Alan Manning Chambers, President of the now defunct Exodus International, made a much-publicized apology to the gay community. Some of his apology was well-directed. He apologized for his vulgar language and deception. He had denied the fact that he continued to struggle against same-sex attraction.
However, some aspects of his apology were troubling and scripturally off-center. Citing Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son, Chambers insinuated that the church is supposed to receive everyone into fellowship, even the unrepentant. Chambers calls this “love unhindered” by any judgment or consideration:
- “From a Judeo-Christian perspective, gay, straight or otherwise, we’re all prodigal sons and daughters. Exodus International is the prodigal’s older brother, trying to impose its will on God’s promises, and make judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom. God is calling us to be the Father – to welcome everyone, to love unhindered.”
In this parable, the prodigal son had proved himself entirely unworthy of his father. He demanded his inheritance from his father, went away, and spent his entire inheritance on all the wrong things. Subsequently, he suffered greatly, was humbled by his foolishness, and returned repentantly to his father:
- "When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.'” (Luke 15:17-19)
Clearly, the prodigal son was repentant. His father was so overjoyed that he decided to throw him a lavish party. However, his older brother was enraged by the father’s mercy. He thought the prodigal entirely unworthy of all that his father was lavishing upon him.
While, it is true that the prodigal was unworthy, he had returned repentantly to the father – the very thing that Israel’s Prophets demanded of Israel. However, the older brother understood nothing of mercy, convinced that he never needed an ounce of it:
- He answered his father, 'Look! All these years I've been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. (Luke 15:29)
We all sin and have fallen short of God’s standards (Rom. 3:23). However, self-righteousness often blinds us to our sins. If we are self-righteous, like the older son, it is inevitable that we will judge and disdain others, thinking ourselves better and more deserving than they.
Chambers is correct that we are “all the prodigal sons.” He also claims that Exodus International had played the older brother, making “judgments on who’s worthy of His Kingdom,” as if some of us are worthy.
Chambers knows Exodus better than I, and so I will not contest his evaluation of his organization. However, he also insinuates that the church, in requiring gays to come repentantly to Christ, is also the older brother.
However, it seems that Jesus Himself requires repentance of any who come to Him. Let’s look at this parable. It is already clear that the prodigal had returned repentantly. This is what it means to return to God. Returning is always a matter of repenting, as the Prophet Samuel required of Israel:
- And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, "If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines." (1 Samuel 7:3)
Returning to God without a repentant heart is scripturally unthinkable. It was also unthinkable for Jesus. In this context, Jesus was criticized by the religious leadership for receiving sinners. He responded with three parables, the last of which was the parable of the Prodigal Son. The first also involved something lost:
- "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.” (Luke 15:4-7)
The “rejoicing” requires “one sinner who repents!” There is absolutely no indication of any rejoicing over a sinner who doesn’t repent. Jesus is responding to the religious leadership to justify the fact that He is associating with sinners who are repentant – something they should all endorse according to Scripture. Had they not been repentant, the leadership could have easily appealed to Psalm 1:
- Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. (Psalm 1:1)
However, since these sinners were repentant, they dared not raise an objection. The next parable relies on a lost coin:
- "Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:8-10)
Once again, the angelic rejoicing depends upon “one sinner who repents.” Consequently, we can’t celebrate when a gay person enters the church professing a faith but refusing to repent. Instead, the church has every reason to call the sinner to repentance before baptism or fellowship can be offered. To do otherwise is absurd. It would mean receiving the unrepentant as a brother but then bringing church disciplinary charges against him.
The final parable Jesus uses to justify his association with repentant sinners is the parable of the Prodigal Son. Instead of using the analogy of a lost sheep or a lost coin, Jesus brings His argumentation closer to home with a lost son. Instead of rejoicing with the father over the repentant son who has returned home, the leadership are scoffing along with the older brother.
We fail to love the gay person as we ought, if we receive them into fellowship, through baptism, without requiring repentance – the willingness and determination to turn from sin. Instead, we are giving them a false hope. We are enabling them to live the life of destruction. We are telling them the very thing that the false prophets had told Israel, the very thing that destroyed them.
The Prophet Jeremiah proclaimed that the true prophet exposed sin and its dangers in hope of healing:
- The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The oracles they gave you were false and misleading. (Lament. 2:14)
Instead, the false prophets proclaimed, “Peace, peace!” We cannot remain indulgent about sin. If we fail to expose it, we bear part of the guilt. God had warned His prophet about this:
- "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. (Ezekiel 33:7-8)
We are all “watchmen.” We are all our brothers’ keepers, and we all have His Word. Therefore, we are all accountable.
Contrary to Chambers’ claim of “unhindered love,” sin and rebellion does hinder God’s love and those we love need to be aware of this.