Our youngest son and his wife are avid Duck Dynasty fans. I have not yet joined the company of those who consider themselves to be loyal subjects of the dynasty. I find the shows funny and clever, and I certainly appreciate the overtly Christian testimony the members of the Robertson family put forth on the show. That said, while I enjoy the show, I don’t go out of my way to watch it, record episodes, or keep up with the chronological storyline (if there is one). Part of my non-excitement has to do with a basic skepticism with regard to reality shows in general—wondering just how much contrivance there might be, and whether the cast of “characters” really are displaying their true “character.”
And then this controversy comes along with the comments that the patriarch of the Robertson family made regarding homosexuality during an interview with GQ magazine. I, personally, wish that Phil Robertson had been a bit less crude in the way he expressed himself, though I also recognize that it is this homespun crudeness which has, in large part, been the very thing behind the success of the show. With this disclaimer, I find myself fairly sympathetic with the views which Robertson expressed, and more than just annoyed with A&E for suspending Robertson from further shows.
What has really caught my interest in this affair is the comments of one particular respondent on a CNN news show. His name is Wilson Cruz, National Spokesperson for GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation). Here is one section of his response to the CNN news host, Brooke Baldwin, where she notes the shift that has taken place with regard to how homosexuality is regarded, and whether we are now seeing an old controversy through a new lens. He responds:
Yes, it is a new lens, and the lens is that this country has changed and that most Americans support LGBT people and our loving and committed relationships. You know, it is not a Christian thing to compare or to include homosexuality in a list that includes bestiality or slanderers. That is not what Americans think. That’s not who we are. If you know us, you know that’s not true. So, yes, this is an old argument that we’ve been having. But now more and more Americans know who we actually are and they will not put up with anyone speaking ill about us. And here’s the other thing. There was a time in our history when we couldn’t actually speak up and say something about how we were being characterized. That is no longer today. When someone speaks about us in these ways, we will rise up, we will speak out. And the problem with some of these people on the other side is that they don’t like that anymore. They want us to stay quiet, but we won’t stay quiet. When someone makes misogynist statements, when they make racist statements, the way that Mr. Robertson did, that’s not American, that’s not Christian.
There are lots of things Cruz gets wrong in this reply to Baldwin’s query. Contrary to Cruz’s assertion, it is a Christian thing to include homosexuality in a list that includes slander and other like sins (Romans 1:21-32; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10). Despite saying that “this is not what Americans think,” the large outpouring of support for Robertson suggests that there is a significant number of Americans who do think this way.
But Cruz also gets a lot of things right. I don’t know if it is accurate to say that “most Americans” support the LGBT community, but there are surely many more people who do than was the case only a few decades ago. And the growth has been very steady and not so terribly slow. Over the course of less than half a century, the attitude of large portions of the population has grown from disapproval, to tolerance, to acceptance, to outright approval, even to the point of ridiculing and booing those who hold a more biblical and traditional view of homosexuality. He is certainly correct to note that there has been a major development in societal tolerance, acceptance, and even enthusiastic approval of the LGBT community.
And this brings me to quote a passage found in Roman 1:18-32. After having talked about, in the first half of the chapter, a righteousness of God that brings salvation, Paul turns his attention to a righteousness of God that brings wrath:
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.
21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.
26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.
28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.
Without giving anything like a full-blown exegesis of this passage, here a few things I want to note:
(1) The whole passage is an unfolding and explication of how the “wrath of God is being revealed.”
(2) The truth of God being suppressed is the initial stage of that against which God’s wrath is being revealed, the “godlessness and wickedness of men.”
(3) A great exchange takes place: the truth of God is exchanged for a lie, for a new set of gods which are not gods.
(4) Symbolic of this exchange of the true God for false gods, is the exchange that takes place of natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.
(5) Those who make this exchange think they are wise for doing so, but they are really only foolish.
(6) They perform this exchange because, in some sense, God gives them over to do it.
(7) This then leads to a whole host of other perversions.
(8) The icing on the cake is the approval they express when others are engaged in the same shameful perversions.
Based on this look at Romans 1, I’d like to make four observations.
