The Sacred and the Sane
There’s immorality, and then there’s madness.
During times of immorality, people deviate from standards of behavior, standards most are aware of, but some choose to ignore. We might call that rebellion, maybe even licentiousness. But we’d also understand that while some have drifted from their moorings, the moorings themselves exist, recognizable and still accessible, even to those who’ve spurned them.
Then there’s a season of madness, a state of anarchy that is not so much a rejection of moorings as it is an absence of them altogether. In such times, people aren’t necessarily in rebellion against an established standard, since the lines defining such standards have become so blurred many no longer see them. Rather, they’re now concocting subjective — sometimes whimsical — standards of their own, defining, as they go along, not only what is right, but what is.
Today’s culture does not say, “I shake my fist at the rules.” It says, “I make the rules.” This difference between immorality and madness cries out for attention in 2018 — particularly from the Church, which in its true countercultural tradition, has a God-given commission to hold to, live out and express biblical norms.
That commission couldn’t be more urgent. Consider, for example, the blurring of once-universal definitions of male and female. While nearly everyone formerly respected these terms as signifying biological (and irrevocable) status, an increasing number now view them as changeable, or subjectively determined, or coexisting with other equally valid classifications of sexual identity.
Anatomical characteristics are now only part of the picture; the rest comes from ever-changing or broadening classifications of gender identity — that is, how you view and identify yourself, despite what you may be physically.
Thus, many not only do what is right in their own eyes, but they also claim they can become what is right in their own eyes. Facebook now gives users the option of choosing a preferred pronoun (“him,” “her,” or “them”) and customizing gender identity for their profiles.
The social media giant — which previously offered some 60 gender identities, including “neither” (neither male nor female), “gender fluid” (moving randomly or situationally from one gender identity to another), “two-spirit person” (both male and female), and “other” (for those who haven’t found a definition that captures their feelings) — now has a fill-in-the-blank feature for users who want to name or invent a new gender identity.
Other developments are like a frightening variation of “name it and claim it,” with people abandoning their obvious state (and attendant responsibilities) after selecting, then pursuing, a self-determined identity. They claim to be something, regardless of reality. For them, the final validation arises from the claim alone.
Society doesn’t always celebrate such claims, as former professor Rachel Dolezal discovered. While teaching Africana studies at Eastern Washington University and leading the Spokane chapter of the NAACP, Dolezal — a Caucasian woman by birth — presented herself publicly as African-American.
People readily accepted her false representation for years until local reporters outed Dolezal as having two white parents. She defended her decision to pass as black based on her identification with African-Americans, an identification Dolezal has continued to maintain.
But social approval of arbitrary reidentifications of self or marriage is growing, as examples of the practice spread and, in many instances, push the boundaries further than anyone could have imagined. A 52-year old husband and father in Canada abandoned his family and was “adopted” by another who accepts his self-identification as a 6-year-old girl.
After 12 years of marriage, a Texas couple announced their plans to divorce so they could form a three-way relationship by including a second woman into their union. A married gay male couple in New York invited a woman into their relationship, declaring themselves bisexual and “homoflexible.”
In 2010, The New York Times published an article about the common practice of open marriage among male married couples, with one source suggesting the rejection of monogamy would eventually influence heterosexual couples to adopt such “innovation in marriage.”
And just when it seems things can’t get any more outlandish, the boundaries blur again. In an astonishing example of self-identification run amok, one transgendered individual surgically altered himself through ear removals, tooth extraction, horn implants and the forking of his tongue in his quest not only to become female, but to become a female dragon.
Such cases are perhaps extreme examples rather than common trends. Yet they reflect the madness of the times, as noted by PJ Media’s Tyler O’Neil: “This is what happens when a culture rejects the Christian (and generally rational, even scientific) understanding of sexuality and biology in favor of the mantra ‘if it feels good, do it.’”
While the transformation from man to “dragon” is bizarre, can a culture reject such fantasies for long while simultaneously claiming that some people are transgendered and must live as a member of the opposite sex to find happiness?
We can laugh, ignore or turn away from all this in disgust. Or we can assume responsibility as God’s expression on earth (Ephesians 2:10) to speak to the madness and invite people to emerge from it. Doing this means rising to three simple challenges: the challenge to know truth, the challenge to live truth, and the challenge to express and defend truth.
The Challenge to Know Truth
We’re gravely mistaken if we assume that because someone attends an Assemblies of God church, he or she must know what the Bible says about something as basic as human sexuality. There is, in fact, confusion within our own ranks as to what constitutes a sexual sin, how serious such a sin may be, and what (if anything) we should do about it.
Our congregations must therefore reiterate the authority of Scripture over all parts of our lives, the physical and the sexual included, and know what God has said.
Lest there be any doubt, God has said a great deal about sex, both in extolling it and in condemning its misuse. Indeed, 22 of the 27 books in the New Testament contain prohibitions against sexual sins, including, but not limited to, lust, fornication, adultery, homosexuality and prostitution.
