In my survey about what pastors talk about I asked when was the last time you heard a pastor address the matter of sexual ethics. I divided that into ethics concerning heterosexual relationships and same-sex relationships.
The results are interesting because among those taking part, sexual ethics were highly likely to have been addressed in recent times, more than 50% in both cases. However, you said that you were even more likely to have heard a pastor talk about homosexuality than you were about heterosexual relationships. I want to pause and ask whether that is proportionate. In terms of a perceived cultural battle and what is salient in terms of the public ethics of society around us, we may well say that it is. However, would you say that this is proportionate in terms of the contexts in which congregation members find themselves and in terms of what Scripture addresses.
It is one of the things that has troubled me about the frequent reports we get about street preachers being arrested. Have you noticed how often the primary reason that they’ve been arrested or confronted is over them preaching about homosexuality. Now, to be clear, I don’t thinkt heir free-speech should be limited and I do think that pastors should address this issue and should be able to name things as sin that the Bible names as sin. Yet isn’t it just a little bit odd that we see people homing in on an issue that most of their potential listeners will not be tempted by and that out of all of the passages in the Bible, all the engaging parables, all of the actual passages about Christ on the Cross, they find the ones that list these specific sins?
So today’s article is not about whether or not we should address LGBTQ issues in our sermons, on our blogs and in discipleship. We should and I’ll be talking a bit more about that in a future post. Rather I just want to get us thinking about what we do teach about sex, gender, relationships and marriages. There are a few things to address here.
First, we want to talk about marriage itself because it seems to play such a significant part in God’s creation plan. Why are we here? We are here to fill and subdue the earth. We are here to be its stewards, to tend and keep it. This is part of our worship as we seek to glorify God. Marriage is central to that and furthermore, as we see in Ephesian 5, marriage presents a beautiful picture of Christ’s relationship to the church. That gives us plenty of reason to wan to get our marriages right.
There are some spin off challenges from that. We will want to present marriage positively and we’ll want to talk about raising children. However, we will also be doing that in a context where some will be unable to have children and where many are single, some through choice others not. How do we address and talk to the childless and the singles? We don’t want to diminish the Bible’s high view of marriage and children but we must also pay attention to the good place that Scripture (esp 1 Corinthians 7) gives to the gift of singleness.
Other things we will want to talk about include the issues of dating, relationships between Christians and non-Christians and our understanding of what the Bible says about divorce and re-marriage. And yes, in our present society, the issues of pre and extra-marital sex are significant. We need to talk about these things because the Bible talks about them and also we want to be talking about them before people face them. Arising out of that will be issues about headship, submission and equality too. I think there’s a risk that many church leaders assume that because they and their network are conservative on such issues that so too are the congregation.
Linked to that are issues concerning equality and the treatment of women. I don’t intend to say so much about that here as I have written and spoken specifically on the issue here. I’m also hoping that others will contribute guest articles on the subject.
Finally we need to be addressing this area because its about pastoral care. We want to be talking about the contexts in which our church family will find themselves in the week. So, when Paul wants to teach the Ephesian church about what it means to be involved in spiritual warfare, walking in the light, redeeming the times and being filled with the Spirit what does he do? He starts talking to wives and husbands, fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, bosses and workers. God’s Word is applied to the everyday stuff of life.
We want people to see that relationships are good things that God provides, that ther eis joy in them. We want to show that there are godly ways of approaching them and sinful, dangerous ways too. We want to recognise that there will be heartache, pain and struggle in a fallen world as well. Our desire is that when the struggles come that our church family won’t just survive them but will learn to be holy in their relationships.