Explicit Content Warning:
The following article contains material that is not suitable for children.
Issues Etc. was once the official Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) mouthpiece on the airwaves. Following the spontaneous cancellation of the show by then-president Gerald Kieschnick, Issues led a successful coup against the incumbent. In 2010 this culminated in the election of Matthew Harrison to the highest office in the Synod. Since that time, Issues, Etc. has carried water for Harrison, and most recently endorsed him for election to his fifth term — an election he handily won.
Apropos of this close relationship, listeners who pay careful attention will at times find glimpses of the not-so-invisible hand of Harrison at work in Issues, Etc. programming. Indeed, notwithstanding the officially independent status of Issues, Etc. with regard to Synod control, the broadcast evidently functions as Kirkwood Road Pravda when called upon — as we shall see.
On February 21, 2023, President Harrison issued a condemnation of his avowed enemies. In it he enumerated a list of “teachings” that he characterized as “alt-right” (a favorite, though dated, epithet of Harrison advisor Jack Kilcrease), to wit:
- white supremacy
- anti-interracial marriage
- women as property
- death for homosexuals
- even genocide
Since Harrison’s encyclical dropped, Issues Poobah Todd Wilken has periodically featured programming that is curiously and minutely aligned with Harrison’s talking points. On March 2, Wilken broadcast an interview on the Christian resistance to Adolf Hitler. Several weeks later Issues listeners were given a segment on white nationalism in which guest Chris Rosebrough named the names of two of Harrison’s most prominent targets. Most recently, this past week (July 17) Issues aired an interview with Dr. Mike Middendorf entitled “Does God Command the Killing of Homosexuals in Romans 1?”
Beyond obviously drawing inspiration from the above list, the segment is without question a response to the bourgeoning Christian Nationalism movement — Harrison’s true target, whether he knows it or not. For those not familiar with the contemporary iteration of this term, proponents of Christian Nationalism advocate for the return of obscenity laws, a class of legislation which has only recently been done away with in the West. Sodomy laws (e.g. the sort overturned by Lawrence v. Texas) epitomize the genre.
In point of fact, and on that note, the Middendorf interview is an unsubtle rebuke of the African nation of Uganda, which recently passed strict sodomy laws with punishments up to and inclusive of the death penalty. Ironically, the LCMS 2023 Convention will bring fellowship with the Lutheran Church of Uganda (LCU) to a vote. One wonders what sort of censure the Ugandan Lutherans might receive from enlightened white Christians like Harrison, Wilken, Middendorf, et al if their delegates voice support for their rulers and the law of their land.
This July 17 Issues segment is such a confused mess of straw-manning, category errors, and outright falsehoods that it deserves careful attention. Hindsight will prove all the more what a telling entry it is in the saga of the decline of the LCMS. The level of ELCA-esque antinomianism on display would be astounding, had it not been presaged in so many ways already.
Dr. Mike Middendorf is on the faculty at Concordia University Irvine, the synodical organ which most reliably and prolifically produces and nurtures antinomian malignancies. Sadly but truly, this gives up the plot of the interview from the outset.
It’s possible that Middendorf is in all reality far from being a West Coast Radical Lutheran (a “wackerel,” as they have been called for millennia). Wilken himself has admitted his own past as a so-called “soft antinomian” but says he has repented of this and learned to see the place of the Law as the proper guide for the Christian life, i.e. the Law’s “third use.” In this interview, however, both clergypersons verge on a practical denial of the Law’s first use, that is to say, its function as a curb and restraint of evildoers in the civil realm. This is in keeping with the evident trend in Missouri (the International Center, Concordia St. Louis, etc.) to disavow the divinely ordained civil code of ancient Israel and, well, avow the laws of this present age (e.g. hate crime laws, specifically those pertaining to racism, sexism, “homophobia,” etc) as more just and humane.
Wilken and Middendorf misunderstand Christian Nationalist support for the restoration of some form of sodomy laws. They speak as though, somewhere, the argument is being sincerely made that Christians should take up stones in a vigilante quest to execute sodomites. To my knowledge, this has never been seriously proposed, with the possible (yet still unknown to me) exception of isolated schizophrenics (who may or may not have been influenced by three-letter agencies in search of probable cause).
Rather, in Christian Nationalist circles, the discussion of “killing homosexuals” has only ever been part of a larger theoretical discussion on policy. In an explicitly Christian nation, what should the position of the state be with regard to sodomy? And what are the ideal parameters of just civil laws and penalties in serving the interests of the people of such a nation? Of course, various states within the USA have historically had such laws, back before Hollywood, the government, and Lutheran pastors turned against them. They still remain on the books in some form in twelve states.
And, once again, one wonders what the Lutheran Church of Uganda — whose nation has moved beyond theoreticals and has adopted strict policies on sodomy into law — is in for once it officially partners with the LCMS.
In the second place, and very much related, Wilken and Middendorf fall into the typical antinomian error when it comes to the Law: failing to observe distinctions between moral, civil, and ceremonial laws. There is an unwillingness to explore the import of sexual sin in the “before God” sense, contrasted with the “before the world” sense, after the antinomian way: “coram Deo all are sinners, so how dare you judge coram mundo with regard to sins, you hypocrite?!” Indeed, throughout this conversation they conflate these categories at every convenient opportunity, as it suits their argument.
