Life imprisonment for adulterers, thieves, drunkards, slanderers?

by Marvin Olasky

Posted on Thursday, January 30, 2014, at 12:39 pm

Wow: The current issue of WORLD magazine includes my column stating that Ugandan legislation providing life imprisonment for homosexuals was “harsh”—and here’s one Christian conservative organization, the Family Research Institute (not related to the Family Research Council), attacking my “muddled thinking on homosexuality.”

Is it muddled? Judge for yourselves. I’ve written often that homosexuality, like heterosexual adultery, is sinful, but the question is: What legal penalty should there be for such actions? All adultery has consequences and should be penalized (our no-fault divorce laws have contributed to family destruction and should be repealed), but should we imprison adulterers for life? Unless we favor life sentences for heterosexual sin I don’t think we should for homosexual sin.

I agree with the statement from a missionary in Uganda that churches should show godly love toward active homosexuals, as God has shown godly love toward us: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). Godly love does not mean being blind toward sin or suggesting to people that they should continue to indulge in sin. Godly love means focusing on Christ and following Him by fighting against sin—starting with the sin in our own lives. Showing God’s love includes persuading sinners about the wrongfulness and consequences of sin, and the glory of God’s grace.

The three books about showing godly love toward homosexuals that I recommend to folks are Christopher and Angela Yuan’s Out of a Far Country (WaterBrook, 2011), Rosaria Butterfield’s The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert (Crown and Covenant, 2012), and Peter Hubbard’s Love Into Light: The Gospel, the Homosexual, and the Church (Ambassador International, 2013). All three make it clear that homosexuality is sin, and that the way God brings us out of sin is by showing us that our sin is wrong and God’s love is greater.

I also recommend watching my interview with Rosaria Butterfield (see below), or reading the excerpts of it that we published in WORLD. The pastor and his wife who helped Rosaria understand God’s love befriended her. She told me that they didn’t talk to her “as if I simply were a blank slate: ‘OK, here is someone who clearly needs the gospel, let’s make sure we get to these points before we let her leave our house.’ They seemed more interested in having a long relationship with me.” Similarly, our first impulse should not be to imprison homosexuals; we should see them as persons who need release from the prison into which ungodliness has placed them.

The greatness of God’s love means that Christians should never suffer from “homophobia.” Some non-Christians may fear homosexuals and homosexuality, but Christians should have no fear in the same way that we should have no fear of adulterers, thieves, and liars. God is in charge of their lives and our lives, and we should fear only Him. God is able to turn homosexuals away from their sinful practices as He has turned us away from ours. This does not mean that victory is complete in our lives, but we beat against the current and, through God’s grace, make slow progress.

The Family Research Institute blast at me quotes the apostle Paul: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6). That’s absolutely true. The question again is: What should be the man-imposed penalty for sin? Do we imprison for life idolaters, adulterers, thieves, coveters, drunkards, or slanderers? Should we imprison for life homosexuals? Is that the best way to impress upon sinners the wondrous joy of having a share in God’s kingdom?

Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. His latest book is World View: Seeking Grace and Truth in Our Common Life. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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