Last week I skimmed through the pages of the bible to remind myself how many of the different New Testament writers talk about sex. I did this because I’ve heard it said quite often that Jesus, and by implication the other New Testament writers have little to say about sexual ethics as there were more important things for them to address. If that’s right then we similarly shouldn’t bother ourselves too much with these personal matters and instead focus on other issues of the world.
So is it true? Of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John (who compiled the 4 ‘gospel’ accounts of Jesus’ life) and of Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude and the writer of Hebrews (who make up the other human authors of the New Testament) how many of them write about sex? The answer is every one. Every New Testament writer says something on the subject. I find that fascinating.
To be fair some only mention sex in passing, encouraging these fairly new believers to avoid pornea – sexual immorality. But even if it’s not a major focus for some, each writer felt inspired by the Holy Spirit to say something about sex. Why? Because back in the first century followers of Jesus were living in a society with little or no boundaries for sexual behaviour. Sounds rather like 21st Century UK society today. But God had a better plan for humans back then, and he still does now. If you think about it, for the New Testament to talk so much about avoiding ‘sexual immorality’ means there has to be an alternative ‘sexual morality’ – a good, right and helpful sexual expression.
I’ll blog more about this in the future as well as give some further upfront teaching as the year progresses. In the meantime, here’s the text of a Pastoral Letter published around 12 years ago by the clergy of St Michael le Belfrey about homosexuality and the church. I was kindly sent a copy this week by someone who identified themselves as a gay Christian. The letter I think is still helpful.
Homosexuality – Straight and Narrow?
A Pastoral letter from the clergy of St Michael le Belfrey
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Following Jim’s sermon at the evening service, and the discussion afterwards (23 November) a number of people have expressed their thanks for the way in which we each sought to give an honest and personal response to the questions that were raised. Other people were disappointed and perhaps confused by the different perspectives that emerged. As Jim said, he did not set out to give the ‘St Michael’s line’ but to raise questions. In response to some of these questions we feel it might be helpful to clarify our common thinking on the subject.
1. We are of one mind in wanting St Michael le Belfrey to be a church where gay and lesbian people feel both safe and welcome. We want to go on listening to their concerns and loving them in their struggles. We are committed to offering the very best pastoral care and support we can.
2. We do not think that all forms of sexual expression are equally valid in the sight of God. Genesis 2.24 leads us to believe that God’s intended context for sex is within a faithful, monogamous marriage between a man and a woman. Anyone who steps beyond that boundary, whether straight or gay, is in danger of bringing spiritual injury to themselves. As a result, we feel compelled to counsel all those who are not married to remain celibate. We recognise that this is painful, but we believe it flows out of the Creator’s love and care for his children.
3. There are many members of St Michael’s who cannot, in all conscience, accept the ministry of those who engage in sex outside marriage. As a result we will not ask those having sex outside marriage, straight or gay, to take on leadership responsibilities within St Michael’s.
4. Contrary to the accepted values of our society, we do not believe that sexual expression is necessary for a person to be complete and whole. The most fulfilled person in history never knew a sexual relationship – Jesus Christ. Our sexuality does not define who we are. But many of us (perhaps most of us), straight as well as gay, suffer from brokenness in this area. As a result, we are committed to offering support and ongoing prayer ministry.
Perhaps the scripture we should keep before us as we continue to listen to one another and struggle with these issues should be the well-known words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 13.
With love in Christ
Roger, Jim, Ian and Ruth