For the modern antinomian, all Law is collapsed into the moral dimension, and then the moral dimension itself is flattened into a binary of sinner/not-sinner. The fact that all men have sinned and fallen short (true) and all men deserve God’s condemnation outside of Christ’s atoning sacrifice (true) places all men into the sinner column (true). These truths are then used by antinomians to deny scope and scale of sin (in regards to both coram mundo and coram Deo, in point of fact). All are sinners, you see, so no man is more deserving of punishment than any other — including suffering temporal consequences…when convenient for the antinomian, at least.
In this way, and in this spirit, I will be referring to Wilken and Middendorf as “antinomians” throughout my commentary on their interview. The full segment, minus fluff, is reproduced in transcript form below for examination. I’ll interject some comments of my own below, but those with discerning, theologically/morally/logically functional minds will readily recognize the issues, etc., for themselves.
WILKEN: So here is the passage in question. It is the first chapter of Romans, verse 32, Paul is smack dab in the middle of a very long argument/very long statement. He’s working in stages. And here at verse 32, he says, “Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them, but give approval to those who practice them.” Now, somewhere in the previous verses, Paul has mentioned homosexuality. He describes it in rather graphic terms, in fact. So does this apply to homosexuality and homosexuality alone? What about the other sins that Paul mentions there? And how do we take this if those other sins include sins that we do remember, the words say, those who do these things deserve to die.
Notice the thrust of Todd’s argument at the outset: lots of things deserve death, so nothing actually deserves death. By the end of the segment this will come full circle as they effectively declare: you do things that deserve the second death in hell (but for Christ’s atoning sacrifice on your behalf), so no judging the sins of another in such a way that condemns them to their first death here on earth. (Again, see my discussion on antinomian habits above the transcript.)
With this same argument, Todd and Middendorf may as well abolish death row. One wonders if they would be willing to make an identical case for going easy on bestiality — provided, of course, that the goats, chickens, dogs, and monkeys were consenting and fully grown.
WILKEN: Welcome back to Issues, etc. I’m Todd Wilken. Joining us to answer the question “Does God command the killing of homosexuals in Romans 1:32?” [is] Doctor Mike Middendorf, professor of theology at Concordia University, Irvine, California. Author of the Concordia Commentaries on Romans. Mike, welcome back.
MIDDENDORF: Thank you. Good to be here, Todd.
WILKEN: Why did God command the death penalty for homosexual acts in ancient Israel?
MIDDENDORF: Thanks. That’s a tough question to ask — “Why” of God, generally. We’ll get to this later in Romans, but I think, on the one hand, those are contrary to God’s design, specifically for sexual conduct, which leads to procreation.
An “abomination”, you might say more simply — and more Biblically. But that would be homophobic.
MIDDENDORF: So male-female produces offspring. Genesis one, be fruitful, multiply, fill the Earth. Same-sex sexual acts do not. So I think that’s kind of what’s driving this if you’re asking me a “why” of God. But if you look at Leviticus 20, there’s a whole number of other things there that are worthy of death there as well, including just cursing father or mother.
Ah yes, “just” cursing father and mother. He forgot to mention that later in the chapter God tells Israel to put to death those who are “just” necromancers. Childish peccadillos of all kinds get the rope.
To return to seriousness: we in 2023 America have had our consciences malformed to such a degree that most everyone is as casual and dismissive as Middendorf about something God considers so serious that He says it needs a death penalty attached to it in the civil code.
Living in Hollywood’s backyard as he does, Middendorf no doubt has the storyteller class to thank for the fact that he, as a professor of theology, can at most muster a hand-waving “meh” for the serious pronouncements of God. Why, the children in these sitcoms I love curse their parents in every episode! And the parents deserve it, by George, and justly apologize to their children for their foolish and backward ways by the end of 30 minutes! A depiction of repentance means this must be Christianity!
This seems like a good time to point out something else that it seems no one in the TV and air-conditioned culture of the modern West has the imagination to consider:
No one in ancient Israel was being executed for lispy uptalk and weak wrists. When Wilken and Middendorf talk about “killing homosexuals,” most people’s minds picture cartoonish and wanton slaughter of those with faggy comportment. To Wilken’s credit, he at least phrased his opening question appropriately: “Why did God command the death penalty for homosexual acts in ancient Israel?”
The death penalty was for acts, not attitudes. Who can police the human heart but God alone? Inward proclivities to sin are either checked against becoming outward acts by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, or they are checked (hopefully) by known and applied consequences: this is the First Use of the Law, the curb. Disincentives to sin keep external human society from being as Lawless as the internal heart of the Old Adam.
And let’s talk about enforcement. Under such a regime, before modern surveillance (Alexa, street cams, cell phone data, social media posting, DNA testing, and the like), how exactly were sodomites convicted of the crime? Only on the testimony of two or three witnesses, for acts that are capable of being conducted relatively discreetly, if they need to be. Hence, only the most careless and open sodomite escapades had even a chance of being brought to conviction.
