Can A Christian Lovingly Use The Slippery Slope Argument?

1004464889_a161ff03d2_b

“That’s a slippery slope.” Have you ever heard that phrase used in an argument before? A slippery-slope argument is one in which it’s assumed that holding Position A leads inevitably to Position B, then Position C, then to D, and on down the line. The assumption is that no one wants to hold Positions B, C, and D, so therefore Position A is discredited. Usually the person holding to Position A responds that the slippery slope argument is a way to obscure the issue by smuggling in other topics, while the Slipper Sloper thinks his logical links are unassailable.

It’s worth thinking about the slippery slope argument because it’s in the headlines a lot these days in connection with debates on same-sex marriage and gender/transgender issues. Opponents of same-sex marriage argue that legalizing it would start the slippery slope towards crossing other sexual boundaries such as polygamy, pedophilia, or incest. The other side responds by saying the slippery slope argument is nonsense and an attempt to make anyone supporting same-sex marriage look bad. So my question is: can a Christian use the slippery-slope argument? And if so, how do we do it in a way that honors the commands to love our neighbor, and to be quick to hear, slow to speak?

I’m going to suggest two answers to that question, especially with regards to gender and sexuality debates. But first, in the interest of full disclosure, let me state where I stand. I think legalizing same-sex marriage would be wrong from a Scriptural standpoint and would ultimately be very harmful to our society. I also think the slippery slope argument has considerable force in this debate. (See the recent headlines about incest laws in Germany and polygamy laws in Utah.) But I’m also convinced that in this discussion, as in any other, those biblical commands still apply. So how can we love our neighbors while disagreeing with them?

Don’t assume that this person accepts Position B because they believe in Position A.

This is simply an application of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:12: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” You’ve probably had, or at least heard, someone say, “Oh, you’re a Christian, you guys believe ______” with the blank filled in with an outright distortion of Christianity that neither you nor anyone you know actually believes. You would like that person to actually ask you what you believe rather than write you off as ignorant, bigoted, or outdated based on a false assumption about what Christians are like. We owe that same respect to anyone we disagree with. You might be convinced it’s a slippery slope between A and B, but don’t assume the person you’re talking to sees it exactly as you do. Which leads to my second suggestion:

Ask the person to explain why they believe Position A doesn’t lead to Position B.

Questions are always better than assumptions. Use them. “In my mind there are implications to what you’re saying that trouble me. Could you help me understand if I’m hearing you correctly?” Or: “If you believe _______, what are your thoughts about ___________?” Two things might happen. One, you may find there are valid ways to hold Position A and not Position B that you haven’t thought of. Honesty and respect require – actually, let’s rephrase that: our Lord requires – that we consider those possibilities. Two, you may discover that the person you’re talking to hasn’t actually thought through the implications of their belief. That’s not the time to do a victory dance and pound your chest for having won the argument – not if our goal is to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Instead, this is the time to gently ask the person to reconsider their beliefs, and then give them time and space to do so.

Beliefs have implications. There are slippery slopes that need to be recognized and, with love and compassion, exposed. But any debate or argument brings its own slippery slope: slipping away from love, compassion, and a desire to help people see their need for Jesus towards a miry pit of arrogance, poor listening, and hard hearts. Don’t slip down that slope!

Photo by John Haslam

Two Things We Must Be Clear About When We Talk About Homosexuality

2536358399_c16896768f_b

You don’t have to read many headlines to recognize that homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and a host of other related topics are hot-button issues these days. In previous generations Christians only had to give passing thought to the Bible’s teaching on these matters, but no longer. We may want to avoid the controversy, but it’s coming whether we like it or not. In some way, at some time or place, every Christian will have to take their stand on this question: what does the Bible say about homosexuality? Let me suggest two points I think we must state with both compassion and clarity.

1) Homosexuality is a sin

There are six texts that explicitly mention homosexuality: Genesis 19, Lev. 18.22, Lev. 20:13, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9, 1 Tim. 1:10. In addition, Jude 1:7 references the Sodom and Gomorrah story in Genesis 19 without using the word “homosexuality.” The clear teaching of these passages, Old and New, is that homosexuality is a sin.

