This response follows my attendance at a talk by a Liberty Ministries representative on Sunday 4th September 2016 at an Anglican Diocese of Sydney church. It follows my absolute disgust of the talk and of a particular answer to a question I put to the speaker during a post-talk question and answer session. My disgust was affirmed by a fellow congregant who muttered afterwards a shocked repetition of a single, simple response “he [the speaker] is wrong, it’s all wrong”.
Prior to attending the talk – being a talk that was performed in place of sermon delivery of one of the church’s clergy – I had reviewed the Liberty website. I approached the talk with the mind that the Rector himself should have been delivering the talk (on homosexuality) given pastoral needs amongst his flock. Indeed, it was to my disappointment to learn that the Rector did deliver such a talk to at least one of the day's services (the disappointment resting in lack of comprehension of the preaching roster/thus lack of ability to act on the roster).
With an emphasis on extracting the same parts of Liberty’s website that first drew my attention in the week prior to the talk, I have offered my most pressing feedback first then treated a few other issues. To be forthright, a Liberty associate made the offer to submit this feedback.
1. Pauline pastoral letter referencing
Four issues arise with the text above. I express no concern about the Bible verse, only its use:
i) There is a logical fallacy - an argument of ignorance (sometimes also referred to as an argument of absence). The fallacy is identified by the words “Nothing is said…”, that is, “Paul did not say…”.
The problem here is that Paul also did not say anything about, say, murderers or pedophiliacs or those that practice bestiality.
My immediate reaction on seeing this is that Liberty are clutching at straws. Paul did not mention persons with same-sex attraction (celibate) …. so …. don’t imply anything by Paul’s absence. At the other end of the response spectrum, while using the logic that seems evident, I can use Liberty’s argument to advocate that, say, murderers need not stop murdering when they believe in Christ.
ii) Paul’s text is used with the wrong emphasis. The verses 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 are rich and beautiful. They speak of the very fundamental nature of Christ’s mission. The verses are creedal. They are identifiable to God’s covenant promise to provide for all people through his son. Words like “washed”, “sanctified” and “justified” make these verses worthy of a series of sermons.
In this way I cannot accept that Liberty choose to hone in on a list that Paul has used to illustrate sin “sexual immoral, nor idolaters….” and then argue from that list.
The point here is that the list is not what gives us the fullness of meaning of the verses. While I am reluctant to paraphrase, Paul is saying: “You were lost in sin once [here by-the-way is an incomplete list offering some examples], but now you are saved through Christ”. That is the essence – perhaps the sole essence - of how the verses should be used.
iii) Paul is writing pastorally to a specific church. Liberty have not taken into account that Paul’s letter was written to a specific church with specific observable characteristics. We cannot assume that same-sex attraction (celibate) was evident in that church. We certainly cannot assume that the modern day phenomenon of implying an identity tied to sexual persuasion was a feature in Corinth.
iv) While Paul does not list same-sex attraction (celibate) he does list sexual immorality and idolaters. It is plausible that persons experiencing same-sex attraction (celibate) are sexual immoral – through their lusts, or idolaters – through their craving after that which they can not have in God’s order. A thorough study of Matthew 5:27-30 illuminate these notions. Bonhoeffer in “The Cost of Discipleship” has a chapter dedicated to this.
2. Internal contradiction?
Just prior to the text covered above in “1. Pauline pastoral letter referencing” Liberty have this text:
Allow me my own venture into logical fallacy – my own argument from absence.
The expression “This includes those who have engaged in same-sex sexual activity” appears to be a setup for the text that follows. What follows is a process of splitting hairs in that there is separately reference to “same-sex lust” & “same-sex sexual activity” – both identified as bad – and “same-sex orientation” – identified as good. What is same-sex orientation if it is not same-sex attraction? And, how is attraction discernible from lust?. It was in answering my question in the post-talk question and answer session that the Liberty speaker confirmed that to be attracted is to lust.
The problem is that the phrase “This includes those who have engaged in same-sex sexual activity” seemingly seeks to preclude some element of same-sex activity. Liberty could instead use the phrase “This includes those who are homosexual”.
3. Playing it straight
The following statement includes reference to how Liberty does “not believe that it has yet been established that people are born gay”. The statement continues to identify that there are “many contributing factors with same-sex attraction”. In this way, I believe that the statement is consistent with views of others that same-sex attraction arises from some combination of nature and nurture - Patricia Weerakoon, for instance, who had previously spoken at the same church.
Liberty does not necessarily share the same philosophies, interpretations of Scripture, and methodologies as other ministries. We want to make it clear that we:
· do not tolerate homophobia or anti-gay vilification, although we affirm the scriptural teaching on sexuality;
· do not advocate attempts at sexual orientation change. Our goal is to help people live holy lives in God’s sight, as laid out in Scripture ;
· do not suggest that Liberty or the support that it provides will result in people being healed of their same-sex attractions. Ultimate healing and wholeness is found only in Jesus Christ when we meet Him face to face ;
· do not believe that same-sex attractions can be ‘cured’ or ‘fixed’. Like all temptations that Christians struggle with, these issues need to be submitted to God in prayer, and we need support from a loving Christian community to persevere in trust and obedience;
· do not offer professional counsellingLiberty is a and we recommend people seek professional help where appropriate;
· do not evangelise the gay community or engage in political lobbying;· do not believe that it has yet been established that people are born gay. However, we live in a world of complexity and mystery, and there are doubtless many contributing factors with same-sex attraction, some of which science may yet be able to uncover.
The Liberty speaker did not identify that there were many contributing factors with same-sex attraction”. Indeed, it is fair to say that many left the room believing that the speaker’s position was solely of nature. The speaker specifically used an expression – multiple times – “born that way”.
Critical here is that the speaker’s message was structured to turn on “born that way”. The early part of the talk treated promiscuous homosexuality and dismissed it solidly as something that the Bible did not support. Yet, “born that way” was then used to support the separation of promiscuous homosexuality (which for brevity I’ll label as bad homosexuality) and celibate same-sex attraction (which for brevity I will label good homosexuality). Conservative Biblical scholars – Don Carson amongst them – do not support any separation of homosexuality. That which the speaker sought to divide between good homosexuality and bad homosexuality is just simply homosexuality.
I am left doubting that Liberty personnel are all aligned around the belief shared on their website. The speaker left me understanding that “people are born gay” yet the website posits that there is no such a comprehension.
In accepting the invite to offer feedback on the Liberty website content I also accepted the prospect to meet with Liberty personnel. I hope that this feedback is fruitful and that it may inform any further discussion.
Note: all links good at 1 November 2016