Civil laws are civil deterrents — simple as. How far would modern groomers have gotten with Gen Z in terms of turning them to manifest sexual perversion under Uganda’s anti-sodomy laws? Under Israel’s? Even under the former US statutes, now overturned?
Aggressive punishments for the convicted keep social cancers checked against growth. To take a modern example: the legalization of marijuana in several states at this point has utterly removed the former stigma associated with consumption of the drug. In these states, one can now smell cannabis at any given gas station while filling up, and see people openly flaunting their membership in high culture where bongs and stylized marijuana leafs are common decorations. Passing by cars where employees of various establishments are taking their lunch or smoke breaks in their cars, one frequently smells the Devil’s Lettuce. What was once taboo due to civil penalties (and common sense) has become an accepted, even celebrated, part of life in these lands.
Again, aggressive punishments might not eradicate such things, but they drive them underground and check the spread. Again again, disincentives to sin keep external human society from being as Lawless as the internal heart of the Old Adam.
And this is applicable to cursing father and mother as well. If you know that you are liable to death for losing it at your parents and striking them with your tongue, a significant step toward Patricide, how will that direct the behavior and expectations of society? Disrespect and disregard for one’s parents, breaking the Fourth Commandment, might take on other, less open and more strictly internal forms — and those are for God to address — but this form is one that can be policed, with the nation better off for it.
Middendorf’s treatment of this subject indicates that he has never given serious thought to these considerations.
MIDDENDORF: So, on the one hand, yes, this is there in Scripture, but we can’t simplistically equate those cultural norms, penalties, practices of ancient Israel in their context, certainly with the Christian Church today.
Here we get to the contextualizing that the LCMS rightly castigates the ELCA for practicing when it comes to women’s ordination. To simply replace a few words:
“So, on the one hand, yes, this is there in Scripture, but we can’t simplistically equate those cultural norms, penalties, practices of [the early Church in Ephesus and Corinth] in their context, certainly with the Christian Church today.”
MIDDENDORF: Or e.g. we couldn’t eat any pork, lobster, bacon, shrimp. We would have to be worshipping Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. For sinning, we would have to kill a goat or a sheep.
Here is where Middendorf confuses the issue by mixing in Israel’s ceremonial laws into the civil and moral stew. This is, incidentally, an identical argument to that which is made by “gay and Christian” advocates: “The Old Testament calls eating shellfish an abomination, you see, just as it calls sodomy an abomination. The fact that eating shellfish is not an abomination for the New Testament Church demonstrates that neither is sodomy an abomination. You can’t call one a sin and not the other.”
But this argument lies by omission, and in two ways:
In the first place, there are two different Hebrew words for “abomination” between Lev 11:12 and Lev 20:13. The former being “sheqets”, and the latter “toebah”. The Septuagint does use “bdelugma” for both, in fairness, and the King James Version likewise uses the same word (“abomination”) in both places. The linguists can debate the importance of this.
In the second place, and more importantly, the nature of the abomination is tied up in whom the command was for.
Read through Leviticus 11, and note how often the prepositional phrase “for you” appears. Why, with that many “for you’s” you’d think it was a Higher Things brochure.
God took pains to spell out to the Israelites when that which was unclean, was unclean for them. When that which was abominable, was abominable for them.
The ceremonial laws of Israel were never universal laws for the nations, any more than the laws regulating the priests of Israel were universal laws for the nation of Israel. Nor were the ceremonial laws regulating the High Priest universal laws for all priests.
For instance, the ceremonial law held that priests were not allowed to become ceremonially unclean with regard to the dead for any but their immediate family, whereas the generic Israelite was not prohibited from doing so. Ceremonial law held that the High Priest was not allowed to become ceremonially unclean with regard to the dead for anyone at all (not even to enter the building where his son’s body lay in repose), whereas generic priests could do so for immediate family (Leviticus 21).
The ceremonial laws became more and more strict the closer one got to God’s presence in the Most Holy Place, just as the quality of materials in the Tabernacle and the Temple became more and more refined the closer they were to the Most Holy Place, just as the adorning metals of the Temple went from bronze to silver to gold moving inward:
- The nations were not under ceremonial laws.
- The Israelites, God’s portion from among the nations, were under generic ceremonial laws.
- The priests, God’s portion from among Israel, were under both generic and priestly ceremonial laws.
- The High Priests, God’s portion from among the priests, were under generic, priestly, and chief priestly ceremonial laws.
As Leviticus 21 tells us, these ceremonial laws were given in order to set certain groups of people apart in their service to God. As I’ve indicated above, this was done in stages, just as the quality of the materials set apart in service to God in the Tabernacle/Temple was laid out in stages.
Because the ceremonial laws were never for the other nations, when the Gospel went to those nations, to include them in the people of God upon the coming of the Kingdom of God, those trappings that caused Israel to be a separate people went the way of the temple curtain (and, shortly thereafter, the temple itself). This is the entire, explicit point of Peter’s vision in Acts 10. This is the entire, explicit conclusion of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.
