you are obeying God.

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

Yes. We do it all the time. (Albeit badly.)

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

Sure. Once I changed from being an Arminian to a Calvinist, but it didn’t stick.

As much as you might want to uncover signs of a slippery slope, the truth is, everyone’s understanding of faith changes over time—or at least it should.

Or are we so bold to assume we have everything figured out already?

37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?

It hasn’t.

My passion for the historic orthodox faith—as expressed in the Nicene Creed, which I say every week without crossing my fingers—is unchanged by my perspective on gay marriage.

Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true. I hope I’m even more motivated to proclaim the good news of a God who loves everyone and wants everyone to know him.

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

There are plenty within my own tribe, the Episcopal Church, who are deeply committed to orthodoxy and evangelism. (Though we have room to grow, especially with respect to evangelism.)

At the same time, many of us would argue that making our churches more welcoming is an essential part of evangelism. Most gays and lesbians would never come and hear the gospel in your church, because they wouldn’t see it as a safe or welcoming space for them.

Removing barriers between people—barriers that shouldn’t be there in the first place—is an important step toward gospel proclamation. Not the only step, to be sure. In my context, our challenge is to make sure we take the next step after that. Your challenge is to take the first step.

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

Yes, yes, and yes.

40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?

I think Paul had in mind the general sinful condition of all humanity, as demonstrated by his rhetorical turn in chapter 2.  Paul’s point in Romans 1-2 was that we are all guilty of idolatry (worshiping the creature instead of the Creator). Morgan Guyton observes that the vice list in chapter 1 was “intended to elicit disgust” from Paul’s Jewish audience, just before he dropped the rhetorical boom (“You, therefore, have no excuse…”).

Paul also said the people he’s referring to were “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.” So, as Morgan notes, when you encounter gay Christians who clearly don’t rise to this level of depravity, you have to ask whether “same-sex marriage is evil” is really the point Paul is trying to make here.


Food for thought, I hope. I don’t expect anything I’ve written will change your mind. But I hope you’ll reconsider your assumption that those of us who see things differently than you are “swallowing everything the world and Facebook put on our plate.” Many of us have wrestled with, thought about, and, yes, prayed over these issues for a long time—especially those among us who are LGBTQ, for whom this is so much more than an “issue.” I hope, out of respect for them, these questions will become a conversation-starter instead of a discussion-killer.


Finally, some other responses that are well worth reading:

A tale of two conversations


L to R: Gabe Lyons, Debra Hirsch, Matthew Vines, Julie Rodgers, David Gushee, Dan Kimball

Let’s be honest. Yesterday’s Q conference got off to a rocky start—particularly for those from marginalized communities.

Q is one of the few Christian conferences I genuinely like going to. It has none of the flash of Catalyst. It’s not a heavy-handed sales pitch disguised as a conference. You can actually interact with presenters. (One of the highlights for me these year was getting to spend a few moments with Jefferson Bethke.)

Best of all, Q has a track record of bringing together voices from all over the map. They’re not afraid to invite speakers who will challenge their mostly conservative-to-moderate evangelical audience.

But there was also an important lesson in the difference between talking with those on the margins (or better yet, listening to them) and talking about them. At first, this year’s event seemed more interested in the latter than the former.

The culture wars have loomed large over the Q conference this year year, particularly the fight over same-sex marriage.

One of the first presenters, Rod Dreher, proposed a tactical retreat—what he calls the Benedict Option—in response to the advance of gay rights in our culture. His suggestion struck me more like Fundamentalism Redux. “The day is coming,” he said, “when Americans who believe in traditional Christianity [defined in this case as opposition to same-sex marriage] will see our lives involving some degree of separation from the American mainstream.”

Now, I agree we shouldn’t get too cozy with the American mainstream—especially when it comes to our culture’s glorification of violence, its objectification of women, rampant consumerism, etc. But none of these were top of mind as Dreher proposed a withdrawal from society. It was mostly about one thing: same-sex marriage. Near the end, he mentioned the recent uproar over Indiana’s RFRA law, calling it an “apocalypse” for the church.

Dreher assured listeners that the church would continue to “practice Benedictine hospitality to the stranger” while in its self-imposed exile. But this seems to be a passive hospitality—one exercised from a distance and only when pressed upon. Real hospitality—that which seeks and welcomes others, that which listens to and enters into other people’s stories—doesn’t seem to be part of the deal.

“What we are fighting for,” he continued, “is the right to be left alone”—a right Christians are told nowhere in Scripture to fight for. “We have to be prepared to be hated,” Dreher concluded. Fair enough. Jesus said as much. Only, let’s make sure we’re hated for the right reasons. And let’s remember how Jesus told us respond: by doing good to others, even those who hate usWe can’t do that very well from a distance, can we? We can’t do that by talking about those on the margins when we should be talking with them.


Another presenter shared results from a survey measuring public perceptions of the church. It might as well have been titled “Why do they hate us?”

