Responding to a Civilization in Decline as Christians [Sexualotry]

(For background on this post, see here.) I mentioned that I would get to some recommendations about how to respond to the potential (and in my mind, probable) collision of sexual “liberation” and shocking brutality. Here’s just a short list.

1. Remember that judgment begins with the household of God. Expecting the broader culture to conform to God’s standards when half the church is neck deep in all kinds of sexual foolishness is a classic example of putting carts before horses. Paul has some pretty harsh words for those who berate idolators while robbing their temples (Rom 2:17ff). When the salt loses its taste, God throws it out in the street so that it’s trampled underfoot. How then shall its saltiness be restored?

2. Through heartfelt repentance. Let us never forget that God is ever and always ready to turn and forgive. “Now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation.” So let us avoid falling into any sort of fatalistic traps that assume that the trajectory we’re on determines our destiny. We may be rolling down the hill, picking up steam, but God is able to make grace abound to us and kick this big ball of culture back the other direction, often in response to the penitent cries of his people.

3. Demonstrate some antithesis. Following repentance, the greatest impact we can have on the culture is to actually be a city on the hill. Let there be a clear difference between sexual relationships inside and outside the church. We need strong, godly husbands, who take responsibility for their strong, godly wives, who joyfully submit to their strong, godly husbands, who…The world is not hungering for a slightly sanitized version of the same rotten trash that everyone else is serving. So settle these things in your own mind now. Purity until marriage. Fidelity and covenant-keeping love for a lifetime.

4. Be faithful where God plants you. When confronted with the depravity and brokenness that is endemic and multiplying in God’s world, the main question that you should ask is this: what is God requiring of me now? What is right in front of my face that God is calling me to do? Resist the pull toward abstractions and airy ideologies. Get incarnational dirt under your fingernails. Go local. Be faithful here, and God will take care of there.

5. Resist the temptation to despair because the world keeps getting in the same hell-bound handbasket. Yes, idolatry is self-destructive and it is frustrating, angering, and grievous to watch God’s image-bearers desecrate themselves and others. Our hearts should break over the futility and defamation in the world. But we must never despair. You are not responsible to change the world. You are responsible to trust and obey where God has placed you.

6. While living faithfully, we must recover a real prophetic voice, as opposed to the limp-wristed prophetic whisper that is tamed by smooth strokes and soothing words from the idolatrous establishment. Christians must never sacrifice the proclamation of Jesus’ lordship for a seat at the multi-culti table. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t ever sit down with the world of unbelief; it does mean that we should always do so as thoroughgoing, Christ-confessing Christians. With any luck, they will be throwing tomatoes at us before we’re done with our salad.

7. Insofar as is possible, rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. Draw upon the mighty grace of God and refuse to faint in the day of adversity (Proverbs 24:10-11). This includes (among others) the unborn, their desperate mothers, women enslaved through sex trafficking, child-prostitutes, orphans, and the list goes on.

8. Take a lesson from the Proverbs 31 woman and “laugh at the time to come.” When Jesus considers the rulers and authorities amassed against him, he scoffs and laughs at them in derision (Psalm 2). Though things may look bleak now, remember: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus. That’s unbelievable news. We must deal with painful and wicked reality, but we mustn’t broker in gloom and doom. Satan’s doom is sure. The Crucified Lord is risen!

9. Weep with those who weep. Rejoice with those who rejoice. Our tears should have a deep, confident joy undergirding them, just as our joy must be textured by the broken-hearted sorrow of life in a fallen world. Ours is a cruciform Easter-faith. We are called to live crucified lives by the power of the resurrection. The Christian life is full of such exhilarating impossibilities.

10. Pray often for an outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the world and a release from God’s chastening judgment. Rebellious blindness holds sway in so many places in this world. Plead with God to lift his judgment and unleash his storehouses of mercy. Pray confidently with the knowledge that , if he so chooses, God could drown the world in grace.

Citizen Soldier [Sexualotry]

In a comment on a previous post, Abigail made the astute observation that sin and brutality have always been a part of life in this fallen world. This is a great observation, and one that we should definitely keep in mind.

