Over the last 30 years, American cultural views of sexuality have changed dramatically. Divorce was once seen as an unfortunate occurrence. Premarital sex was frowned upon. Homosexuality and transgender body modification were considered to be immoral and shameful. Today, divorce is almost a statistical probability for married couples, premarital sex is expected, and homosexual partnerships and transgender body modification are considered to be morally acceptable by the mainstream. I’ve avoided writing until now about our cultural view of sexuality because, frankly, I wasn’t entirely sure how to approach it with a sense of balance. I think I’ve found a way to approach the issue that neither condemns nor celebrates those that pursue sexual impulses without restraint.
Societies are underpinned by law—the social contracts that we purportedly agree to live by. A society is largely defined by its laws; and the number, complexity, and quality of laws are indicative of a society’s viability. Societies are also heavily influenced by religion. Politicians will always use religion to consolidate power, and religious leaders will always use politics to consolidate power. It’s a vicious, symbiotic relationship that ultimately stifles both freedom and virtue. Factions (both religious and secular) of our society are using law, religion, and public shaming to build power and promote their agendas. In many cases, the societal crazy train seems to be running completely off the rails, and Christians generally seem to be falling into one of two camps: capitulation or isolation. Neither camp is where we need to be.
Try to contain your shock as I tell you that humans were created as sexual beings. This overstatement of the obvious is apparently needed in our society which has lost all common sense and balance in its public discourse on gender issues. A male and a female are required for reproduction, and the reproductive impulse is hard-wired into every human. These are fundamental concepts that must be understood as the starting point for any discussion on human interpersonal and societal relations. Views on physical science, philosophy, and theology are all profoundly affected by the sexual duality of humans. I can almost hear some folks saying, “Thanks, Doctor Freud. Now can we stop being simplistic and join the 21st century?” And others will likely become apoplectic with rage because I suggested that human sexuality is a duality. Follow along with me, because we need to take a rational, honest approach to this issue before our society unravels any further.
Human sexuality is without question, the most drama-inducing part of the human experience. It generally causes more mental distress over the course of a lifetime than anything else. The misuse of human sexuality is one of the most psychologically devastating things that humans can cause. Countless lives have been devastated by those that either sexually abuse others or use sex simply as a personal entertainment pastime. The effects of sexual misuse and abuse on our society are tangible and visceral.
For Americans in 2017, homosexual marriage, transgender recognition, abortion, and female integration into military combat jobs, are some of the most prominent issues in the public eye, and they all depend on a specific view of human sexuality.
I think the Christian response to the issues of homosexual marriage and transgender recognition has been largely reactionary and unbalanced. Some, lacking a rationale for why humans need to make wise decisions regarding sexuality, succumb to the strident voices clamoring for the normalization of deviance, lest they be labeled haters. They creatively (read: dishonestly) reinterpret bible verses that warn against same-sex sexual relationships. Others circle the wagons, relying on “the Bible says…” as their last-ditch act of defensive defiance as they watch the American concept of family crumble around them. They rank sins according to a scale that puts homosexuality at the “abomination” end, virtually ensuring that they will never be an effective witness of the love of God to the gay community. Both positions are detrimental.
Can we count on biblical authors for competent guidance in this arena? Absolutely. But we must be careful to read them honestly—neither twisting their words nor presuming that the authors were perfect in knowledge and wisdom.
Moses (presumably) banned homosexuality, bestiality, incest, and adultery, imposing the death penalty on violators. And Paul wrote a strongly worded letter to the Corinthians (who apparently had some pretty permissive views of sexuality) saying that adulterers, fornicators, and homosexuals would not inherit the kingdom of God. He caveated this by saying that God could (and had) reconciled some of those practitioners to Himself, but he didn’t mince words on the morality of such actions. Some have tried to frame this admonition as a prohibition against ritual prostitution, but this claim is a real stretch of the text and lacks evidence.
So, what is the biblical definition of marriage? The fact of the matter is, there is no biblical definition of marriage. Yes, Moses, in his creation account, states that God created male and female, and that is why a man leaves his father and mother—so that they he may become one with his wife and start a new family. And Jesus quoted this passage to the pharisees when they asked Him a trick question about marriage in heaven. But if we’re going to use the bible in its entirety to look at the issue, we will find that polygamy is permitted and even encouraged in some cases and is never condemned. We also read in Judges about a time when the tribe of Benjamin was attacked by the other tribes of Israel for not punishing a group of homosexuals who raped a woman to death. In order to help the tribe of Benjamin survive, the other tribes killed the men and older women of a town that did not fight against Benjamin, and they gave the virgins as wives to the surviving men of Benjamin. When the virgin survivors of that city were insufficient to repopulate the tribe of Benjamin, the men of Benjamin were told to go to another city and kidnap girls to be their wives. This was all done after much prayer and offering of sacrifices to God. I would hope that most Christians wouldn’t condone this behavior, but I included the story to show how inadequate it is for Christians to confront a sexually permissive culture with nothing more than “the Bible says…”
I think we should base our concept of human sexuality on a few different disciplines:
- Study of nature (biology)
- Study of human behavior (psychology)
- Study of God (theology)
- Study of morality (philosophy)
Now I’m acutely aware that many Christians condemn the practice of treating science as being equally important as the bible. But the fact of the matter is, even those who believe the bible is authored by God came to that conclusion because it makes sense of their observations of the world and human nature. Therefore, I think we should acknowledge those disciplines as worthwhile endeavors and glean what truth we can from them, while recognizing the limitations in each area.
