A while back, my wife and I watched an episode of Our America with Lisa Ling called “Pray the Gay Away?” I thought the show itself did a good job of getting interviews with those who thought that homosexual sex and Christianity are fundamentally incompatible, as well as with those who thought they can be reconciled and that there is no fundamental contradiction. Ling interviewed both the current head of Exodus International, which exists to lead homosexuals out of that life, as well as a former founder of Exodus, who now lives with his male lover.
That was all pretty much down the line, as far as someone might expect. What I found most significant was the segment that Ling did with the counselors and campers at a camp in Minnesota, called The Naming Project ([TNP] held at an ELCA camp, and founded by two ELCA pastors and another ELCA-trained leader). The impulse behind the camp is good: provide a camp for kids who have been bullied or otherwise marginalized by other people. It does not help anyone to call them names or reject them because of their sin; they, like everyone, are individuals for whom Christ died–that, in itself, should be enough to end any form of aggression by Christians. (Of course, this whole issue depends on what is or is not sin, which automatically determines what is and is not forgiveness.) For TNP, Christianity is equated purely with acceptance and what amounts to greater self-esteem. The entire segment with the mirrors and the affirmation of individuals no doubt feels good, and maybe those kids feel like no one has ever loved them unconditionally. Unfortunately for this camp and for the kids who go there, unconditional love has been equated with acceptance of every person along with his or her every sin. It seems that for every call to “hate the sin but love the sinner,” there is an equally loud call to love the sinner and the sin.
But the fundamental problem with the way that this camp goes about its “project” is symbolized by the very thing that the leaders think will show unconditional love: looking at themselves in a mirror. “Look at yourself, don’t look at me.” “You are a child of God.” “We offer kids a place to be at peace with who they are.” “Look what God has made: you are made in the image of God.” This would fit very neatly at a free-will Baptist camp, but I see no way that it can fit at a so-called Lutheran camp. For Lutherans, it doesn’t matter how you “self-identify,” and, for that matter, it doesn’t matter how others identify you. It only matters how God identifies you; and how God “identifies” you is only good news if you are not a sinner. And, for Lutherans, no one is not a sinner. Gay, straight, married, single, there is no one righteous, not even one. Looking in a mirror at what and who you are and saying that this is the fullness of who God has made is the opposite of everything the Scriptures say about human beings–unless one confines the Scriptures to Genesis 1 and 2, as the pastor in the clip seems to do. We may have been made originally in the image of God, but unless we are remade by the Image of God, Jesus Christ, we are not children of God. Instead, as our (Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) baptismal rite says, “The Word of God also teaches that we are all conceived and born sinful and are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own. We would be lost forever unless delivered from sin, death, and everlasting condemnation” (Lutheran Service Book, 268). If you are at “peace” with who you are, you either haven’t been paying attention, or you’re lying to yourself. Whoever is at peace with himself has given up the Holy Spirit’s fight with his own sinful nature, which is not eradicated until physical death and physical resurrection. As much as looking at themselves means not looking at the one holding the mirror, it also means not looking at Jesus, whose judgment of us is the only one that matters.
Jesus does not say that we should just be ourselves, or be at peace with ourselves; He says we must deny ourselves (Matthew 1624-25; Luke 9:23-24). He says not that the person is good, but that everything that comes from our own hearts is evil: “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:19-20). (No doubt this bible, listed under TNP’s resources, will help you understand these passages in a different “light.”) To look in a mirror and accept oneself is the opposite of confession (which is essence of a wholly Christian life): it is pure narcissism. It is much more Lady GaGa than Lord God Omnipotent. Confession is to acknowledge that I am, along with all my impulses and desires, opposed to the God who made me originally in His image. I have rebelled against that image. I have nothing good in me. I am, not to put too fine a point on it, evil. That is the truth about me, and if it is not the truth about me, than I have no need of a Savior. I may need a life-coach, or an encourager, or a self-esteem raiser, but I don’t need a Savior. This camp teaches the opposite of everything that actual Lutherans believe. And it’s not really relevant that these teenagers have identified themselves, or are being encouraged to identify themselves, as homosexual. The relevant question is, what is the truth about human beings? What is the truth about every human being? And it is not good enough to “confess” that we are all sinners. Christ did not die for generic “sin.” He died specifically and particularly for sinners who do not “sin,” but who actually and specifically lie, lust, murder, steal, fornicate, commit adultery, covet, and make idols for themselves. It is not good enough for the counselors and campers to confess that they are sinners in general, and then talk about God having made them that way. What God made must be unendingly distinguished from what we are now. To say that we are, without remainder, children of God who are “born this way” (it is a serious problem when a supposedly Christian camp’s slogans are indistinguishable from Lady GaGa’s), is to deny any doctrine of Original Sin. If we are born “this way,” and if “this way” is okay with God, then either God is the author of sin; or we are not sinners, though we make mistakes. I don’t know which one the leaders of the camp would choose, but they are alike denials of the entire Scriptural witness, not to mention a denial of Jesus Himself.
All it takes is a brief thought-experiment to highlight the (Christian) absurdity of accepting the person in the mirror: imagine if we were to do that with any other sin (for the sake of the progressives/enlightened, let’s call it a “negative behavior”). Imagine an alcoholic who beats his wife: look in the mirror; you are a child of God; God made you this way; be at peace with yourself. Or a chronic philanderer: be at peace with the person God has made. Or an abuser of animals: look in the mirror and accept that you are made in the image of God. Or even someone who lies or steals only once in a while: be at peace with the person in the mirror. If we do it with LGBTQ youth, why not with those people? What possible argument could be made? There is at least as much or more public opprobrium connected to an alcoholic wife-beater than to a gay teenager. The wife-beater is marginalized and oppressed, and it may even get him beat up by a better man. Those are his impulses and inclinations, maybe even his orientation, and there are studies that connect alcoholism to genetics. Why doesn’t he get a mirror in which to look and affirm what God has made? Try to make an argument that could not also be applied to homosexual youth.
They are free to deny that we are sinners; but sinners don’t need a Savior. Why not just say, we’re happy with who we are and we don’t need God to tell us that? Why must we seek justification from some higher Power for our choices? That’s a far more fundamental question than whether my personal god likes me or not.