[Last June, we reached out to Hillsong's New York City campus, requesting that this letter be delivered to Pastor Carl Lentz and the pastoral team there. We were given the contact information by the church, we sent the email with the letter, but never received a reply. Hopefully, though, the letter was read. In light of the recent controversy surrounding public statements made by Hillsong founder Brian Houston, followed by a clarification of his position, it seemed like a good time to release this letter publicly.]
June 5, 2014
A friend sent me a link to your recent appearance on CNN in which you said that you’re “still waiting for someone to show [you] the quote where Jesus addressed [homosexuality] on the record in front of people. You won’t find it because he never did.”
Actually, Jesus did address the issue quite clearly in several different passages, and since it’s obvious that you want to glorify the Lord and make Him known to this generation, and since you do talk about repentance and the cross, I took your statement seriously and thought it would be helpful to respond.
I played your audio clip on my radio show yesterday (Wednesday, June 4th; in New York, it airs on WMCA, 570 AM), and if you listen to the show, you’ll see that I spoke of you in an honoring way and with appreciation. Although I now live in the Charlotte, North Carolina area, I’m a New Yorker at heart, and I’m thrilled to see the Lord using you there in the city.
In case you don’t know me, I’m a Jewish believer in Jesus, born in New York City and raised on Long Island. Jesus saved me in 1971 when I was a 16-year-old, heroin-shooting, LSD-using hippie rock drummer, and the last 42 years have been amazing.
About 10 years ago the Lord burdened me to get involved in homosexual issues with a simple commission to “reach out and resist,” meaning, reach out to the people with compassion; resist the agenda with courage. Because of that, I studied afresh what the Word said on these issues while listening to as many personal stories as possible, wanting to bring together grace and truth in my approach.
The bottom line is that if we see our sexuality through the Word rather than seeing the Word through our sexuality, there won’t be any confusion at all in terms of what the Scriptures teach.
As you recall, during the CNN interview, the reporter said to you and your wife, “Every article I’ve read about you guys says you decline to discuss gay marriage.”
You replied: “Yes, it’s a misquote because I do discuss it, just not the way people want me too. When it comes to homosexuality, I refuse to let another human being or immediate moment dictate how we approach it. Jesus was in the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent. And I’m still waiting for someone to show me the quote were Jesus addressed it on the record in front of people. You won’t find it because he never did.”
Carl, I’ve watched a couple of your interviews, and I love the way you won’t let the media force their agenda on you. You’ll say what you want to say rather than what the media wants you to say, which is commendable.
The problem here is with what you did say. Let me explain.
You stated that Jesus lived in “the thick of an era where homosexuality, just like it is today, was widely prevalent.” Actually, in the ancient Jewish world in which Jesus lived, homosexuality was not prevalent at all. In fact, homosexual activity was considered so sinful that it was almost unheard of among Jewish men in that day.
You could also point to other sins that Jesus didn’t address by name – wife-beating; kidnapping; bestiality – but the argument from silence obviously proves nothing.
It is true that Paul would have been much more exposed to a homosexuality-affirming culture, and we know that he addressed the issues head on in Romans 1, speaking of the descent of the human race into idolatry, sexual immorality, sexual perversion, and other sins. (His point in Romans 1 about homosexual practice is that it is contrary to the natural order God established in creation.)
Paul also addressed homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (see also 1 Timothy 1:10), where he listed unrepentant homosexual practice as one of the sins that would keep someone out of God’s kingdom. (For centuries, lexicographers agreed on the basic meaning of Paul’s words. For details, see my book Can You Be Gay and Christian?)
I’ll show you in a moment that Jesus addressed these issues too, but we shouldn’t downplay the fact that Paul spoke about homosexual practice quite plainly, also offering hope for salvation and transformation as well (see 1 Corinthians 6:11).
In that light, I really hope that gays and lesbians who attend your services will recognize their brokenness and sin along with the power of the blood of Jesus to cleanse and forgive. God’s conviction is an act of His mercy, and, as Proverbs states, open rebuke is better than secret love (Proverbs 27:5; see also 2 Timothy 4:1-4).
As for Jesus, as I explained to Piers Morgan last year, He addressed homosexuality in at least three different passages.
First, in the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord taught that He didn’t come to abolish the Torah or the Prophets but to fulfill (Matthew 5:17-20). When it came to the Torah’s sexual morality, Jesus took it to a higher level (see His teaching on adultery and divorce in Matthew 5:27-32).
How does this relate to homosexuality? According to Leviticus 18 (read the chapter from beginning to end), homosexual practice was universally forbidden – for pagans as well as for the Israelites – and so Jesus certainly affirmed and deepened this prohibition. He absolutely did not abolish it. (For a short explanation of which Torah laws were for Israel only and which were universal, see this 90 second video clip.)
Second, in Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21, Jesus explained that it’s not what goes into our mouth that defiles us but what comes out of our heart, including “sexual immoralities” (this is the Greek word porneia in the plural), referring to all sexual acts outside of marriage. High on that list of sinful acts would have been same-sex activity, especially in light of Rabbi Yeshua’s biblically-based, Torah ethics.
Third, when responding to a question about divorce, Jesus stated that God’s intention from the beginning was for one man and one woman to be joined together for life (see Matthew 19:1-6; in Genesis 1-2, it is clearly established that only a man and a woman can join together and become one.) This categorically shuts the door on same-sex “marriage,” also reinforcing what Jesus taught in Matthew 15 about all sexual acts outside of marriage defiling us.
As for the bizarre idea that Jesus, the Son of God, did not understand sexual orientation the way we do today (an argument used by some gay theologians), as my friend Dr. James White pointed out, that would mean that the one who looked into the very heart and soul of every person He met, into the very core of their being, didn’t understand that some people were “gay.” (John 2:25 reminds us that Jesus knew what was in man.)
I believe my new book would help you think these issues through in greater clarity, and I’d love to give you a free copy, along with free copies for your pastoral team if you’d like. Just let me know.
And keep on lifting up Jesus in the Big Apple.