Sexuality, Marriage, Morality And The Bible
By Rev. Dr. Donald K. Johnson
April 28, 1998
I. The following five values are basic for the sexuality of all people
in any culture, any context, any age. They are biblical values imbedded
in marriage customs. Appropriate moral and marital boundaries will protect
and encourage these five values for all people.
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament have many rules for sexual
morality appropriate to their specific time and place. Sometimes those
rules are not appropriate for a different context. Even Jesus, in the Sermon
on the Mount, revised some biblical rules to make them appropriate to his
context. Forming the community as one flesh, in supportive mutual relationships,
is basic to Paul's language of being members of the Body of Christ (Romans
God created us sexual beings. Our sexuality draws us to one another
and makes us whole. All people need to be whole and complete. At creation
Adam is lonely and incomplete until God nurtures his wholeness with a companion
so that, "two people become one flesh with each other," (Genesis 2:15-25).
While this is a heterosexual text, the truth is the same for homosexual
people. God loves all of us equally.
Our sexuality binds us together in stable relationships. Covenantal
love is a primary value in the bible (Matt. 22:37). We seek to live out
our sexuality in committed and faithful relationships that mirror the commitment
and fidelity God has for us. Our covenantal fidelity is expressed through
compassion, forgiveness, and mercy in responsible, long-term, loving relationships.
Love holds our commitments in place for better or for worse (I Corinthians
Our sexuality is for human delight. The biblical book, "Song of
Solomon," says that plainly. All cultures know this is true.
Our sexuality perpetuates human life. "Go and fill the earth" (Genesis
1:28). We have done this to a fault so that now it is appropriate to lift
up the other four values as equals. Paul emphasizes values for sexuality
other than procreation in I Corinthians 7, though his position is colored
by his expectation that the end of the world is imminent.
Our sexuality appropriately unfolded, provides for the well-being of
a community. Therefore, the community establishes moral rules and boundaries
to govern sexual relationships that build up the community.
Rules governing sexual conduct may be different for different ages,
and different cultural settings, but for each setting, principles for moral
sexual relations are designed to enhance the five biblical values described
above. Those five values are the foundation for the well-being of any community.
They are consistent with the revelation of God that we know in Jesus Christ.
II. The ancient social context determines the moral rules that the
bible puts forward to provide assurances that the five basic values will
be maintained. What was helpful in ancient times may not be helpful now.
In biblical times:
III. The present day context is radically different from the biblical
context, so to achieve the basic five biblical values for human sexuality
we need to make different moral rules to govern our sexual relations. Some
Women were the property of men. They belonged either to their father, to
a husband, to an elder son, or they were slaves. Widows without children
were vulnerable and without security. Women had few rights, they were simply
objects. A double standard of morality does not fit our contemporary context.
Laws concerning sexuality were designed to give the community as many children
as possible. Levirate marriage is an example (Tamar in Genesis 38:29ff,
Ruth 4, Mark 12:18ff.) Levirate morality does not fit our contemporary
context. A household with many workers was healthy. Mortality rates were
high. Each woman was to bear 5, 10, or 15 children and was shamed if she
did not. Concubines and maids often produced children for the head of the
household (Genesis 16 and 30). That morality does not fit our contemporary
Biblical people did not accurately understand reproduction. Women were
understood to be fields in which men planted seeds. "Come and plant your
seed in my garden" is the invitation from the Song of Solomon. A woman
who could not produce children was often divorced and given back to her
father, or abandoned as a "bad field." Barreness was the probable underlying
flaw in the woman who spoke with Jesus at Jacob's well (John 4). That morality
does not fit our contemporary context.
Marriage laws protected the property rights of men and were designed to
produce as many children as possible. Even though New Testament communities
with their eschatological expectations, and monogamous marriages are not
so focused upon producing many children, women continued to be the property
of men. A double standard of morality does not fit our contemporary context.
Violence against women was sometimes acceptable. Although women were sometimes
well protected in the biblical stories, still Abraham loaned his wife to
Egyptians (Genesis 12:15), and Lot offered his daughters for rape (Genesis
19:8). That morality does not fit our contemporary context.
A man spilling his seed on the ground (Genesis 38:9; Leviticus 15), or
withdrawing or preventing pregnancy with a contraceptive (now a Roman Catholic
doctrine), or wasting seed on another man was violating the moral goals
of the Hebrew community to produce as many children as possible. Contemporary
understanding around this issue is changing.
Pederasty was morally acceptable in the Greek and Roman society. Only a
few Roman philosophers find pederasty abusive. Men were more valued than
children or women. The practice was morally evil to the Hebrew culture
whose sex rules focused on producing many children. In the Christian culture
that followed, Christians accepted the need to produce children. They also
began valuing children and women more highly and resisted violence against
them. Therefore, pederasty is named as a sin in I Corinthians 6:9 and I
Timothy 1:10. This continues to be a moral boundary needed in our society.
IV. WE NEED TO ESTABLISH MORAL GUIDELINES FOR OUR SEXUALITY THAT WILL
KEEP THE BASIC FIVE SCRIPTURAL VALUES IN THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY AND LOOK
WITH UNDERSTANDING AT THE MORAL RULES THAT GOVERNED SEXUAL BEHAVIOR IN
Women and children are never the property of men. Our US laws state this
clearly. Women are slowly approaching equality with men in education, leadership
and economic value. Many of the biblical marriage laws are not appropriate,
for in our day they are morally wrong. Stoning women for adultery is not
allowed (Deuteronomy 22:22, John 8:5). Adulterous men may not be stoned
to death for violating the property rights of another man. Slavery is outlawed
and children are protected from misuse by their parents.
