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Because click bait.

Anyway, here is yesterday's Reading Between The Lines video: One Flesh

Essentially I just want to clear a space for a distinctive Christian sexual ethic and give some reasons for why we think in the peculiar way we do. In comments, a thoughtful YouTuber made some points (there weren't any "accusations flying" at all I just put that in my heading to be sensational). "CaptainMikul" (not a Christian) made some excellent points. I've interspersed his questions with my answers.

 

CAPTAIN MIKUL

I respect your view that I should have freedom in my own sexual ethic, but I don't think you get the (rather nasty) sub text of what you are saying...

Marriage, man and woman, sex: Ferrari, beautiful.
Not marriage, man and woman, sex: Beat up old car, not beautiful.
Marriage, man and man, sex: Beat up old car, not beautiful.
Not marriage, woman and woman, sex: Beat up old car, not beautiful.
etc etc.

 

ME

Hey, thanks for commenting. You're right that I didn't go into the male-female aspect of marriage here which I know is a huge issue but I'm trying to keep the videos under 8 minutes.

This means that the Ferrari/Lada analogy is not about hetero/homo-sexuality. I don't have that issue in view at all in this video. The car analogy is simply about how we use sex. Is sex cheap? Is it for anyone or is it just for that one special person? Christians want to keep sex to "one careful owner" so to speak. That's the point with the car analogy.

 

CAPTAIN MIKUL

You're assuming that all Christians must share your sexual ethic. You're fine with me having my own and don't want to legislate against it, and I respect that. But to other Christians who have a different sexual ethic to Christians like yourself, who say their relationship is a beat up old car and that Christians believe that, can have a really damaging effect on them.

 

ME

On the issue of wanting other Christians to agree with me... well there are Biblical texts to be wrestled with. And I think I'm on safe ground to say "This is what Jesus taught about sex" and I think there are interpretations of Jesus' teachings that are valid and interpretations that aren't. People are free to believe what they like, but they are not free to re-write what was written. To use an analogy, You can be a free-market capitalist if you like, but you can't claim that this was the true meaning of Das Kapital. "Marxism" is not infinitely flexible in what it affirms and denies and neither is Christianity.

 

CAPTAIN MIKUL

And then your saying that this is because Jesus gets to dictate what is beautiful in your life. So the Son of God himself thinks that a guy and a guy are not beautiful? Why does he get to decide that, why does He even think that?

 

ME

Jesus gets to tell us the deal with sex if He created it. I'd totally agree that, if He was just one more wise guru we could weigh His thoughts as an interesting 1st century, Jew. But if He made us and knows how life works then His teaching takes on a different character. That's why the big question for a non-Christian is not "what do I think about Jesus' sexual ethics?" but "Who does Jesus think He is to be speaking like this?" That's the question I'd like non-Christians to be wrestling with.

Why does Jesus think sex operates like this? Well heaven and earth, man and woman, Christ and His people are these parallel pairings throughout the Bible (from the very first verse). And the Bible sees these pairs as "made for each other." Man and woman coming together is part of a cosmic love story. It mirrors the way God loves the world, the way Christ gave Himself for His people. It's about equal opposites combining in this life-giving way. No wonder then this how life comes to our species. Man and woman becoming one has been the way of life from the beginning. If man or woman "plays the field" that tells a different story to the cosmic love story. Likewise, Man sticking with man or woman sticking with woman tells a different story. For the Christian, sex means something beyond the sexual desires of the individuals involved. It is a proclamation of profound truths. Once again, I don't expect you to agree with this sexual ethic because you don't agree with the underlying "profound truths" but you asked why Jesus would even teach this stuff. And that's the beginning of a sketch of an answer.

 

CAPTAIN MIKUL

You seem alright, I doubt you have a bad bone in your body, but can you not see the problem of presenting as loving and beautiful a deity who dictates that others relationships are not worthy?

 

ME

Thanks so much for the tone and thoughtfulness of your comment. I don't see any problem with "a deity who" tells us what sex means in the world that he has made. The implications of that teaching are that there are more faithful and healthy uses of sex and less faithful and less healthy uses of sex. That seems absolutely consistent with a loving, beautiful God.

