Presbyterians and Sexuality

Jonathan B. Falk

The difficulties that Presbyterians have had in handling the ethics of sexuality have been well publicized. And the confusion has been compounded by the popular press's failure to distinguish between the mainline church and the smaller, more conservative bodies. The befuddled thinking on the part of prominent theologians has led to some tragically funny jokes. One wag suggested an amended version of the story of Sodom and Gomorrah: "And God told Lot to flee with his family and not to look back, but Lot's wife was a Presbyterian and looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." The humor quickly disappears, however, when one surveys the consequences of such moral confusion.

Liberal theologians may want to create a more compassionate church, but by abandoning historic standards of sexual morality, they are accomplishing the reverse. The Christian gospel does not say, "Stay as you are. God loves you in your sins, so remain in them." Rather, it commands us, "Repent of your sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of those sins." To be sure, this message has always been offensive to those who regard themselves as being without sin, especially to modern theologians who have tried to redefine sin out of existence. This call to repentance was offensive in Jesus' day. Nonetheless, it is good news, because it reveals the love of God toward a humanity trapped in the self-destructive habits of sin. When a church refuses to identify certain practices as contrary to the Word of God, it is perpetrating the cruelest hoax of all. For it leaves people as they are, with neither the promise of forgiveness nor the hope of change.

Conservative denominations like the Orthodox Presbyterian Church remain committed to the traditional standard of saying no to all forms of extramarital sex—both homosexual and heterosexual. We do so because we believe it is the most obedient response to the teaching of God's Word. But we believe it is the most compassionate position, as well. The Bible commands lifelong, faithful, heterosexual marriage because God wishes to protect the wonderful gift of sexuality that he gave to his creatures. Truly "safe sex" can be found only in a committed marital relationship.

By maintaining biblical standards of chastity, we offer compassion to those who are trapped in sexual sins. Christ's church is not only charged by her Lord to keep his commandments, but she has also been entrusted with the good news that God forgives sin—all kinds of sin. In his first epistle to the church in Corinth, Paul contrasts the values of Christ's holy kingdom with the twisted values of this world. And in chapter 6 he uses explicit language to describe sinners who are excluded from God's kingdom. Persons who engage in sexually immoral practices are included in his list. But Paul does not end with a word of condemnation. He assures his readers that God does save and sanctify such sinners. Indeed, some of those who were members of Christ's church at Corinth used to engage in such practices.

When the church ceases to identify sin as rebellion against God's law, she can no longer hold out the offer of forgiveness. Neither can she speak of a work of God's Spirit that transforms sinners into saints. Despite the confusion in many churches today, let us determine to be clear-thinking Christians in these matters.

Reprinted from New Horizons, February 1992.