Sunday, December 14, 2008

Phil Johnson on Ray Boltz

If he ever read this, I'm sure Phil would be a bit surprised to find out he had even written about Ray Boltz. And he didn't directly, really. What he did write just happened to shed a lot of light on a Boltz-related article, and since I happened to read them consecutively, it seemed like Phil was writing a response.

The Boltz article came with a strong recommendation from Justin Taylor, and it certainly is not without its merits. For those who aren't familiar with the situation, Ray Boltz was a prominent Christian singer back in the day, who has recently left his faith and family to pursue a homosexual relationship. This article was written by a leader with Exodus International, a ministry that works with people struggling to break free from same-sex attraction and homosexuality, to reflect on and issue a challenge based on something from Boltz's story that stood out to him.

Briefly, the issue that he addressed is the tendency of churches/Christians to over-react to revelations of homosexual temptation and/or sin. That is, this type of sin/struggle can often be treated much more harshly than others, even other sexual or marital sins or temptations. Even though the Bible speaks in equally harsh terms about things like adultery and divorce, people who confess to adulterous temptations, pornographic addiction, and even extra-marital affairs may find their church more willing to work with them to overcome these temptations or restore from these sins than those who come forward about similar-but-homosexual sins. The implicit challenge is to treat the sins/temptations equally - to use the same measures of grace and discipline to help the man struggling with same-sex attraction as we would the man struggling with lust, etc. We need to be just as serious about other sins such as fornication and divorce. More positively, we need to present the full Biblical picture of marriage in all its glory, such that all supposed alternatives are clearly seen to be utterly inadequate imitators (for example, see John Piper and Frank Turk do just that).

The Problem

So that was all good and challenging to think through. There was something in there, though, that just didn't sit right at all. It comes through strongest in this passage:

So, as much as I sympathize with a Church that grieves the lost perception of a
cultural hero, I sympathize all the more with a man who has been forced to
struggle in secret for decades by the very community he served.
In one of his
initial statements concerning his "coming out," Ray mentioned trying to overcome
his same-sex struggle by reading books on the issue. Books — that's all he felt
he had. I know there are many other people the world over who only have that
much to turn to, at least for now. Exodus hears from people every day asking for
help that we are simply too small to provide. And that's just the people who
struggle with this unpopular issue.

OK, so to summarize. There are people such as Ray Boltz who are struggling with same-sex attraction. They want to come forward to their churches, their small groups, their friends, and get the help they need to overcome the temptation. But they think that the reaction will be bad, so they keep it secret (or at most go to people who don't know them well enough to really help, like Exodus) and choose to fight it on their own. Some like Boltz tire of fighting and give in, even like Boltz becoming enthusiastic homosexuals. And this is supposed to be a problem with the church. Hmmmm. I see a few problems with this notion.

First, obviously, is that the reaction is assumed. There's simply no way to know how Boltz's church or close friends would have reacted to his struggles (remember that at first it was just temptation, not even sin) because he never gave them the chance. He (apparently) assumed they would react unbiblically harshly, and decided to fight it half-heartedly on his own. (Any time one chooses to fight sin solo, and refuses to enlist the support, prayers, and wisdom of fellow believers, it's a half-hearted fight at best.) It may very well be that the people who he should have confided in would have reacted as close to perfectly as possible - full of grace and wisdom, offering accountability and discipline as needed, etc. But Boltz (and the many others the article mentions) will never know because they never try, and yet these churches are blamed for their hypothetical reactions. This... isn't right.

The second problem is that it ignores a basic truth about confession: it's never easy no matter what. For example, I've been part of several small groups that have dealt incredibly well with confessions of ugly sins and terrible struggles. I've seen the way they've responded in as Biblically-faithful a manner as possible, and have no reason to doubt that they'd be any less able to handle my confessions of struggles and sins. And yet, it's really, really hard to come forward with these issues. Why? Because confession is hard. It has nothing to do with fear of abusive over-reaction. It has everything to do with not wanting to face the legitimate consequences. I don't want to admit that I have this struggle. I'm ashamed to admit that I've given into that sin. I don't want to go through the process of discipline and restoration, to have these guys knowing that I'm weak in this area and asking about it every week. Even expecting them to react properly, I don't want to come forward with my struggles because I don't want to face the reality and proper consequences.

