Evangelical world today? Part III


In the first part of this series, I drew my readers’ attention to the recent article of Simon Barrow in the Guardian (a version of it also appeared on Ekklesia). In the second I thanked Simon for his willingness to draw attention to this sexual sea change within evangelicalism itself.  Whether people like it or not, this is what is occurring, and no response ensures that the gay rights agenda will succeed.  I also asked some questions of Simon, namely, does he believe that gay or lesbian unions must be sexually exclusive? Do the leading Christian gay rights groups preach sexual exclusivity to their constituencies — that those in gay unions must  remain sexually faithful to one partner until death (or even divorce)?

In the past this standard has been the norm within Christian marriage, and indeed, marriage more generally.  Wives and husbands  believed that they were not free to enjoy other (sexual) ‘relationships’;  they had made vows of love, loyalty and sexual exclusivity to one person and must keep them. Sermons were preached on why adultery was immoral. Of course people deviated from the norm in practice — and for all sorts of reasons — but the ideal was there and many shaped their lives according to it.  And culturally the norm functioned to protect wives, husbands and children, families and home life; it  had an existence independent of whether people kept it or not.
The observable behaviours related to the married state were thus objectively, not subjectively, defined. Marriage was not perceived or experienced in terms of  ’relationships’ — mine, yours, or anyone else’s.  Marriage included elements of but transcended what is meant by the term, ‘relationship’, that ubiquitous but wonderfully vague term many now use to describe all sorts of sexual and non-sexual ways of relating and kinds of human connecting.  And more to the point, the word ‘relationship’ appears unrelated to traditional concepts of morality and terminology used in the past to describe and judge sexual behaviour, terms like fornication or adultery, say. Now, many believe that sexual behaviour is only ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’, and only infrequently morally right or wrong.  Each person defines what the ground rules are for their personal ’relationships’ and operates accordingly.
They are free to do that, of course, but this relational paradigm, a form of DIY, really, is not marriage!  Marriage has its own rules, as noted above. There is no doubt but that those who are married are in need of teaching, encouragement, correction and exhortation here. The failure rates on this front are appalling. However, some Christians are willing to address these matters and do so. Adultery is still considered immoral by the Christian church (and indeed, by many outside the church as well), is it not?
My question here for gay Christian groups is:  do you preach the same sermon — committed and loving sexual exclusivity until death  (or divorce) —  to the partnered members of your constituencies?  I will not go into all that Colin has said and claimed that I have said on his blogs etc. If you want to read it see here For additional and related discussion see here
I realise that Colin has distanced CA from the now well-known Sexual Ethics document on the CA site here, which was a wise move.  However, it is still the longest, most informative and wide-ranging document on the subject of sexual ethics on the CA site at the moment and he claims it affirms sexual exclusivity. Its views are present in various forms elsewhere in the literature as well.  My question here is, are these views congruent with those which affirm sexual-exclusivity-until-death?  Have a look and then decide.  Another recent example of trend-setting ethical thought is the illuminating address of the partnered US gay professor, the Revd Dr Marvin Ellison, at the Episcopalian School of Divinty last autumn.  It can be accessed here.  Echoes of the thought of sexual ethicist James Nelson can be heard in both quarters.
And finally, the question again must be asked:  What sexual ethic do groups like CA offer my bisexual friend who needs both a man and a woman in her life? What about actively bi bisexuals?
And now to the ethics of the Sexual Ethics document:
This ideal [a stable, sexually-exclusive, permanent relationship] is in tension with our common inheritance of genetic predispositions and developmental damage that compromise our capacity for relating, and often make serial commitments, and serial faithfulness, a more realistic aspiration. Even harder to cater for and to evaluate is the degree to which any committed relationship may actually inhibit one or both partners from realising their full potential in some respects. [9]
Infidelity at this point may wound the partner:  it can be destructive of trust and relationships — not just between the two partners but in social networks and in wider society … Yet to leave a failing relationship can be a creative move towards allowing oneself to discover in another relationship new experiences and a new phase of growth. [10]
The exploration of our sexual selves can be something which benefits from involvement with more than one person. Sexual involvement does not necessarily involve any greater psychic risk than does emotional involvement (though the two are deeply intertwined). [11]
These values include notions like trust, honesty, kindness, faithfulness, mutuality, material responsibility as well as romance, passion, fulfillment of desire and parenting. Most of these values and aspirations could apply as well to close platonic friendships as to more intimate and sexual relationships. So in ‘friendship’ we have a concept with the potential to bridge between the marriage tradition and the practicalities of life as we actually live it today, between a God-centered ideal and what we find workable.  A problem with the word ‘friendship’ is that it has been understood mostly to exclude specifically sexual relationships, (e.g. “just good friends” and “She’s not just my wife: she’s my best friend!”). We would argue that it is precisely this compartmentalisation of sex that our culture needs to adapt in favour of greater integration of our capacities for desire, tenderness and passion into the full range of our relating. [12]
All friendships probably use erotic energy. Whether or not they include sexual expression is a matter for the discretion of those concerned, based on the complex of considerations we outline below – particularly balancing the destructiveness of sexual jealousy against the enriching potential of variety. [12-13]
There may be some evidence that the number of sexual partners may be associated with certain sorts of cancer etc., etc. These considerations are not always easy to take into account, but we do not think there should be any attempt to proscribe particular sexual activities between consenting and mature adults who genuinely believe they have thought about the ‘Rights and Wrongs’ outlined above. [14-15]
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