John Piper laments the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage, his article filling my Facebook newsfeed with “likes.” He says this legal approval of homosexuality is a calamity of historical proportions regarding a sin unique in its evil. It is unique because it is the one sin that is celebrated in society today rather than denounced like other sins such as theft and adultery (further details here).
As a young man I was deeply blessed by John Piper’s book “Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist” which proclaimed God’s commitment to our happiness. He has had a positive spiritual impact on many lives, so my disagreement here is not personal, and I’m not even challenging his position on the sinfulness of homosexuality. Let us concede that point for the sake of this discussion because I have a different and in my mind a bigger concern. To put sucinctly: truth wrongly balanced can be as harmful as untruth.
If I spend all my effort building a bunker for my children against the potential of world collapse so that I don’t have time or money to invest in smoke alarms and brake repairs, health insurance and college savings, I may ruin my family. It is true that the world could fall into chaos–the problem isn’t that fact, but that emphasis. My suggestion is that we not only find truth in Scripture to follow, but we also find the balance set in Scripture. If we don’t take that into account, consciously grounding ourselves in the priorities of God as given in his Word, we are very likely to be caught in backwaters of irrelevance–not only to society but to God–pulled there by our emotions, history, misperceptions, culture and the like. And yes, the cultural influence can come from the right or the left (our current American polarization), and it can pull us to acquiesce or push us to react.
I believe we could save ourselves from a great deal of spiritual, relational, and political turmoil and harm by focusing on Biblical priorities. Identifying those priorities is bigger than a one-post discussion, but I think we could all agree that two key elements are the amount of time devoted to it in the pages of Scripture and the focus given to it by God’s full and final revelation in his son Jesus.
Let me begin by saying that if the Bible condemns something even once, that is sufficient for me to call it a sin. [after consideration I modified this in my next post] I am not even debating here the issue of whether homosexuality is a sin, but only how great a concern it is in the Bible. In a list of sins, how high does it rank in ‘badness’? We first notice that it does not make an appearance in the ‘big ten’ commandments. If we search the Scriptures for everything it says condemning some form of homosexuality (including rape), we find a total of 20 verses (Gen. 19:1-13; Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9, Jude1:7, 1 Tim 1:10). In the two places where it falls in a list of sins, homosexuality is not underscored in anyway, but is listed alongside sins such as lying, stealing and coveting. None of these verses come from the gospels because Jesus himself had nothing to say about homosexuality. So how high a priority is it for God?
In contrast to this, if we pick a topic which seems central to Scripture, such as poverty and wealth, there are hundreds and hundreds of passages all through Scripture. If you know the gospels well, just take a moment to think of all that Jesus himself taught on the corrupting power of wealth. It was a major focus of his ministry–in the beatitudes, the Cleansing of the Temple, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich young ruler, the final judgment (“as much as you did it to the least of these”), and on and on.
This contrast between a major and peripheral focus of Scripture to me is remarkable and telling, and it makes me wonder how Piper can come to the conclusion that homosexuality is the one sin that we celebrate in this society, and the sin that will destroy us. Our admiration, celebration, and emulation of the rich in our society is far deeper, more pervasive and unquestioned even by the church (in a remarkably bipartisan way). In fact, the cultural value of greed is so deeply ingrained and validated that it has become the cornerstone of our economic system, and far from fearing it, we champion it. And unlike homosexuality, this desire is not restricted to three percent of the population.
I think our fear of homosexuality is partly driven by the Old Testament story of Sodom and Gomorrah and it’s destruction. But I’m not sure the major message of that story is the evil of homosexuality. I think if Lot’s visitors had been women, and all the men of the city stormed his house to gang rape them, God would have still been fairly outraged. Sodom became a byword for great evil, but that evil was wide and deep, not reducible to one sin. Even Ezekiel in comparing Israel’s sins to Sodom had this to say, “Behold, this was the guilt of your sister, Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food, and careless ease, but she did not help the poor or needy” (16:49). If this is Sodomy, I agree that it is a very serious sin.