The New Morality – Has God Changed His Mind About Sins Like Homosexuality

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. Walter Martin, Roger Montgomery and John Shelby; ©2004
Does God’s word in the Old and New Testament still stand true for us today, or must we reinterpret them in light of current social values?

The New Morality: Has God Changed His Mind About Sins Like Homosexuality?

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome! We’re here in Dallas, Texas tonight, and we have three guests on the stage.

First of all, Episcopal Bishop John Spong, who is representing the “new morality” and calling for sexual ethics which he says fall outside what is believed to be the traditional moral norm;

Next, Dr. Walter Martin, who is presenting historic orthodox Christianity and traditional Chris­tian ethics.

And then last week we introduced a guest by the name of Roger Montgomery. Roger is dying of AIDS and gave his story last week

Roger, why don’t you just give us a capsule form, if you can, in about two minutes for the people that did not see last week. You have had between 1,000 to 1,500 homosexual encoun­ters, and at a point in your life you cursed God, and you felt that there was no hope from Him— that He couldn’t change you and you hated God, and you hated Christians; you didn’t like women; became a prostitute, and at one point considered suicide. And then what happened?

Roger Montgomery: Right. Jesus Christ quite literally introduced Himself to me—not in a physical form—I didn’t see Him standing in front of me—but He spoke to me in a very clear, very audible way and convinced me that I was a sinner, and that if I would come to Him as a sinner and receive forgiveness of that sin, that I could have a brand new life. This world often cries out that “there’s no hope!” “Where can you go when it’s hopeless?” Christ introduced Himself to me and gave me a new life. He didn’t change my old one, but He gave me a new one. (Read Montgomery’s testimony “Dying of AIDS—The Testimony of a Former Male Prosti­tute” under Social Issues, August 2004)

Ankerberg: All right. Walter Martin, as you sat there last week and you listened to this unbe­lievable story, what struck you? What are your first impressions?

Dr. Walter Martin: I thought the description of the compulsion to evil was tremendously important. It was almost line for line out of the Scripture, which talks about that “whatever you yield yourself the servant to obey, its servant you are” [Rom. 6:16]. The word servant there is “slave.” Its slave you are, whether it is sin that ends in death, or righteousness that ends in life.

And here we have a classic illustration of Jesus Christ recreating: “If anyone be in Christ he is a new creation. The old things pass away…all things have become new” [2 Cor. 5:17].

You know, a question came to my mind while you were here, Roger, and I don’t know how to delicately state it. But you know from the writings of some theologians, from the writings of people in the secular world—psychologists and psychiatrists and others—they would have said to you, “Well now, you don’t need to change back again or to become heterosexual really, be­cause you were born homosexual. You developed genetically. It was determined that you’re homosexual. Why are you trying to frustrate nature?” What would you say to them?

Montgomery: Well, first off, it wasn’t my choice to become heterosexual. That wasn’t my goal primarily. My goal was to receive wholeness for the brokenness. I wasn’t a total person. And when I received Christ, He gave me heterosexuality. It’s not something that I fought to achieve, even though the process did take a little bit of time. But it was a gift from Him; it was not something that I grasped or that I begged God for and He gave it to me as a special gift.

Ankerberg: Okay. Bishop Spong?

Bishop John Shelby Spong: In the intermission I said to Rog that I thanked him for his witness. It was powerful; it was authentic to his experience. I rejoice in it. It would not occur to me to try to interpret his experience other than [as] he interprets it. So I simply say “Fine. I think that’s a wonderful thing.”

My anxiety would be that I know Christian people deeply committed to Jesus Christ who are gay, who have asked for deliverance and who have not received the gift that Roger says he has received. I rejoice that Roger has received it. Beyond that I wouldn’t want to com­ment on his story.

Ankerberg: Roger, you know quite a few friends that are also homosexual, lesbian, that have had a relationship with Jesus Christ. Have they all been successful? Or what has been happening?

Montgomery: Well, I’m not alone in my story. There are hundreds, and even thousands of people that have experienced the same thing that I have experienced. Because, first of all, homosexuals believe the lie that they were totally separated and had no way to come back to God. And then they began to believe a different lie—that lie was that that sin was okay. Now, many homosexual people are beginning to realize, yes, their homosexuality is a sin; but they have a Savior.

Ankerberg: Walter, when Bishop Spong says, from his side of the fence, that this is okay for Roger, but it shouldn’t be interpreted for anybody else that way or it shouldn’t be applied except for what we’ve heard, what would you say?

