Homosexuality, Social Issues, and the Alberta Election: Why All Parties To The Controversy Are Wrong

The Alberta election campaign has seen a number of nasty spats, but in the last couple days a new one has the front-running Wildrose party scrambling to do damage control. A pastor running as the Wildrose candidate in Edmonton South, Allan Hunsperger, had in June 2011 written a blog article critical of the Edmonton Public School position on accepting students, particularly homosexuals, for “who they are.” Drawing a parallel with Lady Gaga’s famous song, “Born this Way,” he wrote:

“You see, you can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering.”

“Warning people not to live the way they were born is not judgment or condemnation — it is love!”

“Accepting people the way they are is cruel and not loving.”

That’s a straightforward statement of what Christians believe. (In fact, I wrote something very similar at our own church blog here, using the same song as an example. And I am NOT taking that link down). Yet when it became known during the campaign, a firestorm of controversy erupted. PC leader and incumbent Premier Alison Redford said, “The fact that there are people who think that’s a legitimate perspective just absolutely blows my mind…. I think they’re shocking.” Wildrose leader Danielle Smith defended Hunsperger’s candidacy by saying, “Our party is not going to legislate on contentious social issues…. we recognize that people have a great diversity of viewpoints.”

Since the eruption, the blog post in question has been taken down, and Hunsperger had this to say:

“The views I expressed in this blog posting are my own personal religious views and were given in the capacity as a church pastor…. I fully support equality for all people, and condemn any intolerance based on sexual orientation or any other personal characteristic.”

There’s so much going on here, and some very important lessons for Christians (and everyone else) to learn. Put bluntly, all the participants in this controversy deserve criticism, and I’m going to treat each of them in turn. I will start with Mr. Hunsperger.

Where Allan Hunsperger Went Wrong

It’s not politically correct to declare the truth these days, much less biblical truth. Hunsperger said exactly what Christians believe. Human beings are born sinful, born twisted. All of us. Not just gays and lesbians, either. And if we “remain in our sins,” whatever they are–homosexual activity included, yes, but adultery and heterosexual lust and divorce and lying and stealing and murder and many other things–and we do not repent of our old ways and turn to Christ, trusting in his death and resurrection for our salvation, then we will bear the consequences for that life of sin: eternal punishment in hell.

I am NOT criticizing Hunsperger for what he wrote. He was right to say it. As a pastor, he had a DUTY to say it.

My criticism is of his candidacy itself. Mr. Hunsperger is a pastor, leading The House church in Tofield, Alberta. So why is the pastor of a church running as a political candidate, for any party? Is the work of politics so important, the needs of the Alberta political scene so pressing, as to require a minister of the Gospel to leave his post?

Putting aside some fairly strong doctrinal differences I would have with Mr. Hunsperger, my objection to his candidacy stems from his role as a minister, for the following reasons:

1) What of his church? As a bivocational minister myself (that is, one who works–part-time, in my case–to support himself in ministry), I know how hard it is to serve the needs of the church while keeping secular employment on the side. I could not fathom taking on the demands of political office while maintaining my church office.

I say that even though I have three fellow elders to share the load, and even though my congregation knows about our bivocational commitments and supports us as we work with our hands to be less of a burden on the believers. Moreover, my church is a small one, around 150, tops. I would suspect Mr. Hunsperger’s church is larger, more firmly established, and its needs greater. Yet I see no mention of elders or fellow pastors on his church website, though perhaps they aren’t listed or I missed them. But the work of a provincial legislator would demand a lot of hours and travel, not to mention the tremendous effort involved in campaigning to secure the role in the first place.

Who will care for the flock while he is working as a legislator?

2) What’s Mr. Hunsperger’s responsibility here? Our Lord Jesus Christ specifically disavowed any political aspirations before Pontius Pilate when he said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The Apostle Paul tells his readers that our weapons are “not of the flesh” but are concerned with “taking every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). Why is he putting the ministry of the Word, where he is feeding the flock of God, on the back burner? Is his calling as a pastor less urgent and less important than the divine call to preach the Word?

That’s not to say that Christians can’t be active in politics, and even run as candidates. What I am saying is that Mr. Hunsperger has another job, and he needs to do that. Politics WILL get in the way, and the proof is in Mr. Hunsperger’s own response to this controversy:

“The views I expressed in this blog posting are my own personal religious views and were given in the capacity as a church pastor…. I fully support equality for all people, and condemn any intolerance based on sexual orientation or any other personal characteristic.”

Sorry, but that won’t fly, either biblically or politically. An elder/overseer/pastor is called to be consistent between his public and private life. His relationship with his wife and with his children is considered crucial to his qualification for ministry (Titus 1:6). You cannot neatly divide one’s life between pastoral and personal stuff. It is disingenuous at best, and outright hypocritical, to imply, as Mr. Hunsperger does here, that his positions as a political candidate are different (or at least distinguishable) from his obligations and views as a pastor (and, more deeply, as a Christian).

