This past Sunday, JD Greear, the current president of the Southern Baptist Convention, preached this sermon entitle “How the Fall Affects Us All” to his megachurch in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Click the link here to see if for yourself.) He is going through the book of Romans and was covering chapter one. While he had some good points to make especially when it came to the issue of abortion, when it came to dealing with the issue of sexual immorality addressed in the chapter, Greear went off the rails. To be fair, He did not come right out and affirm homosexuality and lesbianism. He still said enough that he could point to a critic and say “I said it was sin.” What he did do though was soft-pedal the truth. He did everything in his power to make sure that people sitting in his congregation who are tired of hearing about these sins, would walk away feeling justified for their apathy. What he did was preach “peace, peace, when there was no peace.” He did this while at the same time making it look like those who are committed to the complete biblical truth on this issue should ashamed.
How so, you might ask. Didn’t he say that it is a sin? What he did was spend a lot of time downplaying the sin and spinning half truths and slippery lies. I am going to point out a few of these half truths and lies while still trying to be fair to Greear. To be honest, I don't particularly like having to be critical of those who claim the name of Christ but if I am going to be a faithful shepherd, I must do so.
The first thing he does when addressing this issue is “acknowledge upfront that… that historically, we in the church have not done a great job of talking about this and maybe even a worse job of caring for those going through this.” What he does here and elsewhere is to paint himself as caring and passionate while throwing the church under the bus. It is this classic move to ingratiate yourself with an audience by trying to position yourself as not as extreme as others. By doing this, he is already foreshadowing what he is about to do, which is to soften the biblical and historical teaching on homosexuality. He is abandoning the over 2000-year historical witness of the church on this issue. Let me give you an example of what faithful men in the past have said about this issue before moving on:
"Those offences which be contrary to nature are everywhere and at all times to be held in detestation and punished; such were those of the Sodomites, which should all nations commit, they should all be held guilty of the same crime by the divine law, which hath not so made men that they should in that way abuse one another. For even that fellowship which should be between God and us is violated, when that same nature of which He is author is polluted by the perversity of lust." -Augustine
Sodomy is a “monstrous insanity,” “clear proof of the ultimate degree of corruption,” and “lusts after monstrous things.” – John Chrysostom
"Truly, this vice is never to be compared with any other vice because it surpasses the enormity of all vices.... It defiles everything, stains everything, pollutes everything. And as for itself, it permits nothing pure, nothing clean, nothing other than filth....The miserable flesh burns with the heat of lust; the cold mind trembles with the rancor of suspicion; and in the heart of the miserable man chaos boils like Tartarus [Hell].... In fact, after this most poisonous serpent once sinks its fangs into the unhappy soul, sense is snatched away, memory is borne off, the sharpness of the mind is obscured. It becomes unmindful of God and even forgetful of itself. This plague undermines the foundation of faith, weakens the strength of hope, destroys the bond of charity; it takes away justice, subverts fortitude, banishes temperance, blunts the keenness of prudence. And what more should I say since it expels the whole host of the virtues from the chamber of the human heart and introduces every barbarous vice as if the bolts of the doors were pulled out." - Peter Damian
"But all the other frenzies of passions–impious both toward the bodies and toward the sexes–beyond the laws of nature, we banish not only from the threshold, but from all shelter of the Church, because they are not sins, but monstrosities." – Tertullian
“the fearful crime of unnatural lust is worse than bestial desires since [it reverses] the whole order of nature”- John Calvin
“The unnatural lusts of sodomy and bestiality (sins not to be mentioned without horror) were to be punished with death, as they are at this day by our law”- Matthew Henry
“It is abomination; it is so to God, as the above instance of his vengeance shows(referring to Sodom), and ought to be abominable to men, as being not only contrary to the law of God, but even contrary to nature itself, and what is never to be observed among brute creatures.”- John Gill
“Shall the bestial vice of which Sodom was guilty never be checked? Why, if this should spread amongst the sons of men, it would bring in its infernal train ten thousand times more damage than the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The sin itself is infinitely worse than the fire which burned it up.”- Charles Spurgeon
Faithful pastors throughout history have spoken clearly the truth from God’s word. They recoiled at the thought of this sin. The Bible says "the fear of the Lord is to hate evil." The church for 2000 + years has hated this evil. They have hated it because it dishonors God, makes a mockery of the created order, destroys the bodies and minds of those who practice it, and it endangers nations who tolerate it. It was love of God and love of neighbor that led these men to thoroughly condemn this sin, warn those who practice it of the wrath of God, and point all people to the only hope, Jesus Christ.
