(I hope I’m not doing exactly what Matt is afraid of, but here it goes anyway)

I’ve never related to the idea that Jesus is my homeboy. I’ve never been able to get comfortable with Christian t-shirts or bumper stickers, “praise” concerts that echo the latest variation of what U2 sounded like a few years ago, or radio stations that claim to be a ‘”positive” alternative to their secular counterparts. Basically, I have a hard time with Evangelical pop culture. It’s not that I think that it is, in all its various manifestations, wrong, it’s just plain…not enough.

Despite what you may see on the back of many a jacked up truck, Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson never gave permission for his characters to be merchandized. He explains in the forward of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes that he didn’t want them turned into action figures, printed on underwear, or slapped on a bumper for one simple reason: there was no way such things could properly represent what his stories were about. And he’s completely right. His comic strips are interesting, nuanced, and thoughtful; to translate them to such insufficient mediums would be to erase their value. Seeing what’s happened with his unlicensed images, you can imagine how right he was to resist.

If an unusually thoughtful series of comic strips can’t be properly represented through merchandise, remind me why we’ve even attempted it with the God of the universe? The chronic problem of pop culture is that it skims the top of actual culture, at best expressing the spirit of the current age, at worst misrepresenting, mocking and undermining anything that isn’t easily understood or immediately current. Evangelical pop culture has not faired any better. In fact, I think an argument can be made that it is infinitely worse, merely because the subject it is trying to address is unimaginably deeper and more ancient than anything the secular world has invented.

Jennifer Knapp’s announcement and subsequent interview in Christianity Today is really important for this reason. She was a figurehead of young Evangelicals 7 years ago, a rising CCM star alongside DC Talk and Rebecca St. James. She was an American Idol of Evangelical pop-culture. And then she disappeared.

As modern Christians we are all too often putting band-aids on the gushing wounds that come from the battle between self-identity and spirituality. You’ve got a problem with your desires, longings, beliefs, doubts, fears? Well, if you’ve got a public role to play in Christian pop culture, you better paint a pretty picture and deal with it in secret. There has been no room for people like Knapp to work out their faith where they are. There was no room for Ted Haggard, so he kept up the right façade until someone else toppled it for him (and after seeing him on some talk shows of late, I’m not convinced he’s given his up yet). There was no room for Amy Grant when she divorced her husband. No room for Billy Graham’s children to rebel. And these are just the public examples through which the message became clear to the rest of the world. Evangelicals have to fake it until they just can’t take it anymore. We somehow became an entire religion that appears to be publically judging the world for what we do in secret.

I understand how important our morality is to us, but when did it become a stumbling block to seeking God? It may sound strange, but I believe there are people (especially young people) who are dying in our morality because they haven’t seen God in it yet, which is especially true for people who don’t know enough Christians in their real life to counteract the images they see in the news. Where is the place where hurting and sinful people can express to God and to man, “This, whatever this is, is who I am. God help me.”

I don’t care that much about Knapp’s sexuality. I am interested in her honesty. As a prominent member of a fairly small group of famous Evangelicals, she “came out” without mocking or dismissing Christianity. Through her public, thoughtful interview, she is opening a door for homosexual people (at the least) to begin to wrestle with a faith they thought they had to give up. I can only hope that the reaction to her won’t slam it shut again.

Christians believe that God meets us where we are, that holiness is a life-long, hard-won pursuit. I think this means that we would rather provide the space for people to honestly and openly approach God the Redeemer, whatever else they are up to, then tell them there is no room in our inn (I couldn’t resist). But it’s hard to put the nuances that message entails in a sound bite, a catchy song lyric, or on the back of a blasted T-shirt. It’s nearly impossible for a public figure who has been a part of the Christian subculture machine to express anything more than moral pride or shame. She did.

Our God is more vast than the universe. Our faith is an attempt at finding Him in a world that has been made blind and shallow. How did we allow this faith and our message to get so abbreviated that we have nothing else to say, nothing else to believe, but that which can be encapsulated on a license plate frame or a verse from Leviticus? God has never spoken that way to us. Perhaps it’s time to stop speaking that way to everyone else.

Posted by Cate MacDonald

  • heather anne

    Cate, this is beautifully written. I’m printing it and putting it in my time machine for when I go visit the younger, very confused version of myself.

  • Abigail M. S.

    I agree so much.

  • Kara

    Amen.

    Thank you for this.

  • Why Jennifer Knapp Matters http://bit.ly/aorOHB

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Amanda Mae

    Precisely. Well done, Cate.

  • I understand how important our morality is to us, but when did it become a stumbling block to seeking God?

    Let’s be clear that it not “our [evangelical] morality” that is we are talking about, but God’s. And it became a stumbling block to seeking God in the Garden of Eden.

