Homosexuality and the Love of God: A response to Jen Hatmaker and Katelyn Beaty

By Osvaldo and Kristen Padilla

It has been the suggestion of a number of Protestant denominations that the matter of LGBTQ can be separated from the basics of the gospel. That is, that one can be affirming of homosexual unions (please note the clarification about this at the bottom) but this need not affect the traditional core of the gospel. Or to put it another way, the receiving into the churches of LGBTQ folk who want to continue in those relationships is something that is not in the same sphere as the core doctrines of the church. The acceptance of LGBTQ folk as stated above has nothing to do with the continual upholding of central belief commitments such as are expressed in the Apostles Creed or Nicaea. The reception of LGBTQ people who want to continue actively in those relationships does not at all affect my evangelical identity, to the extent that that identity is determined by certain core, doctrinal beliefs. So the argument goes. We want to suggest that a recent event involving popular Christian speaker and author Jen Hatmaker and Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of the evangelical flagship popular magazine Christianity Today, proves that such arguments are entirely incorrect.

The recent event is actually a continuation of an event that occurred two years ago. In March 2014, Hatmaker penned a controversial blog post entitled, “World Vision, Gay Marriage, and a Different Way Through,” in which she left room for those who believe same-sex marriage is OK to be within the tent of orthodox Christianity. Or to put it another way, there was no connection between the basic doctrines of Christianity and same-sex marriage.

Last week Hatmaker spoke out again regarding the issue of homosexuality, causing another stir. In an April 23rd post, Hatmaker writes,

One thing I said was that it is high time Christians opened wide their arms, wide their churches, wide their tables, wide their homes to the LGBT community. ... Here are my arms open wide. So wide that every last one of you can jump inside. You are so dear, so beloved, so precious and important. You matter so desperately and your life is worthy and beautiful. There is nothing "wrong with you," or in any case, nothing more right or wrong than any of us, which is to say we are all hopelessly screwed up but Jesus still loves us beyond all reason and lives to make us all new, restored, whole.

Standing by itself, her ambiguous post (just what does it mean to love and to open arms wide?) on love does not say much. In fact at first glance her words should be echoed by all of us who love sacrificially and without exception. But what does it mean to be loved by God? Does being loved by God imply a relationship with God? What does she mean by “there is nothing ‘wrong with you’”? In particular, since Christians through the ages have said that repentance is the gateway to a relationship with God, what is the connection between repentance and the love of God?1

Enter Beaty. She provides a defense of Hatmaker’s statements by concentrating on the love of God. The title of her piece is: “What Jen Hatmaker gets right about Christian love.” Beaty’s conclusion is that the angry response to Hatmaker is indicative of a misunderstanding of God’s love.

But the response from both sides of the spectrum also highlights how confused we Christians are about the nature of love—the love that God has for us, and the love we are to have for those who don’t know him.

Beaty sees as the problem with the opponents of Hatmaker that they put a condition for the acceptance of LGBTQ folks. The condition that Beaty sees is repentance. Consider the following statement:

This radical love of God in Christ is precisely what compels us to love God in return and to repent accordingly—not the other way around. And oh, do we so often confuse the order of love and repentance. Driven by mere human logic, we want to make ourselves right with God before he can declare it. We still want to do something to earn his love, and we want others to do the same—to repent first and really mean it, lest love be used as a license to sin.

To bolster her argument, she quotes from Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge. Here is what the latter says about repentance: “The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us.” Yet, “The truth is the other way around. Repentance is something that God works in us as a consequence of his prevenient grace.”

And so we have come full circle to our introduction. In fact, the current debate on same-sex unions depends squarely on our understanding of some of the basic things of the gospel. In this case, repentance.

Now there are some significant problems in Hatmaker/Beaty’s statements about the relationship of God’s love to repentance.

First, Beaty approvingly quotes the view of repentance from Rutledge, “The temptation is to say that repentance is necessary before God can forgive us.” The problem with this is that it contradicts the Bible. Consider the following passages:

And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:2-3)
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)
Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus (Acts 3:19-20; emphasis added)

So, in fact, without repentance there is no salvation. This leads us to a second point.

