The furor over Max Lucado’s remote preaching for the Washington National Cathedral has caught a fair amount of attention lately. That Lucado met disapproval from some in the Episcopal church for holding elements of a biblical sexual ethic is as expected; that he was allowed to speak at all is rather surprising, and that those responsible have come to regret it is unsurprising. But probably the most troubling part of the whole episode is the apology letter Lucado issued afterward.
His opening paragraph suggests already a misapprehension about the seriousness of defying God’s design for the human person and relationships. An orthodox Christian preaching to the Washington National Cathedral is undertaking a prophetic task. This is, indeed, a “high honor”, but not, I think, in the sense that Lucado intends. Prophets aren’t supposed to hear with dismay that their presence has been “a cause of consternation” to people who reject God’s Word; they’re supposed to expect it.
Lucado identifies the source of this consternation, a sermon from 2004, and proceeds to apologize. It is a good apology in that it owns responsibility without making excuses. But what is he apologizing for? The hurtfulness of his sermon.
Here I must allow for the possibility that Lucado has something to apologize for. I don’t know; I haven’t seen the whole sermon. He thinks he was disrespectful, and I respect a man regretting being disrespectful.
On the other hand, it seems far more probable to me that the consternation towards Lucado resulted not from how he communicated the truth, but from the truth itself. Looking at the snippets of the sermon available in the various articles about this kerfuffle, one finds that Lucado, if not entirely on point with his inferences, was at least significantly less severe in his remarks about homosexuality than the Scriptures are (see Lev. 18:22; Rom. 1:26-27). Apologizing for oneself is one thing, but we must never apologize for what God has said.
God has said that He created mankind male and female, distinct and complementary, intended for union in this complementary distinction in covenant sexuality (Gen. 1:27; 2:23-24). Lucado perhaps apologizes for this, certainly obfuscates it. He refers without qualification to “the LGBTQ community”, “LGBTQ individuals”, “LGBTQ families”, and “LGBTQ people”, accepting these significations that frame homosexuality et al as a legitimate and morally neutral identity category instead of a rejection for God’s design for humanity.
“Faithful people may disagree about what the Bible says about homosexuality,” Lucado says. Granted that true Christians can misinterpret the Bible in all kinds of ways, his words in this context surely imply more than that. If I said, “Faithful people may disagree about what the Bible says about theft,” would I not be suggesting that the Bible’s teaching about theft is unclear? So also the teaching of Scripture about human sexuality; the question is not whether it is possible for a true Christian to misunderstand, but whether God has spoken clearly.
God has spoken clearly.
To his credit, Lucado does not himself reject the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, and he is willing to say so here—here, where it will probably nullify his apology, because that biblical teaching is the very thing that so consternates those to whom he is apologizing. But he includes that pesky adjective “traditional”; if he had only said ‘the biblical understanding of marriage’, and left it at that! Christians must all come to realize that framing it as the ‘traditional’ understanding of marriage is a concession, a way of putting it positively while granting legitimacy to other understandings of marriage. If you must put an adjective before marriage, ‘real’, ‘true’, or even ‘biblical’ are all acceptable qualifiers; ‘traditional’ gives too much away.
All this obfuscation is wedded to the basic burden of the apology, addressing the ‘hurt’ his sermon of years ago has caused. Here it is an exquisitely contemporary apology, of the kind we are used to seeing from a variety of public figures who have said something of real or perceived offense. Whether what Lucado said was true or not, biblical or not, appears irrelevant; it was ‘hurtful’, and that is what matters. For a telling comparison, just look at the similarity between Lucado’s apology and Dean Hollerith’s apology for inviting him to preach. Both have feelings firmly behind the steering wheel, and truth in the back seat—politely observing the injunction against back-seat driving. Both suggest a therapeutic model of truth—the kind of conceptual world in which the ubiquitous contemporary sentiment ‘my truth’ is, if not coherent, at least at home. The locus of morality is not in the voice of God coming to us from without—‘what has God said?’—but in the inward response—‘how did it make me feel?’
Such a therapeutic model of truth is utterly opposed to the Christian faith. Christianity has, at its center, the gospel: the wondrous message of the saving life, death, resurrection, ascension, reign, and return of Jesus Christ, and the offer of redemption to those who repent and believe. This message comes with a conviction of the fiery holiness of God and the wickedness of our sin. We dare not trade the clarion call of the gospel for a soothing affirmation of every man’s sense of self.
Lucado allows for differing interpretations of the clear teaching of Scripture regarding human sexuality, adding, “but we agree that God’s holy Word must never be used as a weapon to wound others.” We have met this before, this strange surprise that the sword of the Spirit might prove sharp and pointed. Of course, we must not twist the Scriptures out of spite towards others. But where the Word of God cuts truly, we must not attempt to blunt its edge. The surgeon’s scalpel cuts to heal; the holy Scripture convicts to save. Some things ought not be apologized for.