On April 6, 2011, Professor Matt Jenson gave a sermon on singleness and homosexuality in chapel at Biola University.
Since that sermon was given, a group calling itself the Biola Queer Underground has given interviews to the media and stated its intentions to pressure Biola to have a "dialogue" about revising its views on homosexuality. The group explicitly denies the traditional and biblical position that all homosexual acts are immoral. It openly advocates homosexual "marriage," and it is trying to gain acceptance for radical reinterpretations of Scripture that would normalize homosexual relationships. I gave a number of money quotes in comments here and here. The group's home page and frequently asked questions page could not be clearer.
(Digression: In passing I cannot help noting the dark and illogical humor in the fact that a group that expressly includes bisexuals and that views an entire alphabet soup list of sexual "orientations" as essential and positive identities wants us to believe that it is deeply committed to marriage, or "marriage," now redefined to include allegedly monogamous male-male and female-female pairings. Whom is an essentially bisexual person supposed to "marry"? How can he express his deep personal identity qua bisexual person if he's only allowed to marry one other person for life? But having noted that particular bit of dark silliness, I will set it aside.)
The statements of the Biola Queer Underground were published approximately a year after Jenson's sermon. It is therefore barely possible that Prof. Jenson has revised his views of the harmlessness of "gay Christians" (which I discuss below). If readers know of any place in which Jenson has stated that he has changed his recommendations or his views in light of the clear goals and statements of this group, or in light of anything else (e.g., further reflection), please let me know. Otherwise, I will assume that my criticisms of his sermon are still timely. I will also point out the irony of such a sermon, presenting such a view of "gay Christians," coming out not all that long before the "gay Christians" in the school in question made their agenda quite clear.
I have now listened to the entire sermon, though the section on singleness was for the most part not directly relevant to this post. (In some places it was obviously setting up what he was going to say later about homosexuality, but I have so much to say about the latter section that I am not going to take time to discuss those points.)
There were things about Jenson's discussion of homosexuality (which begins around minute 17) with which I agreed and which are importantly true. Precisely because they are importantly true, they will be rejected by the homosexual activists in his audience--indeed, rejected emphatically as continued manifestations of "homophobia." Jenson repeatedly categorizes homosexual desires with "unholy desires." He implies quite clearly that homosexual desires are "against the grain" of God's plan for your life. Jenson insists that your desires don't make you and that you shouldn't identify yourself with your sexual desires. He says that you can even be "more yourself" if you resist wrong desires, clearly applying this truth to homosexual desires. All of this will be a bitter pill for the homosexual activists to swallow, and so they will reject it. And I suppose, in our age of niceness, when there are people who will characterize even these statements as "hateful," one can say that it took some modicum of courage for Jenson so clearly to reject the normalization of homosexuality.
However, the sermon is very seriously flawed. Here are just some of the problems with what Jenson said:
Jenson encourages undue publicizing of homosexual desire by insisting (beginning around 24 ½ minutes) that heterosexual members of his audience talk to homosexuals about the homsosexuals’ experiences and desires. There is no need for this kind of “sharing.” It is part and parcel of our too much information culture. It encourages exhibitionism on one side and voyeurism on the other. The implication that it is healthy for homosexuals to go about talking and talking about their experiences and feelings qua homosexuals and that it is a duty of Christians generally (as opposed to Christians in special counseling contexts) to have such sharing sessions with them is incorrect.
Jenson repeatedly implies that evangelical Christians should de-emphasize statements of Christian sexual moral principles. He expressly tells Christians who are to seek these conversations with homosexuals to “shut up” about their moral views, implying that they are not to interrupt the flow of feelings, experiences, and personal expression from their homosexual friends, nor to attempt to put those feelings into the context of a clear moral compass. Listening is all. He expressly says (approx. minute 31) that Christian churches should back off on saying “so much as a word” about imperatives against homosexual acts and instead, for some unspecified time period, emphasize unconditional grace, which he characterizes as “the indicatives.”
Let me emphasize: He is saying that the churches need to deemphasize biblical teachings against homosexuality and emphasize grace instead, not merely that some individual Christian in some special counseling context might not need to emphasize that teaching (because the counselee already knows and accepts it or needs some other emphasis right now). This is particularly bad advice right now when our churches are under attack by the homosexual agenda. Now of all times is not the time when the churches need to back off on the imperatives.
