Public Discourse, published by the Witherspoon Institute, is one of the most respected journals among Christian intellectuals. It ranks alongside First Things. My amicable ties to both publications go back to 2012, when I had the positive experience of first working with a young editor named Ryan T. Anderson. Along with Sherif Gergis, Ryan T. Anderson came along under the tutelage of Robert George, a Princeton professor with a prestigious profile on issues of liberty and religion.
My respect for the people involved with Public Discourse and the publication itself remains strong. I wish that the essay below, which I co-wrote with Rev. Thomas Littleton and submitted to Public Discourse, had run in the journal. As in past pieces I would have been happy to work with Public Discourse editors to make any necessary changes. As you will see as you read the essay, it provides information and perspective that Public Discourse needs, and which its readers deserve.
The note I received from Ryan T. Anderson this afternoon stated that the editors passed on this submission. I see this as unfortunate because Public Discourse holds itself to a high standard and would never want itself to become a partisan propaganda outlet. On the issue of recent conflicts about "born this way," denominational politics, and the Revoice conference, I consider that Ryan T. Anderson and Robert George have fallen short of their usual level of objectivity and fairness. I cannot escape the conclusion that they are protecting their friends from necessary and salubrious scrutiny. Both Anderson and George remain highly respected among the circles around me and I pray, sincerely, that they not allow their close associations and friendly interactions with people such as James Martin and/or SBC power players to interfere with the pursuit of truth.
The essay is included below.
Beyond Friendship: LGBT Issues and the Next Stage of Discernment
Rev. Thomas A. Littleton and Prof. Robert Oscar Lopez
"RESOLVED, the Southern Baptist Convention rejects as heresy any claims that God makes people homosexual..."
These words were included in the resolution that we submitted to the Southern Baptist Convention at its annual meeting in Dallas. We entitled the resolution, "On Ministry and Counseling to Lead People from Homosexuality to Heterosexuality." Arguably the quote above was the most important ingredient in it.
On June 12, 2018, the SBC announced that the resolutions committee declined this resolution. Thus it never came to the floor. No other resolution has affirmed the Southern Baptists’ commitment to ministry and counseling for people who want help moving away from homosexual identity or behavior to heterosexuality.
Two recent articles published by Public Discourse—Robert George’s “Fr. James Martin, Friendship and Dialogue,” and Ron Belgau’s “In Defense of Spiritual Friendship and Revoice”—feel particularly ominous given what became of the resolution at the Southern Baptist Convention. George and Belgau address debates that have interested Roman Catholics. The same doctrinal crisis afflicts the Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States.
The 2017 effort called “Faith in America,” which seems to have vanished in 2018, revealed that well-funded LGBT groups targeted the Southern Baptists as part of a willful drive to suppress Biblical resistance to homosexuality. In our current context, a siege mentality corresponds to basic realism and survival.
Many esteemed intellectual figures in both churches, such as Robert George and Russell Moore, have earned a reputation as being “beyond reproach on LGBT issues.” Russell Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). We owe George's and Moore's high reputations to the stances they took when the United States was debating same-sex marriage. While they may deserve some credit for standing up for marriage in the past, their positions on sexual orientation change and “born this way” look increasingly weak.
Prof. George’s praise for radically pro-gay Jesuit James Martin has alarmed many, particularly ex-gays who have felt the brunt of James Martin’s abusive behavior and feel betrayed. Dr. Moore has refused to confront or admonish his own research fellow about her support for the controversial Revoice conference. "Revoice" is the name of a pro-LGBTQ+ organization and is also the name of a conference by the same, to take place in St. Louis July 26-28, 2018.
Dr. Moore’s evasive response to critics of Revoice contributes to our disappointment with many evangelical critiques of Revoice. We have seen lukewarm criticisms from figures such as Al Mohler, Andrew Walker, and Kevin DeYoung. Mohler, Walker, and DeYoung have framed the problems with Revoice in esoteric or semantic terms. Yet Revoice poses an existential threat to evangelical religion. Revoice enshrines an assumption--the idea that non-heterosexual orientation can be an innate identity and impossible to change. That assumption negates core messages of the Bible.
Mohler, Walker, and De Young's lukewarm criticisms of Revoice sidestep the central question—can we say that people are born gay and God made them that way? The fact that Revoice uses some unclear terminology or might confuse some who hear Revoice rhetoric is significant, so we thank these evangelical commentators for picking up on such problems. Nonetheless, no critique of this conference/organization is truly adequate unless it confronts the horrendous apostasy at the core of Revoice's rhetoric.
Backlash against Revoice has been so enormous in the evangelical world. It will obviously benefit the LGBT lobby if someone sympathetic to them can publish "critiques" that superficially placate worried Christians while distracting them from the sinister and ongoing assault on their belief system.
We wonder if a better course for thought leaders might consist of simply letting new voices oppose such heresy with the full attention of evangelical audiences. Early voices that came out against Revoice, such as ourselves and people like Janet Mefferd and Stephen Black, are noticeably ignored in the "critiques" that have been published by people who have much closer ties to established editors like the people at the helm of Public Discourse.