Contraceptives have given women the power to control the number of their
pregnancies and have freed them from economic dependence on men. Hence,
patriarchal dominance is being altered by gender free democracy. "Consenting
co-equal adults" is a recent concept. Today women are co-equals in making
Producing too many children is an economic problem for a couple, difficult
for the community, and harmful to the environment. Children are costly,
and each child needs to be valued and educated with sophistication for
healthy life in our complex society. Economically successful societies
average about 1.5 children per couple. Limiting the number of children
also blesses the environment and the community; therefore, developing moral
guidelines that limit the number of children we produce is a blessing for
the community. Same gender marriage affirms this societal need.
More and more scientific evidence is accumulating showing that sexual orientation
is a genetic propensity rather than a simple conscious choice. It is a
phenomenon that occurs in all cultures over the span of historic time.
Because homosexuality is a minority phenomenon it can be [viewed as] a
threat to the majority in some cultures. Yet because homosexuality has
some biological motivators, it is foolish to ask this minority group in
our culture to deny their sexuality as it is to make blue eyes morally
wrong. All humans need to enjoy and live out their sexuality within appropriate
boundaries, so that their sexuality contributes a blessing to the community.
Sexually transmitted diseases are best controlled with stable long-term
relationships in marriages held together by convenantal love. The community
is blessed when it provides moral rules that nurture long-term sexual relationships.
It is important to take moral truth from the scriptures carefully. The
Sodom and Gomorrah story (Genesis 18:16-19:38) deals with sexual violence
both in the rape of men and the rape of women. Both are morally wrong.
When Ezekiel and Jesus discussed the evil of Sodom and Gomorrah, they made
no mention of a "sexual problem," but spoke specifically about the evil
of withholding proper hospitality to strangers (Ezekiel 16:49-50, Matthew
10:5-15). Social violence is the evil.
In Paul's letter to the Romans (1:18-32), he is often quoted as speaking
against mutually agreed upon same sex relations. The Greek word translated
there does not refer to loving intimacy between equals, but refers to pederasty
practiced in the Roman gymnasium and undisciplined sexual passions where
one party in the relationship takes advantage of another. Sexual violence
is the evil. That reference is a part of Paul's argument in the first three
chapters of Romans to show that all humans, including the reader, are sinful
in some form or another. It matters little whether your sin is pederasty
or greed, we all need God's forgiveness (Romans 3:21).
The passages from Leviticus 18:22 and Deuteronomy 23:18 condemn homosexual
behavior in fertility cult worship, because their worship around temple
prostitution is blasphemy against the biblical God. They condemn sexual
promiscuity that divides a community and does not produce children for
maintaining the work force. We honor God in our sexuality by living out
of the five basic values named in this paper.
We create tremendous moral problems if we do not carefully pick and choose
sexual rules from among those contained in the Old and New Testaments.
Our social context is drastically different from biblical times. The basic
five scriptural values can guide our marital convenants of fidelity upon
which we ask God's blessing and help us determine meaningful legislation
for civil marriage law.
Christian marriage is a convenant of fidelity under God that, in its unconditional
relationship of trust, provides for creative joy and fellowship, for the
nurture of children, for mutual support in times of trial, and for service
to other people and the larger community.
God's blessing can be asked upon a marriage when the couple have a committed
and faithful relationship to each other, to God and to the wider community.
As twenty-first century Lutheran Christians we might say: We should so
fear and love God that our attitude toward God is clearly reflected in
our relationships with our partner and the community in which our shared
Therefore, long-term heterosexual relationships in marriages and
same gender relationships in marriages between consenting adults with appropriate
boundaries are acceptable. Both can provide a moral context for living
out the five biblical values for our sexuality.
Rather than exclude gay and lesbian people from the privileges of law we
need to offer them acceptance and support. The Reconciled in Christ program
helps a congregation welcome gay and lesbian persons to full participation
and membership in a congregation. The Lutheran Churches of the Netherlands
and Denmark already provide for same sex marriages as do their civil governments
[note from Tom Ramsey: the civil governments provide a status that is almost
equal to marriage]. Let us seek a sexual morality that is based on God's
love and affirmation of all people.
Our state and federal governments need to create laws that contribute to
the stability of our communities. Throughout the world, marriage laws and
customs take a variety of forms, but always these laws and customs are
designed to create a stable community that is productive, life-giving and
sustainable. Sexually transmitted diseases are a terrible cost to society
and are best controlled with stable long term sexual relationships in marriages,
both homosexual and heterosexual, that are nurtured by convenantal love.
There is an erosion of family structures in our present culture. Because
we are a diverse people, we need to affirm a diversity of family structures
that reflect God's acceptance and love that we know in Jesus Christ. Nuclear
families, extended families, same sex families as represented in monastic
communities, and gay and lesbian families can all be good. When all the
wonderfully different forms of families are encouraged with creative boundaries
and non-violent expectations, they will give life and righteousness to
our land and help all people have the five biblical values for their sexuality
in a moral way.
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