A Christian view of human sexuality (continued)
This is the last instalment of a brief statement of the biblical teachings on human sexuality (see blogs 1728/9). I summarised Jesus’ teaching as affirming faithful marriage as a condition designed to meet the needs of human beings as human animals created by God in his likeness. The Genesis passages on which Jesus based his teaching emphasise that God blesses human beings in their “fruitfulness and multiplication.” The specific form of this blessing tells the reader that sexuality is one of the means devised by God to continue his creation.
There is nothing in Genesis or in Jesus’ teaching that contradicts evolutionary biology or our study of sexual customs as determined by culture.
Jesus taught that the best expression of human sexuality was in faithful marriage. I think his teaching can still be held by Christian believers today as wise counsel:
Those forms of sexual behaviour are blessed that express or prepare for faithful marriage.
All these terms need further definition. Jesus saw marriage as designed to meet the natural needs of male and female as he understood them. The male / female sexual act which constitutes marriage is perhaps more easily seen as “natural” than the sexual acts of those who have other sexual orientations, but scientific study of sexual orientation should lead us to be wary of describing any human tenderness as unnatural. As Lenny Bruce said, “It’s all just huggin’ and kissin’.” Well perhaps not all. If we define as unnatural behaviour designed to express dominance, hatred, and cruelty, then we may also see that some sexual behaviour, for example, rape or child abuse, as both unnatural and wrong.
I therefore think that same-sex couples are right in seeing marriage as the “gold-standard” of sexual relationships and claiming it for their own, that is, as a socially recognised relationship which meets their physical and emotional needs as well as those of heterosexual people. Churches should therefore agree with many state legislatures in widening the definition of marriage to include all publicly committed, faithful, sexual partnerships.
It may be that Jesus would have approved only of sexual acts within marriage, but I doubt it. I don’t know what went on amongst young people in Nazareth before their marriages but research suggests that even in the strictest societies youthful desire has found ways round the rules. But doubtless there was less opportunity in Jesus’ Nazareth than in my 1950’s Glasgow, Marriages however would have taken place much sooner after puberty in Nazareth than in Glasgow, where men and women were often in their mid- twenties before they were married. This created, especially after the advent of easy contraception, a longish period in which marriage was not thought desirable for economic reasons. This is still the case in Scotland today. It is unrealistic to pretend that young people will not have sex before marriage. Indeed it may be harmful for them not to. That is why I have used the words prepare for as well as express in relation to faithful marriage. I will not try to spell out the kind of non-marital sexual behaviour which meets this criterion, other than to suggest that sexual relationships which are affectionate, equal and honest, and involve some elements of shared living are more likely to prepare people for marriage than a diet of indiscriminate, booze-fuelledshagging. Many young people have fashioned such preparatory relationships without any help from adults or the church.
This thinking starts from defining a sexual relationship believed to be most fruitful and proposes wise guidelines which help people towards it, rather than judging every other sexual relationship to be wrong. This seems to me to be in line with the teaching of Jesus.
The sexual regulations of the Torah, although there are nuggets of value here and there, are mainly mince.(Scots word for nonsense). The great narratives of the bible present sexual relations as the pathos of true love (“and the seven years were for Jacob but as a day for the love he had of her”) the reflex of royal lust ( “David sent messengers to fetch her and when she came, he had sex with her”) and as the poetry of passion (“that my beloved may come to his garden and enjoy the choice fruit”). The main commentator on sexual matters in the New Testament struggles to free himself from the rules of Torah and to value the witness of the other books of the Jewish Bible, as well as the revelation of Jesus.
As always with the bible, readers who read carefully, judge critically and interpret imaginatively, will find wisdom.