• On Love, Misrepresenting Jesus, and the Spirit of Self-Delusion

    Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D. - June 08, 2015

    When I was in London I had the opportunity to go on the Christian radio program “Unbelievable” (host Justin Brierley, who is also senior editor of Premier Christianity magazine) to interact with Jayne Ozanne, who heads a homosexualist group “Accepting Evangelicals.”

    Jayne has a nice persona, though she will charge you with promoting a message of death if you disagree with her position on homosexual practice too effectively. She will condescendingly say that she will “pray for your soul,” insinuating that your salvation is at stake for disagreeing with her. She will also express great alarm at your “certainty” about how to read biblical texts, though she herself has no less certainty about the rightness of her position on homosexual relationships.

    These are manipulative rhetorical strategies and Jayne is not ashamed to use them if they help her to avert the problem that she can’t really rebut the view that Jesus and the writers of Scripture believed strongly that God designed sexual relations only between a man and a woman and not between persons (of whatever number) of the same sex. Such manipulative rhetoric is not limited to Jayne. It is a staple of homosexualist advocacy.

    Ultimately, Jayne operates with the general principle that any prohibition of Scripture, no matter how firmly grounded in the teaching of Jesus and the apostolic witness to Christ, must be rejected if the prohibition brings significant psychological distress to those who want to gratify these desires (which, as she notes, was the case with her own sexual desires for women). Of course, such a perspective does not comport with the historic Christian view, let alone evangelical view, discarding as it does the authority of Scripture and, more, of Jesus Christ as Lord.

    I am sympathetic to Jayne’s experience of distress. There have been many times in my life when heeding God’s will has brought me distress. Yet I have repeatedly come to the realization that knowing God and God’s grace (which, incidentally, is never a license for me to circumvent God’s moral demands) is more than enough to compensate for any deprivations or difficulties that obedience to the gospel may bring (2 Cor 12). Not that I have achieved any sort of perfection

    here. On the contrary, I am keenly aware of how often I fall short of the vision for my life that God has for me in Christ. Still, I know that no matter how often I fall short, I have a gracious Savior and God who accepts my umpteenth repentance with joy (whether seven times a day, seventy-seven times, or seventy times seven).

    Many Christians, both now and throughout history, have suffered far greater things than abstaining from sexual desires to do what God deems impure and unholy. If it causes one too much distress to be a disciple of Christ, one can stop being a disciple of Christ. What the church cannot accept is a redefinition of discipleship that corresponds with the gratification of sinful sexual urges. The church should do more to help meet needs arising from loneliness, but always short, of course, of violating the commands of God.

    You will hear in this interview how Jayne repeatedly misrepresents or ignores the biblical witness on homosexual practice, understood in its historical context and appropriated for our own time. She has no effective rebuttal to the array of scriptural and historical arguments against her claims. Indeed, that doesn’t matter to her, as she herself acknowledged (here completely misappropriating the scripture about God confounding the wisdom of the wise, in order to justify her departure from the overwhelming witness of Christ and Scripture).

    Jesus for her has been reduced to a cipher for whatever she “knows” to be true. Discerning what Jesus and the writers of Scripture meant is largely irrelevant to her concerns, even if the so-called “new knowledge arguments” (e.g., Jesus and the writers of Scripture couldn’t conceive of an adult-committed homosexual relationship or innate influences on homosexual desire) can be shown to be historically fallacious.

    And yet she continues to peddle false views to shore up her position, such as the claims that the Genesis creation texts do not have in view “male and female” as requisite sexual complements or counterparts, that Jesus did not regard “male and female” as foundational for sexual ethics, or that Paul was indicting only pederastic homosexual relationships. When she cannot defend these claims she complains that we are getting muddled in texts and losing sight of people’s lives, even though it is precisely in discerning the will of God in the teaching of Jesus and the apostles that we understand how God defines true life for us.

    Jayne tacitly reduces and distorts the message of the gospel to “Jesus loves me and saves me without regard to whether I respond in grateful obedience to God’s commands” (my paraphrase). She disregards the reigning metaphor for Christian discipleship, which is death, dying to self and living for God, whatever the cost. Yes, Christ came to save the lost and love the unloved, but he did so in the context of a call to repentance. Yes, Jesus loved the biggest economic exploiters of his context, tax collectors who had a justly deserved reputation of collecting several times over what they were supposed to collect. But their salvation hinged on repentance of their exploitative practices (as the message to Zacchaeus, “Today salvation has come to your house,” indicates, following and not preceding his repentance; Luke 19:9).

    Likewise, Jesus reached out to egregious sexual sinners while at the same time intensifying God’s demand for sexual purity and warning that those who do not live sexually transformed lives are in danger of being thrown to hell (Matt 5:27-32). What Jayne doesn’t get is that Jesus both intensified the ethical demand of God (with warnings about loss of kingdom of God for those who don’t comply) and reached out in love to the biggest violators of that demand by calling them to repentance and life. Maintaining this tension may be hard for many in the church to do. Nevertheless, it is God’s calling upon his church in the world of the lost.

    What I find most problematic about Jayne is not that she misunderstands what Jesus and the writers of Scripture say about a male-female foundation for sexual ethics or even that she is more quick to judge (by her own standards) than those whom she faults for judging (but are really only upholding God’s judgments). No, I find most problematic about Jayne that she at this stage of her life and involvement in the church still operates with a distorted and truncated view of what the basic message of the gospel is.

    The spirit of self-delusion in our age is great. The Church, in love, must do everything in its power to resist it because the lives of so many are at stake, not just in this world but as regards eternity.

    Reprinted with permission from Dr. Robert A. J. Gagnon.

    You can listen to the debate between Robert Gagnon and Jayne Ozanne here.

  • About the author: Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D.

    Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and author of The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon Press).