    I’d be much more sympathetic to Knapp if she were saying “This, whatever this is, is who I am. God help me.” She doesn’t appear to be saying that at all but rather “This, whatever this is, is who I am. You and God can accept that but I’m not going to change.” She certainly seems to be saying that if the choice is giving up Christianity or giving up her girlfriend, then her orthodox view of faith is expendable.

    While I appreciate your intentions, we cannot downplay sin. Ever. In the interview, there is no evidence that Knapp is struggling to turn away from her sin and toward God. Maybe she is and it just doesn’t come across. But our reaction should not be sympathy for her plight in trying to reconcile her homosexuality with the evangelical subculture but to pray for her to turn away from sin and embrace the life-giving gospel of Christ.

  • I don’t think I am downplaying sin. I take sin very, very seriously. I just don’t know why we treat homosexuality so differently from everything else. Is it because it’s a public decision? That can’t be it, because I think we would say that if same sex relationships are wrong, they’re just as wrong in secret. I imagine it’s because being in a committed same sex relationship looks like you are preferring your sin to your relationship with God. This would be terrible indeed. It’s also terrible that we all do that every single day. I can think of three ways I’ve preferred my own way to God’s this morning. And I’ve only been awake a few hours.

    I don’t want what we believe about homosexuality to keep gay people from coming to God, even if it means that they don’t give up their lifestyle first. If I had to stop over-eating or over-spending or being slothful before Jesus and his Body would work with me, I’d be in mortal danger. I’ve been a Christian for 20 years and I still can’t seem to completely give these areas over to the Holy Spirit to help me through, and there have certainly been times in my life where I didn’t even know I needed to. How are we expecting others to do the same outside the Body?

  • Why Jennifer Knapp Matters | Mere Orthodoxy http://shar.es/mtWdm

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • I just don’t know why we treat homosexuality so differently from everything else.

    I think there are two reasons. First, it falls into the category of sins that the broader culture spends extensive resources—time, money, etc.—attempting to convince us isn’t a sin at all. (They’ve done such a good job that a large number of young evangelicals are hesitant to consider homosexual behavior to be sin.) But it is not necessarily that we evangelicals treat the sin differently as it is that by simply being against it we are considered to be in the wrong. That leads to the second factor. Opposing homosexuality is becoming akin to being a racist. When evangelicals are told that they are hateful bigots for opposing a certain behavior, they are likely to see that behavior as set apart. I’m not saying it should be that way, but is hard for Christians not to treat it differently when the culture says we must.

    I don’t want what we believe about homosexuality to keep gay people from coming to God, even if it means that they don’t give up their lifestyle first.

    Perhaps we may be meaning two different things, but I’m not sure how we can “come to God” when we are still aggressively clutching our sin. Repentance requires that we let go of all our sin. All, not just some. If we are not sincere about that then we haven’t really repented at all.

    Naturally, we’ll fall back into sin. That is why we have the process of sanctification. But if we are telling people that they can come to God as they are and then maybe someday when they are more mature Christians they’ll have to change their ways, then we are doing them a disservice and giving them a false gospel.

    Also, we should keep in mind that we are talking about a specific Christian in this instance. Knapp was a Chrisitian woman who was celibate and then decided to give herself over to sin. I can empathize with her struggle and pray that she’ll turn back to God but we shouldn’t act as if she didn’t know what she was doing. It’s one thing for an non-believer to struggle with letting go of their sin in order to embrace Christ. It is quite another for believer to decide that they no longer need to struggle but can have their sin and Christ too.

  • what heather and abigail said. and related to that, would you mind me emailing this link to a few people as a conversation starter?

  • Contemplating: Why Jennifer Knapp Matters https://mereorthodoxy.com/?p=2677. Asking some tough questions.

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Kelli

    I have been waiting for years to hear this put so eloquently.

    Thank you!

  • Joe,

    Thanks for your comments; they are really helping me work out (and find holes in) my own ideas.

    Yeah the culture war component is a big deal, and I think it’s what I was trying to address (however vaguely) with the discussion of Christian pop-culture. One of the problems with our sound bite world is that it seems impossible to me to communicate the depth of Christian theology of culture, history, and morality.

    I am concerned that the most public display of Christianity is the shallow, bumper sticker variety that is not capable of expressing how we balance sin and forgiveness, love and moral standards. For my own part (and I am well aware that this could be very wrong of me), I would rather give up on a public “stance” all together, because it just isn’t expressing how gay people can get to know Jesus. Obviously, since I write my Christian opinions on a blog, I’m not advocating secrecy or timidity, just wondering if we could reassess what message we are most concerned about communicating.

    I am afraid that the much publicized culture war between the church and homosexuals is setting up a false dichotomy between being gay and wanting to know Jesus. If Jennifer Knapp can find some ground for faith even when she’s coming out of the closet, maybe it can open a new kind of dialog, one we can do better in.

    I’m not suggesting that we say, “Welcome to the church. After a few years, we’re really going to need to work on your lifestyle.” I am suggesting that maybe God is willing and ready to do exactly that for all of us.