The apostle Paul notably expected the Ephesians not to allow even a hint of sexual immorality among them (Ephesians 5:3), and he warned the Corinthians that sexual sin is unique in its violation of the very body committing it (1 Corinthians 6:18).
The first recorded account of church discipline occurred due to an overt sexual sin within the congregation. When addressing this sin, Paul expressed more indignation toward the church permitting it than toward the man committing it (1 Corinthians 5:1-13).
This puts our position regarding sex in the category of an essential rather than a secondary doctrinal issue. We must discuss essential issues in all aspects of church life, from our Sunday Schools to our discipleship groups to our pulpits. This is true first because Scripture extols sexuality in marriage as good, and as a type of God’s relationship with His people. That alone warrants us giving it due attention in our teaching and preaching and in our curriculum.
But there’s also the issue of relevance, and while it’s safe to say sex has always been a relevant topic to believers in particular and to people in general, this is especially true today.
As a culture, we’re wrestling with the need for emotional safety balanced with a desire to express ourselves sexually in virtually any way we see fit. Thus, we seek emotional safety without covenant, security without monogamy, the right to lust freely without the prerogative to express any sexually inappropriate thoughts to a person who may be uninterested or unwilling.
In short, we’re becoming, or have become, quite schizophrenic. (One wonders, for example, when the Hollywood elite will recognize the absurdity of rightfully objecting to unwanted sexual advances toward women, while simultaneously pumping out film after film sexualizing women of all ages in every conceivable way.)
It’s hard to imagine a time crying out more loudly for voices of clarity. But the ill-informed can hardly voice biblical clarity, and if the problem of biblical ignorance is rampant (would anyone argue that it isn’t?), then it logically follows that ignorance of biblical sexual truths is rampant as well.
Therein lies the challenge to know, by learning early in life, what God meant when He looked on Adam and Eve in their raw, innocent sexuality and pronounced His creation “good.” He is a God of covenant, craving relationship with His own, a desire wonderfully expressed in the passion a man and woman experience and celebrate within the safety of a monogamous, permanent union.
Tragically, in humanity’s fallen state, much of what God intended has been perverted or obscured. That’s why we must teach, at all age levels, how to exercise self-control when our desires try to take us outside God’s parameters.
God has said a great deal about sex, both in extolling it and in condemning its misuse.
We can teach compassion for those who struggle to live in obedience, while equipping all our people with tools to manage their own temptations and conflicts when they arise. We can teach grace and respect for those who hold to different world views and standards, while educating our own on how to defend our standards in a time when those standards are treated with unprecedented contempt.
That is the challenge to know, one we can waste no more time in rising to.
The Challenge to Live Truth
The Gospels reveal that few things seemed viler to Jesus than hypocrisy. His blistering words to the teachers of the law and Pharisees showed a divine, acidic revulsion toward people promoting one thing while doing another (Matthew 23:13-39).
Elsewhere in Scripture, Nathan articulated such revulsion when he pointed out the damage David’s sin did to Israel’s credibility (2 Samuel 12:14), as did Paul, who noted that those who privately commit the wrong they publicly decry discredit truth in the minds of the very people who sorely need it (Romans 2:22-24).
That being the case, we can hardly be content holding the right positions on pornography, homosexuality, fornication and adultery if we ourselves are not adhering to the positions we hold. This has been one of modern Christianity’s greatest weaknesses: a high zeal for promoting morality, without an accompanying level of zeal for moral consistency.
In conversations with gay activists over the years, many have pointed to the numerous leadership scandals the Church has weathered during the past few decades, the high numbers of Christian men regularly using pornography, and the disregard untold numbers of young Christian couples have for biblical injunctions against sex before marriage.
“How,” they often ask, “can you with any integrity object to homosexuality because it’s sin, while you people are so cavalier about other sexual sins condemned just as plainly in that Bible you say you obey?”
Boom. Just as the philosopher and psychiatrist Alfred Adler said, “It is always easier to fight for one’s principles than it is to live up to them.”
Of course, not all or even most Christians are guilty of moral duplicity, but the number who are is wildly, clearly unacceptable.
Certainly, it should come as no surprise that Christians face temptation. We expect that. What perhaps holds us back from the holiness we all should experience is our reluctance to admit the existence of sexual temptations, a reluctance setting up many of us for continued, tragic failures.
For that reason, we would do well, within our own ranks, to assure that people not only receive instruction in how to overcome temptations, but that they also have access to safe places in our churches to confess temptations when they occur, before they evolve into tragedies.
A church clearly articulating its positions — exhorting its people to live out those positions, while offering practical ministry to people struggling to do so — fulfills the challenge to steward our sexuality and, indeed, our humanity, with integrity and power.
