A couple of weeks ago, Issues Etc interviewed Pastor Hans Fiene regarding a column he wrote for the Federalist, “For The LGBT Mob, Lesbian Ads On The Hallmark Channel Are Just The Beginning .” What Hans wrote in his column in not wrong. But it is not the whole truth. And that is a problem – a huge problem.
Now, to be clear, I am not picking on poor Hans because he said anything unusual or especially bad. Rather, I address his column and interview because they were incredibly undistinguished. What he said and the way he said it is very very normal for pastors. I have heard similar things over and over from multiple pastors and few would find what he said objectionable or unloving or untruthful. I choose to analyze what he said because, in doing so, I am analyzing what the vast majority of pastors in the LCMS are saying.
In case you do not know the incident behind the column, the Hallmark Channel aired a commercial with that featured a same sex couple, in this case, two women. Representatives of One Million Moms complained and the commercial was withdrawn. The withdrawal drew criticisms and threats of boycott from GLAAD, a supporter of gay and transgender rights, and the CEO of Hallmark apologized and restored the ad.
Han’s basic claim is that this incident is hardly isolated and represents the encroachment of Gay and Transgender activism into all areas of life and thought and culture. In his words:
“First, the LGBT mafia zealously desires to drive faithful Christians out of any space where they are welcome. Second, the LGBT mafia is proving to be ruthlessly efficient at carrying out this goal.
Third, the same ruthlessly efficient mob probably won’t be content to take away every metaphorical sanctuary we have and then stop short of seizing our literal ones. If they wouldn’t let us celebrate cheesy Hallmark Christmas without celebrating their sin, they won’t let us celebrate actual Jesus Christmas that way either.”
He mentions a second premise in the Issues Etc interview that is not brought up in the article, that the motivation behind LGBT inclusion in all spaces of culture is an attempt to find peace; peace with themselves, peace with God and peace with their conscience.
Now, as I said he is not wrong about what he says. But he is dangerously wrong about what he leaves out and the way that he says what he says. What he does not say is that, while forcing all people to accept homosexuality and transgenderism is a bad solution to the lack of peace with one’s conscience, the Church, by and large, is failing to provide the proper solution, the real peace, to those who are attracted to their own sex or in distress about a conflict between their inner sense of self and their body.
This is something either pastors do not know, refuse to know or just plain do not comprehend. Something the Church is doing is making faithful LGBT people who agree with the Bible’s pattern for sex and, therefore, are doing their level best to be obedient to God and avoid sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman utterly miserable.
As I grew into adulthood and met others like me, Christians attracted to their own sex who believed marriage and sex should be reserved for a life long relationship between a man and a woman, I found that, almost without exception, they felt a tremendous lack of peace and unresolved guilt. They found it difficult, if not impossible, to comprehend or accept the love of God for themselves. By and large, they were extremely lonely, faced severe depression and experienced a high level of self-hate. Again and again and again, I met Christians who not only had a tough time believing God’s mercy was really for them but were hurting in multiple ways but had no where to go for help and certainly felt the very last place they could go would be their pastor.
Now, we could argue about the cause, why do faithful people who believe the Bible and the teachings of Christianity and who are doing the best they can to be obedient feel such a profound lack of peace with God? But I propose the cause is the lack of Gospel.
You see, the primary thing Hans leaves out is the Gospel. Now I don’t really expect the Gospel in an article in a secular magazine about cultural issue. It would be nice to see it. And frankly, the law in such articles still performs all of its functions, including that of accusation. And, therefore the Gospel certainly SHOULD make an appearance, especially when such an article is written by a pastor. But it would be the height of naivete for me to be disappointed when pastors do not think like pastors when engaging in a culture war.
But, I don’t mean the Gospel is just missing from this article. I mean the Gospel is missing or very poorly applied within the Church itself when LGBT issues are discussed. Often the Gospel is not there are all. But if it is there, it is reduced to a sentence or two that Jesus forgives this sin like He forgives all sin. But it is seldom elaborated on or discussed beyond such simple statements.