Many of the late-breaking writings that dispute parts of Revoice feel like controlled-opposition pieces, irrespective of their good intentions. When dealing with so much propaganda and psychological manipulation, as in LGBT debates, perception plays a major role. We need bold and clear discernment, rather than carefully calibrated stances that appear designed to insulate writers from accusations of complicity with heresy without actually confronting the heresy itself. While it’s true that the Revoice conference has not yet happened, given the long-lasting impact of an ERLC conference that took place on homosexuality in 2014 (to be discussed more momentarily), evangelical Christians are justified in wanting to prevent an ill-conceived conference from causing irreversible fallout.
The New Battleground: Different than Defining Marriage
Consider for a moment the case of Philippe Pétain. He received accolades for his heroism in World War I, but we remember him for the humiliating mistakes he made during World War II. He will forever be associated with the shame of the Vichy government. "Marshal Pétain" went from glory at the battle of Verdun in World War I to being sentenced to death for treason once the Allies liberated France from the Nazis. Pétain was the figurehead placed in charge of the Nazis' puppet government in France.
Our churches are embroiled in less violent but nonetheless high-stakes theological conflicts that we can understand by applying Pétain’s example. The fight over homosexual marriage was one conflict, but the fight over “born this way” is a different war, with the potential to go nuclear. It is entirely possible to have been a stellar hero in the last war and yet to become a catastrophic disappointment in the current war.
The Nashville Statement of 2017, for instance, should not function as an indicator of who is trustworthy on the “born this way” controversy since it dealt primarily with issues from the last war—namely the fight over the definition of marriage and whether homosexuality was a sin. One could easily be in the Pétain role of signing the Nashville Statement and then, one year later, assisting the LGBT movement in destroying the churches’ ministries designed to save people from homosexuality.
Many Christian readers may not see the clear differences between the debate on marriage and the debate on whether homosexuals can change. The latter debate is fundamental and more critical at the pastoral and ecclesiological level. Defending Christian marriage meant denying recognition to unrepentant homosexuals and entangling churches in debates about civil law. But the debate about sexual orientation change is different. If we in the church accept the notion that people are born gay and cannot change, we deny the existence of people who have changed. We also withhold our help and hope to repentant individuals who have homosexual experiences but want help to conform to God’s design for love and sexuality—a heterosexual design.
As Southern Baptists we have not received adequate guidance or stewardship from people who needed to lead us against the “born this way” heresy. In October 2014, Russell Moore’s ERLC organized a conference on homosexuality whose lasting effects on the denomination have proved profoundly negative. Dr. Moore rejected “reparative therapy” in broad terms that parallel the phrases used by LGBT in subsequent years as they sought to ban any kind of sexual-orientation change counseling. At the same events Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, stated that the church had been wrong about “sexual orientation” and that the LGBT community was right about homosexuality’s being to some degree innate and real.
Also, at this event, J.D. Greear—now the president of the Southern Baptist Convention—declared that Christians should be advocates against discrimination aimed at LGBTs. If he had specified that he did not define “discrimination” the way LGBT activists do (to include efforts to change homosexuals), he may have been on solid ground. But the silence about whether he meant discrimination in the broad sense to encompass any challenges to the pro-gay “born this way” doctrine leaves the Southern Baptist Convention now in a doctrinal disaster.
All signs point to the Southern Baptist Convention’s growing acceptance of the idea that people are born gay or that homosexuality originates in some way that does not exclude the will of God for it to exist. One sign is the SBC’s rejection of a resolution declaring that people are born according to God’s design (heterosexuality) and not according to the false design of homosexuality. Another major sign is the SBC’s troubled ties to the “Revoice conference,” which features a panoply of presenters who affirm gay identity even if they claim they will not engage in homosexual sex. The underlying ethos of Revoice is “born this way” ideology, since the alternatives suggested by the conference speakers all exclude the simple (and most logical) solution for Christians who struggle with homosexual tendencies: change, follow God’s design, and turn yourself into a heterosexual. In an interview, Austin Ruse of Crisis magazine revealed that the Revoice conference appears a repeat-performance of the “New Homophiles” who tried to force the Catholic church into many of the same theological compromises, and only fell from prominence with the rise of the more radical James Martin.
“Heresy” might be too strong a word for some. For us it’s just right.
As Southern Baptists, we pay no undue respect to human authorities. For we consider ourselves a priesthood of the believer. As evangelical Christians our prevailing reference point is Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. The story of His ministry and death provides important cues for us to understand the spiritual battles to which God calls us. A mob insulted Jesus, Roman soldiers nailed Him to a cross, and corrupt authorities in both the church and civil government mistreated Him in a sham trial.
