Sexual Abstinence: The New Immorality

100 years ago the surefire way for a Christian to be viewed as immoral was for him or her to engage in pre-marital or extra-marital sex.  Now it appears that the opposite is the case.

Yesterday the New South Wales Greens called for the state Government to ban certain books from being used in Scripture classes in that state, a demand to which the education board duly obliged.  You can read The Greens statement here.

Did you get that? Abstinence culture is sexually dangerous.  What? More dangerous than date rape culture? Say it out loud and see how crazy that sounds.

Now these banned books are not authored by nut-bar compound-based fundamentalists who are longing for the apocalypse and exchange admiring emails with the hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church.  Among them is a best-selling book over the past twenty years by respected historian and head of the Centre for Public Christianity, Dr John Dickson.

However the response by the NSW authorities has been swift in making the ban effective immediately.  The Bible Society sheds a little more light on the issue here.  Just to point out this is not material taught in generalist classes, but in the Special Religious Education classes.

Now this is not a springboard to rant about “where is society going these days?” and lots of handwringing, but simply to point out that for a number of years many Christians have been under the impression that the culture is heading down an amoral/immoral line.  There has been a hope within the Christian community that once society has exhausted itself, it will view the ethical framework of NT Christianity in a fresh light.

Well, maybe.  But let’s not jump there too quickly. We are decades away from that point.  In the words of Game of Thrones (I no longer watch it – NetNanny Ed), “winter is coming.”  By winter I simply mean that for the foreseeable future, a big chill will descend upon any public assertion of traditional Christian ethics.  Christian morality is going to be viewed as immorality, as a new morality takes its place. In this world of the new morality, life is going to become increasingly uncomfortable for traditional Christians who hold to and teach a Christian framework, especially in the area of sexual ethics.

You see, Christian morality really has nothing to fear from loose, flabby, overblown, “been-on-the-turps-since-6pm-and-need-a-pizza” immorality, nor even anything to worry about from “meh – whatever” disinterested amorality in which everyone is left to their own devices.  No, Christian morality is being placed under the all-seeing glare and zeal of the new morality, which views a traditional Christian framework not as part of the solution in our culture, but part of the problem.  Not as something that can be accommodated in a secular society, but something that really must be silenced if we are ever to achieve a loving, accepting community in which everyone is free to be true to themselves.

I worry that for the past few decades traditional Christianity has been girding its loins for the wrong fight. If the books and publications were any indication, we assumed we would have to fight for a voice among a clamour of voices that compete for a hearing in the marketplace. Apologetics was all the rage.  The marketplace would challenge us to prove our case, justify why we held such views and consider them in the light of other views.  It was Athens after all, right?

Wrong.  It is Babylon.  It is a gold image that we are instructed to bow down to. The truth is that the new Nebuchadnezzars of our culture demand obeisance and obedience.  The voice of the Christian sexual ethic will be silenced in the marketplace upon pain of the fiery furnace (or a book burning at least).

This is no call to the barricades by the way.  The only wooden construction that we as Christians are called to is the cross.  This is a call for Christians to accept what The Letter to the Hebrews says is our lot:

“Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Heb13:12)

Bearing his reproach is only possible if we actually believe that shame in this age means glory in the age to come. We will crumple otherwise. This does not mean simply passive acceptance or pulling up the drawbridge.  There must be space for us to push back on this and show the wholly unacceptable and draconian measures that the new morality will go to to have its way.

However the primary manner in which the traditional community will demonstrate that it does not accept this new morality is to live the old morality in such a way that the savour cannot help but compel people, regardless of how disdained we are by the wider culture in doing so.  It will also mean loving those who persecute or prosecute us in these matters, because that’s what Jesus did.  It’s suffer now, glory later – or it’s the other way around. This is the only choice the Christian has.  And it is a choice that the “Best Life Now” brigade has not prepared its people to face.

Coincidentally I read Daniel 3 – the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – this very morning.  And here is what struck me.  Not that they were saved from the flames.  We fully expect God to be able to do that, even though they themselves admitted that he was under no such obligation.

No, it was the response of the king of the culture, Nebuchandnezzar, who no matter what he did could not make this godly trio bow down when the oompah band of his overblown grandiosity struck a chord.

Here is what Nebuchadnezzar says:

“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants, who trusted in him, and set aside the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Daniel 3:28

Whether or not some “angel” arrives to deliver us from the new morality as it squeezes us tighter (via court rulings perhaps?), the main call for us in this new zealous morality, is to trust in God; set aside the culture’s demands; and yield up our bodies; rather than worship any of the cultural gods we are commanded to bow down to.

And a final word from the Letter of James:

Count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 3:2-4

Winter may be coming, but so too is joy for those who stand up in the midst of the trials of this age.

8 Comments

  1. Superbly articulated, Stephen – this is so close to my understanding of the times! Thank you.

  2. Gotta say Stevo, so much of my opinion on this comes down to the specific content of the books. It must be said that there are large portions of the church opposed to sex outside of marriage and so to represent that within a Scripture class is not unreasonable. Heck expressing _ANY_ opinion within a RE class is fair because some group will probably be on board with it.

    The greens are still young, give them 2000 years of splinter groups and they may get a more mature view around this (he says as a long time Greens voter!).

    1. There is that – i.e the content. Though having used A Sneaking Suspicion and knowing a little about Michael Jensen’s sophisticated approach to things (he is a regular writer on the ABC Religion and Ethics site), my concern is that there is no room for conversation. However, as you probably noted from my post, I think the way of Jesus means that those who disagree with the Greens should not get angry or respond similarly. Because I read the Bible through the lens of Jesus I probably have a response to many of those things that is more nuanced than the “toga wearing” thing! But I would also say that our society in general sees people through the lens of their sexuality and they are much more than that. Appreciate your comment.

  3. Its kind of like Peter knew what he was talking about in writing his epistle. Maybe living here is kind of like being an exile. Maybe we were duped when we thought the world stopped being the world and became Christendom or a Christian nation. Peters answer to the kind of ‘new’ ethical world we are in went something like ‘live such good lives Among the Gentiles that when they slander you as practisers of evil they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’ But I guess we could try being outraged instead.

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