U.S. Senator Rob Portman, a Christian from Ohio, recently submitted an editorial announcing, “I’ve changed my mind on the question of marriage for same-sex couples.” He now supports it. This is shocking news from a Republican in the Senate “who could be one of the most conservative members of that chamber,” according to the Christian Coalition of America. What made him change his mind? “Two years ago, my son Will, then a college freshman, told my wife, Jane, and me that he is gay.”
Such an announcement is excruciatingly painful for any parent, but it is especially troublesome for Christian parents whose faith condemns homosexual behavior as gravely sinful. Senator Portman admits that he “wrestled with” reconciling his Christian faith with his decision to approve of homosexual behavior. His vague rationale has become cliché: “Ultimately, it came down to the Bible’s overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God.”
Such a simplified justification for flip-flopping on a moral doctrine is far too common today, and Christians should know better. It is simply bad theology. It is true that Jesus taught his followers to love one another. In fact, loving one another is the second greatest commandment, second only to loving God: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37-39). Unfortunately, Christians like Senator Portman fail to understand what this love that Jesus commanded actually looks like.
The word love in the passage cited above is translated both times from the Greek word agapao, which denotes love that is concerned primarily with our relationships with God as well as with each other’s relationships with God. When it comes to loving another person, this type of love desires the other’s salvation and takes effective steps to help ensure it. This type of love may be contrasted with philon, a type of love more concerned with friendship with one another than it is with each other’s friendship with God. (For a fuller treatment of the various types of love, see What is Authentic Christian Love?)
The so-called “love and compassion” that Senator Portman and others often accentuate is not the agapao type of love that Jesus commanded. Rather, it is the philon type of love about which Jesus said, “He who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Matt. 10:37). Senator Portman has apparently made his own friendly relationship with his son a priority ahead of what is truly good for Will.
Will Portman has now become a victim twice. First, he is a victim of Adam, as are we all, in that he suffers from attraction to sin, a consequence of original sin. But now he also is a victim of his own father, who has chosen to coddle him in immoral behavior rather than to follow St. Paul’s teaching to “shun immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18), a gesture that would be a truly loving action in the interest of Will’s salvation. This should be of great concern to Senator Portman, for in Jesus’ words, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).
Let us pray for both father and son.