Second, the problem with Beaty is that she understands repentance as a human work, as self- amendment. She views it as our contribution to salvation. Consider the following:

And oh, do we so often confuse the order of love and repentance. Driven by mere human logic, we want to make ourselves right with God before he can declare it. We still want to do something to earn his love, and we want others to do the same—to repent first and really mean it, lest love be used as a license to sin.

Is this really what repentance is? Repentance is actually a gift of God, as much a gift as faith and justification. Consider the following passages:

The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:30-31; emphasis added)
God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness. (Acts 3:26)

This is repentance. It is a gift of God by which he grants us a contrite and broken spirit (Psalm 51), which desperately wants to turn toward a new life. It is not amending our lives; it is a God- given desire to live according to God’s commands. Consider also the following quotation from Beaty:

Prevenient grace is the kind of grace that runs out toward us when we have barely managed to walk down the path toward our father’s house. It’s a kind of grace that wipes off the slop, enables us to stand up straighter...

The Scriptural view is that you couldn’t even walk without God-given repentance, not even barely; you couldn’t even stand up at all (let alone straighter) without repentance. The irony here is that Beaty inadvertently has shown what she believes about grace—that it is a cooperative endeavor in which God meets us “when we have barely managed to walk down the path.” Grace for her is helping us “stand up straighter.” In reality without grace we cannot get off the ground in the first place! But if you understand repentance in the way that she does, of course you are going to make statements like the ones above.

To end where we began: how we view homosexuality—not in the abstract but the very specific issue of same-sex marriage—is not something that can be separated from core doctrines of the Christian faith. It is tied to doctrines such as grace, repentance, and the love of God. If “God is love” (1 John 4:8), and yet you do not understand the love of God, then you don’t know God. And so the relationship of repentance to the love of God goes all the way down to the very being of God. For your view of repentance, consciously or unconsciously, says what you believe about the love of God.

Can you know the love of God in the abstract without knowing God relationally? And can you relationally know God without repentance? If the answer is no to this second question, then you cannot know the love of God (God is love) without repentance.

Let us be clear, we are not suggesting that a person has to repent in order for God to love them. That would be silly. God loves us no matter what our state is. But we are asking how can you enter into a relationship of love with God without repentance. Is that possible?


1 In Romania, for example, evangelicals are called “the repentant ones.” And in Latin America, repentance is used as a shorthand for the whole experience of salvation.

Osvaldo's father lives with us. He is not a Christian. We have literally opened our home, hearts, and arms in love for him. We share the gospel of Jesus Christ with him and tell him ad nauseam about God's love. He also comes to church with us. But he has yet to experience the love of God; he has also yet to repent. If you cannot know God or God's love behind the back of Jesus, and if Jesus' greatest act of love was what he did on the cross so that our sins might be forgiven, he will not know for himself God's love until he turns (repents) and recognizes Jesus as Lord. All rationale and stubbornness has him not repenting; that is why we are always praying that the gift of repentance might be granted to him so that he will experience God's love. His behavior won't change right away, but we know that in Christ the Holy Spirit works to transform us according to his will. 

Please note that we are not suggesting that Beaty is in agreement of same-sex unions. For Hatmaker we are not sure where she stands. The problem we have is the way repentance as it relates to the love of God is articulated. Scripture teaches us that we are to always correct and reprove and be corrected and reproved so that another gospel, different than the gospel Paul preached, isn't preached. And in this case we felt strongly that what was being articulated regarding repentance needed to be corrected.

Lastly, this entire post highlights what I (Kristen) have been saying in this blog. Women (and men!) without theological education should be especially careful before making statements about doctrines about which the best Christian thinkers have been reflecting on for centuries. Both Hatmaker and Beaty betray the least amount of acquaintance with robust theological discussion on the nature of repentance and the love of God. Shall we let people who have no formal theological training tell the rest of the church what repentance is and what the love of God is?

Osvaldo Padilla is associate professor of New Testament at Beeson Divinity School, where he teaches Greek and the Gospels and Acts. 

Broken, Aware of Sin, and Repentant

Have mercy A few days ago I celebrated Ash Wednesday, the day that marks the beginning of the season of Lent. Lent is a time when Christians historically have prepared themselves for the celebration of Easter by repenting, fasting and reflecting on their humanity and deep need of a Savior. The Ash Wednesday service is meant to remind each person of his or her mortality.