  • I am completely ready to forgive Jennifer Knapp. I hope she is completely ready to repent. However, reading the interview with her today on the Advocate’s website (gay publication), it doesn’t sound like repentance.

    I am a recovering porn addict. God has blessed me with much grace, and by his grace, I am fighting it with every weapon I can get hold of, and a few sticks I’ve found lying around. :-) What I don’t need to do is “understand that my sexuality, including my desire to view pornography, is part of who I am, and try to become OK with that.” I don’t need to order a bunch of DVDs, subscribe to a bunch of websites, and continue pastoring while I “work out my issues” and ask everyone to extend grace to me.

    It is not OK for me to be OK with my sin… and I hope that others (like Jesus) have time & patience with those who are fighting it. I have tons of time for Ms. Knapp if she is fighting… but Scripture commands me to separate from her if she wishes to live in sin and call herself a believer. (See 1 Cor. 5)

    You are correct about the culture wars. Truthfully, nothing is further from “bumper sticker simplicity” than church discipline… grace is complicated. So complicated, that sometimes it requires enough love to say, “Sin is not OK. Repent, and you are welcome back. Until then, goodbye.”

  • Cate,

    Great post. There are so many complex issues here, it’s ridiculous. But I think you elegantly and forcefully said what needed to be said.

    Second, thanks to everyone above for the gracious and civil tone in your comments. Seriously. We do care a lot about arguing through crazy important issues in charitable ways, and you all have reinvigorated my hope that such conversation could still be found on the internets. Thanks.

    That said, here’s a thought experiment that I’d like help with: if someone was confused about whether, say, breaking the Sabbath was a sin, was showed the arguments in Scripture, still thought it wasn’t a sin, and continued to break the Sabbath, would we consider them “unrepentant” in the way we are talking about homosexuality? The commandments about keeping the Sabbath seem to me pretty strong. Even if that specific example doesn’t work, I’m curious to know whether there’s a parallel case where there was genuine confusion over an moral issue, such that a given behavior might look like unrepentance, but in fact be grounded in theological error. Is that person’s sanctification in jeopardy?

    I don’t want to separate sanctification from the truth, and I really think that homosexual inclinations are sinful. But the pastoral response seems to be more challenging than we sometimes grant, and I think that’s what Cate is getting at.

    In other words, I wonder whether it’s possible to separate the pastoral aspects from the public conversation over the morality of homosexuality. So while I have publicly opposed gay marriage frequently here at Mere-O, I took the approach here that the pastoral response to Knapp was best limited to those who are closest to her, since pastoral responses depend not only on what the truth of Scripture says, but discerning the shape those truth’s need to take in any individual’s life.

    Does that make sense? I hope so.

    Let me simply say this as well: I’m really putting this out there as a question. I think we’re all struggling with this issue and trying to come to understanding about it. I don’t offer this as a definitive position, so if you think I’m wrong, feel free to let me know.

    Thanks again, Cate, for the post. It’s fantastic.

    Best,

    matt

  • Kat

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m not gay, but this post resonated with me so much. I have a hard time sitting in church because I feel like I have to make a choice between being the sanitized, shallow person God “wants” me to be, and who I really am.

  • would we consider them “unrepentant” in the way we are talking about homosexuality?

    We certainly should. A person is unrepentant if they refuse to repent of what God considers sin. I think one of the problems we now have in evangelicalism is that people think they can decide for themselves what is and is not a sin. But what we think—or what the person themselves believes about the issue—is really irrelevant. The only thing that matters is what God thinks.

    I think we have gotten to this place in the church because we evangelicals are so focused on individualism. We discount the idea that the community has a say in how we should live or that they should hold us to standards of scriptural interpretation that differ from our own. This is one of those times when I’m wondering if Stanley Hauerwas doesn’t have a point when he says (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) that we should take away Bibles from individual Christians so they stop thinking they can interpret it in private, apart from the community.

    But the pastoral response seems to be more challenging than we sometimes grant, and I think that’s what Cate is getting at.

    Perhaps. And I don’t want to read Cate’s post ungenerously. But I get the sense that we are trying to out-grace God. We are ready to forgive and welcome Knapp and others back into the fold before they repent of their sin. It isn’t a matter of them stumbling in their sanctification. That would be a time when it really called for a pastoral response. But I get the sense that Knapp is unconcerned about repentance and sanctification because she thinks she has nothing to repent for.

    I took the approach here that the pastoral response to Knapp was best limited to those who are closest to her,

    Initially, when I read your post I thought you were striking exactly the right tone. Her interview with CT seemed to be a proactive move by a private person to be honest with her fans so they wouldn’t be mislead. I can respect her saying that she was gay but didn’t want to talk about it. But she did talk about it. Giving the interview to The Advocate was a political move. Maybe she is too naïve to understand what she was doing, but by coming out in a gay magazine that is openly hostile to those of us who hold orthodox Christian views on sexuality she was making a political statement. How many times will that article be used to justify to people that you can engage in open, unrepentant homosexual behavior and still be a “good” Christian?