Having belabored that point, let us consider the issue of the abomination of sodomy. Is this a ceremonial law, which was compulsory for Israel, but does not bind the nations? Or is this a civil law with an underlying moral law (as in the case of “thou shalt not murder” and “thou shalt not commit adultery”)?
The answer is obvious. We are talking about Sodom-y. The sin for which Sodom was condemned by fire from heaven, apart from the ceremonial laws of Israel (which was as-yet unfounded).
Or consider that, in warning Israel against sexual sins, God is specific to note that these practices were the very things He condemned the pagans for, sentencing them to death at the hands of the Israelites:
“Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.”— Leviticus 18:24-30
A short time later, God restates His rules for sexuality, inclusive of prohibitions for sodomy with associated punishment:
“If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”op. cit., 20:13
God then moves into His summation of all the points discussed above:
“You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”loc. cit., 22-26
This passage in and of itself makes it clear that sodomy (and the other sexual sins named) is an affront to God whether it is perpetrated by the nations or by His portion Israel. It is not “an abomination just to/for/unto you, Israel”; no, it is simply an abomination. Full stop. By way of contrast, note the bolded “for you.” This makes clear that the reiterated dietary law (“You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls”) is given specifically to Israel because of their status as God’s portion from among the nations.
The moral law is set against sodomy, and God mandated that Israel legislate that morality through civil penalties for convicted sodomites. The ceremonial law is to mark Israel as God’s own portion. Two very different things.
For Middendorf to conflate the two and dismiss them both as “just, you know, Old Testament stuff that doesn’t concern us” is appalling. It is, dare I say, abominable.
MIDDENDORF: Or even slavery is allowed in ancient Israel. But I would like to point out that the cultural norms in Israel are at least raised above many of those in their context, in their surrounding cultures. So that’s kind of the simple answer I would give to that.
And here we have the obligatory implied apology for the terribly embarrassing and offensive portions of Israelite law, as given by God.
“Oh yes,” the liberal theologian grovels before modern sensibilities, “God allowed his people to practice slavery, that terrible evil, but can we at least agree that God’s law was at least more moral in a relative sense?”
To shrug off his embarrassment at God’s condemnation of sodomy, Middendorf portrays God’s law given to Israel as outdated and backward. But we certainly don’t think that way. We know better now!
MIDDENDORF: And then again, since Christ has come in and through Christ who fulfilled the laws for us, we just can’t simplistically equate those to the age now of the Church.
Simplistically? No. But there is a proper and responsible way to do this, but instead Middendorf prefers to dissemble.
Christ’s fulfillment of God’s Holy Law, through which He reached beyond Israel and drew all nations to Himself, abolishing the wall of separation between Israel and the nations (which was the ceremonial law), did not then abolish all law, or what are we to do with Romans 13?
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.— Ephesians 2:11-21 [emphasis mine]
When Paul wrote the words emphasized above, he did not mean that there was no longer any law in effect. When he spoke of the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, which acted as a dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles (Israelites and the nations), he spoke specifically of that same ceremonial law we have been discussing. This is absolutely plain from the above text.
Paul did not by saying this declare the abolition of governments ruling the people with righteous laws based upon God’s eternal, unchanging will.
For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.— Romans 13:3-4
Therefore laws that govern human affairs remain. Sodomy laws, where enacted, are such laws. And we know from the Biblical witness that such laws comport with God’s eternal moral law.
WILKEN: So do the death penalties enforced in ancient Israel—and there were many of them—do they apply today?
Only in nations where the rulers have ratified such laws and presently enforce them, Todd. That’s how civil laws informed by God’s moral law work — for instance laws about what to do with a murderer.
This isn’t hard, but Wilken and Middendorf make it seem hard because they are emotional and ideological captives to the spirit of the age. They are seemingly unable to
agree with submit to Almighty God when He says that tried and convicted sodomites deserve death in the civil realm. Instead, like the antinomians they are, they pivot to the moral law, collapse all law into a binary within that framework, assert (correctly, as far as it goes) that we have all broken the moral law and deserve death, and then deduce from the fact that Jesus died on the cross to take away the sins of the world that no one actually deserves the death penalty in the civil realm.
Let’s call this ploy “antinomian sleight-of-hand.”
MIDDENDORF: No, again, in and through Christ… I love Matthew five, where he says, I have not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, I have come to fulfill them. So, yes, the soul that sins will die—also in the Old Testament, Ezekiel 18. And if all sin, no one is righteous, not even one (Ecclesiastes), then everybody ought to die, right? So I would take all those as pointing ahead to Christ’s death. He then suffers the penalty for all of those.
You see? Textbook antinomian sleight-of-hand.
MIDDENDORF: So while, yes, those were enforced, probably not consistently in ancient Israel, we can’t deny they’re there. But ultimately, I think they point ahead to the coming of Christ. That his death for all sin takes those away.
The death penalty for sodomites—and murderers, adulterers, necromancers, and those who burn their children alive on altars to Molech—was merely typological, y’all!