However, as I noted there (and Abigail agreed), Western Civilization has been remarkably blessed by God in specific, tangible ways, not because Western sinners are less evil than others, but because by God’s grace Western Civilization soaked in the gospel for a thousand years or so. When society takes that kind of bath, it can’t help but come out a little cleaner than before.

Now, when people make claims like that (gospel-saturation has borne positive culture-wide fruit in the West), the first thing that we should ask for is some evidence. “Prove it,” as they say.

So here’s on piece of evidence: throughout most of history, those individuals (predominantly men) who have served in the military have not been noted for their chivalry and honor. In fact, the opposite is often the case.

When the Bible records that a certain Roman centurion loved the subjugated Jews and built them a synagogue (Luke 7:4-5), we are supposed to be surprised. “A centurion did what now?!?” Likewise, the story of Cornelius is meant to stretch our categories just a bit (Acts 10). Parts of the Sermon on the Mount seem to be designed to help followers of Christ deal with oppressive military grunts who would take advantage of the fact that they were licensed to use the sword (Matthew 5:40-41).

And it doesn’t stop with the Bible.

The Third Amendment to the US Constitution strictly prohibits the practice of quartering soldiers in people’s homes without their consent. When citizens were forced to house soldiers in their homes, the soldiers often failed to behave as civilized guests (to say the least).

During the Civil War, Union commanders like John Pope, William Tecumseh Sherman, and Phil Sheridan waged “total war” on their fellow countrymen in the South.

More recently, U.N. peacekeepers have been known to sexually assault refugees in Africa.

Examples could be multiplied of militaries and militias that assault and terrorize peaceful citizens in countries around the world. It’s this fact that makes videos like the one below so remarkable.

Now I have friends in the military; I know that our military has its share of thugs and perverts, as fiascos like Abu Ghraib remind us. However, on the whole, the American people do not fear our military. In many places in the world, if soldiers show up, it’s cause for terror. As the video shows, in the US it’s a cause for relief.

This is a precious reality and a remarkable gift, and one that didn’t come from nowhere. A civilized and chivalrous military that protects rather than exploits doesn’t just happen. And Christians of all people ought to know Whom we have to thank for that.

A Portent of Things to Come? [Sexualotry]

Over the past months I’ve had a recurring thought about the future state of things in the West that I’ve wanted to put out there and solicit feedback. Three recent stories have finally impelled me to take it up. This is a long post (and one that deals with sensitive subjects), but, if you’re willing, I’d love to throw it out there and see what kind of response I get. Questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome.

First, in his talk at the Desiring God Conference for Pastors, Michael Oh made mention of the horrific Japanese sex trade. The online notes to his talk don’t include the details, but you can watch the first 10 minutes to get the basic idea. Here are two of the basic facts he mentioned:

1. The rape and brutalization of thousands of “comfort” women by the Japanese Imperial Army in and around World War II, including the use of forcibly-impregnated women and their children in “scientific” experiments.

2. The thriving Japanese sex trade, involving around 150,000 Filipino and Thai women, young girls, and boys, who are used as sexual objects by perverse men. (He also made mention of the sex trade in other parts of Southeast Asia).

Second, there is this story about the Muslim “grandmother” who convinced young women to become suicide bombers by arranging for them to be raped:

A woman suspected of recruiting more than 80 female suicide bombers has confessed to organizing their rapes so she could later convince them that martyrdom was the only way to escape the shame.

(HT: RedState)

Finally, there is one closer to home. A woman pregnant with a 23-week old baby goes to get an abortion. The doctor is late and the baby is early. Here’s what happened:

One of the clinic’s owners, who has no medical license, cut the infant’s umbilical cord. Williams says the woman placed the baby [alive] in a plastic biohazard bag and threw it out.

Even the pro-choice folks were shocked (however hypocritical there concern may be):

“It really disturbed me,” said Joanne Sterner, president of the Broward County chapter of the National Organization for Women, after reviewing the administrative complaint against Renelique. “I know that there are clinics out there like this. And I hope that we can keep (women) from going to these types of clinics.”

