Why Is Christian Sexuality So Counter-Cultural?
On Tuesday, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) released the Nashville Statement, a declaration of biblical sexuality that inspired a great deal of angry backlash, despite the fact that it was nothing new. This response would not have surprised Mark Clark, pastor at Vancouver's Village Church, however. In his new book, he argued that sexuality is a clear part of the Christian witness.
"Christians are to be sexually subversive and challenge the dominant ideologies of the world, whether single or married," Clark wrote in his book The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic's Challenges to Christianity. Why must Christians be "sexually subversive?" In order to show "others that Jesus, not sex or any temporary pleasure, is our ultimate satisfaction."
Clark warned against the idea that "sex is god," a perspective that makes sexuality "the central component to our identity as human beings, thus freely satisfying our sexual appetites in whatever way we want is essential to our emotional health and development."
He quoted Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, who wrote that "sexual liberation is the only method to finding inner peace and security and beauty."
"Remove the constraints and prohibitions, which now hinder the release of inner energies and, most of the larger evils of society will perish," Sanger declared. "Through sex, mankind will attain the great spiritual illumination, which will transform the world and light up the only path to an earthly paradise."
Sanger's predictions did not come true, however. After the 1960s and the "sexual revolution," Americans are hurting. Marriage is down, divorce is up, and simultaneously women have lowered their standards to sleep with men before marriage while men have opted for pornography and masturbation.
According to Christianity, humans will not flourish when they turn sex into a god, because sex was never meant to fully satisfy human beings. Instead, Clark wrote, sex is a symbol pointing to a larger meaning.
"The modern form of sexual liberation — where sex is all about self-realization and personal, private behavior — ... naively isolates sexuality from the whole picture of what it means to be human in society," the pastor argued.
Clark cited Tim Keller, explaining that "if you begin to use a nonverbal signal that means one thing to mean something else, you destroy its ability to be used." According to the Bible, "God gives sex as a gift and stitches it into history as the greatest and most powerful nonverbal signal of unity, love, covenant, and commitment—even a picture of the gospel message itself."
When humans use sex to mean something else, it loses its very meaning. From this perspective, it makes sense that a culture which worships sex would start redefining marriage, questioning the meaning of male and female, and even encouraging transgender identity.
"We misused and destroyed one of the central symbols God gave us to define meaning in the world, and in turn have called into question and confused not just sexuality, or personhood, or marriage, but meaning itself," Clark declared.
"This is why the New Testament speaks sixty-plus times about the dangers of sexual immorality," the pastor added. "What is at stake is not just 'personal godliness,' or whatever we shrink being sexually moral into, but our cultural and societal flourishing. The problem with sex-is-god cultures is they think that being more open and accepting about sexual options will liberate us and make us healthier as a species. But the facts seem to indicate precisely the opposite."
Clark cited a 1992 article by Peggy Noonan that warned about America's moral change. Noonan noted that in the old America, "we had the moral self-confidence to sustain the paradox between 'official' disapproval and 'unofficial' [help]" when a young girl became pregnant. But in the new America, there is "official" approval, but "for all our tolerance and talk we don't show much love to what used to be called 'girls in trouble.'"
"As we've gotten more open-minded we've gotten more closed-hearted," Noonan chillingly concluded.
Besides this kind of moral argument, Christianity also struggles to present Jesus Christ as the perfect man in a culture that openly makes fun of virgins.
"Never to have married is not a tragedy. Otherwise Jesus' life is a tragedy," Clark wrote, citing John Piper's What Jesus Demands of the World (Piper is one of the signatories of the Nashville Statement).
"Tragedy is craving the perfect marriage so much that we make a god out of being married. Jesus' standards are so high because marriage does not and should not meet all our needs. It should not be an idol. It should not take the place of Jesus himself. Marriage is but for a moment. Jesus is for eternity. How we live in our marriages and our singleness will show if Jesus is our supreme treasure," Piper wrote.
There it is: Christians are to live in such a way as to show that sex and marriage are not ultimate things. Sex is good, and the Bible endorses sexual pleasure in marriage, but sex is a symbol for something greater, a joy much deeper, and a fulfillment that is eternal.
Christians do not disagree with same-sex marriage or transgenderism because they are showing off how moral they are. They do not hold these positions as a convenient way to judge other people. Indeed, many Christians long to be able to embrace these cultural phenomena, to avoid the stigma of being called a "bigot" or a "hater." (Or being branded a "hate group.")
But the Christian position on sexuality is really about pointing back to Jesus, and about refusing to take ultimate joy, identity, or pleasure in something besides God's love.
The final article of the Nashville Statement made this abundantly clear. "We affirm that Christ Jesus has come into the world to save sinners and that through Christ's death and resurrection forgiveness of sins and eternal life are available to every person who repents of sin and trusts in Christ alone as Savior, Lord, and supreme treasure."
"We deny that the Lord's arm is too short to save or that any sinner is beyond his reach," the statement concluded.
Every signer of that document admits that he or she is a sinner and needs repentance and Jesus' mercy just as much as anyone else. They also explicitly denied the idea that any sinner is beyond redemption. These are not the words of self-righteous bigots.
As Mark Clark explained, the Nashville Statement is important because it puts sex in its place — beneath the ultimate pleasure and identity in Jesus Christ. Christians must be sexually subversive in order to point to Jesus, and that will cause quite a bit of outrage now and then.