A Response to Bryan Fischer regarding J.D. Greear

Earlier this month the Southern Baptist Convention—amidst recent controversies regarding several of its leaders—elected a new president in J.D. Greear. Though the messengers of the SBC overwhelmingly voted for Greear, there is a vocal minority voicing their concern about what Greear’s leadership means for the future of the SBC.

One such voice is that of Bryan Fischer, host of Focal Point on American Family Radio. Fischer—in an article published yesterday (6/21) titled “Southern Baptists May Be in Trouble with J.D. Greear”—seeks to warn Southern Baptists that Greear’s “softer” stance toward homosexuality may eventually lead to SBC churches allowing homosexuals to serve in volunteer or paid ministry positions.

Several leaders and key figures within the SBC have called out Fischer on Twitter, claiming that he is slandering and misrepresenting Greear. Fischer, on the other hand, claims that he is warning SBC members of the possible implications of Greear’s stance on homosexuality. Further, he claims that no one is challenging his “assessment of the logical implications of the ‘more than’ statements JD made about homosexuality.”

Up to this point, individuals have asserted that Fischer’s work is slanderous, malicious, and divisive, allowing Fischer the higher ground to claim that no one has challenged his argument (and thus he remains unscathed). In what follows, I want to address Fischer’s argument regarding the implications of Greear’s statements. I hope to show that what Fischer believes is a sound argument is nothing more than a fallacious forecast of what can possibly happen.

Fischer uses Greear’s sermon delivered at the 2014 annual meeting of the ERLC as his jumping point. In this sermon, Greear seeks to emphasize the need for Southern Baptists to stand firm in their biblical belief on homosexuality while loving the homosexual. In doing so, though, the believer ought not to push away their gay neighbor, but instead to love them more than they love their position on sexual morality.[1]

We have to love our gay neighbor more than we love our position on sexual morality, which means that our relationship with them must not be contingent upon their agreeing with us about sexuality. It means that when they don’t agree with us we still don’t push them away.

The posture of many Christians in our churches is more characterized by anger than by compassion, by judgment rather than by friendship. I am NOT saying that we would ever compromise our position or fail to state it, just that even when they disagree with it, we do not cut them off – we draw them close. We say yes, this issue is important. I cannot compromise, but I love you more than I love being right. And so even if you don’t see things my way, I’m going to keep bringing you close, and I’m going to remain committed to you.

In the cross of Jesus Christ, he shows us the right way to relate to the gay and the lesbian community – clarity about God’s righteousness, compassion that would give up its own life to draw them close.[2]

The first problematic assertion Fischer makes is: “But Greear is saying, it appears to me, that if it comes down to a choice between loving my neighbor or loving my position on homosexuality, I’m going to have to ditch my position on homosexuality. If my position on sexuality comes between me and my neighbor, then I’ve got to jettison the thing that’s in the way, my position on sexuality.” Fischer claims that the only option for the believer is to stand firm in one’s position on homosexuality or love one’s homosexual neighbor.

What Fischer does here is set up a false dichotomy: it’s choice A or choice B. This is a false dichotomy because Fischer leaves out other options available. For instance, Greear states (in the quote Fischer provides) “We say yes, this issue is important. I cannot compromise, but I love you more than I love being right.” The idea here is that the believer does not make the issue one of winning an argument, but one of loving a homosexual individual as a person created in the image of God. It is in the context of relationship that the believer shares the truth of the Gospel and how it speaks to one’s sexuality. In short, the other option neglected by Fischer is that the believer can respect their homosexual neighbor while at the same time standing firm in what Scripture teaches on sexuality.

Fischer illustrates his point with the following analogy:

If we tell our husbands, for example, to love their wives more than they love their golf, there are going to be times when they are going to have to give up a round of golf in order to love their wives. Choosing Option A means that, when the chips are down, you dump Option B.

The problem with this analogy is that it is an irrelevant analogy: the idea of a husband choosing between golf or their wife is not the same (or relevantly similar) to an individual choosing between their belief(s) or an individual (particularly one who holds an opposing belief). Golf is an activity one participates in—an activity that has very little (if any) bearing on one’s belief structure. Granted, it can become an idol in one’s life, but golf is not a belief or part of one’s belief structure.

