Recently, Pope Francis gave an interview with the Associated Press that garnered headlines around the world.1 He asserted that, while homosexuality is a sin, it is not a crime and should not be prosecuted as such. Some folks were happy that Francis said homosexuality was not a crime but unhappy that he said it was a sin. Others were happy he called it a sin and had various reactions to whether it is a crime. I was bothered by a part of the interview that I have not heard comments regarding. It was a “throw away” line that seemed so normal that no one seems to dispute it. But I dispute it, the Christian faith disputes it, and I want us to remember to dispute it when we hear it parroted as a given. Francis said, “We are all children of God, and God loves us as we are and for the strength that each of us fights for our dignity.” Not so.
We are all created by God. We are all made in his image. We all have our common human dignity because we have our source in God. But we are not all his children. It is to the saints called by God in Rome that St. Paul writes, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15). God’s children are such by adoption, by agency of the Holy Spirit working in our time and space to bring about the necessary change in our status. It is to those who believed in Christ’s name and received him that St. John says, “He gave the right to become children of God” (1John 1:12). Being God’s children is no inherent right of ours; it is given by grace to those who believe and receive Christ.
What is the state of those who have not received the Spirit of adoption, those who have not received Christ? They are, as we were, “by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). “Sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2:2) upon which the wrath of God will be poured out (Ephesians 5:6). Those not of Christ are “sons of the evil one” (Matthew 13:38). Their father is the devil (John 8:44). We are not all children of God, and the state of those who are not adopted as such is frightening and lamentable.
Pope Francis is not alone in his error, of course. It has become commonplace to emphasize the brotherhood of humanity in order to underscore our common dignity. It has even become commonplace for Christian leaders to speak of our “Jewish brothers and sisters” or even our “Muslim brothers and sisters.” We are all expected to accept as given that because we are all human we are all children of God. But this does great harm to our evangelization.
We who are in Christ know that we were by nature children of wrath, that we do not deserve the incredible gift of adoption by which we were “delivered…from the domain of darkness and transferred…to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Colossians 13-14). And we want all of the sons of wrath to hear the call of God and to become saints with us. We want all to turn from sin and to receive the Spirit. We want homosexuals and Jews and Muslims and next-door neighbors and strangers at Walmart and all of our relatives to be released from their engenderment in Adam and to be regenerate in Christ.
Perhaps folks are afraid that if we offend folks, we cannot win them. Perhaps folks think that an appeal to our common humanity will make the Gospel more palatable to the folks we are trying to reach. But the real effect is to communicate that there is no real difference between us and them, between the saved and the unsaved, between redemption and perdition. If we are all children of a Father who loves us, we’re all going to be okay, right? Here we have to offer the offense that saves from all offenses: all who remain in the family of the old man, Adam, are damned, but all who are in Christ are saved. We are cruel only to be kind. We do not want the heathens to feel okay about continuing as they are. We want them to be saved from the burning building of their current self-identities and set in the safety of the strong tower of the Lord’s name.
We do not want to sound arrogant in saying that we are God’s children and that others are not. We do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings. And, moreover, we do not want the persecution that might come from telling what we really believe according to Holy Scripture. And to the extent that these desires keep us from telling the truth, we prove ourselves selfish indeed. We would rather men perish than be offended. We would rather men perish than scorn us.
Francis is right that homosexuality is a sin. But what does this matter if unrepentant homosexuals (and unrepentant Jews and Muslims and next-door neighbors and strangers at Walmart) are nonetheless children of God? In calling homosexuality sin but homosexuals children of God, he runs the risk of communicating a false gospel of universal brotherhood in which God’s love saves without atonement. It would be better to risk offense and to tell the truth. The sin in our very nature separates us so fully from our Creator that he paid the cost of his begotten Son’s blood in order to redeem us and to adopt us as his own. It is only in Christ that we can become the sons of God.
Homosexuality might not be a crime, but obscuring the Gospel sure is a shame.
1 Winfield, Nicole. “The AP Interview: Pope says homosexuality not a crime.” January 25, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/pope-francis-gay-rights-ap-interview-1359756ae22f27f87c1d4d6b9c8ce212