Jeff Maples writes, “Liberty University Professor, Karen Swallow Prior, has been under a lot of scrutiny on social media for the last several days regarding her stance on homosexuality. The argument is that she believes homosexuality to be sinful, therefore, she does not affirm it.”
Why Karen Swallow Prior is NOT “Gay-Affirming”
The term “gay affirming” has been falsely ascribed to Karen Swallow Prior (hereafter KSP). Here is my argument.
Consider the term “gay affirming.” The term “gay affirming” has an established and widely accepted meaning. For example, “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) affirming religious groups (also called gay-affirming) are religious groups that welcome LGBT members and do not consider homosexuality to be a sin.” Notice that gay affirming groups are those groups that “do not consider homosexuality to be a sin.”
If KSP is gay affirming, then she does not consider homosexuality to be a sin.
KSP considers homosexuality to be a sin.
Therefore, KSP is not gay affirming.
Since the argument is valid and its premises true, it follows that KSP is not gay affirming.
Maples asks, “But do her actions say otherwise?” This comment reveals that Maples is confused about what it means to be gay affirming. In virtue of the common definition of gay affirming, it cannot be the case that any action on KSP’s part, other than denying that homosexuality is sin, can “say otherwise.”
Moving the Goalposts
However, Maples appears to be saying something quite different when he uses the term “gay affirming.” Let’s examine his definition.
First, let’s define the term affirm. While the Oxford American College Dictionary defines affirm in one way as “to state as a fact,” it offers a second definition, in which we will focus on here since it’s more applicable and equally valid in this case.
2 [WITH OBJECT] Offer (someone) emotional support or encouragement: there are five common ways parents fail to affirm their children good teachers know that students need to be both affirmed and challenged
2.1Give (life) a heightened sense of value, typically through the experience of something emotionally or spiritually uplifting: it is a rich and challenging motion picture that both affirms life and emphasizes its fragility
I think everyone involved in this argument can affirm (no pun intended) that Dr. Prior has both offered emotional support or encouragement to homosexuals, as well as given them a heightened sense of value emotionally, and spiritually.
There is no way out of the argument that Dr. Prior is affirming homosexuals, according to this definition.
For the sake of argument, let’s concede the point Maples makes. KSP offers emotional support, encouragement, and a heightened sense of value through something emotionally and spiritually uplifting. The question that should immediately arise in the minds of readers is whether or not there is anything wrong with “affirming” homosexuals in the way Maples has suggested KSP does. Biblically speaking, is there anything wrong with providing emotional support, encouragement and a heightened sense of value to sinners through something emotionally and spiritually uplifting? Much to his credit, Maples raises a similar question, “So this leaves us with the question; is affirming homosexuals in this way biblical?” And again much to his credit, Maples suggests a closer look at Scripture in order to answer this question. He writes, “Let’s examine this from a scriptural perspective, as Christians must always do.”
He then asks a slightly different question, “How did Jesus treat unrepentant sinners?” Pay close attention to whether or not Maples provides an answer to his question.
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him.
And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? And Jesus answered them, Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. Luke 5:27-32
So, how does Jesus treat the unrepentant sinners in this passage? First, he accepts an invitation to come and feast with them. While it appears that Levi has repented and followed Christ at this point, he nevertheless prepares a feast for a large group of his sinful friends. Then, he invites Jesus to this feast for sinners, and Jesus accepts. Second, when the self-righteous Pharisees complain about what Jesus is doing, Jesus uses the deep spiritual need of the sinful tax collectors as his defense for why he is eating with them. Third, Jesus comes to the sinners. Fourth, Jesus intends for his coming to the sinners to allow him the opportunity to call them to repentance. These are the ways that this passage states Jesus treated unrepentant sinners.
Maples compares the text to the alleged actions of KSP. He writes, “Upon first reading this passage, one might think that this is no different than what Dr. Prior has been doing.” Which is to say, Jesus is “affirming” these sinners the same way KSP is “affirming” them, by providing emotional support, encouragement, and a heightened sense of value through something emotionally and spiritually uplifting.
Maples then writes, “After all, she ‘believes homosexuality is a sin,’ right?” This statement does not seem to fit the train of thought here, unless Maples is just pointing out KSP’s echo of Jesus’ statement that the tax collectors with whom he eats are, in fact, sinful.