Let me finish with an analogy: If I was a Buddhist and this was a 7 minute video on the crazy-beautiful way of vegetarianism, would that be offensive? Imagine if I said in the video that "For Buddhists, meat is murder"? I imagine that most people would be completely fine if I said "Buddhists have a cosmic vision of life and meat-eating does not fit into it, so for us meat is forbidden." I don't imagine that there would be comments saying "I eat meat and I'm offended." Or "Some of my best friends work in an abattoir, how dare you say they are unworthy!" I imagine everyone would shrug their shoulders and say "Fair enough, I disagree, pass me the bacon sandwich." Why is this video different to that?

 

I haven't yet received a response from him. But I'm thrilled that people are interacting on the issue.

 

 

I was talking yesterday with a friend on the journey to Christian faith. We discussed the Christian view of sex and how it was a beautiful vision for a whole-of-life-union. He said

That's so true. I remember being intimate with a girl and thinking 'This is so special it should be forever... [long pause] I can't remember which girl it was.'

:-)

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Steven Holmes' brilliant article begins...

A woman (Christian) I know told me a few weeks ago that she objected to being asked to tick a box on equal opportunities forms that said ‘heterosexual’. Married for over twenty years, she felt that ticking that box implied that she had erotic desires for people other than her husband, people defined by a particular characteristic (being male); this was not her experience of her own sexuality, and she resented being forced to suggest that it was.
In the culture I live in this self-narration is deeply counter-cultural; but the culture I live in is weird, or better WEIRD, and that is extraordinarily important.
The ‘WEIRD’ acronym was coined by psychologists who realised, rather late in the day some of us might feel, that performing psychological experiments on sample groups who all shared a particular characteristic might distort the results quite badly. Many psychology sample groups are only students, or only people in contact with universities (I receive at least one invitation a week to take part in a psychology study via the university email list); more pointedly, a huge majority (95%+?) of psychological studies have been carried out by Western universities on Western people. Something like 12% of the current population of the planet lives in a classic Western society: Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic’ (‘WEIRD’); 88% are not WEIRD, and so are normal. Historically, of course, the situation is even more lopsided: until the nineteenth century, no-one was WEIRD.

Read the whole thing

 

For more articles on the subject, from me...

I choose not to be straight

Why we should go after “straight Christians

Podcast: Why we must be sexual sinners and shouldn’t be straight

The idolatries lurking within some conservative Christian world-views

And from others...

The novelty of our modern views of sexuality

Against heterosexuality

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1991, THE ADDAMS FAMILYRecently I stirred the hornets nest with "I choose not to be straight". I then followed it with "Why go after straight Christians.". Here's my last sexuality post for a while. I think.

This morning I was visiting a church (not in Eastbourne). The man leading the prayers said "Lord, we thank you that you love us all here this morning, whether we are young people, parents or grandparents, your love is for everybody." I looked along my row. There was a woman in her 30s with Downs Syndrome. She's out. What about her carer? I might be wrong but I don't think she fit the bill. And there's me. I'm out of the club too. Pretty much the whole front row was disenfranchised by that categorisation of "everybody."

And so let me bang this drum one more time... In the current clashes between church and culture over sexuality, it's the church that really needs to repent. This is not just an application of 1 Corinthians 5:12 - although that text should be tattood on the inside of our eyelids. Neither is it the call to refocus attention from gay marriage  onto 'our own heterosexual marriages.' Actually there's every danger that focusing on 'heterosexual marriage' is itself part of an unbiblical vision of sex and sexuality.

Travel back in time to the first century - you are now surrounded by many competing visions of sex, marriage and the family. In lots of ways you could characterise the Empire's vision as more conservative than the Christians'. The message of Jesus and the Apostles crashed down into that world like an asteroid. But it didn't merely confront the sexually liberal, it also led to liberalisation of the marriage laws from Constantine onwards.

