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I have always enjoyed responding to questions, but that doesn’t mean people ask me easy ones.  Not that I mind tough questions, but this one was actually new.  A young friend me asked if homosexuality in the Bible might be one of those cultural things that could be ignored today.  I have read and heard many attempts to reconcile homosexuality with the Bible; but, as I said, I had never heard this one.  Now, I always try to be careful not just to “hold the party line” when I get a hard question.  I remember a pastor coming to a breakfast fellowship of pastors, who asked what we thought about artificial insemination for a Christian couple.  I’ve never heard so many uninformed, off-the-cuff, but absolutely certain answers!  That pastor didn’t get much real help.

In general, a person cannot suggest any restriction of sexual freedom without first appealing, somehow, to a person’s self-interest.  In today’s relativistic, post-modern culture, divine or Biblical authority doesn’t carry much weight.  People may choose to limit sexual activities to prevent sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy, but even these concerns lack power for those who already feel indestructible, common in the young.  I trust the Bible as God’s authority; yet even I want to understand why He forbids pleasurable things like casual sex.  It is essential to explain those reasons in any effort to change prevailing attitudes in our present culture.  To sum up, more simply, I contend that controlling one’s sexual appetites is in a person’s best interest.

It isn’t possible to oppose issues like homosexuality, gay rights, hate crimes against gays, or gay marriage without tackling the larger question of sexual license.   A Christianity Today editorial speaks of this in response to requiring all girls to have the HPV vaccine to protect them from genital warts and, ultimately, cervical cancer.  Of course, the risk of contagion comes with intercourse, and the presumption of such laws is that all girls will have sex.  The writer comments, “Such is our culture’s knee-jerk fear when it comes to sex.  We are not primarily worried about emotional entanglements or personal integrity or dishonoring God.  Just disease.  Thus, our culture’s fevered talk about ‘protection’ and the desperate search for gadgets and vaccines that will make sex ‘safe.’”  Sadly, few ever speak to the matter of “emotional entanglements” or to the emotional damage of premature intimacy, of the psychic harm from physical intimacy without first building emotional intimacy and trust.  In this regard, gay behavior is no different from other promiscuous[1] activity.

Of course, health concerns are magnified when it comes to homosexuality; AIDS infection is a greater risk among highly promiscuous homosexuals.  The reality is that frequent sexual activity, often with multiple partners is physically unhealthy and risky because, by its intimate nature, it facilitates the exchange of viruses and other pathogens.  Some sexual activities, by being grossly unsanitary, aren’t much better than eating off of a toilet seat, increasing the chance of infection, physically damaging the body’s tissues, and causing other chronic problems.  As one who puts some effort into preventing the passing of germs with a little extra care in hand-washing, I’m not surprised that sexually active people seem to catch every virus and bug that goes around, to say nothing of HIV, HPV, or herpes.  Yet, none of that addresses the psychic harm of casual physical intimacy, particularly to men who often revel in frequent sexual encounters[2].

Knowing all that, it doesn’t surprise me to find that God forbids casual, unmarried sex.  Some of his restrictions were health-related, and He made them for our good, not just to throw His divine weight around (as if God needed to do that!).  That’s why some things from the Old Testament no longer apply to Christians in the New Testament, such as eating pork; we are able to protect ourselves now from food-born illnesses[3].  Other laws were ritual or ceremonial, associated with Temple worship.  Neither the Jews nor Christians have a Temple today; moreover interpersonal behavior has nothing to do with ceremony.  Forbidding homosexuality clearly isn’t ceremonial.  For that matter, neither is circumcision, which the New Testament deals with, explicitly.

Actually, the New Covenant doesn’t so much cancel Old Testament law as fulfill it; Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matthew 5:17).  This suggests that, when it comes to saying something is not absolute but cultural, the burden of proof is on the one who says it is cultural.  I happen to think that some instructions about the appearance of men and women might still apply, because men should look masculine and women feminine.  I suspect those constraints would be far less burdensome that today’s obsession with fads, labels, and celebrity fashions.

