Sex, The Church, and The Myth of Progress

I have just recently had a lively – and surprisingly irenic – discussion about same sex relationships and the church, on Facebook no less!  Imagine that, a non-violent, non-abusive disagreement on social media? First up, thank you to my fellow participants.

What struck me most from the discussion was, that among the pro same-sex marriage side of the debate (and I mean those who would affirm same sex relationships as God-approved, rather than those, such as I, who are aware that in a secular context we are unable to impose a Christian ethic universally), there was a tendency to view the shift by the culture towards same sex marriage as an issue of cultural  progress.  There was an equal fear that the church may be being left behind by the culture on this one.  Indeed one interlocutor said that perhaps the culture might be only just 1 % right on this one, and we risk being on the wrong side of history.

It struck me that the issue is not about sex, nor about individual rights, but first and foremost about one’s governing narrative of history.  Progress is the language of the Enlightenment. Progress is the myth that the Enlightenment project is committed to.  To fall on the wrong side of progress, in this view of the world, is to fall behind and risk ridicule and correction further down the line by the culture.  A rap over the knuckles, if you like, for being so tardy.

But the church is not governed by the myth of Progress.  The church is not shaped by the Enlightenment.  The church is shaped by Eschatology. The church is governed by the reality of the Resurrection. And that makes all the difference.

From my discussions with people it appears odd that Christians most eager to point to Jesus’ loving example as the reason to permit same sex marriage (often citing the trajectory of the church in Acts as it broke down racial/religious barriers etc), are the same Christians who were in thrall to an idea that is so anti-Christian.  To put it bluntly, the Eschatological understanding of the world does not see the modern Western culture as progressing, (if anything it is regressing to its pagan roots), but rather as dead and buried already!  Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5 “If anyone is in Christ – new creation!”  Paul spends most of his time telling the Corinthians (in both of the letters we have), that there are two realities for the world; the old age that is passing away, and the new age that has come about because of the Resurrection.

The myth of Progress is a denial of the reality of the Resurrection.  To talk about the church needing to line up with the culture’s trajectory on issues such as sex etc, is to deny the reality of the new age.  Paul asks pointedly, “Where is the wise man of this age.?  Paul is not scorning wise men, but men (and women) whose wisdom is governed and shaped by an age that is dead and dying. Insofar as the church is worried that it may have fallen behind the culture on issues of sex, it has been captivated by the myth of progress and the Enlightenment Project.

I believe that in their attempt to align same sex marriage with a Christian sexual ethic, is not the malaise, but simply the symptom of a far greater problem, namely the caving in to the cultural myth of progress and the Enlightenment Project that promises a utopian new age minus a resurrection.

6 Comments

  1. I totally agree. In fact the Bible teaches against same sex relationships in many areas. eg Sodom and Gomorrah, also in New Testament as well. Thanks for your discussion.

  2. The church is right to speak out on how they believe that the Culture is acting against their principles. The Uniting Church on Australia speaks out regularly on Asylum seekers as part of our beliefs around Social Justice.

    The church must also understand that elements of the biblical culture may not actually be acceptable to a Christian mindset.

    Examples of this are the treatment of women, slavery and homosexuality. Popular culture has changed its view on these items and there is no reason Christians should not lead that change.

    Christ’s clear message was to love one another, and he made no mention of homosexuality at all. The only references in the New Testament are Paul’s, and many including myself argue that these statements came from the fact that the idea of two people in a loving homosexual relationship was not understood in the ancient Hebrew world.

    Many Christians firmly believe that there is nothing in a loving, committed homosexual relationship that is not Christian. God is love, so love one another.

    For the commenter above who speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah, I would refer you here: (http://open.salon.com/blog/real_live_preacher/2008/12/19/what_the_bible_really_says_about_homosexuality)

  3. I guess that’s where we will disagree and depart in our views then James. I would also think that the issue of homosexuality is not the difference per se between different Christians, but a symptom of a deeper difference, namely questions of where authority lies, what constitutes the core of Christianity (which I too believe is love, but see no need to dispense with disagreeing with someone in order to love them). But the fact you use the term “Christ” to describe Jesus plants him firmly in the line of OT thinking, not simply a “drop in” into the Jewish culture. In his own words he came to fulfil the Law and prophets. But the pagan culture did not push change for slaves and women. History clearly shows that Christians changed their views on these things first and went totally against the grain of the pagan culture of the day. They also went totally against the grain of the day vis a vis sexuality – rejecting pagan sexual standards which included homosexual sex (homosexuality was not recognised as such). The issue in the Bible is clearly about the act of sex, not the feelings people of the same sex have towards one another. It’s anachronistic to say otherwise.

    Having said that James, it’s loving to call someone to change if you think that their practice is ultimately harmful to them, not maybe in a way they can see, but harmful nonetheless.

    1. I agree with almost everything you said. 🙂

      As to “the act of sex”, I personally believe that God cares very little about what we do with our appendages so long as it is done in a loving way, and it does not hurt anyone. Getting into specifics about such things is always a rather pointless activity (at what level is physical affection between two males an “act of sex” anyway?).

      But then it all comes back to what we see as harmful. I think of Alan Turing, one of my heroes, and a major reason why we won the Second World War; and I think that people’s inability to embrace diversity killed him. I see no reason not to support homosexuals, and welcome them into my circle of faith. You would not mistreat them, but you would tell them that what they want to do is wrong, and there we disagree.

      Profoundly.

  4. I love the word “almost” 🙂 Yeah – I also think that hatred or irrational fear of someone with same-sex attraction is abhorrent and anyone who said they were Christian but hated a gay person, well, let’s just say I would doubt they were Christian. I do think the narrative of Scripture – as well as actual statements – limits sex to husband and wife, which puts me at odds with just about every group in the culture (Western modern culture at least!)

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