Christian Sexual Ethics: Is sex moral when as long as they are monongamous/committed/in love…?

The last and final Christian sexual ethic I will deal with is the suggestion that sexual intercourse is moral in any relationships that is monogamous and committed, even if the persons have not married.  This argument was “out there” as I did  my research but was not clearly espoused and supported by one particular proponent but I felt I should bring it up as it is important to discuss.

The committed-but-unmarried relationship/”Married in our hearts”/Committed Co-habitation: Some would suggest that sexual intercourse is appropriate where a deep, loving and committed relationship is present.  The boundary for moral sexual ethics is the presence of commitment and love in a relationship.  Therefore, going through an actual ceremony and officially and publicly committing to one another is not necessary to engage in moral sex.

Sometimes I hear this argument with a faint echo of Romanticism – love is celebrated over and above anything else, including scripture.  Love trumps divine revelation.  Sometimes it stems from a place of, “Everyone else is doing it so why can’t we?”  As co-habitation is increasingly accepted in our culture (some stats suggest 66% of marriages include one partner who had co-habitated), it is a new normal that is approved by the wider culture.

More serious arguments often begin with the suggestion that the definition and purpose of marriage and sex have changed since the writing of the Bible.  While the Bible was directly speaking to and directly applicable the Ancient Near Eastern culture, we need to reinterpret it to apply it today because the definitions of and roles for marriage and sex have changed since then.  Through a myriad of exegetical decisions (such as Lebacqz’s use of Genesis 2:25 and the previous proponents interpreting Paul’s condemnation of sexual immorality as actually a condemnation of idolatry) the proponents find ways to approve of sex before marriage but still condemn other sexual sins like rape, prostitution and general promiscuity.

My Critique of non-sacramental/non-covenant marriage: To begin I would suggest two positive admonitions I would give Christians in this type of relationship or considering such a relationship.

First, if two Christians are in love to the point of wanting to engage in such a uniting act, and are in a monogamous and committed relationship, why are they not married or considering marriage?   I do not mean this question in a rhetorical manner.  Some people hover in committed-but-unmarried relationship for various reasons, and the temptation to have sexual intercourse in such a place is high.  Sorting out why marriage is not present or is not being discussed can uncover some core issues that need to be resolved for the sake of the relationship.

Second, if such persons are planning on marriage, I would suggest they abstain from sexual intercourse (as it is immoral), take six months of pre-engagement counseling (to focus exclusively on the relationship, not the wedding ceremony), six months to be engaged (to plan the wedding and put into practice what they learned in counseling) and then get married by the church.

While there is no formula regarding the appropriate amount of time to be engaged and/or dating before marriage, marriage should not be entered into lightly and wisdom and patience should be exercised.  While anecdotes exist of couples moving from meeting to marriage very fast and having very stable marriages I would suggest these are exceptions, not a template.

As for the argument that the presence of commitment and love make sex moral, this is a very subjective and unstable thing to base the morality of sex upon.  The presence of monogamy is performance based. If one partner cheats on the other and then they resume having sexual relationships is the faithful partner now committing a sin, or just the one that cheated? The presence of commitment and love are also highly subjective and fluid. What happens when a couple are going through a tough time and they don’t feel in love, but are still engaging in sex?  Are they now committing sexual sin?  From a purely pragmatic point of view this causes problems.

Furthermore, again I believe that the boundary for moral sexual intercourse that the Bible presents is marriage, and marriages require some sort of official public declaration.  The Bible does not talk about “keeping the committed and loving bed pure”, nor does the Song of Solomon suggest that the people involved in passionate and joyous sexual intercourse were merely monogamous, they were married.  Marriage involves a public declaration and understand of some sort about the commitment and intentions of those involved.  When Christians enter into a such a commitment they enter into marriages specific pains, pleasures, responsibilities and privileges.  While not better than singleness it is different.  Co-habitation and committed-but-unmarried couples try to walk the gray area between the two to their detriment.  Regardless of its cultural acceptance, the vast majority of the statistics regarding co-habitation suggest it is a bad option the relationship to the point where some refer to co-habitation as a “trial-divorce.”

But what about the argument that the definition and purposes of sex have changed and therefore we need reinterpret the scriptural admonitions regarding sex before marriage?  Let me say that I am all for this understanding of cultures and faithful contextualization.  The Bible was written within the Ancient Near Eastern context and where scripture is speaking specifically to that culture we need to interpret it for ours today: this is what I often call faithful contextualization.  However, I believe when we do this for marriage and sexual intercourse we do not arrive at a place that allows for moral pre-marital sex.  This requires a much lengthier discussion to do it justice so I will post this at another time.

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About Kevin

I am figuring out life and faith and taking other people along with me on my journey. Sometimes as fellow travelers, sometimes as hostages.
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3 Responses to Christian Sexual Ethics: Is sex moral when as long as they are monongamous/committed/in love…?

  1. Chelle Martin says:

    Kevin,
    I understand your point. However, my fiance and I, who are intimate with each other, do put God first. We have discussed marriage but want to get married in a church surrounded by a few close relatives of his. Why we haven’t yet is lack of funds as we wish to cover the cost of the celebration ourselves. I myself have no family, I was raised in various foster homes.

    The reason for our premarital intimacy is due to my medical condition. I don’t have much time left before the condition affecting my reproductive organs will require removal. Why not harvest your eggs? We looked into that, however with the initial cost of $100K, that’s simply not possible. Although we aren’t starving, most of our money is put into bills and even with a side business of several different ventures, money is tight.

    We both want a child, maybe two if we happen to have twins (they’re way overdue on his side). We could just run down to the courthouse and have a quickie marriage but that’s not what we want. We pray that God will forgive us, show understanding and compassion and provide us the means to no longer be living in sin. However those prayers have yet to be answered.

  2. Heather says:

    You say in the end of this post that you will later discuss the faithful contextualization of the Bible regarding sexual intimacy before marriage. Do you end up writing that piece? If so, where can I find it?

    • Kevin says:

      Heather, sorry for just getting back to this. I don’t think I ended up writing that piece but I probably should do a follow up as my thoughts on this issue have changed a lot.

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