The World, the Church, and Sex

A couple of days ago a friend of mine observed a group of Christians evangelizing in a pedestrian precinct here in Vienna, in an area with a large Muslim population. While appreciating their zeal for God he was somewhat disturbed by the way the girls in the group were dressed: in shorts and tight, skimpy tops. He felt that this was not in keeping with the modesty which Paul commands us to display, amd was particularly inappropriate considering the high proportion of Muslims in the area’s population. He tried to raise the issue with the leader of the group and was told, “I don’t want to talk about that.”

Frustrated, he posted a short video clip of the situation and his thoughts on the matter on Facebook. It was interesting to read the comments,  how some people were quite forceful in condemning him for his post: he was putting righteousness above relationships, he was being unfair to these girls who just wanted to be beautiful, he was unfair to the group’s leader by publicly voicing his criticism, even though he had not mentioned any names, etc.

I share my friend’s concern, but I think the problem goes deeper than the choice of clothes or the disregard of Muslim sensibilities.

I think the problem is that we as Christians of almost every stripe and tradition have gone along with the world’s culture and sexual standards so far amd for so long that we have become numb, we no longer see the problem, and we regard those who raise the matter as legalists.

To be sure, as this situation has developed over the past few decades, we have always drawn the line at some things, but over time the line has moved, and as a consequence we (the church) have lost all credibility when we speak on matters of sexual morality.

Currently, we draw the line at homosexuality, and in many countries Christians and the church are at the forefront of opposition to “gay marriage”, the extension of the institution of marriage, and of its legal and social benefits, to same-sex couples.

Yes, the Bible makes clear, in both the Old and New Testaments, that men having sex with men, and women with women,  is contrary to the created order and to God’s will for humans, and thus is unnatural and sinful; the Bible also clearly defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman.

But the Bible is equally clear on any number of other subjects which we have come to more or less disregard in the course of the past fifty years or more: that marriage is a life-long union, for example; that divorce is not normal and o.k., that normally, divorced people are not free to marry again, that sex (the heterosexual variety) belongs inside marriage and no-where else, that Christians ought to dress modestly and appropriately for their gender, etc.

We really have no credibility, and rightly so, when we harp on one particular sin and ignore all the others Scripture lists in the same breath.

I think it is high time that Christians and the church in general take a step back from the culture wars of gay marriage (which we have lost already, anyway, in most jurisdictions), and begin to look at themselves and the situations condemned in Scripture which we have accommodated in our ranks, in our churches.

Yes, like Moses, who permitted divorce “because of the hardness of your hearts,” we may tolerate divorce in certain situations because men’s hearts have not softened very much since the days of Moses. But if divorced Christians re-marry, do we really have to call them to preach, or teach Sunday School, or put them in charge of the youth group, thus signalling that the violation of “till death us do part” is no big thing? And is a divorced Anglican bishop openly in a same-sex relationship really so much worse than numerous divorced ministers in all sorts of churches, often either re-married or living more or less openly with a lover, or supposedly celibate priests carrying on opposite or same sex relationships?

Do we really have to put up with worship teams looking like secular rock groups, in hairstyle, attire, and behavior on stage? Are there no older women (starting with the pastor’s wife) who can take girls aside to talk to them about modesty and appropriate dress when leading worship, or coming to church, or when doing outreach, or in general? There are these texts in the Bible about not causing offence, or being a stumbling block for our brothers, do they really no longer apply, and is it really o.k. for sisters in Christ to be dressed not too differently from the girls who at night line certain streets in most cities?

Is it really o.k. for our young people to sleep with their boy and girl friends, because “everyone does it, what’s the big deal?”

So I think that rather than fighting the culture wars, and trying to get the world to behave like Christians on the “gay” issue, we should engage in some serious soul searching and house cleaning in the church.

And start with little things, like encouraging our young people to think about how they dress, what modesty is, and how they and all of us represent Christ to the world.

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