(1) When the AIDS crisis first became major news in North America, many in the evangelical church saw the disease as God’s judgment on homosexuals for the transgression they committed within their “alternative” lifestyle. While I would not want to categorically deny this as a possibility, I have never really thought this is the case. What I do see the Romans passage teaching, however, is that homosexuality, run rampant throughout a society, is a visitation of the wrath of God on a society that has already turned its back on God. That is, homosexuality, according to the Apostle Paul, is not so much a sin to be judged (though it is that), as it is a judgment of God on an already wicked and corrupt society. So, on the one hand, when we see our society, in a relatively short period of time, go all the way from considering homosexuality as wicked and criminal, to the place where now society not only tolerates it, but promotes it, and even glories in it (e.g., gay pride parades), we should, I suppose, be rightly distressed. On the other hand, however, we, as Christians, should also recognize that when we see this happening, we are, in fact, seeing the righteousness of God in action. “The wrath of God is being revealed.” This, too, will turn out to be for the glory of God. Or, as the saints, the angels, even the altar itself, declare in the book of Revelation, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come” (14:7), “You are just in these judgments, you who are and who were, the Holy One, because you have so judged” (16:5), “Yes, Lord God Almighty, true and just are your judgments” (16:7).
(2) Homosexual activity, though perhaps no worse a sin than any of the others in the lists where it is mentioned in the New Testament, is, at least in the Romans passage, a sin to be singled out because it is most symbolic of idolatry. As an exchange of the natural for the unnatural, homosexuality most closely resembles the sin of exchanging the true God for things which are not God. In fact, this sin is one that most exemplifies the concept of the punishment fitting the crime. When a society changes the identity tags on the true God and false gods, God then delivers that society over to further identity tag changes, particularly in the area of sexuality.
(3) It is interesting that this Duck Dynasty/A&E/homosexual thing comes just before our celebration of Christmas. Without by any means wanting to suggest that this is necessarily purposely providential, I think it is also interesting to note that in the very same chapter where Paul discusses homosexuality in relation to idolatry, he also mentions the incarnation of Jesus Christ. While, in the latter half of this chapter, Paul focuses on how the righteousness of God is revealed by his wrath, in the first half of the chapter, he focuses on how the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel of salvation, specifically
the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of Holiness was declared with power to be Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. (Roman 1:1-4)
If the wrath of God is revealed by his deliverance of human society over to sins of perversion, his salvation is revealed by the incarnation of Jesus Christ. If the sin of homosexuality is a punishment of God on a society that does not “image”-ine God correctly, and exchanges the truth of God for a lie, then the incarnation is that act in which God, in Jesus Christ, has “image”d himself in the person of his Son, the only human being who has ever been able to say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In other words, the act of the incarnation stands diametrically opposed to the sin of idolatry and its most outstanding societal representative, the act of homosexuality. As opposed to what Wilson Cruz has suggested, that Christianity does not put homosexuality on a list of sins, in fact, that which is absolutely essential to Christianity, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, does, indeed, mark homosexuality out as the premier representative sin of a society which has exchanged the true God for idols. Christianity is, by its very essence, opposed to homosexual activity. Christmas, the incarnation, is a direct attack against everything which homosexual acts represent.
(4) Finally, I call your attention to a thought which comes from Irenaeus, the second dedicatee of this blog. In my last post, “Irenaeus on the Incarnation (5),” one of the things readers might have noticed (or missed) is a line from his Proof of the Apostolic Preaching, chap. 38, where Irenaeus states that the coming of Jesus Christ in real flesh, in a real body, has “sanctified our birth.” Perhaps this is a puzzling thought. But what Irenaeus means by this is that, in the incarnation, an act whereby Christ took on real flesh, a real body, and lived in the real world, a kind of sanctification of this world, our flesh, our bodies, indeed all of creation, takes place. To put that another way, the incarnation is an affirmation that God’s creation was, in fact, a good creation. It is an affirmation that matter is not evil, our bodies are not evil, our flesh is not evil. They have all been marred by sin, but the sin is not the materiality; rather their materiality is something that God originally declared good, and has now set out in the incarnation of his Son to redeem. It is interesting, then, that Paul specifically names homosexual acts as being against nature, as being “unnatural.” In other words, Paul makes the claim here that homosexual acts are anti-creation: they are violations of the created order which God originally declared to be good, and which God has now set out to redeem in the incarnation of his Son. There’s this old cliché line, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Despite its cliché-ness, its triteness, perhaps even its crudeness, the line actually captures, at least to some extent, Paul’s thought in Romans 1. Homosexual acts are against nature, against the good creation as God originally made it, and are opposed to the reclamation project which God set out to perform in the incarnation of Jesus Christ.
No wonder Irenaeus was fixated on the incarnation. The incarnation sets everything in its proper perspective.
So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation! The old has gone. Behold, the new has come! This is all from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given to us the ministry of reconciliation: that is, that God was in Christ [read: incarnation!], reconciling the world to himself. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19a)
December 20, 2013