Must Say No
Joshua Steely on When Christians Can't Compromise
Compromise is often a good thing. Relationships involve a lot of compromise, and it is especially justified when dealing with matters that are not of great significance. In such cases, compromise is generally a good thing.
But when it comes to important, foundational matters, such as those concerning doctrine and morals, compromise is not so good. In fact, it can be downright bad. If you compromise on something when you shouldn't, you yourself become compromised. You will then have to compromise more and more, and in the end you'll find that you've been compromised all the way over to the other side (or very nearly).
This happens, in part, because a compromise involves some degree of moral equivocation. When you compromise on something, you implicitly concede that the other position is justified, at least to some extent. That's why we compromise on things that are inconsequential, or unclear, or where both sides have a valid claim, and why we don't compromise on murder or theft. If we started compromising on the latter, our whole justice system would become compromised.
A Pragmatic Compromise
Observations in this area are relevant to the various efforts being made by churches, denominations, and other Christian bodies to compromise with the sexual revolution. One contemporary example is the "Fairness for All" (FFA) compromise being promoted by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). In this case, a compromise is being pursued that is, I think, shortsighted at best.
The FFA is a motion supporting the inclusion of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" as protected categories in anti-discrimination law as long as compliance carve-outs are made to protect religious liberty. The problem with the NAE and CCCU endorsing the motion is not that they are deliberately acquiescing to the sexual revolution, but that the form of resistance they are advocating with this document effectively amounts to such. As reported by J. C. Derrick in World magazine online ("Boards Back SOGI Compromise," December 12, 2018), one of the supporters of the motion, Shirley Mullen, described the goal in these terms: "As Christian higher educators, we are increasingly persuaded that the most viable political strategy is for comprehensive religious freedom protections to be combined with explicit support for basic human rights for members of the LGBT community."
Of course, that way of putting it doesn't quite capture the reality. Basic human rights for all people are derived on the basis of being human, not on the basis of membership in some identity group or other. The question is not whether everyone should enjoy basic human rights, but whether special rights and protections should be granted to people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. Nevertheless, the NAE and CCCU, well-meaning Evangelicals with the goal of securing religious liberty, are proposing to accept the codification of gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes in non-discrimination law as long as religious exemptions from compliance with such laws are allowed. They are not altering their theological beliefs about human nature and sexuality; they are merely making a pragmatic, not a theological, compromise.
But such a pragmatic compromise would compromise the Church's witness to the truth in a confused culture. By supporting the addition of "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" (SOGI) to anti-discrimination laws, Christians would be implying that these are legitimate categories, that they are valid markers of human identity in the same way that race and sex are. But that is precisely what orthodox Christianity disputes, and it is precisely why we refuse to uphold such categories in our churches, schools, and other organizations.
In other words, orthodox Christianity denies the charge of bigotry in, for example, the refusal of a Christian school to hire homosexual teachers. Such a refusal is not bigotry because "sexual orientation" is not a valid category of human identity. It is a moral category, not an anthropological category. Refusing to hire someone based on SOGI is not analogous to refusing to hire someone based on race or sex; it is analogous to refusing to hire someone based on some other kind of sexually immoral behavior, such as polygamy or promiscuity.
But if Christians support adding SOGI categories to human rights legislation, they will be implicitly agreeing that these are legitimate categories of human identity. Then a defense of the right to discriminate on these bases does become a defense of bigotry. In trading SOGI acceptance for religious protection, Evangelical leaders are trading away the theological anthropology that underpins their contention that the LGBT agenda is wrong about humanity and wrong for humanity.
Such a trade will prove to be a bad deal in the long run. American law is not written in stone, and the events of recent years have made it abundantly clear that LGBT advocates are not content simply to win the freedom to do as they please and let Christians (and others) opt out of participating. They may accept FFA as a nice first step from the Evangelicals, but will expect it to be followed up with more compromises in their favor.
What of the Evangelicals who believe they are making this trade in order to establish firm boundaries and safeguard religious freedom? Having compromised on the philosophical basis for opposing the LGBT agenda, they will find themselves continually pressed to act in a manner supportive of it: "You've admitted that trans rights are human rights; how can you then deny these people their human rights? Embrace equality! Hire them! Affirm their lifestyle! Get on the right side of history!" I'm afraid that if the FFA compromise is made, it will only be the first such compromise the NAE and CCCU find themselves making—not the last. It will not solidify the right to religious freedom, but endanger it.
A More Faithful Option
There is an alternative, a less pragmatic and more courageous option. American law may not be written in stone, but God's law is—the Ten Commandments quite literally. The first of these calls us to have no other gods but God alone. We may say to an increasingly pagan culture, "No; God is God, and he has told us what is right about humanity and right for humanity. We will not sign on to these new categories of humanity you have created, which simply codify sexual immorality."
We may suffer for saying that. We may miss the window of compromise, and find ourselves facing an implacable foe. That foe may defeat us and take away our religious freedom. But at least we will not have given it away.
Joshua Steely is Senior Pastor of Pontoon Baptist Church. He lives in the greater St. Louis area with his wife and children.