What It Means to Be Evangelical

Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Vice President at Family Research Council. This article appeared in Real Clear Religion on January 21, 2015.

A number of thoughtful Evangelical commentators (captured here by my brave and faithful friend Owen Strachan) have responded pointedly to Elizabeth Dias's Time story, "Inside the Evangelical Fight Over Gay Marriage." They have demonstrated logically, theologically and philosophically why the movement to abandon Scripture's teaching on human sexuality in order to accommodate supposedly Evangelical advocates of normalizing same-sex "marriage" and attraction is an offense to God and the Gospel.

At the Family Research Council, we have joined them in addressing the concerns of younger Evangelicals regarding homosexuality, in recognizing the uniqueness of male-female complementarity and in celebrating God's plan for sexual intimacy as exclusive to marriage between one man and one woman, for life. We have hosted such careful exegetes as Pittsburgh Seminary's Robert Gagnon and published studies by leading theologians like Andreas Kostenberger. And we have answered those who assert that Scripture's teaching on homosexuality is culturally-conditioned or plain misunderstood.


Rather than recapitulating all of these arguments, I'll make three simple observations about Time's story:

1.Those professed Evangelicals who are willing to jettison the Bible's teaching regarding homosexuality can no longer claim to be persons of the Gospel -- Evangelicals. In terminating their allegiance to the bi-testamental instruction about homosexual conduct, they are diminishing what God's Word teaches about sin, the eternal penalty for which God's Son died on the cross. Their exegetical gymnastics admit to a sense of desperation: We have to get the Bible on our side or we can't make our case to those who believe in it. The problem is, contort Romans 1, et al, as they might, Paul and Moses and, yes, Jesus still say what they say: Homosexual behavior is wrong in the sight of the Creator.

Matthew Vines, Brandan Robertson, and their kindred theological pleaders have every right to make their case and persuade others with it. But they are not Evangelicals. They might take counsel from Abraham Lincoln, who, in late 1862, was having a discussion with a Congressman named George Julian and told the following story to make a political point: There was "a boy who, when asked how many legs his calf would have if he called its tail a leg, replied, 'Five,' to which the prompt response was made that calling the tail a leg would not make it a leg."

2.Elevation of personal affection and sentiment over the truth of God's Word is sin. Consider the words of a pastor named Ryan Meeks, quoted in the Time article: "I refuse to go to a church where my friends who are gay are excluded from Communion or a marriage covenant of the beauty of Christian community. It is a move of integrity for me -- the message of Jesus was a message of wide inclusivity."

To use a profound theological term: Bosh. Jesus's message was indeed inclusive -- inclusive of those who would turn from their sin and follow Him (Luke 9:23). Jesus will include in His kingdom only those who will follow Him, the Messiah Who affirmed the entire Mosaic Law (Matthew 5:18). It pointedly excludes those who will not (Matthew 7:14).

God loves every person. He purposefully created every individual from his or her conception. But He never condones sin, even as He grieves for the sinner (Ezekiel 18:32). I know of no man or woman allegiant to the Gospel who hates anyone. Indeed, refusal to affirm as right that which is wrong is loving, because heralding the truth means not only proclaiming the evil of sin but the astonishing hope of redemption in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. That's what it means to be Evangelical. Anything else, by whatever name, is falsehood, and can never be affirmed as anything else.

3.Additionally, Pastor Meeks's comments are quite revealing. His authority derives not from the objective, final and clear teaching of the Bible but his own vision of who he wants Jesus to be. Consider Meeks's use of the first person singular is rather exhaustive; "I, my, and me" seem to be the determinative pronouns of his proclamation. Does the Word of God matter to this man? Or are Christ and His eternal Word merely conduits for psychological comfort and relational catharsis? The Jesus Who gathered children in His arms also came bearing a metaphorical sword, one bladed with truth. A sword cuts and divides, and is wielded by the Son of God not in hate but love. Love, because there is nothing compassionate about lying to people in order to assuage their pain. Unrepented of sexual sin, whether heterosexual or homosexual, either prevents the person from coming to the Savior or prevents the one who has been born again from fellowshipping with the Father. Measuring truth by personal preference or emotional loyalty is immature and, more importantly, a transgression against the Lord one claims to serve.

In the 13th century, King Alfonso X of Castile is reported to have remarked, "Had I been present at the Creation, I would have given some useful hints for the better ordering of the universe." Perhaps some of us think that way about various aspects of God's moral law, His working in our fallen world, His plan for history, etc.

But then, we're not God. He sets the rules and patterns the course. Our duty and privilege is to follow Him.