However, Maples does not believe KSP’s treatment of unrepentant sinners parallels the treatment Jesus provides them in this passage. He explains, “But there are a few key phrases in this passage that should be looked at a little closer.” Very well.
Maples writes, “First, Jesus said to the tax collector, ‘follow me.’” While this is certainly true, it should be noted that as soon as Levi the tax collector does leave everything to follow Jesus, Levi is no longer an unrepentant sinner. Maples explains, “When Jesus used this phrase, it was a call to repentance, not just the physical act of walking behind him.” Levi is a repentant sinner.
The next statement says that Levi “left everything,” and followed Jesus. This is an act of repentance. Further, Jesus tells the Pharisees that he is there for the purpose of calling them to repentance.
Amen. Sadly though, Maples omits what Levi does next, which is to prepare a massive feast and invite unrepentant sinners to eat it. And Jesus joins them! What is with Levi having all of his unrepentant buddies over at his house? Did Jesus really have to come to this feast where unrepentant sinners were hanging out? Jesus did not have to eat with unrepentant sinners in order to call them to repentance. He called Levi to repentance while Levi sat at the tax booth.
Recall Maples’ question, “How did Jesus treat unrepentant sinners?” Does Maples answer this question? He does, but only in the sense that he focuses on the fact that Jesus calls Levi to repentance. After that point in the story, Levi is no longer an unrepentant sinner. Jesus does not judge Levi for entertaining unrepentant sinners at his household. Instead, Jesus joins them, and defends these actions from the Pharisees who do judge the Christ for reclining at table with unrepentant sinners. Oddly, Maples ignores the very human elements in the text that are not immediately relevant to repentance, but are immediately relevant to the issue of how Jesus treats unrepentant sinners in terms of emotional support, encouragement, and a heightened sense of value, as per the definition provided by Maples in his post.
Maples asks, “Is Dr. Prior asking her homosexual friends to drop everything, and follow Jesus? This is a question that should be answered.”
Yes, this is a question that should be answered, and it is a question that has been answered over, and over, and over again during the course of this past week. The answer is yes.
I know Dr. Prior and her supporters have stated over and over that she “believes homosexuality to be a sin,” but does she call them to repentance? Do her friends know, without a shadow of a doubt, that if they don’t repent of their sin, they will perish, and have eternal conscious torment?
Yes. Here is a video directed at homosexuals. KSP appears several times in the video, but note especially the 11:30 mark and on.
And in this post, TurretinFan relates how he asked KSP a very direct question regarding her attendance at a gathering of unrepentant (and some repentant) sinners, and how she answered.
Her comments regarding her motivation were refreshing and provide a very different light on her actions:
Karen: “I was invited to the event specifically to represent the “non-affirming” view, which I did.”
In response to the question: “Did you get a chance to use the divinely inspired biblical terminology and the hope of the gospel?”
Karen responded: “That’s the goal I went with and I pray God used my witness. The event also included folks who have renounced their past homosexual behavior and it was a blessing to support and encourage them.”
At this juncture, the readers are free to decide on their own who might be more closely related to Jesus in the passage from Luke, and who might be more closely related to the Pharisees. While the inferences here are most certainly cliché, they also appear far too obvious for further comment. This observation is not a shot at anyone, but an honest evaluation of the relevance of the text in question to the situation at hand.
Maples moves on to another slightly different topic, writing that an “Advocate of the grossly unbiblical idea of ‘Gay Christianity,’ and gay activist, Rachel Held Evans came to defend Prior.” As it stands, Maples is guilty of a simple association fallacy, but he seems to have another reason in mind for noting the support of Evans.
John 15:18-19 says:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
The “logic” of this passage, to which Maples will momentarily refer, is actually quite difficult. The passage is not unclear, but it is rather difficult to state as a syllogism. Keep this in mind for when Maples appeals to the logic of the passage in a moment.
Note also the passage states clearly that if a person is of the world, then the world will love that person as its own. Maples comments further.
Homosexuals love Karen Swallow Prior. Brandon Ambrosino, a gay student of Dr. Prior at Liberty University, has stated this. Pictures that Karen has taken with homosexuals, and homosexual advocates also suggest this (see here and here). And further, homosexual advocates like Rachel Held Evans have repeatedly come to her defense.
