More than once, I’ve been at the brunt end of false accusations. I have a passion to defend people that are being accused falsely. In this case, I am passionate about defending Karen Prior from accusations leveled at her by Pulpit and Pen. JD Hall (a contributing author for Pulpit and Pen) has spent a great deal of energy this week (in 3 different posts), attempting to convince people that Karen Prior affirms the gay sexual lifestyle. I have responded to several of JD”s statements and propositions below:
1. JD Hall, “Swallow Prior writes for Jim Wallis’ Sojourner’s Magazine – the quintessential faith-based socially progressive organization in the country.”
I’m not sure where in Scripture Jesus, Paul or any of the other Apostles state that part of Christian orthodoxy is supporting the existence and ownership of nuclear weapons, much less to think of Christians that oppose nuclear weapons should be looked at with suspicion.
2. JD Hall, “Swallow Prior, who chose to not take a side on the gay marriage issue in an article by New York Magazine”
This is misleading language. Kevin Roose wrote the article not Karen Prior. I know for a fact that Karen Prior said much more to Kevin Roose but it was not printed. Only a handful of excerpts from what she said was actually used (about 5 times to be more exact). I think we all know what can be a 30-60 minute interview with a journalist can result in literally a few statements that are quoted and even those are probably out of context.
Karen Prior has repeatedly, in writing (eg. Christianity Today) shown that she opposed gay marriage. Here is one example that came right after the Supreme Court ruling, “From this day forward, we must forfeit our tendency to address cultural issues in piecemeal fashion. If we believe in a natural law that reflects the order of creation as ordained by the Creator, then we must steward creation as a whole, where one part touches the rest. If we want to support marriage, we cannot wink at divorce and adultery.”
3. JD Hall, “[Karen Prior] did a glowing book review for Loving My LGBT Neighbor for Christianity Today that says, ‘The LGBT movement is much like the Christian community in that it draws from diverse backgrounds and moral beliefs.’”
Jim Daly from Focus on The Family wrote the foreward to this book and its published by Moody Press. Both are not known for being bastions of liberalism. That should at least make the reader take pause regarding Pulpit and Pen’s representation of the book. Let’s look at that the sentence that Pulpit and Pen quoted from Christianity Today in its exact form and break it down:
“The first step toward understanding and friendship is getting beyond stereotypes. The LGBT movement, Stanton points out, is much like the Christian community in that it draws from diverse backgrounds and moral beliefs.”
So Stanton is saying that when Christians are dialoguing with members of the LGBT community, they need to take a step back and realize they may be working from false stereotypes. As Christians we are supposed to operate in what is true. What is true also includes, what other people actually do or do not believe, what they did and did not say and what they did and did not do. Then Stanton is essentially saying that just as those who claim to be Christian come from a diversity of backgrounds and also have a diversity of beliefs in their moral theology, the gay community too comes from a diversity of backgrounds and they certainly do not all have the same beliefs in ethics or morals. This is a sociological and historical fact There is nothing to debate here and nothing unbiblical has been said.
Additionally, Stanton greatly qualified his statement “The LGBT movement is much like the Christian community” by using the qualifying phrase “in that”. People need to read very carefully and make read with the goal of understanding the authorial intent.
4. JD Hall, “In the article, Swallow Prior lauds the author for arguing for ‘nuanced positions on LGBT questions’ and a ‘sympathetic portrayal of same-sex attraction.'”
I’m not sure what Pen and Pulpit find disturbing about someone having a “nuanced position on LGBT questions” or a “sympathetic portrayal of same-sex attraction.” Nick Roen, a celibate male with same-sex attraction has written multiple “sympathetic portrayals of same-sex attraction”, including one posted on John Piper’s ministry website Desiring God – http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/same-sex-attraction-and-the-wait-for-change. Let’s not forget Justin Taylor and the good folks at the Gospel Coalition – http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2010/12/14/christians-struggling-with-same-sex-desires/ Even David Powlison has a “sympathetic view” – http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2009/03/12/dialogue-with-david-powlison-about-hill/
5. Pulpit and Pen apparently are very concerned about this quote from Karen Prior, “For example, Stanton’s call to accommodate transgender persons in their use of public restrooms is as commonsensical as it is refreshing.” Their response to this quote is here: “Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a Southern Baptist entity’s research fellow advocating for the accommodation of their restroom preferences? It’s happening, folks. And Russell Moore isn’t caught off guard by that. He revels in it. The former Democratic staffer is continuing his Democratic worldview from the head of the SBC’s ERLC.”
