This October, Mennonite Brethren from across Canada will meet to reflect, study, pray, and discuss a biblical theology of human sexuality. It’s critical that we develop a robust theology of human sexuality in the face of pressure to conform to societal norms. As Mennonite Brethren “people of the Book,” we need to gather to let the Spirit of God speak through the Word of God on this critical issue. We cannot allow our attitudes to be dictated by society or legislation, but instead must establish our foundation on the timeless Word of God, and communicate in the spirit of Christ.
Several experiences have framed this for me.
A number of years ago, showering up after working out at the local YMCA, I had one of those unexpected “aha” moments. There were men of all ages in the large shower room. The older men were naked, unconcerned with those around them; the teenagers were showering in their bathing suits, very conscious that someone may be watching. The older men spoke about issues and events, while the teenagers talked about their sexual exploits. The striking contrast was that these young men were completely indiscreet in their conversation, yet obviously uncomfortable in their own skin.
Over the past 20 years, as I have walked young couples through marriage prep sessions, I’ve observed little distinction in premarital sexual practices between Christians and non-Christians. That abstinence is an expression of love for your partner is a foreign concept to many young adults. At times, it’s easier to explain the merits of abstaining from sex outside of marriage to those who claim no personal faith than those who do.
We deserve what we want?
In January, I attended a theology of human sexuality conference put on by the Evangelical Free Church of America. At one lecture, professor of moral philosophy (Union University) Ben Mitchell referred to Roger Kimball’s work on the impact of the 1960s cultural revolution. He observed that the narcissistic hedonism of that time has become the prevailing assumption in our society today.
Self-gratification has become our culture’s standard of what is good, so we think anything that constrains or inhibits us from getting what we want is wrong. “In the modern view, unbridled personal freedom is the only good to be pursued; any obstacle to it is a problem to be overcome,” writes English author and psychiatrist Anthony Daniels. “The only permissible judgment in polite society is that no judgment is permissible.”
For the past 50 years, North Americans have been shaped by the idea that self-gratification is the path the happiness. Sociologists tell us that a defining mark of the emerging generations is that the greatest sin is to deny oneself anything, particularly sexually. “When it comes to sex, it must be the case that if you are unhappy, you are not getting what you want,” writes Daniels. It seems Christ followers have also succumbed to the idea that we “deserve” what we want. We think somehow God is unjust and unloving if he deprives us of our wants. We object to the thought of sexual self-denial for a greater good, so we adapt our faith perspective to suit personal opinions and desires.
A biblical foundation
The body of Christ needs a biblical sexual ethic that is rooted in a strong and clear Christology rather than driven by legalism, fear, or political correctness.
The church has failed to articulate the biblical foundation out of which our actions flow. Even when we know what we’re not supposed to do, we don’t know why. We understand the call to live by Jesus’ ethic, but we don’t know how to reconcile that calling with the societal push to limitless freedom of expression and the sense of entitlement that assumes our bodies are ours to do with as we please. The biblical call to honour God and each other with our sexual behaviour is lost in the multitude of voices calling our countercultural sexual ethic “repressed behaviour” in need of emancipation.
The upcoming study conference is critical to our faith community’s understanding of a biblical sexual ethic – but not for the reason some believe. Many Christians are looking for a biblical response to homosexuality, but my greater concern is that we articulate a biblical theology that is the foundation for all sexual behaviour. While homosexuality is front-and-centre in today’s media, the reality is that unbiblical heterosexual behaviour is having a much greater impact on our relationships. My hope is that our fall study conference will help us articulate our identity in Christ, which in turn will guide how we live, lead, and minister.
—Willy Reimer is CCMBC executive director and lives in Calgary with his family.