Thursday, October 12, 2006

The Black Church Is Homophobic

That's what we're constantly told anyway. Many theologically liberal academicians and pastors make a lot of noise chiding the Black Church for being homophobic and hypocritical. We're told that the church smuggles in gay choir directors and musicians in order to have a bumpin' musical program but won't acknowledge homosexuality as a legitimate sexual orientation and lifestyle choice.

A new book scheduled to be released Oct. 15th is continuing in this tradition of criticizing predominantly Black churches for "hundreds of years of silence" on homosexuality in the church. Episcopalian priest, the Rev. Horace L. Griffin, argues in his new book, Their Own Receive Them Not: African American Lesbians and Gays in Black Churches, that "The black church's teaching that homosexuality is immoral has created a crisis for lesbian and gay Christians in black churhces." Griffin asserts that "This black-church-sanctioned homophobia produces a lot of twisted black people."

The problem according to Griffin, who is himself a practicing homosexual, is that "black church leaders and congregants have been resistant and even closed in treating gay and heterosexual congregants equally or, in many cases, of simply offering compassion to gay people." This unequal treatment, according to Griffin, leaves homosexuals in "no-win situations" and robs them of "their soul, if not their integrity, family and lives."

Like many of the theologically liberal critics of the Black church, Griffin compares the church's treatment of homosexuals to the Bible-twisting oppression of slaveholders.

Now, I stand with Griffin in condemning any absence of compassion or hatred shown toward homosexuals. The church, black and white, has its share of guilt and shame to bear because of its failure to recognize the humanity and the deep spiritual need of homosexuals. Such behavior is sub-Christian and ought to be rejecteed and repented of by anyone who encounters it.

Having said that, however, we're still left with the central thesis of Griffin's book: Is it true that the Black church is homophobic? Is it true that church's treatment of homosexuals has resulted in "a lot of twisted black people"? Is the church to be blamed in this way?

Perhaps there is yet a more fundamental question. What is homosexuality? Should we give over ground to the claim that sexual orientation is an inherent, perhaps biologically determined, stable characteristic? And, should we at least spend some time asking, What is sex for?

None of the scientific literature leaves us any confidence that the idea of "sexual orientation" is anything other than individual preference. That is, individuals may very strongly feel attraction to persons of the same sex, but that does not amount to an "orientation" that has any basis in biology or that can be measured reliably. At best, the concept is fluid, with persons moving in and out of "orientations" at different points in their lives and feeling unsettled at other points. It would simply be foolish to base church practice, or public policy for that matter, on a concept that has no credible scientific basis in reality.

That's the social and biological science in a nutshell. We've not even considered the biblical argument. Biblically, we're told that homosexuality is a sin (Rom. 1). It's a sin, like all other sins that ensnare people, that must be repented of and must be atoned for. Repentance and faith in the atoning work of Christ ushers an individual into the family and household of God. Acceptance into the life of the church is a function of acceptance with God through faith in Christ. So, the conclusion of Romans 1: "Though they know God's decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them." Our failure to make this clear to practicing homosexuals and any of the other persons described in Romans 1 would be the real failure to love.

And biblically, though many advocates of homosexual inclusion appeal to the "love" that such persons share as a good worthy of acceptance, we can't honestly conclude that such "love" is good or even love at all. The Apostle Paul writes that love, in part, "does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor. 13: 6). If that's the case, and if homosexuality is "wrongdoing," then despite the claims to the contrary, we must conclude that participating with someone in this wrongdoing is not love, is not good, and is not consistent with the truth. The loving thing, again, is to tell the truth about the sin and to call the sinner to repentance and faith in Christ alone.

What is sex for? It's for procreation in marriage. It's for intimacy between a man and a woman in marriage. It's for pleasure in marriage. Some homosexual advocates want to make intimacy and pleasure cardinal virtues, claim their right to these things in homosexual relationships, and convince us then to "normalize" their lifestyle. They say that not all heterosexual couples can or even desire to procreate, so procreation can not be essetnial to what sex is for. Whether every homosexual couple can or desires to procreate or not, the normal potential for such couples to procreate is evident and demonstrates the obvious: that's what sex is for. The fact that no homosexual couple can procreate also demonstrates the obvious: homosexual acts are not properly speaking "sex."

And though sex also is designed for pleasure, it's evident that not everything that is good to us is good for us. The crack addict finds pleasure in the pipe. The alcoholic finds pleasure in the bottle. The wife abuser and the child molestor find pleasure in their acts. But none of these things are good for the individual, the victims, or the society. We'd be wise to continue to conclude in the Black church that homosexuality offers no "pleasure" that is good for us. Though sin may appear pleasant for a season, its end is surely death.

Griffin opines that "Until black church leaders adopt different Christian approaches, 'Down Low' practices will continue." His meaning is that the closed sexual activities of some men in the church will continue and contribute to unhealthy outcomes for such men.

But what are "different Christian approaches" to homosexuality... to sin? Different other than repentance, gouging out our eyes, cutting off our arms? Different than mutual accountability and warring against sin?

We do need different approaches than the ones we're currently using in the church. But they are the approaches the Bible itself gives us. We need a return to Biblical orthodoxy that emphasizes the authority and sufficiency of Scripture for faith and life. We need to return to the Gospel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ... a holy God, angry at sin, sent His only Son to pay the penalty of sin in His death on the cross, and now demands all men everywhere to repent of their sins and believe on Jesus Christ. And we need to recover the practice of loving corrective church discipline. The Lord has spoken to us about how to handle such issues (1 Cor. 5). What is left for us as stewards to do is to be faithful with what the Lord has left us to do.

It's books like these that make me extremely glad that the pew is far more evangelical than the pulpit in so many churches. May the Lord be pleased to preserve, strengthen and use the Black church for His glory!


Desiree said...

I don't know that this is an issue of race. Do we think Black churches are any different than other churches in the west with regard to homosexuality? I don't. The western church, by and large, has soaked up the culture in which we live. I don't think any race has done this any more than another.

FellowElder said...

Yeah... I don't think this is a Black problem at all. It's interesting, though. I think in the minds of many African-American activists, the Black church is the last bastion of sexism and homophobic behavior for its generally conservative stance on women preachers and homosexuality. I'm just glad enough folks are reading their Bibles to stem the tide of this kind of argument.

Thanks for stopping by!