Controversy Over John Piper’s Book Isn’t About Homophobia — It’s About Jesus
A senior Army chaplain earlier this month emailed other chaplains the text of “Coronavirus and Christ,” a brief book by famed author, podcaster, and pastor John Piper. The command chaplain of U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys in South Korea, Col. Moon H. Kim, wrote in his email: “This book has helped me refocus my sacred calling to my savior Jesus Christ to finish strong. Hopefully this small booklet would help you and your Soldiers, their Families, and others who you serve.”
This email and the attached book have led to complaints from 22 other chaplains, who’ve enlisted the help of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). The MRFF, which consistently targets theologically conservative Christians, wrote a letter to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, saying Moon must be “officially, swiftly, aggressively, and visibly investigated and disciplined in punishment for his deplorable actions.”
Since then, Moon’s comments have come under review, prompting a letter from 20 members of Congress — including Republican Reps. Louie Gohmert of Texas, Andy Biggs of Arizona, and Steve King of Iowa — calling for the Army not to buckle to this agenda-pushing third-party organization. The letter also outlines several other recent attacks of the MRFF on theologically conservative Christian chaplains.
If you read the entire text of Piper’s book, which is available for free, you will see its most incendiary idea is not the single paragraph about homosexuality. This short book ruffles feathers because it affirms the most offensive message in the history of the world: the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
What Does ‘Coronavirus and Christ’ Actually Say?
For those complaining about the book and calling for Moon to be disciplined, the primary issue comes from a single paragraph. After a theological explanation of who God is and why he commands our trust even in such a difficult time, Piper outlines six answers to the question, “What is God doing through the Coronavirus?”
One of those answers is to send “specific divine judgments.” He clarifies, “Some people will be infected with the coronavirus as a specific judgment from God because of their sinful attitudes and actions.” In that chapter, he gives two examples. First, he cites Acts 12, wherein King Herod is immediately struck down by God for exalting himself and allowing others to treat him as a god. In other words, pride is a sin meriting God’s judgment.
The next paragraph reads, in its entirety:
Another example is the sin of homosexual intercourse. In Romans 1:27, the apostle Paul says, “Men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” That “due penalty” is the painful effect “in themselves” of their sin.
As Piper clarifies shortly after: “The coronavirus is, therefore, never a clear and simple punishment on any person. The most loving, Spirit-filled Christian, whose sins are forgiven through Christ, may die of the coronavirus disease. But it is fitting that every one of us search our own heart to discern if our suffering is God’s judgment on the way we live.”
The Real Complaint Is with the Bible
For today’s average American, Piper’s words are shocking. Even for Christians who ascribe to Piper’s theological views, it can be stark to see those words in print. We are inclined as humans to downplay the effects of sin. What’s more, if someone else’s arrogance or homosexuality merits divine judgment, so does our greed, gluttony, lust, or selfishness.
Here’s the thing: Most of the words in that paragraph aren’t Piper’s — they’re the Bible’s. Ultimately, the book is offensive because it preaches the message of the Gospel. Piper is not letting us off the hook with some neutered, hippie-drum-circle Jesus telling us, “You do you.” He’s saying there’s something fundamentally wrong with us that only God can fix.
As Piper writes:
The very sovereignty that rules in sickness is the sovereignty that sustains in loss. The very sovereignty that takes life is the sovereignty that conquered death and brings believers home to heaven in Christ … His infinite power rests in the hands of infinite holiness and righteousness and goodness — and wisdom. And all that stands in the service of those who trust his Son, Jesus Christ. What God did in sending Jesus to die for sinners has everything to do with the coronavirus.
Piper is telling us what the Bible says: God is a righteous judge whose goodness demands he judge our sins. But he also sent Christ to pay for our sins if we are willing to accept him. It’s no surprise our self-satisfied culture is offended that part of God’s purpose for the coronavirus is to rebuke unrepentant sinners and draw them to Jesus.
Caroline D’Agati is a writer, former park ranger, and New Jersey expatriate living in DC. She studied English at Georgetown and media studies at The New School. You can follow her on Twitter at @carodagati.