I recently had a conversation with a friend in which he expressed his disdain for “Christian coercion.” He didn’t exactly call it that, but I think that is an accurate description of what he meant. His concern was that Christians under the threat of eternal damnation pressure others to go against their natural desires. Specifically, the case about which we were speaking involved homosexuality, whether it is a sin punishable by death or a part of nature and, therefore, justified.
As I thought about the matter, I had to admit that I agreed with much of what was being said. The notion of Christian coercion makes me cringe, too. I have sat fidgeting uncomfortably while evangelists tell stories of folks who don’t come to Christ in a service and then are killed in car wrecks on their way home [thus, those at this particular service should “make a decision” right now or they, too, might be killed on the way home]. Such manipulation is ugly and demonstrates a lack of trust in the gospel. A preacher need not resort to tricks and manipulation if the gospel really is the power of God unto salvation. So, I think my friend and I agree that torturing people with thoughts of Hell to get them to make a decision is not acceptable.
That being said, more substantial issues remain unresolved. For instance, even if we agree that coercion is an ugly thing and ought to be avoided, we still have not answered whether or not Hell is real. In the conversation, my friend was opposed to the concept of eternal damnation for those who practice homosexuality. To that opposition, I would simply say that I do believe Hell is real, but I don’t believe it is reserved for homosexuals. It is reserved for all who remain under the curse of sin apart from Christ. This is what the gospel is all about, of course. All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. And, all of us are under a curse. All of creation is under that curse so that the present course of the world is toward death. The present course of those not covered by Christ is death. (But the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord).
So, where does that leave those who practice homosexuality? It leaves them in the same place as all the rest of us: Condemned already. [Whoever believes in Christ is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God… This is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light…]. To be sure, such a message is offensive to those who engage in homosexuality (assuming homosexuality is a sin or a mark of unbelief). But the larger reality is that this gospel is equally offensive to all of us. It isn’t just those who practice homosexuality who are condemned already. It is all of us.
What this condemned already idea means is that coercion is not the point of our preaching. While it is true that Hell exists and we ought to seek to avoid it, it is not the case that we brandish Hell like a torturer’s scourge until we get the confession we want. Hell is the default setting for us all (gay, straight, bi, polyamorous, polyandrous, transgendered, or whatever). Therefore, our message—like the message of Jesus—is “Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” It isn’t repent or you will burn in Hell. It is repent so you will see the Kingdom of God. Our message is inherently positive. We are ministers of reconciliation. We are proclaimers of good news. We are preachers of eternal life. We are not to stretch folks out on the rack of hellfire until we coerce from them a confession. So, even if my friend and I don’t agree on anything else, we agree that far.
As to the rest of his questions concerning whether homosexuality is natural and therefore acceptable… I will try to post on that tomorrow. His questions are yet more penetrating and deserve a thoughtful response.