Maples appears to take homosexuals at their word concerning their love for KSP. This trust in their definition and understanding of love is rather strange for Maples, given what he would likely say about homosexual views of love. Regardless, it does not follow from the fact that a person says he or she loves another person that he or she actually does love that other person. Maples appears to be disregarding the words of KSP and favoring instead the subjective feelings of love homosexuals and others have apparently had toward KSP. (Note also he cites words from KSP when he thinks they are a problem for her, and disregards them when he thinks they are a problem for him.) More importantly, none of these considerations establishes that the homosexuals who “love Karen Swallow Prior” love her as their own.
Maples insists, “I want to be clear, anyone who thinks (like Rachel Held Evans) that one can continue to live in unrepentant sin is NOT a Christian.” This emphatic statement from Maples is not clear. Plenty of people continue to live in unrepentant sin. In fact, people die in their sins. Maples states that anyone who believes these tenets is not a Christian, but that is not true. In fact, both are Christian tenets. Maples probably means that a person who continues to live in unrepentant sin is not a Christian, which is true, though it would be helpful for Maples to clarify his view here and to say as well how long he believes a person can continue in unrepentant sin before he or she can no longer be considered a Christian.
So we can conclude one of the following from this:
1.) Either Karen Swallow Prior is loved by the world because she doesn’t proclaim the whole counsel of God.
2.) The Scriptures, according to John 14:18-19 [sic] are false.
These are the only logical conclusion for a bible-believing Christian to come to is number 1. [sic]
Maples is not actually making a logical argument here. As mentioned before, Maples believes he is appealing to the logic of John 15:18-19 (not John 14:18-19 as in 2), but he is not. For his point to stick, he really needs to explain the logic of the passage in question, by which is meant the actual logical structure of the passage in question. Neither of the options 1 and 2 presented by Maples logically follow from the passage.
Option 2 is clearly false. Option 1 is also clearly false. First, one can argue that KSP does proclaim the whole counsel of God. Second, the portion of the passage quoted does not say that the world loves Christians when they do not proclaim the whole counsel of God. What Maples really needs to say, if he is going to claim that the world loves KSP as they love their own, is that KSP is not a Christian, not a believer, not a sister in Christ. Is he really prepared to say that? For his sake, let’s hope not!
Think very carefully about what Maples’ argument implies. His argument implies that if any unrepentant sinner expresses love toward a professing Christian, then that professing Christian is not actually of Christ, but of the world. Does Maples really want to say that?
Maples has a picture up of himself holding what one assumes is his young daughter. Would Maples consider his daughter an unrepentant sinner? Would Maples say that his daughter loves him? It does not follow that Maples is of the world.
What about other unbelieving family members? Coworkers? Is it really true that if, God forbid, an unrepentant sinner claims to love you, you are in fact lost? An unrepentant sinner? Part of the world? Loved as one of its own? Maples has made the assurance of salvation for the believer stand or fall based upon the subjective opinions of love expressed by unbelievers. Is this really the meaning of the text? Of course not. Maples is mistaken to try and make the type of argument he makes in his post.
Moving the Goalposts (Again)
Maples moves on to another text of Scripture.
Prior’s supporters continue to defend her by leveling the accusation of hate against those who dissent from her manner of approach towards homosexuals. This is a grossly unbiblical position to take. 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 says:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”
Now, one can argue that this is Paul directing this command specifically to the Corinthians because they had a problem with sexual immorality that was visible within their church. Short of being legalistic about it, this is true. However, there are practical and applicable truths here that must be considered. The reason “Purge the evil person from among you” is in quotations, is because this is a quote from Deuteronomy 17:17. The idea is that immoral people were defiling God’s people by pretending to be part of them.
So far so good, it seems. Maples continues, “This is exactly what is happening in our church today. There are homosexual activists, and ‘Gay Christian’ propagandists running rampant throughout the Church, and they are being made to feel comfortable.” Maples is correct all the way up to his last phrase, “and they are being made to feel comfortable.” In one sense, he is right. Plenty of churches (or “churches”) have forsaken their duty to call sinners to repentance and faith in Christ Jesus alone for salvation from sin. Plenty have not only welcomed unrepentant sinners into their congregations, but made them feel comfortable about their sin. If that is what Maples is referring to, then good for him.
What is disconcerting is that Maples appears to be equating “being made to feel comfortable” with the practices of providing emotional support, encouragement, and a heightened sense of value to people. People live in a broken world of their own sinful making. We all stand guilty and condemned before God. We all feel the effects of the curse. Nothing provides emotional support, encouragement, and a heightened sense of value to people the way the Christian worldview does through the proclamation of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ for our sins. More on that in a moment.
