Talk 3: Teaching Christian Sexual Ethics

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The basis of Christian sexual ethics is clear in Mark 10.6-9:

" … from the beginning of creation, 'God made them male and female.' 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.' So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."

But advocates of such ethics are being denied a hearing today in some English universities. Listen to this:

"We are witnessing some very curious and powerful undercurrents or movements in society that are causing real tension and perplexity. University students are driving speakers away when they are supposed to be loyal to the values of free expression and debate. 'No plat-forming' means pounding out those whose views you disagree with … Another of these phenomena and rising fast is the transgender movement. Suddenly we are hearing of young children telling parents they are really the opposite of their biologically given sex, they need transgendering treatment to be changed. We had got used to the imposition by the educationalists of the Stonewall agenda that we are 'gay or straight' in a binary fashion, and, if the former, that is to be celebrated and not discussed in any way. 'Hetero-normativity' has become a concept used now in schools with the effect of undermining the formerly obvious fact that humanity is male and female and sex is between them as the glaringly normal pattern … even small children, far too young to think of sex, are telling their parents that they are in the wrong body. No longer is the homosexual path the one to be commended to such innocents, now sex change is on the menu. Germaine Greer was banned from Cardiff for questioning whether a male can really become 'a woman' … It is hard to believe that … the undermining of biologically given gender, are not products of our education syllabus, post-1997, together with state legislation criminalising dissent and deconstructing marriage. And this is very much part of the de-Christianisation of the UK."

That was from the leader in the 29th January 2016 edition of the Church of England Newspaper. Interestingly it was given the title, "Social construction at work to change attitudes". And that was a good title in answer to the question, "how have we got to the position described in that leading article?"

"Social construction" is commonplace in the sociology of knowledge. And it relates to subjective certainty regarding the truth of certain facts and beliefs needing social support. The negative is that with social support you can believe anything however false, as proved by Solomon Asch's famous psychological conformity experiments.

For those unfamiliar with these, in the one I first saw on TV, a group (made up of actors and one volunteer) are told that they will be tested regarding their perception of line length. Their task is simply to look at a line on the left of a screen and say which of the three lines on the right is equal to it in length. The actors have been told to match the wrong lines, with all the actors following the lead of the first actor. The volunteer is then monitored to see if he gives the correct answer or if he goes along with the opinion of the group and also gives the wrong answer. In the first test the correct answer was line two. The first actor then said, "one", the second then said, "one" and the third said, "one". Then came the turn of the volunteer who paused and, with surprise and hesitancy in his voice, said, "two". Then the final actor said, "one". In the second test (with a different set of lines) again the correct answer was two. This time the first three actors said, "three". And this time, after a long pause, the volunteer also said, "three", followed by the final actor saying "three". The comment on the experiment was this:

"The Asch Experiment has been repeated many times and the results have been supported again and again. We will conform to the group. We are very social creatures. We are very much aware of what people around us think. We want to be liked. We do not want to be seen to rock the boat. So we will go along with the group. Even if we don't believe what people are saying, we still go along."

The fact is, for certainty in certain contexts you require social support, especially where the evidence is in the future and so there is no immediately available evidence.

You do not need social support for certainty of an immediate experience such as toothache! But you do in something like sexual ethics, where, for example, the promised value of virginity is only later experienced personally in marriage. Similarly, the harms to stable marriages and families from sleeping around before marriage, adultery within it, cohabitation, divorce and remarriage, the encouragement of homosexual sex, or such destructive activities as having an abortion, or being transgendered – those harms also are only experienced personally after the events. Hence for stable marriages and healthy families you need the support of social controls through, for example, the family, the Church, education, therapy, legislation and the media. Without such social controls harm should be expected in the form of marriage and family breakdown, such as sadly we already have.