This is not just a problem in regard to LGBT issues, by the way. As I listen to and read sermons from multiple pastors, I am finding that an adequate treatment of Gospel is quite rare in all aspects of Christianity, including the LCMS. When I was in seminary, a fellow student made the comment in Homiletics that if we do a good job of preaching and applying the law then the only Gospel that is needed is to say that God forgives us. I thought it was a kind of stupid thing to say. But apparently many pastors do not think it is stupid because the primary manner (almost to the point of being the only manner) in which I see “Gospel” applied is through a reapplication of law. That is, in a sermon in which the pastor has already dealt adequately and intensely with the law, the pastor applies the Gospel by saying “…but God forgives us dirty, rotten sinners.” Now this is not untrue, of course. But when that is the pretty much the sum total of the Gospel after the pastors has already convinced the listener that they are dirty, rotten sinners, then it is not an application of the Gospel nor an assurance of grace but merely an opportunity to re-iterate the law. It turns the Gospel into law, not Gospel. One speaker, by the way, who does this par excellance is Tullian Tchividian. In his first few sermons after establishing his own Church “The Sanctuary” his presentations were almost glorification of just how sinful we are in an attempt to make God’s grace appear more powerful in comparison. I stopped listening after a few weeks as it was almost getting to a point where it seemed he was celebrating our sinfulness more than God’s forgiveness. I have not seen a LCMS pastor go quite so far as that. But to re-iterate the law in a cheap attempt to empower the Gospel is still the primary application of most Lutheran pastors I hear. And that does not make the Gospel more powerful – it just applies the law a second time to people already convicted of their sin.
So, in a sense, LGBT believers are in no different position than the run of the mill member of the congregation in receiving a lack of Gospel. But I think it hits us harder because of the fact that we tend to feel more shame over our temptations than many do over their sins and we tend to hear our temptations condemned more strongly and more often than other people’s sins. Not only do we hear ourselves condemned in sermons, but we hear our situations more viciously condemned in everyday conversation and in articles like this one. This lack of Gospel simply shows up most blatantly when certain issues are discussed.
The fact is that the Gospel is clearly missing, not only from discussions over cultural issues but even from where it could reasonably be expected, the Church. And this, again, is the first mistake Hans made. He forgot the Gospel entirely.
We have to understand this clearly because to people outside the Church and many inside it, it appears Christians want to maintain a social situation in which kids who experience gender dysphoria or same sex attraction hate themselves to the point of suicide. And, it appears to the world, not only do Christians wish to maintain such a culture, they wish to continue to contribute to it. So what most people hear when they observe Christians complaining about an ad featuring two women kissing is that Christians truly do hate LGBT people. And the reality is that the evidence actually backs that up.
No, I don’t believe that making homosexuality socially acceptable is a good answer. No, I certainly do not think it is at all wise to subject a kid to puberty blockers and to alter the body in such a manner as to destroy procreation and proper functioning of body parts. I think they are really bad solutions. But they are better than anything the Church is offering at this time and, in fact, Christians often seem hell bent on making everything worse; not only by denying the Gospel but by contributing to the distress and pain of those already in despair. Yes, I do think the Church and the manner in which Christians have handled these issue is responsible for the deaths of many many teens. And by leaving out the Christian responsibility for so much misery and, further, by not acknowledging that the intentions of GLAAD are, in fact, good even if their methods are not, Han’s column and interview are little more than pissing and moaning and will do absolutely nothing to change anyone’s mind. It will be greeted with nods and appreciation by those who already agree with him but will change not one single, solitary mind of anyone who affirms LGBT people. It is essentially wind and fury with no substance.
