Saturday, November 15, 2008

on Sexual Orthodoxy

Sexual orthodoxy? To many, it's an unfamiliar term. To others, it is a vaguely threatening one and may conjure unpleasant images of judgment.

And the latter are right in a sense. Orthodoxy always involves discernment, discrimination and even judgment. Mormonism is an heretical sect because, among many other things, they hold that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers and sons of "Father God". The Gnostics were not orthodox because they deny the goodness of the physical body. Some Gnostics hold to the heretical belief of Docetism which holds that Jesus only "seemed" to have a physical body. There are yet other sects which fail the test of orthodoxy because they hold to heretical beliefs such as Arianism or Modalism. This latter, where many fail to discern its presence, is gaining much unrecognized influence through the popularity of preachers like T.D. Jakes.

But sex? How does our view of sex and sexual behaviours rise to the level of orthodoxy or a judgment of heresy? Because, as we shall see, our beliefs about sex in many ways determine or affect our beliefs about God, the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ's incarnation and the Church. A Christian worldview is all of a piece - it is one garment. If you pull at one seam, it begins to unravel and soon the garment is useless. In the same way, our beliefs about sex are terribly important.

To put it simply, sexual orthodoxy is right belief or purity of faith in matters sexual. This means holding to, among other beliefs, that a Christian is to remain chastely celibate while single and maintain fidelity to one spouse until (in the words of the Prayer Book) death do you part. But sexual orthodoxy isn't limited to the sex act itself. It is broader, affecting and governing all of our lives as male and female, men and women made in the image of God.

As I write this, we Americans are in the middle of the fiercest political battle in a generation. It is less than a month to the presidential election -- the outcome of which will influence the direction of our country for the next generation. I am not going to delve into rank politics, but I do find it interesting how both sides are exhibiting the sexual confusion of our time. One candidate is married to the wife of his youth, one is not. One supports same-sex unions which counterfeit marriage, one does not. The list could go on. This election and so many other barometers of cultural health make it clear that sex, sexual expression and the very meaning of being made male and female, both bearing the divine image, are THE battleground for our time.

This election is also dividing Christians in unusual ways. One party has chosen a woman to run on the ticket as candidate for Vice President. Some Christians who otherwise hold to sexual orthodoxy support this choice, others do not. But the truly curious thing about those who claim the Complementarian label and would never support as woman a senior pastor seem to see no conflict, no contradiction, no inconsistency in their support of a woman for Vice President of the United States. They hold that a woman must submit to her husband's leading in the home and the leading of men in the church -- but that she can then be a "heartbeat away from the Presidency" which could have her as her husband's Commander in Chief!

I have to admit I am not entirely surprised by this turn of events because I have held for some time that those who call themselves Complementarians are, by and large, not radical enough. They are not getting to the root issues, the root meaning, the bedrock reasons why God has decreed a woman shall not teach or have authority over a man and that a wife must submit to her husband as the Church submits to Christ. The same principles which prevent us from celebrating women as pastors and priests in the Church, prevent us from lauding female-headed households, and also prevent us from supporting women in civic leadership as a matter of no importance.

These principles matter everywhere because they matter anywhere. They are grounded in our very creation as male and female - which are profoundly different. Man was made from the dust of the ground, woman was made from the man and for the man. We don't take off these sexual natures when we enter the White House or the State House. We don't simply put them back on when we cross our own thresholds or traverse the narthex to enter the sanctuary. No, our natures as male and female are of metaphysical and not merely religious import.

The very design of a woman's body is to give life -- it is how the first woman was named and how the second Eve participated in God's plan of salvation. Can we honestly hold that woman's design as life-giver ceases to be of importance when she is not in the home or the church?

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point. (Martin Luther, attributed)

Sexuality is the battlefield of our time. Sexual orthodoxy, the fortress we must defend. If we give in this one area because, let's face it, it doesn't seem to matter much whether the preacher is wearing pants or a skirt, we will soon find we have given all. Just over ten years ago, when I was involved with CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality, the religious feminist organization for Evangelicals or Egalitarians, which was formed at about the same time as the opposing organization, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood - CBMW), the "inclusive language" bible translation controversy broke wide open. It was the summer of 1997 and at the CBE conference that year many promises were given that such translation principles would never apply to God - but that was a lie from the beginning. Such translations make a habit of erasing Old Testament references to Christ (check Psalm 1:1 in any of them if you doubt me). Yet other groups who first caved on the issue of women's "ordination" have proved themselves faithless within a generation by "ordaining" openly practicing and unrepentant homosexuals. This trajectory has been repeated over and over again, and yet many otherwise conservative, orthodox Evangelical believers still don't see the danger, let alone the heresy involved in placing a woman in the pulpit as their pastor

Yes, I know I am skating very close to making a slippery slope argument. That is true. And such arguments are used, abused and overstated with nauseating frequency. That is also true. However, if I have not yet scared you completely away, come on this journey with me. It will take you to places you might never have known, places I thought I'd never see myself. But in the end we will come out on solid ground overlooking the beautiful, comely vista of God's vision for men and women, His vision for creation, the Bridegroom and the Church, his bride. we will end up at the banquet to end all banquets -- the wedding supper of the Lamb.

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