Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
–1 Corinthians 6:18 (ESV)
Now, should we treat women as independent agents, responsible for themselves? Of course. But being responsible has nothing to do with being raped. Women don’t get raped because they were drinking or took drugs. Women do not get raped because they weren’t careful enough. Women get raped because someone raped them.
— Jessica Valenti
If you’ve been following the news, you know why I’m writing this. Our culture, from Hollywood to Washington to Fortune 500 boardrooms to (sadly) the American Church itself, is being revealed for what it is, and the results are horrifying. The putrid boil of sexual assault has been lanced, and the fetid pus has come pouring out. Good. This is a cleansing, clarifying moment. Now is the time to talk about what the “sexual revolution” has wrought and how we can move forward in creating a godly and just social order. To do so, we must be clear in what God requires of us and how we can live that out in an increasingly godless culture. But we must begin with ourselves as Christians — “for it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God” (1 Peter 4:17). Evangelicals have no standing to judge the world when we are actively supporting elected officials (including the President) who have sexually harassed, abused, assaulted, and (probably) raped women and young girls. Pastors and priests are not immune to this either. Just this morning there was a report of a pastor of Florida’s biggest megachurch molesting a 4-year-old. The scandal among Catholic priests is well documented. And in all this, the default position of Christians seems to be that the women or girls (or boys) who are the victims are somehow to blame. We tell girls to protect their virginity without stopping to ask why they need to be protected. Boys will be boys, am I right? Paul says to “flee from sexual immorality”. It seems that we are content to instead go right up to or over the line, and then find ways to justify our sinful behavior. ENOUGH. We have to do better. We have to be better. The message of the gospel and the souls of the lost depend upon it.
Let’s start with what the Bible says about sex. That may seem quaint to some in our more “enlightened” time, but if enlightenment has led to this epidemic of sexual misconduct, perhaps we should reconsider what God has to say. First off, adultery and incest are explicitly banned. Adultery, prohibited in the Ten Commandments, means a married person having sex with someone to whom they are not married. Incest, condemned most explicitly in Leviticus 18 & 20, is sex with someone to whom you are related by blood. These prohibitions include stepchildren and step-siblings. Homosexual relations are also prohibited. Contrary to popular belief, this is not just found in the Old Testament. See for example Romans 1:26-28, 1 Timothy 1:10, and 1 Corinthians 6:9. Anyway, that topic requires a whole other essay. But what about the biggie: sex before marriage between single, heterosexual adults. In 1 Corinthians 7:2, it says “because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband”. Here, Paul clearly equates “sexual immorality”, which is condemned frequently in the New Testament, with sex outside of marriage. Paul goes on to discuss how he prefers that people should not get married, but that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (7:9). If sex outside of marriage was not wrong, there would be no need for this admonition. Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous”. Here again there is a differentiation between adultery and sexual immorality. The proper place for sex is the marriage bed, period.
Don’t misunderstand, the Bible is actually very positive about sex. Song of Songs is an entire book dedicated to sexual delights in which the lover and beloved describe each others bodies with ardent passion. The woman says, “as an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (2:3). The man replies, “your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine” (7:7-9). Proverbs adjures a young man to “rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love” (5:18-19). Sex is clearly not just for procreation, but for mutual delight. Notice, however, that even Song of Songs repeatedly warns “that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (2:7). The Bible recognizes that sex is powerful – it can bring two people together but it can also tear a person apart. Jesus himself was explicit about this in his teaching on marriage from Mark 10:6-9:
From the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. 9 What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.
Sex creates one flesh out of two people. Therefore, marriage is between one man and one woman for life. No divorce; no homosexuality; no adultery. Of course, Jesus also expanded the definition of adultury to include lust (Matthew 5:28), making him even stricter than the much-maligned Leviticus. Sexual sin is, as Paul says in the epigraph verse above, a sin against the body. To commit sexual sin of any kind is to do violence to someone else’s body (and your own). As Christians, we should at minimum condemn rape, molestation, and harassment. But all sexual sin, even lust, dehumanizes someone made in the image of God, and turns the gift of sex into a tool for gaining pleasure at the expense of another (even if that person consents). We must hold ourselves to a higher standard than the world. The fact that we are no different from the world is an unspeakable shame.
Let’s talk about consent. To be clear: SEX WITHOUT CONSENT IS RAPE. And that includes within a marriage. Of course, it should be assumed that you and your spouse will have sex; after all, the Bible commands it (see 1 Corinthians 7:3-5). But just because you should have sex sometimes does not mean that you can expect sex anytime. If your wife or husband says “no” to sex and you force them to anyway, you have raped them. There’s more to it than just that, though. Let’s say that your spouse typically performs oral sex on you as a part of foreplay. But one day, as things are getting hot and heavy, they say that, while they want to have intercourse, they don’t want to do that particular act. If you coerce them, physically or by verbal threat, to do so anyway, you have sexually assaulted your spouse. If you had planned to have sex at a given time, and your spouse says they’ve changed their mind, you should not expect them to do so anyway because it’s their “duty”. I should note that, since sex within marriage is a given, any “no” that you wish to convey should be explicit and unmistakable. Use the word “no”. And, just a reminder to us all, “no means no”. Of course, if you find that you or your spouse are saying no to sex more often than not, you should have a talk about that, maybe with a pastor or counselor. That could be a sign of trouble in your marriage. But the occasional “not tonight, honey” is your right. And consent is not that hard to figure out. I promise that taking two seconds to ask the question “would you like to have sex?” and getting a positive response will not kill the mood. Communication is sexy because sex is all about communication. I’ve found that asking “are you enjoying this?” can lead to, shall we say, positive results. Sex that is about only your pleasure is actually less pleasurable than sex that takes both partners’ needs into consideration. Consent is not just morally necessary – it’s also the only way to have truly pleasurable sex.
