John MacArthur’s advice for parents of gay children

John MacArthur has some advice for Christian parents whose children come out of the closet: shun them.

To quote from his video:

If that adult child professes Christ, claims to be a Christian, then that becomes an issue for confrontation of the sternest and strongest kind, because that falls into Matthew 18. That’s a sin for which you go to that person. If the person doesn’t repent and turn, you take two or three witnesses and confront again. If there’s still no repentance, you tell the church, and the church pursues. And if there’s still no repentance, then there’s a public putting out of the church of that person who professes to be a Christian. That’s how you deal with that.

You have to alienate them. You have to separate them… You isolate them. You don’t have a meal with them. You separate yourself from them. You turn them over to Satan, as it were, as Scripture says.

MacArthur calls this a Matthew 18 issue, referring to the passage where Jesus tells his disciples how to deal with sin. So let’s take another look at this text.

MacArthur’s translation of choice, the NKJV, says, “If your brother sins against you.” Granted, not all manuscripts include these qualifying words. But the context—including the mention of “two or three witnesses,” evoking courtroom imagery—indicates a situation where one person has injured the other.

There’s even less ambiguity in the parallel passage, Luke 17:

If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.

Matthew 18 isn’t about just any alleged sin. It’s about what you should do if another member of the church wrongs you personally. Even if being gay is a sin, how would my child be sinning against me personally by coming out to me? This isn’t about me. It’s about them and their identity. They haven’t done anything to me. I suppose someone might want to argue that they’ve sinned against me by letting me down as a parent. But how I respond is my choice. No one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever come out of the closet because they wanted to hurt their parents.

Matthew 18 is not a license for indiscriminate shunning. Whatever camp you’re in—affirming, non-affirming, or just confused—we should all agree this is a shamefully selective misuse of the Bible. We can do better.

If your son or daughter comes out to you, don’t follow MacArthur’s advice. Please don’t. For the sake of your child. Their life could literally depend on it. When parents reject their kids for being gay, it can send them on a downward spiral from which there may be no coming back.

  • Their risk of depression goes up.
  • They’re more likely to engage in substance abuse and unprotected sex.
  • They’re SIGNIFICANTLY more likely to attempt suicide.

Of course, maybe that’s what MacArthur thinks it means to “hand them over to Satan.” (Pro tip: it’s not.)

If you want much, much better advice on how to respond, read Benjamin Moberg’s piece. It’s beautifully written from the vantage point of personal experience. And yes, it has something for you—whether you’re open and affirming or whether you maintain a traditional sexual ethic.

Your kid’s life and well being could hang in the balance.

—//—

Postscript: My friend Nathan makes another good point about MacArthur’s misuse of Matthew 18. Jesus is addressing the church, not families. In fact, Matthew 18 is the only time the word ekklesia, translated “assembly” or “church,” appears in the Gospels. Even if a church were to decide that a person’s sexuality was a “Matthew 18 issue”—and that’s something a great many churches, affirming and non-affirming, would dispute—it has no bearing on how a parent should treat their son or daughter for coming out. What MacArthur is advocating is wrong, and it’s based on a careless reading of Matthew 18. As Nathan put it yesterday, “No church, whatever their position on this is, has the right to tell you to alienate, shun and un-invite your own children from the dining table they grew up eating at.” MacArthur should know better. We all should.

20 thoughts on “John MacArthur’s advice for parents of gay children

  1. Ben… as I’ve followed Dr. MacArthur from a distance over the years, I’ve found there are so many things he says that “he should know better,” I’ve come to the conclusion that he simply doesn’t. He really doesn’t know better. He has created a version of leadership and pastoral ministry that is completely shaped around his preferences, his giftedness, and his biases. And then he has declared this model (of his own creation) as the definitive model for all people in all times.

    He doesn’t find any value in religious art and images in worship. So, therefore, they have no value. Worse, he would say that they are a hinderance to true worship. I suspect that is because if there is value to something that is not part of who he is as a leader, or he doesn’t understand, then it is a threat to him as the complete and ultimate example of the Christian pastor he purports himself to be.

    As to “knowing better,” I think Dr. MacArthur, because he is such a gifted and confident communicator, tends to come across as more the brilliant scholar than he really is. I have heard him quote others in an attempt to criticize their words and realized that he completely missed the point of what they were trying to say. The more you listen the more you realize. He’s a rather simple man intellectually. And sadly, a very troubled man as well.