When J.D. Greear apologizes for the church historically doing a bad job on this issue, he is carefully distancing himself from this teaching. Why? Because our culture hates it. And because he wants to sound reasonable to our culture. As we work through the rest of what he says, keep in mind the above quotes from the history of the church and compare it to what Greear is saying.
Continuing on from this apology, Greear says that the Apostle Paul is not picking on homosexuality as if it is any worse sin than any other. Instead, Paul highlights it because it is easy to see as an abandonment of God’s design for “human flourishing.” He will come back to this notion that it is just the same as all other sin again in the sermon. But first he does do a decent job of addressing whether Romans 1 is only dealing with something like temple prostitution. There are some who have tried to differentiate between "monogamous homosexual relationships" (as if there really is a such thing in practice) and temple prostitution. They argue that the second is what is forbidden. Pastor Greear correctly says Romans is dealing with all homosexuality. However even in in the midst of this, Greear keeps making sure to point out that the Apostle Paul “isn’t picking on homosexuals.” It is just one example among many of how we move away from what the Creator designed for our flourishing. When you listen to the sermon, you will see how very careful Greear is to handle this with kid’s gloves. He is saying “Yeah, it’s a sin but don’t get your panties in wad because there are other sins too.”
Greear moves ahead through the passage talking about the other sins mentioned (he didn't spend much time on those who give hearty approval to this sin) before coming back to the issue of sexual immorality by saying we don’t get to pick and choose our afflictions. He says, “you can think of homosexuality as an affliction, and not just a sinful choice.” Now Greear is making a move towards adoption of sexual orientation language and of making a victim out of those who practice homosexuality. They are born this way. They didn’t choose it. This removes their moral agency from them. The bible does teach we are born with a sinful nature, but it nowhere uses this teaching to remove moral agency from people. It nowhere uses our sinful nature as a way to remove our guilt for our sin. The truth is no one would use this language for any other sin. We would not say that “you can think of murder as an affliction and not just a sinful choice.” Ultimately. what this language does is do what James 1 tells us not to do. James 1: 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. By calling it an affliction and making those who practice sodomy into victims, we are in effect placing the blame of sin on God.
Greear says after two decades of counseling that people “struggling with same-sex attraction” are dealing with an “unanswered prayer.” “Why didn’t God change them when they asked him to?” This is victimizing language. Instead of being sinners with sinful lusts that need to be repented of and fought against even daily, they are victims of something they don’t want. They aren’t responsible. Why would you repent and seek forgiveness for something you are not responsible for?
In the midst of all this, he does make a good point that just because something seems like an innate feeling or desire does not make it right. This is true because sinful desires come from our sinful heart. As Greear says, the Gospel is the answer to this. Jesus Christ came to set us free from the power of sin. He came that we might be declared righteous and that we might grow in holiness. It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that we repent of our sin and mortify the desires of the flesh.
But again as Greear says truth, he mixes it with error. He uses a false dichotomy that has become popular among the gospel coalition types. “It is not gay to straight but lost to found.” This is a false dichotomy that leads people to believe that one can continue to be “gay” while being found. Pastor Tim Bayly has written about this error on his blog here.
Having said with all kinds of careful and precious caveats that God is concerned about homosexuality, Greear than says one way we go wrong about homosexuality is to think that it is a worse sin than others. He says it is the same as other sins. This is a lie. All sin deserves the wrath of God but there are degrees of sin in the Bible. There are some so wicked that God declares to be crimes to be punished by the civil magistrate. Some are so wicked he destroys cities off the map for practicing.
The Westminster Larger Catechism says it this way:
Q. 150. Are all transgressions of the law of God equally heinous in themselves, and in the sight of God? A. All transgressions of the law of God are not equally heinous; but some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.
Now why does it says this? Question 151 gives several reasons why sins might be more heinous than others. Pay careful attention to number 3.
