“Hey, remember that new karaoke place I was telling you about?” my younger sister asked. “Well, listen to this event they just shared.”
She then read a social media advertisement aloud. Using vulgar language, the ad described a weekly event celebrating alternative sexualities. The wording made fun of our small town’s old-fashioned values, and it was clear — the owners of this establishment wanted to change our local culture.
“Wow, I can hardly believe that,” I answered. “I can’t imagine something like that going well here. If it does, things really are changing.” Our town, a regional tourist destination, is known for Christian values and wholesome entertainment.
“I know,” my sister said. “And I had wanted us to go eat there. I’m glad we didn’t.”
After our discussion, my sister shared the event link privately with her social media friends. She worded her attending comment carefully, not wanting to offend those who think differently. The event language was so crass, she thought her heads-up was warranted, assuming most families she knew may want to take their business elsewhere.
Just hours later, she started receiving messages from people she didn’t know, mainly members of the local LGBT community. They were shocked at the opinion she had expressed. A few messages seemed kindly meant, but most were angry and even threatening. These messages blew up her phone for days. My sister later found out an acquaintance from church had taken a screenshot of her post and passed it around, leading to it being posted publicly in several places. My sister eventually made her original post public and tried to dialogue with her accusers.
Telling the truth
Our local LGBT community seemed entirely confident — emboldened even — by our culture’s increasing celebration of sexual sin. Prior to 1973, the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality as a pathology. Today, gay marriage has been declared a fundamental right by the Supreme Court and Drag Queen Story Hours are a reality in libraries across the nation. In this climate, it was clear that our local LGBT community was certain of the morality of their views.
Frankly, I couldn’t help but be somewhat impressed with how unified and bold they were. In contrast, my sister’s conservative Christian friends were cautious and passive in their response. Some wrote or spoke to her privately, showing support but also hesitation. Unlike the LGBT community, they seemed afraid. And I could relate. The topic of sexual ethics tends to be polarizing, even among Christians. I have friends and family members who are part of the LGBT community, and the last thing I want to do is alienate them from Christianity. Still, is this silence wise? Is it biblical?
The Bible tells the story of God’s loving interaction with His people. In love, the Holy Spirit calls God’s people out of behaviors that are damaging and contrary to His design. In 1 Corinthians, Paul is bold in this moral teaching:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11, ESV)
And such were some of you. Paul’s no-nonsense teaching didn’t turn seekers away. The church, with its stringent moral teaching — including its guidelines for sex — grew to more than a million members in just over 200 years. Today, Christianity is the largest religion in the world — composing more than a third of the world’s population.
Debunking the lie
Why, then, are we so often afraid to be bold? I think in part we don’t really know what we believe or why we believe it; and we usually can’t defend it. We don’t realize how much we are influenced by cultural lies about relationships, marriage and sex. Romance novels, advertising, pornography, music — they tell these lies.
For example, in a lie of normalization, more than 10 percent of prime-time TV characters are members of the LGBT community — about double the amount in the general population. Lies become so pervasive that, without a robust understanding of truth in order to counter them, the lies chip away at our convictions and eventually win us over.
The redefinition of legal marriage changed not only the law but the meaning of the word itself. Phrases like “traditional marriage” have become necessary to communicate what the word “marriage” used to mean on its own — the lifelong, committed, monogamous union of a husband and wife.
Christians today are even pressured to lie by using preferred pronouns of transgender individuals — saying “she” where God has said “he.” Christian culture has become muddled as many pastors argue that the Bible doesn’t exclusively teach monogamous male-female marriage, casting doubt on interpretations we once took for granted. Those who claim Christianity’s historic teaching often face accusations of bigotry and intolerance.
With so much against us, it’s hard to feel confident. Yet we have every reason for confidence. In “Our Bodies Tell God’s Story,” Christopher West explores God’s design for sex in depth, detailing how as image-bearers of God, we are co-creators. While sex is about love, requiring the mutual self-giving of husband and wife, it is also about life — it is fundamentally procreative. While not every couple is able to conceive, openness to children is part of the Christian marriage tradition and the historic marriage vows. This Christian sexual ethic is good news, because living within God’s design bears good fruit. As West writes:
When sexual union is oriented toward love and life, it builds families and, in turn, cultures that live the truth of love and life. When it is oriented against love and life, sexual behavior breeds death — what we can grimly, yet accurately, describe as a “culture of death.”
This “culture of death” is very real, most violently displayed in abortion, but with effects touching almost every facet of human relationship. Divorce, misogyny, adultery, homosexuality, cohabitation, pornography, militant feminism, premarital sex, sex abuse, gender confusion — and in certain situations, extended and unwanted singleness — are just some of the fruits of disordered sexuality within our culture.
Thankfully, God has not left us in our brokenness. Through Christ, God restores every facet of our humanity. While this process of healing may last our whole lives, through the Holy Spirit we can begin to live the kingdom life now. This story of healing belongs to all of us who have found new life in Christ. None of us is without sin, so there is no place to “throw stones” at those whose temptations may differ from our own. Instead, we should follow Paul’s example and speak boldly about Christ’s love even as we speak just as plainly about the consequences of sin.
Living in love
In order to speak confidently ourselves, it’s helpful for Christians to rediscover biblical sexuality in all its fullness. We need to read the Bible and pay attention to the holistic teaching about sexuality throughout the Old and New Testaments. Outside of Scripture, a good place to start is Christopher West’s “Our Bodies Tell God’s Story,” quoted above. J. Budziszewski’s “On the Meaning of Sex” is also helpful, as is Juli Slattery’s “Redefining Sexuality.” Boundless readers can get started with some of Slattery’s Boundless articles and interviews on the topic.
A common objection to the Christian teaching goes something like this: “But how could God deny anyone love?” Thankfully, love is the very thing God offers — love so passionate that it overcame death. By surrendering to the love of God, we are free to turn away from counterfeit loves that leave us empty, lonely and broken-hearted. We are free to flourish in Christ — whether God leads us into Christian marriage or celibacy for the kingdom. Both paths require the pursuit of chastity as well as lifelong transformation of our broken sexuality. In Christ, we are surrounded by the family love of our Christian brothers and sisters, and most importantly, we are restored to right relationship with Love himself (1 John 4:8).
Those of us who are single and living kingdom celibacy — be it temporary or lifelong — know firsthand what a blessing and cross singleness can be. Instead of shrinking from the cultural conversation about sexuality, we can share our stories with boldness. In a culture that idolizes sex, I think our role is perhaps more important than ever as we demonstrate with our lives a heavenly reality. All romance on earth is momentary, but the wedding supper of the Lamb is eternal — and all who will come are invited.
Watching my little sister last summer, I was so proud of her. She dialogued with many of her accusers — turning the other cheek when insults were thrown and sharing the Scriptures and their historic understanding with anyone who would listen. It wasn’t easy for her — it hurts to be called names, and it’s scary to receive thinly-veiled threats.
She was disheartened by how little support she received from fellow Christians. But though the experience was difficult, she was thankful for the opportunity to be a witness of Christianity’s historic truths. It was clear that several people she talked to had never heard these truths presented in a loving and reasonable manner.
My sister’s experience inspired me to be bolder in speaking the truth in love. I hope it will inspire many more to do the same.
Copyright 2020 Candice Gage. All rights reserved.