(HT: RedState)

All three of these stories help me to understand the Pauline admonition in Romans 12:9: “Abhor what is evil.” “Outrage” seems like a tame word when I describe what I feel when I think about the callous evil displayed in these acts. And all three of them lead me to make a (tentative) judgment about where we’re headed.

(DISCLAIMER: I am not a prophet, nor even the grandson of one. I’m just trying to humbly learn to “interpret the present time.” Whether or not this is what the New Testament calls “prophecy,” the principle of 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21 still applies: “Do not despise prophecies; but test everything; hold fast what is good.” It’s in that spirit that I make the following analysis.)

These three events (along with other indicators) lead me to think that these sorts of things will become more common in the near future, unless God is massively gracious to us. And by “these sorts of things” I mean the combination of disturbing sexuality and shocking brutality, particularly against women and children. I see two primary factors at work here, and I see them at work a lot.

1. The spread of openly idolatrous religions and ideologies in much of the world. I have in mind everything from Islam to Eastern religions to resurgent neo-paganism to humanistic atheistic secularism. What all of these religions have in common is a rejection of the living triune God. Along with that rejection comes the absence of the significance of human beings as creatures made in God’s image.

The mistreatment of women in Islam is fairly common knowledge. From honor killings to the forced circumcision of young girls to the tolerance and promotion of wife beating, Islam has a brutal streak that often finds exercise upon women. And when I say Islam, I don’t mean all Muslims. Many Muslim men are good and honorable husbands and fathers who protect and provide for their families (and they are so because of God’s common grace).

However, there is a tolerance for sexually-related violence in Islam that can shock the sensibilities of those of us in the West. I’m no expert in Islam, but I wonder if such violence is rooted in Islam’s view of a unitarian god who demands absolute submission to his arbitrary will from human creatures who do not have the worth and value that they do in reality.

The tolerance of sexual brutality among Eastern religions can be seen in the thriving sex trade in Asia. Paganism has a long history of interweaving sexuality and spirituality in shockingly wicked ways (For evidence, see Peter Jones The God of Sex: How Spirituality Defines Your Sexuality). And, of course, in atheistic humanism, there is no god to speak of, and human beings are nothing more than highly-evolved apes whose value is derived purely from sociological constructs that we can create and dismember as we choose.

So factor one is the brutality and inhumanity of the current idolatries that are spreading.

2. The second factor is the inability of so-called Western civilization to resist this brutality. The West is simply ill-equipped to deal with
the kind of brutality that exists in much of the world. The civility and assumptions about human dignity that linger in the West are owing to our Christian history. They are the fruit of the penetration of the gospel over hundreds of years. The great folly of our time (as in most times) is the notion that we can sever the root of faith in the living God and his Son Jesus Christ and keep the fruit of human dignity, respect for women, and sexual boundaries.

In other words, ours is a failure to say “Thank you” to God for his marvelous gift of a Christian heritage. And when human beings fail to honor God as God and give him thanks for his abundant goodness to us, God judges them. And his judgment often consists in the giving over of human beings to all manner of debauchery and sin. The sexualotry of our current society is not just something for which we will be judged later (when Jesus returns); it is itself a judgment on us now.

The society-wide rejection of the biblical God (which began to take place a couple of centuries ago) has led to the gradual abandonment of a biblical understanding of manhood and womanhood, the feminization of the West, and the subsequent pornification of our culture. Untethered from the right worship of the living God through Jesus Christ, notions of sexuality have continually pushed the boundaries. Such pushing has, for a time, existed in a society still “Christ-haunted,” that is, one in which the lingering memory of a Christian past allows for the protection of the weak (e.g. women and children) in the midst of growing rebellion.

At some point, however, the culture finally “gives up the ghost.” Apart from the connection to the root, the fruit of the gospel (dignity, respect, honor) dies on the vine. When the protection that our Christ-haunted past affords us is gone, there will be no longer any barrier to the sexual exploitation and brutalization of the weak.

I’ve noted before that cultural elites are more than happy to use “women’s issues” to amass power for themselves, but that they don’t actually care for women. I’ve heard Doug Wilson point to this exact phenomenon by noting that feminists have convinced women to forsake the God-designed protection and provision of husbands and fathers for the selective and inept “protection” and “provision” of the all-powerful State.