Biblical ethics were not seen by the Greco-Roman world as particularly pro-family. Actually the high honours given to singles by the bachelors Jesus and Paul (Matthew 19; 1 Cor 7) were massively threatening to the contemporary culture. It was unheard of in the ancient world to say: "You don't have to get married, in fact it's better if you don't." That was almost seditious. The culture was all about family. Matrimony is about finding a mater - a mother - for your heirs. If there had been a pagan pressure group advocating for the sexual ethics of good citizens they'd probably call themselves something like "Focus on the Family." The Christians seemed to be doing something different.

You see biblical sexual ethics confront the licentious and the conservatives. The bible offers the world something radical - a way of life that is not about experiences and romantic love but neither is it about securing progeny. Here are a people who see a future for the world that is not tied to their offspring - it's tied to Christ. And so Jesus says:

‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others – and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’ (Matthew 19:11-12)

Can we accept this? Can we accept this ordering of things with a clear privilege for those who embrace singleness? Or will we simply be known as those who privilege the family and hetero-normativity? Are we going to sit with this unbiblical categorisation of the world (Straight / Gay / Bi / etc) and insist on converting people to our end of the spectrum? Or are we seeking to convert the spectrum itself?

This was brought home to me when Paul Blackham wrote his wonderful article for this blog: "Legal recognition of marriage and the Way of Jesus." It's a fantastic piece about participating in the revolution of Jesus (including his revolution of sexual ethics). This revolution will occur not by lobbying parliament but by living out the way of Jesus in local churches. It was received very well except for two sentences:

Jesus’ preference is, of course, that we don’t marry at all and are able to say ‘no’ to all our sexual desires and give all our passion and desire to the life and work of the Kingdom of God.  Yet, if any of us cannot do that, there is this one possibility of a totally exclusive, lifelong, sacrificial marriage between a man and a woman.

Nothing else in the article caused as many questions as that statement. Some thought it was an unfortunate blunder that prevented the post being shared more widely. But I wonder whether our resistance to that paragraph (which seems a pretty decent summary of Matt. 19 and 1 Cor. 7) reveals our blind spots. We think of the bible as challenging pomo-sexuality, we don't think of it as challenging the unrivalled pre-eminence of "the family." But it's both. And those who use the Bible to challenge the former while capitulating to an idolatry of "the family" are open to the charge of hypocrisy.

More than this, they're closed to the riches of a truly biblical view. I really appreciate spiritualfriendship.org as a place that explores what is neglected when "the family" is idolized. Ron Belgau describes the purpose of the site like this:

Growing up as a gay teenager, the only messages I heard from the church were negative. Most in our culture—including many Christians—uphold romantic and sexual love as the most important form of love. But God forbade the sexual and romantic love I desired. Was I just to be left out in the cold?

[I've been helped] to see that obedience to Christ offered more to me than just the denial of sex and romance. Christ-centered chaste friendships offered a positive and fulfilling—albeit at times challenging—path to holiness.

Through groups like this, gay Christians are proving a tremendous gift to the church. We should all have been exploring the meaning of true friendship but some of us were too busy romanticising romance. These guys have been forced to wrestle with something every Christian should treasure: spiritual friendships beyond questions of sex and marriage. But if the whole church does not recover these categories then we'll all be the poorer for it.

It seems to me that these guys - even those who identify as "gay Christians" - are not capitulating to the world's view of sexuality (side B Gay Christians aren't anyway). Surely it's "Straight Christians" who are in greatest danger of adopting the world's categories - for they have never come to question their own default prejudices.

In my view, the best of all worlds involves abandoning entirely the "Gay/Straight" labels but perhaps such revolutions lie down the track. In the meantime it's folks like those at Spiritual Friendship who are most likely to recover what Jesus (and Paul and David and Jonathan) have been offering to the world - deeply connected discipleship that is beyond the erotic. It's true that we may have missed the glory of this through distractions about sexuality (and the sexualisation of all things). But another distraction might well have been an overblown focus on the family.

I'm not saying family is not vital. I am saying that Scripture upholds another calling - celibacy - even higher. And if we aren't tuned into that I suggest it's because our sex ethic is not as Christian as we might imagine.