42% of Americans believe religious people are more part of the problem than the solution in our country. Half think that religion is not necessary for our society to do good, that “good works” would continue even without people of faith.

How did we get this reputation? What needs to change? These are the questions we should be asking. Instead, the presenter concluded that “the pendulum has swung against people of faith,” as if we’ve done nothing to deserve our deteriorating reputation.

It’s not easy to talk about our complicity in the growing antipathy toward the church. It’s a lot easier to play the persecution card than to consider those we’ve hurt, those we’ve mistreated, those we’ve pushed to the margins. We’d much rather see ourselves as the victims, as the persecuted minority.


The conversation at Q that morning was almost entirely about gay people and not with them. Whenever this happens, it becomes too easy to see them as the Other. Even, perhaps, as the enemy. Before long, we’re not talking about people anymore but a “dilemma” to be solved.

But something changed that afternoon and the following day.

Real, live actual gay people were invited onto the stage. Julie Rodgers and Matthew Vines shared their experience being gay and Christian. The two have very different beliefs about what their identity means for them. Julie argued for celibacy; Matthew believes the church can affirm monogamous, covenantal unions. Both have experienced rejection at the hands of the church. Both have had friends leave the church and never come back.

Later, David Gushee (a recent convert to the affirming view) and Dan Kimball (a pastor representing the traditional view) debated sexual ethics. The following day, Andrew Sullivan shared the stage with Gordon College president Michael Lindsay.

As the conference wore on—and as marginalized voices were welcomed into the conversation alongside more traditional evangelical voices—something happened. The tenor of the discussion began to change. I don’t think anyone on stage or in the audience changed their minds. Gabe Lyons, the head of Q Ideas, didn’t attempt neutrality as he moderated; he was honest about his own convictions. But as the conversation shifted from one about people to one with people, it became just that—a conversation.

The dignity and humanity of everyone involved was affirmed. Participants treated one another with grace and respect—perhaps none more so than Sullivan and Lindsay. The conversation became less about the supposed persecution of Christians; instead, contributors on all sides began to acknowledge the harmful ways in which the church has treated LGBT people.

The conversation on the first morning was primarily about how LGBT issues affect us. It’s no wonder the presentations drifted so easily into a persecution mindset. But when we start having a conversation with those on the margins, we’re more likely to consider how these issues and debates affect them. We’re able to start seeing beyond ourselves. Convictions may or may not be altered—again, I doubt many people in the auditorium changed their views yesterday or today—but hearts, attitudes, and relationships?

That, I hope, is another matter.

#ERLC2014 and the pursuit of truth


Last week’s Southern Baptist conference on homosexuality did not include any pro-gay speakers.

There were some who identified as “ex-gay” or “celibate”—though it should be noted not all of them prefer this terminology. As for “Side A” Christians, Justin Lee was there. Matthew Vines was there. But neither were given stage time.

In some respects, this is not a big deal. The lack of gay-friendly at a Baptist conference on sexuality is about as surprising as a Baptist conference on sexuality. It’s their right to invite the speakers they want. But it reveals something interesting about conversations like these—on both sides:

They’re not always about finding the truth as much as they are an exercise in confirmation bias.

When it’s truth we’re after, we’re called to seek out voices that don’t necessarily align with ours. We shouldn’t just listen to those who regurgitate what we already believe. Conservatives shouldn’t just watch Fox News, and liberals shouldn’t just watch MSNBC. We should gather information from a variety of sources and perspectives. We should listen to all sides. We should guard against an attitude that says, “We already have the truth.” We should remember that all of us get it wrong at least some of the time.

And if we want to understand an issue that affects one group in particular? We should listen to that group.

If you want to know what it’s like to be black in America, listen to black voices.

If you want to know about gender disparity in the workplace, listen to your female colleagues.

If you want to know what it’s like to be a gay person of faith (celibate or otherwise)—if you want to understand what gay Christians experience when they set foot in a church—listen to their voices. Listening does not necessitate agreement, but it does require a posture of humility, a desire to understand.

Of course, this runs both ways. Earlier this year, Patheos hosted an online chat discussing Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian. They didn’t include anyone representing the traditional perspective. Why not invite someone like Preston Sprinkle, who has shown a willingness to engage in debate without delegitimizing the faith of those he disagrees with? (To be fair, it’s possible some were invited but declined.)

Patheos and the ERLC have every right to invite who they want to their conversations on sexuality. Not every event has to give equal time to contrarian viewpoints.

But we all know this is part of a larger trend in how we consume information that ends up shaping our worldviews.

Most of us listen predominantly (or exclusively) to voices that tell us what we already want to hear—voices that soothe our nagging doubts, voices that whisper away any notion that we might be wrong or might not have all the facts, voices that reassure us we don’t have to go in search of the truth because we already have the truth. We’re so afraid that if we listen to other voices, someone will ask a question we can’t answer. 

Much of the current debate boils down to who we think is on the “right side of history.” My question is, how will  we even know if we’re on the side of history—or the right side of truth—if we never even listen to someone with a different view of it?

