For a variety of reasons, I rarely respond publicly to other Christians. But in this case, I feel compelled to do so.
Last week, in an effort to be compassionate and loving, popular Christian author Jen Hatmaker came out in support of LGBT relationships, referring to them as “holy.” While other Christian influencers have come out in favor of affirming theology, this caught my attention because my wife has personally benefitted greatly from her books. In fact, she has even read out loud to me some particularly funny and insightful portions from one of Jen’s book.
Rosaria Butterfield wrote a poignant reply to Jen Hatmaker, which is worth reading, regardless of where you stand on the issue. And so have Jake Meador and Kevin DeYoung. The issue seemed closed to me, until a close friend sent me a link to a Facebook post by Jen’s husband Brandon Hatmaker, clarifying their position on LGBTQ. This particular post was the reason I felt compelled to weigh in.
Essentially, Brandon describes how he and Jen have been on a yearlong journey trying to reconcile the pain they see in the lives of LGBTQ people with the “historic Christian position” on homosexuality. After much study and prayer, they mutually concluded that God blesses homosexual relationships in the context of marriage.
Now, for the record, I do not question their motivations. In fact, I have no reason to doubt that they’re trying to do what they believe is right for a community that has often felt alienated by the broader culture and, sadly, the church. My father taught me to always assume the best in others, and I certainly extend that courtesy to them, as I hope they will to me (if they happen to read this).
Much could be said about their announcement. I would prefer to sit down and talk with them in person. Maybe we will get that chance someday. The invitation is open from my end. But since they made their views known publicly, I will respond in kind. A few points stand out to me as worthy of commendation.
For starters, they describe how they studied both Scripture and various books on all sides of the issue at length. They claim that affirming Christians have not abandoned the Bible, and they point to the fact that there are many thoughtful theologians and leaders on both sides of the issue.
I am glad they are willing to entertain both sides of this issue. Many are not. But based on Scripture, I remain unconvinced. I have read all the books they cite and dozens more. And while the revisionist position is possible, it certainly has not carried the burden of proof and been shown to be the most reasonable.
Until the middle of the 20th century, the church has been essentially unanimous on its views that God created sex to be experienced between one man and one woman in a lifelong married relationship. Church leaders debated the role of women in the church, pacifism versus just war, the nature of the end times, and many other issues. But until recent times, when the sexual revolution began to shape culture and seep into the church, there has been no significant debate about God’s design for sex and marriage. Of course, this doesn’t mean the traditional view is right. But it should take some weighty exegetical arguments—which have yet to be demonstrated—to overturn the 2,000-year tradition of the church. Does he really understand better than Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin?
Most of Brandon’s Facebook post involves describing their journey towards embracing revisionist theology and also appealing to Christians not to discount their commitment to Scripture. Brandon briefly sums up his theological conclusions with these words:
Every verse in the Bible that is used to condemn a “homosexual” act is written in the context of rape, prostitution, idolatry, pederasty, military dominance, an affair, or adultery. It was always a destructive act. It was always a sin committed against a person. And each type of sexual interaction listed was an abuse of God’s gift of sex and completely against His dream for marriage to be a lifelong commitment of two individuals increasingly and completely giving themselves to one another as Christ did for the church.
But not one of these scriptures was written in the context of marriage or civil union (which simply did not exist at this time). Each act mentioned in the Bible was sin, no doubt. In context, we believe the same today. Just like heterosexual sex outside of marriage is sin for obvious reasons, whether consensual or not, we still believe homosexual sex outside of marriage is a sin.
I respectfully disagree because while biblical prohibitions may be written in the context of the sins he mentions, the moral wrongness is based upon its violation of God’s creation imperative (Gen 1, 2). The sins he mentions are destructive, but that’s not why they’re wrong. Rather, they are destructive because they are wrong. And they are wrong because God intended sex to be experienced between one man and woman in a lifelong marriage relationship (Gen 2:24). This is the consistent teaching behind the entirety of Scriptural teaching on sex. God’s creation narrative provides the basis for human sexuality and consistently lies behind biblical guidelines (e.g., Leviticus 18:22; Romans 1:26-27).
The Hatmakers also reason that when it comes to marriage, faithfulness trumps gender. Hence, whether heterosexual or homosexual, sex is designed for monogamous “marriage” of two individuals who sacrifice for one another.
But Jesus seemed to hold a different view. In fact, Jesus believed that gender distinctly matters for marriage. He didn’t see marriage as two individuals sacrificially committed to each other, but as a male and female sacrificially committed to each other which, as a union, represents God's love and faithfulness for the church. In Matthew 19, Jesus was asked about whether divorce should be permitted for “any reason.” He says:
He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”
To answer the question about the permissibility of divorce, Jesus cited both Genesis 1:27 and 2:24. Yet he only needed to cite Genesis 2:24. Why include 1:27? It’s as if Jesus was going out of his way to affirm the creation narrative that sex is reserved for one man and one woman within marriage. Jesus affirmed the perpetual applicability of Genesis 1-2 and that marriage is a gendered institution. Paul also saw marriage as a gendered institution rooted in God’s original creation (e.g., Ephesians 5:31).
Obviously much more could be said. This is a sensitive issue and we need to tread with love and care. And yet we also need to remember that love rejoices with the truth (1 Cor 13:6). I appreciate that Brandon speaks about his commitment to Scripture. My concern is that he is importing an external narrative into the Bible rather than letting it speak for itself.
Sean McDowell, Ph.D.is a professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University, a best-selling author of over 18 books, an internationally recognized speaker, and a part-time high school teacher. Follow him on Twitter: @sean_mcdowell and his blog: seanmcdowell.org.