“Compassion without Compromise” (Bethany House, 2014) co-authored by Reformed Church in America (RCA) pastors, Adam Barr and Ron Citlau, is subtitled “How the Gospel Frees Us to Love Our Gay Friends Without Losing the Truth.”
I read books written from this point of view regularly. As is with other authors in the same genre, the authors of this book assume the foundational basis on which they’ve constructed the whole of their guidance and beliefs to be correct, biblical truths. The aim of the book is to be a “compassionate, uncompromising witness in a culture that celebrates what the Bible censors.”
Throughout the book, the authors attempt to present objections to their “biblical truth,” or traditional view by contrasting it with a point of view called “revisionist.” To them, I would be considered one such revisionist. Contrary to the view that “many revisionist interpreters have a personal stake in this issue,” I am straight, a mother of two adult heterosexual children, and have been an evangelical Christian for thirty-five years.
How can Christians wisely discern which of the opposing points of view, the traditional or revisionist, might more closely aligned with the Gospel?
Before going further, I want to address the terms traditional and revisionist.
The traditional view holds that homosexuality, or having a homosexual orientation and “acting on it,” or being involved in a same-sex romantic (sexual) relationship or marriage is sinful.
The revisionist view also believes the same-sex behavior depicted in the Bible is indeed sinful. Surprising, right? The foundational difference, however, is that a revisionist, or affirming view, recognizes that the same-sex behavior written about in ancient cultures take place in incidences of rape, violence, sexual abuse and use by men with boys or slaves, and excessive out of control sexual lust.
Ancient cultures had very strict boundaries for the social and sexual roles of men and women. Men were superior and women inferior; this system is patriarchy. The Bible is written in the context of strict patriarchy and has been historically interpreted through that same lens.
While we see examples of mutually loving heterosexual sex in the Bible, we would never expect to see similar examples of mutually loving homosexual couples in the Bible. Again, same-sex acts in patriarchal cultures were abusive and lustful, so we would never expect to see such relationship in a positive light.
The expression and intent of same-sex behavior in ancient cultures is completely dissimilar to what has emerged over the last half century — the medical, psychological, legal and social understanding that there are those who experience a romantic, emotional and sexual attraction for those of the same sex. It has only been over the last half century that those with a homosexual orientation have been able to pursue what is natural to them. When the wrongful designation of “mental illness” was lifted from homosexuality in the 1970s, the “traditional view” was created.
One could certainly argue that the “revisionist” view is the more accurate interpretation of the Bible, and the “traditional” view is actually the revision. Hear me out.
Continuing on with foundational differences between the traditional and revisionist views, revisionists side with modern expert understanding of the spectrum of human sexuality that naturally exists from homosexuality to heterosexuality, a position on which every major professional mental health care organization in the U.S. agrees.
It is also agreed by these professional organizations that people cannot change their natural orientation, and attempting to do so is mentally and emotionally dangerous, and is frequently associated with physical negative consequences.
So, you can see, at the very core of the disagreement between the traditional and revisionist views, there is a wide chasm.
From this basic difference, how authors Barr and Citlau propose to “love” those who are gay would also be manifested quite differently. They think gay people are sexually broken; those with an affirming/revisionist view do not believe gay people are sexually broken.
So now, let’s see how the authors suggest the readers love their gay friends without compromising the traditional view. One might anticipate that misapplying texts written about abusive sex to people who naturally experience emotional, romantic and sexual love with the same sex would be highly problematic, and likely, not perceived as particularly loving.
The traditional view leaves no space inside the Christian camp for people who are not heterosexual. We need to do something with them, to them, or for them before they can join the team.
The spectrum of how Christians deal with homosexuality ranges from finding the sinful root of homosexuality and asking God to heal the relational, abusive or rebellious break from heterosexuality, to trying to control sexual temptation with compusory lifelong celibacy, mitigating the sexual desire engaging in reparative therapy, or by entering into a heterosexual marriage. Some denominations, not the RCA, go further and say homosexuality is a demonic spirit from which one must be delivered.
Rather than call people gay, Citlau and Adam seem to favor the term “same-sex struggler.” Can you perhaps see that even the term “same-sex struggler” can and should be viewed as dismissive to those who are gay? (Citlau uses the terminology to an absurd level, frequently using it up to 8 times on a single page in his subsequent book “Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted,” which I’ve also reviewed.)