Christians who take a conservative view of Scripture (and I'm one of them) must do more than proclaim the biblical sex ethic. And we must also do something else than simply "upholding Christian marriage" in the face of redefinition. We must let the Bible confront both sexual liberalism and cultural conservatism. We must see both as errors to be repented of. If we don't, we will lose our gay brothers and sisters, we'll isolate our singles even further and we'll be blind to the riches of true discipleship that transcends these culture wars.

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We begin a new series thinking about hot topics in evangelism.

In this episode we think about sexuality. It's not the first (or the fifteenth!) topic that we want to raise with non-Christians. Nonetheless it's one of the first that will be put to us. So what do we say?

Andy and I talk about the vital importance of being a sexual sinner and of not being straight.

During our conversation we mention the excellent LivingOut.org website, my earler blog-post on not being straight and I also refer to  this fascinating photo history of male affection.

Enjoy - and do get in touch in comments. We'd love to hear what you think.

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When I wrote "I choose not to be straight" I finished with a flourish:

For in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, gay nor straight.

This has led some to wonder whether I am abandoning all other identities other than Christian. If so, then my post proves too much. We shouldn't identify according to modern categorizations of sexuality but neither should we identify as anything. We're simply in Christ. In every other sense we're a blank sheet.

But I'm not saying that. Firstly, Paul is happy to speak to people about their particular identities and responsibilities as Jews/Greeks, as slaves/free and as male/female. What he's saying is that all are on an equal footing and have full access to God in Christ. That's the Galatians-3-sense in which there is no "gay or straight" - these labels mean nothing in terms of our ability to come to God in Christ.

But of course there are a thousand ways in which our nationality, our gender, our calling and, yes, even our sexuality shape us. Those identities are not eliminated by being "in Christ"  but they must all be re-thought, re-ordered and re-established as sub-identities by grace and through faith.

As we do that - as we re-think sexuality - we come up against something we don't find with, for instance, gender. From Genesis 1 onwards, gender is a given fact of our humanity. Only in the last hundred years or so have westerners thought of sexuality the way we have. Therefore, when the re-think comes, gender has infinitely more hold on us than these modern categories.

One Facebook commenter took me as abandoning all sub-identities, gender included. Not at all. And one of my biggest beefs with PoMo-Sexuality is its side-lining of gender in favour of a rather Gnostic love of 'desires.' One of the great problems with our modern view of sexuality is its disregard for the given-ness of our physical lives. I am male, I am in a one-flesh union - FACT. Who I am determines what I do with my sexual desires, my sexual desires don't determine who I am.

So gender has a hugely more massive purchase on my identity than "sexuality." But in my opinion, the way to challenge our modern categories of "sexuality" is to begin with "heterosexual". Before we say "You mustn't be a Gay Christian" I'd rather we said "You mustn't be a Straight Christian." There are many reasons for this.

Firstly, leading with repentance is a gospel move.  Secondly, if we're going to subvert a whole system of thought we need to say disruptive and shocking things. But thirdly - and mainly - I think a side-B "Gay Christian"  can end up being far more subversive of our false perspectives on sexuality than an unthinking "Straight Christian." The side-B "Gay Christian" has done a lot more work on these identity issues and on the meaning of Scripture than your average, unthinking "Straight Christian." The "Straight Christian" probably doesn't even know they are capitulating to unbiblical categories. The side-B "Gay Christian" is at least offering a measure of resistance to them. Therefore celibate "Gay Christians" are worthy of far more respect than those who, by default, buy into an unbiblical framework but simply happen to be on the more acceptable end of the spectrum!

This came home to me when I posted an article called "Is God homophobic?" I upheld the biblical teaching of sex belonging solely within the marriage of a man and a woman. This, however, was not enough to satisfy a commenter called "Independent Voter." He wrote...