    I know I may be coming across as harsh, but I can’t apologize for that. Evangelicals (and naturally I’m not talking about Matt or Cate) simply don’t take sin seriously enough anymore. We want to hear that we are forgiven but not that we are sinners. We want a quick absolution for our sins, but don’t want to be convicted by them or have people judge us if we aren’t quite ready to give them up.

    I’m sorry that Ms. Knapp may feel uncomfortable with other Christians disapproving of her behavior. But for us to accept her without precondition is simply not Christian. The Bible is very clear that we are to have nothing to do with those that have been reproached and yet continue to wallow in sin.

    In first aid there are the basic four life-saving steps: stop the bleeding, starting the breathing, protect the wound, and treat for shock. If you get them out of order—say, treating for shock before stopping the bleeding—the victim could die. Something similar occurs in spiritual first aid. Trying to protect the wounded sinner by welcoming them back into the fold before they have stopped the spiritual decay by repenting can only lead to death. If we truly love our fellow Christians we need to be less concerned with their self-esteem and more concerned with the state of their souls.

  • becca

    Thank you, Cate, for thinking hard about this and helping us think hard too.

  • “[Homosexuality] falls into the category of sins that the broader culture spends extensive resources—time, money, etc.—attempting to convince us isn’t a sin at all. (They’ve done such a good job that a large number of young evangelicals are hesitant to consider homosexual behavior to be sin.)”

    -Joe Carter

    I do not disagree with you, but I wish we would be bold enough to say the same about sins like greed.

    We believe we can make pronouncements about homosexuality because we believe we know a thing or two about lust. Greed, on the other hand, is something which we only believe others are guilty of, and even when they are, we believe we do not have the moral authority to name it as sinful. (Hauerwas makes this argument now and again, though I don’t have a citation at the moment.)

    I’m not attempting to change the subject here, though that may appear to be the case. As Joe has recognized, we (evangelicals) do not always do a good job talking about sin, those related to sexuality and otherwise. This truly is a great post, and the comments are fantastic.

  • “I do not disagree with you, but I wish we would be bold enough to say the same about sins like greed.”

    Ben,

    One idea I’ve been kicking around today for why we focus on the sexual sins is that they are actually of a different category than other sins. And I don’t just mean homosexuality, but masturbation, etc. I’m undecided on 1 Corinthians 6:18 (“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”), but one potential reading of the ‘against’ there is that sexual sins actually corrupt our personal integrity in a way that other sins do not.

    In one sense, doesn’t it seem problematic that we often talk about sex being one of the greatest gifts God gave us, but then want to say that it’s simply one sin among others? At least, I was always taught it was one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Maybe that’s not common, though.

    But what do you make of that line of reasoning?

    Best,

    matt

  • Ben said: I do not disagree with you, but I wish we would be bold enough to say the same about sins like greed.

    I think Matt said it better than I could, but I’ll add one more point.

    Even in the 1980s when Gordon Gecko in Wall Street said “Greed is good”, no one really believed it. In fact, the reason the character says that is because the director (Oliver Stone) knew that the audience would completely disagree, even if they identified with or were sympathetic to Gecko.

    For some reason we haven’t quite managed to fully dull our innate sense that there is something wrong with being greedy. Where we have a problem today, I think, is recognizing legitimate examples of greed. Almost everyone agrees that greed is bad; we just differ on where we draw the line.

    That is one of the ways the six other deadly sins differ from sins that involve lust. You’ll have a hard time finding Christians who will say both “X is an example of greed/gluttony/hate” and “There is nothing wrong with X.” On matters of lust, though, they will say just that. We’ve put sexual sins—or at least what used to be sins—in a special box that can be justified as long as people agree to certain conditions (i.e., they are in love, in committed relationship, etc.).

  • linds

    One thought about sexual sin – it seems to me that greed is a bit more insidious than sexual sin. While sexual sin is deeply damaging and certainly one of those few things that severely warps the soul, it seems to me that it, particularly homosexuality, is really a virtue gone horribly wrong. In seeking to love someone, we misdirect that right passion and act inappropriately. That seems to me far less insidious than something like greed or pride.

  • Joe and Darrell,

    I like people who are straight forward and don’t mind hard arguments, so thank you both for yours.

    I want to affirm again how incredibly terrible I know sin to be. I’m not denying that sin is serious and must be dealt with seriously throughout our walk with Christ.

    I guess the question comes down to this: are controversial lifestyles and choices like this meant to be dealt with in the context of the church or before admittance? If some people believe in an interpretation of Scripture that allows specific behavior that many would disagree with, must they change before entering the community, or should we bring them in where they are at, trusting that God will continue to work with them? Maybe it’s different depending on the behavior? Maybe it’s different depending on what you think church is? Maybe it depends on the attitude of the individual in question? I honestly don’t know.