Photo credit: Eric Teetsel on Twitter

John MacArthur’s advice for parents of gay children

John MacArthur has some advice for Christian parents whose children come out of the closet: shun them.

To quote from his video:

If that adult child professes Christ, claims to be a Christian, then that becomes an issue for confrontation of the sternest and strongest kind, because that falls into Matthew 18. That’s a sin for which you go to that person. If the person doesn’t repent and turn, you take two or three witnesses and confront again. If there’s still no repentance, you tell the church, and the church pursues. And if there’s still no repentance, then there’s a public putting out of the church of that person who professes to be a Christian. That’s how you deal with that.

You have to alienate them. You have to separate them… You isolate them. You don’t have a meal with them. You separate yourself from them. You turn them over to Satan, as it were, as Scripture says.

MacArthur calls this a Matthew 18 issue, referring to the passage where Jesus tells his disciples how to deal with sin. So let’s take another look at this text.

MacArthur’s translation of choice, the NKJV, says, “If your brother sins against you.” Granted, not all manuscripts include these qualifying words. But the context—including the mention of “two or three witnesses,” evoking courtroom imagery—indicates a situation where one person has injured the other.

There’s even less ambiguity in the parallel passage, Luke 17:

If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.

Matthew 18 isn’t about just any alleged sin. It’s about what you should do if another member of the church wrongs you personally. Even if being gay is a sin, how would my child be sinning against me personally by coming out to me? This isn’t about me. It’s about them and their identity. They haven’t done anything to me. I suppose someone might want to argue that they’ve sinned against me by letting me down as a parent. But how I respond is my choice. No one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever come out of the closet because they wanted to hurt their parents.

Matthew 18 is not a license for indiscriminate shunning. Whatever camp you’re in—affirming, non-affirming, or just confused—we should all agree this is a shamefully selective misuse of the Bible. We can do better.

If your son or daughter comes out to you, don’t follow MacArthur’s advice. Please don’t. For the sake of your child. Their life could literally depend on it. When parents reject their kids for being gay, it can send them on a downward spiral from which there may be no coming back.

  • Their risk of depression goes up.
  • They’re more likely to engage in substance abuse and unprotected sex.
  • They’re SIGNIFICANTLY more likely to attempt suicide.

Of course, maybe that’s what MacArthur thinks it means to “hand them over to Satan.” (Pro tip: it’s not.)

If you want much, much better advice on how to respond, read Benjamin Moberg’s piece. It’s beautifully written from the vantage point of personal experience. And yes, it has something for you—whether you’re open and affirming or whether you maintain a traditional sexual ethic.

Your kid’s life and well being could hang in the balance.


Postscript: My friend Nathan makes another good point about MacArthur’s misuse of Matthew 18. Jesus is addressing the church, not families. In fact, Matthew 18 is the only time the word ekklesia, translated “assembly” or “church,” appears in the Gospels. Even if a church were to decide that a person’s sexuality was a “Matthew 18 issue”—and that’s something a great many churches, affirming and non-affirming, would dispute—it has no bearing on how a parent should treat their son or daughter for coming out. What MacArthur is advocating is wrong, and it’s based on a careless reading of Matthew 18. As Nathan put it yesterday, “No church, whatever their position on this is, has the right to tell you to alienate, shun and un-invite your own children from the dining table they grew up eating at.” MacArthur should know better. We all should.

God and the Gay Christian: 6 highlights from the @Patheos live chat


Yesterday Patheos hosted a live chat for Matthew Vine’s new book God and the Gay Christian, featuring Matthew, Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, and, occasionally, Jay Bakker. (No live chat is complete without a few technical hiccups.) I haven’t read the book yet; it’s in my to-read pile. But I listened in on their lunchtime conversation, which is available on the Patheos website.

Here are 6 things that stood out…

1. Dispensing with less helpful arguments

Matthew has no interest in some of the more speculative arguments which are sometimes put forward — for example, the notion that David and Jonathan were gay lovers. Or Ruth and Naomi. Or Jesus and John.

These arguments seem to assume that any affection between two men (or two women) depicted in the Bible must be implicitly sexual, as if there were no such thing as nonsexual affection between two closely connected people of the same gender. If you’re pro-same-sex marriage and you’re making this argument, it’s not helping your case. I’m also worried that it plays into the idea that being gay is all about sex. If the church needs to stop reducing gay people to a particular sex act, then Matthew is right to shift the debate to other issues (regardless of whether you agree with him on those issues or not).

2. Matthew vs. Tony

Not one to disappoint, Tony Jones brought a slightly contrarian voice to the discussion. He and Matthew went back and forth over how to deal with Paul, though think it’s futile to read Paul’s comments on homosexual acts as a commentary on the kind of same-sex relationships that are possible today.

Matthew is writing as an evangelical. That’s the whole point of his book, to make a theologically conservative case for the affirming view. So it’s not surprising he wants to maintain a high view of Paul. “We don’t have to disagree with or demote Paul to affirm gay Christians in the church,” he argues.

