10 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About the Christian View of Sexuality

Why traditional Christians believe as they do regarding gender, sexuality, marriage, and the family.

I’ve worked up a good lather in the so-called “culture war” around homosexuality and same-sex marriage for about two decades now. And I’m just as committed to the Christian view on sexuality as I am to engaging the issue in spirited and civil debate. However, to debate the issue seriously and truthfully, we must seek an honest picture of what our opponents actually believe — working from what we think they believe is neither helpful nor respectful.

While there are people of many diverse beliefs and convictions — including gay and lesbian people — who oppose same-sex marriage, here are 10 foundational truths that inform the traditional, orthodox Christian belief.

1. All humans are simultaneously sinful and loved.

All people, regardless of their story, are deeply and unconditionally loved by God, each created with profound dignity and worth, not one more than another. This is more than mere religious happy talk — it’s truth whether one is gay, straight, or otherwise. But, all people are also stricken with a terminal illness: sin. Everyone. No exceptions and to the same degree. Our sin demands our repentance and needs forgiveness, and God’s love and grace are where we find both. This is basic Christianity and the great equalizer of all people.

2. Jesus wasn’t silent on homosexuality.

Some claim Jesus never said anything about homosexuality and therefore is neutral on the topic. Not true. Jesus was unequivocal in saying that to understand marriage and the sexual union, we must go back to the beginning and see how God created humanity and to what end. (See Matthew 19 and Mark 10.) Jesus holds up the creation story in Genesis not as a quaint Sunday school lesson, but as authoritative — reminding us that God created each of us male and female, each for the other. And the sexual union that God created and ordains is for husband and wife to come together in physical union, one flesh.

3. There is only one option.

Both Jesus and all of scripture approve of no other sexual union than that between a husband and wife. This is the uncontested historical teaching of Judaism and Christianity, and it is not something that true Christianity is free to adjust with the times. Yes, concubines and multiple wives are found in the Bible, but doesn’t make them “biblical.” In fact, they violate the Genesis narrative Christ points us to.

4. Male and female complete God’s image on earth.

It is not just mere “traditionalism” that makes sex-distinct marriage the norm for Christians. It is a common grace God has given to all peoples at all times that is rooted in deeper theological reasons. The first chapter of the Jewish and Christian scriptures tells us that humanity is uniquely created to show forth the image of God in the world — to make visible the invisible. God does this not just in generic, androgynous humanity, but through two very similar but distinct types of humans: male and female. They are human universals, not cultural constructs.

When God said that it “is not good that the man be alone” (Genesis 2:18) he wasn’t lamenting that Adam didn’t have a buddy or was just lonely. He was saying that the male could not really know himself as male without a human “other” who equally shared his humanity but was meaningfully distinct right down to every bit of her DNA. The same is true for her in Adam. Taoists understand this in that the Yin cannot be Yin without its corresponding and contrasting Yang. In both Jewish and Christian belief, both male and female become fully human in their correspondence and contrast with one another. This does not happen solely in marriage, but it does happen most profoundly and mysteriously in marriage.

5. Sex is indeed about babies.

It is a new and culturally peculiar idea that human sexuality is all about intimacy and pleasure, but not necessarily babies. Babies and reproduction matter. And sure, while not every male/female sexual engagement is toward the end of procreation — intimacy and pleasure matter as well — it has been the overwhelming norm and desire in nearly all marital relationships throughout time. That some couples are infertile either by age or incapability does not diminish or challenge this reality. Infertility is the vast exception for male/female couples. It is the fact of same-sex unions, a human cul-de-sac. Heterosexual union reaches into and creates the next generation. To establish a sexual relationship without any interest in or openness to babies is contrary to God’s intention for such relationships.

6. Children have a right to a mother and father.

Every person ever born can track his origin to a mother and a father. There are no exceptions, including those artificially produced. This was the first command God gave to the first two humans: to come together and bring forth the coming generations of new divine image-bearers. Nearly all cultures in all places in the world at all historical times hold as fundamental that every child should be loved and raised by a mother and father. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes a mother and father as a basic right of every child.

7. Same-sex attraction is not a sin.

To be human is to have a disordered sexuality. You do. I do. Everyone does. We all have some manner of sexual drive that compels us to disobey God’s design for sexuality. But, while temptation is universal, it’s different from sin. Scripture tells us that Jesus was tempted in all ways as we are, but did not sin (see Hebrews 4:15). Sexual sin is giving in to that desire in either mind or body. Faithful Christian discipleship cannot avoid temptation, but it strives to resist and master it with God’s help. Doing so is not sin, but obedience and dependence upon Christ.

Many are indeed same-sex attracted, but live obediently within a Christian sexual ethic. It can be difficult, as it is for heterosexuals who are required to live in celibacy. Christianity requires that we each subjugate our sexual (and many other) desires to our faith commitment — and countless same-sex attracted believers do so willingly and joyfully.

8. Sexual intimacy is not a right.

Every Christian has limitations placed on his sexuality. For married Christians, it is exclusive to one’s spouse. For single, engaged, and divorced Christians, it is abstinence, no exceptions. Is it unfair for so many to be forced into a life that cannot know the wonder and beauty of physical intimacy just because marriage is not an option for them? Is it fair for a Christian to be stuck in a loveless marriage? Christians have long understood that fairness is not really the question. Sex is not a right, but a gift — and the giver knows what is best for us.