Also be aware, that, if wider social support is perversely given to harmful sexual behaviours, do not be surprised at the rejection of your explanation of Christian sexual ethics as being for the public good – for being better for individuals, families and society at large, and no matter how good the evidence. Indeed, it may well be rejected with disbelief and charges of bigotry - such is the power of social support for the construction of false realities as the Church of England Newspaper was claiming.

Well, so much for the theory.

How in reality did this deconstruction come about.

Historically the motor for the sexual revolution in the West was undoubtedly the campaign for the acceptance of same-sex sexual activity. And because the strap line for many campaigners was, and is, that any sexual urge has a right to be fulfilled, this endeavour has undermined all sexual morality. In itself it is a tiny problem. The latest official Office for National Statistics' figures for adults identifying themselves as "Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual" in the UK is 1.6 percent (1.1 homosexual and 0.5 bisexual). But the campaign has had global consequences. Sadly, the Church had a role in initiating this campaign and particularly the Rev Dr Sherwin Bailey of the (then) Church of England's Moral Welfare Council.

In 1954 the Council in effect canvassed MPs and Peers (secretly) influencing the setting up of the Wolfenden Committee of 1955, whose 1957 report led to the change in the UK law through the Sexual Offences Act of 1967. No longer were homosexual practices among consenting adults over 21 punishable by the criminal law. But that did not then mean approval of homosexual sex, as Lord Reid said in his judgment in the International Times case in 1973 – just no criminality.

Sherwin Bailey's arguments in a 1952 article in Theology and then his book Homosexuality and the Western Christian Tradition were that Sodom was not about sodomy but inhospitality; also St Paul was irrelevant as the distinction between inversion (a claimed inborn condition) and perversion was not known in his day. Unfortunately, it took 40 years of much discussion and politicking, for the Bishops of the Church of England to correct this clearly erroneous teaching. They did so in 1991 with a good summary of Biblical sex ethics as follows:

"In Scripture [there is] an evolving convergence on the ideal of lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual union as the setting intended by God for the proper development of men and women as sexual beings. Sexual activity of any kind outside marriage comes to be seen as sinful, and homosexual practice as especially dishonourable. It is also recognized that God may call some to celibacy for particular service in his cause."

Nor is this ethic time-conditioned. None other than the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, was aware of what Bailey called "inversion". He was wrong. The ancient world certainly knew of people that faced homosexual temptation from birth.

However, the big move for change and normalizing homosexual sex came in the 1970s with the clever strategy of developing in the public consciousness a human homosexual identity. Of course, male and female same-sex love were well-known in Greece and Rome, but never as an identity. Greek and Latin have no nouns corresponding to the English "a homosexual" or "a heterosexual" to refer to an identity. For such words were 19th century creations for the new science of psychiatry that simply wanted a neutral, objective classificatory term.

And such an identity is particularly contrary to the Bible's teaching. The Bible never makes disordered human desires markers of human identity, let alone, Christian identity. Many, if not most, Christians are tempted to greed; and, yes, some Christians are tempted to same-sex sex; but that does not make same-sex attraction any more a mark of personal identity, than the temptation to greed makes greed a marker. So you are not essentially a "gay Christian" any more than you are a "greedy Christian". Paul would say, "such were [not are] 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" (1Cor 6.11).

John Stott began his little booklet Same Sex Partnerships? like this:

First, we are all human beings. That is to say, there is no such phenomenon as 'a homosexual'. There are only people, human persons, made in the image and likeness of God, yet fallen, with all the glory and the tragedy which that paradox implies, including sexual potential and sexual problems.

And the orthodox biblical Christian position cannot be denied. But Western education at all levels, especially secondary and tertiary levels are no longer initiating students into that biblical tradition. For since the repeal of Clause 28 that had banned "the teaching … of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship", in various ways there has undoubtedly been homosexual indoctrination in our schools, thus contributing to the sexual revolution with all the harms associated with it.