Yet, we must never forget that salvation by grace produces freedom[4].  Christians are free to live without worrying that they may lose their salvation because of wrong choices, even the sinful ones.  Many Christians have never learned or grown to understand just how much freedom they have, although Galatians 5 reminds us that we are free to love and to serve, not do as we wish just to please ourselves.  This has a great deal of relevance, here, because sex is very much a shared act; one person’s choices affect others, perhaps many others, but especially a partner.

One young friend of mine finally realized this; he was willing to accept the consequences of sexual sin for himself but could not be responsible for leading the girl he loved into doing that they both believed to be wrong.  I think that’s why he called me, a number of years ago.  He had heard all the usual arguments, but the reminder that he was bringing another person into his sin reached him.  We may be free, but we are not free to harm others!  Decent people don’t want to.

Still, Romans 1 implies that forbidding homosexual behavior is basic and goes beyond freedom:  “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.  They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.  Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones.  In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion (verses 24-27).

Now I’ve heard some creative interpretations of this, but none have convinced me that it means anything other than what it says:  homosexual behavior is fundamentally wrong.  He calls it degrading; creatures He made in His image are better than that.  The next passage describes our contemporary culture pretty well and suggests that we should be careful of rationalizing these values:  “Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (verses 28-32).

Furthermore, degrading sexual behavior leads to a daunting list of other interpersonal problems, and our culture seems to demonstrate its accuracy.  Back in the 60’s and 70’s, “free love” was offered as an alternative to war and a means of peace.  “Make love not war” was the slogan.  To many, it seemed like a wonderful idea; if everyone had more sex, no one would want to be cruel, fight, be greedy, or kill people.  I would argue that their error is now evident; we have virtually unrestricted sex, and yet the culture is meaner, more prone to violence including sexual violence, greedier, and angrier.  The Bible identified this progression almost 2000 years ago, and it makes sense.  Casual intimacy does not create love or trust; it rests on lust and self-gratification which undermines trust and leads to boasting (especially about sex!), deceit, betrayal, gossip, slander, faithlessness, heartlessness, and ruthlessness.  A more realistic slogan would be “Make love to make war[5],” just as every soap opera portrays.

Having said all that, I consider homosexuality, in particular, a troublesome dilemma because, for some people, it seems to come from an involuntary attraction.  I think both Christians and sexual orientation advocates need to be a bit more humble and compassionate in their conclusions.  It is nearly impossible to study or understand sexuality objectively.  Sexual feelings are intensely personal, a private aspect of our lives, and it is supremely difficult to know what is really going on inside another person’s psyche.  When friends and acquaintances struggled with sexual issues, I was always humbled by what I learned.  One friend was an exhibitionist, expressing a weakness for which I had little empathy.  I can only imagine how a man could find pleasure or release that way; but he was my friend, and I tried to understand so I could help him.  I think I did.  At least, he was able to share a heavy burden and find I didn’t condemn, reject, or “out” him.

Groups like Exodus International claim success in helping homosexuals become heterosexual, but I have never talked with anyone who has done so.  Christianity Today (April, 2007) has an account of such a person.  I am sure that trauma, distant fathers, and sexual abuse have caused some to feel the way they do, and I think those people may change successfully.  I have no basis for judging otherwise.  Those who struggle with the problem need to wrestle with the Scriptures and make their own decisions.  I believe they should be abstinent, faithful, and private, just like everyone else, in their sexual choices; promiscuous behavior won’t make them feel better[6].  I also believe Christians should be kind, patient, understanding, and forgiving of the choices others make.  Homosexual sin is no worse than adultery, fornication, or divorce, which are common in our culture and, I’m sorry to say, our churches.  We have no right or prerogative to hate someone for their homosexuality, and certainly not for superficial judgment of personality traits or mannerisms!

Promise Keepers launched an effort to provide men the opportunity to face their sexual problems and failures and make themselves accountable to other men.  I think accountability has helped some, perhaps many.  I suspect that others need to feel they can talk to at least one other man, not a group.  I have always tried to give people that chance and let them know I was not going to condemn or humiliate them or reveal their confidences.  A long time ago, a pastor friend taught me the importance of being “shock proof,” and I have never forgotten.  It has helped me become a good friend and counselor.  Not everyone is capable of this, but more could learn, if they tried.