But probably the most damning thing about Hams’ article is the way in which it was presented and what it sets up for the future. Cultures and societies are notoriously fickle. They swing from one extreme to the opposite in a surprisingly short time. Not so long ago “Christian Morality” was in the ascendance – and using the exact same methods and techniques Hams complains about GLAAD using – remember when World Vision decided to allow same sex married people to be accountants and receptionist and Christians in response withdrew their help of needy kids around the world?
The difference would be that I have not seen any actual violence against Christians by LGBT people. Nor have I heard any express the desire to commit such violence. On the other hand, in 1973 when the Upstairs Club, a gay bar, burned down from arson and more than 30 people died, some Christians complained that the real problem was that more gay people were not killed. I recall the friend of mine who had 5 different paths home from school to avoid being beaten by bullies. Yet I still hear Christian pastors complain that anti-bullying efforts will create a “protected class” by glorifying homosexuality. In the 80s when young gay men were dying from AIDS, I heard many Christians seemingly rejoice that they were finally bearing the consequences of their sins while I saw few Christians reach out to help. I have never heard these kinds of sentiments from LGBT activists.
As I said, cultures and politics are fickle. In another few decades, the situation is likely to swing the other way and popular reactions against gay marriage and LGBT issues are likely to be in the ascendancy again. By using terms like “mob” and “invade” and by ignoring the LGBT activists are attempting to fill a void left by the Church and to heal damage done by Christians, Hans helps set the stage for what that reversal will be like. LGBT people are pictured as the enemy. They are portrayed as the bad guys. And so, it is likely that when the reversal comes, instead of the Church reaching inward and ministering to LGBT people in her walls, we will also return to the violence and hate of a few decades back. Death, mistreatment and neglect of LGBT kids and adults will once again be the norm, if not worse, because articles like this target the persons rather than issues or behavior. There is not one thing in this article that would work to change a persons mind and little if anything in the Church to comfort them if it did. In this article, we are in a war and, for the moment, the Christian is on the losing side and Hans feeds the flames of that fear and hate while offering nothing, not one suggestion, about what could be done to resolve the situation in a Christian manner.
If we are truly worried about the direction the world is going, the very best thing we can do is look to our own house. Actually BE a church to those who have chosen to remain in the church of their youth.
That means, number one, actually proclaiming the Gospel far more than merely re-iterating the law. The Bible is filled with a wealth of materials on the positive aspects of the Gospel. We have Paul’s discussions of the Church as the Body of Christ, the Temple of God and as family. There is an abundance of Old Testament verses that speak of the beauty of God’s people as well as the book of Revelation which is filled with the glory of salvation. We have Paul’s comfort that all things work for the glory of God and the good of those whom He loves. We have Christ who spent time with outcasts, not just because He overlooked sin and tolerated them but because He apparently actually enjoyed being around them. Pastors need to start exploring the positive descriptions of forgiveness without, at the same time, losing the foundation of forensic justification.
Secondly. We need to seek to fulfill the basic needs of LGBT individuals in the Church. If we are going to ask them to abstain from sex, then we need to realize that, in a culture in which “falling in love” is considered the ultimate good, they are likely to be quite isolated and lonely. If we are going to ask people with gender dysphoria to refrain from transitioning, then we are going to have to really be there for them – really provide emotional and social support and not just condemn and advise them. It take asking some questions, learning about them, asking them what they need and then working to provide for that need. To ask a teen to stand firm against his or her temptations, whether toward sex or toward transitioning, and then to leave them to face them alone and lonely is the blatant denial of the Gospel itself. It is to say “God forgave you but the Church does not – you are on your own and not part of the body.”
In the end, Hans is not wrong; neither in this article nor in the dozen or so articles I read before writing this. He is quite correct in what he says and much of what he observes of the culture war. But he is only half right. And what he leaves out is the most important part. What he gives is law without Gospel. And this is a reflection, not only of how Christian too often approach culture, but of the very atmosphere of the Church today, that there are certain sins in which only half the truth is given: the Law but not (or very little ) Gospel. And in this case half a truth is worse than a lie because Law without Gospel leads to despair.