    I just can’t help but think that all such things are meant to be worked out through the power of the Holy Spirit, the ministry of Jesus, and the support of the Body of Christ, and that, in turn, sounds like the church. And so, I say bring ’em on.

  • Also, I am really interested in this whole potential distinction of sexual sin, but I am going to bed. See you tomorrow.

  • Gary

    Matt,
    You said (comment 15) that “I really think that homosexual inclinations are sinful.” Do you think that the inclination, as opposed to the act, is sinful? Can you spell out what you mean by “inclination”?

    linds,
    Wouldn’t you say that greed is also a kind of misplaced love? A traditional way of understanding greed is that it is an excess of desire for external goods. In fact, most theologians think that all sin is or is the result of misplaced love. So it seems difficult to set off sexual sin as somehow less insidious than other sins simply because it is a misdirected passion. It may be that greed is less insidious than sexual sin, but it doesn’t appear to be so on the grounds you mention.

  • D MacD

    Cate, I’m so proud! (Is that a sin?) Your blog and the ensuing conversation is keeping me up past my bedtime. I have several points I would like to make but I will venture out with only one for now.

    As a late convert to Christianity I know from experience that the secular religion, which comprises most of the broader culture, is not trying to convince Christians that homosexuality is not a sin. They reject the concept of sin and instead view social irresponsibility as evil, which is tantamount to sin in their minds, but does not include homosexuality. Therefore any felt need on our part to elevate homosexuality in some hierarchy of sins to be addressed by the church is wasted energy, irrelevant, contributes to the confusion on the issue and is certainly not helpful to Ms. Knapp.

  • I guess the question comes down to this: are controversial lifestyles and choices like this meant to be dealt with in the context of the church or before admittance?

    That’s a good question. I would say that it has to be dealt with in the context of the church but that an understanding should be clear prior to fellowship and admittance. For example, it would be dishonest for a congregation to pull a bait-and-switch on a gay couple, implying that their relationship was acceptable and then subjecting them to church discipline (1 Cor. 5:9-13) after they joined.

    Another bad alterative is ignoring the requirement to confront the behavior or using a loophole to get around discipline. For example, my ex-wife is gay and has been with her partner for fourteen years. Of that they’ve spent ten years attending the same church. The church refuses to allow them to become “members” because of their lifestyle, but they are treating them as de facto members by continuing the fellowship. The church is ignoring its own rules in order to avoid confronting a couple that has been part of their family for over a decade. That’s also dishonest.

    Will it turn some people away to be upfront with them about what will be expected of them? Sure. But the call of Christ is to come and die. If people aren’t even willing to give up their pet sins then how likely are they to be ready to start down the path of discipleship?

  • Andy Stevenson

    I’m not sure what I could say that Joe Carter hasn’t already said better! Conviction in an Age of Doubt. Also, Matt, I think you’re right on about 1 Cor 6:18 that sexual sin is unique.

    As mere fallible humans, none of us are really qualified to say one way or another whether homosexuality is right or wrong – we don’t hold that authority or wisdom. But there is one who is qualified, who does have that authority and wisdom, and I put my unqualified trust in his word and will without exception.

    Ultimately, I feel like a lot of the issues facing the church today have to do with the fact that many of us are selectively reading God’s word and adhering to the parts that affirm us or represent what we want God to be rather than who he actually is, and we ignore the parts we don’t like or understand. We don’t fully commit, we have one foot in the church and one foot in the world. We put our hand to the plow and look back. “I’ll follow you, Lord, BUT…”

    As an example, in her interview with Christianity Today, Knapp misconstrues the moral restrictions surrounding sexuality with the ceremonial restrictions on shellfish, etc. It’s an easy mistake to make, seeing as so much of the Levitical law is fulfilled in Christ, and all the easier because Hollywood (those noted OT scholars) likes to prop this strawman up everywhere. But it ignores the fact that sexuality isn’t only addressed in Leviticus, but also in much stronger terms in the New Testament (Romans 1 being the obvious citation).

    The definitive statement, though, seems to be in Mark 10. Jesus is asked about divorce and he replies with this curious statement that has implications not only for marriage and divorce, but sexuality in general: “From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

    People may try to make excuses (to their own discredit) about why they’ve culled Leviticus or the Apostle Paul from their consideration, but I’ve yet to hear any professing Christian say that Christ’s words can be ignored. It’s only a matter of time, I fear.

    Is sin difficult to understand and cope with and struggle under, even as committed, believing Christians? Absolutely. But we do ourselves no favors when we ignore God’s counsel like Adam and Eve and usurp his role, thinking we may decide for ourselves what is good and what is evil.

