5 Spiritual Dangers in the Human Rights Campaign's 'Guide' for LGBT Evangelicals
On Friday, the LGBT group Human Rights Campaign (HRC) published a "guide" for LGBT people in evangelical Christian churches. The guide twisted the Bible, painted traditional Christianity as hateful, downplayed the crucial role of repentance in the Christian life, identified people with their sin, and pushed a radical acceptance of LGBT ideology on churches.
The great spiritual threat in this message was apparent from the very title of the guidance: "Coming Home to Evangelicalism and to Self." C.S. Lewis, channeling Jesus' humility in Philippians 2, described pride as "the great sin," explaining that a turning in on self is the "complete anti-God state of mind."
HRC's push to encourage churches to accept people who suffer with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria is laudable, and Christians have been too dismissive of these people in the past. But Christians must be careful to preserve the teachings of Jesus while extending His grace to those who struggle with these issues. God calls Christians to love LGBT people, but not to affirm LGBT identity, and HRC's "guidance" undermines that crucial mission.
Without further ado, here are the five ways in which the HRC "guide" poses a serious threat to the spiritual health of evangelical Christians, whether they identify as LGBT or not.
1. Twisting the Bible on sexuality.
LGBT activists have long pushed a reinterpretation of scripture in order to justify claims that Jesus would approve of same-sex marriage, transgender identity, and "pride." These arguments seem loving, but they actually undermine the message that Jesus came to send. Jesus didn't just die on the cross to save sinners, He also came to radically transform them in His image, and constantly called them to repentance.
Jesus gave no indication of rejecting the clear commands in Leviticus (18:22, 20:13) against same-sex sexual intercourse. Indeed, the man Christians believe to be the Son of God condemned all forms of lust, saying that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:27). He went on to (likely hyperbolically) urge His followers to cast out their eyes if they cause them to sin.
The HRC report acknowledges the clear teaching of scripture against same-sex activity, describing the passages in question as the "clobber passages." Yet the guide argues that "those same passages appear to clash with the all-important, big-picture values that run throughout the Bible."
David Gushee, professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University, argues in the report that opposing LGBT pride is a matter of "selective literalism." Referencing the Old Testament law, he argues, "We don't observe kosher laws. We don't support holy wars and genocide. It's a selective literalism."
Gushee is correct that Christians do not follow the entirety of the Old Testament law, but he overlooks Jesus' clear endorsement of that law when it comes to sexuality. In Mark 7:21-22, Jesus explains that what a person eats does not defile him or her but that "out of the heart of man come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery," and more. The word He uses for sexual immorality — porneia — is a very broad word that clearly includes all the practices condemned in the Leviticus passages cited above.
Christians do not reject kosher laws due to "selective literalism," they do it because Jesus — and later the Apostles Peter and Paul — emphasized that all food is clean and sin is a matter of the heart. Furthermore, the rare examples of holy war commanded by God in the Old Testament are clearly limited to the specific people God spoke to at the time. Jesus made clear that His followers are not even to resist the evil person, but to pray for their enemies. This literalism isn't "selective" at all.
In fact, other New Testament passages — Romans 1, 1 Corinthians 6, and 1 Timothy 1 — also describe same-sex sexual activity as sinful.
2. Twisting traditional Christianity.
The HRC report does not just try to reinterpret scripture to affirm LGBT pride — it also suggests that conservative opposition is not rooted in the Bible but in prejudice and malice.
Amelia Markham, a coordinator with The Reformation Project who was born female but identifies as "transmasculine" and goes by the pronoun "they," argues that the "anti-LGBTQ stance" is something separate from Christian doctrine.
"The opposition isn't just about how we interpret the Bible or maintain Christian tradition," Markham claims. "At the end of the day there's just a systematic prejudice or bias. I could not in good conscience operate in that setting without intentionally deconstructing the bad things and rebuilding the essential message and good things that come with Christian faith."
On the contrary, opposition to LGBT pride is firmly rooted in scripture, in the moral teachings of Jesus. But the HRC report does not just maliciously attribute the traditional stance to bias, it also twists the traditional Christian view of sexuality to suggest a heterosexist view.