Despite the clarity, however, there are many who argue that Scripture doesn’t actually say what it appears to say. Some pit the Old Testament vs. the New Testament – sure, there may have been some obscure law under Moses that forbid homosexuality, but the New Testament is about love and compassion and acceptance. But the obvious flaw with that line of reasoning is that the New Testament is just as clear in its labeling of homosexuality as a sin.

Others, noting that those three New Testament passages are all in Paul’s letters, pit Jesus against Paul. “Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners,” they say. “Of course he would have accepted homosexuals! It’s Paul whose the problem, introducing rules and polluting Jesus’ religion of love.” Notice what happens if we take this view. We’ve put ourselves in the position of judging which parts of Scripture we accept and which we reject. We stand above the Bible and render a verdict of true or false. But we’ve lost the ability for Scripture to ever confront us and tell us something different than what we already believed. It’s just those times when Scripture challenges us and brings us up short, even angers us with its audacious claims, that prove it’s the word of a living and active God. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, it’s only dream furniture that never stubs your toes and only a dream “God” who never corrects you.

There’s at least one more nuanced approach to explaining away Scripture’s clear teaching. This view argues that the commands against homosexuality are only against sexual excess, not committed homosexual relationships and that the Bible knows nothing of the modern concept of sexual orientation. But here’s the problem. The Bible not only gives commands about sexuality and condemns homosexual behavior, it also tells us why. And it’s that why that is so important.

The commands against homosexuality (and all heterosexual sin as well!) are set in the context of the story line of Scripture, and especially the goodness of creation in Genesis 1 and 2. There we learn that gender – male and female – is part of our very essence. There is no such thing as a gender-less human; we are either men in God’s image or women in God’s image. Sex cannot be divorced from gender. It is a gift of God with specific purposes that all take place in the context of the marriage relationship in Genesis 1-2. Appealing to “homosexual orientation” as a way to bypass God’s prohibition against homosexuality doesn’t work because God has already told us what our sexual orientation is supposed to be: one man for one woman, in the context of a marriage covenant. Just as you wouldn’t use an iPhone to hammer a nail (Steve Jobs didn’t design it for that), so too you cannot use God’s gifts for purposes that are contrary to his.

Despite the arguments against the biblical texts, it’s clear that Scripture says homosexuality is a sin. But there’s more we must say.

2) Homosexuality is a sin

The first point speaks to those who argue homosexuality really isn’t a sin. But now we have to emphasize that homosexuality is only a sin, not the sin. Some rationalize homosexuality, others demonize it. Think of the news clips of people screaming and holding “God hates fags” signs. This is just as much a distortion of Scripture as trying to make Scripture approve of homosexuality. “God hates fags” is a gross caricature of the gospel message, one that draws the line between “us” and “them,” with “them” defined as “sinners who do things I don’t do.” In truth, God hates sin in all its manifestations. Sometimes it marches in gay parades and sometimes it gossips over the fried chicken. Both are equally hateful to God.

No passage is clearer in labeling homosexuality as a sin, but only one among many sins, than 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (emphasis added).

Note what Paul says. Men who practice homosexuality are among the unrighteous. So are idolaters and verbally abusive people. But the gospel changes the identity of just such people: “And such were some of you” – until God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit intervened!

Here’s the heart of the matter. The Bible refuses to let us label them as the problem. We are the problem – and that we includes kindly old grandmothers, card-carrying lesbian activists, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth farmers, and everyone in between. Our problem is much bigger than any one expression of sin. Our problem is a planet of 7 billion people each going his or her own way, with thousands of years’ worth of backstory to that rebellion. The tangled web that all of those rebels weave, a web of sinning and being sinned against, creates chaos and confusion that impacts every corner of the planet and every nook of our lives. Yes, homosexuality is part of that rebellion. But it’s not the sole cause of the rebellion. Labeling it as the sin causes us to miss our own culpability for vandalizing God’s good creation.

Homosexuality is a sin, but only a sin. In our current cultural climate, with pressures from multiple sides, faithfulness to Scripture requires us to say both.

Photo by Ethan Lofton

Do We See Homosexuality As An Opportunity or Threat?

