It Takes a Court to Define Sin?

When a scandal breaks in the media, attention to previous scandals comes almost as a reflex. With accusations swirling around Atlanta’s Bishop Eddie Long, the media have turned back to Ted Haggard, who, at the time of his own scandal, was pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, a large independent mega-church, and president of the National Association of Evangelicals.

Haggard resigned in 2006 after a male prostitute accused him of paying for sex and buying drugs. Confronted by the media, Haggard admitted to “sexual immorality” with the prostitute. Just last year, he admitted also to having engaged in “sexual immorality” with a male volunteer at New Life Church when the man was twenty-two, echoing the accusations against Bishop Long. In recent months, Ted Haggard has started a new church in Colorado Springs.

What makes all of this so instructive are comments made in the press by both Ted Haggard and his wife, Gayle. In light of the accusations against Long, Haggard told AOL News: “Nobody’s guilty until the court says he’s guilty.”

Nobody’s guilty until the court says he’s guilty?

In a legal context, that might have some cogency, but a church cannot possibly settle for this as a principle of how to deal with accusations of sin. The church does not need the courts to define either sin or its remedy. Haggard’s statement is particularly troubling given his own story.

On TV’s “Inside Edition,” Gayle Haggard said that Bishop Long “has been a great man. … He has done wonderful things. I hope they hold onto that knowledge as they try to understand what these allegations are about, if they are indeed true.”

The bizarre part of that statement is her encouragement to the church that it remember Bishop Long as a great man and “hold onto that knowledge as they try to understand what these allegations are about, if indeed they are true.”

Well, if true, I think we all know “what these allegations are about.”

What Would Luther Say? — A Church Apologizes for Church Discipline

The great moral revolution on the issue of homosexuality collides with the total surrender of a liberal denomination, and the result is the church’s apology for having once stood on biblical grounds. That was the picture just a few days ago, when the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America welcomed three lesbian ministers into the clergy roster through a “Rite of Reception” ceremony held last Saturday at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in St. Paul, Minnesota.

As the Star Tribune reported: “In a ceremony that started with a public mea culpa and ended with a prolonged standing ovation, three lesbian ministers were officially embraced Saturday by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”

This comes in the wake of the denomination’s vote this past summer to rescind a policy that prevented clergy in homosexual relationships from being listed on the church’s official clergy roster. Since then, conservatives have moved to organize a new Lutheran denomination.

The most interesting part of the “Rite of Reception” was a confession voiced by the congregation. Look closely at this:

We have fallen short in honoring all people of God and being an instrument for that grace. . . .We have disciplined, censured and expelled when we should have listened, learned and included.

That’s right — the church actually confessed the “sin” of having once stood on biblical ground and the “sin” of exercising church discipline.

Given their new policy on homosexuality, it is the one who affirms the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality that is called to repent, rather than the unrepentant homosexual.

What would Martin Luther say? It would doubtless be colorful and thunderous. But here is something he did say that fits the situation perfectly:

“You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord who receives sinners preaches to you.”

When Telling the Truth “Isn’t a Risk Worth Taking”

Writing at The Los Angeles Times, Professor Michael Klarman of the Harvard Law School argues that American presidents often do not get far ahead of public opinion on controversial matters — especially on matters of moral combat.

In making his case, Klarman argues that President Abraham Lincoln “was a relative latecomer to the abolitionist cause,” driven by Union losses on the battlefield to free the slaves. He argues further that Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and John F. Kennedy worked slowly on the issue of civil rights. Kennedy, he asserts, did not move to support civil rights within the first two years of his presidency because he needed the political support of conservative Democrats in order to achieve re-election.

Writing on “The Political Risks of Supporting Gay Rights,” Klarman explains that President Bill Clinton ran on a platform to eliminate the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, but he was forced to compromise after facing opposition from the military and congressional leaders. President Barack Obama, he reports, ran on a platform to eliminate all discrimination against persons on the basis of sexual orientation but resisted any affirmation of same-sex marriage. Klarman attributes the President’s position to political necessity and polling.

In two very interesting paragraphs, he writes:

Public opinion on gay marriage has continued to evolve since 2004, when the nation opposed it by a margin of roughly 2 to 1. Most recent polls still show majority opposition, but the margin has shrunk to less than 10 percentage points. One well-respected statistician has estimated that by 2012 or 2013, a majority of people in a majority of states will support gay marriage.

Should Obama be reelected in 2012, he almost certainly will endorse gay marriage during his second term. By then, a majority of Americans, and an overwhelming majority of Democrats, will support the practice. Could Obama shift his position before 2012 without endangering his chances at a second term? Possibly.

Klarman’s analysis is interesting, but his prediction is fascinating. He openly predicts that President Obama “almost certainly will endorse gay marriage during his second term,” and he attributes the President’s current lack of open support for same-sex marriage to political necessity.

Klarman concludes:

But in many of the states that proved to be battlegrounds in the 2008 presidential campaign — Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, Virginia, Florida — majorities still oppose same-sex marriage. A presidential pronouncement in favor would rally conservative opposition and could prove crucial to some swing voters. For many political progressives who believe that the issue already may have cost Democrats one presidential election (and, with it, two Supreme Court appointments), the risk isn’t worth taking.

We can only wonder: how many politicians on both the right and the left take their positions based on such a political calculation? Apparently, for far too many, the risk of telling the truth “isn’t worth taking.”

Homosexuality and the Military — What’s Really at Stake?

Unless something alters the political context, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy is about to become history, and the U.S. military is about to be changed forever. The summer of 2010 may well turn out to be a watershed season in this nation’s life and history. Is anyone paying attention?

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Can Animals Be Gay?

Efforts to claim a genetic basis for homosexuality are rooted in the assumption that our genes tell us what God’s intention for us is. In a fallen world, that is a faulty assumption. Only the Word of God can tell us what God’s intention is.

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