In thinking about the Grace for the Sinner series in light of Ash Wednesday and Lent, I am reminded that we cannot fully understand the grace Jesus Christ offers without first understanding our great need of it. It is when we are aware of our own mortality and sinfulness that the grace of Christ can become a transformative reality in our lives. We cannot be pardoned of our sins without first acknowledging that we have sin that needs pardoning. It is in this broken, aware-of-sin, repentant state that Jesus meets us and pardons us.

This is where we find David in Psalm 51. Unlike his predecessor Saul, when David was confronted with his sin (the one where he killed a man and committed adultery) David acknowledged it and repented (cf. 1 Sam. 12:13ff). It is sometime after the prophet Nathan's confrontation with David that David composed Psalm 51.

David begins the psalm with a plea for God's mercy. "Have mercy on me, O God." This is a cry that probably many of us know well. I am a sinner! Have mercy on me, O God!

Recently I, too, pleaded before God, "Have mercy on me." I have an inclination to want to control my life. This desire to control materialized in two ways recently. For one, my husband and I have been trying to conceive. For several weeks I was obsessed with wanting to control the circumstances surrounding conception as well as obsessing with signs and tests that would tell me if I were pregnant. I became anxious and tried to exert "control" by talking and thinking about it obsessively. Secondly, I hate flying. I am scared of the idea of falling, but most of all I don't like the feeling of being completely out of control of the situation. I don't know how to fly an airplane if a pilot got sick and they needed an extra one. I can't control the weather to make it so that we have perfect flying conditions. As we were to fly home a few days ago, I tried to control the uncontrollable by again obsessively worrying about the flight. I dreamt about it. I talked about it. I looked at the weather app non-stop. I was physically sick to my stomach as my nerves only increased with each day that grew closer to the day of our flight.

It was in the midst of trying to control two uncontrollable situations that my husband, like Nathan, spoke truth into my life. He said, "Kristen, you trying to control these situations is idolatrous." His words were like a sharp arrow to my soul. Conviction spread across my body. And as I left that conversation in prayer the rest of the day, God began speaking to me about this area of sin. In my frail attempt at trying to exert some control over these situations I had made for myself an idol. I was trying to sit in God's rightful place as sovereign Lord of my life. Instead of trusting God, I was trying to manipulate God or rather manipulate the situations as if God had no role and was nonexistent. This is a serious sin and one that I am ashamed to admit to you today.

"Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions."

God's mercy is dependent on and a natural causation of God's great and abounding love for us. If we get what we deserve according to our sins God is just and blameless (Ps. 51:4)! But mercy gives us what we do not deserve as it acts not according to our sin but according to God's steadfast love.

David recognizes his sin and his deep, deep need for forgiveness. "For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight."

Over and over again in Scripture God pleads with his children to recognize their sin for what it is so that they might repent and so that he might show mercy (cf. Psalm 103:8-19).

"Yet even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments." Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord your God? (Joel 2:12-14)

The first step in receiving the grace and mercy of our great God is acknowledging sin and turning from it. And when God pardons you and me from sin it is not a pardoning with strings attached or pardoning that lasts only for a night. No. Grace, like its giver, doesn't wear out with time or change like the moods of humans but rather is steady and sure. Grace does the work for which God intends it.

David in his prayer says, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (v. 10)." The goal of the believer when he or she leaves that place of repentance and pardoning is a clean heart. God cleans up the sin and mess we make and sets our hearts back on him and on truth. He restores the joy of our salvation and places his praise on our lips (Ps. 51:12, 15).

I was still a little nervous when I flew home earlier this week, but I did not want to sin against God in the way that I had before. So I prayed that He would help me to trust in his sovereignty and his perfect will for my life. For those two flights home he placed an off-duty pilot going home across the aisle, a woman next to me whose hand I needed to hold because she was nervous, and a senator from Tennessee who loves the Lord. He surrounded me with people that brought calm and comfort to me. God is so, so good to us even when our terrible sin against him deserves the worst for us. He showed goodness and mercy and kindness to me by not only pardoning my sin but placing people to comfort me in the midst of something difficult. That, my friends, is great, amazing grace.

