When Pope Francis declared last week, “who am I to judge?” in reference to gay people who “seek the Lord,” the media went haywire. Dr. Al Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has a helpful article telling everyone to calm down, as the Pope hardly said anything new. All Christians believe that sinners need to be treated with respect and compassion, as Jesus modeled and commanded. And when a person who is struggling with any sin, and is “seeking the Lord” he should not be judged or condemned, but rather helped and counseled. So, the Pope and I agree on something (I know, it’s a cold day here too).
There is another prominent cleric, whom I seldom agree with on the issue of homosexuality, who made a cameo appearance in last week’s prurient media cycle.
The colorful Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu has amassed an impressive treasury of struggle credentials (the Apartheid version of ‘street cred’). As a Black man staring down the barrel of White South Africa, Comrade Tutu spent the ‘80s vociferously lobbying the West to support economic sanctions against the draconian racist regime.
This much is known by everyone who owns a world history text book printed later than 1994 (or U2’s Rattle & Hum CD).
Tutu then championed the cause of post-election peace with his hatchet-burying committee, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This effort secured a Nobel peace prize for his mantelpiece, and a lifetime open mic on the airwaves of the New South Africa.
For better or for worse, when Tutu talks, the people hear the squeaky, sanctimonious, gaffe-prone voice of the Church in Southern Africa.
Last week, at the UN-backed “Free and Equal” campaign in Cape Town, Tutu made this portentous claim,
“I would refuse to go to a homophobic heaven. No, I would say sorry, I mean I would much rather go to the other place,… I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this.”
It may surprise you, but I agree with the Archbishop on this latter point. Christians can all agree that God has no phobias, and therefore doesn’t fear gay people. Nor is God more offended by their sin than He is by yours and mine. When you opine about a god who fears humans (regardless of their sexual proclivity), you are no longer talking about the God of the Bible (see Psalm 2 for confirmation of God’s insouciance of human threats).
So, along with Rev. Tutu, I do not worship a god who harbors a phobia about sin, sinners, or sinful behavior of any stripe—hetero- or homosexual.
In fact, as an evangelical Christian I agree fully with the Nobel laureate’s sentiment that gay people, like all people, need to be protected against violent persecution, which was the point of the UN’s campaign (South Africa’s new constitution is already at the vanguard of how nations should protect citizens from discrimination of any kind).
What the Archbishop and I disagree on, however, is whether God has the right to decide what offends Him or not. (I think the Pope would side with me on this one too.)
I know there is a cry of “born that way” that is meant to function as a strikethrough in the Bibles of people who eschew discrimination. But they should be pleased to know that the Bible is indiscriminate in its condemnation of all people—we are all “born that way.” Heterosexual lust is a perfectly natural, normal, hormonally fueled tendency among most men and women from puberty until death; that doesn’t mean it is inoffensive to God, and it certainly doesn’t provide a warrant to re-label it as non-sinful. Yes, it’s natural to sin, that’s because we are born sinners by nature. And that is why we need a Savior to save us from the guilt of that sin, and from the sins themselves.
To call God “homophobic” because He lists homosexual acts as sinful is to send your straw man down a slippery slope to land on the thin edge of the wedge.
Let’s contemplate some other human activity God calls sin: gossip, slander, envy, lying, malice, heterosexual lust, immodesty, discontent, anxiety, etc. Is God afraid of a bevy of mean schoolgirls (to pick on one of many social cliques who exhibit the above sins on a daily basis)?
The Archbishop’s blustery comments are inappropriate for one speaking for the Church in Africa.
And to speak so cavalierly about Heaven and Hell is to belie another region of misinformed theology. Heaven is by no means “homophobic” and will be populated by men and women who have embraced Jesus as their Savior from a plethora of sins, including homosexuality. There is no sin the blood of Jesus did not atone for.
I commend the Archbishop’s desire to reach out to gay people and protect them from bigotry. But if we are not reaching out with the gospel that Jesus saves us from all our sins—not just the ones the media are lobbying to normalize—then we have missed the point of the outreach, and have made a joke out of the cross of Christ.