A careful reading of the gospels makes it plain that sex and sexual morality was at the heart of the ministry of Jesus. His absolute condemnation of sexual sin, the many parables and stories he told about sexual behaviour and the way that he refused to have anything to do with those whose sexual lives were anything less than totally pure all point to the priority of sex as the lodestone of Christian morality. Twenty-first century disciples of Jesus will want to emulate his priorities, and Christian pronouncements about morality will reflect this.
Sex. Who’s allowed to do what and to whom. And, of course, when. How far can you go? Having drawn a line, let’s be clear in our condemnation of those who cross it, just as Jesus was. Of course, we only hate the sin not the sinner. Of course, forgiveness is always offered to those who truly repent. But how can you seperate depravity from the depraved? If condemnation of the one sounds too much like condemnation of the other, that’s too bad. Christians are called to purity, and those who condone or encourage impurity are responsible for their own fate. Our task is to speak the truth. It is time for preachers to forget their political correctness and take off their kid gloves. Let the pulpits thunder! Let the Church speak with the same voice as Jesus and consign to perdition those who despoil his holy people.
It’s all about sex.
I didn’t mean it, though if you’ve spent any time around Christian blogs I’d forgive you if you’d thought I did. Should the church bless homosexual “marriages”? Gays in the church. Premarital sex. The blogosphere, in it’s interest in sex, seems to me to be reflecting accurately the situation in the wider church. The furore in the Church of England over the appointment of a homosexual bishop even though he is celibate is witness to that.
But why? Not because it reflects anything of the ministry of Jesus. You will search in vain for anything but compassion from Jesus towards the sinners of his day. His condemnation was kept for the rich, powerful and respectable. Yes, he called all to repentance. All. There doesn’t seem to have been any special place in his life and teaching for the less than sexually pure. In the “sermon on the plain” recorded by St Luke, the Beattitudes are contrasted with woes - woe to the rich, the satisfied, the happy, the well-thought of. Nothing there about sex.
Looking more widely at Jesus’ teaching, it is apparent that it is our attitude to the poor which receives the greater attention. Luke’s beattitude’s are explicit. “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God”. Jesus begins his ministry proclaiming “good news to the poor”. The song which Mary sang announces “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” The parables of Dives and Lazarus and the Sheep and the Goats have condemnation to hell for those who ignore the plight of the poor and the downtrodden. His parable of the vineyard owner turns capitalism on its head by paying the workers according to their need rather than by the work they’ve put in. (And I find ironic that those who are quickest to tell me that parable isn’t about economics are precisely those who tell me I should be more willing to take the Bible at face value) Which ever way you cut it, Jesus said an awful lot about money and next to nothing about sex.
Most of us who’ve been around the evangelical movement a while will know of situations in which the sexual line has been crossed. I recall an incident in which a teenage girl got pregnant by her boyfriend, both of them members of the same church. When she told her pastor not only were they made to stand in front of everyone to receive their dressing down, both were refused communion until long after the baby was born. I’ve heard this sort of story over and over again. But I’ve never once heard word of warning, let alone condemnation, to those who are wealthy. Far from it. The richer members of the church are fawned over and held up as examples of God’s blessing. So much for “Blessed are you poor … woe to you who are rich.”
So — why is this? If sex was not a priority for Jesus, why does it occupy so much of the churches’ (and bloggers’) time? I’m convinced that part of the answer lies in our continuing “conformation to the world”. Western Christians may claim to be in Christ, but we still share the world’s obsessions: sex and wealth.We talk about sex the most because, frankly, sex is interesting. Exciting, even. There’s no thrill in listening to a condemnation of greed, or pride, or gluttony. In any case, condemning those sins leads us to condemn ourselves. Sex is different. First, because it is usually other people’s sin we’re talking about, and that’s always easier to condemn than our own. But most important, it’s different because we like talking about it. “They did what?” “How often?!” “Shocking! Tell me more.”
[Ironically, as I've been writing this little rant an email has arrived. It begins "We are writing to inform you that Rev xxxxxx who is a Methodist church minister in xxxxxxx is gay." It goes on claiming to identify the minister's boyfriend. The sender claims to be uncovering a secret, although they do not identify themselves. In other words, they have been speculating about what these two people are getting up to and have decided to gossip openly and widely about their prurient speculations. Disgraceful.]
What I’m suggesting is that the churches obsession with sex has more to do with tittilation than a genuine concern for morality. Married couples are no quizzed by their pastors about what they get up to in their bedrooms. It is unlikely that a gay couple in church would begin an over-coffee conversation with, “Guess what Sam did to me last night…” — most gay people regard their sex lives as every bit as private as heterosexual couples do. So why should their living together be a source of scandal? Because we like to imagine what they do. Oo-er, missus. Nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more.
If the church were genuinely concerned about the sexual morality of gay Christians, we would surely be doing everything we can to make sure that their relationships are stable and lifelong. But instead of offering support and care, we prefer condemnation. Instead of focussing on how they relate to others in the world, we’d rather spend idle moments amusing ourselves with an imaginery visit to their bedroom as a fly on the wall. Self-proclaimed homophobes find it amusing to label themselves such, making (unintentional) common cause with others who get their kicks from a Saturday evening’s queer-bashing. So far from being a place of safety, the Church is experienced by gay men and lesbians as a place of persecution. Where Jesus offered welcome and compassion, the Church most often offers vilification and hostility.
So I have a suggestion to make. Let’s give the same priority to sex that Jesus did — you know, like, none at all. Remember Jesus’ words about specks and planks? Let’s take them seriously and work on the planks in our own eyes before we trouble about the specks in other peoples. Or we could just continue in our sin, smugly ignoring the greed and covetousness most of us are a part of. But I hate to think of the consequences of that.
OK, I admit it. This is a reblog.