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Beware of Sunday School Teachers!

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The following article was written in 1996 in response to an article that former President Jimmy Carter wrote on the topic of “Judge Not” as it relates to homosexuality and abortion. I decided to revive it for two reasons. First, it’s been reported that Carter’s son Jack may run for the Senate in Nevada. He is described as a “social liberal with conservative Southern roots.”[1] That’s exactly what his father turned out to be. While Jimmy Carter ran as the first self-proclaimed “born again” president and Sunday School teacher, he turned out to be a huge disappointment to evangelicals when he did not oppose abortion and homosexuality. His weakness in foreign policy matters and his attempt to regulate private Christian schools didn’t help either. Second, Harriet E. Miers, President Bush’s choice to replace Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, is said to have had a “born again experience.” She also teaches Sunday School.

Christians have been taught that they can be opposed to abortion and homosexuality at a personal level, but they can't as judges impose these beliefs on everyone else. Could we say any of the following and be taken seriously?

"While I'm personally opposed to slavery, I can't impose my personal and deeply held religious beliefs on others."

"While I'm pesonally opposed to Nazism on religious grounds, I do not believe that I should take a public and political stand."

Opposition to slavery and racial discrimination was formulated in the religious community and articulated by ministers. I wrote Myths, Lies, and Half-Truths to deal with this and other related issues. Harriet Miers will be asked if she can put aside her religious beliefs when she deals with legal issues. Judge Roberts said he would. Do you think religious liberals would be asked the same question? I don't think so.

Miers might not turn out to be another Jimmy Carter, but we really won’t know until we hear it directly from her what she really believes on the issues that are important to most Americans. Hopefully I won’t have to write an article with the title “Harriet Miers Should Stop Teaching Sunday School.”

Jimmy Carter Should Stop Teaching Sunday School

Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States, is a Sunday School teacher. He even taught while serving as President. After reading his article entitled “Judge Not” in the February 27, 1996, issue of the Atlanta Constitution,[2] I wonder what Bible he was using? 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.

Wrong from the Start

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 itself. For example, Charles Stanley, senior pastor of First Baptist in Atlanta, has been on the front page of the Atlanta papers at least a dozen times because his wife, Anna, petitioned for a divorce. Stanley said he would leave the pulpit if the divorce was granted. World magazine did a featured story on the issue entitled “Stanley vs. Stanley.” Does such attention show indifference to the divorce issue?

Conservative Christians from all denominations do not “condone divorce.” They know it happens, but most do not approve of it. Even so, divorce is legitimate under certain circumstances (e.g., desertion and fornication), unlike abortion and homosexuality. 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 we “condone” is of little consequence. 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 and fornication in the church, that is no excuse to accept abortion and homosexuality. Two or three wrongs do not make other wrongs right. Finally, adulterers do not parade in the streets and push adultery as an “alternative lifestyle” that should be taught to elementary school children.

"I'm a 'Jesus-Only' Christian"

Carter makes a typical hermeneutical mistake by arguing that since Jesus did not condemn homosexuality, then 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.” 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 were written? 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). Jesus’ words and Paul's letters are filled with allusions and quotations from the Old Testament, what was simply described as “Scripture” (Mark 12:10; Acts 8:32; Rom. 4:3; 1 Tim. 4:13; 5:18; James 2:8; 2 Pet. 1:20). Paul tells us what we should think of all of God's Word, the Old Testament included: “All Scripture 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 Old Testament. There is no New-Testament-only ethic. This means that Jesus’ carefully chosen words have an Old Testament context. The word “fornication” (porneia) includes numerous sexual sins under the general heading of “uncleanness.”

[Fornication] is used in the LXX 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 condemned 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 Old Testament (Deut. 24:1), Jesus (Matt. 5:32 and 19:9),[4] 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 noting “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, 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.”[5]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 sodomy, and publicly condemn the practice.

Carter has unwittingly given his support to the proponents of “gay theology” who do not view homosexuality as a sin. Mel White, a proponent of “gay theology,” is presently Dean of Cathedral of Hope, the largest homosexual church in the world, located in Dallas, Texas. According to White, practicing homosexuals can be good Christians, too. So-called Christian homosexuals have made sodomy a virtue, a sexual sacrament. Why is it that Carter does not stand up for prostitutes, adulterers, and drunks in the same way he stands up for homosexuals? “If the apostate denominations want congregations of homosexuals, why do they not also establish congregations of practicing prostitutes,”[6] 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 as a relationship equal to that of heterosexual, monogamous marriage. The Bible calls for its condemnation in the strongest words possible. A more sinister result is inherent in Carter’s views. Christians, following the former President’s logic, are duty-bound to leave their religion at church. Politics must be practiced within the parameters of secularism. Like Thomas Jefferson, Carter sees religion as a good thing as long as it’s taken in moderation and in private. And so while the culture is slowly drained of its vitality by liberal leeches parading as competent physicians, social theorists wonder why America has lost its soul.

Endnotes:

[1] Erin Neff, “Son of former president to challenge Ensign in 2006,” ReviewJournal.com (October 5, 2005): www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2005/Oct-05-Wed-2005/news/3689378.html
[2] February 27, 1996, A17.
[3] Rousas J. Rushdoony, “Fornication,” The Encyclopedia of Christianity, Philip E. Hughes, ed. (Marshallton, DE: The National Foundation for Christian Education, 1972), 4:232
[4] Fornication is not a synonym for adultery (see Matt. 15:19; 1 Cor. 6:9; Gal. 5:19; Heb. 13:4).
[5] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1987), 244, note 24.
[6] Gordon H. Clark, I Corinthians: A Contemporary Commentary (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1975), 89.

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