I also think we need, somehow, to restore a sense of reality to what it is to be a man.  Between the feminists and the ultra-macho reactionaries, it’s tough to relax and just be yourself, for fear someone will look at you and say you’re too something.  Men and women are not the same.  No one should be ashamed of who they are, what they have, or how they feel, since none of those things are choices.  I always think it’s sort of odd when I hear exaggerated expressions of distaste if men in a movie or TV show see other men naked; that attitude is as unhealthy as exaggerated interest.  I am sad that men, especially, have come to fear friendship, unless it is sports related; emotionally intimate, same gender relationships are as important as opposite sex relationships, in their way.  Arabs are better off, in this regard; in that culture, young men may hold hands with other young men with no assumption of homosexuality.  Of course, women here generally have the same freedom.

All of that adds up to one conclusion:  sexual license has not produced sexual freedom.  We are more screwed up now, than ever!  We have replaced interpersonal affection, trust, and intimacy with casual sexual intimacy, without much affection, trust, love, or genuine intimacy.  Now we’re working to force people, with laws, to accept superficial but very public sorts of expression in place of those far more valuable qualities, and I suspect the reactions will continue to deepen our emotional fragmentation.

Furthermore, the attempt to create “free love,” a misnomer if ever there was one, has disposed of some sins while inventing new ones (So much for no absolutes!).  Under the “old rules,” rape was obvious; now we must determine if, once a couple have undressed and begun the sex act, if it is rape, if the woman decides, at any point, to say, “No.”  Gay rights activists skirt the edges of child abuse, but a pre-adolescent child may be guilty of sexual harassment.  Unwed mothers are encouraged to keep their babies unless, of course, they decide to abort.  Somehow, in the new scheme of things, adoption is a step below killing a baby; a pregnant woman must be free to choose abortion, but she should never choose to give up a living child for adoption.  She must be able to choose abortion, but she couldn’t possibly choose simply not to have sex!  Feminists say they object to being sex objects, yet they generally will not oppose stripping or pornography that plainly objectifies women.  People try to parse the nuances of what the Bible says, but the values of sexual license make far less sense!

All of this adds up to one thing:  many people think they want the freedom to have sex as they please, without risk or consequence, and certainly without judgment.  In that big picture, the question of whether homosexual behavior is still a sin is a relatively minor question.  If there are no rules, then there are no rules for anything!  Unfortunately, we cannot ignore some rules, like gravity for one, because we cannot ban the principle of cause and effect.  Sexual license follows that rule.  Even though some seem “hell-bent” on canceling those effects, I believe they will fail, especially since they ignore some of the most basic effects, such as psychic damage, an inability to sustain long-term relationships, and ultimately world-weariness, and even despair, in addition to sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies.  That doesn’t sound liberating.

In so many of these issues, the need for Christians, armed with truth and reason, to engage our culture becomes repeatedly evident.  That was what was great about our American forefathers.  They argued, discussed, and engaged their culture profoundly, and our great freedoms were the result.  Now superficiality and emotionalism have replaced reason in the culture and even among most Christians.  Many people drink or use drugs so they don’t have to think, but it’s not much better to be sober and still not think!  I believe in Christian principles because they work the best.  I don’t want to force others to live by my rules, but I do want to show people that they are the wisest, healthiest, safest way to live.  Have secular progressives driven Christians out of the culture, or have Christians retreated from it?  Probably both are true, but the retreat has left the field largely uncontested until it is almost impossible to get back into play.

Sexuality is but one area where Christians need to make a cogent, coherent argument for sanity.  It is a case we must make to our own children since they have largely succumbed to the values of the culture, demonstrating the weakness of the case that we have tried to make and the power of the persistent counter-argument drummed into every kid through TV, movies, music, even public schools, and then through their thoroughly brainwashed peers.  Moral relativism, anti-religion, multiculturalism, and secular progressivism are equally pervasive and largely unanswered.  Even Marxist ideology has settled, unopposed, into the warp and woof of American culture, so that the blessings of freedom and capitalism may languish.  Neither religious freedom nor prosperity will linger long after that.