This reading of Scripture and justification is categorically incoherent. With this argument, you abolish all civil penalties for all crimes forever.
MIDDENDORF: And then in and through Christ, those specific cultural dimensions, or restrictions, or whatever you wanna call it, of God’s people in the Old Testament are transformed in and through Him. So all of the cultural, political, military, judicial practices of Israel come together in and through Christ.
This is not a serious conversation. These are not serious theologians. They would never treat a discussion about capital punishment for murderers this way, regardless of whether either one personally believes in the continued relevance of Genesis 9:6, because our culture does not have a month of celebration dedicated to murderers. But they’ll strap on for this discussion, and the reason why is clear and bears repeating: the only reason Wilken and Middendorf are dissembling this aggressively about the issue of sodomy is that they seek to be inoffensive to the world. They seek “respectability.” They are embarrassed by God.
MIDDENDORF: And now, of course, in the New Testament, neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, that Christ and the Gospel permeate all cultures on Earth and so, in a sense, are not simplistically taking Old Testament culture of Israel and applying them on the other side of the coming of Christ.
Wilken and Middendorf are in full “it’s just cultural bro” spin mode, as fully as any ELCA priestitute demands that male-only clergy is also “just cultural.” It implies contempt for God’s word.
WILKEN: I would also know that even in ancient Israel, these laws were intended only for Israel and not for Gentiles. Is that significant?
Todd’s lie has already been rebuked above, but let’s return to Scripture and do it again. With emphasis this time:
Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the LORD your God.— Leviticus 18:24-30
“You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them.— op. cit. 20:22-23
God made it abundantly clear that He judged the nations which preceded Israel in Canaan for their sexual depravity, inclusive of sodomy. He made it abundantly clear that these are universal prohibitions, even if not all nations keep a law against them on the books and enforce it with capital punishment (as the Amorites no doubt wished they had, when their inquity was in full flower and Israel was carrying out God’s judgment against them).
Wilken’s contention that “these [anti-sodomy] laws were intended only for Israel and not for Gentiles” is patently false. Laws against the consumption of shellfish were intended only for Israel, as shown above. But were laws against murder intended only for Israel, Todd? Or is that rather how righteous nations which fear God handle man-slaying? What about bestiality? Not verboten outside of Israel, no civil penalties needed today? What about child sacrifice? Just a “peculiar people” thing? As soon as you try to run this program with a sin that lacks social approbation in the Year of Our Lord, 2023, the computer crashes.
MIDDENDORF: Sure. And again, Israel is this… primarily the worshipping community of God, right? His chosen people, through whom the Christ will come. And that chosen worshipping people of God we can connect in some ways to the Church, but we don’t then also take the political, military, cultural dimensions of those people. And, as you said, Israel doesn’t go and impose those on the Canaanites, Amorites, Girgashites, and so on. This is how the people of God, as a united, theological, worshipping, religious, but also judicial, military, political community, lived out their culture in that day in a way that was to be distinct from the nations around them.
This is a subtle swipe at Christian Nationalism. Christians don’t get to be policymakers, you see, much less in pursuit of God-pleasing laws that would squash the ability of sodomites to groom our children. We are to be passive, ruled by whosoever steps into the vacuum that we create by ceding whatever civil and political power we would otherwise have.
Maybe we can have a March for Life™ so that we can look impressive and hold court, and maybe even get photo ops with Jewish celebrities, but that’s as close to the halls of power as Christians are permitted to come. The “horrors” of the Holy Roman Empire and the conversion and civilization of third-world nations through colonialism must never again be allowed to occur.
This is how “Christians” speak now. No wonder red-blooded men, distraught at the state of the world, want nothing to do with the false Christ of niceness, the false Christ of deference to evildoers—evildoers whom Wilken and Middendorf seem pleased as punch to run interference for.
The rest of the interview has some true and commendable points, including ones about how all have sinned and deserve damnation, as well as the perils of hypocrisy. This is something modern antinomians are very good at. If nothing else, they certainly recognize that all men are dead in their trespasses and sins, absent Christ. They are very diligent to remark on God’s radical grace toward sinners.
However, seeking to be more merciful than God, they consistently step beyond the warrant of grace to absolve not just coram Deo, but also to abolish the law’s just penalties coram mundo vis-à-vis temporal consequences, which is to say the First Use of the Law.
And that is what you’ll see in the remainder of this interview. I’ve said most of what I had to say already, so I’ll only make sparse interjections from here.
WILKEN: What is the context, turning to Romans chapter one, of Paul’s condemnations?
MIDDENDORF: Right, so there, of course, the great theme of Romans is the righteousness of God. But beginning at verse 18, God’s wrath is coming upon all un-righteousness. So when we get to the Gospel, of course, the righteousness of God is given to us in Christ, but we’re not there from Romans 1:18 all the way through 3:20.
And so when Paul begins in verse 18, talking about God’s wrath on Unrighteousness, he starts without quoting the Old Testament laws and, I think, just looks at creation, and then does kind of this tiered step of: people exchange what is evident to them in creation, and then God gave them over, or let them go down the path they have chosen. Sort of His tolerant will.
