Whether or not you agree with Kim Burrell’s comments on homosexuality, they were certainly controversial. Many on social media have either rejected and condemned Ms. Burrell’s comments, agree with the content of her statements but disagree with her tone, or agree completely with her.

Anyone who identifies as a Bible affirming Christian will readily agree with Ms. Burrell that homosexuality is a sin and that the Bible speaks in several places against it. But that isn’t necessarily the issue with Ms. Burrell’s remarks. Her tone or delivery is the problem for many people.

In a stern, “prophet of the hour”, warning-like tone, Burrell tells her congregants that those who associate with the church and also associate with the “homosexual spirit” will die in 2017 if they persist in sin. Controversial indeed, but Burrell’s marks were quickly and incorrectly misinterpreted by many to reference all gays and all within the LGBTQ community as dying in 2017 from their sin. Context is important in how we view her remarks, but was her tone acceptable in addressing the issue of homosexuality within the church?

Tone Deaf?

I believe tone is important concerning how we address, not just the sin of homosexuality, but all sin amongst both Christians and unbelievers. There is a difference between (1) prophetically calling out sin in a society or a culture, (2) warning those who have been redeemed from sin and yet persist in it, and (3) speaking graciously (which isn’t to be confused with “nice”) to those who are caught in sin and struggle to be free from it.

From my experiences, I believe many Christians, particularly in our nation, and even more notably in some pockets of the black church prefer the former two methods when it comes to addressing homosexuality. Headlines constantly fill the news feeds of the latest preacher calling down fire and brimstone on the LGBTQ community. Understandably, the Bible is filled with situations in which God appointed people to sternly speak against sin and call people to repentance. But in our day, is this method always normative?

Under the Influence?

I believe the reason that the warning and prophetically speaking against homosexuality is so popular in many churches is because for many who stand in opposition to homosexuality and same sex relationships, homosexuality is often viewed as more unnatural than all other sins- and therefore it must require a stronger response.

Many would believe that because of its perverseness, it carries with it something negatively supernatural, which is why I believe Ms. Burrell and many others who address homosexuality, refer to it as a “spirit” (amongst many other spirits), which I interpret to mean that it is something that attaches itself to people and causes or influences sinful behavior and it is something people can be delivered from through various means.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the space, time, or the stomach to get into what many would refer to as “spiritual warfare” or “deliverance” and how it is discussed and even abused in many circles, but I do think that blanketing everyone within the body of Christ who wrestles or identifies to some extent with homosexuality as being influenced by or associated with an evil spirit is more hindering than helpful to those both outside and within the church. I’ll explain why.

Before I proceed, there is a place and a need for mentioning church discipline in this conversation. Like any indwelling sin that Christians encounter, there are unrepentant people within the church, who profess Jesus, yet live in hostility towards Him when it comes to certain sin in their life.

For the unrepentant within the church, therefore there is church discipline in addition to the warnings from scripture that tell us that “the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9). There is a place for stern warning and acting against those who persist in unrepentant sin (1 Cor. 5). And this may have been who Ms. Burrell was addressing in some sense.

But I believe she was wrong in making specific threats to those who persist in homosexuality, claiming that they’ll die in 2017. While certain judgments for sin do appear in this life (1 Tim. 5:24), ultimately, God has set a day when He will judge the world through one man (Acts 17:30-31), and he will repay everyone according to what they have done (Rom. 2:6-11).

These warnings, when properly communicated along with the grace and forgiveness of Jesus, are sufficient to inform and convict the hearts of the unrepentant that God’s judgment is coming; maybe not in the year 2017 or 2077, but there will be a day.

I also believe that this sort of labeling of “spirits” and classifying people with worse sins than others is more harmful than helpful because it puts up a barrier of hostility and creates an environment of secrecy within the church. This enables those who wrestle with and willfully persist in certain sins to hide in fear or reject the good news that is offered to all sinners.

While I wouldn’t deny that evil spirits exist and do indeed seek to negatively influence and harm people, both redeemed and unredeemed, the fact is that for the overwhelming majority of the time, we cannot see into what is supernatural or what “spirit” is affecting who. But what we can see is that we are dealing with actual people in our contexts, people who are born into this world enslaved to sin’s power and are dead in their trespasses and sins – people who can do bad all by themselves, and ultimately people who need the gospel.

While calling out sin and calling people to repent is necessary, we must also be a people who recognize sin’s enslaving power apart from the more powerful grace that God offers through Jesus. We must inform people that behavioral change is not what God is after; he is after heart transformation.

The Tone of the Gospel

Again, contextually, I did not hear Burrell’s entire sermon, but in the brief clip that I did hear, I didn’t hear the gospel. Commanding, warning, threatening, and calling non-believers, or even believers to forsake sin without pointing them to the sacrifice for sin will always be ineffective for true change.

As a popular hymn lyric states, “He breaks the power of cancelled sin.” Before sin’s power can be broken, we must recognize that it has already been cancelled through Jesus’ finished work. Which is why after the Apostle Paul sternly warns the “wylin” Corinthian church (a place where Paul too gave stern warnings against sin) that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God, specifically calling out sins such as homosexuality, he points them to the gospel, namely, what has been accomplished for them through Jesus – their washing, sanctification, justification by the power of God’s Spirit (1 Cor. 6:9-11).

In conclusion, all of us would learn well from Paul’s addressing the “wylin” church in Corinth. Addressing homosexuality in the church is nothing new. While I don’t think the Apostle Paul’s statements or his tone would align with Ms. Burrell’s, I do think, to a degree, that he too would be defamed in today’s society for speaking against certain sins. Again, as the church, speaking against sin is necessary.

But in his speaking against sin, we see that Paul follows up with the grace and the transformative power of the gospel to change broken, oppressed, and enslaved sinners into accepted and forgiven sons and daughters of God.

Sadly, I didn’t hear this from Ms. Burrell or some others who’ve sought to speak sternly against sin, but have erred in tone. So, as we exalt God’s holiness in our sternness and warnings against sin, we must always follow up with the exaltation of God’s love and compassion towards sinners, making a way for them to be transformed by His power displayed through His Son, Jesus.