Say after this event, some young man at his church is fired from his job for stealing from the till. Will he then be able to protest to Pastor Hunsperger that his views on integrity and honesty were merely his “personal religious views” and that they don’t apply quite the same way at his secular job?

Christ is Lord of all of life. Including the work of a Christian political candidate. We are seeing here that the requirement of a pastor to preach the whole word will conflict with the political necessity to compromise. And Mr. Hunsperger’s back-pedalling has the potential to threaten the integrity of his pastoral ministry.

3) What does the world now understand Mr. Hunsperger to stand for? This controversy has now labelled Mr. Hunsperger, and by extension his church, as servants to a political agenda. He is now better known as a Wildrose member than he is as a Gospel minister. His conservatism is more prominent in the public’s eye than his commitment to the Gospel. Not intentionally on his part, but because his political involvement is more high-profile than his ministry of the Word.

If this hadn’t blown up, would he have been better known for his advocacy for conservative or libertarian political positions? Less government? Lower spending? Laissez-faire capitalism? I happen to agree with those positions myself, but is that what a pastor should be known for? Or should he be known for his witness to Christ and his dividing the Word to point men to him?

And due to the nature of politics, when the Gospel does come up as an issue, it is twisted and misinterpreted by the world’s discussion. His comments about “born that way” are a straightforward Gospel truth: men are born sinful, and need to turn to Christ and be born again to a new nature lest they perish in hell. That’s the Gospel (though there is more that needs to be said). Notice, though, that the world has seized on the context of his comments–a (legitimate) criticism of homosexuality–and turned those comments into a seemingly bigoted attack on just homosexuals.

Political discourse does not lend itself to nuance and fine distinctions. It seizes on the controversial. The fact that his comments apply equally to monsters like Paul Bernardo is missing from the discussion, even though that would probably be celebrated by many of his critics. The fact that it applies equally to heterosexuals is also missing, because it doesn’t lend itself to the purposes of those who attack him.

When a Gospel minister becomes active in partisan politics, the Gospel he preaches risks being reduced in the public eye to a merely political position. And the nature of political discourse prevents him from explaining himself with the care and precision and patience that the ministry of the Word calls for. That’s why I feel it unwise for pastors and elders, in particular, to become actively engaged as participants (as opposed to outside, prophetic commentators or critics, which is legitimate and has always been the role of God’s spokesmen) in partisan politics. That’s why, even though I will vote, even though I have strong political opinions, I will not endorse any political candidate or put a sign on my lawn.

Put plainly, I think that if Mr. Hunsperger perceives a call to a political office, he should resign his pastorate first.

Where Danielle Smith Went Wrong

His leader, Danielle Smith, also deserves her fair share of criticism. I commend her for not sacking Hunsperger as a candidate (well, she hasn’t yet), because to do so would be to discriminate against a particular religious perspective. But her words here are disturbing:

“Our party is not going to legislate on contentious social issues…. we recognize that people have a great diversity of viewpoints.”

Smith declared last week (as was already known) that she is pro-choice. That no doubt gravely disappointed many Christians who support her. I knew that already, but was no less disappointed because of my hope that her leadership of a party filled with pro-life folks might have changed her mind.

The definition of life is a “contentious social issue.” So the Wildrose under Smith will not legislate on that matter. That means that, in Alberta, the question of whether it should be permissible to chop up and suck a baby out of a womb with a vacuum cleaner is now a verboten subject. All the parties are, practically speaking, pro-abortion. Every pro-life Albertan has been disenfranchised on that issue for all practical purposes.

The definition and protection of life is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of society and government (Genesis 9:5, Romans 13:4). Yet this most fundamental responsibility cannot be fulfilled unless we define, properly, what “life” is. The fact that governments and political parties are unwilling even to discuss the issue is shocking and a dereliction of duty.

Furthermore, it is hypocritical. Smith has been excoriated for her (commendable) stand on conscience rights: she won’t force doctors and nurses to perform abortions. That’s great. My wife’s a nurse, and I guarantee that, if she goes back to practice and she’s required to help with an abortion, Alberta will lose a good health professional. Yet, Smith won’t de-list abortion as a publicly funded medical procedure either, thus forcing every Albertan, pro-lifers with conscience objections included, to pay for the procedures. How does that make sense? Politically, I guess, but not morally or logically.

In 1930s Germany, the place of Jews in society was a “contentious social issue.” Would it have been inappropriate to legislate protection for them against skinheads who trashed their businesses and roughed them up on the streets? Would not Danielle Smith enact laws to do so if that were to happen here?