Here’s a really important point: there are some people who cannot consent to sex, even if they are saying “yes”. If a person is drunk, high, or unconscious, they cannot consent to sex. If you are over 18, anyone under the age of 18 cannot consent to sex with you. If you are any age, a person under the age of 16 cannot consent to sex (state laws vary here). Having intercourse with people in these situations is rape. Performing any sex act with them is sexual assault. In light of the allegations against Roy Moore (and the sad reactions to them), I will put this in all caps: A 14-YEAR-OLD CANNOT CONSENT TO SEX. This is really not that hard. Teenagers are dealing with new feelings and powerful hormones and cannot be trusted to make wise decisions. I don’t care if a teenager is dressed provocatively or is dropping hints or whatever other lame excuse you have. You are an adult and they are a child and it is your responsibility to protect them. As the quote above indicates, nobody is ever asking to be raped. The reason someone gets raped is that someone rapes them. Of course, women should be careful to not get intoxicated and to dress modestly, especially if they are underaged. But our obsession, particularly in the Church, with female chastity has led us to blame the victim over and over again. And that is just plain evil.
Even worse, when women come forward claiming sexual misconduct, especially against a pastor or church leader, they are often not believed. We want to think that our pastors are above reproach, but we are all sinners. Women should be believed, especially in a church that vests power solely in men. False accusations do happen, but they are exceedingly rare. If your priest or pastor is taking proper precautions in meeting with female parishioners, they should have no problem disproving false allegations. If women who have been raped, assaulted, or harassed cannot turn to the Church for love, respect, comfort, and guidance, where can they turn? Our primary mission as Christians is bring the love of Jesus into our broken and dying world. How can we do that if we are busy covering for the misconduct of our “spiritual leaders” because they hold the right theological or political positions? God will bring the truth to light. False witnesses will be revealed and condemned. Abusers and the people who abetted and enabled them will also be revealed and condemned. Let’s just say that I don’t want to be standing before the Judgement Seat of Christ and have as my only defense: “But what about Bill Clinton?”
If you know of abuse or harassment that is occurring, it is your Christian duty to confront the abuser. If they will not immediately repent, seek forgiveness from their victims, make what restitution they can, and change their behavior, then you should report them to the authorities immediately. If the crime involves a child, you are legally obligated to report them to the police. Knowing about such crimes and either ignoring them or covering them up is just as bad a crime (and a sin) as the abuse itself. If the pastor of your church is caught committing any crime, especially a sexual one, and makes excuses instead of immediately stepping down, leave that church. Too many evangelical churches are basically pastoral cults, and that culture, which breeds abuse, must be rooted out and destroyed. You should submit to pastors and priests (and, indeed, husbands) only if they themselves are under submission, to the authority of the Church and of Christ Himself. And we should demand better of our political leaders. Of course, they are entitled to due process protections before being deprived of their life, liberty, or property. But that doesn’t mean you have to vote for a creep just because you agree with his politics. I know that many Christians feel that we are under attack, and we want politicians who will fight for us. But shouldn’t we demand that politicians who claim to fight for “Christian values” actually follow those values? And shouldn’t we believe that, no matter who we vote for, God is still on the throne as King of Kings? If we truly believe that God is in control, we have no reason to trust in political leaders to save us, even if they are pure as the driven snow. “Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor” (1 Peter 2:17). Let us love our fellow Christians, especially the most vulnerable, honor our leaders, but, above all, fear God.
In conclusion, God is not primarily interested in our happiness. He wants us, above all, to be holy as He is holy. He doesn’t want us to be good; He wants us to be perfect (Matthew 5:48). So much of the debate around sex involves our happiness, be it how abortion allows for “sexual freedom” or how sexually abusive politicians work for “the greater good”. We in the Church have internalized this model and treat the commands of Scriptures as suggestions when they threaten our happiness or our cultural position. This is not a liberal or conservative issue. It’s an issue of the heart. We must begin by asking the Lord to give us a new heart and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36:26), “for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). The change in our society must begin inside each one of us. We must teach our children the beauty and value of sex, and to treat it as a precious jewel to be saved for one special person. And we must teach them, especially the boys, how to treat others with dignity, respect, and modesty. The unfettered search for “sexual freedom” has led us to this sorry state of affairs, when the only true freedom is found in Jesus Christ (John 8:36). If the Church keeps burying its head in the sand and pretending that sexual immorality doesn’t exist in our midst, it will only cause the problem to metastasize. Let us be clear and unequivocal about the Biblical call for purity for both men and women, and let us be on guard for the corrupting influence of power. Only then can true healing begin.
I recommend this terrific op-ed by conservative Catholic columnist Ross Douthat about the Roy Moore allegations that touches on the kinds of predators that thrive in the Church and other conservative circles.