Understanding the Christian view of sexuality

One of the big hurdles for someone considering the Christian faith is the historic Christian view of sexuality. There is no excuse for Christians who have held to this view in a harsh and condemning manner. However, Christians do believe that their view of sexuality reflects God’s will and really matters, and it is hard for those who are not yet Christians to understand this – just as it can be for some Christians. What follows is written with this in mind.

I confess that I have always found it difficult teaching on this subject as it affects every one of us personally – whether in terms of our own desires or those of people we know and love. And I have had to be brief. So what is said won’t feel as sensitive or thorough as it could be. But I hope it proves helpful nevertheless. And as we begin, we should note that despite media suggestions that Christians are greatly divided on this issue, the view we are advocating remains the view of the vast majority of Christians and churches throughout the world.

Why Christians believe what they believe.
This is the first thing to understand. Christians are convinced there are good reasons for believing that Jesus was and is the Son of God – God writing himself into human history as a man. This is why they believe the Bible to be a word from God to humanity, as that is what Jesus taught it was. And what follows is that Christians try to shape their view of all matters by the teaching of Jesus and the Bible. Most simply, they are convinced that our creator knows better than we or our culture do, and that he has made his will known for our good.

This is wonderful news. It means we no longer need to be blown this way and that by the ideas of each generation.

But what did Jesus really teach about sexuality?
It is incorrect to assume that Jesus taught nothing on this issue because he didn’t mention it outright. His culture was deeply influenced by the Greco-Roman world and so he would have been very aware of same-sex relationships. Yet in this context he taught again and again that “sexual immorality” was wrong – a term that referred to all sexual practices that contravened the teachings of the Old Testament, including homosexuality. By affirming the teaching of the Bible in general, Jesus also affirmed the numerous ways it explicitly challenges all homosexual practice.

But why would God be bothered about same-sex relationships?
Our culture is predominantly one that has rejected the idea of a God who has made everything to operate a certain way. Matter is assumed to have randomly come about in a universe of chance. So the form it has is given little if any weight in deciding how we live. Whatever the biological facts about my body, it is therefore assumed that what I want, think or feel takes precedence. So I can do with my body what I want.

But what needs to be grasped is that if there is a God, then like any designer he made us with purpose. So our bodies have deep significance and are to be cherished. More than that, they are to be used as he intended them to be used. And if they are not, that will be detrimental to us, just as when we fail to use anything according to the way it was designed. And so there are three key reasons why God is bothered about same-sex relationships:

1)             God is concerned about same-sex relationships because they can harm those who engage in them. Obviously many in same-sex relationships say they are complete and fulfilled. Such anecdotes are hard to challenge. But it is no surprise that people who want to live in a certain way speak like that. However, what is not commonly reported is the physical damage gay sex can lead to, together with the higher preponderance of STDs and other problems found amongst the homosexual community.

The American college of paediatricians writes: Violence between same-sex partners is two to three times more common than among married heterosexual couples. Same-sex partnerships are significantly more prone to dissolution than heterosexual marriages with the average same-sex relationship lasting only two to three years. Homosexual men and women are reported to be promiscuous, with serial sex partners, even within what are loosely-termed “committed relationships.” Individuals who practice a homosexual lifestyle are more likely than heterosexuals to experience mental illness, substance abuse, suicidal tendencies and shortened life spans.”[1]

Culturally we are much more disposed to form our views by people’s stories than scientific facts. However, medical studies demonstrate that same-sex relationships do not generally lead to a more harmonious way of life, which supports the Bible’s teaching.

2)             God is concerned about same-sex relationships because of the harm they can do in wider society. Ours is an individualistic society where we have been raised to think that what is right is the freedom of the individual to live as they choose. But the Bible teaches that true love is to constrain what I want for the good of others. It therefore has more of a communal concern.

And here we need to recognise the impact the acceptance of same-sex relationships has already started to have, especially on children. In adoption, opposite sex parents have been passed over in favour of same-sex parents, denying the child a mother and father. And consider how the affirmation of same-sex relationships in sex and relationships education might confuse young children who experience a right love and affection for same-sex friends, and especially confuse those who are forming their sexual identity in adolescence. Given the detrimental physical and psychological outcomes of same-sex relationships outlined above, anything that encourages a whole generation to experiment with same-sex relationships is particularly serious.