So the first one, though, is that a creator should be obvious, Paul says. His invisible qualities and eternal power should be clearly seen in what’s been made. So people should worship, glorify, give thanks to Him. Instead, the first exchange, is they turn to worship created things instead.
Now, we [unintelligible] I think, of idolatry, but our culture is pretty immersed in worshipping, created things instead of the Creator as well. Then the second exchange is what we’re focused on here: that God gave them over to dishonorable passions. The females exchanged the natural use of a male, and males likewise exchanged the sexual interaction with female for male-in-male, it’s quite explicit there. And again, I go back to sort of what I started with. Paul, I think, asserts you don’t need the revealed word of God to recognize a creator. You don’t need the revealed word of God in Leviticus 20 or somewhere else to realize that male-female sexual activity is the way God designed it.
So people usually translate that “contrary to nature” there in verse 26 of Romans 1. I wish I had translated that “contrary to design”. So again, just looking at anatomy male-female is… kind of seems the way things were put together. And again, with the human species procreation should tell us that male-female produces offspring, therefore, that is how the Designer, the Creator, intended. So to engage in sexual conduct contrary to that is contrary to the design God put into His creation.
So what might seem “natural” to some people—that’s a tricky word in our culture—is not the natural way that God intends for sexual activity to take place. And again, God allows people to do that. You got this kind of permissive will of God. But we got one more step to go, which we’ll get to in a minute.
WILKEN: Does Paul single out homosexuality among the other sins? He’s listed there in Romans one versus 26 and 27.
MIDDENDORF: In a sense, I think he’s pretty explicit about it. But on the other hand, this is all kind of a setup. So when you get to Romans 1:28 to 32, the third people exchanged/God gave them over, we get, you know, a list of sins that I would think anybody looking at those would have to admit they’ve done any number of them, right? You get things like greed, gossiping, slandering, being puffed up, boastful, disobeying parents. So as he kind of engages in this tiered three-part structure, he’s actually heading toward a recognition that all of these are contrary to God’s decree. All of them deserve death. And the clearest example of that is when he gets into what we call our chapter two, he’s “let’s stop talking about they and them. Let’s start talking about you singular. And you’ve done some of those things too, so you likewise are under the same punishment from God that idolaters and those who engage in homosexual activity also deserve.”
WILKEN: How should we understand in particular verses 28 through 32, where this list is assembled, and then it is capped off with that? They know these are contrary to God’s will. They do them. They approve of them. They deserve death.
MIDDENDORF: And again, I would come to that “DOING” these things. So this is engaging in the activity. Particularly there are many different interpretations of Romans 1:26 to 27, but what Paul is talking about is the activity of same sex sexual activity. But then he’s also talking about all these activities, that these actions are contrary to the will of God. And he is using idolatry and same-sex sexual activity to get to this point where he really wants all of us to realize what he started with in Romans 1:18: God’s wrath is coming against every ungodliness and unrighteousness. And eventually he’s gonna want us to conclude, using the Old Testament: no one’s righteous, not even one.
So this is just a great leveler. He might be trying to set up us to be condemning other people, but as he’ll get into chapter two, when we do that, and we get to this list, we realize that we too have acted contrary to the Creator’s will and design for our lives in so many different ways that mistreat each other and even ourselves. And so that if we’re gonna want a scorekeeper God, we’re all under His wrath that is coming, and we all then deserve death equally.
And yet while Christians can agree that Paul argues that we all deserve death from God, we also should recognize that Paul argues that there is a place for death as meted out by governing authorities. Same book of Romans, chapter 13.
WILKEN: So just to summarize at this point, if we view the context of Romans chapter one, and understand it as an argument that Paul is building or, you said, a setup that he is building in order to bring everyone under the condemnation and wrath of God altogether, without excuse, then the citation of homosexuality—likewise condemned with all these other sins—does not single it out as some sort of sin, SPECIALLY deserving death.
The matter of a sodomite’s standing before God (coram Deo, again) and the question of a sodomite’s standing before a just civil magistrate (coram mundo, again) are related but distinct questions. In this interview, Wilken and Middendorf do nothing to distinguish those matters, and in fact obfuscate that distinction repeatedly.
Amongst sinners before God, it’s hard to argue that a man who murdered his brother in cold blood because he knew he could get away with it is especially deserving of death, compared to a man who hated his brother to the core of his being, but knew he could not get away with it and so held back his hand because the law acted as a curb. In the coram Deo sense, sure, Wilken is essentially correct.
But amongst sinners before the magistrate, the one man in the lineup who did in fact and in deed murder his brother is especially deserving of death compared to the six brother-haters who have never raised a fist against anyone and are just there for identification. In the coram mundo sense, Wilken is dead wrong.
But again, no attempt is made in this entire interview to mark that distinction. The distinction is not even assumed. It seems conflated and muddled in the mind of host and guest alike.