An honest study of nature reveals the sexual duality of humans. While there are physical exceptions such as hermaphrodites, this condition is clearly an abnormal physical development, the causes of which are varied, and well above my education level. I don’t think that we can set a universal moral standard for how one born with this condition (in all of its manifestations) should approach sexuality. What does seem abundantly clear is that male-female intercourse is a designed function to ensure the survival of the human race, and it does not rationally follow that because some are born with a physical ambiguity, those born without a physical ambiguity are therefore permitted to behave in a sexually ambiguous manner.
If you honestly study human social dynamics, the optimum sexual relationship for the physical, mental, and spiritual health of sexual partners and their children is a monogamous, lifelong, heterosexual relationship. This concept deserves a discussion that is too long for one blog post.
Those who seek God will discover transcendent moral principles. While there are many ethical gray areas in life, some actions are easily determined to be unquestionably and universally wrong. For example, sexual abuse and sexual assault clearly fall into this category. Acknowledging the Creator is the first step toward discovering His purpose for humanity. The order seen in creation is a rational, purposeful construct. It seems most reasonable to live life in harmony with nature—in accordance with this order. I will admit that the propensity to same sex attraction seems to vary, with some individuals being more susceptible than others. This doesn’t mean that homosexuality is a reasonable or moral course of action. A friend once pointed out to me that every individual has increased tendencies to struggle in certain areas. For some, this is lying. For some it’s stealing. Others struggle with anger and bitterness. Some struggle with pride—others with depression. Giving in to our darker human desires always damages us and those around us. Sexual impulses should not be given a free pass when discussing the damage done by the unrestrained pursuit of human impulses.
Your philosophy of life, if founded on the above three pillars, will breed true wisdom. This wisdom should govern our conduct and influence our children’s development. While we have the freedom to pursue our own interests, even if they run contrary to God’s purpose, we will find that our spiritual development is hindered when we place the fulfillment of our selfish desires above God’s desires for us. In fact, the pursuit of our darker desires leads to a domino effect in which a deliberate rejection of God’s order leads to devastating consequences as human impulses become the all consuming driver of behavior. I think this is what Paul is trying to portray in the opening of his letter to the Romans where he mentions homosexuality in a list of destructive behaviors. Part of our responsibility as adults is to lovingly guide our children in the way of wisdom. Parents that abdicate this responsibility—especially in the area of sexuality—are causing incalculable harm to their children. Allowing children to pursue every impulse is unconscionable, and will inevitably lead to devastating consequences when the dominoes start falling. The unbridled pursuit of human impulses will entrap us in the dark side of human nature. Virtually every religion and philosophy recognizes that the unrestrained pursuit of human impulses always leads to societal destruction.
Should we then embrace a religious view of human sexuality? I think that religion tends to muddle the issue even further. Evangelical and Reformed Christians place a very severe focus on the concept of sin. I’ve frequently seen Christians rack and stack sins against a somewhat arbitrary scale of severity, and homosexuality is usually near the really bad end of the scale. The rationale is “the bible says that homosexuality is an abomination, so it’s worse than most other sins.” The same Christians will rarely acknowledge some of the actions that Solomon called an abomination: arrogance, lying, and stirring up strife within a family. And Paul equates theft, greed, swindling, and verbal abuse with homosexuality. You will rarely hear someone preach against giving in to anger, laziness, gossip, gluttony, or other fleshly desires. The word sin is apparently derived from an old English archery term meaning “to miss the mark.” I don’t offer this as an excuse for doing wrong, but to put our misdeeds in perspective. I’ve begun to think of sin as making poor choices. While this may seem like a way to sugar-coat wickedness, I find it useful when considering ethical gray areas and life choices in general. We are all imperfect and have all made poor choices. Rather than condemning those that sin in one area and excusing our own sins, we should focus on our own lives and on making the best choices we can. We should recognize that others that have made poor choices were all created by God who desires reconciliation with each and every one of us. When appropriate, we should not shy away from pointing out the damaging effects of our poor choices. But we should not condemn one person’s poor choices and excuse our own. Nor should we encourage poor choices just because some public characters are seeking popular validation of their lifestyle.
I have found that there is inestimable value in femininity and masculinity. These are physical and psychological traits bestowed by the Creator for the betterment of the human race. These traits should be embraced and cultivated. Those that pursue a sexual lifestyle that does not follow God’s design are placing a self-serving, personal desire above the good of society and above God’s purpose. By pursuing these choices, they give up some of their God-given masculinity or femininity. These choices lead to imbalanced relationships that directly impact those involved and indirectly impact those in proximity. Followers of Christ must take a balanced approach to our culture, neither blindly validating poor life choices nor angrily throwing stones from the confines of our cloisters.