The Huffington Post reports that Former President Jimmy Carter said in a recent interview with “Big Think” “that the nation’s tolerance of gays [sic] had grown to a level that could facilitate the election of a gay [sic] president.” Carter believes this would be a good thing for America.
James Carville, an advisor to Bill Clinton when he was president, asked, “How do we know we haven’t had one?” I suspect he is referring to James Buchanan (1791–1868), the “bachelor president” who served one term from 1857 to1861. Some suspect that Abraham Lincoln might have been a closeted homosexual or bisexual. If you follow enough homosexual historical revisionist literature, every great person was a homosexual or leaned that way. This seems to be the thesis of A.L. Rowse’s book Homosexuals in History (1977).
Harvey Wasserman tries to make the case that Buchanan was “‘married’ to William Rufus King, a pro-slavery Democrat from Alabama who was our only bachelor Vice President.’” Andrew Jackson “referred to them as ‘Aunt Nancy’ and ‘Mr. Fancy.’” Aaron V. Brown, governor of Tennessee and Postmaster General under Buchanan, spoke of the two as “Buchanan and his wife.” Even so, if Buchanan had campaigned as an admitted homosexual, he never would have won the presidency, so it’s disingenuous to go back in history and argue, “Hey, we might have already had a homosexual president, and everything turned out fine.”
Carter claims that he’s a Christian. He taught Sunday School when he served as President. His pro-homosexual beliefs have a long history. After reading his article entitled “Judge Not” in the February 27, 1996, issue of the Atlanta Constitution, I wondered what Bible he was using. He might want to heed the admonition of James: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1), especially when the Bible is so clear on the topic of homosexuality.
For more than 30 years the “Born Again” Carter has entered the debate over Christian activism and politics with jabs at the “religious right.” While Carter does not claim that Christians should not participate in the political process, he makes some outlandish statements regarding abortion and homosexuality and those who condemn the practices. He considers abortion and homosexuality to be “emotional” not moral or theological issues. He spouts the all too familiar platitude about believing in the “separation between church and state,” implying that civil laws have no religious or moral context. He seems to forget that the civil rights movement was framed in biblical terms and was led by Baptist ministers. I haven’t heard anyone object to Al Gore’s appeal to the Bible on environmental issues.1
Carter begins with a few unproven assumptions. He states that “since almost all Protestants now condone divorce as an acceptable fact of life, and rarely mention fornication or adultery—even though these acts were repeatedly condemned by Jesus—it is much easier and more convenient to focus on homosexuality, refusing to acknowledge that this is a sin never mentioned by Jesus.”
Carter’s operating premises are defective. He has been hanging out with liberals for so long that he is out of touch with his own Baptist roots and the Bible. Conservative Christians from all denominations do not “condone divorce.” They know it happens, but most do not approve of it except under the rarest of circumstances. Christians were shocked when they learned of Jim Bakker’s sexual exploits with Jessica Hahn. His ministry was lost and Heritage USA is a ghost town. Jimmy Swaggart came under similar condemnation after he engaged in fornication with a prostitute. His ministry is a shadow of its former mega-ministry status.
Of course, what Christians “condone” is of little importance. Our opinions about divorce and fornication are not relevant. The Bible remains the standard. If Christians have been delinquent in addressing the prevalence of adultery, fornication, and divorce in the church, that is no excuse to accept abortion and homosexuality. Two or three wrongs do not make other wrongs right.
“I’m a Jesus-Only Christian”
Carter makes a typical hermeneutical mistake by arguing that since Jesus did not condemn homosexuality, neither should we. Let’s follow Carter’s logic and see where it takes us. Jesus did not condemn rape, slavery, incest, or bestiality. Carter is not alone in developing a theology based “only on the words of Jesus.”2 Others, less extreme, want a New Testament-only ethic. Neither position can withstand careful scrutiny. The New Testament assumes the validity of the Old Testament, including its ethical demands regarding adultery, homosexuality, and abortion. What did the early church use before the gospels and epistles circulated? The church at Corinth did not have the letters Paul wrote to Galatia and Ephesus. The Christians at Berea examined “the Scriptures daily” to see whether Paul’s theology was orthodox (Acts 17:11). These Scriptures, actually “writings” (graphē), were the books of what we call the Old Testament. (A better designation would be “Prior” or “First Testament.”) Jesus’ words and Paul’s letters are filled with allusions and quotations from the Old Testament (Mark 12:10; Acts 8:32; Rom. 4:3; 1 Tim. 4:13; 5:18; 2 Tim. 3:16; James 2:8; 2 Peter 1:20).