Despite your watering down and deflecting, God’s word on this remains the same as it ever was: That homosexuality is an abomination, that God gave them up to their vile passions to receive in them the results of their chosen lifestyle. yell and scream all you want and call me whatever you want to call me. You nor I can change a word of The Bible. (emphasis mine)

Notice the irony? He doesn't want to change a word of the Bible - so instead he's changed several. Where the Bible is interested in behaviour, he's interested in "homosexuality" and in "lifestyle" - terms from Freudian and Adlerian psychology. He has no idea that he has capitulated to an atheistic world-view. He's just being "biblical." That's why we need to go after the "Straights"!

So... Yes to sub-identities. Yes to the importance of gender. Yes to sex belonging in marriage between a man and a woman. But, please No to an unthinking "Straight" Christianity.

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This has had 4 million plus views on YouTube but grandpa here has only just seen it. In these vox pops they ask folks whether you're born gay or choose it. Then they follow up with the question: "When did you choose to be straight?"...

Here's my answer: Who said I was "straight"? I'm not "straight". My desires are twisted in a thousand ways, like everyone's. Those desires have incredibly complex causes from genetics to environment to experiences and, yes, choices along the way. But I'm a Christian so I don't really foreground choices anyway. I believe in the bondage of the will for goodness sakes. I don't really view people as rational, decision-making machines and I reckon the best social science research confirms that. We are all the results of a complex mixture of forces and our individual choices make up just a piece of that pie.

But back to my original point, I am not "straight." I hate the term "straight". Lusting after the opposite sex en masse is not a virtue and it should never be held up as an ideal against which to judge others as crooked. So allow me to use the limited power of my choices in this regard: I choose not to be "straight". I repent of any identity marker called "straight." Lord forgive me if  I ever take refuge in the label "straight."

Let me go further. I choose not to be "heterosexual". The very idea of classifying me according to a "sexual orientation" is anti-gospel. I am a Christian - that's my identity. Can you seriously imagine Jesus turning to His disciples during the sermon on the mount and saying "Let your sexual desires be unto the multitude of women"? Course not. Jesus is anti-heterosexual and so am I.

Incidentally, I happen to lust after all kinds of sentient beings - males and females alike. Asked to name a top ten of good looking Hollywood actors I may well name a majority of men. What does this say? Not a lot, except that perhaps our modern, western taxonomy of sexuality is off-target. I don't find the categorisations of hetero-sexual / lesbian / gay / transgender / intersex / questioning /queer / asexual etc, to fit even our small slice of the global population, let alone the rest of the world, let alone the rest of human history. Most of world history would look in complete bafflement at our sexuality descriptors, therefore I choose not to buy into that categorization. And I choose not to read the bible through those extremely novel lenses - a temptation to which Christians and non-Christians fall in equal measure.

I'll admit happily, there are very few things I can do to change what or who I desire. But what I do choose is not to define myself by those desires. I choose to let my desires be desires and to let my identity be in Christ. I choose to say No to desires that would harm me or my loved ones (Titus 2:12). When I fail at saying No, I choose not to wallow in self-condemnation. If my "sexuality" doesn't define me, then neither do my sins. I choose to go to Christ with it all and find infinite forgiveness and love.

At the same time I choose never to condemn others who wear a different label. I choose never to feel superior to another human being simply because my distorted desires are more socially acceptable than theirs. I choose never to treat someone as inferior for their desires or their behaviour. I choose to love people no matter the spectrum they choose or the place they sit on it. And I choose to invite the world - whatever their label - to renounce that identity and find the liberating joy of adoption in the family of God. For in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, gay nor straight.

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FOLLOW UP POSTS:

Why we should go after "straight Christians"

Podcast: Why we must be sexual sinners and shouldn't be straight

The idolatries lurking within some conservative Christian world-views

You LastAndy and I discuss the recent reaction to this photo online and what it says about the weirdness of Christians. We also discuss Evander Holyfield's censuring on Big Brother for comments about homosexuality.

In our conversation I mention livingout.org - a great website showcasing the stories of Christians attracted to the same gender. Check it out.

Overall Conclusion: Christians are weird enough without getting weirded out by our weirdness. If you've come to Christ, weird is the new normal.