Q. 151. What are those aggravations that make some sins more heinous than others?
A. Sins receive their aggravations,
1. From the persons offending if they be of riper age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.
2. From the parties offended: if immediately against God, his attributes, and worship; against Christ, and his grace; the Holy Spirit, his witness, and workings against superiors, men of eminency, and such as we stand especially related and engaged unto; against any of the saints, particularly weak brethren, the souls of them, or any other, and the common good of all or many.
3. From the nature and quality of the offense: if it be against the express letter of the law, break many commandments, contain in it many sins: if not only conceived in the heart, but breaks forth in words and actions, scandalize others, and admit of no reparation: if against means, mercies, judgments, light of nature, conviction of conscience, public or private admonition, censures of the church, civil punishments; and our prayers, purposes, promises, vows, covenants, and engagements to God or men: if done deliberately, wilfully, presumptuously, impudently, boastingly, maliciously, frequently, obstinately, with delight, continuance, or relapsing after repentance.
4. From circumstances of time and place: if on the Lord’s day, or other times of divine worship; or immediately before or after these, or other helps to prevent or remedy such miscarriages; if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled.
There are different reasons why some sins are more heinous. Greear says that homosexuality is just one of a bunch of sins that are equally depraved. In doing this, is his objective to raise in our mind the seriousness of all the other sins or is it to soften the seriousness in which we think about sodomy? The whole time Greear speaks about homosexuality the effect is to minimize its seriousness. Over and over again he speaks in a way that apologizes for having to say it is a sin. Go back and compare this with what faithful men of God throughout church history have said. Compare it with scripture.
It is a tactic of those seeking to push for the normalization of sodomy to minimize its sinfulness by comparing it to all other sins that they also consider minuscule. They compare it to gluttony or telling a little lie. Notice that they don’t compare it to bestiality, pedophilia, incest, and murder. What does scripture do?
“Lev 18:21-23 You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the LORD. You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.
What JD Greear does here is soften our view of this sin. He removes the shame and disgust we have for it. Now imagine him doing the same for pedophilia. Imagine him speaking the same way about it. Sex with children is just one among many ways we do what is not best for human flourishing. Paul wouldn’t pick on it.
The truth is the reason Paul brought up sodomy was because it is so vile. He made a point to bring up one of the most wicked sins. He knew his readers would see it as such. Why would he do this? Because in chapter 2, he points to the hypocrisy of those who have the law of God and don’t obey it. He uses it to then show that the Jews also had no excuse and were sinners in need of Christ.
At a first glance and if you are not careful, you might accuse the Apostle Paul of doing what J.D. Greear was doing. When Paul transitions in chapter two and accuses those who have the law, you might say “see Paul is saying that sodomy is just as bad as their sin.” But that is backwards. Paul is not using the sins of those who have the law to diminish sodomy’s sinfulness. Instead he is using how wicked sodomy is to highlight the hypocrisy of those who judge and do the same things. He has pointed to something everyone agrees is an abomination and then uses their agreement to highlight their own sinfulness. In doing this, Paul doesn’t diminish the sinfulness of sodomy. He isn’t soft pedaling it. It is the fact that it is considered so wicked to even those who only have the light of nature, that his tactic works to convict those who have been given God’s written law.
What JD Greear is doing is lowering the standard, not raising it. Furthermore, Greear goes on to make a big point that those who are judgmental are as equally depraved. Why say that? It is to shift the shame of sodomy onto those who would stand strongly against. It is as if to say “ yeah sodomy is bad but you better not get that upset about it because that is just as bad if not more.”
He goes on to quotes Jen Wilkin, a woman whom he says is one of their favorite bible teachers. (I won’t mention what the bible says about women teaching men.) She says:
“We ought to whisper about what the Bible whispers about, and we ought to shout about what the Bible shouts about. And the Bible appears to whisper when it comes to sexual sin compared to it shouts about materialism and religious pride.”
Is this true? Does the bible whisper about sexual sin?
Two of the Ten Commandments address sexual sin. The Bible calls sodomy an abomination and a crime to be punished by death. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is a shout if there ever was one. The book of Jude shouts it this way: “just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” The Apostle Paul says of sexual sin in 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. In fact in that same chapter, we are given one of the only examples of church discipline carried out in scripture. It concerned sexual immorality. The church when it gathered in Acts 15 also thought sexual immorality was a big enough deal to shout about. They declared that all the churches should refrain from sexual immorality. Again, the Apostle Paul declares it is the very will of God that we abstain from sexual immorality. 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.
