Sexual Morality and Entitlement

Written by Joel on December 11th, 2009

The question of homosexuality has sparked great controversy in the church over recent years. This past summer the ELCA dropped a rule forbidding the ordination of sexually active homosexuals. In 2005 the United Church of Christ became the first Christian denomination to endorse same-sex marriage at a national level. In 2003 the Episcopal Church (USA) elected Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the communion. Last week, the Los Angeles Diocese of the Episcopal Church has followed suit by electing a lesbian bishop who has been in a committed relationship for over 20 years.

These moves have had, and continue to have church splitting consequences. Liberal Christians invoke the name of social justice, equality, and point to Jesus’ interaction with other “undesirables.” Conservative Christians point to the Biblical condemnation of homosexual acts, and invoke the idea of “traditional marriage.” All the while groups on either side, and the middle, of the issue seemingly refuse to speak to one another. Both work hardily at their agenda – Liberals working within the church systems; Conservatives withdrawing from those systems and establishing entirely new ones. Given the already divided nature of the church, can a resolution to such an emotionally charged issue ever be reached? I simply don’t know. I hesitate to jump in the the debate by saying “this is right” or “this is wrong.” I want to try and take a step back and approach two foundational issues which I believe many are skipping right over.

As I observe the debates and news developments I can’t help but notice two underlying assumptions within this debate. That 1) Sex is morally neutral and that 2) Humans are entitled to sex. Both assumptions I believe are flawed.

To rephrase the first observation in the form of a question: Can sex be morally good or bad? Why is this question absent from this debate within the church? It seems to me the many Christians assume that yes, sex is morally neutral (though not in so many words).

The underlying assumption that sexuality is morally neutral: Sex is neither good nor bad, it is just another biological function like a bowel movement. I believe this perceived moral neutrality stems from the fact the sex is a private matter. In American society we assume a right to privacy, and along with that privacy comes an assumption of moral neutrality of all things private. If it doesn’t hurt anyone or if no one finds out, then it cannot be wrong/bad/evil/immoral. No harm, no foul. “Get the church out of my bedroom!”

As I read the Gospels, some of Jesus’ most condemning pronouncements were about things internal, and most private. Matthew 5 “You have heard it said ‘Do not kill’ but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother is guilty;” “You have heard it said ‘Do not commit adultery’ but I tell you that if you look at a woman with lust then you are guilty.” You have heard it said that sex is morally neutral, but I tell you that sex has moral consequences…

Sex is not morally neutral. It is full of moral decisions. Sex makes two one. How it is done, with whom and in what context does matter. See 1 Cor 6. Christians do not have a right to privacy from Christ. Just because something isn’t public doesn’t mean it is morally neutral.

I observe a second underlying assumption: that sex is an entitlement. That everyone some how deserves to have sex. It is this entitlement mentality that blurs the area between sexual orientation and sexual action. If you are straight you deserve to have straight sex; if you are gay then gay sex; if you are a teenager or young adult then promiscuous pre-marital sex…so long as you are “safe.” According to sitcoms you should expect sex by at least the 7th date. The Pill lets you have sex all the time without “risking” a pregnancy. A little blue pills helps little old men to continue to get-it-on. Sex is not an entitlement, it is a gift. Some Christian traditions even understand it as a vocation – one to which not everyone is called.

I don’t propose that I have any answers here, but I am suggesting that these two key question are absent from an already absent dialog between Christian in response to homosexuality. That is where we need to begin this debate…if we are ever to have one. As I see it people on both sides of the political-church agenda have already made up their minds and refuse to talk to one another as they advance their respective agendas.

What do you think? Are there other items missing from the discussion? What is your view on moral neutrality and sexual entitlement?


3 Comments so far ↓

  1. keith says:

    Wrote a long comment, but decided, in the interests of brevity, to delete it and just say “I agree.” :)

  2. Agellius says:

    Those are two excellent points, and ones which I had never specifically thought of. Well done.

    Regarding point 1, God designed us and our bodies for his own purposes, and he gets to decide how we use them and don’t use them. The tricky part is persuading people what God’s intentions are in that regard. In my view this is especially tricky for Protestants, since they have only the Bible to point to, and have everyone reading and interpreting the Bible for himself, with no final arbiter to settle the question once and for all. Although we Catholics are not having an easy time of it either, for the reason that so many theologians, priests and even bishops have “gone liberal”, by which primarily I mean that they have abandoned Aquinas and adopted Kant — making themselves the measure of truth rather than nature, creation and revelation.

    God communicates himself to us through his creation and revelation, and we ignore him at our peril. Some of his communications are more easily discerned than others, but some are a mere matter of opening our eyes and seeing what’s before us.

    However none of this will reach people until they learn that truth is not merely inside our heads and our hearts, but must also correspond with the real world. So long as people believe that each of us is his own god and his own truth, and therefore each of us can conceive God in any way he pleases, objective morality will fall on deaf ears, even among those who believe they are following Christ.

  3. Adrian says:

    I would have no problem with such a literal and uncompromising take on the words of the Christ if only you would all take each of his commandments so literally. I am fairly sure you do not.

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