First, I would like Pulpit and Pen to read the entire section from Glenn Stanton’s book that covers transgendered persons and restrooms and then tell me biblically what is wrong with his position on restrooms. For those who want an idea of what his position is like read this – http://glenntstanton.com/2013/02/28/why-the-need-for-gender-neutral-bathrooms/. It’s not what you think it is and it certainly is very different from what Pulpit and Pen is making us all think it is (i.e. “advocate for preference-oriented bathrooms “).
Second, Pulpit and Pen states, “The former Democratic staffer is continuing his Democratic worldview from the head of the SBC’s ERLC.” Really? You are accusing Russell Moore of having the same worldview as a 21st century Democrat? That’s preposterous, factually dismissible and journalistically irresponsible.
6. JD Hall, “As he [Brandon Ambrosino] came out,’ he lists Karen Swallow Prior (a professor at Liberty) as one who was sympathetic and supportive of his decision.”
This is factually untrue. According to Karen Prior, she “undoubtedly and repeatedly in love” told Ambrosino that homosexuality is a sin. Karen also stated that “the article at The Atlantic by Brandon was about how he was received–in love. It is not the whole story, but part of the story. I believe Brandon was affirmed as a person, not in his lifestyle.”
7. JD Hall, “She [Karen Hall] attended and spoke at a homosexual-“Christian” event that raised funds for their cause”
The facts: Karen Prior participate as a panelist to discuss “Desire of the Everlasting Hills”, a movie that was shown at the film festival. Was this a gay-sex affirming movie? On the contrary it was produced by Courage International, a Roman Catholic apostolate which has as its goal to help, encourage and assist men and women to honor their bodies and God by not engaging in homosexual sexual activity. Desire of the Everlasting Hills “tells the stories of three people with same-sex attraction who chose a life of chastity”. Again Pulpit and Pen lead us in a completely different direction of what was actually and factually true.
Let me add further proof that Pulpit and Pen are grossly wrong in the above accusation, Karen Prior, “I was invited to the event specifically to represent the ‘non-affirming’ view, which I did. [In response to a question posed to her] ‘Did you get a chance to use the divinely inspired biblical terminology and the hope of the gospel?’ [Karen response], ‘That’s the goal I went with and I pray God used my witness. The event also included folks who have renounced their past homosexual behavior and it was a blessing to support and encourage them.'”
8. Pulpit and Pen horribly misrepresent Karen Prior’s Twitter conversation related to a “third way” of engaging homosexuality when they said, “Sometimes it’s given to “Third Way” proponents who want to be affirming but still give lip service for the sinfulness of homosexuality. You know, the same “Third Way” that Swallow does not reject”
The phrase “third way” can mean a lot of things in this discussion. That phrase has been used positively by Justin Taylor and David Powlison (http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/justintaylor/2009/03/12/dialogue-with-david-powlison-about-hill/) over at The Gospel Coalition (hardly a monolithic enterprise of liberals) as they discussed Wesley Hill’s contribution to the Christian community about the idea of Christian celibacy for those with same-sex attraction. I quote David Powlison,
“Advocacy of the Christian sexual ethic can lapse into the polarizing stance that characterizes most politics: are you for or against homosexuals? Isn’t there a third alternative? Redemptive love walks a third way that politics rarely understands and factionalism never understands.
On the other side, tenderness towards strugglers can lapse into sentimentality, muting the call to transformation into the image of Jesus Christ – Jesus Christ, this single, celibate man whose suffering (including his experience of utterly forsaken loneliness) saved, saves, and will save our lives.
Can we be tenderly fierce and fiercely tender? Can we maintain simultaneously awareness of many complementary truths: sin, suffering, the diverse forms that Jesus’ grace takes, the diverse forms by which true change registers, unto the glory of God?”
9. Pulpit and Pen posted a photo of a “Celtic Christian Worship” bulletin that Karen Prior participated in as if somehow that was akin to quasi-heterodox worship. I challenge the author’s at Pulpit and Pen to show me how the specific service(s) that Karen participated in, violated anything in Scripture. Please do not refer to other (that Karen did not participate in) “Celtic Christian Worship” services that you may have read about, seen or heard about. What one person/group may mean by “Celtic Worship” may be very different from another person/group. So with the above guidelines, please tell me how the specific worship service(s) she participated in were quasi-heterodox.
