In an interview with Jonathan Merrit (Religion News Service, Oct. 25, 2016), popular blogger, writer, and HGTV star, Jen Hatmaker, set off a firestorm in the social media world among Christians. As Jonathan Merrit asked, “Politically speaking, do you support gay marriage?”
Jen Hatmaker replied, “From a civil rights and civil liberties side and from just a human being side, any two adults have the right to choose who they want to love. And they should be afforded the same legal protections as any of us. I would never wish anything less for my gay friends.” She continued, “Not only are these our neighbors and friends, but they are brothers and sisters in Christ. They are adopted into the same family as the rest of us, and the church hasn’t treated the LGBT community like family. We have to do better.”1
In an attempt to bring further clarity Merrit asked a follow-up question. “You mentioned faithfulness and God. Do you think an LGBT relationship can be holy?”
Hatmaker responded, “I do. And my views here are tender. This is a very nuanced conversation, and it’s hard to nail down in one sitting. I’ve seen too much pain and rejection at the intersection of the gay community and the church. Every believer that witnesses that much overwhelming sorrow should be tender enough to do some hard work here.”2
Though I would arrive at some different conclusions than Jen Hatmaker, I appreciate her compassion and her acknowledgment that this topic is not just an exercise in an arbitrary philosophical topic or debate. This is an issue that has had profound effects on people including many that we each of us may know and love. Far too often Christians have been harsh and judgmental towards people in the LGBTQ community in general and those who identify as homosexual specifically.
I fully agree with Jen Hatmaker when she notes that the myriad of issues related makes this “hard to nail down in one sitting,” much less one article. Additionally, I appreciate the call for believers to consider the pain and rejection of many in the gay community believers should “be tender enough to do some hard work here.” Nonetheless, Hatmaker’s assertion that an LGBTQ relationship can be holy is concerning statement.
Can LGBTQ relationships be holy? That is the critical question worth exploring a little deeper.
For a relationship to be holy, in a Biblically informed or historically Christian sense of the word, a relationship would be considered to be blessed and in alignment with the perfect, holy, righteousness character and nature of God. The relationship would also be in alignment with the purpose and design of God’s Creative Wisdom before sin entered along with the results of the fall.
If one says yes, then everything the Christian Church has said and believed, affirmed, and taught for 2000 years has been wrong and must be recognized as wrong. Additionally, what has been taught and affirmed for 2000 years in Judaism, dating back to at least 2000 BC, would also be wrong.
The other possibility is to simply say that humanity has the freedom and authority to change our understanding of marriage and sexuality regardless of the Biblical clarity on the subject. In which case, we are now free to reinterpret everything with a new definition of what is right and holy based upon the ever-evolving mood and morality of our society.
To simplify the issue bit further, if relational constructs considered unholy can suddenly be declared holy, there are two possible explanations. Either we have misunderstood and misinterpreted the Bible or morality changes (is ever-evolving) and therefore the Bible must change to fit our societally constructed definitions of what is right and what is wrong.
These questions lead us to the question of who’s “truth” is really the truth. Regardless of one’s views on sexual identity, there is a root desire for human flourishing. Any true believer must desire at their core to love their neighbor enough to see them experience all that God has for them. The issues at stake go far beyond anyone dictating the morality or sexual identity of another.
Consider the concept correlation of aesthetics, truth, and beauty. The theory of Aesthetics explores the principles concerned with the nature and appreciation of beauty. Speaking of Aesthetics, beauty, and truth, Rosaria Butterfield (a Former Tenured Prof. of Queer Theory and English Literature and Culture, Syracuse University) explained, “A theory that has been very important to me in my work as a professor and in my life is that of aesthetics. The theory of aesthetics is that what is true, determines what is beautiful and ethical.”
Among the challenges of our day is the pursuit and determination of both beauty and truth. Today, many people assume what is true is determined by what they perceive (or feel) is beautiful. Beauty defines truth! What I perceive to be beautiful or what I value or even the lifestyle choices I perceive to be beautiful define truth for me.
According to Noah Webster in 1828, Truth is: “Conformity to fact or reality; exact accordance with that which is, or has been, or shall be…We rely upon the truth of the scriptural prophecies.”
In John 18:37 when Pilate questioned the identity of Jesus He answered, “For this purpose, I was born and for this purpose, I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” The Gospels record Jesus saying, “I tell you the Truth,” over 75 times.
Paul warns Timothy “the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). To the believers in Rome Paul wrote, “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:8). He also warns that some in the church will distort the truth. “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth” (Acts 20:30). “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” (Romans 2:8).
Finally, Paul warns of those who have engaged in homosexual behavior as having, “exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25)
People are free to choose whatever they desire but they are not free to erase the consequences of those choices. It is not loving to know the consequences and hide them from people. We do not love our neighbor if we call what is evil good, and what is good evil. “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isaiah 5:20!
Rosaria Butterfield was a Tenured Prof. of English at Syracuse University and in a lesbian relationship. In 1999 she was given the space and freedom to explore the claims and truth about Jesus and the Bible with a Pastor and his wife. Rosaria began has a critical skeptic to eventually become a follower of Jesus. Years later she is now the wife of a Pastor, a Mom, and a writer. Responding to Jen Hatmaker’s comments, Rosaria wrote,
“If this were 1999—the year that I was converted and walked away from the woman and lesbian community I loved—instead of 2016, Jen Hatmaker’s words about the holiness of LGBT relationships would have flooded into my world like a balm of Gilead. How amazing it would have been to have someone as radiant, knowledgeable, humble, kind, and funny as Jen saying out loud what my heart was shouting: Yes, I can have Jesus and my girlfriend. Yes, I can flourish both in my tenured academic discipline (queer theory and English literature and culture) and in my church. My emotional vertigo could find normal once again.
Maybe I wouldn’t need to lose everything to have Jesus. Maybe the gospel wouldn’t ruin me while I waited, waited, waited for the Lord to build me back up after he convicted me of my sin, and I suffered the consequences.
Today, I hear Jen’s words—words meant to encourage, not discourage, to build up, not tear down, to defend the marginalized, not broker unearned power—and a thin trickle of sweat creeps down my back. If I were still in the thick of the battle over the indwelling sin of lesbian desire, Jen’s words would have put a millstone around my neck.3
The one thing we can all agree on is the issues at stack are too critically important and painfully urgent to not be willing to sit down and tenderly pursue the truth. Only what is true can be holy.
-Written by David Anglin | August 6, 2020
1 The Politics of Jen Hatmaker: Trump, Black Lives Matter, Gay Marriage, and More. (https://religionnews.com, Oct. 25, 2016).
3 Butterfield, Rosaria, Love Your Neighbor Enough to Speak Truth: A Response to Jen Hatmaker. (www.thegospelcoalition.org, October 31, 2016).
All Scripture references are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016).