Tony countered that Paul couldn’t know what we know today about sexual orientation; therefore, he wasn’t in a position to speak directly to the kind of issues we’re wrestling with today. For Tony, this is no more a problem than the fact that Paul didn’t know anything about cars, yet we’re OK with driving them.

Tony’s point is worth hearing. Part of reading and interpreting the Bible is understanding its original context (and limitations) before we try to bring it into our context. You can’t just dump the Bible into our setting and expect everything to translate. This, among other things, is why no one thinks the earth is stationary, despite clear evidence that’s what the biblical writers believed.

But there’s also a real danger of becoming arrogant, of thinking that we’re more enlightened than the biblical writers were. (Poor old chaps.) Matthew’s caution against this tendency is worth also hearing—especially in this debate.

3. Celibacy as a gift, not a command

All the panelists felt that Matthew’s chapter on celibacy is one of the most compelling parts of his book. Again, I haven’t read it (yet), but Matthew’s argument, summarized by Tony at one point, seems to be that celibacy was never mandated in the biblical text. According to Jesus and Paul, some people had the gift of celibacy. But no one was ever ordered to be celibate. Most of us certainly aren’t wired to for celibacy, in any case.

So the question Matthew raises is what do you do if someone who isn’t wired for celibacy IS wired to be attracted to people of the same gender? The conservative view has traditionally said that gay people have one of two options: conversion therapy or celibacy. Now that even many conservatives have disavowed conversion therapy, celibacy is all that’s left. But if celibacy is a gift, not a command, then doesn’t that mean we have to assume God has given the gift of celibacy to every LGBT person? I don’t think many of us, regardless of what side we take, would be comfortable pressing that assumption too far, in light of reality.

If neither celibacy nor a change of orientation are realistic for the vast majority of gay people, then we’re left to wrestle with the question posed by Rachel Held Evans: is it right to deny gay Christians the opportunity to sanctify their sexual desires through a covenant?

4. What does Al Mohler really think about orientation?

God and the Gay Christian hadn’t been on bookshelves for a day when Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler issued an ebook rebuttal, coauthored with James Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert. (Note: They were given prepublication copies of Matthew’s book, so they were able to interact with his content.)

During the live chat, Matthew shared what disappointed him about their response: namely, Mohler’s claim that if you accept sexual orientation as an innate part of someone’s identity, then you’ve undermined the whole Bible.

It seems like the “if you believe X, then you’ve undermined the Bible/gospel/Christianity” card gets played a lot these days. But this one made me skeptical. Could Mohler really have written that? After all, just three years ago he made ripples in his own denomination when he acknowledged that sexual orientation is “not something that people can just turn on and turn off.” At the time he confessed:

We’ve lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as a form of homophobia. We’ve used the ‘choice’ language when it is clear that sexual orientation is a deep inner struggle and not merely a matter of choice.

I haven’t read Al Mohler’s ebook yet (I plan to after reading Matthew’s book), so I was curious to see if Matthew depicted his argument correctly.

He did. Here’s what Mohler wrote:

If the modern concept of sexual orientation is to be taken as a brute fact, then the Bible simply cannot be trusted.

That seems like a far cry from his previous affirmation that sexual orientation is not “a matter of choice.” So which is it for Al Mohler?

5. A conservative sexual ethic

One of the key points to remember is that Matthew is not arguing for a more liberal or permissive sexuality. He wants to call gay Christians to the same standard of conduct to which the church has traditionally held heterosexual couples: no sex outside marriage, monogamy within marriage, no adultery, etc.

From a Christian perspective, sex is sacred. Commitment is a nonnegotiable part of sexual ethics.
—Matthew Vines

True, this won’t satisfy those for whom ceding any ground on same-sex marriage is unacceptable — or those on the other side who’ve gone further in questioning the sexual ethic taken for granted by most evangelicals as biblical. But it does seem like it could bolster Matthew’s argument against the “slippery slope” accusation.

6. A broader conversation

Near the end of the live chat, Matthew and the other panelists acknowledged that change won’t come easy.

Rachel Held Evans believes that many people, especially pastors, are afraid of losing everything if they are open with their desire to be more affirming. She called on people to be brave and start some uncomfortable conversations anyway, trusting that there are more people than we think who are ready for a new conversation.

Tony Jones voiced pessimism about the church’s ability to find a third way, accommodating both the traditional and affirming camps. But he felt that more and more individuals will continue to “make the shift” as they come into contact with people like Matthew and books like God and the Gay Christian.

Matthew similarly acknowledged the incremental nature of change and said that the first step is bringing LGBT Christians into the room and making sure they’re part of the conversation. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, as demonstrated by the Southern Baptists’ recent ERLC conference devoted to the topic of human sexuality. “Having a whole conference about this and not including any gay Christian voices is not OK,” Matthew said.

I suppose someone could make the same point about the live chat. There was no voice there to represent the traditional view. While I don’t think a 60-minute online chat should be held to the same standard as a three-day conference, I hope future conversations will bring more voices to the table. If we are going to find a third way (despite Tony’s probably well-placed pessimism), it won’t happen unless we start listening to each other.

