In a recent sermon at the Summit Church, SBC president JD Greear argued that Christians must stand up for the rights of LBGT. The sermon, entitled “How the Fall Affects Us All” turned out to be an attempt to destigmatize the sin of homosexuality among Southern Baptists. Greear admitted to his congregation that he had been nervous all week about preaching on this text. Now, I have to ask the question, why would the SBC president be nervous about preaching on Romans 1? And I must admit, that is lost on me. As Greear started his sermon it seemed obvious that he was attempting to do more than just explain how the fall has impacted us all. In fact, if that was truly his goal, I would have to say that he missed his target by a wide margin.
Greear got to the homosexual issue rather quickly. And he stayed there for an incredibly long period of time. In fact, all one has to do is listen to the sermon at a high level, observe the amount of time devoted to this area, and it becomes obvious what Greear is doing. Greear began his rebuke of the church by “confessing” that the church has not done a good job with homosexuality historically speaking. What does he mean by this? We are left to guess. Greear offered nothing tangible for us to wrap our heads around. It was a highly generalized statement and it has polarizing affect. Greear describes homosexuality as something they are going through. This is victimization language. It is designed to evoke empathy. The poor homosexual cannot help himself. This is happening to him. He is a victim of circumstance. Again, Greear is doing something very deliberate with this rhetoric. Is this how the Bible describes homosexual behavior? I will come back to this shortly.
Greear goes on to say that Paul is not picking on homosexuality. Paul could have picked any number of sins to focus on in this pericope. Greear believes the reason Paul picked homosexuality is because it does the best job of demonstrating depravity at the basic level: human relationships. One has to ask why Paul didn’t make that clear when he penned this to the Roman Church. If one follows the flow of Paul’s argument, it is easy to see why he picked homosexuality. I will come back to this is due time.
Greear got off to a bad start when he compared the flagrant adultery mentioned in Romans 1 to modern goals of romance, ambition, and even seeking your friends approval on certain matters. The problem with this approach is that rather than pointing out the dangers of an unbalanced life and an unhealthy emphasis on romance or ambition, it marginalizes genuine idolatry. At a minimum, Greear could have been much clearer. The reason he wasn’t is because he was not interested in helping people avoid idolatry as he was in doing something else entirely.
In several places Greear seems to infer that these descriptions remain accurate even for those who have been regenerated. He continually exchanged the 3 third person personal pronoun for the first. Rather than staying true to Paul’s writing, he replace the pronoun repeatedly. In other words, Greear is taking liberties with the text he has no right to take. The group that Paul is describing in Romans 1 isn’t every single human who has ever been born. Rather, it is unbelievers and then Paul focuses on a subset of unbelievers, those who have been given over to a more depraved condition by none other than God himself. Greear creates tremendous confusion with the language he uses.
Greear goes on to classify homosexuality with any other sin. It seems as if Greear’s hamartiology is one dimensional with no depths in it whatsoever. Greear boldly places homosexual sin in the same category as gluttony, boasting, and being disobedient to one’s parents. Are we to believe that the kid who stole a candy bar has committed the same kind of atrocity as Charles Manson or Adolf Hitler? In his over-zealous goal of pushing evangelicals to accept gay Christianity, Greear leaves behind the historic Christian doctrine of hamartiology (sin) and allows modern, American values to reshape depravity for us. This is why Greear can say that the church has done a poor job around homosexuality in the past. That would be true if Greear’s notion of a one-dimensional depravity were actually the case. But it isn’t. And since it isn’t, it cannot serve as the criterion by which we judge the church’s history of dealing with homosexuality.
Greear then makes one of the strangest remarks that I have ever heard any evangelical make regarding homosexuality. He says that homosexuality is more like an affliction than it is a sinful choice. Is that how Paul describes homosexuality in Romans 1, 1 Cor. 6, or 1 Tim. 1:10. As we look back into the Old Testament, it is also not how it describes this behavior either. The Bible has no regard for the fact that men are tempted with an evil desire. It demands that we obey God’s law without any sympathy for the temptation that we face. The evil desire is ours, not external to us, imposing itself on us. But Greear does not seem to grasp this reality. He seems completely bought into American culture in his thinking around homosexuality. It isn’t their fault they are this way. We must show compassion toward them because they cannot help themselves. But Scripture shows no such empathy for this perversion anywhere it addresses it.