More than that, God created sex to unite a man and woman in loving marriage so that their complementarity might be used in serving God, engaging the world, and raising children. An acceptance of homosexual relationships confuses this so that the benefits of marriage and specialness of the genders are not appreciated as they should be, causing further disharmony and brokenness. To some extent it also undermines the essentially other-centred nature of sex and marital love, making it primarily about the happiness of the individual or couple.

3)             God is concerned about same-sex relationships because of their lack of concern for his will. As with all ways humanity choose to live as they please without a consideration for the God who made them, sexual practices that deviate from his will for sex are serious in refusing to acknowledge sex as the good and precious gift of God that it is. Every refusal to live by God’s will is an act of rebellion against our maker that is far more serious than we realize.

And we should not underestimate how stubborn we can be in rejecting God’s ways. It is not hard to see at a biological level that sex is intended to be between a man and woman and for the primary purpose of conceiving children. It is also not hard to see that our feelings are not a trustworthy basis for deciding what’s right or wrong. All over the country counsellors are well employed in helping people deal with long term feelings that they should not act on. Yet despite all this, whether because of a desire to have a relationship or to affirm the moral consensus of our age, people are quite happy to suppress the truth suggested by fact in order to affirm a way of life justified by feelings.

But isn’t it unfair for people who can’t help being same-sex attracted?
This is a very real concern. But Christians hold that because we all reject God to some degree, our world isn’t as it should be. So we are not what we should be, whether physically or morally. And, yes, there is something rather unfair about how that works out. The person with disability is born without certain options. And the person with same-sex attraction might be too.

Nevertheless, that doesn’t justify contravening God’s intention for sex. As already mentioned, the Bible teaches that it was given for the purpose of uniting the difference of the genders in marriage so the couple might operate as a team. And basic biology supports that is indeed what sex is for. So if someone is unable to be married in this way, that is a sign that they are not called to enjoy a sexual relationship, but instead to be single. Indeed, Christians have a very positive view of singleness as the leading of a fulfilling life, often enjoying friendships to a deeper level that those who are married are able to – and especially if the Christian joins a loving church family. Jesus himself was single.

Our problem here is that our culture focuses so much on romantic relationships, that life is assumed to be somehow secondary without them. But there are many other enriching and satisfying types of relationship.

More than that, because most today assume there is no life beyond this one, it is felt to be deeply unjust to be expected to forgo what we think will make us happy now. Yet the Christian holds that true happiness is found in knowing we please God, and that any sacrifice pleasing him might involve now cannot be compared with what will be experienced in the life to come.

Of course non-Christians don’t accept that. So it is no surprise that they are provoked at the Christian view of sexuality. But if what Christians believe is right, and same-sex desire reflects a brokenness and rebelliousness in our nature, then it makes absolute sense to hold it in check because we trust God and have come to appreciate all he gives. More than that, at times it would surely be right for Christians to make their concerns about homosexual activity known, as long as this was done in an appropriate and loving manner.

But isn’t this to ask the homosexual person to deny who God has made them to be?
This is an understandable assumption. But as mentioned, it is one that puts more weight on the fact that someone has experienced homosexual feelings since childhood than the obvious fact that biologically God hasn’t created people for sex with those of the same gender. We just cannot therefore say that God has made people this way. Rather, our turning from God as a race has caused things to go wrong with how we develop, think and feel.

And this “going wrong” means that it is theoretically possible that a genetic factor might play a part in homosexual orientation. In 2002 a gene was found that disposes particular people to violence. It was reported that when it is combined with an abusive childhood, it makes the individual highly likely to be a violent adult. But we would not say that God has made that person violent, nor that they have no choice but to be violent.

Having said this, we should not simply accept the media’s presentation of homosexuality as something people are born with. In September 2016 research was published in the New Atlantis scientific journal that concluded that there is no scientific evidence that sexual orientation is "a fixed and innate biologically property” rather than “the result of environmental factors that influenced both psychological and neurobiological traits."[2] Elsewhere it notes that there are no compelling causal biological explanations for human sexual orientation.”[3]

What is so significant here, is how different this is from what we are commonly told. Yet Peter Tatchell, a leading gay rights activist pretty much accepts these facts. He writes: “Who we are attracted to largely derives from a combination of social experience and ideology... Of course, there may be biological factors, such as genes and hormones, which also influence sexual orientation. However, the available psychological and anthropological evidence suggests that these biological influences are not as significant as social factors.”[4]

I hope you can see that if social factors are the primary influence on orientation, the normalisation and celebration of same-sex relationships to children through the media and our schools is all the more serious. In 2015 it was reported that 49% of 18-23 year olds identify themselves as something other than 100% heterosexual, compared to 23% of the wider population;[5] and 3.3% of 16-23 year olds identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual compared to 1.7% of the rest of the UK - that's double the amount.[6] So are twice as many being born that way? Obviously not. Are more emboldened to come out? Possibly. But it is also quite likely that more are choosing to experiment and develop a sexual trajectory that they would not have done in a previous generation. 

