Human Sexuality and Biblical Ethics: Is There Hope?
Since the 1960s, American culture has experienced a tectonic shift in how it views human sexuality. It began with the sexual liberation movement that promoted free-love and sexual emancipation. Contraceptives revolutionized sexual activity, shifting the emphasis from procreation, pregnancy and parental responsibility to sex without the possibility of children. The focus was now on pleasure and self-fulfillment. Having sex was now viewed as an aspect of human happiness and fulfillment—a right to be exercised. As the culture continued its shift, gay and lesbian sexuality became the focal point in the 1990s, and the framing of sexuality as a right was embraced completely. Sexuality was not a matter of ethics or morals; it was a right—a right that required governmental protection and guarantee. So, the 21st century has witnessed the accommodation to gay and lesbian sex as a human right that needs governmental protection: It has become the new “civil right.” Two other types of sexuality were added to embracing sexuality as a right—bisexuality and transgender. As a culture, we now often speak of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people in the same breath: LGBT is now as familiar an acrostic as NOW, the NAACP or the ACLU. Finally, in 2013 the new “right” of human sexuality is same-sex marriage, a panacea that has been nothing short of stunning. Most analysts assume that the Supreme Court this June will embrace some form of legitimacy for same-sex marriage as a human right protected by the Constitution.
There are three additional pieces of evidence that manifest the breadth and depth of culture change in terms of human sexuality:
- Families and parenting arrangements are changing: About one in five gay and lesbian couples is raising children under age 18. One in 10 men with a male partner or spouse is a military veteran. As many as 6 million Americans, roughly 2% of the population, have a parent who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT). A February Gallup Poll found that 3.5% of American adults identify themselves as LGBT. The 2010 census counted 646,000 same-sex couples, including 130,000 who were married.
- The definition of marriage is changing. In fact, as theologian Albert Mohler demonstrates, there are two rival views of marriage: The conjugal view, which defines marriage as a “bodily as well as an emotional and spiritual bond,” which sustains the world through the creation and nurture of children, and the revisionist view, which defines marriage as “a loving emotional bond, one distinguished by its intensity, with no reference to a duty beyond its partners.” He writes: “The conjugal view, based in the function of the family and the nurture of children, points to lifelong fidelity. The revisionist view points to a relationship based on emotional intensity in which the partners remain ‘as long as they find it.’” The revisionist view is what is modeled on television, Hollywood and now undergirds the sexual revolution that began in the 1960s.
- Many sociologists are now talking about a post-gay movement in American culture. Six years ago, no student health plan covered “gender reassignment surgery,” and now three dozen do, with 25 others offering related hormone therapy. Andree Seu Peterson recently reported that the University of Pennsylvania proudly trumpets two dozen gay groups on campus, including Queer People of Color and Lambda Alliance, with a new group Penn Non-Cis (“cis” meaning gender-biology incompatibility). Modern psychiatry is adding new categories to accommodate the proliferation of sexual identity types: e.g., “genderqueer, androgyne, and non-cisgender.” This proliferation of confusion drives the Christian back to the simple words of Jesus: “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female . . .” (Matthew 19:4). The God who created us “male and female” knows the path to health and life. But American culture has long ago rejected that path! Thus, Peterson reminds us of the definition of “perversity”: “the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state, to a corruption of what was first intended.” There is no better single term that captures the confusion of American culture when it comes to human sexuality.
Is there no hope, then? Are we doomed as a culture to this ongoing proliferation of sexual confusion in the name of rights? Yes, there is hope—the power of the Gospel to transform a life. I recently came across an article about and an interview with Rosaria Champagne Butterfield. Butterfield had been a leftist lesbian professor of English and women’s studies. On the track to becoming tenured, she began researching the Religious Right and “their politics of hatred against queers like me. To do this, I would need to read the one book that had, in my estimation, gotten so many people off track: the Bible.” She wrote an article in 1997 for a local newspaper in which she criticized Promise Keepers. In response to her article, she received a letter from Ken Smith, pastor of the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. She describes the letter as “kind and inquiring.” Smith encouraged her to explore several key questions: “How did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know you are right? Do you believe in God?” She observed that Smith was asking her to “defend the presuppositions that undergirded [my article].” She writes: “As a postmodern intellectual, I operated from a historical materialist worldview, but Christianity is a supernatural worldview. Ken’s letter punctured the integrity of my research project without him knowing it.” Butterfield began to go to Smith’s church. Pastor Smith did not mock her; he engaged her in a relationship with him and his wife: “They entered my world.” She then began reading the Bible. She writes, “I read the way a glutton devours. I read it many times that first year in multiple translations.” She wrote that “I fought with everything I had. I did not want this. I did not ask for this. I counted the costs. And I did not like the math on the other side of the equal sign.” After several years of reading the Bible, spending time with Pastor Smith and his wife, Floy, she “came to Jesus, openhanded and naked. In this war of worldviews . . . Jesus triumphed. And I was a broken mess. Conversion was a train wreck. I did not want to lose everything I loved. But the voice of God sang a sanguine love song in the rubble of my world. I weakly believed that if Jesus could conquer death, he could make right my world. I drank, tentatively at first, of the solace of the Holy Spirit. I rested in perfect peace, then community, and today in the shelter of a covenant family, where one calls me ‘wife’ and many call me ‘mother.’” Butterfield is now married and her husband pastors the First Reformed Presbyterian Church of Durham. But, she cautions, “My former life lurks in the edges of my heart, shiny and still like a knife.”
Cultural dysfunction and perversity can only be overcome by the power of the Gospel. The firm, gracious and magnanimous love that Pastor Ken Smith and his wife showed to Rosaria Champagne Butterfield changed her life, for it pointed her to Jesus. As she read the Bible, her worldview was challenged and she honestly saw its shortcomings. Jesus transformed her and continues to do so. That is the answer!!!
See Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, “My Train Wreck Conversion,” in Christianity Today (January/February 2013), pp. 112-113 and an interview with her in World (23 Marcy 2013), pp. 32-35; Andree Seu Peterson in World (23 March 2013), p. 83; Carol Morello in the Washington Post (4 March 2013); and www.albertmohler.com (2 April 2013). PRINT PDF