That being said, it takes two to tango. The question is whether Al Mohler is in the mood to dance.

The story that made World Vision trend on Twitter

Image courtesy of World Vision US

Image courtesy of World Vision US

Today, World Vision helped care for more than 4 million kids. They do so every day, and they do it without making headlines. There’s not much of a story there, I guess.

But when they announced that Christian employees in monogamous, same-sex marriages didn’t have to fear for their jobs anymore? All hell broke loose.

For a while, World Vision was trending on Twitter. Not because of the 70,000 people they helped gain access to clean water that day, but because of outrage over the fact that a cross-denominational Christian humanitarian organization decided it wasn’t its job to police a theological difference among denominations.

A gospel issue?
Of course, those voicing outrage don’t see it that way. To them, there is only one position you can hold on the issue of same-sex marriage and still be considered a Christian. Russell Moore claimed the gospel itself was at stake. John Piper argued that World Vision was trivializing the cross. Franklin Graham went so far as to say that “World Vision doesn’t believe in the Bible.”

I’ll grant that same-sex marriage is a deeply divisive issue among Christians. (I believe there are people of good faith on both sides of the debate.) But show me which of the great ecumenical creeds — Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian — makes homosexuality a litmus text for orthodoxy.

Show me which of the defining scriptural summaries of the gospel* say anything about same-sex marriage.

And if we celebrate a polygamist king as a “man after God’s own heart,” then why do we assume that a monogamous relationship between two people of the same gender is supposedly a deal-breaker for God?

We don’t need to trivialize differences of opinion on same-sex marriage. But to characterize it as a gospel issue? To me, that seems to miss the point of the gospel.

A justice issue?
I don’t envy the leadership at World Vision. To those who saw their (initial) decision as an attempt to pander to a broader audience: the people at World Vision know who their donor base is. They knew there would be a cost (update: though it seems they underestimated how much it would cost).

Some might ask, “Why take the risk? What about the kids?” It’s a fair question. But another question worth asking is whether it’s right to marginalize one group in order to pacify someone who is willing to hold impoverished children hostage to make sure they get their way.

But the stakes are even higher. Many countries — including some in which World Vision serves — have seen an alarming resurgence of homophobia in recent years. We’re not just talking about places where same-sex marriage is controversial. We’re talking about places where being gay can land you in jail — in some cases for life. We’re talking about places like Uganda and Nigeria, where homosexuality has been criminalized with the support of some US evangelicals who, having lost the culture wars here, are seeking out fertile territory elsewhere. Anti-gay rhetoric in this country has real-world consequences elsewhere. Wherever you stand on same-sex marriage, we we should be able to agree that these trends in other parts of the world are alarming.

One of World Vision’s commitments is to build a world where every person is respected, loved, and given a chance to thrive. Can they really do that halfway around the world if they don’t do so among their own staff here?

A personal issue
For many who weighed in on the controversy, this debate is an abstraction. For me, it’s more than that.

I spent four years writing for World Vision. I had colleagues who were gay, who were afraid of losing their jobs, who had to live in the closet because if they didn’t, they would be fired.

I’m also a World Vision donor. My family and I sponsor four kids. I’ve seen firsthand the difference they makes in impoverished communities.

So for me, this is about colleagues who no longer have to choose between their identity and doing something they believe in. It’s about my sponsored kids and their friends — many of whom have lost sponsors because, evidently, some people think that’s an OK way to retaliate.

This is personal. It’s about people. You may disagree with World Vision’s decision. But please don’t sacrifice children on the altar of your convictions. Especially not over an issue that cannot be construed as a tenant of orthodoxy according to any ecumenical creed or biblical summary of the gospel. Not over questions about which Christians legitimately disagree.

World Vision’s employment policy is not a gospel issue. Loving others is.

* Romans 1:1-4, Romans 3:21-26, 1 Corinthians 15, Philippians 2:5-11, Colossians 1:15-20, 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:8, 1 Peter 3:18-22. See The King Jesus Gospel by Scot McKnight for a list of definitive gospel summary passages in the New Testament.

A posthumous letter to Fred Phelps


I remember the first time I found you online. It was 1997. Your website had more clip art then. I had spent the summer in DC, working for an anti-gay lobby — one that some regard as a hate group.

You were always there to make us feel better about ourselves. We could publish all the fear-inducing propaganda we wanted. But as long as we didn’t actually put the words “God hates fags” on our materials, we weren’t as bad as you. We could always count on Westboro Baptist Church to make us look kind and loving by comparison.

I thought of you that summer when I wrote my booklet. I even wrote this last bit just to prove we weren’t like you:

When confronted with fallen man’s sexuality, we must always return to the biblical norm. We must always do so out of love for our fellow man.

We wanted many of the same things as you. But where you were motivated by hate, we were driven by love… at least that’s what we told ourselves. You were the speck of dust I conveniently used to ignore the plank in my own eye.