MIDDENDORF: Exactly. So he is pointing it out, but not in that sense. You said it well. By the end of Romans 1:32, and again, if you start reading into chapter two versus one to five, his point is he wants you singular, that is, every “you” to realize we’ve all acted contrary. And whenever we start judging others (and I think this is what he’s doing rhetorically) “yeah we can judge those idolaters, they carve statues and worship created things. Yeah we could condemn those who engage in same-sex sexual activity. Yeah…” Oh boy, this list, this starts to hit closer to home. And then in chapter two, verse one to five, I think every individual is to recognize if we’re gonna play scorekeeper God and start condemning others, we actually are judging and condemning ourselves, because we have done many of those things in the list that he has in verses 28 through 31.
WILKEN: Where else does the New Testament address homosexuality, Doctor Middendorf?
MIDDENDORF: The usual place you’d go is 1st Corinthians 6, where he has, again, more disputed terms of exactly what they mean.
“Disputed terms”? Unreal. Yes, these terms are disputed—by those who want to Christianize sodomy.
Otherwise, it’s pretty well established that arsenokoitai (rendered “abusers of themselves with mankind” in the AV; i.e., sodomites) and malakoi (“effeminate” in the AV; “catamites”) are terms which are differentiated in accordance with what actually goes on in a homosexual tryst—it need not be spelled out further. In the ESV these distinct terms are combined and rendered as “men who practice homosexuality.”
MIDDENDORF: Again, this is why I think in addressing this issue, we should NOT use the Old Testament. There’s all sorts of difficulties in simplistically applying what applied to ancient Israel to us.
“We should NOT use the Old Testament” has to be the most antinomian phrase of all time. Marcion laughs from Hell.
MIDDENDORF: And again, 1 Corinthians 6, the terms in Greek are a little more complicated. It seems like he there too is condemning homosexual offenders, is the way the one Greek word is sometimes translated.
I’m not sure what Middendorf is referring to here, but there is the school of thought that only aggravated sodomy (that is, sodomitic rape) is condemned in Scripture, which is argued from arsenokoitai if I recall correctly. I’m guessing that’s not Middendorf’s stance, but his phrasing of this (“homosexual offenders”) makes me wonder if that’s what he has in mind. Perhaps he has in mind the offense of sodomy generally though.
MIDDENDORF: But again, in that context, if you read 1st Corinthians 9 and 10, his argument is much like Romans 1:18 to 3:20, but much more brief, that the unrighteous are out of the Kingdom of God. And if we’re gonna apply that standard, we’re ALL out. Because, again, no one righteous, not even one. But then, in verse eleven, God “righteouses” you. God sanctifies, or “holies” you in and through Christ and by His Spirit. So in much briefer form, 1 Corinthians 6, 9, and 10, are excluding all of us. Again, greed, and other “less serious” sins—in our view, perhaps—are included, but in a way that tend to get us all to turn away from any idea of self-righteousness and realize that on our own, we’re out of God’s kingdom so that we can again receive the grace that “righteouses” us in and through Christ. And positively, again, I think you can go to Matthew 19. I often get “Jesus didn’t say anything about homosexuality.” Fair enough, in a direct way, that’s true. But there He, again, is quoting Genesis one and two, and that’s where you get the Creator’s design for sexual activity. And Jesus, you know, at the beginning, He made a male and female and joined them together. The two become one flesh. They produce offspring. They’re fruitful, multiply, fill the Earth. So that, in a positive way, is Jesus reinforcing Genesis one and two. And this is the way the Creator designs sexual activity to take place for procreation, for fulfilling His will for husband and wife in marriage.
WILKEN: So when Paul teaches that homosexuality and many other sins deserve death, in Romans, one, how should this be applied?
MIDDENDORF: A recognition, Romans 3:19-20, that through the law, we become conscious and recognize our own sin. So I mean, Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death. No one is righteous, not even one. Ezekiel 18, “the soul that sins will die.” It doesn’t say the soul that does “bad” sins or “sexual” sins or “idolatrous” sins. So what Paul is doing in Romans 1:18 to 3:20, is again trying to strive for all of us to recognize that if we’re gonna stand before God based on our conduct in thought, word, and deed, we’re all gonna get death from God. Now, you could say again, this is the death that came into the world when Adam and Eve ate the fruit. On the day you eat of it, you will die. So there’s a spiritual death, separation from God. But I think Paul is, is ultimately heading toward standing before God. And there he wants to say that every mouth is silence. The whole world is held accountable. And he wants us to recognize our sin, our unrighteousness, so that we can all realize we equally need the Gospel that he begins to unpack in chapters three, verse 21, and following, that this righteousness of God, that we need to stand before him can be given to us apart from any of our works and deeds which all deserve death, separation from God.
WILKEN: Finally, how should we respond when someone says that God commanded the killing of homosexuals in the Bible?
We should respond by explaining, much as Middendorf did actually do in this interview, that God created the woman for the man. “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” is good theology.
We should go further and explain that it is an affront to the Creator-of-all-that-is to abuse our generative organs, through which come our procreative gifts of actual new life, by twisting them to abominable ends at the encouragement of demons.
We should explain that sodomy is a socially corrosive agent, and one of the strongest on record. It mars and defaces what is a blessing to man, and dissolves social bonds into a cannibalistic orgy of meat. It causes man to view men as demons view men: vessels to be used for carnal pleasure and then disposed of in as grotesque a fashion possible, all for spectacle.