  • Pingback: Gay and Christian: The Jennifer Knapp Interview « Thinking Out Loud()

  • Alex

    This is a pretty civil conversation, indeed, but I feel (and this is not meant to be disrespectful) that it is fairly easy to have a civil conversation when everyone speaking embraces most of the same assumptions. MacD brings up a good point about this. And I think Matt does similarly with his spiel on “repentance.” Perhaps this is only to be an in-house discussion, and those must needs happen. But I am leery of congratulating ourselves on such conversations – there are others where we are not doing so well.

    Secondly, I think the later turn of the conversation to think about sin not simply as one monolithic thing is good. To say, “Sin is sin,” is not a simple statement with one meaning. There are contexts where statements like this work, and others where it does not. In the conversation about deeming homosexuality a sin – if it indeed is a sin – must include a conversation about what kind of sin it is, and how it, as a sin, distinguishes itself from other sins, not only categorically (as in Matt’s designation of it as a “sexual” sin), but also contextually, ideologically, functionally, its various manifestations politically and socially and emotionally – etc, et al; all these in our mind as well as we are able.

    Thirdly, I would like to caution – humbly, please believe, my own self in mind – us against simply believing that God has made a pronouncement clear as day and that anyone who does not accept it as so is simply, unrepentantly, ignoring it. I understand the need to defend what one perceives orthodoxy to teach, and I don’t at all disqualify anyone from saying, “I believe the Bible says this.” But to accuse others of dishonesty about their own struggle (or “non-struggle” since Mrs. Knapp does not seem to view it as such), to call them unrepentant of a sin they should know better about, I think itself could be characterized as a deep dishonesty. By all means, assert. But, I implore, let’s not assume that our own moral gesturing is the clear, simple – yea, divine – way without recognizing that not everyone sees it that way, and this is not because they are stupid, immoral, or otherwise.

    Sin, as an agent of chaos and death, as the enemy of god, as the slavemaster seeking our own destruction, the thing we name as “wrong” with us and between us and god, we believe as Christians affects us all. So then, charity – through faith in our good and gracious god, clinging to hope in him who is faithful to bring all things to completion – is all the more necessary, potent, divine. This is not an attempt to out-grace god. Thank Heaven, this is not possible.

  • Alex

    Oh, and by the way: it was a very nice post, Ms. Cate.

  • @Crossky Just in case you haven’t seen it yet, “Why Jennifer Knapp Matters” http://bit.ly/cPjFNf

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Couple responses:

    Linds said: “While sexual sin is deeply damaging and certainly one of those few things that severely warps the soul, it seems to me that it, particularly homosexuality, is really a virtue gone horribly wrong. In seeking to love someone, we misdirect that right passion and act inappropriately. That seems to me far less insidious than something like greed or pride.”

    This strikes me, actually, as a great point. I could see how in a hierarchy of sins loving a human person excessively would be less dehumanizing than loving an inanimate object excessively. If we construe human personhood in relational categories, such that the object of our loves have some sort of power to shape who we are, then reciprocal love between human persons would more closely approximate the divine-human relationship (the fundamental relationship) than a love between a man and his iPhone (to pick a random, not-at-all-personal example!).

    And if we’re comparing sins, then I’d also say that homosexuality would be a lesser sin than homophobia (when it’s actually homophobia). The one is a perversion of love, while the other might be the absence of any love whatsoever. Dante has lots to say about all this, I think.

    Gary wants some clarification, though. He writes: “[Matt] said (comment 15) that “I really think that homosexual inclinations are sinful.” Do you think that the inclination, as opposed to the act, is sinful? Can you spell out what you mean by “inclination”?”

    In my usage, I have a broad notion of sin (which Alex is not going to like at all, I suspect). I am pretty Augustinian on the matter–something like ‘disordered desires’ is, I think, appropriate. Desire is probably a more precise word than inclination. I think the act has a different moral status than the desire, but it strikes me as inconsistent to argue that the act is immoral, but the desire benign or neutral.

    Best,

    mat

  • Joe, I actually find myself agreeing with your last comment in a lot of ways. But I think that there is a problem in the fact that the message that homosexuals are not welcome in conservative Christian churches without a dramatic lifestyle change has become so clear in our culture at large, that there’s not going to be the chance for individual pastors and priests to have pastoral conversations with individual homosexuals about what the church believes and how they think they could help them know Jesus. I’m not really sure what to do about this, or if anyone else sees this as a problem.

    Thirdly, I would like to caution – humbly, please believe, my own self in mind – us against simply believing that God has made a pronouncement clear as day and that anyone who does not accept it as so is simply, unrepentantly, ignoring it.

    Alex, I think this is an important distinction. I was interested by something Matt said quite a few comments ago, about the potential of looking at homosexuality in Christians in terms of a theological disagreement (which is not to say that the issue should be trivialized or dismissed. In fact I think it could encourage debate). Your comment was a gracious reminder that this may be a better kind of conversation to be having in the church.

    Wow this conversation about types and degrees of sin is blowing my mind. Linds, Gary, and Matt I’m still thinking about all of your posts. Great, great conversation to be having regarding this issue.