Jenson manages to get very steely-eyed when saying, “Repent!” to heterosexual members of his audience who might have invested their identity in their athletic prowess or attractiveness to the opposite sex (around minute 28). Despite the fact that this is his own attempt to make a parallel to homosexuals’ identification of themselves with their disordered desires, he conspicuously never looks steely-eyed and says, “Repent!” to homosexual members of his audience who identify themselves with their sexuality or even who continue to engage in homosexual acts. Very much to the contrary; homosexuals are portrayed throughout the sermon as sensitive plants who must always be treated with kid gloves. This deliberate double standard is troubling. The parallel isn’t particularly good in any event, since neither athletic prowess nor female beauty is intrinsically disordered and since nobody is trying to demonize as “haters” those who condemn proud jocks or vain beauties. Jenson is obviously trying to bend the stick backwards with this "repent" line, and this is all the more striking given his explicit call for Christians to suspend too much talk about imperatives against homosexual acts.
Jenson gives the dangerous and misleading impression that all homosexuals who live within the Christian community are tormented souls who understand and accept Christian moral norms and who simply need love and reassurance. In fact, he implies that they torment themselves with the knowledge that their feelings are objectively disordered, “against the grain” of God’s plan. While there are no doubt such Christians in the world and probably some at Biola, there are also many people of a very different kind within both Catholic and evangelical Christian circles. Obviously, Jenson’s implicit characterization does not apply to Biola Queer Underground. Its members are actively attempting to undermine the Christian community’s commitment to traditional morality. They locate their “torments” solely in the lack of acceptance of their chosen identity and of the behavior associated with that identity, and they will not be satisfied until the rules are changed. The Queer Underground at Biola blatantly and utterly rejects Christian moral norms. They need to be called to account, rebuked, and prevented from corrupting the church and the school from within. Yet Jenson tries as hard as possible to make his audience accept a very different picture of all the homosexual students in their midst. This is a major problem.
Jenson trivializes God’s moral laws by picturing God as offering unconditional grace–in other words, grace that makes no behavioral demands. He refers to this as the “ask no questions welcome of the Father into his household” (minute 31) He reduces the imperative to refrain from sexual immorality to a matter of “chores and household etiquette” which can be brought up later. To imply that grave sin is merely violating a code of etiquette is particularly misleading. The entire discussion here is profoundly disturbing, and all the more so coming from a professor of theology.
When people who suffer from same-sex attraction are called to follow Christ, it would be nothing short of a bait and switch to imply that God invites them to join His family while making no demands on their behavior and then later, as a mere matter of “chores and etiquette,” to introduce strictures against a form of fornication with which they have been identifying themselves from the outset and have never had the slightest intention of forgoing. Certainly God forgives any sin when we come to him in repentance. But that is very different from, “Welcome to the family. There are no requirements here. This is an ask-no-questions household. Come in and do anything you like for right now; maybe later we’ll talk about some small matters of family chores and etiquette.” When Peter preached the first sermon at the very founding of the church on the day of Pentecost, he called his audience to repent. Jesus calls sinners to repentance, to go and sin no more, not to come in and take their shoes off and make themselves comfortable. I note, too, that Jenson expressly distinguishes this discussion of the “ask no questions welcome of the Father” from mere strategy. To Jenson, this is not merely strategy; it is theology. Unfortunately, it is bad theology.
Jenson's sermon is flawed in ways that will, if it is heeded, weaken the school's resolve to fight the attack now being made against it. If we generalize this, we can say that an approach like Jenson's will weaken the evangelical church's resolve to resist the attack being made against it by the homosexual agenda. Good intentions are no excuse for poor advice, misleading statements, and poor theology. The Bible says that teachers in particular need to be careful of their statements because of their position of influence. There are no doubt teachers in Christian schools who are saying worse things than what Matt Jenson says here, teachers who are openly on the side of a group like Biola Queer Underground, openly attacking biblical morality. However: A theology professor like Matt Jenson, who downplays the wrongness of homosexual acts, who teaches acceptance into the family of God with no turning from sin, who presents a picture of only poor, weak, sickly lambs when the flock is invaded by wolves, and who urges the church to mute her witness to the truth, weakens the immune system of the Church of God and leaves her open to attacks by less well-intentioned teachers. For that reason, much of what he says needs to be seen with clear eyes and rejected.