What areas of your life need cleansing? Is there sin in your life that you are refusing to recognize as sin? Or, are you aware of your sin but afraid to turn to God? Like me, do you sin against God by trying to take control of your life through worry or manipulation? Are you guilty of idolatry? Slander? Failure to trust God? Hate? Greed? Lust? Lies?

Spend a few moments confessing to God knowing that He is ready to meet you with grace and mercy and that He is ready to make your heart clean, your spirit right so that you might walk in truth and righteousness.

Most merciful Lord, your love compels us to come in. Our hands were unclean, our hearts were unprepared; we were not fit even to eat the crumbs from under your table. But you, Lord, are the God of our salvation, and share your bread with sinners. So cleanse and feed us with the precious body and blood of your Son, that he may live in us and we in him; and that we, with the whole company of Christ, may sit and eat in your kingdom. Amen. (The prayer of humble access; The Book of Common Prayer)

The God Who Covers Our Shame

TGWCOS

When we sin as Christians, we immediately (should) feel shame.

When I lose my temper with my spouse or child, when I hurt a friend with my words, when I break the rules, or when I lie, what inevitably results is shame. I feel so ashamed I don't know how to face myself let alone God. What will God think of me? Will he still love me? Will he be able to forgive me again or for such a sin as this?

These are thoughts and questions many of us experience in the heat of our shame. How do I approach God? How will God respond? Many times in my shame I want to run away or hide from God. Have you been to that place?

I think a good place to turn in our Bibles to address these questions is to the very beginning. Prior to the Fall, the author of Genesis describes the condition of the first man and woman in the garden as that of innocence and purity. They "were both naked and were not ashamed" (Gen. 2:25) as a result of being in a right relationship with God.

Then some time later the serpent enticed the first couple with his lies and the woman and man fell for it and sinned against God. Because of their sin, they went from being in a state of honor to a state of shame. "Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked."

They tried covering up their nakedness, their shame, with some fig leaves, but when God came "walking in the garden in the cool of the day" they still hid themselves even though they were "clothed."

"But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, 'Where are you?' And he said, 'I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'"

Why was Adam still afraid of being naked if the text just told us he and Eve had made clothes for themselves? There are several possible reasons. Possibly "because I was naked" meant he was now conscious that he was naked. Possibly because his attempt at clothing was poorly done and he still felt ashamed to be naked. Possibly because it signified that he ate the fruit and sinned. I think all three possibilities are very plausible. The point is that when Adam and Eve sinned it caused distrust in their relationship with God that was once full of trust.

But God, after issuing the punishment that was justly deserved, looked upon this first couple whom He had made with compassion and mercy. He saw them in their misery and shame and before sending them away performed an act of mercy. He clothed them. "And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them" (3:21).

God takes their shame and covers it with grace. He replaces their poor attempt at clothes with something better that will cover them, protect them and keep them warm. To be sure, though, the garments -- this act of mercy -- came at a cost; it costed the lives of animals.

The beauty of this account is that it is both historical and universal. The Genesis account tells us the story of our ancestors as well as the story of our own humanity. This story, in addition to being about a particular time in history, is a dramatization of what happens every time we sin.

How often have you hid from the Lord because you were afraid and ashamed over your sin? Our sin breaks a trust that we have with our God and causes us to doubt and fear Him. But what I witness about the character of God from the very beginning proves to be true over and over in Scripture. That is that in our misery and shame God looks down on us with compassion and acts mercifully toward us.

"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ -- by grace you have been saved -- and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." (Eph. 2:4-7)

When you sin, instead of running away or hiding from God, turn to God in repentance knowing that He is rich in mercy and will look upon you with compassion.

Here is the cool thing. When Adam and Eve left the garden they left with clothes stained with the blood of animals. When we as the people of God reenter the garden we, too, will be clothed with garments made by God. But these garments will be white, and they will have come at a different cost. This time it will not be the cost of an animal, but rather it will have come at a greater cost — the blood of God, the incarnate Son.

"'...For the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure' — for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints."

"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law ... the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe."

God's mercy which was evident from the beginning continues throughout time, even to today, until the kingdom of God is fulfilled. So when you sin, when you experience great shame, turn to a God full of compassion and mercy who wants to meet you and cover your shame.