Adam and Citlau are each heterosexually married, and fathers to four sons; Citlau is a “same-sex struggler.” They open the book with their own story of coming to faith and why they care about this issue of homosexuality in the church.
Chapter 1: Something Beautiful – Why Did God Make Sex? God made Adam. He was lonely. God made Eve. He made her differently “in essential and obvious ways, she was different too. Let’s get this out of the way: Eve had a vagina. Adam had a penis.” (p 27)
I suggest we get this out of the way: Adam noticed Eve was like him, and no where in the Bible will it state that marriage requires a penis and a vagina. The ancients would not and did not think in terms like that. If we are to be diligent students of the Bible, let’s stick to what is there in the text. Adam sees Eve’s similarity to himself.
Chapter 2 – Two-Faced – How can a bunch of hypocrites cast the first stone? “Even a cursory reading of Scriptures will tell you that homosexual activity is a considered sin.” (p 36) Based on the authors’ assumption of what truth is, they warn us that the traditional view is “the essential guide for truth and reality” and, “as it relates to sexuality, Scripture is crystal clear.” (p 380) Except when it isn’t. Again, what if the same-sex behavior in the Bible is not homosexuality, but is rape, lust, sex between a man and a boy, and abusive sex?
Chapter 3 – Not the Same – Why is sexual sin different from any other? “Gay sexual encounters are two men or two women desperately seeking to become one in a way that is impossible. For them, the two can never become one.” (p 47) I get annoyed at Christians who believe marriage “belongs” to them. Yes, marriage is a sacred vow that Ephesians 5 (without the gender language barriers of ancient patriarchal cultures) tells us is a sacrificial, covenantal, unconditionally loving, lifelong commitment.
If you believe only a man and woman can enter into such a marriage, you need the witness of same-sex married Christian couples in your life and congregation. The authors’ words depicting such unions as “sexual encounters” with the impossibility of becoming one flesh (Genesis 2) are wholly arrogant, ignorant and dismissive.
In the US, marriage is a legal contract. Christians and non-Christians alike enter into these contracts. Christians do not own marriage. It’s too broad to cover here, but I wrote a more detailed history of marriage and investigation into the guidelines of Christian marriage in my book, “Walking the Bridgeless Canyon,” chapter 10.
The authors tell the reader all the benefits of marriage, and remind us that “same-sex union” are not God’s best and in fact, are “an untried alternative and dangerous experiment.” (p 48) To continue in “homosexual sin” is “devastating because it keeps us from Jesus. It is a wide gulf that keeps us from being in relationship with him. To embrace such activity unrepentantly is to decide you do not want to be with Christ.” (p 49)
The authors add “we need to talk about the sinfulness of homosexuality with humility.” (p 51) As I understand to be humble means that I should hold the other as equally important as I am. That would include seeking a way to understand them, and listening to them. Understanding human sexuality naturally exists along a spectrum might be a positive first step of humility.
Okay, let’s all take a step back here and consider what the authors have already written about a person who both identifies as gay and Christian, and is or wants to be married. They can’t get married, and they will never be able to be in relationship with Jesus. Have you wondered why gay people don’t feel welcome in churches with traditional views? Well, here it is.
Chapter 4 – Jesus is My Homeboy – If he didn’t care, why should we? The basis of this chapter is an attempt to undermine part of the revisionist view which they say is an “argument from silence.” It goes like this – because Jesus did not condemn homosexuality, the traditionalists should not condemn it.
I don’t know of any serious scholar or person with a revisionist viewpoint that places a stake in the ground on this “argument from silence.” It is ridiculous. Repeat, repeat – there is no commentary by Jesus or any writer on homosexuality in the Bible. The same-sex behavior in the Bible is not homosexuality, but is rape, lust, sex between a man and a boy, and abusive sex.
Chapter 5 – Ban All the Shrimp – Shouldn’t conservatives be consistent in their reading of Scripture? My answer: Yes, they should. We all should use good rules of biblical exegesis, which include consideration of who the audience was, what is the cultural or historical context, what was the original meaning of the passage, and what did specific Greek or Hebrew words mean at the time of writing?
The authors include in this chapter more misrepresentation of revisionist views. They paint those with affirming/revisionist views as those with a low view of Scripture, as opposed to their higher/traditional view. The authors give sloppy renditions of opposing views. Of course readers would find revisionist view to be weak in that light. I kept thinking as I was reading – that’s not how I engage these passages; that is not what I think; that is so simplistic and juvenile; my beliefs are far more mature and thought out than Citlau and Barr present them.
