Well known pastor and Christian author, Max Lucado, has issued an apology to the LGBTQI community for his past sermons in which he condemned homosexuality. Pressure was brought to bear on him after 1,600 people signed a petition to have his forthcoming speaking engagement at the Washington National Cathedral cancelled because of his traditional biblical views on marriage. The petition referred to a sermon Lucado had preached in 2004, which described homosexuality as a sin and spoke of it alongside references to incest and bestiality.
Responding to the petition, Lucado wrote an open letter, stating:
“In 2004 I preached a sermon on the topic of same-sex marriage. I now see that, in that sermon, I was disrespectful. I was hurtful. I wounded people in ways that were devastating. I should have done better. It grieves me that my words have hurt or been used to hurt the LGBTQ community. I apologize to you and I ask forgiveness of Christ.”
“To be clear, I believe in the traditional biblical understanding of marriage, but I also believe in a God of unbounded grace and love. LGBTQ individuals and LGBTQ families must be respected and treated with love. They are beloved children of God because they are made in the image and likeness of God. Over centuries, the church has harmed LGBTQ people and their families, just as the church has harmed people on issues of race, gender, divorce, addiction, and so many other things. We must do better to serve and love one another.”
Lucado’s response has elicited a lot of strong reactions from Christians, some of which has denounced his comments, claiming that he has crumbled under cancel culture pressure and compromised God’s truth. Here are my thoughts:
Lucado’s 2004 sermon did, indeed, state that the Bible denounces homosexuality as a sin, along with other sins like incest and bestiality. But in that sermon, and in his many books, he has always promoted the biblical concept of “hate the sin, love the sinner”, and stressed the fact that we are all sinners – breaking God’s commandments in many ways. He has always promoted that we are all fallen people in need of Christ’s mercy and forgiveness. Christ died to save sinners, and homosexuality is just one of a myriad of sins that results in us needing his forgiveness. We, therefore, don’t condemn each other for our individual sins, for we are all tarred with the same brush. But, at the same time, we must acknowledge our sins and be willing to turn to Christ in faith and repentance, where we will find forgiveness and restoration. This has always been Lucado’s balanced message.
The cancel culture, of course, will ignore the gracious elements of such a sermon, disregarding the contextual statements about loving and respecting the sinner, and only focusing on the part they find offensive. The offensive part, of course, is the Bible’s simple message that homosexuality is a sin. As soon as a preacher dares to use that three-letter word, all other gracious contextual content is ignored. The preacher is now guilty of hate speech and must be punished – his reputation and career cancelled because he (or she) has dared to disagree with a moral viewpoint.
So what do I think of Lucado’s response?
On the positive side, he has not retracted his views regarding heterosexual marriage as God’s ideal. By inference, this seems to suggest that he still regards homosexuality as a sin (although he was careful not to use this word in his apology).
I have two of issues of concern, however. Firstly, Lucado’s statement that “They [homosexuals] are beloved children of God because they are made in the image and likeness of God” is going a step too far. While we are all created in God’s image, the biblical term “children of God” is only applied to those who are in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ:
“To all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12).
In other words, only those who respond to Christ in faith and repentance are forgiven and, at that point, become a child of God. Lucado’s statement gives a false sense of salvation and justification to the homosexual community – indeed, to anyone – as it infers universal salvation simply because we are all created in God’s image.
Secondly, Lucado is overly self-effacing – one might even say grovelling – in his retraction and apology. He speaks of being hurtful, disrespectful and of wounding people. I must be honest, I can’t find anything that fits into those categories in any of his sermon transcripts or books. He is not afraid to call sin, ‘sin’, but he always does so in the context of forgiving and loving the sinner. In fact, he regularly quotes the interaction of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, when Jesus says to her, “Neither do I condemn you. Now, go and sin no more.” (John 8:11). This is the classic example of hating sin but loving the sinner, and this kind of contextual qualification is clearly present whenever Lucado has taught on issues of sin. While Lucado’s self-effacing apology is understandable, given the pressure he was under, it seems to open the door for people to think he has retracted everything he has said on the issue of homosexuality, and I don’t think that is helpful. It is certainly not a courageous and transparent response by Lucado.
Of course, it’s easy for people like me, who aren’t as stringently and viciously targeted by cancel culture mob hysteria, to criticise a much higher-profile person’s apology and retraction. Max Lucado was, undoubtedly, under enormous pressure. But I just think he went too far and could have been much clearer in his explanation of his position. I also think the cancel culture mob needed to be called out for the way they deliberately took him out of context by completely disregarding his qualifying comments. A little more backbone was needed in his response.
This whole incident raises an additional ongoing issue of concern. The sermon that was deemed to be offensive by the cancel culture mob was one that Max Lucado preached 17 years ago! How far back in history will they go in their quest to cancel anyone who doesn’t agree with them? The answer seems to be, ‘as far back as they like’. We have already seen statues of historical figures being torn down, classic books removed from libraries and stores, and history courses rewritten. In the current quest to ‘cancel’ people who are still living, there appears to be no statute of limitations on past unwise actions or comments. I wonder if any of us could stand up to this kind of scrutiny?
Surely, we must reach a point soon where common sense prevails and the purveyors of this senseless, vicious censorship by those wishing to create a moral mono-culture will be disempowered. How the cancel culture achieved such a level of influence within society is a topic for another discussion, but surely their vitriolic crusade must soon be moderated by those with a more mature understanding of our constitutional values, including the right to freedom of beliefs and freedom of respectful expression of those beliefs. Let us hope so, because this current push for society-wide enforced conformity to a narrow moral viewpoint is deeply disturbing.
Kevin Simington (B.Th. Dip. Min.) is a theologian, apologist and social commentator. He is the author of 12 books, and his latest, “7 Reasons to Believe”, is now available. Connect with Kevin on Facebook or his website, SmartFaith.net.