Sex is complex, to say the least. To dramatize the complexity of the perplexing conundrum we refer to as sex, consider the following scenario:
One foggy night, a hopeless romantic named Jack staggers into a seedy saloon. Down-trodden and lonesome, reeling from a recent heart-wrenching divorce, Jack is far from ready to plunge headlong into another committed relationship. That notwithstanding, his urge to merge is zooming into hyper-overdrive. A roll in the hay with a complete stranger seems like the perfect remedy for the blues.
Jack mounts a bar stool like a cowboy mounting a bucking bronco. He motions for a brewski. "Love sucks" is pulsating from the corner jukebox. Jack nods in agreement. The bartender promptly delivers a frosty mug, overflowing with Milwaukee's finest. Jack chugs several glasses of liquid courage; the bartender grins coyly.
"I can tell what you're looking for."
"Is it that obvious?" Jack replies.
"Yup. See that filly over there?" With a wink and a nod, the bartender calls attention to a voluptuous female patron sitting solo in a nearby dimly-lit booth. "She's easy, trust me."
Jack removes his "What Would Jesus Do?" bracelet, tucking it into his hip pocket. He takes a deep breath. Clumsily, he grapples for the perfect words, rehearsing aloud a variety of opening lines he'd read from a popular men's magazine. Because of his Christian upbringing, Jack is unskilled in the fine art of weaving clever lines of seduction. Though this is not his strong suit, Jack is hell-bent at transforming this female prey into his own overnight pleasure slave.
To make matters worse, an endless stream of thorny questions haunt Jack's delicate conscience: Does this woman have a jealous husband/ boyfriend? Does she have syphilis, or worse yet, AIDS? What if she wants more than just sex? What if she becomes a clinging vine, like Glenn Close's character in that movie Fatal Attraction? What if I end up going to Hell, roasting like a marshmallow on a rotisserie for eternity - and all because I couldn't control my carnal desires? His dazed fixation is abruptly interrupted.
"C'mon, buddy... this is not Mother Teresa we're talking about here. She's the neighborhood slut. She's a sure thing."
Jack sighs. In one sense, this knowledge relieves much of the pressure. Talking seemed way too awkward at this juncture. Thank God, precisely choreographed words were no longer necessary. A swift getaway to the nearby Shady Lane Motel is almost a sure thing. And a sure thing is worth fifty bucks.
If you put yourself into this story, ask yourself what you would have done if you were Jack. Is sex outside of marriage always a sin? Are all sexual sinners headed for Hell? What is sexual sin, anyways? Is prostitution a blight on society? How serious is the threat of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases? These are just a few of many questions we'll be grappling with.
SEX: What's Right? What's Wrong? and Why? That's our focus. Ask a dozen people what they believe is acceptable sexual behavior, and you just might get a dozen different answers.
Even in Christian circles, there is widespread diversity of opinion. Perhaps this is to be expected. After all, there are many questions about human sexuality that the Bible simply doesn't answer, at least not explicitly. Furthermore, the Bible was written thousands of years ago in a culture radically different from ours. Lastly, there are numerous ways for sincere Christians to interpret many of the biblical texts.
So how should modern-day Bible-believers apply the moral principles found in Holy Writ to today's ever-changing cultural climate? Many on the right dogmatically claim that one size fits all. If something was ever morally wrong, it always was and always will be morally wrong. Many theologians divide biblical rules of conduct into three main categories:
1. Civil Law
2. Ceremonial Law
3. Moral Law.
Most Christians would agree that we are no longer obligated to keep the civil and ceremonial laws given to Moses. Those were given specifically to the nation of Israel. But not so with the moral law. Many contend that if a law ever was a moral law, it is still binding, always was binding, and will remain binding throughout all eternity. A law that is binding on all people at all times in all sets of circumstances in known in theological vernacular as a "universal moral absolute." Such is the case, many claim, with all moral laws, especially those laws regulating human sexual conduct.
But there are thorny inconsistencies associated with maintaining such a rigid stance. First, nothing in the Bible states that all moral laws are universal absolutes. Second, nothing in the Bible tells us which laws are moral and which laws are civil or ceremonial. Furthermore, the Mosaic laws prohibiting incest were certainly moral. Notwithstanding, I've heard numerous respected theologians argue that the law against incest was a "universal moral absolute." Yet few would dispute that the ancestors of Adam and Eve married their own siblings. Abraham married his half-sister Sarah and few would argue that he sinned by doing so. Furthermore, his son Isaac married Rebekah, a close cousin who was miraculously selected by God. Abraham's servant asked the Lord for a sign as to which woman he should choose to be Isaac's wife. Rebekah was that woman. God provided Abraham's servant with the exact sign he asked for. He asked Rebekah for a drink. She gave him a drink, plus she gave water to his camels as well.
There's also the ethical conundrum of choosing between the lesser of two evils. Although lying is a moral law prohibited in the Ten Commandments, there are times when not telling the truth may be a means of preventing a greater evil, such as the loss of innocent life. The Bible gives us several examples of this, as in the case of Rahab lying about the whereabouts of Joshua's spies. Her lie saved their lives. As a result, Rahab's life was also spared and she is memorialized in Holy Writ as a hero of the faith (Hebrews 11:31).
Christians should cautiously steer clear of two dangerous extremes: legalism and antinomianism. Although legalism often refers to the view that one is saved by the merit of his own efforts to perform works of the law, it can also refer to going above and beyond the teachings of Scripture and establishing rules and regulations that are not found in the Sacred Text. Following man-made rules instead of God-given principles of living can also be a form of legalism.