We should explain that Hell is real, and that the power of sodomy to twist men toward hatred of their Creator (see, hey look at that, Romans 1) is unparalleled and drags men to eternal death.
We should explain that the duty of a just magistrate is to banish such anti-Christ practices (which also include sorcery, bestiality, child sacrifice, and others given the same death penalty by God in Israel) from society for the temporal and eternal sake of his people.
If we believe the Scriptures, sodomy literally pollutes the land, and brings curses up to and including a people’s removal from the face of the earth by God’s chosen instruments (whether a cosmic airburst or an invading army). Any just magistrate wants to prevent such calamities for his people. The problem is that modern semi-Marcionites don’t believe the Scriptures.
MIDDENDORF: Why would we take into hand that single one? So I think that’s totally selectively pulling something out of the Old Testament, which is not to be, again, simplistically equated with our New Testament era.
Say it with me: “The problem is that modern semi-Marcionites…”
MIDDENDORF: But similarly, as you have to read the whole argument, read Romans 1:18, at least through the end of the chapter. Get into chapter two, and realize that this is not for humans to take into our hands, but this is what’s coming from God on Judgment Day.
Romans 13 says there is a context in which humans should take things into their hands.
MIDDENDORF: Or, I suppose, if we die and stand before Him, this is what is on its way apart from the righteousness that’s ours through faith. So I would like to move up to Chapter twelve, where Paul quotes Deuteronomy, that “vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay.” So He doesn’t call us to take this into our own hands in the New Testament era.
In “the New Testament Era” we still have human government. That government is given the sword by God to be a terror to bad conduct. What conduct is bad enough to merit the sword?
This is the question wise rulers must grapple with. And wise rulers grapple with this question with a Bible in hand.
MIDDENDORF: Instead, in chapter twelve, He calls Christians to live at peace with everyone, to overcome evil with good, and strive then to be a witness to God. Let our light shine before others, that they would see our good works. Give glory to our Father in Heaven, that we would strive to live out Romans twelve in our culture, as the first century Roman Christians were called to do as well, amidst the idolatry and the rampant immoral sexual activity, and the other evil deeds going on in their culture, that strive to again live at peace, to overcome evil with good, and to let that witness permeate the culture in a positive way.
Not in selectively pulling out certain sins and taking into hand to carry out God’s judgment on my behalf.
No one is remotely advocating vigilantism. That’s a straw man.
MIDDENDORF: If anyone’s doing that, in Romans 13 it would be the government, but I don’t think that would be applicable to the sin of homosexual behavior in any case, as the government shouldn’t be, perhaps, punishing greed or disobeying parents or anything like that. So it’s just a selective pulling out of context and not understanding where Paul’s argument is going throughout that section of Romans.
Funny that Middendorf should give the example of disobeying one’s parents when listing things the government shouldn’t be punishing. Is not all government derived from the 4th Commandment? Is not the house-father the original governor?
To quote theologian Matthew Cochran:
Luther recognizes the 4th Commandment as being the source of all temporal authority and civil government as proceeding from disparate fathers as they cooperate and delegate in the governance of their households. In other words, civil government’s sword is delegated from fathers specifically and God ultimately.
As Luther points out in the Large Catechism, the civil government does in fact punish disobedient children, as when they have outgrown their parents and their evil spills out from the home, the magistrate must intervene:
Whence come so many knaves that must daily be hanged, beheaded, broken upon the wheel, but from disobedience [to parents], because they will not submit to discipline in kindness, so that, by the punishment of God, they bring it about that we behold their misfortune and grief? For it seldom happens that such perverse people die a natural or timely death.
So, too, the government does punish greed. While it may not send in the goon squad, Minority Report-style, for someone with a greed problem in the heart, when greed conceives and bears the fruit of theft, the just magistrate is obligated to step in.
In the same way, a man’s disordered lust for another man is beyond the scope of the civil authorities. But actual sodomy, in view of two or three witnesses? That certainly is within the purview of a just ruler to charge, try, and convict — to whatever lawful end.
If this interview is emblematic of the theology of the 2023 LCMS, then the denomination is finished, absent a firm and decisive movement from laity and clergy alike to change course. Members of Synod and members of LCMS congregations must take every opportunity to ask President Harrison pointed questions. Here is a starter pack:
Is your LCMS embarrassed by God’s laws as given in the Pentateuch? What are we doing to ensure that our students at the Concordias are taught rightly about the Law? The complaints of pastors emerging from seminary as soft antinomians must have reached your ears. What is Synod doing to ensure that the First and Third Uses are rightly and comprehensively taught alongside the Second? Will your LCMS undermine the sodomy laws of the nation of Uganda in the eyes of its people as Synod assists in catechesis for the LCU?
With lawlessness on an exponential uptick, portending developments both international and domestic which disrupt the lives of the flock in ways even more significant than COVID, there is precious little time for the LCMS to get this right.
May God have mercy on our people. May He have mercy on His people. Amen.