Pastor J. D. Greear currently serves as President of the Southern Baptist Convention. Greear recently wrote a blog post on his personal site titled, “Three Ways We Go Wrong When Discussing Homosexuality.” This CRVoices post is the second in a five-part series carefully examining Greear’s claims in his blog post.
Greear’s post is well-intentioned and certainly not completely wrong. We should rejoice that he takes a stand in clearly proclaiming, along with the word of God, that homosexuality is sin. However, Greear’s post is also unhelpful with regard to some points of theology on the topic of homosexuality. Given the significance of biblical fidelity and compassionate ministry when it comes to the topic of homosexuality, these unhelpful aspects of Greear’s post are worth addressing.
In this second of five posts in this series, the tone of Greear’s post is considered in relation to his assumptions about the historic teaching of the Church on homosexuality and the experience of homosexuals.
Greear’s Negative Assumptions About Christianity
Greear begins his post with the claim, “Historically, we in the church haven’t done a great job in conversations about homosexuality.” Setting aside the possibility that Greear might only be speaking to some short falling in his own church, Greear’s claim is not overly persuasive as it stands, because he does not provide any historical examples to support his claim. Unfortunately, because Greear does not provide any historical examples to support his claim, he also does not provide any historical examples to clarify what, exactly, he means in saying we have not done a great job. However, some insight into the nature of Greear’s claim can be drawn from the remainder of his post, which provides the context for this otherwise bare assertion.
Later in his post, Greear claims that “We’re wrong if we believe God doesn’t care about our sexuality,” “We’re wrong if we think same-sex behavior is a fundamentally different type of sin,” and “We’re wrong if we assume it’s hard for LGBT people to get to heaven.” These three claims clarify what Greear means by his claim that “we in the church haven’t done a great job in conversations about homosexuality.” Lord willing, each of these claims will be more closely examined in future posts. But for now, these statements serve to clarify what is behind Greear’s initial claim about the failure of the Church in doing a poor job of conversing about homosexuality. The reason Greear believes that, historically, “we in the church haven’t done a great job in conversations about homosexuality” is because we’ve “believed God doesn’t care about our sexuality,” we “think same-sex behavior is a fundamentally different type of sin,” and we “assume it’s hard for LGBT people to get to heaven.” But are these claims true?
Maybe, and maybe not. Greear does not provide any historical evidence to support these claims either. Readers are simply expected to accept Greear’s assertions upon the basis of his say-so. Of course, we are talking about a blog post here, not a research paper. Nevertheless, far from believing that “God doesn’t care about our sexuality,” hasn’t the Church actually faced the accusation that she focuses too much on sexuality, and too much on sexual sins – like homosexuality – in particular? And far from thinking same-sex behavior is “a fundamentally different type of sin,” hasn’t the Church, with Protestant theology in hand, emphasized that ‘all sins are the same’ in terms of making us legally guilty before God? Finally, rather than assuming it is, “hard for LGBT people to get to heaven,” aren’t Christians often mocked with phrases like ‘pray the gay away,’ for supposedly believing in a great ease with which homosexuals might be transformatively saved? Greear provides no evidence to support his assumption about the poor job Christians have done in conversations about homosexuality, but the observations just noted appear to contradict what he is saying.
If Christians have done a poor job of teaching about homosexuality, they have done an even poorer job of ministering to homosexuals; again, this according to Greear. He continues, “and we’ve done an even worse job caring for those experiencing this.” As above, Greear provides no specific examples for this very serious accusation. Perhaps the claim is true, but Greear provides no reason to believe the claim is true, nor does he provide any specificity as to what, exactly, he is talking about. So far we have several sweeping claims that paint Christians in a bad light as regards the sin of homosexuality, but nothing to substantiate them. Greear’s post makes little sense apart from understanding him to mean that he sets forth to correct several thousand years of Christian teaching and ministry regarding homosexuality. Such is Greear’s working assumption with regard to the Church in his post.
Greear’s Positive Assumptions About Homosexuality
Greear approaches his post with some questionable assumptions about the sin of homosexuality as well. What is perhaps most troubling about this opening section is Greear’s use of “experiencing this.” The referent of “this” is “homosexuality,” which is to say, President Greear believes homosexuality is something people experience, putting them in need of care. Strictly speaking, one does experience his or her sin in terms of temptation to the sin, participation in the sin, and the consequences of the sin. If that is all Greear means, then we need not belabor this point. But it is not clear that is all Greear means, given the context of the post. What does the context of the post reveal?
The use of “experience this,” coupled with Greear’s later admission that he does not “dispute” a person claiming to be “born this way,” is troubling indeed. In that case, homosexuality becomes, for Greear, a congenital ‘given,’ to use language from Revoice founder Nate Collins; an “experience” for which one needs care. This softened language is indicative of a definite shift toward softer theology and practice than what the Church has historically held with regard to the sin of homosexuality. Perhaps that’s what Greear’s objection is; he knows better than the Church how to “care” for those “experience[ing]” homosexuality from birth.
But we need not construct an unbiblical victimology in order to faithfully minister to sinners through historical theology. Undoubtedly, Greear would agree, but the unsubstantiated assumptions of his post and resulting rhetoric are not clearly consistent with the aforementioned sentiment. Homosexuality is not something we merely experience. Homosexuality is not something we merely need care for in the way a child needs the care of his mother. Homosexuality is not some neutral ‘given.’ Homosexuality is something for which we are responsible. Homosexuality is something from which we should repent. Homosexuality is sin.
What Are We Saying?
The point of this painstaking evaluation of Greear’s working assumptions is not to try and show that Greear is some sort of false teacher or liberal theologian. Far from it. We assume the best about Greear and his words, and we are thankful for his clear stand in clearly proclaiming, along with the word of God, that homosexuality is sin. Yet we wonder why Greear would strike a tone in his post that distances him from the historic position and practice of the Church on the topic of homosexuality.
We hope in light of the concerns expressed here that President Greear and others might be in a better position to see one of the reasons why some people are upset by Greear’s post, and one of the reasons why others hope Greear might choose to be more forthcoming and clear about this topic of homosexuality in the future.
Whether he is right or wrong, in terms of his assumptions and rhetoric, Greear is harder on the Church than he is on homosexuals, and, coupled with the popularity of unbelievers approaching this topic in much the same way, this does provide some reason for concern.