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talking-about-sex-with-your-kidsHere's the second of six thorny questions I've been asked to address. Last time it was "Hasn't science disproved God?" Today we discuss "Is God homophobic?"

I've got to keep it under 600 words. I'd love if you could help. What have I missed? What have I got wrong?

...........................

Is God homophobic?

Christ is Core

“I will spit on anyone who says homosexuality is a sin!” So said my lunch companion. The provocation? I had just revealed I was a Christian. I hadn’t mentioned the topic but suddenly homosexuality was on the menu and the temperature shot up.

It was clear what she thought Christians were saying: “Sexually righteous people (like us) go to heaven. Sexual sinners (like you) go to hell.” But here’s the truth I tried to get across: only sexual sinners go to heaven.

Mark 2:17 applies as much to the bedroom as anywhere else: Jesus is a Spiritual Doctor who has come not for the sexually healthy but the sexually sick. And that’s all of us. Confessing to our own sins – sexual and otherwise – is vital in our witness. We proclaim a Saviour not a sexuality.

Desires Don’t Determine Us 

This needs to be carefully expressed but the Bible has little interest in our sexual orientation. Defining our identities according to our sexual preferences is a modern, western fascination unknown to the rest of the world (and to the rest of history). Jesus certainly does not preach heterosexual orientation. Can you imagine Jesus turning to His disciples and saying "Let your sexual desire be unto the multitude of women"? Inconceivable. Heterosexuality is not the point. And my orientation is not my identity.

Christians are Counter-Cultural

In Old Testament times, Egyptian and Assyrian views of sex were markedly different from Israel’s. Similarly, Greco-Roman views of sex were worlds apart from those of the New Testament. The Bible has always set out a radically different sexual ethic to the world’s. Therefore both Christians and non-Christians should stop being shocked by their differences. Remember 1 Corinthians 5:12!

Are Christians Homophobic?

Many Christians have been motivated by an irrational fear and hatred of homosexuals. For such un-Christ-likeness we can only apologise. But, on the other hand, if we’re simply disagreeing about sexual ethics, we should resist being labelled "homophobic".

Just because a Buddhist forbids meat-eating, I don’t call him carni-phobic – I don’t assume he has an irrational hatred of carnivores! Instead I try to understand his view of the world – a bigger vision of reality in which vegetarianism makes sense. I might not agree, but I don’t think he’s bigoted.

In the same way, we must take every opportunity to step back from the hot topic of sex and explain the ‘bigger vision’ of the gospel.

Sex and the Gospel

The gospel is a love story, we should tell it as such (see Ephesians 5:21-33 for instance). Jesus, our heavenly Bridegroom gave Himself to us in a marriage union, paying off all our debts (on the cross) and giving us all His riches (in the resurrection). We proclaim this love to non-Christians. And for Christians, this love becomes the model for our own marriages (see Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:27-30; 19:1-12).

Because of the gospel we believe that two different parties should be united in unbreakable love (i.e. male and female, mirroring Christ and the church). Because of the gospel we believe we shouldn’t play around or only dabble in our unions. Instead we should commit for life (i.e. no sex outside marriage).

In all this, the point is not to enforce sexual laws, the point is to proclaim good news. For the non-Christian, their challenge is not, first and foremost, “Can I abide by this regime?” but “Do I believe this love story?” If they get the love, the life will follow.

Friend not Phobic

Jesus was known as the Friend of sinners. He never flinched from sexual sinners but forgave and freed them (see Luke 7:36-50). Here’s our message to the world: Come to Christ – not as hetero-sexual, homo-sexual, bi-sexual, etc – but simply as a sinner. At Christ’s table you have a place equal to every other sinner. Though we fail to reflect His gospel in a thousand ways, He knows how to lead us, step by step, into greater and greater freedom from sexual slaveries as well as the other really dangerous sins – like greed, unforgiveness and moral self-righteousness!

 

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Episode 10: Gender

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[audio http://revivalmedia.org/medias/audios/TEP010.mp3]

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Episode 11: Sex & Sexuality

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An evangelistic talk on gender, sex and sexuality.

 

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