3506244072_9b662296b5_z

“I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” Paul wrote those words from prison to the Philippians. They reflect a vital New Testament perspective: opposition to the gospel often creates an opportunity for the gospel. It’s in that spirit that Peter Hubbard asks in his introduction to Love Into Light: the Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church: “What if the current discussion of homosexuality and same-sex marriage is not a threat, but an opportunity?”

A challenging question! Threats tempt us to respond with anger, fear, vindictiveness, and desperation. Opportunities lead to optimism, faith, activity, and love. Is there a way in which this discussion of homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and all the spin-off conversations (even arguments) is not a threat to the church or the gospel, but an opportunity?

Let me suggest four opportunities that present themselves to us. If we’re convinced of these, we can turn from threatened, fight-or-flight responses to confidence in God.

This is an opportunity to make the church a safe place for those who struggle with same-sex attraction. In God’s providence, the cultural situation is forcing us to think about homosexuality in new ways. The great blessing that can attend this discussion is the recognition that some of our brothers and sisters in the Lord struggle with this temptation. For too long they were left thinking that their sin struggle was taboo, off-topic, “other” than everyone else’s. We could leave the impression that grace meets most kinds of sinners – but not that kind of sinner. Now God is giving us the chance to be used by him to listen to, encourage, strengthen, and walk alongside those who previously may have been afraid to speak up or acknowledge their struggle. That’s an opportunity, not a threat.

This is an opportunity to grow in our understanding of the nature of sin. One of the discussion points has to do with the issue of choice: did I choose to struggle with same-sex attraction? If not – so the argument goes – then how can it be wrong for me to act on my desires? Christians’ first response might go something like this: sin is a willful rebellion against God. Homosexuality is a sin. Therefore you chose to be homosexual.

The problem is that, as those who struggle with same-sex attraction will tell us if we listen, that they can’t point to a specific moment they “chose” this sin pattern. The label of choice doesn’t ring true to their experience. What are we to do? Redefine what Scripture says in light of supposedly new “insights” into ideas like sexual orientation? Or insist, even against the testimony of fellow believers, that they really did choose this struggle, even if they weren’t aware of it?

Both of those are wrong responses. Instead we have an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the nature of sin. Yes, the sinful heart is active, making choices based on deceitful desires. But we’re distorted and deformed even at the level of our basic instincts. Did you choose to be a proud person? Was it a conscious decision that made defensiveness your default response to correction? Did you select “fearful” from a drop-down menu of available temptations? Of course not. Sin has so deeply damaged us that, apart from Christ we are incapable of not sinning. Oh, wretched men and women that we are! Who shall deliver us from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord! A deeper understanding of sin will lead us to a deeper understanding of our Redeemer. That’s an opportunity, not a threat.

This is an opportunity to grow in our understanding of the Christian life. Does God promise that if you “just trust Christ” all your same-sex desires will go away? Does he promise that if you “just trust Christ” you’ll never battle anxiety again? No. Scripture gives us a much different view of the Christian life. It is entirely possible that God will call a believer to a life-long struggle with same-sex attraction – or anxiety, or depression, or loneliness, or any number of battles.

Now let me be clear: it’s not that change isn’t possible for the Christian. We do change. We are called to growing Christ-likeness all our lives. But too often we reduce that to a basic formula: “just remember (your identity in Christ, your justification, your experience of the Spirit, etc.), and your struggles will go away.” That’s a defunct view of the Christian life, making change superficial and unrelated to God and yielding shallow, plastic Christians. Anything that destroys such a notion is an opportunity, not a threat.

This is an opportunity to love our enemies. If you read the headlines, you’ve noticed that – surprise! – there are people who find any use of the word “sin,” any statements about our universal, heterosexual or homosexual need for Christ, deeply offensive. If we’re faithful to Scripture and to our Lord, such opposition will come. But it brings with it an opportunity to respond as Jesus did: “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). In our terms: no raging editorials. No internet flaming. No personal attacks. No disdain – spoken or unspoken. Instead: listening carefully before speaking. Love for those made in the image of God. Kindness in word and deed. What a testimony to the power of the gospel such responses would be!