  2. Thank you for writing this, Ben. Unfortunately my life is marred by MacArthur’s ironic graceless teachings (ironic because his ministry and church both have grace in their names). And this is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of his teachings are alarming and twisted and void of grace, and his followers just do not see it. I wish I could say I’m surprised, but I’m not at all. I just grieve for the sons and daughters who will be shunned because of this or have their previous/ongoing shunning justified by this. It’s truly awful.

    • PS His elders have been asked to step down in the past if an adult child is “in sin.” An adult friend had a marital affair and stopped going to church. His dad was then asked to step down as an elder at Grace Community. The dad is still in leadership, mind you, just cannot be an elder. Because elders need to have children who believe and are not rebellious (Titus 1:6). Yes, even if they are in their 30s and far beyond your control.

      Don’t even get me started …

  3. “Even if being gay is a sin”, Ben do you believe being gay is a sin based on scripture?

    Isn’t the body of Christ not the Church? Are family’s not part of that?

  4. While MacArthur is far from perfect, I don’t see him saying to completely shun your children here. In fact he says distinctly to interact with them, whether they’re a professing Christian or a non-Christian. Scenario 1 he says to go to them thrice. In scenario 2 he says to present the gospel to them. You pick on on the alienation quote and take it out of context, which is similar to what you’re accusing him of doing in Matthew 18.

      • Again, you’re taking that out of context, since he distincly says to, “bring the gospel directly…spend MORE time confronting and showing compassion, but calling for repentance and salvation.” So it looks to me like he’s calling for his congregation to spend even MORE time with their troubled children.

        There are legitimate things to criticize MacArthur about. Why take him out of context here?

      • Really? I just watched the video 3 times to make sure I got what he said. Did you watch beyond him saying “alienate”?

      • Then I think you’re just not wanting to understand or want to purposely misrepresent. Sorry to see that.

      • To bossmanham and Ben…

        You guys are arguing past each other a bit. :-)

        Dr. MacArthur does prescribe a different sort of approach depending on whether the adult child professes to be follower of Christ or not. The alienation and shunning is only prescribed in the case where the child “coming out” is a professing Christian. And even then, it is not the first step, coming only after a certain serious of confrontations fails to have the desired result.

        That all being said, I see several problems with Dr. MacArthur’s advice…

        1. As already mentioned, there does seem to be some blurring of the line between formal church discipline and how a Christian parent might best relate to one of their children. What if the child wasn’t an adult? What if this was a 12 year old son coming out to his parents? Same advice? I wonder.

        2. MacArthur gives broad advice for a very complicated and nuanced situation. Is the child in question struggling with their orientation? Are they acting out on their orientation? We don’t know. It seems that MacArthur’s view is that expressing same sex attraction automatically puts one in a place of sinful rebellion. I find this very problematic.

        3. Following on that, why is this type of advice being given in a public format at all? It suggests an overly formulaic approach to dealing with conflict that elevates ecclesial procedure over relational care.

        I also want to add that the nature of the sexual orientation issue is such that the Matthew 18 process is extremely unlikely to yield “repentance.” In that light, Dr. MacArthur’s advice essentially boils down to this: If your son or daughter has same sex attraction, you should abandon them. And that, in fact, is what is happening far to often (once is too often) in Christian homes, and it is leading to deep, deep pain and sometimes death.

        Bottom line: If MacArthur is right, and this is the proper biblical prescription, it isn’t working.

      • That’s a really good clarification, Russ. MacArthur’s advice about alienating is directed at kids who profess to be Christian. And it is the third step in his sequence of confrontation. That said, if the child doesn’t renounce their sexual orientation by step three, MacArthur tells parents to alienate, isolate, and separate…to the point of refusing to even sit down and have a meal with them. (To a point raised by another commenter in this thread, the reference to not sharing a meal is an allusion to 1 Corinthians. I think Benjamin Corey already demonstrated the problem with MacArthur’s selective use of that particular text, which is one reason why I chose to focus on Matthew 18 in my post.)

  5. “But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” -1 Corinthians 5:11. This includes family members.

    However, how John MacArthur has advised I don’t agree with (there are other things I don’t agree with as well like Cessation-ism). The bible does say to not even associate with people that profess to be christian and act otherwise. But I also know that Jesus relentlessly pursues us. So I guess it’s different for each person on how much they can pursue and love without being ensnared themselves.

    You’re arguing semantics. Biblically MacArthur is correct but “shunning” and “alienate” however you want to use it, the bible says “Don’t even eat with such people”. Not MacArthurs words, Gods.