To say that the bible whispers on sexuality is a lie. Greear is changing Christian witness against such sins and placing the shame that belongs on that sin on those who are “judgemental” enough to stand strongly and boldly against them. There has become this movement today which seems to think that the only thing Jesus preached against was being a “pharisee.” And to be a pharisee according to this movement is to be someone who is concerned to obey the word of God and to see his law obeyed in all of society. You are a pharisee if you strongly oppose sodomy being legalized and celebrated. You are a pharisee if you care about the ten commandments. You are a pharisee if you are religious. If you go to church and try to obey God and you are troubled by what is happening in the world, you are a pharisee and don’t you know Jesus hated the pharisees.
Pharisees, however, were those who replaced the law of God with men’s law. They were hypocrites who did not worship God. They were people in power who pushed their law over God’s. You know who the pharisees are today? The LGBT political groups and politicians pushing their law and forcing those who want to obey God to submit to their wicked decrees. If you want to really be like Jesus, oppose the powers that be who are pushing their law over Gods. In addition, be opposed to those false prophets who proclaim “peace, peace” and soften the word of God against sin. Be opposed to people who want to shame you for being concerned about the wrath of God coming against your community because of its rebellion. Be opposed to those who whisper the truths of scripture that the world doesn’t want to hear while shouting what the world loves.
Next, Greear says something quite outrageous. He says when you understand like Paul that you are chief of sinners “you will stop being a judgmental Pharisaical dispenser of the law and you will suddenly become a gospel witness”. He says that “your life will no longer be filled with judgmentalism and fundamentalism but with compassion.” "When you fully understand the gospel, you will stand up and be among the fiercest advocates for the dignity and rights of LGBT." Now this is all couched in terms of acknowledging our own sins and recognizing that we need the gospel as much as others. That much is true. The gospel should humble us and if we have been forgiven, we should forgive other. But how do we get from showing grace and mercy to others to being a fierce advocate for the rights of LGBT? And this is not just a slip of the tongue by Greear. When you watch the video, you see him read that phrase from his notes. He was deliberate and exact on purpose.
Just replace LGBT with the any other sin in his statement and you will see how outrageous it is. When you understand the gospel, you will be among the fiercest advocates of the rights of pedaphiles. Christians should be the biggest defenders of the rights of adulterers. Christians should be the biggest defenders of the rights of thieves. Christians should be among the biggest advocates of the rights of murderers. Christians should be the biggest defenders of the rights of people attracted to pigs.
It does not work. No one is saying that we should not treat people with respect and dignity. But there is something more being implied here. In particular when we start talking about the rights of LGBT people, we are dealing with all kinds of assumptions.
First of all, this statement along with others Greear has made indicates an unbiblical view of identity. To talk about LGBT people is to adopt an unbiblical view of sexual orientation. The bible calls them sodomites or homosexuals in the same way it calls someone who steals a thieve. It is not a badge to be worn in pride. It is not an unchangeable inherit identity.
Secondly, what kind of rights do these “LGBT” people have? What rights are we supposed to be advocating for? Do people who practice homosexuality have a right to redefine marriage? Our Supreme Court thinks so. What about Christians who are supposed to be among the fiercest advocates of the rights of homosexuals, are they supposed to be fighting for this redefinition? What about the right to adopt children? What about the right to cakes and wedding photos?
And are there any rights they give up by practicing the sin of sodomy? Murderers for example have a right to a fair trial but according to the biblical standard they also forfeit their right to live. The Bible teaches that sodomy is not only a sin but a crime to be punished by the civil magistrates. This was the law in the west for years. Should Christians have been pushing back against those laws? What about in countries that still have laws against sodomy, should Christians be fighting fiercely to repeal those?
The problem with this statement by JD Greear is that at the very least it is too vague and leads to misunderstanding. At worst, it is a complete capitulation. This vagueness which I am saying is a bug might actually have been a feature for Greear. He has been downplaying the sin of sodomy while still wanting to sound like he is holding the line. It is unfaithfulness to the word of God masquerading as faithfulness.
