It is time to talk about the nonsense we preach about sex. Especially some of the cowardly and weak slippery slope arguments that help no one at all.
What is a slippery slope argument?
We’ve all heard at least one sermon that starts out by pointing to some terrible behaviour and calling it a sin. Sometimes this step is implied.
Often the preacher will back up. He will then point to some grey area and tell you this thing leads to that thing and, because of that, bad stuff will happen. Before you know it, we will have cats being friends with dogs and the world will end.
If you honestly think about what they are saying, the preacher never actually makes a case against the thing they are outlawing. They make a case against the worst possible thing that could happen in theory.
They are presenting a metaphorical slippery slope that once you are on it there is no way to stop falling all the way down.
On one topic, more than any other, we are guilty of doing this – sex. For some reason, we Christians have an unhealthy obsession with sex.
Why the slippery slope makes no sense
The theoretical worst thing that could happen is not a reason for anything. The worst that could happen if I cross the road is that I could get knocked down by a bus. The bus driver could fall into a depression and then kill himself leaving his kids as orphans.
That could happen and yet people cross the road every day and so far they – and the bus drivers – are fine. That is because instead of saying all roads are deadly stay off them, we teach everyone the secret of how to cross the road safely.
On the subject of masturbation, for example
The argument that I hear more than any other goes something like this. Porn is looking at women with lust. Matthew 5:28 says that lusting after someone else is adultery is a sin. You cannot masturbate without lust, therefore, masturbation is a sin too. Therefore, pornography causes adultery.
There are lots of good reasons to leave pornography alone. Respecting yourself respecting others are two very good reasons. Pornography sets up unrealistic expectations – as do most romance novels – and again this might be a reason to be better off without it. The slippery slope argument, though, is not a good enough reason.
The truth is every masturbates. Every human on the planet. Most animals do too. It is by every measure perfectly natural.
The fact is the Bible has pretty much nothing to say about masturbation. It has a lot to say, on the other hand, about what we say to each other.
Why do we get so upset about sex?
Let us be honest, James 1:26, James 3:5-6, James 4:11 make a good case that gossip is by far the worst sin one can commit. These passages are backed up by Ephesians 4:29 and 2 Corinthians 12:20. Gossip is very bad for you, for the church, and for every relationship it burns.
Why is it that we get far more upset about relationships than we do about the words that damage them?
Gossip and malicious talk actively oppose the will of God. Sexual relationships, on the other hand, are things God seems quite ready to work around.
Every church split I know of happened because of factions, infighting, harsh words and a deficit of love and forgiveness.
I often wonder if perhaps our priorities are wrong.
What is our obsession with sex anyway?
The Bible is full of examples of relationships and unions that the modern church would get all bent out of shape over. Yet, the participants were often greatly blessed and approved of by God.
Abraham had, at his wife’s behest, a lady on the side and yet he is The Father of The Faith.
David stole another man’s wife, murdered the man. But the son (Solomon) David had with that lady went on to be the wisest king Israel ever had.
With perfect hindsight, we might conclude that neither David or Abraham were acting in their own best interests but this did not stop God blessing them.
Should our focus not be love? After all, Galatians 5:14 says love completes the law. Moreover, Philippians 4:8 directs us to think about things that are good and excellent. Yet we seem obsessed with sex and sin.
Have we missed what a marriage is?
The church should, with the Holy Spirit empowering us to be loving towards each other, be a shining example of successful marriage. But are we?
Here the waters are muddy. Christianity today makes a case that Christ centred marriages are more successful.
I would suggest that we are a long way from being the shining example that we should be. Partly, I have no doubt, due to our unhealthy attitude to sex and relationships. For most Christians, the only way to have sex is to get married. That has led to many marriages based on physical urges and not on enlightened and holy love.
I have known many earnest young Christians who have been keen to marry because they regard masturbation as a sin. We’ve made 1 Corinthians 7:2 and 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 a directive to use marriage to prevent sin. That is not healthy for anyone.
As I get older, my suspicion has grown that the divorce rate among Christians would fall if we would just stop getting so worked up about sex. I think it is overdue for the Church stopped putting undue pressure on young couples.
Sex and marriage
Most Christians will say that sex is a sin outside of marriage.
The odd thing about this statement is that it is taken as absolute and well established. Christians will cite all sorts of scriptures to support this position.
It is not my intention to disagree with this statement but the Bible does not seem to directly say this. Yes, it can be implied. Certainly, it can be concluded and easily be argued from scripture. But it is not directly stated.
