Over the weekend, my friend Jonathan Merritt posted the following to Twitter:
THREAD: This quote from one of my favorite theologians explains why I don’t engage with a lot of conservative evangelicals on LGBT theology. They speak of that which they do not know. https://t.co/wIi5kViWL5
— Jonathan Merritt (@JonathanMerritt) August 18, 2018
Merritt goes on to criticize conservative evangelical pronouncements on LGBT issues for their supposed failure to know, interact with, or be in regular fellowship with individuals who consider themselves to be LGBT. According to Merritt, you should not render a moral judgment about a person you don’t know. Unless you have taken time to understand their personal struggles and pain, then you have no grounds for making pronouncements that impugn their personal choices.
But is Merritt correct in saying this?
To be sure, scripture calls us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). We are to put on a “heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” whenever dealing with anyone (Col. 3:12). The Lord Jesus himself teaches us to love our neighbors as we love our selves and to be slow and humble about forming judgments (Matt. 7:1-5; 19:19). There is no dispute that we are called to this kind of self-giving love to our neighbors, even to those with whom we have deep disagreements.
Nevertheless, Merritt goes beyond this and suggests that we must suspend moral judgments about people that we don’t know personally. And it is here that we run up against a problem with Merritt’s analysis. There is no clear place in Scripture, much less an “incarnational” litmus test that suggests moral judgment is only legitimate if and only if a person is intimately acquainted with the person’s personal battles. To use Jesus’ Incarnation as the ethical hurdle one must jump in order to legitimately make a moral claim is to extrapolate more from the Incarnation than what the Incarnation was meant for, especially concerning ethics.
I do not need to know a pornographer to know that pornography is wrong. I do not need to know what motivates one man’s adultery to know that adultery is wrong. The Protestant principle of the perspicuity of Scripture is undermined by Merritt’s argument. What do I mean by that? I mean that Scripture is written clearly and intelligibly, meaning that it speaks truthfully about the types of actions that are sinful, regardless of whether a person is tempted to that particular sin.
I think Merritt’s view is based on caricature more than it is in reality. Merritt claims that evangelicals are disqualified from rendering moral judgment on LGBT issues because they don’t know or spend time with LGBT people. How can he possibly know this? Who is he referring to? It’s an accusation easily made but not easily substantiated, which is probably why Merritt doesn’t try to. He does not know nor can he know the day-to-day rhythms of Christians and their interactions with LGBT persons.
Merritt’s point is also arbitrary. How many LGBT persons must an evangelical know in order to sufficiently render moral judgement? One? Three? Forty-six? Seventy-three?
Merritt undermines the Bible’s teaching on sin. If each of us inherits a sin nature, it means that regardless of the type of sin each of us is tempted with, they all originate from the same fallen internal nature. Whether it is homosexual desire that one man has for another, or one man’s heterosexual lust for a woman, the same fallenness underwrites the evil desire that entices us. In a fallen world, there is no special class of sinner, nor is there the category of sin in others that is not also present in me. We are all sexual sinners. We have all committed murder in our heart. The good news is that while each of us was sinners, Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:8).