Web Extra: Theologian shares thoughts on sexual morality
SALISBURY, NC (WBTV) - From Catawba College: "As churches we've worked ourselves into a position where we just don't have much to say about sex," Dr. Mark Achtemeier shared as he addressed a group of community members, faculty, staff and students at Catawba College on September 20.
In remarks titled, "When 'Thou Shalt Not' Is Not Working," this Presbyterian minister, theologian, and writer explained how he sought to find a way to address sexuality positively from a Christian perspective. "The church becomes a nagging maiden aunt, shaking her finger," he quipped, suggesting "a more biblical way for how we find guidance for sexual morality."
"We are the kingdom of thou shalt not," he said. "Oftentimes, we get introduced to a single proposition - that you should not have sex before marriage…which is good and godly, but there are a lot of situations where it's just not possible.
"In my book ["The Bible's Yes to Same-Sex Marriage: An Evangelical's Change of Heart"], I have a name for this – it's 'minefield ethics' – teaching that the one true path is being a virgin on your wedding night. This approach to sexual morality, I submit to you, is not terribly biblical."
Noting that the Bible says "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," Achtemeier explained that if in fact there was only one right path for sexual morality, "Jesus would have come as a life coach instead of a savior."
The notion that if one steps off that one right path that "God hates you and you will go to hell," he said "that's not biblical either."
One could look at the commandments in the Bible, he said, noting that the Bronze Age biblical text "is littered with commandments" such as "Don't eat shellfish," which require "an awful lot of sorting and sifting." Or in the Bible, one could look for moral examples, which is only a bit more promising, because there are also immoral examples to be found.
Or, he shared, there is even a third way of finding guidance from the Bible – to look at the purposes of God and his stand behind love, marriage and sexuality. "What are the reasons that are behind these?" He relies on Calvin's idea that "we can't understand biblical law unless we understand the purpose of the lawgivers behind them."
"God is concerned about making us more like Jesus – the law of the gift," he said. "Human beings are created by God for self-giving love. You must learn to give yourself away to make yourself more like Jesus."
"God sets up marriage as one very important tool to give ourselves completely to another person. This includes the gift of his body. With that insight in hand, a lot of biblical and moral teaching starts to make more sense."
Polygamy is viewed as bad, because it is a divided gift since the body is given to more than one person. Sex outside of marriage becomes a concern, because it involves a complete giving of the body without a complete giving of the soul/self/life/future.
"Bodies and spirits are connected to one another; and if you treat your body as a cheap commodity, over time, you start to feel cheap as a person. As Christians, we have access to this teaching to grow as a self-giving person. We, as Christians, know that your sexuality could be a major part of this self-giving project."
There are three things one could do to find guidance that Achtemeier translated to three questions one should ask themselves regardless of their sexuality or sexual morality:
"Because we are saved by grace, we can be honest with ourselves. How is it with me and God? Where am I in relation to God's will?" "What's below me on the slope? What do I need to look out for down there?" "What's the next right thing I can do to bring myself closer to the image of Jesus?"
He concluded that when we can view sexuality positively in light of God's purpose for us, we can face our sexuality and its place in our life-- and we can take the next steps to becoming more fully a being focused on self-giving love.
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