But Judas Iscariot, one of those closest to Him, betrayed Him with a kiss. And He found Himself abandoned even by disciples who had mastered all His teachings. We take important lessons to heart from these details. Even the humans best known for their wisdom and virtue, the Apostle Paul reminds us, “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
Much of the New Testament indicates that we are in greatest danger when we place so much trust in reputable people that we deem them beyond reproach. Jesus speaks not only of Pharisees and Sadducees but also of “messiahs and false prophets” who “will rise up and will perform signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, the elect” (Mark 13:22).
Scriptures abound in warnings about people who gain authority and convince us to trust them. Jesus warns us to leave alone “every plant that My heavenly Father didn’t plant,” noting, “if the blind guide the blind, both will fall into a pit” (Matthew 15:14).
And He tells us: “Beware of the scribes who want to go around in long robes, and who want greetings in the marketplaces, the front seats of the synagogues, and the places of honor at banquets” for “these will receive harsher punishment” (Mark 12:39-40). Jesus minced no words about the existence of a devil who outsmarts those who fear confronting the powerful or allow psychological tricks to persuade them. Paul tells us, “Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:13), elaborating on what Jesus Christ said to Peter himself: “Get behind Me, Satan, because you’re not thinking about God’s concerns, but man’s!” (Mark 8:33).
Jesus’s stark warnings target not only those with esteemed reputations among men, but also people whom we may personally like. Personal affection does not trump obedience to God’s instruction. Jesus tells us, “My brothers are those who hear and do the word of God” (Luke 8:21). Those who have a smaller following and hold authority over few, or no, other people, may actually be the ones who are right: “whoever is least among you—this one is great” (Luke 9:48).
These scriptures mean a great deal to us because we know that we will anger many people by calling out the heresy: “God makes people gay.” If you allow the argument that people are born gay and cannot change, you are stuck on a one-way track to the heresy that God makes people gay. If God is sovereign and creates each of us in His image, and if God sent Jesus Christ as a sacrifice to atone for human sin, then “people are born gay and cannot change” must mean that homosexuality is in God’s image and Jesus Christ accepts homosexuality as something to remain in a person even after grace and redemption.
Christians should have never entertained the slightest discussion of separating homosexual identity, thoughts, and desires from physical enactment of homosexuality. This is why the frustration and angst toward Russell Moore’s vagary and Robert George’s friendliness with James Martin come from legitimate concern about the encroachment of heresy into the church.
The highest law cited by Jesus Christ was the Deuteronomistic phrase, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind” (Luke 10:27). This phrase appears in Deuteronomy 6:4-9. Emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical conformity to God’s will inseparably form obedience to Him.
There is no threshold that separates mental commitment to God’s design from behavioral enactment of God’s design. Jesus Christ’s liberating of people from ceremonial laws does not include, in any way, liberating them from the central demand that all mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical behavior points toward love of God and the following of God’s design. In the original Deuteronomy passage, these key lines follow: “These words I give you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (6:6-8) God’s design—which is a heterosexual design of male and female in exclusive intimate partnership—encompasses everything about our living experience, including our identity, mental discipline, and focus of our thoughts.
The High Stakes of This Heresy
To accept any version of the “born this way” heresy, we would have to disregard the passage from James 1:13: “God does not tempt anyone. But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires.” We would have to say either that James is wrong here, or that homosexuality is not evil but rather conforms to God’s design.
If we accept that homosexuality is part of God’s design, we will have to grant that Jesus did not really mean, in Matthew 19, for us to understand Genesis as mandating heterosexuality as His design for us. Absent this, we can no longer cite Genesis as the basis for defining marriage as only between a man and a woman. We cannot sustain a position against homosexual marriage and cannot, therefore, defend Christian vendors who cite their Christianity as the reason to refuse service for a same-sex wedding.
Ultimately, to accept that people are born gay, we will have to accept that God makes people gay, and much of the scripture we have is simply incorrect. At that point defining marriage is the least of our worries. We will contend with the conclusion that Adam’s maleness and Eve’s femaleness are accidents of history with no lasting implications as to our proper behavior. We will face the next inference, which is that everything we feel, no matter how much it conflicts with Christian tradition, comes from God. God becomes the author of everything, good and evil, a Father who gave us no clues as to how we are supposed to live, and a Son who came among us to promote love and anarchy, but not to redeem us from anything, since we are fine in the state in which we find ourselves as long as our inner emotions tell us that this is “who we are” right now. Repentance will become a side option for those who think it might be enjoyable.
Before a heresy of this magnitude, committed Christians should not refrain from disagreeing with or publicly challenging people like Robert George, Russell Moore, or Albert Mohler. Even Ryan Anderson. Thomas Littleton and Robert Oscar Lopez should not be trusted either if they come with strange doctrines at odds with the Bible. Do as one of John's epistles advises and tell us "you are not welcome" if we come with wrong ideas. The Word of God never told us to treat them as perfect sages. Human history shows us that even people we are friends with, even people to whom we owe past favors, can be dangerously wrong.
Robert O. Lopez can be followed at English Manif. Thomas A. Littleton can be followed at Thirty Pieces of Silver.