Women have been taught to “liberate” themselves from those to whom God has entrusted them and instead seek asylum in a nameless and faceless bureaucracy. But the bureaucracy isn’t as much interested in caring for real women as it is in solidifying its power through protection of the “women’s issue.” It’s amazing how many women can be slaughtered in the name of women’s rights.

So, to wrap up this post that has gone on far too long, in the near future I see an increase in the level of sexual violence against the weak and voiceless, born and unborn, as the cultural elites seek to make peace with the brutal realities of a post-Christian world. I offer this analysis, knowing that it will probably provoke questions and objections on a number of issues. I’m not completely convinced of everything I’ve written and am open to correction on any number of points. So feel free to probe and push back, if you feel so inclined.

I’ll have more thoughts on how Christians can respond and live wisely in a world like this in future posts. For now, I simply commend prayers and petitions for those around the world already swept up in the flood of human wickedness and rebellion. Christ is our Lord, and he is still mighty to save.

Sowing and Reaping While Dating and Engaging [Sexualotry]

I consider myself to be married to one of the most insightful and wise people on the planet. (She also happens to be a great writer, and you can read her over at her blog). The other day she made a comment that bears wider dissemination.

We were discussing a number of marriages that we know of that are not going well at the moment. Some are in serious brokenness, but moving in the right direction. Others are drifting farther and farther apart. In a couple of them, one of the spouses is running headlong away from the other (and from the Lord). Suffice it to say that there is a desperate need for God’s powerful, transforming, and healing grace in all of them.

The observation that my wife made was that in all of these marriages, the huge problems that have torn these covenants asunder began during the dating and engagement phase of the relationships. Seeds were sown there that are now reaping their bitter fruit.

This should not surprise us; as Paul says, “God is not mocked; for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). But we continue to be surprised so the truth bears repeating. So if you are in a dating or courtship relationship, or you’re engaged, or, for that matter, if you’re married, remember: you will reap what you sow. Sow anger, malice, and manipulation and it will not be hard to predict what your harvest will be like. Sow sexual compromise, failed leadership, and lack of integrity and you will find them blossoming up again as soon as the honeymoon ends.

Likewise, if you sow purity, grace, and kindness, you will reap some wonderful fruit. Sow goodness and mercy and they will grow up, bloom, and follow you all the days of your life. This is how God designed the world, and this is his normal way of sustaining it still.

For many of us, this reality hurts to hear. We see what we’ve sown in the past and cringe when we think of the coming harvest. But, lest we forget, we worship a God of unfathomable grace who loves to bring fruitful harvests from barren fields. We sow tears and reap joy. We sow thorns and thistles and awake to find that we are miraculously, incredibly, graciously reaping figs and berries.

So if you’ve sown poorly in your relationship, take heart. God is able to make all grace abound to you. And it’s never to late to start sowing the seed of the Spirit.

The He-Man Woman-Hater’s Culture [Sexualotry]

One of the things that I am always telling my students is that for all of the bluff and blather of the feminists and egalitarians, our culture really hates women. And not in the ways that feminists are always going on about. I mean that our feminist and egalitarian culture hates women. Perhaps it would be slightly more accurate to say that our culture hates womanhood, but it eventually comes to the same thing.

Women who love being homemakers, who aspire to joyfully submit to their husbands, who gladly embrace the high calling of motherhood, are either pitied (“Poor rubes, they think that making babies is as significant a calling as being a CEO”) or, if one of those “rubes” has the audacity to respond to such sentiments with a twinkle-eyed laugh and, “Actually, it’s more significant,” then the pagan intelligentsia responds with blustering and blistering anger.

Hell hath no fury like a feminist who just got told.

This isn’t to say that modern feminism doesn’t talk a good game. It’s just to point out that, when the rhetoric gets tired, old, and wrinkly, and the time comes to actually stand up for something, feminism has the backbone of a squid.

My students, inquisitive and incredulous bunch that they are, often press me here to provide proof and evidence of such bold statements. It’s one thing to say that modern feminism has gone “too far” in its pursuit of women’s dignity; it’s another to say that it’s running pell mell in the opposite direction.