LGBT Christians "may have been taught that sexual or romantic relationships that are not heterosexual are sinful through sermons, Sunday school classes, pastoral counseling or implicitly through the culture of the congregation," the HRC guide states.
This is a misrepresentation of Christian teaching. As noted above, Jesus explicitly condemns heterosexual lust. The key difference is not just homosexual versus heterosexual. In Christianity, all forms of heterosexual sex outside a life-long marriage between one man and one woman are sinful. Even heterosexual lustful thoughts outside of this context are sinful.
To suggest that Christian sexual morality is a simple matter of "heterosexual good, homosexual bad" is wrong and malicious.
On a separate note, Matthew Vines, founder of The Reformation Project, argues against traditional sexual morality on the grounds that opposition to LGBT identity has negative consequences.
"The church's teaching against same-sex relationships has caused tragic amounts of relational and spiritual devastation," Vines says in the report. "That's not good fruit so it can't be coming from a good tree." He adds that "it was impossible to deny the damaging consequences that church teachings had on [openly gay people's] lives. That suffering is proof that we were doing something wrong."
Indeed, Christians have been too harsh in their condemnation of homosexuality. Homosexual activity is just one sin among others, and every Christian who preaches against it is also a sinner in need of God's forgiveness. That said, errors in being too harsh do not justify errors in the opposite direction. Jesus' love can be had by all, but it requires repentance from sin, heterosexual or homosexual.
Shae Washington, a "married" lesbian in Washington, D.C., recalls that her "sexuality has always been there." She adds, "We were taught that it was a sin so I struggled a lot personally."
Traditional biblical Christianity does not teach that same-sex attraction by itself is a sin. Temptation is not a sin, only acting on temptation is a sin. Glorifying in having a temptation by accepting a lesbian identity is a sin, but experiencing same-sex attraction is not a sin. Suggesting that it is a sin makes Christian teaching seem harsher than it truly is.
3. Lack of repentance.
Much of LGBT pride rests on the idea of self-defined identity. The HRC guide aims to help those LGBT people who seek "to remain faithful both to God and to their understanding of themselves."
This emphasis on self-understanding is utterly foreign to the call of Jesus Christ, however. "If any man would follow me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul?" (Mark 8:34-38).
The word here translated "life" is actually psyche, a Greek word meaning "soul" or "identity." Make no mistake, Jesus is calling His followers to give up their sense of self, and promising a new sense of self. Jesus compares this fundamental transformation to the excruciating and humiliating punishment of Roman crucifixion.
The HRC guide is peddling a falsehood in saying LGBT people can "remain faithful both to God and to their understanding of themselves." No true disciple of Jesus can remain true to his or her psyche — that must go. This is part of what Paul meant when he said, "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Repentance from all sin is a fundamental aspect of this transformation. Jesus constantly calls on His followers to repent. Even in the famous John 8 passage where Jesus offers forgiveness to a woman caught in adultery, he urges her to "go, and from now on sin no more" (John 8:11).
Not only does the HRC report conveniently leave out the call to repent, but it also peddles the idea that people are somehow "worthy" in their own right to receive God's grace.
"In that first toxic church I was constantly being told I was unworthy, in danger of God's judgment and wrath," worship leader Darren Calhoun recalls. "But that was the church talking. God was not relating to me that way." Instead, "God was reminding me that I am worthy."
While some churches may present the idea that people with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria are somehow less "worthy" than others, the Bible is clear that no one deserves Jesus' free gift of eternal life — it only comes by unmerited grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). No one is "worthy," and everyone must repent, whether they are homosexual or heterosexual.
4. Identifying God's grace with sin.
One of the most dangerous lies peddled by the HRC "guide" is the idea that Jesus' abundant life equates to living in sin.
"I had a spiritual encounter with God," Shae Washington writes in the HRC report. "I felt very much like God was saying, 'You're gay. I made you this way. You're fine. This is who you are. I didn't die to give you abundant life just so you could live in the closet.'"