In hindsight, the impact of our rhetoric was perhaps more insidious because we masqueraded as loving. You didn’t bother with pretense. You didn’t feign compassion while suggesting, as we did, that gays are latent child predators who deserve to be locked up.

The reason it felt so good to despise you was because it kept me from facing the darkness that lurked in my own heart.

A decade later, I saw you again, this time on a BBC documentary. By 2008, I was not the same person who wrote that booklet in 1997. You only made a brief appearance in The Most Hated Family in America, but it was enough to convince me that all that hate was more than just a ploy for attention. “This is somebody who was addicted to rage and anger,” one filmmaker said about you.

Now you’re gone. If I’m honest, I don’t want you in the kingdom of God. I don’t want you to find mercy and forgiveness. I want you to feel the weight of all the hurt you caused.

And that worries me, because it means I don’t want God to be as merciful as he wants to be. I don’t want him to leave the 99 to go after the one lost sheep. Not in this case.

It also means I’m more like you than I care to admit. You always made it clear that you didn’t give a rip whether anyone had a change of heart because of your protests. When someone asked if you ever pray for the salvation of those you condemn, you bellowed, “Of course not!” You were happy to watch souls burn. You were convinced God had already preselected you and a handful of others for salvation. And you despised anyone who hoped God might cast his love a bit wider.

If I cheer for your damnation, then I am no different from you. I won’t make that mistake. Not anymore. I want a merciful God. I want a God who sees no one as beyond rescuing, not even from their own hatred.

So I will pray for your repose, Fred Phelps. I pray that perpetual light shines on you. I don’t know if we get a second chance after death, but if we do, I pray that yours will be to discover a God who is infinitely more loving than you dared to imagine. I still pray you’ll feel the weight of all the hurt you caused, but that you will find forgiveness and mercy for it, too. Because I need that just as much as you do.


Maybe love is the best reason to rethink your convictions


Not that long ago, a friend came out of the closet to me. At first, I wasn’t sure what to say. I knew it wasn’t my place to express an opinion on the moral legitimacy of same-sex relationships, especially when I wasn’t even sure what I believed about that anymore.

What I did know was that I cared about my friend. I owed it to her—and to myself—to reconsider what I had always assumed by default to be true, to make sure I’d thought this through, listened to the other side, considered all possibilities. That’s something I’d never really done before.

In the end, what motivated my decision to reconsider wasn’t some big epiphany. It was a friend.


Recently, when Facebook announced it was offering 51 additional gender identities for people to choose from, conservative pundits reacted with predictable outrage. But even some of us who aren’t as conservative were probably tempted to roll our eyes at the news.

Then a friend on Facebook started using one of the 51 new options. Suddenly it didn’t seem like PC sensitivity run amok. To my friend, the new options meant safety. Validation. Reassurance they were OK even if they didn’t fit neatly into one of the binary categories that were previously available.

Photo by ChodHound on Flickr

I’m not saying all of this is simple. Figuring out what you believe isn’t always an easy task. But our first (and perhaps only) response to someone who is gay or who identifies according to a gender category we’ve never heard of… well, let me suggest that part IS simple.

If our first impulse is anything other than to love, embrace, and accept the other person as they are, then we have missed the boat.  

You might say I’m being overly simplistic. You might argue this kind of acceptance only encourages people down a destructive path.

Set aside for a moment the question of whether loving someone of the same gender or identifying as “non-binary” on Facebook causes actual harm to anyone. That’s a debatable assumption at best. The real problem with any other response is that you start to see issues instead of people. You begin treating loved ones as problems to be solved, instead of divine image-bearers who were made to be cherished.

I’m done viewing others as problems that need to be fixed.


If you want to know where treating people as problems gets you, just look at the situation in Uganda.

AFP, Isaac Kasamani

Uganda’s president just signed a bill to solve the “problem” of homosexuality in his country. The law makes homosexuality punishable by life imprisonment in some cases. It requires citizens to denounce anyone they suspect of being gay.

One Ugandan newspaper wasted no time complying with that last provision, by publishing a list of the “200 top homos.” The last time a paper did this in Uganda, names and addresses were run under the headline “Hang Them.” A gay rights campaigner was bludgeoned to death.

Defending the bill, Uganda’s minister for ethics and integrity Simon Lokodo described gays as “beasts of the forest.” To him, homosexuality is a disease to be cured. Lokodo even suggested that heterosexual child rape is preferable to consensual sex between two male adults.

This is where we end up when we start viewing members of the LGBT community—or anyone else, for that matter—as problems to be solved rather than people to be loved.


I used to scoff at those who started questioning long-held beliefs, simply because they knew someone who was gay. My wife started asking these questions long before I did, because many of her friends were gay. And to be honest, I looked down on her for it. I used to think the strength of your convictions was measured by your willingness to hold them no matter what the fallout, no matter how much hurt they inflicted.