Antinomianism, which is the opposite of legalism, means "against the law." Extreme antinomians believe that the Gospel frees Christians from obedience to any law, whether scriptural, civil, or moral. Many antinomians do not believe in any universal moral absolutes. Some claim the law of God is done away entirely; therefore, Christians can do anything they please. Although the Bible does teach that Christians are in some way no longer "under the Law," exactly what that phrase means is a thorny matter of contention within the church. The truth about sexual ethics, whatever that truth is, must be found somewhere between the two polar extremes of legalism and antinomianism.
Every serious student of the Bible is led to two inevitable conclusions: (1) There is a such thing as sexual sin. (2) The Bible disapproves of sexual sin. Certainly, engaging in sexually sinful behavior is a serious matter that often does result in dire consequences. Therefore, it would be a grave mistake for Christians to treat this matter too lightly. According to Revelation 21:8, the sexually immoral shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. Sexual sin is a serious matter. Nevertheless, to go above and beyond the teachings of Scripture is also a serious matter. My contention is that there is tremendous confusion over what sexual sin is and why it is wrong, especially within the Christian community.
Here is one example. Most Christians define sexual sin as "all sex outside of marriage." According to one survey, out of 38,000 Americans surveyed, 95% had premarital sex. Among women born between 1950 and 1978, at least 91 percent had had premarital sex. That's not to mention extramarital affairs or thinking about sex lustfully. If Christians are defining sexual sin accurately, we might have to search the globe far and wide to find anyone who is not sexually immoral.
In order to avoid moral laxity, many have taken an ultra-simplistic approach to sexual ethics. Perhaps you've heard the sound-bite that goes something like this: "Sex belongs in marriage between one husband and one wife; everything else is a sin." According to this position, Abraham, Jacob, David, and other godly men were sinning by having multiple wives and concubines.
Many interpret Jesus' saying that there is "no marriage in the afterlife" as being synonymous with "no sex in the afterlife." That's seems logical if we define sexual sin as all sex outside of marriage. If we begin with such a premise, how could we possibly conclude otherwise? Therefore, since the Bible supposedly teaches that there is no sex in the afterlife, then Heaven is often portrayed as an eternal monastery/ convent for celestial monks and nuns. There are many reasons, both logical and biblical, why I disagree with this stance. Therefore, I have devoted an entire chapter to the refutation of this position.
The standard position held by mainstream Christianity looks something like this: Everyone should be a virgin on their wedding night. Sex prior to marriage is defined as fornication, while sex after marriage outside of wedlock is adultery. To think about either premarital or extramarital sex is to lust, which is flatly condemned by Jesus. Therefore, many conclude that all sexual thoughts and all sexual actions outside of a monogamous heterosexual marriage are sinful.
Sex is magical and mystical. It is intensely pleasurable and a powerful drive for most people. Good thing, too, or most of us would not be here. But with great power comes great responsibility. Therefore, rules are needed to regulate sexual conduct; otherwise, numerous ill effects would become epidemic.
To a certain extent, we all know what is right and wrong. It doesn't take an expert in ethics to deduce that rape is wrong. We can also observe that producing unwanted children outside of wedlock is a serious social problem, as is the spread of social diseases, such as gonorrhea, syphilis, and now AIDS. And needlessly putting a valued relationship in jeopardy by cheating on one's significant other is not only wrong, it's stupid. We all know that intuitively. It doesn't take a seminary graduate to figure these things out.
But what about the many gray areas that are enormously complex? What about those questions that have divided Christians over the ages?
Of course, the first thing that comes to mind is the matter of homosexuality. Although I acknowledge that this issue is both important and complex, it is not of primary importance to me personally as a totally straight heterosexual male. What I mean by that is, even if I knew for absolute certainty that God approved of homosexual intercourse, I would have no desire whatsoever to engage in gay sexual activities. Emotionally, I find it puzzling why any man would want to have sex with a man. Nevertheless, I will attempt to treat this issue both objectively and biblically. So in my chapter on homosexuality and lesbianism, I will simply present what I believe are the best arguments on both sides, leaving it up to my readers to decide for themselves which position is the most accurate.
This work grapples with the following questions:
Is Polygamy A Sin?
How should a Christian make an ethical decision?
Is sex outside of marriage always a sin?
Was marriage instituted before or after the fall?
What are the ethical implications of reproductive sex?
What does it mean to be married?
What kind of love should married couples have for each other?
Was the sin of Adam and Eve a sexual transgression?
Is there sex in the afterlife?
What is fornication and why is it wrong?
What is adultery and why is it wrong?
How far is too far?
What does it mean to look at a woman with lust in your heart?
Are we naturally monogamous?
Are women really from Venus? Are men really from Mars? If so, what are the ethical implications?
Is "Safe(r) Sex" safe enough? Ethical implications of condoms and the pill.
Are alternative lifestyles, such as swinging and polyamory, always a sin?
These questions are difficult and complex, to be sure. But they are important and worth grappling with.
Although my purpose is to help others make ethical sexual decisions, I also wish to go above and beyond simply what's right and what's wrong. My ultimate objective is to identify what is the ideal. What would sex look like in a perfect idyllic setting? Should monogamous marriage and the nuclear family with the white picket fence be put up on a pedestal as the ultimate? Or does the God of the Bible have something better in mind?
My purpose is not to stir up controversy but to emphasize the importance of meaningful dialogue among Christians from various credible perspectives. Unfortunately, anyone who does not take the position of the status quo is often pigeon-holed as a heretic, a lunatic, or simply a troublemaker. This ought not be the case. We all need to have our belief systems challenged from time to time. Most of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, such as the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity, were established as a result of long, intensive debate. Perhaps such interaction regarding sexual ethics between sincere Christians is just what the doctor ordered.
Let the Christian sex talk begin!