Maples continues, “Matthew Vines is not a Christian, but he calls himself one–we must not eat with him.” Again, “Brandon Ambrosino is not a Christian, but he believes himself to be one–we must not eat with him.” Finally, “Rachel Held Evans is not a Christian, but she calls herself one–we must not eat with her.”
Maples is right, but he misses the point of the text. The Apostle Paul is not just telling the Corinthian believers that they should not eat with these people, he is telling them “not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty.” When Paul says believers should not even eat with these people, he is expressing the depth of disassociation, not literally saying something along the lines of it being okay to associate with them, but not eat with them.
Now, who are the people who bear the name of brother? The passage is most certainly not referring to those of the world. Paul is clear, “not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world.” This realization presents a slew of difficulties for Maples’ argument in his post.
First, Maples began by noting “that Dr. Prior has both offered emotional support or encouragement to homosexuals, as well as given them a heightened sense of value emotionally, and spiritually.” But according to the passages Maples chose for his argument, Luke 5:27-32 and 1 Corinthians 5, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Dr. Prior doing this for unrepentant sinners who are not brothers and sisters in the faith. In fact, the case Maples makes leaves Christians suspecting that “gay affirming” is a good thing when it’s performed with respect to unbelievers.
Second, in his commentary on John 15:18-19, Maples categorized Brandon Ambrosino, the homosexuals who love KSP, the homosexuals who took their pictures with KSP, and Rachel Held Evans as belonging to the world. Look back at 1 Corinthians 5. People who are known to belong to the world do not bear the name of brother or sister. We cannot have it both ways! So again, Maples’ argument does not apply to what has been ascribed to KSP.
Third, while Maples’ zeal for the Bible, morality, and church discipline is encouraging, it is also frequently misguided and misapplied. Two examples are provided above. Consider another. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints identify as Christians. Would Maples say the LDS bear the name of brother? If they bear the name of brother, then how can any of them be evangelized, given that Christians are not to associate with them, not even to eat with them? If they do not bear the name of brother, then certainly others such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, so-called nominal Christians, and open and unrepentant homosexuals do not either. Maples is simply not careful enough in making distinctions between those within the local church body who refuse to repent for known immorality in the context of church discipline and those outside of the local church body. Thus, his argument, if it can be salvaged, is exceedingly unclear.
Other passages imply something very close to what Maples, following a dictionary, calls “affirming.”
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. (Colossians 4:5-6)
Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:12)
Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:7)
John Gill comments, “That is, ‘without the church,’ as the Arabic version reads; for wicked men, though they dislike the principles and profession of godly ministers, and despise their office, yet cannot but speak well of their becoming life and conversation. And this part of their character is necessary to invite persons to hear them, and to recommend their ministry to them.”
Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. (Romans 12:14-18)
Does loving people mean affirming their sin, loving their sin, supporting them in their sin, encouraging them in their sin, or valuing sin? Most certainly not. Such an approach is hateful. Does loving people involve emotional support? Of course. Does it include encouragement? Of course. Does it mean providing people with a heightened sense of value? Yes, Christian love requires we treat others with all of the dignity they possess in virtue of their having been created in the image of God. That is the highest sense of human value available to the unbeliever.
Nevertheless, Maples is absolutely right to link church discipline with both Scripture and a biblical ideal of love. He is right that it is extremely unfaithful and unloving to affirm people in their sins, granting them a false hope that they have been saved from the wrath of God toward sin when they have not. But he has not established that KSP has done anything out of accord with Scripture.
Maples has moved the goalposts of this discussion toward a proper understanding of church discipline, but it’s not clear Maples understands the subject as well as he might think he does. This observation is not intended to upset Maples, but to call for his help in working with other Christians who recognize homosexuality as sin while the Church prepares to face darker days in the near future. In any event, being “gay affirming” and having a faulty understanding of church discipline are two different things.
Maples concludes, “I write this, not to further condemn Dr. Prior, or anyone else, but to simply proclaim the truth of the Gospel. If anyone is failing to proclaim our state of depravity, our deadness in sin and failing to call people to repentance and faith in Christ’s saving work through his death, burial, and resurrection, then that, people, is affirmation.”
As demonstrated, KSP does not “fail” to do any of the above.