Further, I believe the analogy between the husband’s wife and one’s homosexual neighbor fails to be relevant. Typically spouses have some level of shared beliefs, but—more importantly—they have a relationship that is unlike any other. Greear’s appeal to love one’s homosexual neighbor is not the same as the love between a married couple. Further, Greear’s appeal implies that there is a fundamental difference in beliefs between the believer and homosexual neighbor—a difference that tends to drive people apart. (Greear’s sermon seeks to exhort believers to go against this tendency.) As such, what Fischer as used is a false analogy.

I believe a proper analogy for Greear’s appeal is how Jesus interacted with sinners. When Jesus spoke with the woman at the well, he did not make it an issue of winning an argument but one of speaking to her as a person—one whom he created and loved. We see that Jesus did not sacrifice truth for loving this adulterous woman; rather, he spoke directly to her sin and offered her his living water! We also see Jesus dining with sinners and tax collectors such that the Pharisees charged Jesus with being a sinner himself. Yet, we know that Jesus is perfect and never sinned; his dining with sinners and tax collectors was to love them as who they are—people created in the image of God. Yet, in no way did Jesus ever compromise his beliefs nor the proclamation of his Gospel. I believe Fischer’s argument would have been better served by addressing Jesus’ interactions with sinners, particularly if he believes Greear’s sermon goes against what we are taught in Scripture.

Finally, I want to point out his use of “logical implications” in the Tweet quoted above. The idea behind the use of this phrase is that Fischer’s assertions logically follow from Greear’s claims. Further, “logical implications” carries with it the idea that Fischer’s assertions either necessarily follow, or are at least highly probable. The problem here is that Fischer’s use of “logical” is more in the idea of forecasting—if A is true, then B is a possible outcome.  But, C, D, E,… are also possible outcomes as well. As such, what Fischer provides is not a logical argument, but a forecasting of possible implications.

Granted, the implications Fischer points out are possible—the are relevant to the point and we have seen examples of conventions, churches, and individuals slide down the slippery slope of compromised beliefs. However, what I believe Fischer ignores (which is fatal to his argument) is the body of Greear’s work. We do have available to us what Greear has taught as well as how his beliefs manifest themselves in action. Though people do change, one’s body of work is a strong indicator of how they will act in the future. If what Fischer claims is likely (that is, Greear is leading us toward a softening stance on homosexuality), then do we see signs in the body of work available to us? Up to this point, we don’t. In fact in one Twitter comment to Fischer, an individual notes how Greear’s ministry helped him when he struggled with sexuality.

The concept of using one’s body of work to identify future outcomes is not novel. Meteorologists, financial brokers, doctors, etc. all use past precedents upon which to base their forecasts, possibilities, and implications. The same should be true of us when we seek to identify possible implications of one’s assertions. The same should have been done by Fischer regarding Greear.

As such, Fischer’s argument is riddled with fallacies and fails to take into account Greear’s body of work. This is why, I believe, that the likes of Jimmy Scroggins and Bruce Ashford have called out Fischer for misrepresenting J.D. Greear.

With this said, it is only fair to note that Fischer couches his assertions in the hope that he is wrong and that people are right about Greear’s fidelity to Scripture. But, this does not reduce the serious error of his argument. I believe, along with Scroggins and Ashford, that Greear’s body of work gives us confidence that Greear will be faithful to the teachings of Scripture as he leads the SBC to be a light of the Gospel in a dark world.

In closing, I want to make it clear that I do not seek to attack Bryan Fischer, nor do I seek to belittle him. Rather, I am seeking to address his argument made in his public article. It is my hope that we can address what he states. Any comments made in a derogatory manner toward Bryan will be deleted.

[1] Fischer quotes Greear’s sermon in his article. I have paraphrased Greear’s wording.

[2] Quoted by Fischer. He links the YouTube recording of Greear’s sermon here.

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