He goes on to say more which I won’t spend much time on. He doubles down on the false dichotomy that heterosexuality is not holiness. He says its not about being set free from homosexuality, its about be forgiven of your sin. He says homosexuality won’t send you to hell. The Bible literally says the opposite. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 is very clear. It is a mess mixed with half-truths.
Now, why am I bothering to write about this? I don’t usually take the time to work through a sermon of someone else and critique it. As a pastor, I realize that any sermon anyone preaches, could be nitpicked to death. I am sure there are sermons of mine, you could find something to quibble about. Is that what I am doing here, am I just nitpicking? I don’t think so. This is the President of the Southern Baptist convention compromising the truth of scripture. I am not a Southern Baptist anymore in part because I have seen that the leaders in the SBC are pushing compromise on the issue of homosexuality and are jumping on a social justice kick void of biblical justice. But I did go to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I have friends and family still in the SBC. It pains me to see what is happening among the leadership on this issue.
And it is not just the leadership who are caving. I served in several SBC churches over the years. Southern Baptist churches and especially mega churches are already filled with people struggling to hold the line on this issue. The cultural wind is blowing against them. Many have coworkers or family members who are embracing this wickedness. These people need bold leadership to help them stay strong and to be faithful especially because of many of them just want the issue to go away. They just want the permission to resort to an apathetic “you do you and I’ll do me, live and let live” mentality. They want a way to not make a big deal about it. Rather than to have to face persecution for refusing to bake a cake or call a man a woman, they want a way to cave and still be spiritual. They want to avoid being hated. They want to avoid persecution. I know this because I have worked inside SBC churches with people just like this. To them, the biggest sin was to be “judgmental.” The worst thing they could ever do was to tell their cousin who is practicing homosexuality to repent. I have also seen this play out over and over again while street preaching. “Judge Not” is America’s favorite bible verse. This sermon just tickled all of those ears. It just gave permission to all those people to compromise the truth.
This is heartbreaking on several fronts. God’ bride is being slandered by pastors who apologize for the historical witness of the church on this issue. God’s word is being mishandled by pastors who soft pedal the hard truths. God’s glory is being attacked by a world that hates God as creator. They are rebelling against the created order. Pastors who soften the biblical teaching are participating in this assault on the glory of God. The Gospel is being diminished when we act as if this sin is an identity that Christ cannot overcome.
People who are tempted to these sins are harmed when we do not speak truthfully about how shameful these sins are. They are harming their bodies by the sexual activity. Men are doing lasting physical damage to their bodies. Women are harming their bodies by suppressing their femininity. Not only are they harming their bodies, they are harming their minds. How many people giving into these temptations are guilt ridden and suicidal? Some might argue that by shaming this sin, we are contributing to the suicide rate. But the suicide rate is extremely high in countries that have been tolerant of this sin for years. Lastly, the people who are giving in to this temptation are harming their souls. The Bible is clear, those who practice homosexuality will not inherit the kingdom of God. Contrary to Greear, homosexuality does send people to hell. If we are truly going to respect the dignity of these people as image-bearers, we are going to speak truthfully about how shameful and wicked this sin is. We will not give them excuses or call them victims. Instead, we will point them to the only medicine for their soul, the grace of God through Jesus Christ. We will give them the hope of victory over this sin that is found in him.
When we do not speak the truth on sodomy, we are not only attacking God’s glory and hurting those tempted to these sins. We are harming our neighbors who are not attempted to these sins. We harm them by helping them give hearty approval to this wickedness. We are encouraging them in their rebellion. And when we do not deal faithfully with God’s word, we are putting entire communities, states, and nations at the danger of God’s wrath. Do we honestly think God’s dealing with Sodom was the only time God dealt with a people for practicing this? There are other examples in history. God told the Israelites he was kicking the people out of Canaan for their tolerance of these sins. These examples are for our benefit. God will deal with our nation for this. God will also deal with churches who tolerate this sin. God will deal with pastors who tolerate it. God will deal with shepherds who leave the gate open for thieves and wolves.
I pray that JD Greear repents of his cowardice and compromise in this sermon. I pray the faithful shepherds in the SBC step up and bring discipline to the convention. This should be a wake up call for all Southern Baptists.
Revelation 2: 13-17‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. But I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it.’