  • Mark Hanson

    Amen and amen. Thank you so much for expressing some of my own long-held beliefs so well!

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  • I. Love. This. http://bit.ly/dswyly

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Alex

    Matt: I think sometimes we must speak about sin as a broad notion – as I attempted to do in the final paragraph of my previous comment. And I think the Augustinian grammar for sin a fine grammar. I just want to point out that oftentimes the sin that so easily entangles does so not just in the way we experience it but in the way we talk about it.

    Cate: When you say the conversation could be about a theological disagreement, are you allowing for (though not necessarily here) the discussion about whether or not homosexuality is a sin (and I know you have already professed your thoughts on this matter)? Perhaps I am misreading you. However, I think that this is the direction the conversation must go if we are to have it graciously. We have to get beyond proof-texting. This issue is not going to go away.

  • My! What pretty whitewashed graves they have in this place!

  • Matt

    ^I don’t think you understand your own reference. How anyone could read this very thoughtful conversation and come away thinking the participants believe they personally are not sinners is completely beyond me.

  • Alex,

    Yes, definitely. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t be willing to have that conversation on principal, and honestly, it’s not one I’ve ever had to the extent that I’d like to.

    If you or anyone else (what up Clyde) wants to have that conversation sometime, I’m all ears.

  • Alex

    Well, what should the conversation look like? I for one – as one who is actually affirming – would be willing to engage, but I’m not really as interested in polemics; rather, I think it would be better to clarify where everyone is coming from, and then to discuss where we go from there. But I’m not sure how Matt feels about having this conversation here :).

    I do think this issue will become more and more central to the dialogues within the Church in coming years. I wonder sometimes which direction she is heading. I am optimistic.

  • How about this: I’ll work up a new post for next week sometime and we’ll start from there. I’m looking forward to it, Alex.

    I am about to leave for a church retreat, so if anyone comments and doesn’t receive a response it’s just because I am away from the internet.

    Also, thank you so much for all the short but sweet comments on this post. I really appreciate everyone who’s digitally nodded (or tweeted)in support.

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  • Alex

    That sounds great, Cate. I look forward to it as well. Just comment on here when the post is up, and I’ll email subscribe. Peace.

  • Worth reading: RT @mattleeanderson “Why Jennifer Knapp Matters” http://bit.ly/aorOHB

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Cate,
    I would like to clarify that my reference to the Pharisees was not in reaction to your blog post but to many of those who were commenting on it. My only purpose in the “drive by” comment was if some might possibly examine themselves and see where their spirit is. Evangelicals are the party of the Pharisees and everything the scriptures say about them fits us remarkably well.
    It’s not my job to defend myself against those who accuse and condemn. There’s another advocate that has that job. It took me awhile to learn that lesson and I still have the wounds to show for it. I have found 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, although taken from another context, has a general application here.

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  • Emmanuel Mwangi

    Cate,

    I look forward to your coming post.

    I just wanted to mention another dimension to the discussion that doesn’t often get talked about; homosexuality is taken as a self-identity in addition to philosophical, moral or theological stance. That self-identification can muddy the waters of reasonable debate in ways that other things if we were to ponder deeming them a sin, would not.

    It’s a politic that goes beyond community and to the person themselves. They are encouraged to believe that they are gay in deeper ways than they are an adulterer or they are a glutton or they are just about any other sin that I can imagine. Self-identifying with anything sets stakes high. With something as personal and intimate as sex and relationships, even a slight change in course is difficult.

    Worse still that the politics of the situation take this self-identification to turn it into a civil rights issue—something for which evangelicals feel guilty and seem eager to apologize. That apology often is letting go of a position in an argument that they may otherwise believe but, with church history (correct or otherwise) weighing heavily and the promise of acceptance society that would otherwise think them backwards, simple and brutish, is too heavy to hold.

    -Emmanuel

  • I met Cate MacDonald, writer Mere Orthodoxy. Shared facinating conversation about Jennifer Knapp. Your thoughts http://tinyurl.com/y2r6yga

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • “Through [Knapp’s] public, thoughtful interview, she is opening a door for homosexual people (at the least) to begin to wrestle with a faith they thought they had to give up.”

    Cate, I appreciate what you’re doing here but, as Joe emphasized, true Christian faith and being a homosexual is irreconcilable, in light of what Scripture says. A homosexual who does not recognize their depraved sinful nature and repent should not be recognized as a Christian brother or sister in full standing.

    This is plainly hypocritical in light of how the church treats other sinners whose guilt and recurrent repentance put them in supposedly good standing as a Christian. It is absurd that the status of these serially-penitent Christians should be any higher with God than a homosexual person who feels that the Christian God created them as they are and they feel themselves drawn to worship Him and live as a Christian.

    Jennifer Knapp has found a way to reconcile her sexuality and her faith. And I applaud her unrepentant announcement of it.

