Homosexual Behavior and Fornication: Intimate Bedfellows

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A former student recently asked me why so much of the Christian community has gone silent in face of the growing acceptance of homosexual behavior in our culture. The reasons are no doubt complicated and multifaceted, but let me venture to take a stab at one of the factors I believe is at heart of it.

For at least a generation or two, Christians have been winking at premarital sex, and tacitly accepting it as normal, if not inevitable, even for their fellow believers. One article I read indicated that 80% of contemporary unmarried Christians aged 18-29 admit to having premarital sex.

Now here is one obvious– and telling–point we can immediately draw from this reality. Christians who condone premarital sex, either explicitly or tacitly, have no principled reason to object to homosexual activity. If they are at all reflective, they realize that if they ignore scriptural teaching on premarital sex, and the clear consensus of the Church that such behavior is sinful, they are hardly in a position to get too worked up about the Biblical prohibition of homosexual behavior. Christians cannot consistently sleep with their girlfriends/boyfriends, or wink at their friends who do, and then turn around and insist on drawing a line in the sand when it comes to homosexual behavior. Indeed, to register loud opposition to homosexual behavior while turning a blind eye to fornication easily gives the impression that one’s opposition is more a matter of personal distaste or discomfort than it is of serious Biblical or Christian conviction.

So the practical logic that emerges from this matter is fairly simple: if it’s okay to give a pass to premarital sex, there is no good reason not to do the same for homosexual behavior.

To be clear, most Christians do not overtly approve of premarital sex. To the contrary, at this point, the acceptance is typically only tacit or implicit. But my point is that the tacit approval has no doubt blunted the resistance to homosexual behavior and encouraged many to explicitly defend it as a viable Christian lifestyle.

But this is hardly the end of the story. Indeed, there is another implication that will likely be drawn: if it is legitimate to explicitly advocate homosexual behavior as acceptable, even for Christians, then it is legitimate to explicitly endorse premarital sex (especially if it seems to us the couples love each other). Again, I emphasize that this step has not yet been taken forthrightly by large numbers of Christians, but it is all but inevitable that it will be with increasing frequency. Nor am I saying that it follows that this will happen as a matter of straightforward logic. But as a practical implication, it is highly likely. Only time will tell, of course, but I will predict that more and more Christians will explicitly defend premarital sex as the dynamic of this situation continues to play out in the days ahead.

So here is the main point at which I am driving. Christians have no chance whatever of challenging homosexual behavior with integrity unless they start with the sexual sins of heterosexuals. We cannot take a morally credible stand against the sexual sins of the small minority of the population if we condone the sexual sins favored by over 90% percent of the population. If fornication is okay, if casual divorce is no big deal, then it rings utterly hollow to try to take a loud (or even a quiet) stand on homosexual behavior.

Of course, challenging heterosexual sin is no simple matter in contemporary culture. For the fact of the matter is that the non-marital sexual practices of many persons, including Christians, flow quite naturally out of the worldview in which they have been steeped (unfortunately many Christians are shaped more by pop culture than they are by Scripture). To have any realistic chance of countering this will require a serious recovery of the Christian view of sexuality, which requires even more fundamentally a substantive Christian view of human persons and their place in the great drama of creation and redemption. In short, that will require that we persuasively teach Christian morality as an integral component of the entire Christian vision of reality. And we must convey the beauty and goodness of this vision, and how it conduces to human flourishing, as vigorously as we argue for its truth. But nothing short of that has any real hope of bringing genuine renewal in the realm of sexual morality.

51 responses

  1. Well put. Christians need a reformation of sorts on the issue of sexual ethics. I would also add to the conversation that it’s unrealistic to expect non-Christians to adhere to Christian ethics.

    • I disagree. You don’t need a discussion of an issue, but a change of actual practice. And that requires ecclesial law and ecclesial discipline. This is why church discipline and authority is the fundamental issue.

      • “Church” discipline and “Church” authority will never fix the problem. Check this out:

        “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

        “If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)–in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?

        “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”

        –Colossians 2:18-23

        Why does he say “no value?” Because they do not address the sin nature that is the real cause of the problem in the first place. Jesus didn’t come to ignore our sins or incapacitate us from performing them, He came to remove our sin, so that we would no longer sin. This is the one and only solution. None other can replace it.

      • Andrew,

        I can’t see that Col 2 is about the moral law. If it were, then Paul contradicts himself by handing one over to Satan via excommunication.

        As for a “sin nature” scripture knows of no such thing. All natures are created good and sustained, as such, by God.

        The point is no amount of talk will change the current moral situation across the landscape of ecclesial bodies.

  2. Excellent. I am intrigued as well at the connection between this discussion and the fundamental issues tampered w when sex/marriage is separated conceptually and otherwise from children, and the role of declining views on sanctity of the body evidenced in immodest dress &body art/piercing.