    • “Don’t even eat with such people.” Assuming Pauline authorship, the most we can say for sure is that these are Paul’s words. Paul may have been a bit over the top on his advice as well. He was known to be a bit of a hot head. ;-)

      • In saying that it’s just “Pauline authorship” you are undermining the credibility of the entire book of 1. Corinthians as SCRIPTURE, along with all other new testament books (see 2nd Timothy 3,16). If you are willing to accept that Paul wrote the letter to the Corinthians while guided by the Holy Spirit, shouldn’t we take what he writes exactly the way it is? Or even if you’re not — assuming the Bible is in fact God’s word, do you think He doesn’t take an interest in its content? Do you not think that He would be pretty careful about what gets to be in a book that claims to be His very Word? Even to someone who does not admit the pauline authorship of 1st Corinthians (and if you take a good look into contemporary theological literature, you’ll find that the two letters to the Corinthians are actually two of the books in the NT that are least contested as being written, or at least dictated, by Paul himself), God’s action and power to act (seeing as He IS God, after all) on behalf of HIS WORD should be enough to convince pretty much anyone who is willing to assume anything about God’s sovereignty that He would not let something be called HIS WORD that is not HIS WORD in its entirety.
        God can use even “hotheads” like Paul to speak truth. Just because Paul wasn’t always very tactful does not make him wrong or delusional. He was also very careful to let people know when he was talking from his own experience to differentiate what he was saying from that which God had charged him to say (for instance when he talks about the “gift of singleness”. Or women speaking in the assembly — “I do not allow women to speak in the assembly…” etc).
        Paul was not an idiot. He was a student of Gamaliel — easily the most respected Rabbi of his time — and well on his way to becoming one of the most competent rabbis of HIS time. “rabis theologiorum” here and there, he was NOT one to just spout stuff because his head overheated. Hothead, yes. But a really, really competent and well-learned one. So “over the top”, maybe. But only in terms of formulation, not in terms of content.
        So please try not to make the same mistake some 20th century theologians have made when they started trying to differentiate between “Paulus dixit” and “Deus dixit” (Paul’s word and God’s word). Dismissing a statement in the Bible because it’s “just Paul’s word and not God’s” is a really slippery slope, and will not end anywhere useful. Again: 2nd Timothy 3:16.

  6. Once I was under the impression that MacArthur was an intelligent fellow. Then, as a cessationist, I read his book “Charismatic Chaos.” In case you haven’t read it (and don’t bother unless you want your brain to explode), the exegesis is TERRIBLE.

    In fact, after reading it my eyes were opened to how poorly I’d been taught on the subject, and I did my own study and have come to a much different conclusion.

    Since reading that I have not been able to take the man seriously again. And that goes for a number of other issues including the role of women in the church (and home) and eschatology.

    But this one takes the cake. In each of the other cases (except perhaps the “women issue”), no one is particularly hurt by a poorly-thought-out applied theology. In this case, however… wow, the damage that may have been done in some lives from this little video is unthinkable.

    MacArthur needs to repent.

    (I still have a few of his books on my shelf, and tonight they are going in the recycle bin. So, if there are any die-hard J-Mac disciples out there, you know where to find some free material.)

  7. I am so tired of legalistic Christians. If you were to shun everyone who professes to be a Christian and doesn’t live like a Christian. You would end up a very lonely person. I guess I will have to stop talking to every single person I know that claims to be Christian. We are all just filthy sinners who deserve to be shunned to eat and live alone and made to deal with the devil.

    If it weren’t for those who loved me when I was living in a state of sex, smoking, drunkenness, and porn, I wouldn’t have come back to God after 35 years. It’s all about loving, and caring for the broken and having a relationship with them. If we don’t do that, then the entire world is lost.
    All this guy is doing is losing those that could be saved through the work of the cross, much like I still would be, had it not been for those who cared. Those who prayed. Those who stood by me.

    Sounds to me that his theory is you must be saved first. You don’t get saved first. You have to find the lost and the broken first. Listen to them, befriend them, love them for who they are and where they are at in life, and pray that one day, they will come to a life of Christ. If they never do.. That’s their choice.

    I don’t believe the new covenant is to treat each other with disdain, to treat them like trash that doesn’t deserve the forgiveness of God. Everyone deserves’ grace, mercy, forgiveness and love. Regardless who they are or where they are at in their life journey.

    This guy is a Hypocrite. A modern day pharisee.. In the words of our English Modern day dictionary. He’s an idiot, leading his members down a wrong road.

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