Should Christians Avoid Hot-Button Issues?
In a recent interview with Associated Press reporter Richard Ostling, Billy Graham made a brief statement that has circulated the past few weeks in several major news publications and on a number of Web sites. Despite being somewhat overshadowed by the attention-getting announcement that his June 24-26 New York City “revival meeting” was probably the last one he will ever hold in the United States, this other statement still managed to cause quite a stir. It appeared on page 23 of the June 27, 2005 issue of Newsweek magazine. It made its way (as part of the Associated Press news release) into several major newspapers, including The Washington Post, The Washington Times, and The Herald (of London). It also appeared (in a positive light) on Web sites dedicated to defending and promoting the homosexual agenda (e.g., Advocate.com; 365gay.com). Just what was it that Billy Graham said? In response to a question about homosexuality, and specifically about same-sex marriage, Graham stated: “I don’t give advice. I’m going to stay off these hot-button issues” (Ostling, 2005). According to Ostling, a religious journalist who has interviewed Billy Graham on numerous occasions over the past 40 years, “Graham now seeks to shun all public controversies, preferring a simple message of love and unity through Jesus Christ” (2005).
Although Billy Graham is viewed by many as the world’s greatest Protestant preacher of the past century, his extremely weak comments concerning “gay” marriage are very disturbing. Such remarks sound more as if they came from a politician hoping to get re-elected for a second term than from a man who alleges to be a Gospel preacher. In a country dominated by pluralism and political correctness, Graham’s sidestepping of the subject of homosexuality by asserting his desire to avoid “hot-button issues” and focus on “a simple message of love and unity through Jesus Christ” is warmly welcomed by the majority of Americans. Homosexuals are delighted that Graham is “mum on same-sex marriage” and “steers clear of gay marriage debate”—phrases that served as headlines on two gay Web sites (www.advocate.com; www.365gay.com). Preachers are fond of talking about being “big on Jesus,” and “small on issues.” “Just focus on Jesus,” we are told. To survive as a “preacher” or “pastor” in the twenty-first century, most seem to think that “advice” is better given from a counselor’s office than from the pulpit. After all, preachers are controversial enough even without delivering controversial messages. Thus, the trendy, politically correct message of focusing on Jesus rather than on “issues” like homosexuality has spread like wildfire among alleged proclaimers of biblical truth.
One of the greatest Gospel preachers ever to walk this Earth was the apostle Paul. He spent days on end traveling the Mediterranean world by land and sea telling people about the good news of Jesus Christ. He taught repeatedly about the necessity of knowing Jesus and becoming immersed in His ways. To the church at Corinth, Paul wrote: “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2, emp. added). What was Paul’s attitude about Jesus? He counted “all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (Philippians 3:8-9). Like Philip (Acts 8:35), Paul knew Jesus, and preached Jesus. In light of Billy Graham’s preferred “message of love and unity through Jesus Christ,” Paul admonished the church at Ephesus “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). He taught that all Christians (whether Jews or Gentiles, servants or freemen, men or women) are “one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). He preached God’s love for man as well as the necessity of man’s love for God. But, unlike many modern-day preachers, Paul’s Christ-centered, loving, compassionate, message of hope and unity, did not exclude the condemnation of sinful “hot-button issues.”
When the latest comments by Billy Graham are compared with those of the apostle Paul one cannot help but observe the stark contrast in how the “hot-button” issue of homosexuality was handled. Rather than shunning public controversy and avoiding giving “advice” on the subject, Paul condemned the sin of homosexuality in the same epistles in which he pleaded for love and unity through Jesus Christ. Many people are aware of how Paul reminded the Romans that “Christ died for the ungodly” and “demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6,8). Earlier in this same letter, however, he wrote to them about God’s wrath toward the “unnatural,” “indecent acts” and “degrading passions” of homosexuals (1:26-27, NASB). Alleged “Gospel preachers” who choose to avoid “issues” like homosexuality need to be reminded that such was not the practice of Paul—a preacher of righteousness whom we are instructed to emulate (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17-19). In the same chapter in which he instructed Timothy about “the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:14), he included “sodomites” (1:10) in a list of “lawless” and “ungodly” sinners. And finally, in the letter in which he spent a whole chapter on the essentiality and supremacy of love in the life of God’s people (1 Corinthians 13), Paul also declared that fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals, and male prostitutes (NIV; “effeminate,” NASB) will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The idea that any Christian today should follow the example of some and refrain from commenting on the sin of homosexuality (or other “hot-button issues”) is completely foreign to sound Bible doctrine. Sin is sin, and people must be warned about its destructiveness, as well as encouraged to accept the gift of eternal life (cf. Romans 6:23). When Jesus was asked a question regarding the extremely sensitive and controversial issue of divorce and remarriage in the first century, did He respond by merely encouraging His audience to focus on “love and unity”? No. He taught that marriage consists of one man and one woman who remain married for life (with the one exception for divorce and remarriage being given in Matthew 19:9).
Most certainly, a “message of love and unity through Jesus Christ” should be bellowed from the mountain tops and preached throughout the world (Matthew 28:19-20). But this message of love does not exclude condemning the very thing that cost Jesus His life—sin (Hebrews 9:26). Alien sinners must be told about the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8-9), as well as the necessity of repentance (Luke 13:3,5; Acts 26:20). We beg and plead with all who are living lives of rebellion against God (including, but certainly not limited to, those living sexually immoral lives) to “turn to God” (Acts 26:20), “repent and be baptized, every one of you” (Acts 2:38).
365gay.com (2005), [On-line], URL: http://www.365gay.com/newscon05/06/061505graham.htm.
Advocate.com (2005), [On-line], URL: http://www.advocate.com/news_detail.asp?id=17766.
Ostling, Richard N. (2005), “Billy Graham All But Certain Upcoming New York Revival Meeting Will Be His Last,” CBC News, [On-line], URL: http://www.cbc.ca/cp/world/050619/w061926.html.