A recent example of this is the surprisingly minor flap involving Obama’s head speechwriter, Jon Favreau, and a cardboard cutout of Hillary Clinton. In a nutshell, at a campaign party Favreau did his best frat guy impersonation and placed his hand on Cardboard Hillary in a way that would get a true frat guy kicked out of school. Of course, someone snapped a picture of the smiling speechwriter and it raised a minor wave in the world of the politicos.

For his part, Favreau apologized and Hillary laughed it off. Obama, in great presidential style, had no comment, as did the National Organization of Women. The media, great watchdogs that they are, did their best to sweep it under the rug, lest any scandal besmirch the president-elect. Any outrage on the part of anybody was muted and brief. And Favreau went on writing the most historic inaugural address ever.

So how could this possibly be evidence that our culture hates women? Simple, we all know that if almost anyone else had been stupid enough to have his picture taken in like manner–say, a speechwriter for Sarah Palin or John McCain, or any evangelical pastor in the country–they would have been taken to the toolshed and bloodied. Firing the culprit wouldn’t be sufficient; he would have to be black-listed forever. His name would have had the word “-gate” added to the end and we would still be treated to nightly updates about it. As it stands, most of you may have never even heard about it.

What this shows is that the fight for “women’s rights” has very little to do with women and everything to do with amassing power. Cultural elites, including politicians, journalists, and organizations, are more than happy to use women to achieve their ends. And, when convenient for them, they will savagely destroy someone’s reputation for breaches of conduct, both real and imagined.

But when the shoe is on the other foot, and one of their own commits a brazen act that demeans a prominent female politician, the chattering classes are struck as mute as the father of John the Baptist… at least until someone on the other team commits a faux paux. Then, glory be, their voice returns.

The reason I belabor this point with my students is that I want them to understand what’s going on. I want them to learn to interpret the times. I want them to see the hypocrisy and foolishness of all the Christ-less “-isms” out there.

I want the young women to resist the allure of feminist propaganda that promises freedom and delivers slavery, that preaches empowerment and fulfillment and practices brokenness and inanity, that exchanges the God-designed protection of loving husbands and fathers for the utilitarian protection of a god-like state.

I want the young men to refuse to be cowed by accusations of misogyny because they believe that husbands should humbly lead and wives should joyfully submit. I want them to avoid their own temptations, the temptation to abandon chivalry and refuse to lead because this He-Man Woman-Hater’s Culture considers opening doors for ladies and taking initiative and responsibility in relationships to be demeaning to the fairer sex.

Biblical manhood and womanhood, marked as it is by headship and submission, initiative and responsiveness, responsibility and support, is an incredible gift from a wise and loving Creator, a marvelous remanation of the ineffable harmony, holiness and happiness that exists within the Godhead. It’ll stand up to scrutiny. We just have to have the courage to defend it.

Like a Good Tuna Casserole [Sexualotry]

Over at Between Two Worlds, Justin posted links to drafts of papers from a recent conference at Princeton on The Social Costs of Pornography. I was reading Hadley Arkes’ paper and came across the following section that seemed relevant to our recent discussion (Be warned: these papers at times mention disturbing material):

Goldman conceded that sex enveloped by love would be handsomely amplified, as indeed anything could be. That tuna casserole served up by a loving mother may have a significance that runs well beyond its culinary virtues. But Goldman insisted that sex could be taken as plain sex, savored for its own delights, savored quite detached from any of those attributes of love and commitment and the children who embody that merging of the partners in sex. What is central, said Goldman, was “the immersion in the physical aspect of one’s own existence and attention to the physical embodiment of the other.” Goldman recognizes that as with anything else, sex can be part of a means-ends chain leading to a harm. Sex can be used to injure, not only in rape, but in many other subtle forms of wounding. But Goldman holds to the possibility that sex could be undertaken by people in evanescent relations, with eyes open, so to speak, with no expectation of commitment, and undertaken then with full innocence. What he rejects is the notion that there must be any moral implications contained in sex at all. As he argued:

[T]here are no moral implications whatever [in sex]. Any analysis of sex which imputes a moral character to sex acts in themselves is wrong for that reason. There is no morality intrinsic to sex, although general moral rules apply to the treatment of others in sex acts as they apply to all human relations.”