Then I remembered that “love does no harm to a neighbor.” I remembered that the first thing we should see in another person is the divine imprint, the image of God staring back at us.

If we don’t start here, then there’s no way to get it right, no matter what our beliefs may be.

Maybe caring about a friend is one of the best reasons you could have to reevaluate your convictions.

[Photo credits: Bhupinder Nayyar on FlickrSpencer E Holtaway, ChodHound on Flickr, Isaac Kasamani/AFP]

Seriously, Kansas?

Kansas state capitol building (credit: Rand McNally)

With same-sex marriage advancing faster than anyone expected, you might wonder what the LGBT community has to complain about anymore. The grand prize, marriage equality nationwide, is almost within reach. Surely the country has entered some kind of “post-homophobic” era.

Right. Just like the election of Barack Obama ushered in a “post-racial” era.

Reality is never quite that simple, and history is never a completely linear affair, as the state of Kansas reminded us when its House of Representatives passed House Bill 2453 by a vote of 72-49. The Kansas Senate, which consists of 32 Republicans and 8 Democrats, is likely to follow suit, and the state’s conservative governor, Sam Brownback, will almost certainly sign the bill into law.

Slate contributor Mark Joseph Stern describes the impact of HB 2453 like this:

The result will mark Kansas as the first state, though certainly not the last, to legalize segregation of gay and straight people in virtually every area of life.

Slate is a liberal publication. Of course they’re going to describe the bill in the most melodramatic terms possible, right?

So I read HB 2453 for myself. You should too.

It’s fairly short, as legislation goes. But in case you don’t have time to read the whole thing, I’ve included some of the major provisions below. (Highlights are mine.)

In short, the bill asserts the right of any “individual or religious entity” to deny “any services” to someone based on the individual or entity’s “sincerely held religious beliefs.” The bill has been described as an attempt to protect people from being forced to help with same-sex weddings, but section 1 goes could be interpreted as going much further, apparently perhaps giving people the right to refuse ANY service, “related to or unrelated to” marriage. (Update: Thanks to Dan for pointing out in the comments below that the wording of the bill is somewhat vague on this point.)

No individual or religious entity shall be required by any governmental entity to do any of the following, if it would be contrary to the sincerely held religious beliefs of the individual or religious entity regarding sex or gender:

(a) Provide any services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods, or privileges; provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services; or provide employment or employment benefits, related to, or related to the celebration of, any marriage, domestic partnership, civil union or similar arrangement.

House Bill 2453 strips away a person’s legal recourse in response to such refusal to provide service. To quote Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern, “If a gay couple sues for discrimination, they won’t just lose; they’ll be forced to pay their opponent’s attorney fees.”

He appears to be right on that count:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no refusal by an individual or religious entity to engage in any activity described in section 1, and amendments hereto, shall result in:

(1) A civil claim or cause of action under state or local law based upon such refusal; or

(2) an action by any governmental entity to penalize, withhold benefits from, discriminate against or otherwise disadvantage any protected individual or religious entity, under any state or local law.

If a government entity, or any person asserts a claim or cause of action, or takes any adverse action against an individual or religious entity in violation of subsection (a), such individual or religious entity shall be entitled upon request to recover all reasonable attorney fees, costs, and damages such individual or religious entity incurred as a result of such violation.

In theory, governments and “non-religious” entities are still obligated to provide “lawful service” to gay people — i.e. driver’s licenses (though not marriage, in the eyes of Kansas):

If an individual employed by a governmental entity or other non-religious entity invokes any of the protections provided by section 1, and amendments hereto, as a basis for declining to provide a lawful service that is otherwise consistent with the entity’s duties or policies, the individual’s employer, in directing the performance of such service, shall either promptly provide another employee to provide such service, or shall otherwise ensure that the requested service is provided, if it can be done without undo hardship to the employer.

But religious entities are not mentioned in the bill’s provision to “ensure that the requested service is provided.” On top of which, House Bill 2453 defines religious entities pretty broadly, as:

An organization, regardless of its non-profit or for-profit status, and regardless of whether its activities are deemed wholly or partly religious…

For purposes of discriminating against gays, a religious entity can even be:

A privately held business operating consistently with its sincerely held religious beliefs…

Apparently Slate wasn’t being so melodramatic after all.


Under HB 2453, it’s possible that if you work at the DMV and someone you know (or suspect) to be gay asks you to renew their driver’s license, you can refuse. In which case, your supervisor has to find someone who will. But essentially, you get to recreate the experience of a 1950s-era “whites only” lunch counter, right here in 2014. You get to tell someone you think they’re unworthy of your attention — even if the requested service has nothing to do with gay marriage. You get to discriminate, consequence-free.

Mark Joseph Stern suggested that HB 2453 would allow police officers to refuse to respond if a gay couple called for help. I can’t find anything in this monstrosity of a law that would suggest he’s read it wrongly.

