By Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.
In my work on the Bible and homosexual practice I often encounter the argument that (1) no sin is any worse than any other sin; therefore (2) homosexual practice is no worse than any other sin.* Usually the comparison is then made with sins for which accommodations are often made by Christians (like gluttony or remarriage after divorce), rather than with sins for which no accommodation is made (like incest or murder), as a way of either shutting up Christian opposition to homosexual practice altogether or contending that self-affirming participants in homosexual practice will still “go to heaven.” Even many evangelicals who neither support homosexual practice nor extend a pass from God’s judgment to those who persist unrepentantly in it subscribe to these two views.
Sometimes these claims are buttressed by an analogy, such as when Alan Chambers, former head of Exodus International, declared at the opening night General Session of the 2012 Exodus International Conference: “Jesus didn’t hang on the cross a little longer for people who … have been involved with same-sex attraction or who have been gay or lesbian.” It comes across as a nice sound bite and can be helpful for those who think that homosexual practice is too bad to be forgiven by God. But it doesn’t establish the claim that there is no “hierarchy of sin.” The length of time that Jesus hung on the cross is irrelevant. It is the fact of Jesus’ death that counts for atonement. Nor is anyone arguing that Jesus’ death cannot cover big sins. It covers big and little sins for those who repent and believe in the gospel.
Put simply, Christ’s universal coverage of sin through his death on the cross does not mean that all sins are equal in all respects but only that all sins are equal in one respect: They are all covered. If they were not, no one would enter the kingdom, for God is so holy that any sin would disqualify a person from entry if moral merit were the basis for acceptance. By way of analogy, one may have health coverage for all injuries great and small and pay the same amount for the coverage regardless of the injury; but that doesn’t mean that all injuries are of equal severity. As we shall see, there is a mountain of evidence from Scripture (in addition to reason and experience) that shows (1) sins do differ in significance to God and (2) God regards homosexual practice as a particularly severe sexual sin.
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Why an Egalitarian View of Sin?
Why, then, do so many insist on an ‘egalitarian view of sin’? There may be several reasons working together.
First, many Christians are overeager to do whatever they can to soften criticisms from homosexualist advocates. The latter, many of whom are very good at being outraged at anything that disagrees with their agenda, go bonkers when they hear homosexual practice described as a severe sin.
Second, some are pushing an egalitarian view of sin at least in part out of pastoral concerns, so as not to turn off homosexual inquirers with a message that they might find hard to accept. The flipside of this is that they may want a theological basis for criticizing any sense of self-superiority or uncharitable spirit coming from the church. Some believe that the church is responsible for creating an angry and bitter “gay-rights” community by giving a pass to Christians involved in heterosexual sins while using the Bible to beat up on persons who engage in homosexual behavior.
There is some truth in this view. However, the idea that, if the church had just delivered the message on homosexual practice as sin with more love and more balance, there wouldn’t be any expression of anger and bitterness from the gay-rights community is preposterous. Jesus was a loving guy and yet he was crucified for speaking the truth. Sin hates any restraint of its power and those under the controlling influence of same-sex attractions are no different. In addition, expressions of outrage and efforts at intimidation are an integral part of the homosexualist strategy for coercing societal approval of homosexual practice.
Christians should take care that in their rush to appease homosexualist advocates they don’t end up denying Scripture itself, which does characterize homosexual practice in very negative terms, not as the only sin to be sure but nonetheless as a grave offense. One wonders whether Christians who denounce other Christians for saying that homosexual practice is a severe sin deep down think that the Apostle Paul is a bigot for giving special attention to homosexual practice in Romans 1:18-32 as a particularly self-degrading, shameful, and unnatural practice that is in part its own “payback” for those who engage in it.
While I have some sympathy for a pastoral motivation to stress more the element of universal sin to inquirers who might otherwise have anti-Christian prejudices activated, I cannot accept a blatant falsification of the Bible in claiming that the church, in viewing some sins (like homosexual practice) as worse than other sins, has created a tremendously damaging view that the Bible itself does not substantiate. I shall show below that both the general view that some sin is more heinous to God than others and the specific view that homosexual practice is a particularly severe sexual offense in God’s eyes (in seriousness somewhere between adult-consensual incest and bestiality) are well documented from Scripture. Parenthetically, if people are really serious about the view that no one sin is worse than any other, they shouldn’t be upset by the comparison to consensual incest (since by their own reasoning incest is no worse than any other sin).
Read more: RobGagnon.net
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.