Two ways of looking at sexuality:
It is our human nature. This is how we are. Morally neutral; an expression of our physicality. Just exactly the same as our ‘handedness’ or the colour of our hair – nothing other than a consequence of our genetic nature. Morality relates to sexuality then through:
Convention – some things are deemed appropriate or inappropriate because of the way they relate to the norms that we as a society have decided upon: adultery is an issue only because society has elected to value faithful marriage.
Exploitation – some things are deemed wrong because they involve coercion or the abuse of power; they are wrong because one person ignores the will of another – rape, paedophilia.
That’s the approach of our society as a whole. And it is consistent, mostly. It can be enforced by law and statute, and modified as society changes – so the ‘age of consent’ has varied through history, from as low as 7 up to 19. And changes in the ‘rules of society’ will alter the way that society regulates sexuality. Every human society works this way – we agree the things we value, and we shape our laws and customs to regulate life accordingly.
But the Christian (and some other faiths too) add another perspective to that. And it changes the way we understand sexuality. Here’s the difference: Christians believe that our human nature is broken, damaged. Affected by one choice: the choice to leave God out of the picture. And as a consequence, human nature is flawed. And our sexuality is as affected by that as any other part of our nature.
What did God intend sexuality for?
Companionship – being blessed by difference. Being one, even though we are two different people. ‘it is not good for the man to be alone’. More than that – we are created to be companions of God. Created ‘male and female’ in his image; the image of God in us includes that sense of being complete only in relationship – Just as God is complete in three persons, so too with humankind.
Co-operation – we have a job to do that we can only do together. In Genesis, that task is twofold. To populate the earth, and to be stewards of creation. For thousands of years, both those tasks have been accomplished through the family – whatever a family has looked like – and sexuality has bound that family together.
Pleasure – Song of Solomon is a celebration of sexual pleasure. God intended sex to be fun. Just as the rest of creation is marked by extravagant excess – colour, shape, and beauty – so sex is over-the-top pleasure.
What went wrong?
Rebellion and selfishness. We chose to go our own way. And as a consequence creation broke. Not so that it wouldn’t work, but so that it was no longer ‘good’ all the way through.
How does that work?
First, the relationship between a man and a woman has been damaged: it’s become dominated by desire and by power. (Gen 3:16) Companionship has become domination, conflict and competition.
Second, the whole relationship between mankind and creation has changed. Childbirth has become physically burdensome. (Gen 3:16). Being stewards of creation is now a battle (3:17-19), and the task of ‘filling the earth’ has oppressed women and so often resulted in their deaths.
Third, the physical act of sex has been connected with shame. (Gen 3:10) Not pleasure, but lust. Genesis 6 – the descent towrds the flood begins.
The world, and our sexulaity with it, has broken. It’s so important. Because it means that we have to start from the understanding that every human expression of sexuality needs redeeming. For example: without Christ, marriage is broken – and no less broken than singleness. With Christ, both singleness and marriage can be perfect expressions of God’s creativity. We get from where we are to where we were meant to be by redemption and grace – never by law or judgement.
So how does that brokenness show itself in the area of sexuality?
We have an intimacy problem
Desire has taken over from companionship. The seemingly inexorable rise of pornography; the sexualisation of advertising – sexuality has become about lust and desire. Not about companionship. Young men and women are seen simply as accessories, items to possess.
We (mostly ‘’The West’, but maybe ‘modern society’) have an intimacy problem. We find it harder and harder to find intimacy. Read the (now very dated) novels of John Buchan, or even get out your Biggles books. Deep, committed friendship, particularly between men, was such a common theme. That’s why we read the story of David & Jonathan.
Our society only knows of one serious kind of intimacy; and that’s sex. After a couple of dates – the next step has to be sex. No place for growing to know another human being. Apart from that we (men especially) struggle to know how to have deep friendships. So to be intimate with another of the same sex must mean ‘to be gay’ – and that’s a lie.
We (The Church) need to be able to offer a place where there is a different way. Where it is possible to form friendships that are deep, committed, honest and open without it being assumed that sex has to follow. A counter-cultural place, another way.