The Challenge to Express Truth
Reasoning with a world so bent on rejecting biblical morality often feels like spitting into the wind. We must remember, though, that human need hasn’t changed, nor have the answers Scripture provides to meet it. With that in mind, we’re challenged to communicate truth about human sexuality in the midst of a current and growing madness.
We can do so by applying to a number of social concerns Dr. Phil’s well-used question, “How’s that workin’ for you?”
If people should accept porn as a harmless outlet, how’s that workin’ for you?
Poorly. The pornification of our society has verifiably led to shifting attitudes about relationship commitment, sexuality, and promiscuity, to name a few of its multiple negative effects on users.
If casual sex is harmless, how’s that workin’ for you?
The nonprofit American Sexual Health Association estimates that half of sexually active young people today will contract a sexually transmitted infection by age 25. Reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the U.S. increased every year between 2009 and 2016 (the most recent year for which data is available), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If the idea of saving sex for marriage is out of date, how’s that workin’ for you?
Nearly half of firstborn children are now born to unmarried moms, and 82 percent of out-of-wedlock births are the result of unplanned pregnancies, U.S. Census data reveal.
According to Pew Research Center, 31 percent of children in single-parent households were living below the poverty line in 2014, as were 21 percent of children living with two cohabitating parents. By contrast, just 10 percent of children living with two married parents were in poverty. In fact, nearly 6 in 10 children with married parents lived in households with incomes at least 200 percent above the poverty line.
If cohabitation is a suitable alternative to marriage, how’s that workin’ for you?
Linda Waite, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, conducted an extensive study on the effects of cohabitation and found that cohabitating men and women are more likely than married people to experience partner abuse, infidelity and poverty. She further concluded that cohabitation is an “unstable living arrangement” for children.
Numerous studies also suggest that living together prior to marriage increases the likelihood of divorce, a phenomenon known as the “cohabitation effect.”
If transgendered teens should be encouraged to reconstruct their bodies to match their perception, how’s that workin’ for you?
Not well. While parents feel pressure from many sources, including schools, to allow their transgendered adolescents to dress, act and even take drugs to conform their bodies to the sex with which they identify, studies indicate most of these same kids will outgrow their gender identity conflict, usually before they leave their teenage years. So why encourage injections of hormones and bodily mutilation to resolve what’s likely to resolve itself naturally?
If society should legitimize same-sex marriage, how’s that workin’ for you?
It depends on whom you ask. Clearly, many gay and lesbian people value their access to marriage. Yet research indicates children fare better when raised by a biological mother and father. For instance, according to a 2012 study by an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, young adult children of same-sex parents “reported significantly lower levels of income, poorer mental and physical health, and poorer relationship quality with a current partner.”
Each sex brings to the parenting table specific strengths unique to their status as males or females. Further, numerous studies — including a 2017 report from researchers at Bowling Green State University — reveal relationships among heterosexuals last markedly longer than those of homosexuals, despite the legal status and societal acceptance of gay marriage. In the face of such evidence, it is neither homophobic nor unfair to ask ourselves whether the social experiment of same-sex marriage is truly working.
To raise these questions is to invite people to reason with us, a practice the times also both call for and inhibit. In today’s atmosphere, the shouts of the mob often forbid any attempt at reason. But there are, as always, people with genuine questions about faith and sexuality whom we can reason with, offering some general points that may stimulate both dialogue and curiosity about the Christian view of sex: Creator, contrast and covenant.
It’s reasonable to assume we are created beings, a point many will accept as logical. It is also logical to assume our Creator would have intentions for our existence, since no one creates anything without purpose. And since the Creator chooses not to speak audibly to most of us, it’s likewise reasonable to assume our Creator would inspire certain authors to document His intentions.
Part of what the writers of Scripture documented repeatedly is the Creator’s desire for contrast in the sexual union, a contrast recognizing the complementary nature of the male and female, and thereby also prohibiting a limitation of that contrast via homosexual pairing. His creation of us as males and females bespeaks foreknowledge and deliberate choice, making any attempt to distort that divine choice an act of defiance and mistrust.
Even more frequently, the Bible documents the Creator’s understanding of, and insistence upon, the safety of covenant. God didn’t intend for women to give themselves sexually to a man and then wonder whether the relationship would go anywhere after that. God never wanted men to view women as objects to conquer. And the emotional vulnerability accompanying sex makes it an experience best kept in the context of the safety of permanence of marriage.
These are simple concepts we can offer while reasoning with the world, persuading others that God loves them and wants a relationship with them, and that they can live most effectively by aligning themselves with His purposes and options.
Our sexual apologia — a reasoned and clear articulation of what we believe about sex, and why — is sorely needed, however vilified or censored it may be today. While we are still able to present it, striving for the best ways to communicate it while never neglecting our primary obligation to live it ourselves first, let us prayerfully and eagerly step up, and speak out.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2018 edition of Influence magazine.