Like a Chia Pet [Sexualotry]

We’ve noted that modern culture, enshrined in its movies, television, and music, is seeking to disassociate sexuality from morality. Good people can and do have lots of sex with lots of different people. In addition, we noted that the severance of sex and morality is not due to the marginalization of sex, but to its exaltation. Sexuality, and the extensive exploring thereof, is considered to be indispensable to true and lasting happiness and fulfillment.

This should not surprise us. If sexuality is a wonderful plant in the cultivated garden of fidelity to God, and you happen to be a newly-commissioned expert in botany who is convinced that this wonderful plant will produce even greater and more satisfying fruit if it could only be grown in the wild, then the first step to realizing your dream of a refashioned Sexuali-tree is to tear down the garden walls and kill the gardener. So the elevation of sexuality in terms of significance and personal happiness is accompanied by a corresponding destruction of the links between sexuality and God and his law.

But here our creative botanist runs into a problem. In this case, the Gardener knows best. The Sexuali-tree is most fruitful and life-giving in the Garden of God, under his watchful care and cultivation. Removed from this sacred place, the Sexuali-tree withers and dies. Indeed, it becomes poisonous and addictive, sucking the life out of those who eat of it even as they seek to suck the life out of it.

To return to the world of Romans 1, even the truth-suppressing glory-exchangers must live in the world that God made. They can call evil good, but they can’t make evil good. They can call adultery, fornication, homosexuality, etc. healthy, normal, and right, but they can’t make these things healthy, normal, and right. “Claiming to be wise, they became fools…”

So what is an enlightened botanist to do? The answer is simple: hire an ad agency to convince the public that the new, liberated Sexuali-tree is better than the old, traditional, boring one. In other words, learn to lie and lie well.

This is what we see in Romans, and this is what we see in our culture. Movies, television, and music are filled with stories of fictional characters who have sex with impunity and without consequences. Two people can begin dating, have sex, cheat on each other, and reconcile in under 30 minutes. Friendships between men and women can be unaffected by casual sex. Frequent fornication with multiple partners before marriage will have no effect on fidelity in marriage (in fact, it will probably make it better). The message is simple: We can tear down the walls surrounding Sexuali-tree and still keep the thing under control. Like a Chia pet.

Pornography and masturbation are normal and acceptable expressions of sexuality. Anonymous sex with random acquaintances has no effect on the way that one views the opposite sex. Men who spend their single lives sleeping with numerous women will suddenly turn into faithful, self-controlled, affectionate husbands after they get a ring on their fingers. It is perfectly normal and acceptable for “good” husbands to ogle beautiful women. In fact, the most self-assured wives have no problem with this (and even enjoy ogling and being ogled by other men).

This is the world depicted on television and movie screens and in the lyrics of songs. And it’s a big fat lie. The world knows that sexuality is hugely significant. They just want all of the benefits with none of the costs. They want to reap deep pleasure, incredible intimacy, and satisfying relationships without first sowing faithfulness, sacrifice, and marital love.

Because of this, they create a virtual world filled with many other commendable virtues alongside an unfettered, promiscuous sexuality. In doing so, the hope is to normalize sexually immoral behavior while convincing people that they need not give up the culturally palatable virtues like tolerance, patience, and kindness in order to have a multi-partner, mind-blowing sex life.

The evidence that this lie is alive and well can be seen in the rampant sexualization around us, even in the church. The only difference is that the virtual world where sex is both connected to happiness and disconnected from virtue is a lying charade, whereas the world where adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and pornography lead to broken marriages, shattered families, and further rebellion is the one designed by the Creator of the universe.

In future posts, I’ll try to unpack what the implications of this may be for Christians. In the meantime, I would love those of you who read this blog (all three of you) to offer any feedback you might have on this subject. Does my analysis fit the facts? Is there anything I’m failing to grasp? What implications do you see?

