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taking the wrong path

Why people change their theology

When Christians revise their understanding of the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, it is often not driven by a stringent re-evaluation of the historical biblical texts. It would appear that there is a variety of stimuli that cause the relaxation of the orthodox viewpoints.

The Bible speaks of a time to come when those who confess to belong to Jesus will desire to hear something new (2 Tim 4:3). They will search for teachers who will deliver what they want to hear, whether man-made doctrines or myths, rather than what God’s Word declares. There can be many reasons one reaches for a revisionist position. I consider four of them in this article. 

Listening to others from a more liberal viewpoint helped me to justify my own homosexual behaviour

1. Fire and Brimstone

I grew up in a church where sex was barely mentioned. When it was, there was only reference to what was forbidden in the Bible and never about sex in heterosexual marriage being the greatest gift God has given to humanity. To step outside those clearly established boundaries was to bring fire and brimstone upon oneself; prolific quoting of verses that spoke about being cast into hell was commonplace. Such teaching for me, and for many others, simply created an environment where there was no place for dialogue about healthy sexuality or discussion on how to adequately develop an approach to sexuality that was not culturally driven, but biblically appropriate. It is easy to “…vilify sins that we are least likely to commit”, says Dr Preston Sprinkle. 

By the age of eleven, becoming aware of my attraction to men, there was no-one who I could identify with, or even share my feelings with. Fear that God was going to condemn me to hell, because of the thoughts I had about men, gripped me and paralysed me for the first forty years of my life. I never spoke about my homosexual struggles within my church. I subsequently stepped out of Christian ministry because of the bullying of church elders. I had never experienced the true love of God in my life. Confused about my feelings for men, I believed the church of Jesus Christ was my enemy. My views about homosexuality were no longer under the control of what the Bible taught. 

Despite spending seven years studying reformed theology at University, I quickly adopted a critical spirit towards those who taught a biblical sexual ethic. I believed that those guilty of homosexual sin were being condemned by many within the church whilst, ironically, the church was tolerating heterosexual sin, gossiping, lying and numerous other biblical prohibitions. Listening to others from a more liberal viewpoint helped me to justify my own homosexual behaviour and characterise it, not as a sin, but because of the way I was born. This enabled me to silence the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality and see it as out of touch with the real world.

In speaking with others, I realise my story is one of many. There are many reasons once strong evangelical believers are now willing to tolerate or even espouse some of the liberal and unbiblical viewpoints being propounded today.

2. Compassion for Family

The changes taking place among orthodox believers may simply be prompted by the fact that they have a close friend or family member who has come out as gay. The relative or friend may have been a Bible-believing Christian for a long time, and therefore the orthodox believer may have begun to think that perhaps faith and homosexual practice are not incompatible. They start to entertain the possibility that the traditional view of same-sex relationships is judgemental and lacking in love. 

Recently, an evangelical believer in Canada shared with me his own situation. Two of his sons have openly come out as gay and one of them is living in a same-sex relationship. They both clearly show evidence of the work of grace in their lives and dearly love the Lord. As we chatted, my friend admitted to struggling to hold the line that he was taught in theological college about homosexuality; he is well-versed in the teaching of scripture and certainly has read a great deal around the subject. He spoke about the tension that can develop between parents and their loved ones over the whole sexuality debate. He strives to be a good parent to his sons. He feels the alternative is to entertain the harsh view that Christians should “have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them” (Eph 5:11) and therefore reject the behaviour of his sons and them too. However, he believes as a parent that he needs to show the grace of God. Another friend I know is struggling with his daughter, who says she won’t return to church because her church is not willing to facilitate or bless same-sex weddings.

3. Lack of change in orientation

Another important reason orthodox evangelicals have modified their position is perhaps due to the heart wrenching stories of believers who they know personally, who have battled with their sexuality and begged God to change them to seemingly no avail.

This has led some such believers to commit suicide. On hearing of some who live with deep depression and despair or who take their own lives, this has led orthodox Christians to consider that God is unfair and cruel when the person clearly did not choose their orientation and prayed fervently for it to change.

4. Unkind treatment by the church

There is much evidence of gay people being derided and scorned by the Church. Those attracted to the gospel and person of Jesus Christ have sought to discover if God really condemns homosexual behaviour. They find that the Church, based on its well-rehearsed rhetoric, sometimes can only see the sinner and not the person who Jesus died on the cross to save. The Church may be more known for “gay bashing” rather than it has been for demonstrating the grace and love of God to every sinner. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised when people shift their viewpoint to a more liberal approach to scripture, if those seeking acceptance from the Church encounter harsh treatment and ostracism. The Church can portray itself as being anti-gay.

The saving Word of God

I cannot end this article without adding that, while many are changing their position, it does not mean that we should abandon the clear teaching of Scripture on same-sex practice. We should treat everyone with love and acceptance, in an environment of respect. We must be careful not to guarantee any change in this life that the Bible does not promise.

If we are to avoid further weakening of the orthodox position, the church must become more positive and engaging in humbly serving its Lord. It must devote itself to responding with grace to those who are lost and wrestling with sinful behaviour. There is beauty in God’s authority. The Bible is captivating in its vision for growth and freedom in our many and varied struggles. God embraces and offers us hope for human flourishing.

This article was originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of the TFT magazine, Ascend. Click the button below to download your copy.

Download the Winter 2022 edition of Ascend