October 18, 2004
This essay ran in the Summer 2004 issue of Baylor Magazine.
Christians welcome homosexuals into their churches for worship and fellowship but do not affirm their lifestyles. We are "welcoming but not affirming." Why do we welcome but not affirm? Because we are all sinners, but we cannot affirm persons in their denial of the sinfulness of their sins. Our approach would be exactly the same to a person who lives a greedy or gluttonous lifestyle: We welcome you because we are all sinners, but we cannot affirm you insofar as you are not repenting of your greedy or gluttonous lifestyle.
I realize how far out on a limb I have just gone. I am likely to be shot at from two sides: those who hate homosexuals and do not want anything to do with them and those who accuse anyone who names homosexual behavior as sin of being homophobic. Both parties, however, are missing the boat when it comes to being fully and authentically Christian.
And then there will be those who point an accusing finger at churches that do welcome and affirm persons who are notoriously, unrepentantly greedy or gluttonous or both! Indeed. I stand with them as they point, but I remind them that two wrongs do not make a right. Adding another abuse does nothing to help reform.
Christianity has always considered sex outside of monogamous, permanent, committed, heterosexual marriage sinful. That is still true. Only a few churches have broken from that historic, biblical, ecumenical consensus, and the burden of proof for change lies with them and not with the traditional point of view, which is solidly rooted in Scripture and natural theology (see Robert Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Abingdon Press, 2002).
At the same time, Christianity has always acknowledged that we are all sinners without any righteousness of our own; our righteousness is Christ's alone and, at most, given to us as a sheer gift. There is nothing we can do to earn it. Christ came to be with and save sinners; he spent much of his time with them. Therefore, to reject all fellowship with homosexuals merely because they are homosexuals is to depart from Christ himself.
Nevertheless, fellowship and acceptance are not the same as affirmation. The problem arises when anyone living what Christians by conscience firmly believe is a sinful life without repentance seeks embrace as equally suited to participate in all aspects of the life of the church. The problem is not so much the sin as the denial of its sinfulness.
But what about civil rights for gays? Why do most Christians (like most Americans in general) reject social acceptance of "gay marriages?" We believe that homosexuals should receive the same rights as everyone, but we do not believe society should endorse as "marriage" any nonmonogamous, nonheterosexual relationship or relationship between close relatives.
We believe marriage is sacred if not a sacrament. It is one of God's orders of creation and preservation. It cannot be redefined by human whim; it is a divinely ordained institution. We reject homosexual marriage for the same reasons we reject polygamy, bigamy and incest. It violates a sacred institution. And we ask why the latter should be banned if not for that very reason? Without God, all is permitted (eventually).
(Reprinted with permission of the Waco Tribune-Herald.)
Olson, BA '74 (Open Bible College), MA '78 (North American Baptist Seminary), MA '82 and PhD '84 (Rice University), is professor of theology at Baylor's George W. Truett Theological Seminary.