if sexual ethics are not that big a deal...

...then why do liberal Christians keep talking about it. Scott Paeth, a professor of religious studies at DePaul University, in a post called "sex for Christians", written in response to Tim Dalrymple's observations of carnality among Princeton seminarians, has a few things he wants Tim and his conservative ilk to know...
  1. sex is not a big deal
  2. conservative Christian ethics are irrelevant
  3. there are bigger fish to fry (see #1)
  4. sex is a splinter that plank-eyed conservatives are picking at
  5. every Christian is "of this world" in some way or other
  6. it's too hard, good thing God has grace on us

Well, it's weird to discuss Christian ethics with a Christian who doesn't interact with the particulars of the Bible. I was thinking of the general reluctance to hearken to Paul among liberals when I read 2 Timothy a few weeks ago, and Paul tells him, Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God...2 Timothy 1:8. So I won't be ashamed of Paul and will quote him some more, 2 Corinthians 6
16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, "The two will become one flesh."
17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.
19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,
20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Sexual ethics do seem to be a big deal to Paul. As a conservative believer, I believe that Paul would only write that because it's a big deal to Jesus. According to verse 18, sexual immorality is a separate category of sin, which defiles the temple of the Holy Spirit. That sounds like "big deal" type of stuff. Of course there is grace and forgiveness, but that comes with repentance. Chastity also can be encouraged by good teaching, which Paul does right before these verses, 12"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be enslaved by anything. 13"Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food"--and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Grace makes all things lawful to us, but wisdom teaches us to back away from things that enslave. Our bodies are the Lord's. Denying the effect of our bodies on our spirits is a teaching contrary to Paul and wallows in old Epicurean heresies. If one must appeal to science, Dr. Bradley Wright's book called Christians are Hate-Filled hypocrites..., among many other studies, shows the positive effects of traditional Christian sexual ethics on families who practice them.

It seems to me that sexual ethics are #1 a big deal and #2 relevant to God's people.

Jesus told his hyper-legalistic religious critics in Matthew 23 that everything needs to be submitted to God,
23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.
24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
25"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
27"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.
28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
In my humble opinion, this warning cuts both ways for conservatives and liberals. Each side values one side of the cup and plate more than the other. Conservatives, generally, value personal piety to the neglect of their neighbor and liberals, generally, value their neighbor to the neglect of their personal piety. Jesus' point, reiterated by the epistle writers, is that they go hand in hand. Thus, #3 and #4 the fish are all about the same size.

Worldliness is most directly expounded on by John in his 1st letter,
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.
16 For all that is in the world--the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions--is not from the Father but is from the world.
17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Paeth uses examples such as owning a car and using the internet as proof that conservatives are worldly, but he's not using John's definition. John exhorts us to disentangle ourselves from lust and pride, proofs of a love for the temporal more than love for eternal God. One might even deduce from John's exhortation, that if one's lusts are not resisted and repented (piety) then perhaps one does not have God's love in him to share with others (neighbors). That's a scary position, and, contrary to #5, means that we are all called to piety, a disentangling from the world.

Regarding #6, which he doesn't number but is really his concluding statement, we can find multiple celebrations in the New Testament, like in Titus 2
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,
12 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age,
13 waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,
14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
15 Declare these things; exhort and rebuke with all authority. Let no one disregard you.
God's power to transform our lives is real. His word is living and active (Hebrews 4:12) and, when engaged with regularly, can convict us and be used by the Holy Spirit to liberate us from our sinful (in this particular discussion, sexually immoral) ways, helping us to love God internally, piously, and externally, with mercy and justice towards our neighbors.

I think Dalrymple is discussing both/and, but Paeth argues as either/or, which is so limiting. Why does he put God in a box like that?

Bonus material from the Cyberbrethren Lutheran blog, "Which is to say, the entire life of the Christian, powered by the forgiveness of God, is an ongoing war against the sin that remains in our flesh. There is no peace treaty with that sin because of forgiveness. The exact opposite."


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Comments

Scott Paeth said…
Two points: First, in response to your post title, I wouldn't have talked about it at all if Tim hadn't raised it first, so the question your post should be asking is why conservative Christians keep talking about it, not liberals.

Second, you accuse me of being engaged in an "either/or" rather than a "both/and" on this subject. First of all, I'm not sure what the "either" or the "or" is that you're accusing me of engaging in. Second, I think that this is a hideous distortion of what I actually wrote, and Third, It's not clear to me what kind of "box" you think I'm putting God into.

I'd suggest the problem isn't that I'm putting God in a box, but that I'm attempting to take him out of the one you and Tim seem to want him in.
John Umland said…
Hi Scott
It is nice of you to visit and comment, thank you.
1)I think Tim put the topic in context in his original and subsequent posts that sexual licentiousness was one part of general licentiousness, but you seemed to focus on the sex part.
2) I'm sorry if you feel misunderstood, but I can empathize. My essay noted general tendencies of liberal and conservative believers to focus either on personal piety or on loving their neighbor. I argue we need to do both in contrast to the position I read in your essay which seemed to minimized the personal piety. The box I saw you putting God into was the inability to make us holy, and not able to supersede our sensuality and carnality. The box I choose to be in comes from the the words of Jesus and his apostles, which I quoted abundantly.
God is good
jpu
Scott Paeth said…
Hey John, thanks for your reply.

I suppose I'd only say by way of response that I think that there is ample evidence in Christian scripture and tradition that, whether or not God CAN rescue (if rescuing we need) from sensuality and carnality, the way that he goes about doing things is via Grace and forgiveness for the reality that we are NOT in fact rescued from those things pretty much most of the time.

I don't think this is a rejection of piety, but rather an expression of piety. If God is sovereign, then ultimately everything comes down to God's relentless grace, which overcomes even our own inability to accept it. If this is putting God in a box, it strikes me as a very large, somewhat unbounded and limitless box.
John Umland said…
Jude has some strong words for the position I think I'm hearing you take.
4 For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord. ...17 But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, "In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires." 19 These are the men who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit. 20 But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. 21 Keep yourselves in God's love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. 22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy, mixed with fear--hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

God is good
jpu
Scott Paeth said…
Again, I can't help feeling that you're engaged in a bait and switch here, accusing me of putting God in a box precisely as you are doing that. But I suppose we're at an impasse on the issue. I will only note in closing that whatever you may mean by "putting God in a box," it is you, not I, who are insisting on a very tightly circumscribed area for God's action, which seems to me to be the very definition of "putting God in a box."
John Umland said…
it is too bad we can't understand each other. the box I'm in has borders defined by scripture, in this case the boundaries of God approved sex. this is the box i don't see you wanting to be in, but would rather excuse sexual limits with God's grace. i'm a pietist learning to love my neighbor. i'm trying to be a both/and believer. in the original essay i said you seem to be an either/or beliver, focused on loving the neighbor, and putting God in a box that he can't get out of to help us overcome our lusts. so we come to this impasse. at least we both have a savior to reflect on.
God is good
jpu

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