What we see in the case of Danielle Smith is the inevitable inconsistency and (unintentional, no doubt, but still real) hypocrisy that comes from basing one’s views and opinions on a worldly foundation. One can argue that there are fewer inconsistencies and problems with her conservative libertarianism than, say, liberalism or socialism. But since her perspective strives to be secular rather than in submission to the revelation of the One who made humanity in the first place, it cannot help but be inconsistent. And sadly, the defenceless and innocent will still suffer for this failure.

Where Alison Redford Went Wrong

I have twice (here and here), in this space, written to Redford criticizing her. I won’t go over those matters again. But her words here are, plainly, shocking:

“The fact that there are people who think that’s a legitimate perspective just absolutely blows my mind…. I think they’re shocking.”

Every Christian believes that a person who is still “the way they were born,” that is, an unrepentant sinner, will go to hell. This is basic Christianity. So, we have here the Premier of Alberta declaring publicly that evangelical Christianity is not a “legitimate perspective.” Indeed, it’s “shocking.”

I congratulate Redford for providing such a crystal-clear fulfillment of 1 Corinthians 1:23, which promises that what we preach will be “folly to the Gentiles.” See? The Bible is true!

I expect no less from unbelievers. But Redford is supposed to be a human rights specialist. She served at the United Nations! I ask, then, if she ever described the identical Muslim perspective on homosexuality as “shocking” during her time there. Did she ever tell the Iranians that their stoning of rape victims was an “illegitimate perspective?” Or is her righteous indignation only reserved for evangelical Christians, who don’t pose such a physical threat?

Who gave Redford the right to define what constitutes a “legitimate perspective?” What makes something legitimate, and what doesn’t? What is her standard of right and wrong, and where does it come from? If she thinks the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality and hell is “shocking,” why? Don’t just throw out assertions like some sputtering blowhard in a political science class! Back up your position. Provide an alternative authority, a different standard of right and wrong that we can put to the test. Where does your morality come from, Premier Redford, if you reject divine revelation?

Public opinion? If so, does that make the execution of homosexuals right in the Muslim world, but wrong here?

The “greater good”? But, then, who defines what the “greater good” is? Who appoints them? Who gives them that authority? What is “good” in the first place? What makes the most people the happiest? What about the minority that disagrees?

Human rights? But on what are they based? Your party denies “human” status to babies before they make it out of the womb, even though they are genetically human, can feel pain, and have a life distinct from their mothers. And your government’s approach to the “human right” of free speech has included the prosecution of pastors for expressing their opinions on homosexuality. Should Mr. Hunsperger be thrown in jail, Premier Redford? If not, why shouldn’t he speak his mind? Doesn’t he have a right to do so?

Conclusion

Christianity declares that human beings are born sinful. Irreparably broken. The only solution is a new heart, given by the Holy Spirit, in response to Gospel preaching.

My prayer is that Mr. Hunsperger realizes that he can have a greater and more meaningful impact doing his first job, preaching the Word that changes lives, than he will engaging in the cut-and-thrust of politics. Preaching changes lives eternally. Politics doesn’t. He is trading the weapons that destroy strongholds and replace hearts–the preached words of the Bible–for tools of only transient and temporary effect. Let other believers, who are not called to the pulpit, take up that task, for it is important; we do need Christians in politics, and “lay” Christians, as they don’t also lead and speak for congregations, have greater flexibility and will be more effective in politics. But for one called to the ministry of the Word, that ministry of the Word needs to come first. Mr. Hunsperger, get your priorities straight, and I pray God opens your eyes.

I pray that Danielle Smith realizes the fundamental contradictions and inconsistencies of her position on moral issues, and sees that everything in politics has moral implications.

I pray that Alison Redford does not really believe what she is saying, for the implications are truly terrifying. I pray that Christians will keep the right to proclaim their faith openly, for Redford’s comments are consistent with a path amply demonstrated by her government that would see those rights taken away. Should that day come, I pray that God will give the courage and strength necessary to declare the truth even under the pain of political persecution. I fear that day is coming. But, even if it does, Christ remains enough for us, and the hope of eternity outweighs any pain here.

And finally: my prayer is that, as we enter the final week of this campaign, Christians will look at the political process in biblical perspective. All of this will soon be swept away. This world, and its political systems and philosophies, will soon come to an end. Until that time, yes, we participate in the process, and we proclaim the truth even to those who don’t want to hear it. But we do not rest our hope on an election campaign.

No matter what happens next Monday, Christ is still on the throne, and the victory has still been won. I pray that all the candidates and all the leaders come to realize that (terrifying) reality, and speak and govern accordingly. For justice will, assuredly, be done.

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