Exchanging the Truth About Sex [Sexualotry]

I’ve already mentioned the profundity of Paul’s analysis of the natural human condition in Romans 1:18-25. No doubt I will come back to it again and again. Here I just want to highlight the bit in v. 25 about exchanging the truth of God for a lie. Earlier in the passage, man exchanged incorruptible glory for corruptible glory. Now the dark exchange involves truth. And, as we’ve already noted, sexuality is all bound up with this business. When truth about God is exchanged for lies about God, you can expect very quickly to see the truth about sex exchanged for lies about sex.

In the past few months I’ve noticed one particular manifestation of this particular folly in movies and television. Even in today’s debauched culture, an attempt is still made to lift up older, ancient virtues, things like honesty, family, loyalty, and integrity. However, for some strange reason (or, given Romans 1, perhaps not so strange), sexuality is exempt from being brought under the sway of these ancient virtues.

Loyalty to oneself and to friends is virtue; sexual fidelity (and by that, I mean monogamy) is not. Integrity in matters of money and business is praiseworthy; sexual integrity (again, monogamy) is not. It’s not that sexual promiscuity and immorality are praised per se (at least, not in every instance). It’s that the use we make of our sexuality is deemed irrelevant with respect to the moral worth and value of a person. Sexually immoral people can be–and often are–good people.

Let me give a couple of examples from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, which my wife and I saw last night. I’ll try  avoid plot spoilers as much as possible, though there will be some. Those who plan to see the movie may want to wait until after viewing to read this.

- Queenie is Benjamin’s adopted mother. She is a strong Pentecostal Christian who attends church every weekend and constantly urges Benjamin to say his prayers. She is presented as a paragon of loving motherhood. However, throughout the movie, she is sexually involved with her boyfriend Mr. Weathers, eventually fathering his child.

- Captain Mike is Benjamin’s employer and friend on the tugboat. A surly sailor, he drinks and cusses like one and takes Benjamin to his first brothel because he can’t fathom a man Benjamin’s [apparent] age never having been with a woman. Needless to say, Benjamin enjoys this first exposure.  [SPOILER ALERT] As he is dying later in the movie, Benjamin tells Captain Mike that there is a place in heaven reserved for him.

- Elizabeth, wife of the British trade representative to Russia, has a nightly affair with Benjamin during his extended stay in Russia.

- Daisy is Benjamin’s love interest throughout the movie. When she is young, she is depicted as a very “loose” woman, a free spirit. She works in show business and apparently enjoys the company of men. As she ages, she becomes a wise, caring, and self-sacrificing woman, looking after Benjamin during his later years.

- Benjamin himself, as you can see above, is no one-woman man. Aside from those already mentioned, numerous other sexual encounters are mentioned.

In the movie each of these individuals is presented in a positive light. They are faithful, loving, and caring people, in some cases, rough around the edges, in others, a little immature and naive. Nevertheless, the constant theme in all cases is that their sexual immorality is no reflection on their true character. Moral character and integrity, whatever else they may involve, do not consist in sexual fidelity and monogamy. Sexuality, while central to a person’s fulfillment and happiness, is not connected to a person’s morality.

In subsequent posts, I’ll provide a couple more examples along these lines and give an attempt to unpack what I think is going on here. My hope is that naming the idolatry will be the first step to casting it down.

Worship and Whoopee [Sexualotry]

Recently, in an interview with beliefnet.com, Rick Warren answered some questions about a variety of issues facing evangelicals today (HT: Justin Taylor). Here’s a portion of their exchange:

Which do you think is a greater threat to the American family – divorce or gay marriage?

[laughs] That’s a no brainer. Divorce. There’s no doubt about it.

Here’s an interesting thing. The divorce statistics are quite bandied around. People say half the marriages end in divorce. That’s just not true. 40% of first time marriages end in divorce. About 61% of second time marriages end in divorce and 75% of third time marriages end in divorce. So the odds get worse and what’s balancing this out…when you hear 50% end in divorce, that’s just not true. The majority of marriages do last….

So why do we hear so much more – especially from religious conservatives – about gay marriage than about divorce?

