By Bob Allen
Equating gay rights with civil rights is an unfair comparison, theologian and cultural analyst Jim Denison said at a recent conference on the church and homosexuality sponsored by an association of Baptist churches in Texas.
Jim Denison, founder of the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, said no argument put forth by the pro-gay lobby has been more effective in swaying popular culture to embrace the cause of LGBT equality.
“One of the most successful rhetorical devices has been to liken this to racial discrimination, and to say that my position is akin to the KKK,” Denison said in a Baptist Standard report on a Feb. 11 seminar in Lewisville, Texas, sponsored by the Denton Baptist Association.
Denison, a former pastor who was named theologian-in-residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas in 2009, said the Bible clearly speaks against homosexual behavior, but the prevailing culture doesn’t want to hear the message.
Denison said some try to argue against biblical passages condemning homosexuality by saying the Apostle Paul was wrong about same-sex attraction, just like he was wrong about the subjugation of women and support for slavery.
Denison said he takes the view that Paul wasn’t wrong about any of those things, but his teachings about women and slavery have often been misinterpreted.
“I don’t think Paul was wrong on any subject he spoke to under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit,” Denison said. “But that is a very common argument: Paul was wrong on slavery; Paul was wrong on women; therefore, he was wrong on this.”
Denison urged ministers to interpret culture by the Bible, rather than the reverse.
“When I taught hermeneutics, we would say you can put culture in front of the Bible and interpret the Bible through the culture, or you can put the Bible in front of the culture and interpret culture by the Bible,” he said. “I want to encourage you to do that.”
Denison said there is no consensus about whether sexual orientation is rooted in biology, but most of the gay people he has spoken with report they were attracted to members of the same-sex for as long as they could remember.
“That doesn’t mean that God made them that way, or that God endorses homosexual orientation,” he said. “You have the fall to consider, and that the fall changes the basic wiring of humans. You obviously have environmental factors to consider.”
Denison said homosexuality isn’t an “unpardonable” sin, and some of his biggest heroes are people whose orientation is homosexual but who choose celibacy because they believe the Bible limits sexual expression to men and women within in the confines of marriage.
Denison said there is nothing in the Bible that prohibits a person who identifies as gay from becoming a Christian.
“I can’t find in the Bible a specific request that a person has to repent of a specific sin before they can become a Christian,” he said. “When I became a Christian, I repented of my sin, but I did that in a fairly generic sense. Nobody told me I had to sit down and make a catalogue of every sin in my life, and repent specifically of those and choose never to practice them again before I could become a Christian.”
Once a gay person becomes a Christian, Denison said he would say: “If they are in a homosexual lifestyle, the Holy Spirit will want to work in their life toward sanctification, toward consecration and there in fact may be a Spirit-empowered change in their orientation eventually. But I would not put that as a barrier in front of their becoming a Christian.”
The issue of full inclusion of LGBT Christians in church membership, he said “is a whole separate question.”
In 2010 leaders of the Baptist General Convention of Texas asked Royal Lane Baptist Church in Dallas to disaffiliate after the congregation self-described on its website as welcoming and affirming of gays. Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, voluntarily left the BGCT the same year, after being booted in 2009 from the Southern Baptist Convention over a dispute within the church over whether to include same-sex couples in a membership directory of family photos.
Denison said contemporary culture assumes a biblical position rejecting homosexuality is “homophobic, bigoted, prejudiced and intolerant.”
“The culture has come to decide I am relative to homosexuals what the KKK was relative to African-Americans, and that I don’t get to have a position on this,” he said. “I have to earn the right to be heard now.”
Denison said the comparison between civil rights and gay rights is faulty for several reasons. Race clearly is inherited, he said, while the origins of homosexual orientation are disputed. The biological differences between people of different races are miniscule when compared to the obvious anatomical and biological differences between males and females.
Race cannot be chosen, he said, but whether or not to act on same-sex attraction is a moral choice. African-Americans as a whole face economic disadvantage, he said, while the income of gay households is above the national average.
Denison characterized racism as “the greatest sin in America” and “the sin that keeps us from dealing with other sins.” He urged other Christians who reject the gay rights agenda but who stand against racism to make that distinction clear.
Some people active in the civil-rights movement, he said, disapprove of what they view as attempts to co-opt their struggle by those advocating on behalf of homosexual rights.
— With George Henson of the Baptist Standard.