When church leaders say we need to have a “conversation” about LGBT groups, be careful: Most often they have already given away the store.
Part of being a Christian with “all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent” (Philippians 1:9-10) is to watch out for slippery vocabulary. The observable surge in the use of sweet-sounding words like “dialogue” and “conversation” and “listening to each other’s stories”—and the dearth of the language of “sin” and “sexual immorality”—is neither accidental nor benign. You wouldn’t expect Satan to rush in with pointy horns and a 10-point plan on how to destroy the church.
A recent “evangelical” conference in Philadelphia billed itself as a forum “where people who love Christ but have differing theological and sexual orientations can come together in authentic discourse and communion.” Use of a word for the sacrament also seems hardly accidental: Never mind that God explicitly prohibits communion “with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality …” (1 Corinthians 5:11).
A post-conference report then gushed that the close communion of gay and straight Christians for 42 hours had made it difficult to “demonize the other.” (“Demonize” is the new word for any person who says that some behavior is wrong.) Rather: “we playfully exposed the stereotypes we held of each other and opened up avenues to appreciating our shared humanity. We began to see each other not as opposites or threats or judges, but as mutually vulnerable, well-intentioned, and of course imperfect brothers and sisters in Christ.” (The use of “imperfect” here means: “Who are you to say homosexuality is sinful when you yourself are a gossip or a glutton?”)
It made me think of a teenage boy and girl of churchy upbringing who are attracted to each other. They don’t quite believe in premarital sex yet, but they have decided to get together for 42 hours at her parents’ house when they’re not home, to have a “conversation” about it, and see what may come of that. Any predictions?
The goal of “conversation” used to be arrival at truth. An open mind on the subject used to mean openness to being persuaded to change your mind. As G.K. Chesterton said: “Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid.”
Not anymore. Nowadays, “conversation” is the way we avoid something solid. “Keep on posing problems, and you will escape the necessity of obedience,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was on to the gimmick. “Conversation” has become the ingenious way that everyone does what is right in his own eyes (Judges 21:25).
A certain pastor was asked for his church’s position on gay marriage. He answered, “We have a stance on love—and everything else, we have a conversation.” Can we agree that to have a “stance” on “love” takes about as much courage as to have a “stance” on cheese sandwiches? A loss of principle can thus appear courageous even as it is selling out Christ in the very place where Christ’s truth is most under attack.
But as author and counselor Dr. David Powlison writes in God’s Love, “God’s love has hate in it too: hatred for evil.” We are not loving people when we tell them they can embrace sin and embrace Christ simultaneously, for Jesus said: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction” (Matthew 7:13). The apostle Paul loved people better than the sex conference did when he said, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone” (Colossians 1:28).
I am reminded of a scene in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar: Brutus hears that Cassius is in town and asks his friend Lucillius how he seems toward him. Lucillius answers: “With courtesy and respect enough. But not with such familiar instances, nor with such free and friendly conference as he hath used of old.” Brutus, not a man with a tin ear for the subtleties of language, says to Lucillius, “Thou has described a hot friend cooling.”
We too must cultivate an ear for a subtle cooling toward Christ. It will tell in the language. Instruction in the Word of God will be replaced by “conversation.”