If that is the case, rather than liberating our children, there's a sense in which the LGBTQ+ movement is actually manipulating them. You may react to that suggestion. But it is not hard to see on reflection. We are all shaped by our cultural norms. And this one is perhaps the one that is being asserted most aggressively.

Whatever the case, these statistics do seem to support the studies that teach sexual orientation is often fluid. But even if it isn't for some, everyone can choose not to live according to desires they have. Critics say this is for people to deny who they really are. But the Christian accepts that “who we are” now is broken, confused and suffering all sorts of wrong feelings and passions. No, who we truly are is the “us” that we should be, and that will be if we follow Christ, when our humanity is restored to its perfect state in the world to come. As Jesus put it, whoever would be his disciple must “deny” themselves in order to live his way.

Doesn’t this therefore condemn the homosexual person to a loveless life?
Here we do need sensitivity, but also clear thinking. We shouldn’t necessarily assume that there can be no change of sexual orientation for those who come to Christ. Homosexual desire is like all sexual desire. And although it’s not normal for the Christian with a strong desire for promiscuity to be instantaneously healed, we can expect that through prayer, self-discipline, removal from temptation and involvement in a positive environment, their desires will change.

There’s no reason to think that God cannot do this in the realm of homosexuality too. We’ve already seen the influence of environment on our sexual desire and orientation means that it alters as we grow up and have different experiences. Indeed, the New Atlantis scientific journal notes: “Longitudinal studies of adolescents suggest that sexual orientation may be quite fluid over the life course for some people, with one study estimating that as many as 80% of male adolescents who report same-sex attractions no longer do so as adults (although the extent to which this figure reflects actual changes in same-sex attractions and not just artefacts of the survey process has been contested by some researchers).”[7]

Consider a friend of mine called Andy. He once embraced gay culture and practice, but speaks of how after becoming a Christian he began to experience heterosexual feelings as well as his old homosexual ones. Now as a Christian, he knew that these were the ones to embrace. And this led to him being happily married with children. Of course his wife knows about his past, and Andy is not naïve. He is clear that he will always have a degree of homosexual desire. But the point is that with Christ there is hope for change. Christians are described as new creations being transformed bit by bit by the Holy Spirit.

So we really must reject the determinism our society foists at us in areas of sexuality – the tendency to define people by their desires as if that is who they really are. We constantly change in all sorts of ways as we face different circumstances and make different choices.

Obeying Christ’s call to live for him may mean that the homosexual person never has a sexual relationship. However, it does not necessarily mean that. Yet as with every new Christian, they are called to trust him and so trust his will whatever it might mean.

In conclusion.
I hope you noticed in reading that the Christian has a higher view of the importance of one’s body and gender, and of sex, singleness and friendship, than many within our culture do. We would also see human identity and development as freer and less deterministic, whilst having a compassionate concern over how the decisions people make can be detrimental not just to their own wellbeing but that of others within our society. We believe that this way (the Bible’s way) is a better way than the way we are being encouraged to follow in matters of sexuality today. And many Christians bear personal testimony to how they have experienced that to be so.

Nevertheless, I am very aware that if you would not consider yourself a Christian I am unlikely to persuade you on this. But I do hope you can see that our view as Christians is grounded on our convictions about who Jesus is. My hope and prayer is that you will at least consider our many reasons for believing he is the Son of God. And if you do come to trust him, that you will then come to trust his will on these matters as in all others.

Further reading:
·       “Is God anti-gay” by Sam Allberry (Sam is a minister who experiences same-sex attraction but holds to the view we have outlined)

·       http://www.livingout.org (A website with all sorts of articles for Christians who experience same-sex attraction but want to live according to the Bible’s teaching on sexuality)

·       “Love thy body” by Nancy Pearcy (This is a more heavyweight look at the various ways the prevailing worldview is impacting how people think about life, sexuality and gender)

[4]http://www.petertatchell.net/lgbt_rights/equality_not_enough/beyond_ equality.htm