Oh we always love to talk about other sins more than ours. Why do we hear more about drug use than about being overweight? Why do we hear more about anything else than about wasting time or gossip? We want to point that my sins are perfectly acceptable. Your sins are hideous and evil.

I think Warren is right on two counts and wrong on one. First, divorce is probably a greater threat to the traditional family than gay marriage for the simple reason that the breakdown of the traditional family begins with the breakdown of the traditional family and not in the knock-offs that rise to take its place. Fidelity in legitimate marriages is a great bulwark against the rise of illegitimate non-marriages (whether of the homosexual or polygamous varieties).

Second, one of the reasons that we hear more about the push for “gay marriage” than about the divorce culture is that we all have to deal with the little Pharisee on our left shoulder, reminding us of the importance of gnat-straining while gulping down two-humped Bactrians. Many evangelical churches are far too comfortable with easy-peasey divorce and remarriage. And if Christians can’t seem to understand “What God has joined together, let man not separate,” then we shouldn’t be surprised if the world reads the passage, scratches its head, dismisses the Bible as antiquated and out of date, and heads down to the courthouse to opt out of marriage number 2, 3, or 4.

Having said that, it seems to me that Warren fails to mention the fact that one of the main reasons for evangelical opposition to “gay marriage” is that its proponents are trying to ram it down our throats. And Americans don’t like pushy people. Imagine if the serpent had come off like a bad used-car salesman in the garden, pestering Eve to eat the fruit and berating her for any hesitation and then picketing out in front of her tree-house for weeks on end after she rejects his offer. Human beings don’t like to get shoved into rebellion. We prefer to slide or drift into it. Easier to blame shift that way.

“I was just standing here, trying to figure out why the snake was talking, and next thing I know, the woman you gave me is eating this fruit and handing me a piece and, all of a sudden I’m munching away, wondering why I feel so exposed.”

In all seriousness, I think there is something to Warren’s reasoning, but it is certainly not the whole story. Many evangelicals are defending traditional marriage against the homosexual lobby because that’s who’s assailing it right now. If the Muslims were publicly and unapologetically seeking to legitimize polygamy, I would imagine that evangelicals might have something to say about that.

In the end, the chief threat to marriage is unbelief. Our spirituality affects our sexuality. Or, to put it more poignantly, worship affects whoopee.

If the universe is the product of time and chance whereby one thing evolves into everything else (as in Darwinian naturalism), or some sort of spiritual energy has reorganized itself into differentiated individuals (as in various Eastern religions and modern paganism), then playing mix and match with the genders isn’t such a big deal. What else would we expect in a world like that?

On the other hand, if the living God has created the world in order to get a bride for his Son, and we know that said bride is actually a bride and not another groom, then our sexuality and marriages and families must reflect that. You might even call it a remanation.

Category Intros: Sexualotry

One of my favorite passages in the Bible is Romans 1. What I love about it is not merely the part about the gospel being the power of God unto salvation (as wonderful and precious as that is). The part of Romans 1 that really intrigues me and, in a strange way, warms my heart is the description of the wrath of God on human unrighteousness in verses 18-32.

The reason is simple: this section of Scripture is one of the most profound analyses of the human condition ever penned. Paul knew what he was talking about. And in this passage one of the main things he is talking about is the interweaving of spirituality and sexuality, specifically idolatry and sexual immorality. Or, as I will call it: sexualotry.

The connections between our sexuality and our worship are many and manifold. And our culture is obsessed with rebelliously exploring them. Which means that they like to do the moves without discerning the meaning.

So posts in this category will try to unpack the peculiar relationships between the bedroom and the altar, between sex and worship. Our idolatrous age has once again elevated Eros, the son of Ares (god of war) and Aphrodite (goddess of “love”), to a place of prominence, perhaps even preeminence. Which means that one of the tasks of the Church Militant is to cast down this particular idol.

But we won’t be able to do our iconoclastic duty until we can see clearly what’s going on. And since judgment begins at the household of God, this will often mean doing our laundry before offering to wash the world’s sheets. As Jesus said, unseasoned salt is only good for covering the asphalt.

So as we ruminate on the sexualotry of our dog-in-heat culture, let’s not forget that application starts from the inside-out.