Sexuality and sexual license are a good place to begin to engage our neighbors and our culture.  We all know about sex, and we are all interested in it, whether we want to admit it or not.  We have long since passed the time when we can afford to be prudes.  The last barriers to public conversation fell when Bill Clinton brought his juvenile libido and an intern into the oval office.  The discourse doesn’t need to be offensive, but we must have a discussion so that some degree of sanity and decency may be returned to human relations.  We need a conversation, not an argument or a screaming match, out in the open, and then perhaps sex can be returned to the privacy of the bedroom where it belongs.


[1] Homosexual behavior actually has two problems.  Like adultery or premarital sex, it rejects traditional morality and treats sex as a casual recreational activity, and like bestiality or sadomasochism, it is what many consider a deviant or abnormal behavior.  The counterculture movement popularized the idea that any activity between two consenting adults is acceptable, thereby rejecting traditional and religious values, legal restrictions, medical or psychological judgments, and the instincts of most people, which they characterized as indoctrination.  Since then, it has become nearly impossible to have a reasoned discussion about sexual values.  I suspect that natural guilt prevents many “free sex” advocates from hearing any opposing view or having a rational discussion for fear that they may discover that they have been wrong, all along.

[2] I have long regarded female sexuality as different from male sexuality.  Men are easily stimulated and aroused and tend to seek frequent opportunities for release, while women by nature are more interested in caressing and affection with less urgency for physical release.  Yet, younger men report that young women are far more sexually demanding than previous generations.  To me, this suggests a very negative consequence of our highly sexed culture and maybe of the ideas of assertive feminism.  The natural inclinations of females were a moderating influence on men, and the complementary natures of male and female provided one factor in bonding couples together in enduring marriages.

[3] Actually, we have become a little silly about dealing with some food-born pathogens.  With the perfectly safe use of irradiation, we could assure our eggs, chicken and other fowl, and other produces are always safe, reduce the cost of inspection, and eliminate many of the outbreaks of salmonella at restaurants.  Sadly, the scare-media and the promoters of junk science have frightened people from something that would keep them safer, not the reverse.

[4] Religion, per se, requires strict observance of rituals and rules as a condition of divine acceptance, even for some Christian sects.  Islam is so powerful, in this regard, that people fear leaving it.  God’s grace in Christ forever releases the forgiven from such fear and permits Christians to follow God out of love and with respect for His wisdom.

[5] Could it be that the anti-war movement of the Vietnam era was inseparably linked to free love and grew powerful only because they were connected.  Perhaps that is why the current anti-war movement hasn’t gained similar effect.  People today are less naive and more cynical about everything.

[6] Sexual activity does have an effect similar to alcohol and drugs, which may cause addictions to pornography or sexual promiscuity.  Generally, this leads to guilt, shame, aloofness, and even despair, reminiscent of Peggy Lee’s 1969 song, “Is That All There Is?”

One of my friends asked me if I was familiar with Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ.  I was, but I had never read it.  I checked in my library and found it there, so I thought it would be a good book to read for Easter.  You can watch the video he has available if you prefer.

3 thoughts on “Talking about Sex: Is Morality Still Defensible?