Paul tells us what we should think of all of God’s Word, the Prior Testament included: “All Scripture [graphē] is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Paul was not a New-Testament-only believer, and he did not preach a New-Testament-only ethic.
The New Testament, therefore, must be read and interpreted against the backdrop of the Prior Testament. There is no New-Testament-only ethic. This means that Jesus’ carefully chosen words have a Prior Testament context. The word “fornication” (porneia) includes numerous sexual sins under the general heading of “uncleanness.”
[Fornication] is used in the LXX [the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament] for homosexuality, for consanguinity, and by Paul for “uncleanness” and “lasciviousness.” In Rom. 1:29, it refers to sexual sins in general; in I Cor. 6:13–18, it refers to relations with prostitutes (vss. 15, 16) and to sexual sins generally; in I Cor. 7:2, it means adultery and mental or physical sexual disorders through forced continence and bad relations between husband and wife.3
In 1 Corinthians 5:1, the word “fornication” is used twice to refer to a sin which was being tolerated by the church: a man was having sexual relations with his stepmother, something Jesus did not specifically condemn, but which is covered under the general prohibition of “fornication” (see Lev. 18:8; Deut. 22:30; 27:20). In Paul’s list of sexual sins in Romans 1:29, the apostle includes fornication, a term which meant all acts of sexual immorality, including homosexuality. So then, the Prior Testament (Deut. 24:1), Jesus (Matt. 5:32 and 19:9), and Paul condemn fornication (1 Cor. 7:2), which includes the sin of homosexuality.
Creating a License to Sin
Carter continues to muddy the clear teaching of the Bible by claiming “that leaders of the early church treated homosexual acts the same as fornication, prostitution, adultery, selfishness, slander, drunkenness and many other transgressions” but “that all these acts had been forgiven.” Is Carter saying that once a person becomes a Christian that he or she can continue in these sins because forgiveness has taken place? Would he apply the same logic to a thief or a murderer? Paul states unequivocally in 1 Corinthians 6:11 that “such were some of you.” Those at Corinth who practiced these sins had given them up, “implying that behavioral change had taken place.”4 Homosexuality is a lifestyle to be rejected, along with stealing, drunkenness, extortion, fornication, and adultery. Homosexuals should be called on to repent, turn from the sin of same-sex sex, and publicly condemn the practice.
Why is it that Carter does not stand up for prostitutes, adulterers, and drunkards in the same way he stands up for homosexuals? Why aren’t adulterers and prostitutes given a special social and legal status as well as their own denomination as homosexuals do? “If the apostate denominations want congregations of homosexuals, why do they not also establish congregations of practicing prostitutes,”5 adulterers, thieves, rapists, extortionists, and murderers?
Carter is confused and out of step with biblical Christianity. The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality. In fact, the Bible connects the sin of homosexuality with the disintegration of society (Rom. 1:18–27). Carter wants Christians to tolerate and even accept homosexuality. The Bible calls for its condemnation in the strongest words possible. And so while the culture is slowly drained of its moral vitality by liberal leeches parading as competent physicians, social theorists wonder why America has lost its soul.
- Christopher Quinn, “Gore urges Baptists to help save Earth,” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (February 1, 2008), D3. [↩]
- Tony Compolo has written Red Letter Christians: A Citizen’s Guide to Faith and Politics (Ventura, VA: Regal Books, 2008). [↩]
- Rousas J. Rushdoony, “Fornication,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity, ed. Philip E. Hughes (Marshallton, DE: The National Foundation for Christian Education, 1972), 4:232. [↩]
- Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 244, note 24. [↩]
- Gordon H. Clark, I Corinthians: A Contemporary Commentary (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1975), 89. [↩]