God called Jeremiah to expose serious problems with His old covenant people in the years leading up to their overthrow by the Babylonian hordes under Nebuchadnezzar. During that time they were enjoying “life as usual,” confident that all was well between them and their God. They kept their rituals and professed allegiance to the Lord. But, as Jeremiah’s prophecies make plain, they had sadly and obviously forgotten His Word.
When challenged to stop and consider their ways that were contrary to the revealed will of God, they quickly resorted to “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” that they alone possessed among the nations (7:4). As long as they had the temple, they were at ease in their wayward practices.
Their complacency, however, did not stop God’s judgment. On the contrary, it helped provoke the severe discipline of His people.
One of the saddest and most sobering dimensions of the downfall of Judah in this period of her history is the failure of her spiritual leaders to fulfill their God-given responsibilities. In fact, I would argue that there is hardly anything sadder or more sobering than when the leaders of God’s people are derelict in their duty.
That’s the way that Jeremiah saw it, as well. “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?” (Jeremiah 5:30-31). Greed, covetousness, injustice, and lack of shame characterized God’s people. But the bottom line for them, as it always is for those who continue to walk in disobedience to God, is that they had lost the fear of God (5:22, 24). As the Lord put it, “they have not paid attention to my words; and as for my law, they have rejected it” (6:19).
Where were the priests and the prophets? Why didn’t they rebuke such sin and spiritual indifference and call God’s people to return to His Word? Because they were part of the problem. Arguably, they were the chief part of the problem. So the Lord indicts them: “From prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely. They have healed the wound of my people slightly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (6:13b-14).
Do you see the picture? Worldliness has crept in among the people of God. They still take His name while ignoring His Word. They still go through the motions of worship while no longer fearing Him. And the leaders—those who hold the positions of respect and influence in the kingdom—are not only silent, they are reassuring the people that all is well when, as God makes plain, all is not.
Though the problem has not yet risen to the level and extent of sin that Jeremiah condemned, it is beginning to sound like the modern Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). For the last few years a growing number of voices have raised questions and concerns about some of the writings and teachings coming out of some institutions and agencies of the SBC. For the most part, these concerns have been met with silence, dismissal, or reassurances that all is well.
But all is not well. While many examples could be cited as reasons for concern, let me focus on one of the more egregious and most recent ones. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary just hired a professor who has endorsed (and defended her endorsement of) a conference with this as its stated purpose:
Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other gender and sexual minority Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.
Make sure you don’t miss this. The Revoice conference wants to empower “gay Christians,” “lesbian Christians,” “other gender Christians,” and “sexual minority Christians” (there’s a malleable definition if I’ve ever seen one) so they can “flourish while observing the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”
The problem, which even newly converted Christians should recognize, is that “Christian” is not an identity that you can hyphenate with any other identity that is lawless in God’s eyes and still lay claim to what the Bible says a Christian is. As Dr. Rosaria Butterfield has stated, speaking of the Revoice conference, “Gay Christianity is a different religion.”
Yet, President Danny Akin, President of Southeastern, has hired Dr. Karen Swallow Prior to teach at his school when she has unapologetically endorsed a conference that, in the words of Dr. Butterfield, promotes a different religion. And he expects Southern Baptists to sit back quietly and pay her salary.
Dr. Prior recently addressed her endorsement and the criticism she has received from orthodox, evangelical Christians because of it. She said,
The reason why I supported the Revoice conference is because the people I know who organized it are people who believe in the Biblical sexual ethic.…I want to support those who are struggling with same-sex attraction in their desire to live up to a traditional Biblical sexual ethic….I still support its mission of helping Christians live faithfully regardless of what their sexual struggles are.
While we appreciate her expressed desire to be loving and supportive of those trapped in sin, the problem with Dr. Prior’s approach is so basic that it is easy to miss. The biblical sexual ethic does not start at physical, sexual contact. It starts where all sin does—in the heart at the point of desire. Jesus said, “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).
How would you support someone who identifies himself as a “sexually immoral,” “thieving,” “murderous,” or “adulterous” Christian? If you don’t help him see that all of those descriptions refer to sin that must be mortified, then you are of no help at all. If you tell him it is ok to identify with those sins and to accept the remaining desire to commit them as innocuous as long as you don’t physically act on them then you are spiritually harming him.
The exact same principle is true with regard to so-called “gay Christianity.” Certainly, some people suffer from sexual confusion and should be loved and helped to be set free from distorted loves. That is exactly what the gospel does. Paul writes,
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9b-11; emphasis added).
The gospel saves sinners and gives us a new identity. So radical is this salvation that our natures are changed and the sin that once enslaved us and, yes, that still remains in us, does not define us. So, a Christian can struggle with sexual temptations of all kinds—including homosexual temptation. But a Christian cannot think biblically about sin and call himself a “gay Christian” any more than he could call himself a “murderous Christian” or a ______ (fill in the blank with the sin of your choice) Christian.
