Amy Grant, Franklin Graham, and Same Sex Weddings
She said, he said. Now what should we say?
She is Amy Grant, recent Kennedy Center honoree and one of the most prominent artists in contemporary Christian music’s history.
He is evangelist Franklin Graham, son of the late Billy Graham, and President of Samaritan’s Purse.
Recent statements by Grant, and Graham’s public response to them, represent a controversy brewing among Christians over LGBTQ issues.
In a November 29th interview with the Washington Post, Grant announced that she and her husband, country music artist Vince Gill, will host her niece’s same-sex wedding on their farm.
Referring to her niece “coming out,” Amy said, “What a gift to our whole family, to just widen the experience of our whole family.”
When asked about her views on homosexuality, she replied, “Honestly, from a faith perspective, I do always say, ‘Jesus, you just narrowed it down to two things: love God and love each other. I mean, hey — that’s pretty simple.”
This sat poorly with Graham, who publicly challenged Grant’s application of love: “For me, loving others also means caring about their souls and where they will spend eternity. It means loving people enough to tell them the truth from the Word of God. The authority of God’s Word is something we can never compromise on.”
Since then, plenty of folks have chimed in on the social media buzz, with a predictable debate escalating between teams Grant and Graham. Both sides include professing believers, and both groups claim not only the high moral but the Biblical ground as well.
What they’re debating is a three-part question with bedrock implications, both moral and doctrinal: Where should Christians stand on homosexuality; how should we take our stand; and when (if ever) should we publicly call each other out when we disagree?
It Seems We’ve Stood and Talked Like This Before
Controversies like this have precedent. Sometime around AD 55, Paul the Apostle described a time he was compelled to publicly call out a fellow Apostle (St. Peter, no less!) over a moral and doctrinal controversy.
According to Galatians 2:11-21, Peter had been breaking bread with Gentiles in Antioch, a counter-cultural thing to do, as custom forbade Jews from dining with Gentiles. But since the Gospel erased the line between the two groups (Ephesians 2:14) Peter affirmed that truth, until it
That’s when James arrived with fellow Jews who wouldn’t take kindly to his behavior. To appease them, Peter withdrew himself from the same Gentiles he’d been eating with, making a public statement which contradicted a basic gospel truth – “In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew nor Greek.”
He wasn’t just denying that truth. He was also misrepresenting God’s view to the Gentiles he was avoiding, and to the Jews he was trying to please. Further, because Peter was a man of high influence, other believers, including Barnabas, were misled into following his example. (Galatians 2:13)
That’s when Paul openly corrected Peter, appealing to a foundational truth (“Jews are no more inherently righteous than Gentiles”) and pointing out how serious it was to deny that truth, overtly or covertly.
The issue wasn’t just doctrinal and moral, it was also essential, not something they could “agree to disagree on.” Peter was publicly getting it wrong while influencing others to do the same. Paul had to speak up.
Peter Was No Slouch. Neither Is Amy!
Full discloser: I’ve never met Miss Grant, but she’s certainly met me. In early 1984, I was making a new start during a season of repentance, alone and indescribably lonely. After work my nights were spent taking long walks, and one of those nights I passed a record store and decided to browse. That’s when I discovered Straight Ahead, Amy’s 6th studio album.
That’s how she met me, and my needs, through song after song. Where Do You Hide Your Heart encouraged me to face myself; Jehovah encouraged me to face Him as well. Tomorrow reminded me I had a future; Angels reminded me I wouldn’t face it alone. And Thy Word helped keep my nose in the Scripture, right where it belonged.
My walls heard replays of Straight Ahead for months, while Amy spoke healing straight into my wounds. For that she’ll always have my respect, and my gratitude. Like Graham, I disagree with her. That doesn’t change my admiration, just as admiring her doesn’t change my disagreement. The two are not contradictory.
For that matter, we don’t see Paul trashing Peter when he opposes his actions. He doesn’t question the kind of man Peter is, nor does he judge his spiritual status or resort to name calling. “Peter was wrong,” he said, not “Peter’s a lukewarm, compromised jerk!”
Graham likewise didn’t trash Grant. Rather, he critiqued her words, explaining from a Biblical position why he did so, without denigrating her.
That’s relevant, because some are calling Amy “lukewarm,” “sold-out,” or “compromised.” To my thinking, that’s judging where judgement is prohibited. (Romans 14:4) We can assess her words, but none of us can read her soul, nor can we judge her heart.