The wording of HB 2453 is vague enough to create the possibility that someone who owns or works for a private business, you could refuse any service to someone you know or suspect to be gay, as long as you can claim to operate your business in accordance with your “sincerely held religious beliefs.” (What does that mean, anyway? Can you claim to be a religious business if you put gospel tracts next to the cash register? If you hang a fish decal in the window?)

We’re not necessarily just talking about wedding planners and photographers, either. We’re not just talking about pastors who choose not to officiate same-sex weddings. (Religious ministers have never been compelled to officiate weddings to which they objected, regardless of the reason.)

Depending on how the bill is read, any business providing any service — related or unrelated to marriage — is allowed to discriminate under Kansas House Bill 2453.

Proponents of the law say it will prevent discrimination. Discrimination against those who want to discriminate, it seems. “Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful… It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill,” said Rep. Charles Macheers in defense of HB 2453.

Was he oblivious to the irony?


Same-sex marriage remains a contentious issue. Though not everyone will agree, I happen to believe there are people of goodwill on both sides. Not everyone who objects to same-sex marriage is a hater or a homophobe. Likewise, not everyone who supports gay marriage is out to destroy Western civilization.

But all persons are equal before the law. This bedrock principle of democracy is enshrined in the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution. It means you cannot target one group or class of people for discrimination, even in the name of protecting your “sincerely held religious beliefs.” Especially not when it comes to basic services to which every citizen is entitled — like getting a driver’s license or having a police officer respond when you’re being held at gunpoint.

Finally, to my fellow Christians in Kansas and beyond who think laws like HB 2453 are necessary to protect their religiously-based objection to gay marriage, please remember what the apostle Paul taught. Only one law is necessary. Only one law trumps the rest. It’s not the law of religious freedom. And it’s certainly not the law that allows allowing you to discriminate against someone even when it comes to providing a service that in no way requires you to violate your conscience.

The only law that matters is the law of love. This is the law that fulfills all the rest, according to Paul. This law, he insists, “does no harm to a neighbor.”

HB 2453, on the other hand, does a great deal of harm to our neighbors.

The patriarch and the pope: the real difference between Phil Robertson and Pope Francis

By now, enough has been said about Duck Dynasty to make Sir Tim Berners-Lee sorry he invented the Internet.

Kristen Howerton of Rage Against the Minivan shared what I felt was the best response so far. Also worth considering: a valid question from Time about A&E’s suspension of Phil Robertson and this Atlantic piece arguing the “real scandal” is what Phil said about blacks who lived during the Jim Crow era. Also, Preston Sprinkle demonstrates what a conservative response to this controversy ought to look like.

So I have just one thing to add, and it’s about this meme, which circulated on Twitter yesterday, shaming “liberal logic” for its alleged duplicity.

dynasty pope

On one level, just about every word is true. Both men believe sex between two individuals of the same gender is sinful. Pope Francis was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. And while Phil was suspended rather than fired, many would say it comes to the same thing.

But all that’s beside the maddeningly obvious point, because those making this argument haven’t bothered to ask: why was one named “Person of the Year” while the other was suspended from his own TV show? 

If you believe anti-conservative bigotry is the driving force behind Phil Robertson’s suspension from Duck Dynasty, you owe it yourself to ask why the gay community and its supporters have responded so differently to these two men.

The difference is that Francis’ first—and, to date, only—comments about gay people have focused on their inherent dignity and worth. Which is in marked contrast to his predecessor, who characterized homosexuality as having “a strong tendency toward an intrinsic moral evil.”

Pope Francis made waves in 2013 by saying, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

It wasn’t just a one-off comment. He also went on to say this in an interview with America Magazine:

A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.

Nobody’s under any illusion that the pope will alter Catholic doctrine on sexuality. But he HAS modeled a radical shift in the church’s posture toward gays.

If you want a sense of what that means for people in the gay community, take a look at The Advocate, an LGBT magazine — which also named Pope Francis their Person of the Year for 2013.

Phil Robertson chose a different path. He used his platform to express revulsion at the mechanics of gay sex, thereby reducing people to a sex act. His comments reveal a diminished view of their humanity.

If he had simply said, “I believe the Bible teaches sex should be between a man and a woman,” I doubt anyone would’ve batted an eye. Certainly no one would have been surprised at a devout, openly religious southern family patriarch expressing this conviction.

The difference between Pope Francis and Phil Robertson comes down to this. When the pope looks at a gay person, he sees a human being. Phil’s comments in GQ suggest that when he looks at a gay person, the first thing he sees are reproductive organs being put where he thinks they shouldn’t.

And that’s a problem. Because whatever you believe about homosexuality, people are so much more than who they sleep with or who they’re wired to be attracted to. Pope Francis gets that, even though he maintains a conservative view of sexuality.

Finally, the contrast between the patriarch and the pope exposes the lie in thinking that Christians are just being persecuted for their beliefs. After all, naming someone “Person of the Year” is a pretty odd way of persecuting them, don’t you think?

If Christians are going to be persecuted — and really, there is so very little of that in this country — then it’s time we were persecuted for something worthwhile.

Diminishing someone else’s humanity is not one of those things.