It's not a matter of abuse; it's a matter of my own pride and desire for comfort. There's no reason to believe that those who struggle with same-sex attraction, or who have given in to homosexuality, are any different. Yes, for them there is almost certainly a higher likelihood of improperly harsh unbiblical treatment. But let's not pretend that if there was no possibility of such overreaction, they would all be incredibly willing to confess their struggles and get the help they need to overcome it. The fact is, many would be content to "fight" in secret, just as many others "fight" against lust, greed, dishonesty, hypocrisy, and myriad other sins, too proud to let anyone know of their struggle, and ultimately willing to give in to that sin rather than humbly confess and ask for help. And when we do give into that sin, would it not be ridiculous to blame the small group or church that we never asked for help?

How Phil Johnson Wrote About Ray Boltz Without Knowing It

So that was weighing on my mind when I flipped to the next article on my Google Reader list: The Devil Made Me Do It by Phil Johnson over at TeamPyro. In it, Phil describes an incident on a trip he took to India a while ago, when a young man asked him for help in dealing with a Satanic attack. When asked to describe the attacks, the man described the fights he had with his mother, how their violently adversarial relationship negatively affected other areas of his life. But more explanation was necessary:
I first asked him what made him think this problem was uniquely Satanic. As he described it to me, it sounded much more like raw carnal
pride on both his part and his mother's. They were constantly saying unkind and
unloving things to one another. He admitted that he purposely did things he knew
would annoy her. He spoke disrespectfully to her. He said he just couldn't stand
her and didn't like being around her.

It sounded like youthful rebellion on his part, more than a satanic attack.
So I said, "It sounds to me like you're just behaving in a fleshly way. I think
you need to look into your own heart for the culprit, rather than blaming the
devil and outside influences."

But he insisted that I just didn't understand the issue. It must
be Satanic, he said, because the nature of his conflict with his mother was so
powerful—and living with her was like living with the devil.

Alrighty then. So the guy was basically just acting like a typical rebellious youth. But he was convinced that it wasn't his own rebellion; it must be Satan making him act that way. He was not responsible for his actions here, nuh-uh. It was all because of Satan. This is obviously nothing more than an evasion of his own responsibility, and Phil offers a response that cuts right through that utterly lame excuse:
I told him first of all, that regardless of Satan's involvement in his struggle,
the root sin causing his problems was fleshly, carnal pride. I also reminded him
that when he sinned with his tongue, he was sinning deliberately of his own
accord, so he couldn't escape his own responsibility by blaming Satan for the
turmoil in his household.

And from there, he lays out a Biblical case showing that even when demonic influence is granted, the responsibility for the sin always falls directly on the man who commits it. That there is no sin Satan can force us to commit, but that it is always willful complicity on our part. That it is our responsibility to resist, and when we give in, it's no excuse that we were tempted, because the temptation just appeals to the evil already in us (James 1:14-15). Satan may stir things up, but the sin is already in us waiting to burst forth, and we have no one else to blame when we embrace it. Phil summarizes:
We'd all like to believe that our struggle with sin involves only external
enemies. We're willing to say that Satan is to blame for our sin. We're even
willing to blame the world—as long as it's an external cause. As long as we
don't have to take the blame on ourselves.

But even our struggle with the world is a struggle that is fomented by
inordinate desires that emanate from within ourselves, because "All that is in
the world [is] the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of
life" (1 John 2:15). Those are sinful tendencies that come from within us. We
ourselves are to blame when inordinate worldly affections crowd out what should
be a pure love for God and the things of God. Neither the world nor the devil
could ever take advantage of us if our own flesh did not cooperate.

So About Ray Boltz...