10. JD Hall objects to Karen Prior’s common ground approach, “I do object to “common ground” language. I have no common ground with people who kill babies and sell their body parts. I have no common ground with terrorists. I have no common ground with Nazis. The temple of God has no common ground with idols (2 Corinthians 6:16). The people of God have no common ground with the baby-sacrificing demon-god of Molech (Leviticus 18:21). I suppose that’s a genuine philosophical, theological agreement. I have no common ground with such people, even if that common ground is a red carpet.”
One of the things that Russell Moore likes about Karen is that “She models convictional kindness,” he said. “She doesn’t give any ground, but she also doesn’t see people who disagree with her as her enemy.” This is in contrast to the approach that Pulpit and Pen takes above. Now which of the two approaches (Karen’s or Pulpit and Pen) will fare better in real-life, public engagement with unbelievers?
10. Pulpit and Pen severely criticized Karen Prior for a statement (taken grossly out of context by the way) that read thus “gay marriage remains an act rooted in love.” Let’s look at this in a larger context (context is king).
First, in the article that the above phrase appeared, Karen Prior made some sociological observations about Roe vs. Wade and then is drew some comparisons and possible future contrasts between Roe. vs. Wade and the SCOTUS decision on legalizing gay marriage. It is in this context that Karen Prior stated, “Unlike abortion, gay marriage remains an act rooted in love. As Wesley Hill writes, even if we disagree with the expression of homosexuality, we can affirm the longing to be loved and belong. Yet, what abortion and same-sex marriage have in common is that they each attempt to deny the procreative nature of the sexual union. Each forms a deep crack in the mirror of nature that reflects the image of God.”
First, this statement “forms a deep crack in the mirror of nature that reflects the image of God” is hardly an affirmation of the gay lifestyle. Second, Karen’s phrase “rooted in love” is her expressing that gay relationships are often rooted in the basic human need for intimacy, companionship, and love. The orientation of fulfilling that desire with someone of the same-sex though is disordered. I believe that both Pulpit and Pen, myself and Karen Prior could all agree that same-sex sexual engagement does not proceed from a “genuine affective and sexual complementarity”. That statement though is not in opposition or mutually exclusive to the statement that gay marriage can be rooted in an intrinsically disordered expression of love.
By the way, regarding Wesley Hill who has been mentioned a few times in this article, John Piper has quoted him more than once – https://twitter.com/johnpiper/status/435505752107933696 and here https://www.facebook.com/JohnPiper/posts/470326706430755
11. I want to challenge Pulpit and Pen on their interpretation and application of I Corinthians 5:11 (Paul admonition to not associate or even eat with a local church member who is living in gross sin). As Christians, Scripture is for us the Noma Normans non Normata (the “un-normed norm normer” or “the norm of norms that is not normed”). This being the case, both Pulpit and Pen’s propositions as well as mine are only as good as they are rooted in Scripture. I think a good healthy dialogue on I Corinthians 5:11 needs to take place.
To give a quick preview of my position, I believe that all of Paul’s directions on “church discipline” relate directly to people who the church has jurisdiction over (I Corinthians 5:12, “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?”). There are other markers in the chapter that support this such as in verse 2, “put out of your fellowship [that was a literal, geographical, local church community] the man who has been doing this”; verse 4, “So when you are assembled” [pretty obvious this is a local church].
If a person who fell under the sins listed by Paul in I Corinthians 5 removed themselves from a body of orthodox believers but still claims to be a “Christian”, I don’t think that I Corinthians 5 would apply to them the way it would for someone who was still attending a body of orthodox believers.
It is equally important to remember that Paul didn’t live in a culture or society where the large majority of everyone claimed to be a “Christian”. Virtually anyone that claimed to be a Christian was fellowshiping with a local body of orthodox believers.
Cultural understanding and presuppositions are very important for understanding and properly applying Paul’s directives. For instance, what eating together meant for the Corinthian believers in their culture does not necessarily equate to what eating together means for our culture. Another example of the importance of understanding culture isII John 10,11 which states, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him stakes part in his wicked works.” If JD were to apply this without doing the proper historical context interpretive research of what “greeting someone” meant, he would have to hold to the belief that it was wrong for him to even say “Hello” to the debater he mentioned in his own article, Justin Lee.
How do we avoid making unwarranted “extended applications” and improper contextualizations of Biblical commands? Below are several principles (Many of them excerpts taken from Introduction into Biblical Interpretation by Craig Blomberg, Robert L. Hubbard, Jr., and William W. Klein) that will help in this area:
One should be able to distinguish between principle and specific application. It is possible for a New Testament writer to support a relative application by an absolute principle and in so doing not make that application absolute.