  • Prufrock,

    I’ve read your comment through a couple times and still can’t make heads or tails of it. Care to elaborate?

  • Cate,

    I was being more than slightly facetious in restating and responding to Joe’s comments. His comments directly contradicted a valuable insight (see quote) you shared in your thoughtful post. Your insights are certainly more reasonable and respectable but Joe is right about the Biblical view of homosexuality as sinful and how Christians should treat homosexuals accordingly.

    But, in a broader sense, he’s wrong because appealing to the Bible does not settle moral claims.

    Also, I should have said that she apparently found a way to reconcile the two in her own mind. That is a more impressive feat than simply rejecting a faith that condemns who she is.

  • Budster

    I think the statement that homosexual relations is no worse than any other sin is accurate. However; when I read the CT article it reminded me of the term Malignant Narcissism from the book The Death of Right and Wrong. When we try to normalize our own behaviors that are destructive to the self in order to justify them, then it is a very destructive thing for this thing called society that we hold so dear. Don’t get me wrong, I think that Jennifer should be able to pursue what makes her happy in her own heart and I think that the Christian community should express love and grace to her, however the christian community needs to reject and confront the normalization of untruth expressed in self destructive and society destructive behavior. If someone stated that their “sin” behavior is not “sin” and should be accepted by society does that obligate society to accept it ? For is not sin simply the things in our lives that stops us from expressing the love of God to others. Is the Evangelical community mature enough to make these distinctions and still express love and grace to those that they disagree with, time will tell.

  • Teranne

    I really appreciate the thoughts that have been shared. It helps me to process what we’re confronted with in culture. That said, I wanted to share, as well, just to get my reflections out, and perhaps hear some feedback. Here goes:

    Jennifer Knapp is human, and as such her life is not a pure interpretation of scripture or God’s will and intent. None of our lives purely interpret scripture or represent God or his revealed way for our lives. In fact, I often tell those who would use the so-called hypocrisy of Christians or the church as their excuse for not coming to God, that they absolutely should not, for their own sake, be turned away from the one and only God because of the poor example or mistakes of those who follow (or profess to follow) him.

    That said, God’s will/character/revelation, etc, is not weakened or made less relevant by someone who calls themselves a Christian and chooses to live as a homosexual. That person is merely a human and has no authority to change the fact that God revealed that homosexuality is not his way for us and that it will be a stumbling block to fully following him. At that point we just have to look at the two scenarios and conclude that just because someone has certain feelings or experiences clearly does not make them an authority on the issue or give them authority over God or his revealed will. We are all fickle, which is why in our own lives especially, we must always submit to God and TRUST that his way is right for our lives, even if it means tearing us away from someone or something we love. When we obey him, he always restores to us much more than we lost.

    Homosexuality is an especially emotional issue because it deals with love and sexuality. JKnapp said, “The struggle I’ve been through—and I don’t know if I will ever be fully out of it—is feeling like I have to justify my faith or the decisions that I’ve made to choose to love who I choose to love.” There are many instances when obeying God might mean we have to choose him instead of that person we love…for life. For example, I might love a man, but he might be wrong for me to love (as a husband) because he is an unbeliever and not only would I know about this through scripture, but it is also confirmed to me through prayer. If I would choose him anyway, that would be sin. Though this does not fit our traditional idea of sin, in James we read that those who know the good they ought to do and don’t do it, sin. Homosexuality should not be the exception.

    Scripture says clearly, in many ways, that homosexuality is a form of sexual immorality and as such, is sin. People who claim to follow Jesus, but also embrace being homosexual cannot change this. And so, the church does not need to, and should not, put itself in the place to decide something already decreed and ordained by God.

    It is not the church’s position to judge these people either. Homosexuality has already been judged to be sin. Rather, the church’s question is now how to work with people who choose homosexuality. I suspect this depends greatly on each individual person, but always upon the basis that homosexuality is sin. And perhaps this is why it is such a hard issue to deal with in the arena and language of our shallow, pop-culture.

  • “We somehow became an entire religion that appears to be publicly judging the world for what we do in secret.” http://tinyurl.com/23pon4f

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • If you’ve mostly given up on blog comment streams (as I have), check out this one: http://ow.ly/1CQLK

    This comment was originally posted on Twitter

  • Thank you again for all your contributions to this discussion. I just wanted to let you all know that I haven’t forgotten my promise to write another post on the subject of homosexuality and the church, especially since it seems obvious that there is more conversation needed.

    Because of some pressing responsibilities in “real” life, it may be another week or two, but I’m working on it.

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  • Jason Thorp

    If Jennifer Knapp has a God that does not call homosexuality a sin then she has an idol. She says it is not a sin. She is therefor unrepentant. It is one thing to struggle with sin, it is another to deny that it is sin. I think the title of her album “Letting Go” is appropriate because she has apparently let go of Christ. May God grant her repentance.