To make the point even more plain, if you are willing to support someone who identifies himself or herself as a “gay Christian” or “LGBTQ” Christian, then you must also be willing to support anyone who might identify as a pedophile Christian or a white supremacist Christian. Not only is this ludicrous, it is cruel to the very people you purport to support and love.
It is this understanding of the radical nature of salvation that undergirds Dr. Butterfield’s assessment of Revoice. Whereas Dr. Prior commends the organizers of the conference, Dr. Butterfield says of the conference and its founders,
Gay Christianity is a different religion. I’m not standing in the same forest with Greg Johnson and Wes Hill and Nate Collins looking at different angles of the trees, I’m in a different forest altogether.
So, which is it? Which view is true to Scripture? Is Revoice promoting the traditional, biblical sexual ethic (Prior)? Or is it promoting a different religion altogether (Butterfield)?
Owen Strachan of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary agrees that Revoice is problematic. After surveying their website he writes, “This sampling of material should show the biblical Christian that this event is biblically unfaithful and fundamentally unsound” and later concludes, “Revoice is not promoting sound biblical doctrine.”
So which is it? Is the mission of Revoice “biblically unfaithful and fundamentally unsound” (MWBTS Professor Strachan) or is it “helping Christians live faithfully regardless of what their sexual struggles are” (SEBTS Professor Prior)?
Al Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has given a careful evaluation of Revoice which he concludes by noting,
We cannot see Revoice as anything other than a house built upon the sand. Revoice is not the voice of faithful Christianity.
In a talk that Dr. Mohler gave at the Gospel Reformation Network conference (entitled, ironically, “A Time to Stand: Conviction, Courage, Compassion in an Age of Compromise) he said that the language of Revoice’s stated purpose has embedded within it a “bomb” that has immense pastoral implications (he addresses Revoice beginning at the 46 minute mark).
So, which is it? Is Revoice a conference to be endorsed whose mission should be supported (Prior) or “a house built upon the sand” that “is not the voice of faithful Christianity” (Mohler)? Is Dr. Mohler accurate in noting that the very purpose of Revoice, which Dr. Prior celebrates, actually has a destructive “bomb” embedded in it?
If Butterfield, Strachan and Mohler are correct, and I am absolutely convinced that they are, then Southern Baptists must face the fact that one of our seminaries just hired a professor who doesn’t have enough discernment to recognize a false religion for what it is. Is this who you want teaching your students? Is this how you want your Cooperative Program dollars to be spent?
To the surprise of no one, the hiring of Dr. Prior has raised many questions and concerns from rank and file Southern Baptists. Dr. Akin has addressed those concerns by recounting the thorough vetting process that took place before the hire and pointing to all of the statements and documents that she has signed. He wholeheartedly supports her. You can read his “official statement on the matter” here.
I am old enough to remember when Southeastern Seminary was firmly in the control of leaders who rejected the inerrancy of Scripture and advocated for viewpoints that I, and, I suspect, the majority of Southern Baptists, find contrary to that inerrant Word. In fact, it was so liberal that Cecil Sherman, one of the key leaders the moderate faction during the SBC inerrancy controversy, told me in 1981 that he was sufficiently alarmed at what was being taught at SEBTS back then that he tried to lead his church, First Baptist of Ashville, to defund it. But even in its most liberal days I cannot imagine that seminary hiring a faculty member who endorsed a conference promoting gay, lesbian and other gender “Christianity.”
The issue is not personal. It is spiritual and theological. I do not know Dr. Prior but have been assured by those who do that she is a warm-hearted, joyful believer and excellent teacher—which makes her errors on this issue all the more dangerous. I have long respected Dr. Akin and count him a friend. No one can doubt his love for the Lord and desire to see the gospel spread to the nations. But in making this hire he has made a serious mistake. I hope and pray that Dr. Prior will reconsider her endorsement of Revoice and withdraw it or that Dr. Akin will reconsider this hire and retract it.
Here is the question that this situation forces Southern Baptists to face: Are we willing to have faculty in our seminaries who endorse “gay Christianity” as a legitimate identity for those who claim to have been recreated in Christ Jesus? If so, then let’s quit pretending to be people who are genuinely committed to the Word of God while we pay the salaries of those whose perspectives and public statements undermine that Word. If not, then let’s remind our institutional leaders that they are servants of the convention and hold them accountable to discharge their duties in ways that do not welcome in such deadly perspectives.
Cries of “peace, peace,” were not true in Jeremiah’s day and neither are they in ours. It is time to humble ourselves before the Lord and return to a sincere commitment to His Word, resolved to believe whatever it teaches and follow wherever it leads.
The issue of sexuality and the ways many Christians are being led astray by the world rather than guided by the Bible is addressed in the cinedoc, “By What Standard,” You can watch a preview of it below and watch the whole film here.