Is the particular cultural form expressed in the biblical text present today, and if so does it have the same significance as it did then? Whenever we share comparable particulars (i.e., similar specific life situations), with the first-century setting, God’s Word to us is the same as His Word to them.
Does the text present a broad theological or moral principle or does it give a specific manifestation of such a principle, which Scripture elsewhere embodies in one or more different forms?
Does the larger context of the book in which the passage appears limit the application in any way or does it promote a more universal application?
Are cultural conditions mentioned in Scripture or assumed by its authors that make it inappropriate always to apply a given text in the same way?
Does the passage contain an explicit or implicit condition that limits its application?
12. As an entry point into a future conversation on I Corinthians 5:11, I want to show where Pulpit and Pen’s current stated application of it is inconsistent. JD Hall gave several examples of how he believes he followed I Corinthians 5:11 in his latest article. In his first example, he describes how he refused to literally eat at the same table with Justin Lee (a practicing gay who states he is a Christian) who was attending a debate on homosexuality that JD Hall was assisting in hosting. Even though he did not literally eat with Justin Lee, he did state that “his goal was to show Justin as much hospitality as possible, we gave him a “body man” to get him anything he needed…I personally grabbed him water, paid for his meals, and asked over and again how we could make his stay enjoyable.” JD Hall still believes he followed I Corinthians 5:11 because “I left my food on the plate and watched Justin eat, while making conversation. I ate mine later.” If I Corinthians 5 applies in the way that JD Hall seems to think then why did he not follow verse 13, “Drive out the evil man from your midst”? The audience and context in I Corinthians 5:11 have not changed two verses later in I Corinthians 5:13. How is paying “for his meals” and asking “over and again how we could make his stay enjoyable” equate with “driving him out”?
Paul earlier in verse 11 directs the Corinthians to “not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral …do not even eat with such people”. If JD Hall was trying to follow this consistently and in the principle of what Paul was trying to say, then even sitting down with Justin and having a conversation with him while Justin was eating (even though JD was not technically eating), would certainly be violating the spirit of what Paul was trying to say. JD Hall quotes Matthew Henry who said, “Christians are to avoid familiar converse with all who disgrace the Christian name. Alas, that there are many called Christians, whose conversation is more dangerous than that of heathens!”, yet JD Hall states that he made “conversation” with Justin Lee while he was eating. How is this consistent?
JD Hall also stated that, “Those who are unashamedly unrepentant and don’t profess Christ are fair game. We eat with them and take them the Gospel. Those who already profess Jesus, on the other hand…different story.” If JD is going to be consistent with his belief that literally anyone who says they are a Christian who is in sin he cannot associate with (in contrast to the more nuanced approach to I Corinthians 5:11 that I outlined at the beginning of this section), he has a huge problem. According to the Pew Research Center at least 71% of all Americans state they are Christians. So according to JD Hall’s current position he can only “associate” with 30% of all Americans. Equally troubling is that statistically the most effective way of reaching people with the Gospel is through relationships. More specifically, friendship. Friendship involves, conversation, listening, sharing in meals, etc. So if all Christians were to follow JD Hall’s application of I Corinthians 5:11 consistently, Christians would be limited to only effectively (having a friendship or even being able to say “Hello”) evangelizing 30% of the American population.
13. JD Hall, “Now, here’s the thing. I’m well aware that many people (typically, we would call them “social progressives”) have a “Jesus” who they think would dress up to speak at an LGBT fundraiser and propaganda film-fest and grab his selfie stick and hug on some sodomites because, after all, he ate with sinners (while calling them to repentance). Then…they killed him. I don’t think Swallow Prior, from these pics, demonstrate she’s in danger of crucifixion. It seems that there’s not much calling to repentance going on. And frankly, yeah…those photos are atrocious, sad, compromising and telling.”
Ironically, it wasn’t the tax-collectors and prostitutes (that Jesus spent time with in their homes telling them about the kingdom of God) that plotted and then executed a plan to have Jesus killed. Instead, it was the Pharisees that plotted and successfully executed a plan to murder Jesus. So if we are going to use the analogy of Jesus, as JD Hall has tried to do, Karen Prior’s experience seems to be paralleling Jesus’ quite fine, namely, it’s not the “tax collectors” and “sexually immoral” that are accusing her, it’s people from her religious community that are.