Imagine if you will that your pastor comes to you and says, “I have an attraction to women who are not my wife but don’t worry about it brother because I’m seeking to put to death this desire.”
What would you do? You certainly would be shocked. And then you would think furiously about what to do: ask him to step down, ask him to get counseling, go to the session, something. And I doubt many, if any, would smile and do nothing.
Now imagine if he said instead, “I have an attraction to animals but don’t worry about it brother because I’m seeking to put to death this desire.”
I would imagine your immediate, gut response would be revulsion—and rightly so. Then you would seek to get him help, one way or another.
Now imagine your pastor comes to you and say, “I have an attraction to men but don’t worry about it brother because I’m seeking to put to death this desire.”
What would you do? Would your reaction be the same as the first case? Or the second? Or somewhere in between?
Well, something like this has happened in the case of Pastor Greg Johnson of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). In an article at Christianity Today, he publicly confessed his private sin of homosexuality. As he described it,
“At age 46 I’m still a virgin fighting a constant battle for sexual holiness. (Goodness knows, for the last 15 years I haven’t been able to trust myself with an unmonitored internet connection.)”
So how are people responding to this? We already know what many people would do according to social media. They would “celebrate his celibacy.” Or they lauded his “good and godly example.” Others responded with grief and prayer. Still others called him to step down from the ministry.
But why these different responses to the same sin? Or the different responses to the different sins? Are not all sins bad? Are we not all sinners and so should respond to our sins in the same way, with grace and mercy?
The differences often arise from our God-given knowledge that some sins are more heinous in the sight of God than others.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism question 83 (a public, theological standard of the PCA) summarizes the importance of distinguishing between degrees of sins, that not all sins are equally heinous.
Q. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.
Why is this significant?
Because it highlights a question implicitly answered by those promoting Johnson’s public confession: non-practicing homosexuality is not such a heinous sin that it should be kept private. A related assumption is that this sin is not such that a minister should step down from the ministry after publicly announcing it.
But what if a pastor confessed to struggling with bestiality? Or pedophilia? I’d like to think there would be a public outcry. I’d like to think there would be calls to have him step down as a minister.
But is publicly confessing to intense, internal struggle with homosexuality a heinous sin in comparison to others we accept in the pastorate?
Just asking the question illustrates how far pagan society has seeped into the churches’ collective psyche. This issue was not even entertained 50 years ago. For centuries, legally, socially and ecclesiastically, homosexuality, practiced or not, was commonly assumed to be a heinous sin, a sin against nature.
To the question of how heinous this sin is, the Westminster Larger Catechism 151 sheds some light. Without going into details, three key points demonstrate the seriousness of this sin.
First of all, the heinousness of this sin arises “from the circumstances [of the sin]…if in public, or in the presence of others, who are thereby likely to be provoked or defiled.” Public announcements of private sins are commonly avoided for obvious reasons. Imagine if your church treasurer announced that he was “money-attracted and have been my entire life.” Imagine what your church members would think and do in such a case. This problem is further compounded by the fact that Johnson’s public reputation will become less described as a minister of the Gospel (who certainly sins) and more readily known as the-pastor-that-struggles-with-homosexuality.
Secondly, the heinousness of this sin arises from the “persons offending…if they be of riper age, greater experience or grace, eminent for profession, gifts, place, office, guides to others, and whose example is likely to be followed by others.” Confessing this private sin (and the sin of addiction to homosexual pornography, as he admitted in an interview last year) coupled with his age (46), his greater experience (a pastor of many years), his office (a public minister of the Gospel) and that he is a guide to others by virtue of that office and by virtue of his speaking at the celibate, homosexual Revoice conference last year—all contribute to the heinousness of this sin.
Lastly, the heinousness of sodomy arises from “the nature and quality of the offense.” Homosexuality is not merely a sexual sin like other sexual sins. Desiring the opposite sex is acceptable within marriage. Desiring the same sex is never acceptable. This sin is more heinous than struggling with adultery. It is true that it is a private sin—or rather it was a private struggle until he announced it.
Sexual attraction to those of the same sex is a heinous sin. Unfortunately, this has not been the first time ministers have confessed such a sin. And I fear it will not be the last.
If the church is to stand against the filthy deluge of the Second Sexual Revolution, she needs to take seriously again the truth of the catechism: “Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.”