Progressive evangelicals think the day of the Church’s sexual ethic has come to a close, but I join six other young folks who say it’s not. Why the office curmudgeon was called upon for this symposium will never be fully known, but Carthago delenda est, as the Romans used to say! It is time to share my perspective on why limits and the traditional doctrines of sex matter and why they remain worthy of loyalty, even in this day and age.
The Church’s teaching on sexuality and marriage is an assent to the world. The biological structure of humans points to the ethical recognition of matrimony’s nature. To quote libertarian Trevor Burrus’s description in a recent debate, traditional marriage and its essentialism is “the Lego block argument.” To avoid being too graphic, the parts fit together as if by design and fulfill their potential function (procreation). It should also be noticed that only one set of parts fits together at a time (monogamy).
To me, this is as plain and clear as the sunshine. Yes, people’s inherent desires will be different. Yes, one can bend and will the body to disobey its original end and purpose. Yes, one can try to artificially circumvent natural processes. But the fact is that such loopholes are exceptions to a rule—a rule that all humans are working from in their discussion of the subject. Sorry, progressive Christians, but in the sexual act, one cannot avoid binaries. One either fulfills their inherent natural role or fakes the role of the other sex.
So when the Genesis narrative, Jesus Christ’s teaching in Mark 10 and Matthew 19, and St. Paul’s epistles espouse marriage as a monogamous permanent heterosexual union, I am immediately attracted to submit to the Scripture’s teaching and the Church’s broad traditional interpretation of those texts. God has mandated that which is already within nature to function in a certain way? Excellent. Death take me before I surrender to falsehood. My sinful libido consistently plots rebellion, but that is a problem of the will, not of the nature per se.
Yet we live in the age of confusion. Some assert that we can’t derive an “ought” (ethics) from an “is” (brute reality). Just because something is in biology doesn’t mean it should be recognized as a moral law. However, if one extends this argument to other areas outside of erotic desire, he would allow for governments to propose laws and policies specifically drafted to defy nature—i.e. empty man-made letters on a page. If the Supreme Court were to rule that gravity no longer takes effect on earth, that would not make gravity cease. This is the same level of absurdity that progressive evangelicals are demanding their Christian peers to accept from their culture regarding marriage.
Other emerging Christians complain, “Reality for thee, but not for me.” After all, I am some slack-jawed redneck pulled out from some Virginian holler, who tries nefariously to cloak my Appalachian background with tweed and sweatervests. I only speak from my experience of being raised in a Southern honor culture with a Christian upbringing and a stable family life. How can I ever be superior? Others find happiness in a completely different background, can they not?
To a certain extent, the emergents have a point. All the particularities of my life experience are not the ideal universal of human gladness, though I remember them fondly. On the other hand, can you really be “happy” within a lie? I speak not in terms of satiation, but of eudaimonia: happiness or human flourishing. I could talk about my parents: how their love for manifested itself in peculiar ways we could call “mothering” and “fathering.” But these arguments are made time and again.
Let us instead realize that we don’t live as humans in the naked brunt cosmos. We perceive things and communicate about them with others through collective representations. Indeed, it is a Christian essential that we do not live in a materialistic world. There is more than physical “stuff” and the scientific nostrums we use to explain that “stuff.” Everyday features like bread, wine, water, light, darkness, plants, birth, death, and myriad others act as signposts toward a deeper reality at the base of it all.
Parents and spouses are signposts. They are not only significant in and of themselves, but also point to other things. If that signpost is marred, the perception of the represented thing is also wounded. Husband and wife point to the relationship of Christ and His Church. The metaphor ceases to work in a same-sex union: the idea of fruit, of protective sacrifice, and of submission all get thrown out the window.
In my own experience, my wonderful relationship with my earthly father prepared me to love and seek my Heavenly Father; my mother helped me understand the nurture of Mother Church. To repeat myself, I was prepared by my parents to recognize and go after God—to trust Him, the source of all good and the Good Himself. Experiencing parenthood “done right” (if imperfectly), I was immediately able to make sense of God’s love, justice, judgment, mercy, and sacrifice. The Church’s teaching on marriage and sex highlights and points to the true happiness, which is found in God.
The emergent folks, however, blindly follow a blind society that is in the process of destroying itself. As such, progressivist Christians place scales over the eyes of their confused followers. In the spiritual contest between splenetic post-evangelical bloggers on one hand and the Great Tradition on the other, my allegiance remains unfazed.