Love Before Law

Human sexuality and the CRC report.

Human sexuality, the issue is tearing up churches and our society. As I write this, I plan to participate in a discussion of a report on this topic at the Christian Reformed Synod in June. This report has excellent stories that reflect the concerns and issues in real personal terms. It leads us in humble confession and encourages us to learn, listening to those who personally wrestle with their sexuality.

The report speaks to the value of our physical bodies, the goodness of creation and our sexuality, the importance of sexual behavior relationally and spirituality, and the affirmation of singleness, all in the context of our mission. This is good and foundational, but I wonder if it will help us address the hurt in our culture. This report seems more an attempt to justify the current CRC position than to move forward in discussion and compassionate ministry. 

THE ETHICAL WHAT
The report takes an ethical, moral, legal approach to texts, focusing on practices and behaviours (the what), rather than on the meaning of the practices (the why). The report addresses a limited set of relevant texts with no reference to the “do not commit adultery” commandment. There is no interaction with texts like Romans 1 and 2 dealing with the issue and our attitude. 1 Corinthians 13, especially verse 14, should be relevant to encourage love and humility.

THE THEOLOGICAL WHY
The interpretation of texts requires the cultural theological context. The very brief exposition of the Levitical passages does not look at how sexual practice was tied to an idolatrous religious perspective and practice. Sex in Canaanite culture was a religious practice to induce the (male) gods to impregnate the (female) earth. The reason sexuality in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jewish polemic, and Paul (Romans 1), is tied with idolatry is because they were tied together in a pagan worldview that practiced cult prostitution. A biblical theological approach asks the question “why?” to get at the meaning within the culture.

CULTURAL QUESTIONS
If we do not take cultural theological context into account, we become legalists tied to possibly inadequate cultural perspectives of the past. We need to wrestle with how the cultures of the past might have had a limited understanding of sexuality. Do they even know of other cultures where sexuality is more fluid or where gender might change in individual development? If we held only to the understanding of the culture of the text, we would not baptize females. Circumcision was for males only because of their understanding of the male seed and lack of understanding of the female egg.

Asking the cultural theological question includes seeking the meaning of sexual acts in our culture today. Are we only animals expressing basic animalistic instincts in sexual actions? Is sexual practice only about personal pleasure? There are good statements in the report about our Christian perspective of sexuality reflecting Christ’s relationship to the church. How does this contrast with our culture and give a greater meaning and purpose to sexual practice?

IDEALS AND EXCEPTIONS
The report glosses over the Biblical exceptions in Deuteronomy and referenced by Jesus. Yes, there is an ideal, but the exceptions have meaning. Can we only impose the ideals, or do we also need exceptions, as we do regarding divorce and remarriage? Is nakedness a creational ideal? Should we impose vegetarianism as a creational norm since Genesis 9’s permission to eat meat is only a concession to our wickedness? 

All of us wrestle in our own lives and culture with broken sexuality. In one of God’s greatest gifts, sin shows itself most perversely. How can we go forward loving and accepting those who experience their sexuality as exceptions to the majority? Do we impose rules, or do we discuss purpose and meaning of sexual behaviors? Theological meaning must come before declaring moral practices. Love must come before law. 

  • Rev. Tom Wolthuis is a minister in the Christian Reformed Church and the Director of Geneva Campus Ministry at the University of Iowa.

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