The news broke this week that City Church San Francisco has reversed its prohibition against practicing homosexuals being admitted into church membership (see here). Previously, only celibate homosexuals were accepted as biblically faithful Christians. Senior Pastor Fred Harrell explained the shift on the basis of recent “social science research” that convinced him and his elders that inhibiting homosexual practice “has not led to human flourishing” (see the church statement). It strikes me from the reports of this shift, both at City Church and elsewhere, that the wrong lessons of history are being advanced while the right lessons are being ignored.
As for the wrong lesson, I have particularly in mind the analogy between homosexuality and racism. Here is the argument: in the past, Christians wrongly used the Bible to support racism and now the Bible is being used to support discrimination against homosexuals. Just as it took open-minded believers to show how the Bible urged tolerance for race, we now are urging tolerance for sexual preference.
I would argue that this is precisely the wrong lesson to learn from history. In fact, the prior example regarding racism and slavery argues against the acceptance of homosexuality in the church. Let me offer three reasons for this view: 1) whereas the Bible does not in fact support racism, it does prohibit homosexuality; 2) the analogy between race and sexual behavior is a false one; and 3) advocates for the acceptance of homosexuality are following the example not of those who opposed racism but of those who wrongly taught racism. By this last point, I mean that in prior generations the Bible was contorted to teach racism because Christians were conforming to the sins of the culture around them. Now, the Bible is being made to embrace homosexuality for the same reason: conformity to the sin demands of a perverse and ungodly world. I admit that my argument here assumes that it can be shown that the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin. I would point readers to these fine articles by Kevin DeYoung and Robert Gagnon, which make that very case.
If the advocates of homosexual acceptance are making the wrong lesson from history, what is the right lesson? The right lesson is that once Christians and churches compromise the authority of Scripture, they have stepped onto a slippery slope where there is no place to stand against worldly encroachments, however perverse they may be. I realize that the “slippery slope argument” causes many progressive Christians to turn red in the face with frustration. But the recent decision of City Church San Francisco is yet another data point proving that the argument is valid.
Let’s review the history. City Church San Francisco was planted in 1997 by a team led by Pastor Fred Harrell. This work was heavily financed by the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), a conservative Reformed and evangelical denomination. The City Church website notes the inspiration that came from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, especially with regard to “methodological winsomeness.” In 2004, City Church left the PCA in order to have freedom to ordain women to the offices of elder and deacon. Here, if not earlier, is when (in my view) the authority of Scripture was breached. The New Testament clearly restricts these offices to males. The arguments used to deny this teaching (see here for more) are essentially the same arguments that are made to permit homosexuality today. In short, in ordaining women as elders, the Bible was made to teach the opposite of what it actually says, setting up the slippery slope that has now led to the previously unthinkable acceptance of homosexuality.