Passages like Mark 10:8 which talk about the two becoming one flesh are often taken as meaning that two people become one person when married. So how does that sit with 1 Corinthians 6:16 which says that sleeping with a prostitute makes you one flesh with her too?
It is almost as if a marriage starts the first time the couple consent to sex.
Prior to 1184 and the Council of Verona a couple could exchange consent anywhere, anytime. No priest, church, or state official was required.
So what is marriage?
What is marriage?
Never has there been a more loaded question. Most Christians will answer “one man and one woman”. Then they would probably qualify that definition as being a recognised union.
Hebrews 13:4 says that God is the judge of sexually immoral people and adulterers but it also says that marriage must be honoured among all. Could that mean then that if a Christian couple considers themselves married that everyone else must honour that by recognising the marriage?
What will not be said by most Christians is why a state recognised marriage is somehow better than a union which the state does not recognise? Combine that with “sex outside of marriage is a sin” and the state – not the church, Scripture, nor God – is getting a say on what is a sin.
Why does the state get a say over sin?
Despite the truth that marriage in the eyes of God has nothing to do with what one state says or does not say, we try to act like it does.
Most churches are prepared to recognise a civil wedding (say at a registry office) as equal to a wedding at a church. Yet a cohabiting couple – something else the church had no participation in setting up – gets a lesser standing. Why?
Either only unions blessed by the church are valid or all unions willingly engaged in by God’s children are valid regardless of state sanction.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that as God is the final arbiter of such matters, we do not have a say either way. It does not matter what the state does or does not sanction. What matters is what God is willing to bless. Even if we don’t approve because God does not require our approval, only our trust.
Mark 10:9 does not talk about what the state or the church has put together but what God has put together. Furthermore, does not Romans 10:4 say that Christ is the end of the law and righteousness to all who believe?
Is marriage simply consent between people?
If so, have we, the church, been unrighteously mistreating cohabiting couples?
Have we, the church, tried to claim authority that belongs to God alone?
Has the church as a whole, in a fervour to define what a marriage is, acted to exclude those with whom we disagree? Have we made love and sex into a “them and us” division?
Have we, not to put too fine a point on it, attempted to exclude others from the Kingdom of Heaven, based only on our interpretation of scripture. In doing so, have we maybe sometimes proudly said: “I will be like God”?
Could there be marriages that God has blessed but we have failed to honour or recognise?
A marriage you disagree with is still not sin
Both Solomon and David had lots of women. And I mean lots. They both had an insane number of wives and concubines (live in girlfriends). Sure, there were a few gotchas that came with that and yet they inspired righteousness their entire lives. God was pleased with them and blessed them.
A concubine, by the way, is a woman who cohabits with a man to whom she is not married. In OT society she was afforded almost (but not quite) the same status as a wife. Pretty much the same way western culture as a whole treats a couple that cohabits without marrying.
We even have a term in the UK – common law marriage. Much like in the Bible, a common law marriage, while recognised, does not afford quite the same status or protection as a state-sanctioned marriage. But it is pretty close sometimes.
Let us be honest here, as far as The Father is concerned they are both marriages. The only way you can say they are not is to insist that a secular state has some say over the will of God. You are not claiming that, are you?
What about polygamy?
This is not a debate I want to get into any depth with right now because this post is already longer than I intended. However, it is worth noting that the Bible itself is relatively silent on the subject.
When asked for an opinion on polygamy in 1526, Luther opposed it not because he felt God was against polygamy but because he could find no evidence that God approved it.
Personally, I would have taken passages like 1 Corinthians 10:23, Philippians 2:12, Romans 13:8-10, and Romans 14:4 and concluded that such unions when entered into with love were between the participants and God alone.
We can make a strong case that leaders within the church should have but one wife. 1 Timothy 3:12 says as much.
In all other cases, love completes the law (Galatians 5:14). Therefore, I feel confident that these are issues for the Christian to work out with God on their own (Philippians 2:12).
In other words, it is not for me to say and it is not for you to say either.
I have raised far more questions than I intended with this post. My original intention was to simply examine the negative implications of our weak and unhelpful slippery slope arguments.
If our treatment of couples has slipped outside of the pattern set out in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8, then it is time for we, the church, to rethink our obsession with sex. There are far more important things to worry about than whether a couple has said vows in a way that you recognise.
Romans 14:13-14 says that whatever you consider unclean is, for you unclean. I suggest we pay more attention to our own lives and our own holiness and worry less about what our brothers and sisters are doing.