Greear then tells his church that Christians have to stand up for LGBT rights. He tells us that the sin of homosexuality is no different from any other sin. It is just like boasting. In fact, he says that greed and materialism is worse than homosexuality. He quotes Jen Wilkin in saying that we ought to scream about what the Bible screams about and whisper about what the Bible whispers about. He then says that the Bible screams about materialism and self-righteousness and whispers about sexual sin. I cannot but wonder how far Greear wants to take this demand for fighting for the rights of the LGBT community. What about their right to marry? Their right to be happy as they are without changing? Isn’t the gay objection the very fact that Christians insist that they become heterosexual. If that is the case, then they are no longer LGBT, right? What about their right to become members in SBC churches, pastors, seminary students? If they promise to refrain from sex, can two men have an intimate non-sexual relationship and be members? Hold hands in service? Share a home, even? If we go down this path, where do we stop? I can promise you this, once you head down that path, any place you stop short of full-on homosexuality is an arbitrary stopping place and it will not hold. What is the answer? Stay off this path. That is the only answer.
I want to come back to Greear’s claim that the Bible screams about materialism but whispers about sexual sin. The Greek word pleonexias, translated greed appears 10x in the New Testament. On the other hand, porne appears 56x in the New Testament. The word moichos appears 32x in the New Testament. that is where we get our word adultery. Do, the Bible uses the term greed 10x and the words translated sexual immorality and adultery a total of 88x. I am not sure how anyone could read Scripture and conclude that it whispers about sexual sin but screams about materialism. Apparently it has nothing to do with how often each one is mentioned.
Greear also says that people deserve compassion. Do they? Do we? Who is it that deserves compassion? This is yet another statement that flies in the face of Greear’s claim to be reformed. One thing you simply would never hear a truly reformed man say is that we deserve something good. We all know, to a person that none of us are getting what we deserve. We know that when compassion is directed at us by God through others, it is a gift of grace, an act of mercy because we do not deserve it.
Finally, Greear looks into the audience and tells anyone who is a homosexual (has SSA desires) that God loves them just as much as he loves Greear. This would mean that God does NOT love the elect with a special love and that is absolutely far removed from reformed doctrine. From the sound of that statement, it appears Greear has given up what little was left of his subscription to Calvinism.
Now, the last segment of the sermon was focused on abortion and we even got some racism and slavery tossed in for good measure and for the icing on the cake, we got ourselves a Martin Luther King Jr. quote. Whatever this sermon was about, the one thing it was not about is how the fall impacts us all.
JD Greear took 35 minutes of a 50-minute sermon on how the fall impacts us all to do all he could to turn homosexual sin into something that is no different from any other sin. The effort was heroic to say that least. It was clear that he was on a mission, he had an agenda, and nothing was going to get in his way, not even properly handling the flow of Romans 1.
Paul’s argument in Romans 1 concerns the human descent into depravity that is the result of his refusal to acknowledge God in all that he does. This refusal has resulted in the judgment of God. Because they exchanged the glory of God for that of lowly creatures, God gave them over to do those things that are impure, degrading, dishonorable and unnatural. Homosexual sin, according to the flow of Paul’s argument is the sinking lower into depravity on the part of man and as a direct result of the judgment of God. Because man sinned in a certain way and entered depravity, God cursed man resulting in even greater depravity and we can see the expression of that depravity in the unnatural sexual desires and behavior of homosexuals. God’s grace is all that restrains man’s depravity, keeping it from sinking to inevitable self-destruction. In this pericope, Paul argues that God’s grace has been removed to varying degrees as a sign of divine judgment. We see this at the very beginning of this section in Paul’s own words: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” Greear has surely let his congregation down where the question of how the fall impacts us all is concerned.