God is giving his church the opportunity to become a more pure and faithful bride of Christ, to shine brighter in the darkness, lovingly and truthfully proclaiming the excellencies of him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light. May he give us grace to seize the opportunity!

Photo by Lisa

Serving Those In The Church Who Struggle With Same-Sex Attraction

Sam_21

SAM ALLBERRY has been a pastor at St Mary’s Church, Maidenhead, UK since 2008. Prior to that he worked as the pastor for students at St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, UK. Sam is a contributor to the website LivingOut.org, which seeks to biblically help those who struggle with same-sex attraction. He is the author of the book Is God Anti-Gay?

Sam was kind enough to answer some questions about his experiences with same-sex attraction (SSA), as well as provide insight into how the church can effectively serve those who struggle with SSA.

READ PART ONE OF THE INTERVIEW HERE.

How can church members serve those in their congregations who struggle with SSA?

A big factor is creating the kind of church culture where someone feels safe enough to share that they struggle with SSA. That seems to be a major hurdle for many I’ve spoken to. If we only speak about homosexuality in the context of culture wars – as a nasty problem ‘out there’ – then we will make it harder and harder for our own brothers an sisters to feel able to speak up about it personally. Something that needs to be remembered alongside this is that someone who has shared about personal struggles with SSA may not need/want that to be the main thing you talk to them about. We must be careful not to define fellow-believers by any one struggle they experience. Many Christians with SSA will be thinking about the demands of likely long-term singleness, and so we need to make our churches places where people can flourish as singles rather than it feel like they’re being sentenced to years of unremitting loneliness. We need to treat the people of God as family; those with biological families need to open up their home lives to the unmarried.

What unhelpful things do Christians say about SSA?

It can vary. Some seem immediately to latch on to the idea that SSA means counselling must be an urgent need. I’ve known a number who have needed counselling but it strikes me as a strange and unhealthy gut reaction to go straight there when the issue comes up. I’ve had some people say something along the lines of ‘Well I’d suspected as much; it’s fairly obvious’ which then made me wonder quite what they meant. Sometimes people will say something like ‘Well that explains why you’re so sensitive’ as though such an attribute could exist nowhere else. Others assume what the battle will and won’t mean and will start pronouncing guidelines about whether you should have male friends, etc. But I think the worst thing I heard was someone who’s reaction was basically ‘EEEEEEWWW’ – and he was a pastor…!

Some Christians seem to believe that deliverance from SSA means reorientation of sexual desires. Clearly this hasn’t been your experience. What would you say to those Christians?

I think the main thing is to keep coming back to what the Scriptures do and don’t say. When someone makes a claim about being delivered, or desires reorienting I want to press them on what their biblical warrant is for saying that. All of us have skewed sexual desires; none of us is ‘straight’ in that sense. And we hope that we will respond to those desires with godly discipline. It may be that in the Lord’s goodness he diminishes the strength of those desires, but it would be unusual for him to remove the temptation altogether this side of glory. It seems to me that the biblical pattern is God teaching us to stand up under temptation. At the end of the day, I know the most important thing in my life is to become more like Christ. That matters more than my desires being reoriented. If they switched to being heterosexual I’d still be struggling with sexual temptation – it’d just come in a different form.

How would you encourage a person who is struggling with SSA, and doesn’t quite know what to do with their desires? 

There are a number of things to say by way of encouragement. The first is to try not to make too much of it. The Bible nowhere says that our sexual desires define who we are. So we mustn’t translate the presence of SSA into a new way of seeing ourselves. The way society insists our desires are fixed and defining is deeply unhealthy and destructive. The flip-side of not seeing this desires as defining is to make sure we’re very clear on the things that are defining: having been created by God as male or female, our standing before him through and in the person of his Son. These are the things we need to see ourselves in the light of.

Secondly, try not to assume the presence of these feelings necessarily means anything. Experiencing SSA does not mean that’s now a permanent fixture. For many people, these feeling have come and gone with time and natural development. And for those of us for whom these feelings seem to be long-term, again try not to make quick assumptions about what that will and won’t mean. A number of long-term SSA Christians have been able to experience healthy marriages; some of us haven’t. So try not to assume either way. And be careful what you set your heart on as your long term prize. I pined and prayed for marriage and family for a number of years before realising that there was an even greater thing to long for and cherish – a deeper relationship with Jesus. Once that is the goal, it puts other things in a much healthier perspective. I now realise I don’t need to be married (though the Lord may yet enable it), but I do need to be more like Christ. If continued struggling with all this is something he can use to that end, then I will be thankful.