  3. Pingback: Getting Out of the Marriage Business - Bob KaylorBob Kaylor

  4. I think the same line of argument works for the gay marriage debate. Christians openly and frequently practice divorce, showing that they have already redefined marriage. By their practice they have ceded the ground from which they would have any ability to argue cogently.

    • Ben: The difference is that divorce was allowed/regulated in various cases (Dt. 24; Ex. 21:10-11; Ezra 10:11, Matt 5:32; Matt. 19:9; 1 Cor 7).
      Whereas homosexual behavior is always portrayed as sin.
      Whereas the law regulated divorce and remarriage, the law commanded death for homosexual behavior.
      Whereas the scripture create a covenant of conditions (“leave…cleave…become one flesh”) which can be broken and thus trigger Biblically-approved dissolution of the broken covenant for the innocent party, homosexual behavior never ever establishes a covenant between them, only judgement.
      Maybe some liberal churches have redefined marriage through frivolous divorce, but Evangelical/conservative church still remain mostly solid on this issue.

      • even in the bible Jesus gives tacit and implied approval of homosexual relations when he heals and gives back to the soldier his “boy” lover.

  5. R. R. Reno made this same point in his 2002 book “In the Ruins of the Church”. See chapter 7 of that book.

  6. I wholeheartedly agree with everything said in this article. The problem I struggle with is what to do with a homosexual couple who have never had a relationship with anyone other than each other and have lived together for 40 years (I know one!). The Bible says this is sin, so I accept it, but also feel that the sexual desire affinity happens during the development in the womb. Bottom line – all sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin in God’s eyes.

  7. I would argue it’s that we have adopted the Freudian view that controls the culture on both counts. One can not truly be “known” in any meaningful way outside of his sexual proclivities; they are seen to reveal the most about who one is, becoming the primary label of self identification. This sort of thing makes a culture so obsessed with the sexual act that it is almost oppressive at times, especially for the celibate whose life has absolutely no meaning in such a culture. Celibacy of course is the only truly bizarre state. This can be seen even and perhaps especially amongst Christians, who have traditionally valued celibacy but in this culture no longer do so.

  8. Amen!
    Recently fulfilled some of my denomination’s requirements to be a licensed local minister. When I commented surprise that weddings I’ve been involved in were for folks who cohabited or were sleeping together, responses ranged from thinly veiled pity at how “naive” I was, or gentle reminders not to load church youth with sex-related guilt and shame.
    This was in a room full of both practicing and future ministers.
    I think a time is coming when more and more average-joe people will find themselves in the extraordinary position of Martin Luther and his tragically loaded, grieving, but courageous words…
    “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

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  10. Pingback: Jerry Walls on homosexuality and fornication | Spiritual Friendship

  11. Pingback: Jerry Walls on Homosexuality and Fornication » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog

  12. Pingback: Homosexuality and Fornication: Bedfellows? | The Discerning Christian

  13. I not only agree with this essay, but I had that underscored last week by reading a GREAT book, by Nancy Pearcey: Saving Leonardo.. When I tried to find out where she is these days, after leaving the great state of Pennsylvania, I discovered that she’s RIGHT THERE at HBU.

    Lucky you.

    I was sent to this post by Ron Belgau at SpiritualFriendship.org

    To all readers of this blog, please read Saving Leonardo..

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  15. Indeed, given the relatively small percentage of the population that actually engage in same-sex sexual behavior, heterosexual sinful sexual behavior is by far the greater (by volume at least) moral crisis within the church today.

  16. While noting some similarities, nobody has taken into consideration the differences between the offensive pro-homosexual movement and the lack of such a movement of pro-adulterers. There is no Fornicators Pride movement actively undermining Christian theology to rewrite God’s word to say that fornication is the way God made us.

    Thus, while the article has many true things re which I rejoice, I am disturbed by the seeming willingness to abandon the defense against attacks on theology and praxis from Sodomist ideologues, falsely equating them with garden-variety fornicators while ignoring determinative distinctions in their religio-socio-political agenda.

    • There’s no active “Fornicator’s Pride” movement because one is not necessary… Heterosexual sex outside of marriage is already the norm in our culture and has been for a long time. It is assumed; it is widely accepted; no parade or declaration is required. Many Christians say that it is impossible for people to remain chaste until marriage and that this is the way God made us. Fornication as a cultural practice is already so pervasive that it doesn’t require what you would call “ideologues” or even attacks on theology or praxis.

      • There still remains the distinction that only ideological Sodomists are actively subverting the biblical teaching in their favour. There has never been such a scholarly attempt to rewrite the Bible and teach that God has told us that fornication is the good way that He has created us to be. This active subversion of the Spirit of God is worse than what fornicators never did to twist biblical teachings like the Sodomists are now doing in support of their movement.

    • There is a great deal of energy coming from hurt/anger in the gay community. Coming from a wounded place produces a greater, blinder passion for one’s point of view.