Martin: I’d have to return to the biblical imperative, which is that God created man and woman—He created the sexes—and basically it is evil to pervert what God originally designed. That was the whole reason why the judgment of God came in Romans Chapter 1, because men turned away, perverted their religious experience, and then found themselves inverted into psychological and spiritual and then, physical, disaster with homosexuality [vv. 18-32].

So I think that Bishop Spong’s approach to it—and I say this cognizant of the fact that he will vigorously disagree with me—I think Bishop Spong’s attitude in his writings and the statements that he makes, since the position which he takes is unbiblical, actually encourages people to remain where they are rather than repenting of their sin and coming to the Lord Jesus Christ as Roger did.

Ankerberg: John, what do you think?

Spong: It’s very difficult to enter into this discussion because it’s so intensely personal. Ankerberg: Yes.

Spong: What Rog has described is a life of dreadful pain. I think that if Rog were a het­erosexual person and had had a similar sexual history, it would also have been a life of dreadful pain from which he would need to have been delivered. I think there is such a thing as people who are addicted to sexuality on both sides of the issue of heterosexual and homosexual activity. I pray for every person to be whole; to be the image of God. I am pleased when I hear a witness from Rog that he has found wholeness in the particular way that he has found wholeness.

If I were to plead with this audience and with my debating partner and even with Rog and with you, John, for anything, it would simply be to be open to the possibility that there are some lesbian and gay persons who love God as much as anyone in this room; who are as saved by Jesus Christ as much as anyone in this room, and who have not had their homosexual orienta­tion changed. And I do think we’ve got to hear—to make the total story—we’ve got to hear from that kind of person also.

Ankerberg: John, I don’t want you to think I’m picking on you, but I’m going to give you a quote back from one of your books here. You say, “The Church must abandon its irrelevant ethical judgments. We must stop passing resolutions recalling people to those prohibitions. Such activities will discredit the church. As one voice in the church I’m not prepared to condemn non-conventional sexual relationships.”

When you think of what we have heard from Roger, if we do not do what God tells us to do in Scripture—which is to love the person—but just like those that steal, and are heterosexual, that are promiscuous, or in adultery, or fornication, if the Church does not say, “That is wrong [but] we still love you and you can have full forgiveness in Jesus Christ, and Christ can change your life;” if the Church does not give that statement, Roger would have never even come to Christ.

Spong: Once again, John, I think that to use a single dramatic and beautiful story to illustrate all of the aspects of the sexuality debate is simply not an appropriate way to discover truth. I rejoice in Roger’s story. I think we all do. That’s not the point. When I say that I’m prepared to bless unconventional relationships, I’m talking about a wide variety of things that wouldn’t be subsumed under what Rog has had to say to us.

Ankerberg: Yes, but those would be outside of the biblical norm as well, as you have admit­ted. And I’m not quibbling about what you are saying, I’m quibbling about the fact that if you take that position—if everybody had taken that position…yes, we have one wonderful story; but… we wouldn’t have had “one wonderful story” unless somebody had taken that position.

Spong: I think we ought to broaden the base of this discussion just a little bit. One of the things that I think—and again I guess we could debate this; we seem capable of debating al­most anything—I guess we could debate whether or not the Bible, out of its patriarchal mental­ity, denigrates women. And certainly, the first chapter of Genesis says “male and female created He [them].” The second story has the woman created much later for the sole purpose of being the helpmate to the male.

The fact of the matter is, that in the Old Testament, polygamy was the lifestyle—not mo­nogamy. I submit to you that polygamy denigrates women. Three hundred years after the Ten Commandments were given, if we date Moses somewhere between 1400 and 1250, 300 years after that, Solomon was the king in Jerusalem and he had 300 wives and 700 concubines. That’s a thousand women who were his possession. What does adultery mean, when you have a thousand wives? My sense is, if you’ve got a thousand wives and still are tempted to commit adultery, you have a problem. You have a fairly big problem. I don’t believe it’s a moral problem;

I believe it’s an addictive psychological problem.

Ankerberg: Have you ever heard anybody give you an answer to that?

Spong: I’m sure you’re waiting to be the first one!

Ankerberg: Well, it might be possible! I just was curious if, in all your reading, you had ever heard an Evangelical ever give a solid intellectual answer to what you’re saying?

Spong: John, I grew up an Evangelical and I still claim to be one. We might define “Evangeli­cal” differently, but I still claim to be an Evangelical.