But it has been universities that are particularly significant in this revolution. For example, in 1972 Charlotte Bunch in her article, "Lesbians in Revolt", led the way by regarding lesbianism as the truly authentic form of feminism. Others followed in a flood and highlighted a contradictory intellectual sleight of mind. For the political arguments to change laws to normalize homosexuality claim homosexuality is grounded in an irrevocable biological or psychological condition. But these academic arguments are arguing the reverse and defend homosexuality as a quite voluntarily "self-fashioning" – to use their term.

But truth will out! And it did regarding the moral and personal havoc being caused in universities by this sexual revolution. Tom Wolfe's 2004 novel I am Charlotte Simmons (based on research at prestigious US universities) shocked respectable Americans. But was it for real? Donna Freitas' 2008 serious academic study, Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance and Religion on America's College Campuses, proved it was. Robert MacSwain summarizes the facts well:

"a) the 'hookup' culture among college and university students – i.e. a culture that actively promotes regular sexual activity with serial partners, detached from any sort of relationship whatsoever, up to and including intoxicated anonymous sex – is emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually damaging to its participants, particularly young women; b) outside evangelical Protestant contexts, most students completely detach their sexual behavior and beliefs from their religious upbringing, whether Protestant or Catholic; and, therefore, c) the only college campuses in the United States without such a pervasive hookup culture are evangelical institutions."

Sadly, I know of one evangelical university that is now beginning also to experience the hookup culture. This parallels the same way some English evangelicals seem to be drifting regarding sexual morality generally and 'gay marriage' in particular.

Such cognitive contamination (to use another technical term) occurs when people, young and old, are situated in a new social setting that has a hostile culture – in this case hostile to religious orthodoxy (as much education, reinforced by the media, is at the moment). Then the inevitable happens - a gradual, unconscious process of adaptation. For a period the old theological formulations and pious practices continue. But the assumptions and life-styles of the new environment are reckoned more important and relevant to life. At that point the old religious convictions seem hollow and for ritual purposes only; then they fade away towards irrelevance. Hence evangelicals drift.

Certainly the media contribute to the process by being hostile to orthodoxy and supportive of immoralities, thus affecting us all. The philosopher Thomas Sowell puts it like this. Through the print and electronic media …

"… many among the intelligentsia create their own reality – whether deliberately or not – by filtering out information contrary to their conception of how the world is or ought to be … It is not necessary to lie … in order to deceive, when filtering will accomplish the same purpose. This can take the form of reporting selective and atypical samples, suppressing some facts altogether, or filtering out the inconvenient meanings or connotations of words."

So what is the evidence for this? Much! I've only time for a couple of glaring examples. Take the "Pinsky Principle", named after an American journalist, Walter Pinsky. He described his approach like this:

"If my research and journalistic instincts tell me one thing, my political instincts another … I won't fudge it, I won't bend it, but I won't write it."

Then, I conclude with the case of Matthew Shepard. William McGowan in Colouring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism reports that there were more than 3000 media stories about Matthew Shepard, a gay man in Wyoming, who, in 1998, was beaten unconscious by thugs and left to die, but fewer than 50 media stories about a teenage boy who was captured and repeatedly raped for hours by two homosexual men, who likewise left him to die. McGowan's research indicated that the second story was not mentioned at all in the New York Times. The Matthew Shepard killing, however, had huge impact. It led Bill Clinton to back the homosexual agenda and ensure legislative change. But in 2013 (as reported in The Guardian in 2014), The Book of Matt: Hidden truths about the murder of Matthew Shepard by Stephen Jimenez was published. This revealed that it seems not to have been a homophobic hate crime at all but due to crystal meth. Also it was revealed that Shepard was being pimped alongside one of his killers with whom he himself occasionally had sex.

Yes, Jesus said, the devil "is a liar and the father of lies" (John 8.44). But he also said, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8.31-32).

How we need to witness to that truth today over sex ethics (and it includes, of course, the truth of Christ forgiveness for all types of sin), in our churches, in our schools and in our universities, overcoming all the lies of those who would oppose the truth.

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