Lenten Devotional: A False Fast

IMG_3576 For the first six months after my son turned 2 I felt like all I was doing was disciplining my son and all he was doing was disobeying my commands. It was during this time that we left Chick-fil-a after eating lunch without going to the playground because he would not obey my telling him to sit in his chair and stop touching the sign hanging from the ceiling. Some days I felt like Philip was in timeout more than he was not in timeout. It was exhausting and all I wanted for him was to obey so he didn't hurt himself or our belongings.

Around the 2 1/2 mark something happened. I remember that day perfectly. He stood up on the kitchen chair and began playing with the light fixture. I said, "Philip sit down right now." He signed and said, "I'm sorry." I was so excited! He was sorry that he disobeyed. Two minutes later I looked over and Philip was standing up again in his chair hitting the light again. Before I could get out a reprimand, he was signing and saying, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

For about 4-6 months after that time, Philip believed he could still disobey as long as he said he was sorry. He would say, "I'm sorry," but not mean it. I knew he didn't mean what he was saying because after apologizing he would turn around and do the act again.

Watching Philip do this cycle reminded me of God's people in Scripture. The Hebrews would disobey God's commandments, repent and then go back to doing what they were doing before. Consider this particular example from Isaiah 58:

"'Why have we fasted, and you see it not? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?' Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure, and oppress all your workers. Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to hit with a wicked fist. Fasting like yours this day will not make your voice to be heard on high."

This generation, like many before it, had forgotten that YHWH discerns "thoughts from afar" and that even before a word is on their mouth God knows it (Psalm 139). They also had forgotten that there is no place they can go away from the Spirit of God (Psalm 139). Yet, despite knowing that nothing is invisible to God, including the desires of one's heart, they thought they could trick their God with false worship. "Why won't you accept our fasting, God?" they asked. God responded saying, I won't accept your fasting or worship because you are living in disobedience to my commands. Not only are these people oppressing their employees, quarreling, and fighting, but they are also not sharing food with the hungry or caring for the homeless (v. 7). The problem is not that they should change one work (fasting) for another (social justice). Rather, God says one's worship and repentance should match up with how one lives life. The real issue, here, is a heart issue. Someone whose heart is not rendered to God will act unjustly and not love his or her neighbor. Then, when he or she tries to worship through acts like fasting, it is false worship because his or her heart is not given to God as revealed in how he/she lives.

I have been following the Lectionary daily Scripture readings this Lent, which has had me in Jeremiah. Here the people of God again are professing one thing with their mouths while disobeying God with their actions.

"Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note! Search her squares to see if you can find a man, one who does justice and seeks truth, that I may pardon her. Though they say, "As the Lord lives," yet they swear falsely" (Jeremiah 5:1-2).

"I'm sorry," they say to God, yet they continue to disobey. "As the Lord lives" I will do this thing, they say. Yet, they swear with false intentions. "I'm sorry!" the people of God continue to say over and over, yet they worship false gods, intermarry with foreigners who worship false gods, murder, cheat and steal. And this wasn't an issue that stopped with the Old Testament. This was still a persistent problem that even Paul addressed in his letter to the Roman believers.

"You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. ... For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God" (Romans 2:21-23, 28-29).

And now, you would think that after all this time we would not do the same thing that the Hebrews did in the Old Testament and the Christians did in the New. Yet this is a sin we still commit today! We, too, are guilty of trying to trick God with a false repentance. Especially during Lent it is very easy to fast without rendering our hearts to God. We think we will somehow please God by giving up food, Internet, or drink while we continue to disobey Him in our daily lives. We, like Philip who thought he could appease me by saying sorry while still disobeying, think we can appease God by saying, "I'm sorry," but not truly mean it. We think we can substitute loving God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind and our neighbors as ourselves with a false fast or a false "I'm sorry."

During this season of Lent let our fasting match our obedience. Let us turn our hearts over to God so that our worship will not disgust the God whose Son died for us. Instead of being quick to say, "I'm sorry," let us learn true repentance and what it means to honor God with all our lives.

God, I'm sorry for being quick to apologize without truly repenting. Help me to face my own disobedience so that I can turn from it to obedience and honoring You, who died for me. May your Spirit help me in my weakness, and may I not be quick to worship with acts like fasting while dishonoring You in my daily life by not loving my neighbor. May my worship match my life and may you be pleased and glorified in all that I say, think and do. Amen.