In fact, many who know her give that heart a pretty big thumbs up, describing her as warm and engaging, a generous woman who stoops to help a complete stranger struggling to put her shoes on at airport security, and volunteers her time for a children’s hospital music therapy program. When someone’s resume includes stellar accomplishments and acts of kindness, then “honor to whom honor is due” applies.
Assessments Aren’t Attacks
But if chasing Amy with harsh judgment is wrong, it’s equally wrong to say that criticizing her words is the same as attacking her person. It’s not, and that’s where some “leave Amy alone!” folks error. We can’t judge people, but words and actions can, and should, be judged.
Jesus said that by our words we would be commended or condemned (Matthew 12:37), and the Bereans were declared noble for assessing Paul’s teaching in light of the Scripture. (Acts 17:11) In fact, far from saying we shouldn’t judge each other’s words, Paul told the Thessalonians to “prove” all things (I Thessalonians 5:21) meaning “to test, examine, scrutinize to see whether a thing is genuine or not” (Strong’s Concordance) and his question to the Romans about how we arrive at truth – “What saith the Scripture?” – applies to doctrine, action, and speech as well.
Pointing out the error of a public statement isn’t an attack. At times, it’s
Which raises the incident between Paul and Peter, and what we can glean from it. Three points are raised here, all of them applicable to Grant’s remarks and Graham’s response: the Issue, the Importance, and
Between Peter and Paul, the issue was the doctrine of righteousness by faith alone, apart from the Law of Moses, and how that doctrine should influence their behavior towards Jews and Gentiles in the surrounding culture.
Both of them held to that doctrine – Paul write about it at length in Romans chapters 4-8; Peter affirmed it in Acts 15 at the Jerusalem Council – but Paul took issue with Peter behaving in a way that contradicted it.
The issue between Grant and Graham is the doctrine of marriage and family, and the way that should direct our conversations about LGBTQ with the surrounding culture. Since many believers are wrestling with this, the Grant/Graham remarks, and the passions they’ve stirred on both sides,
Marriage’s sacred significance is reiterated throughout the Bible as clearly as its definition is, referenced in both Testaments as a type of God and His people, (Isaiah 54: 5-8 and Ephesians 5:22-33) and cited as “honorable in all things”, (Hebrews 13:4) sexual sins apart from it having significant consequence (I Corinthians 6: 16-19) and being violations of the Temple of God Himself. (I Corinthians 6:19)
All of which makes the issue of marriage a moral and doctrinal essential, framed in terms that are not meant to be abridged, or minimized.
So while it would be unfair to say Grant denies that it is a male/female union, her description of a lesbian wedding as “a gift to our whole family” implies that marriage need not be an exclusively male/female union. In light of Scripture, along with centuries of church teaching and tradition, that’s a jarring implication.
But so what if she’s wrong on this one issue? Considering all she’s been right about over the years, and everything she’s contributed to both the Church and the culture, and in light of her charitable deeds and stellar accomplishments, aren’t we nit-picking a sister who is, inarguably, one of God’s anointed that we’re commanded not to touch? (Psalm 105:15)
There are times we do just that, needlessly and childishly. Many believers are susceptible to jumping into contention over secondary moral issues like secular music, alcohol, or tattoos.
Sometimes it’s secondary doctrinal issues we play the Pharisee over, tearing into each other about the Rapture of the Church, or eternal security, or anything having to do with the gift of tongues.
If an issue is secondary, quarreling makes no sense. Unity, in that case, takes precedence (Ephesians 4:3) and our open display of love for each other trumps open disagreement, since Jesus said that’s our Christian ID. (John 13:35)
Paul knew that, emphasizing the point with statements like “”Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?”(Romans 14:4) and “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye not be consumed one of another.” (Galatians 5:15)
Yet this same Paul knew that the truth Peter was misrepresenting had to be defended, and that his open misrepresentation called for open rebuke. An extreme move, to be sure, and rebuke is a practice which should be used sparingly. But when a Christian leader makes statements about serious matters that are seriously wrong, then other Christian leaders have to respond. If they don’t, their silence may wrongfully but understandably be interpreted as agreement.
In fairness, Graham’s words to Grant constituted less of a rebuke than a disagreement, but an open one nonetheless and one which, like Paul’s to Peter, seems to have been warranted. The importance of the issue called
Paul’s rationale for the confrontation in Antioch was twofold: Peter was wrong (Galatians 2:11), and his wrongdoing had influence. (Galatians 2:13) The Gentiles he’d been breaking bread with would get the wrong idea – “(Maybe we ARE second rate!”) – as would the Jews. (“Maybe we’re not really one with Gentiles, or maybe our oneness isn’t all that important.”)