9. Rewriting God’s rules is never an option.

One of the marks of a Christian is his or her desire to be obedient to Christ’s teaching. Certainly most of us would like to rewrite the scriptures to make life easier. I would change where Christ says that lust is the same as doing the deed. Christianity is a demanding faith. The scriptures define and change us, not the other way around. A biblical sexual ethic does not, indeed cannot, change with the times.

10. People are more than their sexuality.

To identify people by their sexuality is to reduce people to their sexuality. Every individual is so much more. A person’s inherent and undeniable value is rooted in his membership in humanity, not his particularity, sexual or otherwise. To advocate for extending rights to someone based in particular and occasionally mutable desires, relationships, and behaviors — as important as they might be to the individual — is actually a violation of the principle of universal human rights.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

Glenn T. Stanton
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  • Elchupinazo

    Considering evangelicalism (along with its interpretation of the scripture) didn’t gain any real traction until the 18th and 19th centuries, calling these views “traditional” is a stretch.

    • http://www.glenntstanton.com Glenn Stanton

      Not at all. These are not “evangelical” views per se, but historic Christian views regarding sexual and marital ethics. if you know of things here that differ from an historic Christian view, I would be interested in knowing what those would be.

  • Tom from North Carolina

    Both Jesus and all of scripture approve of no other sexual union than that between a husband and wife.

    God didn’t seem to have a problem with Abraham and Hagar. Using a slave as a surrogate wife was a common practice back then.

    • http://www.glenntstanton.com Glenn Stanton

      then Tom, you don’t seem to know the scriptures.

      • Tom from North Carolina

        Enlighten me. I’m willing to learn.

        • http://www.glenntstanton.com Glenn Stanton

          I respect your openness Tom. truly. It essentially comes down to the heritage God gave both children. Isaac’s line was the family and line of grace and promise. Ishmael’s – through Hagar – was the heritage under the law and burden. Genesis 25:18 explains that their family line as nothing but strife and infighting.

          Also, Paul in Galatians uses Sarah and Hagar’s family lines to illustrate those living under grace and those living under the burden of the law. See Galatians 4:21-31. So the story of the two women, their births and off spring, one being according to God’s will and the other not being so, is the long, long consequences of this for the descendants down through the generations. God’s judgment upon Abraham for taking matters into his own hand was not just a hand-slap or a word of correction at the time. It did and still does have long consequences, as is often the case in violating God’s law.

          • Tom from North Carolina

            Thank you for a detailed explanation. I would have to say that God’s treatment of Hagar and Ishmael as well his treatment of Abraham and Isaac place God in a very unattractive light. To start, as Sarah’s servant,Hagar was obligated to comply with Sarah’s demands. It was Sarah that suggest that Hagar should bear a child by Abraham, right? And then when she did, Sarah became jealous and wanted Hagar thrown out of the house, an action that God seemed to affirm.

            It’s another indication that God, as depicted in the old testament, is neither compassionate nor just. Sarah or maybe Abraham should have been punished, not Hagar for doing her master’s bidding.

            Second, although this probably never really happened, the whole idea that God needed to test Abraham’s faith at the expense of Isaac’s mental health, seems both unnecessary and needlessly terrorizing. How would you like to be Isaac, watching your father prepare you to be burned alive? Wouldn’t an all-knowing God know of Abraham’s faith without having to resort to a test that could well affect a small boy for the rest of his life?

            I agree with you that my conclusion that God approved of Abraham’s out of wedlock child. Where I think we part company is that God seems to punish the wrong people and certainly demonstrates little in the way of love or compassion. And Isaac’s terror seems to mean nothing to God — it’s collateral damage brought about by God’s insistence that Abraham’s faith be tested.

  • W Maxwell Cassity-Guilliom

    1-4 and 7-9 are about the bible’s perspective, which you recited accurately.

    5: Simply asserting it does not make it true. Sex has multiple purposes and with contraception and protection we can choose which to pursue at any given time.

    6: Asserting that a child has a right specifically to a mother and a father is a half-complete thought. Why don’t you say what you meant to imply by that? By the way I actually read that link you provided, it turns out the UN did NOT say that each child has a right specifically to a father and a mother. However, it did have this relevant sentence: “States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.” Emphasis mine. Guess you didn’t expect someone to actually fact-check you, and thought you could get away with a lie? No, probably an honest mistake.

    10: Saying that unbanning gay marriage would be a violation of universal human rights is completely absurd. ‘Universal human rights’ is a secular concept so your interpretation of the bible has nothing to do with it.

  • Carstonio

    Putting aside the question of whether children have a right to a mother and father, the assertion doesn’t make sense as an argument against same-sex marriage. It’s not clear what connection people like Stanton see between the two. Same-sex couples cannot procreate on their own, and probably only a small minority would seek parenthood with outside assistance upon marrying. Couples of either type don’t marry specifically to have children. And legalizing same-sex marriage wouldn’t cause opposite-sex parents to abandon their children. The argument Stanton makes would be more consistent if he called for, say, mandatory remarriage for widowed or divorced parents.

    Plus, what any religion teaches about homosexuality, or sexuality in general, is irrelevant to people of other religions, and irrelevant to secular law. Stanton’s points are about how he believes Christians should live, and they’re entitled to live that way. But no religion should insist that everyone in the world is bound by its teachings. Legalization of same-sex marriage doesn’t mean that opposite-sex marriage is banned. it means that individuals are free to choose prospective spouses from either sex, and choose from only one sex if their religion or conscience forbids otherwise. As long as people like Stanton are free to marry only the opposite sex, they have no business deciding who everyone else should marry.