Recently I did a paper on Christian Sexual Ethics. The main question of the paper was “Is it ever moral for Christian singles to engage in pre-marital sexual intercourse?” The second larger question was “How should the Christian church advise its congregants in this regard and in their sexuality in general?” Thinking over a myriad of scriptures condemning sexual sins, such as adultery, fornication and sexual immorality, it seemed than the obvious answer to the first question was “No.” (Proverbs 5:17-23, Ephesians 5:3-5, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8. etc.) Jesus himself confronted people in relationships where sexual intercourse was going on where no marriage was present. (John 4:18 and John 8:11) and taught that we should seek to avoid things, places, and people that provoke our lust and lead us down the road towards sexual immorality. (Matthew 5:27-30) However, to fully do due diligence I examined four Christians and their proposed sexual ethics.
All four proponents had many things in common. They were all Christians, all appealed to the Bible for their rational and all were trying to be helpful to single Christians. They also all affirmed a number of things about human sexuality. First, human sexuality as a good thing though it had been corrupted by the Fall and sexual intercourse had certain boundaries. Second they all agreed that sexual intercourse had at least two main purposes: union and procreation. Third, church tradition had historically confined sexual intercourse to marriage and all sexual intercourse outside of marriage was sexual sin. However, two number of them, using interesting anecdotes, hypothetical relationships and not-so-hypothetical relationships, as well as some innovative interpretations of scripture, called for a new more permissive sexual ethic. Essentially they argued that pre-marital sex was not a sin when “appropriate vulnerability” was present and the second argued that pre-marital sin should be tolerated to avoid the greater evil of young divorce.
In the next several posts I will examine these and other interesting arguments for people who want the church to accept sexual intercourse before marriage being. But first a bit of a disclaimer and my clear answers to the two questions:
Disclaimer: I have committed more sexual sin than anyone else I know. I am not bragging. I say this to my shame. For eleven years I was an unrepentant pornography addict. I was incredibly brazen with it at times but was never caught. While I knew it was a sin and hated myself for my addiction I could not stop. In November 2008 the pain of staying the same was greater than the pain of change and I entered Celebrate Recovery at my local church. I have been clean from hardcore pornography since September 2009 and am continuing to sort out my sexual sobriety and recovery in a SAA group here in Pasadena.
Question1: I say all of this to properly context my next statement: Sexual intercourse is only moral in a marriage between a man and a woman. Anyone who engages in sexual intercourse outside of that relationship is committing a sexual sin. This, to me, is self-evident from scripture, is a textually sound interpretation of the various passages, languages and words involved, and has been the position of various churches, across cultures and throughout the centuries. Those who engage in sexual intercourse, regardless of their reasons, their intentions, the presence of love, the commitments present in their hearts, or any other extenuating circumstances is irrelevant and does not change this objective moral fact. They are committing a sin that Jesus Christ had to die for on the cross. People who do not think this is a sin or unrepentantly engage in it are in need of more discipleship and theological training and/or church discipline from those in authority over them.
I do not say this from any moral high ground, primarily because I have none due to my years of sexual sin. I do not hate people who engage in sexual intercourse before marriage, I do not think Christ can’t or won’t forgive them. I do have compassion and love for them, as I do all sinners (because that’s everyone). As one of my professors says when he talks about the church, “There is no plan B. Just us, missing the mark, broken, messy sinful people to do God’s work.” Everyone needs forgiveness at the foot of the cross and I would hope that I am gracious and patient with all (as I hope all are gracious and patient with me) but this doesn’t mean Christianity is devoid of clear ethics and morals.
Question 2: The church should be aggressive in teaching a biblical worldview to its congregants. This would include the nature, purpose and boundaries of human sexuality, sexual intercourse and marriage. Where this is not aggressively taught the pervasive secular humanistic gospel of our culture will supplant Christian beliefs with cultural ones. Our congregants will not be faithful Christians but practically live out a mixed bag of the Gospel and “the pattern of this world.”
We should teach that human sexuality as God-authored is good but was corrupted by the fall and has boundaries. To demonize sex on one hand (to avoid sexual sin) or to uncritically celebrate its gifts (to avoid demonizing it) are two extremes certain churches have fallen into and both are wrong.
Sexual intercourse, as part of human sexuality, is very similar in that is good but it has a boundary: the sacrament of marriage between a man and a woman. Its two main purposes or procreation and union and this, in part, explains why God confines it to marriage.
The Sacrament of Marriage should be taught as just that; a sacrament of the church. Marriage is a culturally defined construct and can vary from culture to culture and year to year. The Sacrament of Marriage is a public declaration of a permanent life union between a man and a woman and is therefore an appropriate place for procreation and union. Furthermore, such a declaration invites new standards on the two people involved and they invite the counsel, scrutiny and admonishment of the wider church body that they did not have previously while they were single, dating or even engaged.
This is my sexual ethic and will poke through at times while I critique some of the other arguments I encountered along the way. To begin I will explore Karen Lebacqz’s views regarding “appropriate vulnerability” in my next post…