Last October, popular blogger Jen Hatmaker revealed in an interview that she believes that LGBT relationships can be holy before God. In the same interview, she hit on several of progressive Christianity’s main talking points, including a wishy-washy stance on abortion. Predictably, the interview prompted competing choruses of support from progressive Christians and dismay from conservative evangelicals.
Thanks to a recent Christianity Today article, the uproar over Jen Hatmaker has been revived. In fact, this time, it may have been kicked up a notch or two. Sounding the warning that many within the Christian blogosphere operate apart from any ecclesiastical oversight, Tish Harrison Warren asked, “Where do bloggers and speakers like Hatmaker derive their authority to speak and teach? And who holds them accountable for their teaching?”
Those are legitimate questions, ones that more Christians need to consider before uncritically consuming the opinions and teachings of writers (including those of John Ellis). Never mind the legitimacy of Harrison Warren’s thesis, though; by inserting Jen Hatmaker into her article, Harrison Warren now finds her engaging article and much of the subsequent dialogue swamped by angry supporters of Hatmaker.
Having conducted the original interview with Jen Hatmaker that lit the torch of controversy, Jonathan Merritt has waded into the current brouhaha with what is probably the template for supporters of Hatmaker, who, by the way, are very vocal. Accusing Hatmaker’s critics of character assassination, Merritt counters that “Hatmaker’s original sin is that she broke ranks with the evangelical powers-that-be on same-sex relationships.” He concludes his article with the declaration, “So I’ll take a courageous Jen Hatmaker over her cowardly critics any day.”
I could probably write an entire series of articles unraveling the many error-filled bromides that fill Merritt’s recent article. Since my editor has yet to approve that, I’m going to hit the two big errors of Merritt and Hatmaker: 1) that the traditional view of same-sex relationships within evangelicalism isn’t a test of orthodoxy and 2) the notion that Jen Hatmaker is courageous.
Setting aside the nonsensical notion that there is some sort of secret cabal of evangelicals that decides who’s in and who’s out, Merritt’s assertion that Hatmaker’s views on same-sex relationships can be overlooked by conservative evangelicals is flat-out wrong.
Homosexuality is either a sin or it’s not. God either forbids homosexuality or He does not. For those of us who conclude that the data of Scripture overwhelmingly and clearly reveals that homosexuality is outside of God’s defined boundary for sex, those who disagree are in serious error. Our doctrine of sin is important because it reveals our doctrine of God. In turn, our doctrine of salvation naturally derives from our doctrines of sin and God (among other doctrines, of course).
God is holy and just. Being holy and just means that God cannot overlook sin. The bad news is that all humans are sinners. The good news is that those who are repenting of their sins and are placing their faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are given Jesus’ righteousness while having the punishment for their sins placed on the second person of the Trinity. The good news means that Jesus came to save sinners; Christians are sinners who are saved by grace, through faith in Jesus.
Acknowledging that Christians are sinners doesn’t mean that Christians are to throw their hands up and surrender to their sin. By God’s grace and through the power of the Holy Spirit, Christians combat the sin in their life and pursue a life of holiness (separation from sin). Being a sinner doesn’t exclude you from the Kingdom of God; refusing to repent of your sin and place your faith in Jesus does, however. An individual who refuses to acknowledge his sin, and who willfully and continuously engages in sin, demonstrates that he has not submitted himself to the lordship of Jesus.
The natural overlap of a robust doctrine of sin, doctrine of God, and doctrine of salvation means that Christians who believe that homosexuality is a sin cannot overlook homosexuality, much less excuse it. By confessing her support for homosexual relationships, those of us who believe that homosexuality is a sin can’t simply sweep that under the rug and continue to do business with Jen Hatmaker as usual.
(For the record, just because you know of Christians who wink at the sin of gluttony, that doesn’t make it ok for you to wink at the sin of homosexuality. Likewise, and while I’m on the subject, just because you know Christians who fail to care for orphans, that doesn’t make it ok for you to excuse the terrible sin of abortion.)
By stating that same-sex relationships can be holy before God, Jen Hatmaker has signaled that she has a different doctrine of sin and doctrine of God (among other differences) than conservative evangelicals. Using Jonathan Merritt’s label, the “Christian mafia” hasn’t excluded Hatmaker; she’s separated herself from conservative evangelicals. The “Christian mafia” is merely pointing that out, which takes courage.
Merritt’s huffy declarations of support for the “courageous” Jen Hatmaker ignore the fact that broader society increasingly labels those of us with a Biblical sexual ethic as hatemongers, homophobes, and bigots. Taking a stand on the inerrant Word of God and aligning oneself with God’s parameters for sexuality is what takes courage. Aligning oneself with the world and their revered sexual revolution does not. Undoubtedly and regrettably, many professing Christians responded to Hatmaker in anger, and have said and continue to say hurtful things. However, Jen Hatmaker is finding herself increasingly celebrated amongst a whole new market.
Hatmaker has deliberately and consciously staked her claim with those who view conservative evangelicals as cultural pariahs. Pointing that out is not cowardly, nor is it hateful.