    • There are different strands in the modern gay rights movement. I attended my first Pride march in the 1990s not because I thought of it as a statement about sex – but because as an ‘out’ gay man back then I could easily have been sacked, physically assaulted and verbally abused every day of my life and no respectable person or anyone in authority would have defended me or considered that abuse unjustified.

      There is no Christian case for the continued vilification of gay people – or anyone for that matter.

  17. Now let’s take it further back to contraception within marriage, that which all of Christendom considered great sin (including the great Comstock of the 19th cent.) for 1,800 years until guys like Billy Graham came along and “blessed” such great sin.

  18. Pingback: Homosexuality and Heterosexual Sin | For Christ and Culture

  19. Where’s the DOMA against no-fault divorce? Marriage has become an unenforceable contract. Let’s start with the re-definition of marriage that has had the greatest contribution to marriage breakup. State by state if we need to, the way we’ve fought abortion.

  20. This is of course due to the fact that all homosexual activity here-to-fore has been by definition outside of marriage, since marriage was not possible. But that appears to be changing. Could you not just see the homosexual christianoid community come full circle and say: “Yes, the Bible is clear, sex is only allowed in a covenant marriage relationship! True love waits! Therefore, once we have gay marriage, we will join the traditional doctrine and wait with gay sex until we are married! We want to keep the marriage bed pure, but haven’t been able to because we weren’t allowed to marry. Now that marriage is universal, we can also adhere to the Biblical sex ethic! We are totally on board with you and will abstain from pre-marital sex!”
    They would do this in an effort to finally divorce homosexuality from fornication and declare it holy as well. It’s the next step.

  21. Pingback: Starting with the sexual sins of heterosexuals | Bensonian

  22. At first I was thinking “oblique attempt to bring Christians around to acceptance of homosexuality”. But that’s not what this is, thankfully.

    If resistance to homosexual behavior is blunted, one of the culprits is the “all sin is the same” fallacy. I suspect it works like this:
    ” I’m always going to be a sinner until the day I go to Heaven. And all sin is the same after all. No kind of sin is worse than another. No sinful behavior is any more depraved than another. Furthermore, stopping a particular sin is no different than continuing, I’ll still just be a sinner anyway. If I do this, or if I do that, I’m sinning no more or no less. But I’m a sinner saved by grace. So I might as well do (fill in the blank) and do it as much as I want”. It doesn’t matter.

    Maybe no one thinks the above consciously (or maybe someone does) but that’s the underlying antinomian attitude that results from thinking all sin is the same. Of course the notion that all that matters is escaping the fire in the end doesn’t help. We all want the green pastures and the still waters, how many of us really want to be led in path of righteousness, and for His name’s sake?

    All of us must cry “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner” if we are to have any hope. Everyone is a sinner deserving the wrath of God and having hope only in the righteousness of Christ. That’s what “all sin is the same” means. It does not mean there is not bad and worse. It doesn’t leave us, conscious of our own sins as we may be, or in need of repentance as we are, with nothing to say to anyone else about sin.

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  29. I wholeheartedly agree with the connection between the acceptance of pre-martial sex and the acceptance of homosexuality. It is now my experience as a pastor for over 38 years that most Christian not only tacitly but now overtly accept pre-martial sex. Along with this is the universal acceptance of divorce and re-marriage. Something that even this blog is ignoring. It has become very difficult to teach any sexual morality today. When discussing the commandment about not committing adultery one enters a landmind field as so many Christians are divorced and remarried. Many of them having married the person that they were being unfaithful with during their previous marriage. Since the parents are being sexually active it is impossible for them to tell their children to not engage in sexual activity. Since the children are involved in pre-marrial sex it is impossible for them to oppose gay marriage. Jesus after all was clear that divorce your spouse and marry another is to commit adultery. The biblical teaching of marriage and sexual morality is a challenge for all of us!

  30. Comparing the physical expressions of love of same sex couples to the ‘negative’ thoughts about fornication is absurd. You aren’t asking fornicators to never express their love in a physical way, you are asking them to wait until marriage. But it is clear that most main stream christian doctrines do suggest and support the idea that a homosexual should never ‘act’ on their true nature, and by default, deny them the intimacy that heterosexuals are ‘permitted’ to show in a physical way. There was a time when the Christian church ruled. it is known as the Dark Ages, and for a reason. Until there is greater enlightenment in humanity, and a willingness to address that quite possibly the multiple translations from language to language, from author to author, of the book, could in fact have fallacy to it, there always will be, and always should be voices from the homosexual community to challenge the barbaric and archaic mindset of many organized religions. Homosexuals do not want to re-write the bible. They want to stop being beaten over the head and in the heart by it.

  31. hello,
    every person has different own thinking and that people accept this. You make a great point. Got some great info here. I think that if more people thought about it that way, I think this blog really must read to everyone.
    thanks

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