I hope the connection I see between the two articles is fairly obvious. In the second article, you have a man trying to blame his sin on Satan. If only Satan wasn't making me act this way, things would be perfect. I would never act like that on my own. It's not me. No, it's Satan. My sin - well, it isn't even sin really, it's a demonic attack. Not my fault.

In the first article, you have a seeming attempt to shift the blame for Ray Boltz's sin (as well as untold others) to their churches and friends. If only that church had reacted better... no wait. If only he had imagined that the church would have reacted better, he surely would have come forth with his struggle. And if he had thought their hypothetical reaction would be better, and confessed his struggle and sought help, he likely would have been able to overcome it. So his sin isn't entirely his fault - it's because his church didn' act better in his imagination. If only his church was hypothetically better, he wouldn't have sinned this way. So his sin, it's not entirely his fault either.

On one hand, the devil made me do it. On the other hand, my church made me do it. And actually in Boltz's case, he's even using the intellectually bankrupt "God made me do it" excuse: "If this is the way God made me, then this is the way I’m going to live." Which brings these cases even closer together, actually. The Indian fellow didn't sin; he was just under Satanic attack. Boltz isn't sinning; he's just living the way God made him.

But of course, these are far from unique cases of blame-shifting. Consider this classic example from Aaron. The setting: God has just delivered Israel from Egypt through repeated unquestionable miracles. He's led them towards the Promised Land, and along the way they stop at Mount Sinai, where Moses meets with God to receive the terms of the covenant. While Moses is meeting with God atop the mountain, the people apparently forget all they've seen (and are still seeing!) and ask for idols, which Aaron is more than happy to make in the form of a golden calf. When Moses comes down and confronts Aaron, just imagine the hubris necessary to concoct this excuse: "So I said to them, 'Let any who have gold take it off.' So they gave it to me, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf." In other words, it's not my fault - the fire did it!

But even that pales in comparison to the most insane example. This comes from Genesis 3, man's very first sin. God had given Adam and Eve everything they could ever need, and just asked for simple faith - that they trust God to tell what is right and wrong. Instead, they rebelled and wanted to be their own judge of right and wrong, to be self-determining instead of faithfully trusting their creator and provider, and they dove head-first into sin (the term "fall" can be a wee bit misleading, as if it was an accident). When God confronted them about their choice, Adam shoots back the most ridiculous accusation imaginable: The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate." Wow. It's not my fault; it's all because of her. And really, you gave her to me, so it's actually all your fault, God!

And sadly, we all participate in the same blame-shifting today. We come up with every excuse imaginable for every sin. It's because I learned it from my father. It's because my church didn't support me enough. It's because of Satan. It's how God made me, so what can I do? It's the influence of my culture. It's just because she's too hot, and how could I be expected to resist?

In the end, none of these excuses hold the slightest bit of water. And it does nobody any good to pretend that any of these rationalizations excuse the sin. Dealing with sin and temptation is hard enough when it's confronted honestly; allowing someone to hide behind an excuse is not helpful at all. And if it helps them fall more thoroughly into sin, it's actually just cruel.

1 comment:

Tha Deuce said...

You are 100% right on this... Not only is ALL sin fed by the flesh and sinful nature. Satan may stir things up; but ultimately, the ways that the Bible teaches us to combat sin are:
Flee from it
Resist it
The Bible specifically tells us to take every thought captive and essentially filter it through the Word. If Ray (or any christian who struggles with homosexual temptations) would have followed simple biblical commands; there would be very few who lost this battle.

What is God's first command: "Go forth; be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and subdue it." So we see that homosexuality is a blatant violation of God's very first command. When someone who is struggling with these kinds of thoughts bring those thoguhts under the scrutiny of the word; they have biblical ammunition to resist the temptaion. They would also want to eliminate any influences that feed these temptations from their media input and social circles; "fleeing" from the temptation. In addition; they would want to fill the time that would normally be filled with those things with activities that encouraged holy behavior and people that will offer spiritual support.

I'm not going to say that all temptations can be overcome with this method, but I fond most of them; especially overtly sinful behaviors; can be effectively conquered...