Ankerberg: I think that’s a part of our problem, that if we use the same word to mean two different things, one of us needs to give it up. The question is, if we’re going to use the word “Christian” that’s got a background of history of 2,000 years, why should we give up the mean­ing of what we think it means?

Spong: You are suggesting, it seems to me, that what we have considered “Christian” has not changed over the years rather dramatically. Rather dramatically.

Ankerberg: Well, I think that Genesis 1 and 2, which Jesus reiterated again in Matthew, has not changed.

Spong: Why do you suppose that in the last year in the United States of America almost every major religious body has debated homosexuality? Why do you suppose that is?

Ankerberg: All right. Dr. Martin, let me pull you in here. You have heard that. You have been a part of those debates. What would you say?

Martin: I’d say that we are talking “cross purposes.” We are using different vocabulary. To be an Evangelical means to proclaim the evangel. The Bishop doesn’t proclaim the evangel, he denies the evangel or the good news.

Spong: I disagree with that charge, and I think that’s totally unfair…. Martin: Well, let me…

Spong: …That’s highly judgmental; it is totally unfair.

Martin: I didn’t interrupt you, Bishop, so wait till I finish and you can chew on me. Okay? Let me finish. John read off a whole list of things at the beginning of the first program—and you denied those. Yet every single thing you’ve denied is chapter and verse in your books. And we could produce right now—and just lay ‘em out here—all the things that you said: you don’t believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ; you don’t believe in classic trinitarian theology; you don’t believe in the virgin birth of Christ—you denigrate that; you don’t believe in hell; you don’t believe in the devil, personally. No wonder you’ve got problems!

Ankerberg: But Walter, answer the question that we were talking about. Spong: It was a good speech, but do answer the question.

Ankerberg: The question was of the basis that Bishop Spong is talking to us from. He is simply saying, “Listen, we’ve got these cultural things, and religion has changed, and Christian­ity has changed—that’s why we’re debating these issues today.” What do you say to that?

Martin: Well, I say this: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” The Gospel hasn’t changed! The Bishop doesn’t want to face that. Also, I think it’s only fair to point out to the Bishop—are you familiar with the book The Creeds of Christendom by Philip Schaff?

Spong: No, I’m not.

Martin: All right, that’s 2,000 pages from the first century through the eighteenth century of showing the non-changeability of the basic elements of the Christian Gospel.

Spong: I don’t have any problem with that. I don’t think that fits the point.

Martin:But just a moment ago you said you think we have changed. We haven’t.

Spong: You see, I do believe that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. But I believe that the way every one of us perceives this “sameness” is different. And it is changing because we are changing. Christ remains the same, but we are different. The Christian church has changed in dramatic ways.

Ankerberg: I think we need to unscramble that. The fact is, is that you perceive your wife and she perceives you, and psychologists tell us that nobody perceives the other person a hundred percent. But to say that that percent that you do perceive your wife and she does perceive you is not accurate, and we can’t agree on that….

Spong: I haven’t said that. I’m saying that that changes as people walk through history.

Ankerberg: Yes. But let’s talk about the basic creed of Christianity which has been held by the Church for 2,000 years which the Church has agreed upon. Do you agree with that creed? That’s what we’re talking about. Even though we don’t know it in its totality, that…

Spong: I say that creed every Sunday of my life and I believe it. Now, we have the power to interpret that creed, and we interpret it within its framework. But you see, my church is not a fundamentalistic church. I am not being untrue to the tradition of the Anglican Communion in which I have lived all of my life.

Martin: I would seriously dissent from that position on the grounds that the Anglican Church, by the words of Bishop Wantland, who debated you before I did. He said [that] what you say is contrary to the Scriptures; what you say is contrary to history—historic Christianity; what you say is contrary to the teachings of the Episcopal Church historically, and contrary to everything that they have ever said in the specific areas in which you write!

Spong: If my good friend Bishop Wantland were here we could have the dialogue. I don’t know that I can have the dialogue with you because it’s a different sort of frame of reference.

But let me say, my tradition, my Anglican tradition, had its historic beginning as the religion of the whole nation of England. It came out of the Reformation, though Bishop Wantland would suggest that there was no Reformation influence because he’s located in another tradition.

But the Reformation influence in England caused this church to come into being as the reli­gion of a whole nation; and as the religion of a whole nation it had very broad perspectives: it had an Anglo-Catholic wing—of which Bishop Wantland is a good representative; it had an Evangelical wing—of which John Stott that you have quoted is a good representative; it had a broad scholarly tradition in the middle. And that’s always been the way it is.