Chapter 6 – Perception and Reality –How can homosexuals trust Christians when they act like a bunch of homophobes? Those outside the church see those in the church as “narrow-minded homophobes” and traditionalist Christians should love gays like the Good Samaritan did. My take: I would not term traditionalist as narrow-minded homophobes. I do however view them as brothers and sisters in Christ that need to be uneducated and re-educated as to what the Bible is referring to in instances of same-sex behavior.
They should also read Galatians and find out what being a Christian does require – believing, with no add-ons. They should stop treating the gay community like projects and get on with welcoming people and use their gifts.
Chapter 7 – Here’s the Church, Here’s the Steeple – This chapter includes a series of questions that leaders and Christians might face. Topics include: what should we do about same-sex strugglers in our church? A gay couple wants to work in the children’s area, should we let them? A gay couple wants to go to a marriage retreat, how do we handle this? A gay couple wants to become members, what to do? Will we be forced to perform same-sex marriages? The answers are what you would imagine. When your belief system sees gay people as sinful and outside the will of God, your methods and definition of loving actions are going to reflect that and will ultimately fail.
Chapter 8 – Spots on the Leopard – Can the gospel transform someone’s sexual orientation? Included are action tips on how to reach out to the “same-sex struggler” in compassion without compromise. Again, when the entire compassion without compromise exercise is constructed on a severely flawed foundation of misapplied Scripture, the end results will be disastrous.
More questions and answers are presented: How can I have a meaningful conversation without getting into an argument? My neighbors are a lesbian couple. I’ve never told them that I think their lifestyle is sinful. Is it okay not to mention that and just try to be a good neighbor? (Answer: Be a good neighbor and talk to them when the timing is right.) Should we allow our son and his gay partner to come home for the holidays? Should we go to my gay brother’s wedding? How can I talk to a struggling homosexual? I have a lesbian friend who wants to accept Jesus. Can she truly accept Jesus while she is still living this way?
Again, when your tightly held, “crystal clear” view is that the Bible speaks of homosexuality as sinful and against the will of God, the answers to all these questions will place those who are gay on the outside of Christianity in need of being fixed to get into the club.
For more than fifteen years, I have enjoyed excellent and intimate friendships within the LGBT community. Every answer offered to the questions in this chapter devalues LGBT people with an arrogant and ignorant righteousness opposite to the humility and loving spirit the authors believe they are operating in.
But the wisdom of their guidance is in the fruit. Sure, there will be some gay people who will be convinced their sexual orientation is sinful and that they are in need of fixing, but the majority will leave the church, never to return, or find churches that are affirming.
Chapter 10 – Don’t Panic – Things might get hard, but we’re not alone Hang in there and be strong, traditional Christians. There is an agenda working against you. “The aim of this movement is simple: To silence any opposition, not only to homosexuality, but to a wide range of sexual expression.” (p 138) The authors cite a book from 1987, “After the Ball,” a book I have NEVER seen on the bookshelf of any gay friend but referred to ad nauseam in conservative literature.
The gay agenda is equality. Similarly, the “revisionist agenda” is equality and inclusion based on faithful reading of Scripture, an honest inspection of the roles of men and women and human sexuality since ancient cultures, and a compassionate eye and heart of true humility to those who have been marginalized by the traditional view.
Though “Compassion without Compromise” is an easy and accessible read, it is not scholarly, nor historically accurate, and certainly not practical, realistic, nor fruitful in engaging LGBT Christians.
I would strongly suggest readers invest time in fellow RCA member and professor Dr. James Brownson’s book, Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships for a more scholarly approach to the subject. Dr. Brownson, a NT scholar and professor for over three decades, revisited his beliefs when his son came out as gay.
For an accurate view of the historical, cultural, psychological, medical, social, political and religious shifting in the sexual and social roles of men and women from ancient times until the present, I suggest my own well research book Walking the Bridgeless Canyon: Repairing the Breach Between the Church and the LGBT Community To help readers empathetically and compassionately walk in the shoes of another, an action of true humility, I suggest reading both Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate , by Justin Lee and God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships , by Matthew Vines.
“Compassion without Compromise” details the demands of a twisted ideology disguised as biblical truth and a step-by-step guide to the ongoing shaming and ostracizing of LGBT Christians. Choose your reading materials wisely and skip this book.