Euphemisms and circumlocutions: marking or being marked...

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(Tim) Readers may have noted that I've changed our index titles at a number of points, One of them is that 'sodomy' has changed to 'homosexuality.' This is for ease of use, knowing almost no one ever says "sodomy" or "sodomite" any more. How would they find the category, then?

But I'm not ceding the point. While arguing for the continued use of 'sodomy' by Christians, I've also used the words 'homosexuality' and 'gay' all along. Right now, I won't go into why I use different words at different times, but I want to let our readers into a discussion with two men I respect who wrote me over two years ago, taking me to task for my continued use of 'sodomy.' Both are faithful brothers in the Lord--one a former prof of mine at Gordon-Conwell and the other a Christian rocker who's been a longtime friend of ours. The both wrote in mid-2006 and today I finally responded. (Yes, my e-mail queue is now hoevering around 1,200.)

Here, then, is a compilation of their e-mails, along with a few of my responses...

I read your latest post, where you posted the email from someone else concerning showing compassion towards gay people by not calling them sodomites, and I just had a couple of questions for you, and I thought I'd email them instead of posting them on your site: If the word "sodomite" has a connotation of more than simply someone who has same-sex relations (things like rape, violence, etc.), is it accurate to apply that label to someone who is simply a misguided lost man who believes his homosexuality is okay? I know that historically "sodomite" means homosexual offender, but if you call someone something that, in their language, means violent sexual offender when they are not that, is that really that helpful of a term to use? Or, for instance, in German, the term "sodomie" means bestiality. Would it be helpful to call a practicing gay german a "sodomie", just because that's the historically accurate term?

First, I don't know German. I do know English. Here, 'sodomy' is still understood, in common parlance, to refer principally to man-on-man sex--not even woman-on-woman or other perversions. Yes, those other meanings can be precisely true, but we're talking common parlance, here, and sodomy is generally known for what it is.

But if your ears hear different things from mine, the principle is to call sin "sin"--not "lifestyle." And it dosn't take using the word 'lifestyle' to signal a tip of the hat to the new constitution.

If Christians can find a word to use that cultivates a sense of moral degradation and shame, whatever it is, I'm fine with it. But it can't be slang ('fagot,' for instance) because then we're dealing with words whose intent is to demean the sinner. You may argue 'sodomy' does the same. My response is that this is secondary to its primary meaning.

We can't use language that signals our reasonableness and then deny we've eviscerated the Cross of its power. The Cross is always shameful--always! And in this case, its shame is part and parcel of refusing to adopt the vocabulary of moral neutrality when referring to the action and those committed to it--all the while claiming our Cross still has its shame intact.

So again, come up with a word that clearly expresses moral condemnation and shame, and let us know what it is. Until then, admit that what we all want to do is eviscerate the English language of biblical categories. No more 'man' communicating Adam's federal headship. No more 'adultery' communicating the wickedness of the act. No more "taking God's Name in vain" because we all tell jokes using the Holy Name for punch lines. No more "murder"--it's simply "abortion" and "euthanasia" and "mercy killing." No more "gossip;" it's simply "sharing prayer requests." No more "sin"--it's simply "making bad choices" or "acting out."

Now dear brother, I don't think you do all these things, but you see the battle I want to engage. Let's be known for our biblical language and commitment to mark the world with God's mind and truth rather than marking God's Word with the world's euphemisms, circumlocutions, and denials.

We all will have different ways of doing this, but the important thing is that we do it. We speak biblically. We speak with the very words of Scripture, illustrating what we say with the very names of Scripture, trusting the Holy Spirit to use those words and names to call men to the grace of the Cross.

We can't refuse to allow the Law to be the schoolmaster and expect people to be born again. We must trust the Holy Spirit rather than our own cultural sophistication and marketing abilities.

Of lesser importance, should we put any weight in the fact that homosexuals hate being called "sodomites"? They say they hate it because it does have the more negative connotations. Many of the "kinists"/white supremacists at (a certain web site) and elsewhere use the term "colored" or "negro" because, they say, those are the historical terms used for black people, and we shouldn't be so haughty as to think that we know better than our ancestors by calling blacks "african-americans".

But of course, the difference is that racism is a direct denial of Scripture and Scripture's God. So the correct parallel is not what we ought to call blacks or Afrian Americans, but what we ought to call racists. After all, the words 'white supremacist' and 'racist' themselves are terms of moral opprobrium, so why are you using them? Do you really believe shaming kinists will work? Why intentionally use a word you know those guilty of the sin hate? What will it help to label them "racist" or "white supremacist?"

I'm smiling, dear brother.

Now to another brother who, following a phone conversation, e-mailed me (back in 2006) asking:


After our phone conversation, I understand your compulsion to make sure homosexual sinners, having grasped the full shame of their sin, repent of it.

I don't do it for self-affirming sodomites, alone, but also for people tempted by same-sex intimacy and those never tempted by that particular sin, yet. Everyone needs to see the moral condemnation of specific sin that is contained in the word 'adultery' rather than the work 'affair,' for instance. So it's not a compulsion, but a careful decision of an editor and author's son who ...preaches each Lord's Day to a church filled with academics.

Truth is, if we're going to talk about "compulsion," my own compulsion is to say "homosexual" or "gay," but I firmly resist it.

In my limited experience with that population (you seem to have much more than me, however), I sense they are ALREADY VERY MUCH ASHAMED, so much so that they look for ways to dull the pain -- and of course go back to their drug of choice, sexual acting out...

"Sexual acting out?" Is this circumlocution a way of saying "sin" while removing the moral condemnation? Feels that way to me, and now you know how deeply embedded this stuff is in every one of us.

As for the universality of shame among sodomites, it's certainly not universal in my experience. Many are self-affirming and aggressive in their shamelessness. But again, the goal isn't to shame them, but to continue to shame the act by forcing people to think biblically, rather than relationally, about it.

Everything in America shouldn't be reduced to "can't we all just get alone?" Evangelism that blanches at naming the sin is not evangelism.

...which of course brings more SHAME AND PAIN -- it becomes a vicious circle.   It seems, therefore, to be redundant to inflict more shame on them, when their real need is to REPENT.   Calling them by derisive names...

(Dear brother), I am not calling them by a derisive name and you should know that by now. So, trying to shock you into being charitable with me, let me say this to you: No one is helped by you using cowardly language and evading your obligation to name the sin and call men to repent of that sin.

Now I'll bet you don't like me saying your language is cowardly, right? And yet you yourself didn't hesitate to accuse me of being a man who enjoys deriding men tempted by same-sex intimacy. Do you get my point? Why put the worst possible construction on my motivations? Wouldn't it be easy for you to say I make fun of homosexuals; then, I could rejoin by saying you're a coward, and where would we be?

There are hundreds of words in Scripture that people view as terms of derision, today, but if we give them up we give up Scripture itself, and Scripture's God.

How about "all the gods of the nations are idols; the Lord made the heavens and the earth?" Does that feel like a comfy chair?

In fact, (the use of such terms of derision) may merely make them defensive and less open to the Gospel.

If you don't use terms that drive home God's holiness and authority, along with the utter degradation of our condition, today, how will anyone see their need to repent? You're unwilling to use the Law as a schoolmaster, so how will they come to grace and Jesus if the schoolmaster doesn't lead them?