The Anglican Communion has produced John A. T. Robinson and Jim Pike, whom you have denigrated but I do not denigrate. The Roman Catholic Church has produced Raymond Brown and Hans Kung and Edward Schillebeeck and David Tracy—all of whom are saying very much the same things that I’m saying and all of whom are under duress from the Vatican.

Ankerberg: Let me just take a straight statement…

Martin: That’s nothing compared to the duress you’re under from the Scriptures!

Ankerberg: Well, let’s just take a straight statement here. “Salvation,” you say, “in its tradi­tional religious definition means being saved, guaranteed heaven and the event beyond life. But, biblical salvation is to make life whole and free, sensitive to the selves we are; the neighbor we love and the God we worship.” I think that you would admit that you do not take the tradi­tional view, which is what you swore to in your oath….

Spong: That’s not accurate. The traditional view is a particular interpretation. What you have been quoting constantly tonight, John, is what I would call the substitutionary version of the atonement.

Ankerberg: Yes.

Spong: There’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t happen to be the way I understand atone­ment. The substitutionary version assumes some things that I do not assume. I still believe that in Christ God made human life and God “at one.” That’s what atonement is all about.

Now, the “method” in which God made that “at-onement” take place, there have been variet­ies of doctrines and theories and understandings of atonement through the ages. “Substitution­ary” is one of them that is very particularly dear in the Evangelical tradition. It’s the one I grew up with. It is not the one I now subscribe to.

Ankerberg: Just for definition tonight, for the debate, your position is what you just stated, but it denies the fact that people are perishing—as you quoted in John 3:16; that they need a Savior; that they are lost; because you have embraced universalism—an all-inclusive view. You have stated that in your book. Isn’t that a divergent view from what you have read is traditional, historic Christianity?

Spong: Well, you have tried to own all night in your introductions of me, each time you’ve tried to portray me as outside traditional historic Christianity….

Ankerberg: You know, I was just quoting you.

Spong: No, I don’t think you were. And you’ve introduced…

Ankerberg: Would you like to hear your quote?

Spong: I would like to finish my sentence.

Ankerberg: Okay.

Spong: You’ve introduced Dr. Martin as the spokesman for traditional orthodox Christianity.

Ankerberg: Quoting him.

Spong: I think we need to understand what “orthodoxy” means. We need to understand what “traditional” means. We need to unpack those words so that we can have some sense of the possibility of variations. I am not here to suggest that Rog, or Dr. Martin, or you, are outside Christianity. I absolutely believe that you represent a significant part of the Christian tradition, and I applaud that.

As I say, the Evangelical Southern Fundamentalist tradition nurtured me in the early years of my life. I am in great debt to it. I received from my Presbyterian mother a love of Holy Scripture that I think is very rare among liberal theologians.

I think one of the things I fault the liberal tradition is that they do not study the Scriptures sufficiently. I do—every day of my life, and I have since I was a boy of twelve. The Scriptures are holy and sacred to me. I do not take them literally: I do not believe Adam and Eve were a real human being; I do not believe the world was created in six literal days; and I believe that the versions of Jesus that we have in Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and even in Paul are approxima­tions of the truth of God.

John, I don’t believe Jack Spong will ever understand the truth of God. God is beyond anywords I will ever use to describe God. I stand in awe and in wonder of that God. I do not make an “idol” out of my understanding of God.

Ankerberg: Yeah, I do, too, except we’re not saying that we all “cook it up together.” What we’re saying is we bow because God was kind enough in His mercy to explain to us, in terms that we could understand, accurate information about Him—not that we are going to under­stand, everything about Him, but He ought to be able to tell us true information about Himself.

Rog, we’ve only got 30 seconds here. I would like to just ask you, “Do you think the Church should abandon its irrelevant ethical judgments that arise from realities that no longer exist?”

Montgomery: No.

Ankerberg: How do you feel about this?

Montgomery: No. The Church should maintain their stand that homosexuality is wrong. The Church has not been guiltless in the issue because the Church has quoted flippantly, like Bishop Spong has said, “Hate the sin; love the sinner,” and you ask the question, “Well, where is that love for the sinner?” The Church has lost basically because it has failed to reach out to those people in love. They have reacted only in judgment. We should maintain the stance that the Scripture clearly portrays: that homosexuality is a sin. But we should go out there and say, “You’re like any other person: you are a sinner in need of Christ, who is the Savior. He loves you and He can save you—no matter who you are.”

Leave a Comment