We have a fidelity problem
Scripture is absolutely clear about some things. Sexual activity that is an abuse of power – that’s rape – or that has no regard for faithfulness – that’s adultery – is plain wrong. Along with sexual activity that dishonours God by associating with idols (not so much of that around these days, but cultic prostitution was widespread in Paul’s day.) Romans 1:18 is a case in point, where (v23) Paul describes idolatry, and the things that flowed out of it (‘therefore’ and ‘because of this’ in v24) which included homosexual prostitution.
The church needs to be able to stand on ground that allows us to address infidelity and abuse clearly. And even to address infidelity in gay relationships. 1 Corinthians 6 and 1 Timothy 1 are both passages about fidelity, rather than homosexuality: Married men who have sex with young boys on the side. Now nowhere is scripture ever positive about gay relationships; for the most part (including the teaching of Jesus) it is silent. But these two passages are (in my opinion) about fidelity and faithfulness in relationships.
We have an understanding problem
So much is happening in our world that was unknown in the ancient world. Intersex, transgender – all these words and groups are not referred to in scripture. Here’s my plea and my advice. Scripture says nothing (and seems not to care greatly) about sexual identity or orientation. There’s nothing to indicate that ‘being gay’ is sinful, nor anything else about our sexuality. What scripture does care about is the way we act upon that sexual desire. Whether we choose our sexual orientation or not is a much debated subject, But what is sure is that we do choose our sexual behaviour.
So let’s not get sidetracked into arguments that accomplish nothing.
Arguing about whether or not gay men and women should be able legally to enter into marriage contracts is a distraction. In the pages of scripture the society of the day has permitted polygamy, levirate marriage, arranged marriage and even forced marriages. The form of marriage has been determined by the society of the day, and the world will not explode because of it. What matters is that we tell the truth: that fidelity inside marriage, and chastity outside it, are better ways to live.
Let’s put our energies into things that matter. Into ending the sex tourism industry in countries like Thailand. Into ending the practice of sexual trafficking – where young women and men are bought and sold against their will.
We already understand that it is our job to witness, and the Holy Spirit’s job to convict and transform. Our job to love, welcome and accept, and God’s task to rebuke and change.
I continue to be of the opinion that the NT considers same sex sexual activity to be sinful – although I understand and do not condemn those who reach a different position. But I don’t see any justification in treating people differently because of this sin than any other. Jesus calls us to transform by radical love, and to welcome every sinner. I want more sinners in the Church; and so should you. And let God determine the journey that they (no; not ‘they’; the journey that we travel to reach holiness)
There’s a phrase that is often used. So often that it has become a bit of a joke. That we are called to ‘love the sinner but hate the sin.’ I don’t think it is untrue – but I think that all too often we parrot the phrase, and then forget that we are supposed to do the loving bit. We use the expression, and then talk and actly mostly about how much we hate the sin – ‘but it’s not about you, personally’. How about concentrating more on the ‘loving the sinner’ – like we do with most other sinners?
I think of a church I know. A while back, I became aware that a couple of men had started attending. Fairly obviously both gay and a couple. At least – it seemed obvious to me! I was surprised that a relatively traditional church was able to welcome them as they clearly did. Years have now passed. Both are still involved with the church; one has been baptised, and both are involved in leading a craft outreach activity on behalf of the church. They are loved within the church; they are both still gay, and they are still a couple. I’m sure that ‘behind the scenes’ there have been many conversations – maybe even arguments. But this I know. That doing the difficult thing: genuinely loving and accepting these two, and trusting the Holy Spirit to set the agenda for their transformation – has been a powerful parable of the heart of Jesus.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been so encouraged to see that while hate for ‘immigrants and foreigners’ has been increasing in our nation, in this church there is a place of welcome. Whatever you feel about membership of the eu, here there is a welcome for all. And my prayer is that the same would be true of our approach to those who struggle with their sexuality. Whatever exactly you believe about the rights and wrongs of various relationships, may we be a place of welcome where people can work those things out with the help of a loving God, a transforming Holy Spirit, and an understanding people. May we be the safe place that people need.