  1. I concur with your comments. This topic is an extremely difficult one to discuss civilly for a couple of reasons. First, logically one really has only two possible approaches, depending on one’s position concerning the existence of an absolute moral standard. If one rejects the existence of of moral absolutes, there is no further room for discussion, since no moral distinctions, or even subjective value judgments, for that matter, are logically possible. But, of course, that also means that everyone, including the “free sex” proponents, loses all bases for countering contrary positions such as, say, Muslims who advocate killing homosexuals (their reason for doing so is immaterial). In real life, no one can or does live as though no moral absolutes exist.The alternative, that moral absolutes do exist, begs the question of their source. As you certainly understand, I am persuaded that the overwhelming evidence demonstrates that the only sufficient source for an absolute morality is YHWH, the God of the Bible. But one cannot accept this source without then acknowledging that the moral standards revealed in Scripture are, well, absolute and therefore not open to debate, including sexual standards. So in that sense, no other factors really matter. Now, we must also acknowledge that many who claim to hold to a Biblical worldview fail to embrace all that Scripture teaches, and not surprisingly (for reasons stated below) this is often true in matters sexual.Now, we should expect that, if YHWH indeed exists as revealed in Scripture, his creation conforms to his moral standards; that is to say, we would reasonably expect to see that conformity to God’s moral standards is better for us (here and now) than disobedience. And the pragmatic argument for Biblical standards for sexuality is a good one, yet it is by itself insufficient apart from the acceptance of moral absolutes (“better” is a value judgment that cannot exist apart from an absolute reference point).Furthermore, for most humans, rational reasons are eclipsed by the emotional attachments we have to our preferred answers. If I want something badly enough, I’ll find a way to rationalize it to be right; that is, I’ll adjust my ethics to accommodate my choices. When we get to that point, rational counter-arguments cease to persuade us. So the discourse devolves into a shouting match or worse.So I would conclude that traditional (or Biblical) sexual morality is ultimately defensible only on the basis of a Biblical worldview–an acceptance of the existence of YHWH and his revealed truth in Scripture. Any other defense, I am persuaded, will ultimately prove insufficient. Doesn’t mean we ought not to make any other arguments, but we had better understand that they’re not enough by themselves, and we have to be prepared to bring it back to the ultimate issue: does YHWH exist and is Scripture his revealed truth? Grace. brother.Ernie

  2. I concur with your comments. This topic is an extremely difficult one to discuss civilly for a couple of reasons. First, logically one really has only two possible approaches, depending on one’s position concerning the existence of an absolute moral standard. If one rejects the existence of of moral absolutes, there is no further room for discussion, since no moral distinctions, or even subjective value judgments, for that matter, are logically possible. But, of course, that also means that everyone, including the “free sex” proponents, loses all bases for countering contrary positions such as, say, Muslims who advocate killing homosexuals (their reason for doing so is immaterial). In real life, no one can or does live as though no moral absolutes exist.The alternative, that moral absolutes do exist, begs the question of their source. As you certainly understand, I am persuaded that the overwhelming evidence demonstrates that the only sufficient source for an absolute morality is YHWH, the God of the Bible. But one cannot accept this source without then acknowledging that the moral standards revealed in Scripture are, well, absolute and therefore not open to debate, including sexual standards. So in that sense, no other factors really matter. Now, we must also acknowledge that many who claim to hold to a Biblical worldview fail to embrace all that Scripture teaches, and not surprisingly (for reasons stated below) this is often true in matters sexual.Now, we should expect that, if YHWH indeed exists as revealed in Scripture, his creation conforms to his moral standards; that is to say, we would reasonably expect to see that conformity to God’s moral standards is better for us (here and now) than disobedience. And the pragmatic argument for Biblical standards for sexuality is a good one, yet it is by itself insufficient apart from the acceptance of moral absolutes (“better” is a value judgment that cannot exist apart from an absolute reference point).Furthermore, for most humans, rational reasons are eclipsed by the emotional attachments we have to our preferred answers. If I want something badly enough, I’ll find a way to rationalize it to be right; that is, I’ll adjust my ethics to accommodate my choices. When we get to that point, rational counter-arguments cease to persuade us. So the discourse devolves into a shouting match or worse.So I would conclude that traditional (or Biblical) sexual morality is ultimately defensible only on the basis of a Biblical worldview–an acceptance of the existence of YHWH and his revealed truth in Scripture. Any other defense, I am persuaded, will ultimately prove insufficient. Doesn’t mean we ought not to make any other arguments, but we had better understand that they’re not enough by themselves, and we have to be prepared to bring it back to the ultimate issue: does YHWH exist and is Scripture his revealed truth? Grace. brother.Ernie

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