Human Sexuality and the Spirit of the Age
More than 125 years ago, The Chautauquan, a scientific journal, first posed a question that we’re all familiar with: “If a tree were to fall on an island where there were no human beings, would there be any sound?” People have debated the answer to that question ever since. Today I want to raise a different question: If a group puts out a statement on an important subject and very few people take notice, and those who do are all virtually disagreeing, was anything really said? Usually, the answer is “no.” But in the case of a recent statement, the opportunities for teaching and clarification are enough to warrant an exception. The statement was put out by a group calling itself “Christians United in Support of LGBT+ Inclusion in the Church.” The statement’s animating conviction is that “A new day is dawning in the Church, and all Christians are being called to step out boldly and unapologetically in affirmation and celebration of our LGBT+ siblings as equal participants in the Kingdom of God.” What follows are a series of affirmations and denials. What’s being affirmed is the new sexual orthodoxy expressed in theological language that’s completely untethered from either Scripture or two millennia of Christian teaching. Not surprisingly then, what’s being denied is the teaching of Scripture, tradition, and even nature itself. This denial is present in the very name of the group—specifically, the term “LGBT+, which prompts an obvious question “Plus what?” The polyamorous? What about the “Otherkin,” people “who socially and spiritually identify as partially or entirely non-human?” The “+” is a reminder that, to a large extent, the selling of the new sexual orthodoxy from the very beginning has been a case of “bait and switch.” Americans, including many Christians, have been swayed by sentiments such as “you can’t help who you love,” and Lady Gaga’s “born this way.” What they don’t understand is that this was only the tip of an ideological iceberg whose goal was about a lot more than “civil rights, tolerance,” or even “legitimacy.” It was, as a 1993 (!) cover story in the Nation put it, the possibility of “changing America forever” by “altering the way we all live, form families . . . and understand the very meaning of identity.” Remember that scene in Star Wars where Han Solo is told that the reward for returning Leia and Luke to the Rebel Alliance would be “more than you can imagine.” He replied, “I don’t know. I can imagine quite a lot.” In a world where “the very meaning of identity” is up for grabs, what the statement calls the “wide spectrum of unique sexualities and gender identities” seems limitless. Lately, I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that for Christians, biblically-shaped Christian teaching about human sexuality, and therefore identity, isn’t something we can agree to disagree on. The Bible and two thousand years of Christian tradition are unequivocal on this matter. In 1 Thessalonians 4, for example, the Apostle Paul tells the Thessalonians, “This is the will of God, your holiness: that you refrain from immorality, that each of you know how to acquire a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in lustful passion as do the Gentiles who do not know God.” He adds “Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not a human being but God, who [also] gives his holy Spirit to you.” First Thessalonians is widely regarded as the oldest book in the New Testament. From the start, traditional Christian teaching on sexual ethics has been a part of the apostolic proclamation. People who disregard this teaching are not, as the statement insists, following the “calling” of the Holy Spirit to “return to the Scriptures and our traditions.” In fact, it’s quite the opposite. They’re abandoning the Scriptures and tradition altogether, at the prompting of a very different spirit, the spirit of the age. An age in which truth and even reality itself is up for grabs.