When there’s already widespread misunderstanding about a topic, clarity on it becomes all the more crucial.
Consider, for example, the remarks of an openly gay man, who identifies as a Gay Christian, when he heard Amy’s comments:
“For so many of us gay church boys of a specific era, Amy Grant was our first kind of crush/pop star, so seeing her host her niece’s same-sex wedding is amazing.”
Then there’s Christian journalist Tyler Huckabee’s comments in the Religion News Service about the gay-affirming nature of hosting a lesbian wedding:
“I really do think opening your home up to family like Grant did is not just better, but exponentially better for the kingdom of God than any culture war crap could ever be. Because when an ostracized minority needs a safe place to celebrate their commitment to each other, baby, that’s what love
If someone’s messaging encourages people involved in homosexual sin to continue their error, and if believers are told that the solemnizing of something Biblically forbidden is good for the Kingdom, then not only is the message wrong, but the messenger’s influence becomes damaging.
Would Amy want that? Impossible to believe, as she seem to be a genuinely caring person.
So are the many believers, leaders and laity, who are loathe to openly call homosexuality a sin. After all, over the decades a number of leaders spoke so harshly against lesbians and gays, in ways so inaccurate and un-Biblical (“Gays are pedophiles,” “AIDS is God’s judgment”) that an overreaction towards the other extreme is understandable.
But “understandable” falls short of “legitimate,” especially when something’s so crucial as the Creator’s definition of marriage, family, and normal sexuality. When the surrounding culture trumpets a revision of what God originally called “good,” and when social forces are accelerating their campaign to silence anyone who resists that revision, then Martin Luther’s words come to mind:
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ.”
Peter was a good man who was wrong; Paul was a responsible man who no doubt saw the goodness but had to highlight the wrong. We could all
But Where’s The Love?
Amy made an indisputable point when she noted we’re called to love God and others. Graham’s counter-point was also valid: “Loving others also means caring about their souls and where they will spend eternity.” Any contradiction there?
Only if you believe love translates into affection alone, absent uncomfortable truth.
The New Testament’s clearest exposition on love, I Corinthians 13, makes scant reference to affection (verse 4, “love is kind”) and declares love rejoices in truth; never in iniquity. (Verse 6) Affection will, perhaps, get the two mixed up with the best of intentions. But love won’t.
Neither did Jesus, He spoke openly on moral issues like adultery and lust when He addressed crowds, while engaging respectfully with people who violated the very standards He promoted. His desire to engage lovingly did not prevent Him from clarifying truth; His desire for truth never prevented His loving engagement. Just ask the prostitute whose sins He both acknowledged and forgave. (John 8:1-11)
Billy Graham seems to have practiced this principle well. On the one hand, he affirmed:
“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.”
On the other hand, he realized that charity included clarity, a clarity he never shied away from when taking positions on hot topics, gay marriage included. (See HERE, for example.)
If people are lost yet our approach to them implies they’re fine the way there are, or if believers are in sexual sin and our message to them is that the sin is either not a sin, or perhaps an unimportant one, then are we not working against the very will of God who wills all be saved (I Timothy 2:1) and that all who are saved walk in truth? (III John 4)
Showing kindness, respect, and hospitality are commendable; let’s not overlook that. In that sense, I wish more of us had Miss Grant’s attitude towards everyone, lesbian, gay, and transgender people included.
But just as the right atmosphere in a restaurant, though necessary, plays second fiddle to the quality of the food, so the right attitude of the Ambassador (II Corinthians 5:20), though necessary, plays second fiddle to a clear delivery of the message he was sent to deliver.
This is why I’ve never been a fan of the saying, “Preach the Gospel. Use words when necessary.” When preaching, and indeed when communicating in general, words are necessary, and clear words are expedient. Which is why I prefer to repeat the saying with one little word change:
“Preach the Gospel. Use words; THEY’RE necessary.”
To that end, considering the ongoing confusion in the culture over LGBTQ issues, and the spread of that confusion into Christian circles and the very lifeblood of the Church itself, here’s a hope, and a prayer:
May Amy Grant’s gentle graciousness
And Franklin Graham’s prophetic clarity
Blend into one voice from the Church,
One that finds volume with equal parts harmony and boldness,
Unsparing in its Compassion; Unmistakable in it’s Clarity.