With all unwanted desires, we have the blessing of bringing them to the Lord again and again. I am so thankful that as a Christian I can come before my heavenly Father and be open about the worst things in my heart. I know I can come to him with all the rot and darkness. So don’t hide your desires from him: confess them with all the heaviness and hopefulness of someone who knows they stand secure in his grace. And pray that alongside those unwanted desires God grows and deepens an even stronger desire for him and for his service. Desire Christ more.

What resources would you recommend? 

There are all sorts of resources. The testimonies of other Christians faithfully battling SSA continue to encourage me, so I’ve found enormous encouragement from Wesley Hill’s Washed And Waiting and Rosaria Butterfield’s The Secret Thoughts Of An Unlikely Convert. I hope the testimonies and articles on our website, LivingOut.org, will be a help to those with SSA and those wanting them to flourish in Christ. And may the ministry of the gospel through the local church increasingly be the very best resource for struggling Christians!

 

An Interview With Sam Allberry About Dealing With Same-Sex Attraction In the Church

Sam_21

SAM ALLBERRY has been a pastor at St Mary’s Church, Maidenhead, UK since 2008. Prior to that he worked as the pastor for students at St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, UK. Sam is a contributor to the website LivingOut.org, which seeks to biblically help those who struggle with same-sex attraction. He is the author of the book Is God Anti-Gay?

Sam was kind enough to answer some questions about his experiences with same-sex attraction (SSA), as well as provide insight into how the church can effectively serve those who struggle with SSA.

When did you become a Christian?

I became a Christian pretty much the same day as I turned 18. I’d been coming along to a church youth group for a few weeks; I’d heard the gospel and I had believed it. But I hadn’t yet consciously confessed Christ as Lord or given my life to him. The week of my 18th I was on a youth retreat with a load of folks from the youth group. One of the leaders was asking me how I was finding things and whether I had grasped the gospel. When I said that I had, he pressed me as to what my response was. That was the first time I consciously thought ‘Yes, I need to give myself to Christ; I want to follow him.’ I remember thinking very clearly that from that moment on I wanted to belong to Christ.

When did you first become aware of same-sex attraction?

I started to become aware around the age of 15 or 16. I remember experiencing some intense feelings of attachment to a particular friend, and feeling devastated when he first started dating girls. At the time these feelings were all quite confusing: I didn’t really know what was going on or what it meant. It took me a couple of years to realise that this seemed to be something of a settled pattern of attraction that I needed to come to terms with.

You experienced same sex attraction (SSA) at a relatively young age. Would you say that SSA is part of who you are?

I would say that, certainly for my adult life, it has been a significant part of what I’ve felt, and in that sense it has been a deep and personal issue to deal with and one that impacts on all sorts of areas. I’d be reluctant to say it is who I am as I’m not sure we are to see such feelings as part of our identity. It is a feature of my fallenness (one such of many…) rather than of my God-given human identity.

You believe it is sinful to act on SSA. Do you struggle with the fact that God has made you in such a way that you experience SSA?

Yes, I believe scripture is clear that it would not be right to act on these feelings; they contradict who God has made me to be. I don’t think it is fair to say that God has made me to experience SSA. It comes from my fallenness; a sign of what sin has made me rather than who God has made me. In our fallen state we are all broken and skewed, in every area and therefore including in our sexual desires. In that sense none of us is straight! SSA seems to be a feature of my fallen desires. In that sense it is ‘natural’ to me, but with the important insight that what is ‘natural’ is itself warped. So I wouldn’t say, ‘This is how God made me.’ But I do know that he is sovereign over this, as in all things, and so therefore my continuing battle with these feelings is (for as long as I experience it) part of his good plan for me and something that good can come out of. I don’t like this particular battle, but I am thankful for how God has used it in my life.

STAY TUNED FOR PART 2