Recently, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) elected JD Greear as its new president. I was not at the convention and thus did not vote either for Greear or his opponent Ken Hemphill; however, I, along with other evangelicals, have noticed a rising tide of resentment from the traditional powerholders in evangelical life leading up to and following Greear’s election. Yesterday, the American Family Association (AFA), an apotheosis of conservative, evangelical thought, published an article by Bryan Fischer that is characteristic of the warnings being sounded by older, evangelical culture-makers.
In this article, which you can find here, Fischer takes issue with two claims from Greear’s 2014 sermon at the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission’s (ERLC) annual meeting. According to Fischer, when followed to their logical conclusion, the two statements from Greear’s 2014 sermon would lead Christians to forsake a biblical understanding of homosexuality in the name of loving their homosexual neighbors. According to Fischer, this “softer” attitude towards homosexuality represents the edge of an exceedingly sharp knife along which the SBC is now tip-toeing under Greear’s guidance. Fischer ends the article by saying that following people like Greear is what led other denominations to accept a “lesbian bishop who believe[s] that Jesus was a bigot.” Thus, if Fischer is right, we should all be highly concerned.
The first statement which Fischer attacks is when Greear says that we should “love our gay neighbor more than we love our position on sexual morality.” In context, Greear clearly intends to correct the attitudes of local churches towards homosexuals: Greear knows that many local churches take strong stances against homosexuality. Greear even appears to support this strong stance when he says that Christians should not “compromise our position or fail to state it.” To be even clearer, Greear reiterates the point by saying that when pressed on the issue, Christians should tell their gay neighbor: “This issue is important. I cannot compromise.”
Initially, Fischer takes a conciliatory tone. Fischer writes: “We never should push sinners away but always seek to draw them close. Observers should know we are Christians by our love.” Thus, it would seem that Fischer and Greear are on the same page; however, Fischer immediately switches tack and says that the logical end of Greear’s position is that we must be willing to jettison our views on homosexuality in favor of loving our gay neighbors.
We must first observe that Fischer goes far beyond what Greear himself says. Much to his credit, Fischer does not pull random quotes from Greear’s sermon; instead, he provides a lengthy section so that his readers can judge for themselves. For this transparency, we should be grateful. In the quoted section of Greear’s sermon, Greear says not once but twice that we should never compromise our position on homosexuality. Thus, whatever we believe about the logical ends of Greear’s position, we must admit that Greear simply does not advocate forsaking a biblical understanding of the sin of homosexual activity. However, Fischer doesn’t argue that Greear himself will lead the SBC to forsake biblical teaching; Fischer’s argument focuses on the long-term results of adopting Greear’s thinking.
Fischer’s real argument is that if we love our gay neighbors more than we love our position, when the two conflict, we’ll choose to love our gay neighbor over fidelity to scripture. However, in making this argument, Fischer makes a large assumption: Fischer assumes that loving my gay neighbor will put me at odds with the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality. However, that seems far from axiomatic.
From experience, we should all be familiar with loving a person living in sin while also remaining faithful to biblical teaching. I can, for example, love my friend who’s involved in pre-marital sex while also remaining faithful to the Bible’s teaching on the issue. In fact, as a Christian, I feel commanded to do so. After all, how can we minister to people in sinful lifestyles if we push them away from our whitewashed communities? Similarly, we can love our alcoholic neighbors, our lying neighbors, and our idolatrous neighbors without compromising our biblically based beliefs on drunkenness, dishonesty, and idolatry. At the end of the day, we often love our neighbors who are ingrained in a variety of sins while also remaining faithful to biblical teaching. I’m not quite sure what makes homosexual activity any different from other sins. Perhaps this attitude that homosexuality is the great “other sin” is precisely the attitude that Greear wants to attack.
Furthermore, in context, it seems that what Greear is trying to say is that we should be willing to invest in friendships with homosexuals. He says, for example, that “our relationship[s] with [homosexuals] must not be contingent upon their agreeing with us about sexuality…when they don’t agree with us we still don’t push them away.” Perhaps we could think of a perfect scenario in which we would be obligated either to love our gay neighbor or to remain faithful to the Bible’s sexual mores; even still, it seems that Greear is aiming more for friendships than for advice regarding specific situations. Charity would certainly direct us towards the former.
Fischer then sets his sights upon the second statement which he finds objectionable: “I love you more than I love being right.” Fischer proceeds to levy essentially the same argument as he did before: Fischer argues that this statement’s logical end is the rejection of biblical morals in the name of loving my neighbor. I, for one, don’t believe that having relationships with homosexuals will invariably require me to choose between my biblical sexual ethics and my friendships; perhaps I’m wrong, however.
Fischer’s primary point of angst against the second statement is that he believes it misses the point. Per Fischer, the point isn’t so much that Christians shouldn’t push homosexuals away—I’m actually inclined to believe that Fischer would agree that Christians shouldn’t push homosexuals away. Instead, Fischer says that the problem is that “many homosexuals love their position on homosexuality more than they love their Christian neighbors.” According to Fischer, this is the important point, and this is the issue that Greear doesn’t address.
Fischer may be right here: There may well be homosexuals who don’t love their Christian neighbors. If, as Time contends, 5% of Americans identify as homosexual and if the US has a population of over 330 million people, that means that there would be over 16 million self-identified homosexuals in the United States. Within that sample, there are almost certainly some who hate Christians and some who love Christians. So, Fischer may have a point here: Some homosexuals probably push their Christian neighbors away.
However, this is inapplicable to what Greear is saying in this sermon. Remember that Greear is at the ERLC’s annual meeting: While I’ve never been to the ERLC’s annual meeting, I’d hazard to guess that not many homosexuals frequent this event. Thus, the question of how a homosexual should treat Christians isn’t relevant to what Greear is saying in this sermon. In this context, Greear is addressing a group of Christians about how Christians should treat their homosexual neighbors. According to Greear, we Christians should avoid the twin errors of compromising our position and pushing away all homosexuals.
At the end of the quote from his sermon, Greear holds up an example that we can all agree on: Greear says that we should treat homosexuals as Christ treated us. On the cross, Jesus showed us just how serious our sins—whether they be hatred, hypocrisy, or homosexuality—are in the eyes of God; however, at the same time, Jesus was other-centered as he built bridges with those enslaved to sin. This is the attitude that Paul prescribes in Philippians 2’s famous Christ-hymn, and it is the attitude which Greear encourages us to develop towards our homosexual neighbor.
Perhaps Fischer is right: Perhaps the SBC is heading down a dangerous path. I respectfully disagree, and I’d be willing to bet that Fischer hopes that he’s wrong. At this point, we don’t really know. So, as Fischer said on Twitter, let’s check back in five years.
Notes & Sources
Photo from jdgreear.com