Yesterday, my friend Benjamin Corey posted a video on his blog featuring the well-known fundamentalist mega-pastor Dr. John MacArthur answering a question he received concerning how to respond if your son comes out as gay. When I clicked on the video, I expected to hear something along the lines of “call them to repentance”, “extend the grace of God to them”, or “pray for them” — all of which are popular responses of those who hold a conservative view of homosexuality.
While those responses aren’t, in my opinion, the most sufficient or helpful responses to the struggle that an LGBT person experiences in conservative Christianity, they are also not terrible responses. The fact that most evangelical churches are at a place where they would say those types of statements in regards to homosexuality is a big improvement over where we evangelicals were just five years ago.
However, as I listened to MacArthur’s answer to the question, my jaw literally dropped, my stomach churned, and I sensed a great deal of anger rising up within me, in a way that almost never happens. (I am not typically an angry guy!) What elicited such a response from me, you ask? Take a listen and hear for yourself:
Yes, you heard him right. John MacArthur’s advice to a Christian parent whose son comes out as gay is to:
- Tell them to repent (i.e., stop being gay)
- If they don’t repent, bring a small group to tell them to repent.
- If they still don’t repent, tell your church community and confront them publicly (i.e., shame them publicly)
- If they still don’t repent — alienate, isolate, and don’t share a meal with them.
Are you kidding me?! While I understand that MacArthur is using a modified version of Jesus’ method for resolving conflict among believers, to attempt to apply this to the situation of an individual who is struggling to understand and embrace their sexual identity is not only a misuse of the Biblical text, it is absolutely, positively, 100% destructive.
I don’t mean to overstate this point or be dramatic (and I don’t think I am) but if this is the response that John MacArthur is advocating to his thousands of listeners and readers around the world, it seems to me that his theology is at least partially responsible for the depression, suicides, and intense bullying and discrimination of LGBTQ men and women within the Church.
If the response of evangelical Christians to our gay friends, siblings, and acquaintances is to alienate, isolate, and excommunicate, we must realize that we are personally responsible for the depression, mental illness, and untimely deaths of those human beings whose souls are crushed under the weight of shame, hatred, and condemnation caused by those who bear the name of Jesus Christ. Because it is this very course of action that is responsible for the pain that so many LGBTQ men and women feel.
This is the reason many in the LGBTQ community want nothing to do with Christianity — our response to them is so radically inconsistent and hypocritical. If this is our response, we are nothing more than anti-Christ’s. We are people who have distorted and contorted our theology in a way that is used to condemn instead of liberate, wound instead of heal, isolate instead of connect into the community of redemption.
Our theology has very real implications and consequences.
What we believe will truly inform how we respond to real life situations. I pray that whoever the person is that sent this letter to John MacArthur will feel the tug of the Holy Spirit on their heart and realize that his message is not the message of Christ. That MacArthur’s way of dealing with their gay child is neither healthy nor holy. And I pray for the gay son, that he would find a community that embodies that radically inclusive love and grace of Jesus to him, a community that calls him to be the person God has designed him to be, and a community that celebrates who he is, as he is. Because even a cursory reading of the Gospel accounts of Christ’s life and teachings reveal to us that this would have been Christ’s response. And Christ’s response always leads to abundant life. The enemy’s response always leads to destruction. It is abundantly clear which response is the Christian one.
It is also abundantly clear that many evangelicals are caught in a theology that is causing great harm to so many beloved human beings.
If your theology leads to someone’s suicide, it is not a theology worth keeping. Period.
How many more stories do we have to hear of men and women burdened with despair and crushed under the cold isolation from their family because “it’s the Christian thing to do” before we realize that our theology is wrong? That it is time to rethink how we understand human sexuality and the Christian response based on the fact that our response does not lead to life, like Christ’s?
Thankfully, MacArthur’s view is not the mainstream posture of evangelicals. Many are changing and reforming their belief systems to mirror Christ and the Scriptures. But that fact that in 2014, a mainstream evangelical pastor with thousands of followers can stand up and teach his people that the correct response to their son coming out is to humiliate and to isolate is not only disturbing, it is absolutely wicked.
I am all for finding a middle way for evangelicals between Side A and Side B views on the issue of sexuality. I don’t believe evangelicals must necessarily abandon the traditional view of homosexuality in order to be loving, gracious, and accepting of the LGBTQ community. But I am also aware that many very conservative evangelical theologies lead to responses like the one MacArthur is advocating, which is tremendously troubling. Frankly, it makes me wonder if a healthy third way is possible after all. (Which has been the topic of much debate as of late — read about it here, here, here, and here.) If it is, it must be a way to embraces people as they are, regardless of what we believe about their sexuality, and chooses to integrate, not isolate, people into our communities.
All I know is something has to change.
Because precious people’s lives are on the line.
We as followers of Jesus absolutely cannot stand around and let such theology continue to be propagated amongst people who claim to embody “Good News”. Because such theology is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The only response I can think of to such destructive theology is to combat it with love. To let the LGBTQ people in our lives know that they are deeply loved by God and by us, just as they are. To let them know that the way of people like MacArthur is not the way of Jesus, and is not, in reality, how God responds to them. To let them know that nothing…absolutely nothing…. can separate them from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Because that actually sounds like good news. That sounds like a way that brings abundant life. That sounds a whole heck of a lot more like Jesus.
What are your thoughts on MacArthur’s theology and the response he is advocating? How can evangelicals better embody the love of Christ to the LGBTQ community? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Read more of Brandan’s writing at Patheos.
BRANDAN ROBERTSON is an Evangelical writer, activist, speaker, and the dreamer behind the Revangelical Movement. He desires to build-bridges across cultural, theological, and political divides and to help others rethink, reform, and renew what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus in our post-modern, post-Christian world.
Brandan has a B.A. in Pastoral Studies and Bible from Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and is pursuing his M.Div. Degree from Wesley Theological Seminary. He writes for Revangelical on Patheos, Red Letter Christians, Sojourners, and IMPACT Magazine, and has been a featured contributor to a number of well-read blogs and news outlets. He is currently working on a book to be published by Destiny Image Publishers in early 2015, and is a contributing author to the book Praying In The Frat House, Kissing In The Chapel edited by Adam Copeland. Be sure to follow his latest thoughts on his blog, Revangelical.