The ERLC recently issued a statement in response to the Supreme Court decision on marriage. The statement is entitled ‘Here We Stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage.’ It is a good statement for the most part, but there are some things in it that are unfortunate. I want to address just one. It is found in the statement in which they “affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBT persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect.” This sounds very much like the position advocated by the “Imago Dei Campaign,” and it is based on some faulty concepts. Let’s take a look at it.
The “Imago Dei Campaign” is a movement committed to the recognition of the image of God in every person and the advancement of that perspective as the basis for Christian work in the world. It’s actually a blend of the evangelistic emphasis of Billy Graham and the social activism of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Whatever we might think of that combination, the idea that every person is created in God’s image is a good motivation for genuine Christian outreach and a concept that should inform the way we interact with people.
Now the “campaign” has been expanded to include gay people, and Christians are being called upon to recognize that “the image of God exists in all human beings: black and white; rich and poor; straight and gay; conservative and liberal; victim and perpetrator; citizen and undocumented; believer and unbeliever.” This statement has received the applause of many influential Christian leaders who should have thought a bit about what they were endorsing, because the idea may not be quite as biblical as it seems.
Now it has to be pointed out that the statement mixes together things that are different and must be kept separate. This juxtaposition of distinct concepts in one list gives the impression that all things are equal. But this is not the case, as a little reflection will show. From the Christian position, homosexuality is a moral issue. But is there anything inherently moral about one’s ethnicity? How about one’s social status? Or one’s political connections? Is there even a moral dimension to one’s being “straight?” But for the Christian committed to what God says in scripture, homosexuality is precisely an inherently immoral way to be and to behave. So right out of the gate the list is guilty of confusing things that must be kept distinct.
To make this point even clearer, let’s add some things to the list taking the “victim and perpetrator” lead. How about “sexually abused child and pedophile?” Or “the raped and the rapist?” Or “the murdered and the murderer?” Aren’t they all made in the image of God? Now I know the gay-affirming and gay-sympathetic people out there will immediately charge me with comparing homosexuals to pedophiles, rapists, and murderers.
But to do that is to completely miss the point, which is that while it’s true that everyone bears the image of God, that fact does not excuse behavior that is contrary to the will of God or mitigate the need for such behavior to be reproved. Put another way, the fact that the perpetrator is made in the image of God does not extenuate the seriousness of the moral component involved in his misbehavior. But the “Imago Dei Campaign” has done exactly that in this statement, whether intentionally or not. And so has the ERLC in its statement.
Another problem with the statement from a biblical standpoint is a basic failure to recognize that the image of God which people bear is not the whole story about them — maybe not even the most determinative part of the story. It must not be forgotten that the original image of God in which we were created has been marred and is not what it once was. This fact will have a decided impact on the way we relate to and address people, especially those engaged in practices that have an especially debasing effect on that image.
Homosexuality by its very nature is one such practice. In the account of the creation of humans in Gen. 1:26-27, the description of their being created in the image of God is followed immediately by the statement that they were created male and female. This seems to point conclusively to the fact that the image of God is intimately related to the two-sex nature of those same humans. Homosexuality mars this reality like no other sinful practice does and is therefore deserving of special censure. In Rom. 1:24-27 this is almost certainly the backdrop to Paul’s severe condemnation of homosexual desire and conduct, because the intertextual references to the Genesis account are undeniable. He refers to this sin as unnatural and degrading precisely because of the grave affront it is to the image of God in which we were made.
What this means for the Imago Dei Campaign, and the ERLC statement, is that they are in danger of encouraging Christians to assume an attitude towards homosexuality that puts them at odds with the attitude of God himself expressed in scripture. There is no biblical warrant for or example of sanctioning the concept of a same-sex orientation and the practices that result from it. Or to put it in the language of the ERLC statement, God does not look on practicing homosexuals with dignity and respect. For us to do so is to espouse a position that God himself does not and that is intrinsically opposed to the very image of God in which we have been created.