Jesus did say (in John 10), " I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." This does not entail a life of frolicking in sin, however. As Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect."
The kind of abundant life Jesus brings is one of self-sacrifice, love that seeks the good of the other person, and purity of life. There are aspects of this love in same-sex relationships to be sure, but the sexual dynamic there is still sinful, just as intercourse between non-married straight people is also sinful.
Tragically, when Shae Washington's church countered her spiritual experience with scriptural truth, she shut her ears. "The church we all came up in relies heavily on one interpretation of the Bible, so they want to know how I could scripturally justify what I was telling them," she recalls. "They didn't care so much about this spiritual encounter I'd had with God."
This is not surprising for an evangelical Christian church. Evangelicals often cite 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work." The Bible sets forth the standard for doctrine and holiness, and declarations that LGBT pride fit Christian holiness must reckon with the scriptural critique that they simply do not.
One of the reasons Washington and other LGBT people equate same-sex sexual activity with abundant life is their belief that homosexuality defines who they are. As the HRC report noted, "LGBTQ evangelical Christians feel that their inherent nature is in conflict with biblical teachings." While sexual desire may be strong, it is not the same thing as a person's "inherent nature."
If LGBT people can understand that they are not solely defined by their sexual or gender identity, they can understand the concept of flourishing in the context of holiness, as defined by the Bible. They will find that this is far richer than any LGBT pride.
5. Pushing radical acceptance.
Evangelical Christian churches are becoming more aware of the fact that they have been too harsh on LGBT people. This does not mean, however, that Christians must accept and celebrate LGBT pride. Tragically, the HRC guide is uncompromising in its demand for full-throated acceptance and celebration of this anti-biblical value.
The guide's very introduction warns that rejection of LGBT people "can take many forms. Sometimes [LGBT Christians] may even be rejected by the church altogether and exiled from the community they grew up in. They may also require the member to be celibate, forbid the member from serving the church in any type of leadership role or refuse to celebrate or officiate a wedding ceremony to the person they choose."
By framing these stances as a "rejection" of the person, HRC has insinuated that there is no justification for these acts besides animus.
Encouraging a person struggling with same-sex attraction to stay celibate is no different than telling a straight person to wait until marriage to have sex. This does not entail a form of "rejection." Furthermore, refusing to celebrate or officiate a same-sex "wedding" is a clear application of the Bible's teaching that marriage is between one man and one woman. Finally, churches have a duty to help their members grow spiritually, and that involves encouraging parishioners to keep Jesus' commandments on sexuality.
Churches need to be careful not to treat vulnerable people harshly, but rejecting a person's LGBT identity does not constitute a rejection of the person.
Tragically, the HRC "guide" encourages all Christians who suffer with same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria to seek "affirming" churches, and to be uncompromising in that search.
Darren Calhoun, a worship leader at a Chicago church, spoke about his journey further and further away from Christians who disagree with him. He left a church community that (he claims) encouraged him to change his sexual orientation, then abandoned another church because its "inclusion of LGBTQ people was conditional," and finally found "a home where both his faith and his life as a gay man could be celebrated."
When the fully "affirming" church offered him a job as a Worship Leader, Calhoun says he felt God's call. "On one level, it was a practical decision," he recalls. "I needed a more regular income and I couldn't be on staff at Willow as a gay man unless I was celibate. I didn't want my income to be jeopardized if I went on a date with someone."
The new church wasn't "demanding an explanation of my dating life. They just wanted to do life with me."
HRC presents this as a positive trend, but churches have a duty to help their members grow. If they do not encourage leaders to pursue sexual purity as defined by the Bible, that's a problem. If LGBT people only seek churches that will encourage their current lifestyles, that will hamper their spiritual growth.
The Human Rights Campaign guide is only the latest in a series of pamphlets about "coming home to [religion] and to self." Previous editions covered Islam, Judaism, Mormonism, Roman Catholicism, and general "faith."
The maliciousness of this guide may be worse than the others, as it presents evangelical opposition to LGBT pride as based in hate and animus, rather than the Bible. This echoes the claims of groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which brands mainstream Christian groups as "hate groups."