Sex and Created Bodies: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; Genesis 1:26-28
A Sermon Preached at Falls Church Anglican, March 2, 2014 by the Rev. Sam Ferguson
By Sam Ferguson
Special to Virtueonline
March 15, 2014
No issue is more talked about today than sex. From newspapers to news broadcasts, from cafeteria conversations to Facebook, from sitcoms to SportsCenter, opinions about sexuality meet us every hour. Moreover, no issue finds the church more at odds with the prevailing mood of culture. Traditional sexual ethics, which were the architecture of civilization for most of history, are being dismissed as outdated, uncivil, and anti-human. Treasures of Christian morality – monogamy, virginity and chastity – are dissolving. As issues related to sex move from Facebook posts to courts of law, we can become not only confused, but even scared. At a moment such as this, what is the church to do? At least two things:
First, the church must be brutally honest about our failure to live up to our own standards. The statistics are sobering: divorce rates inside the church mirror those outside. Pornography use is at epidemic levels. Sex outside of marriage is commonplace. And clergy abuse scandals frontline papers worldwide. We have lost so much credibility. Whatever we say or do, we must do so with ashes on our heads and tears in our eyes. We are not those who have earned the moral high ground; we are those who have needed the grace and forgiveness at the heart of our message.
Having said that, the church does have a word to speak regarding sexuality, today. Our story – the story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation – includes sex and sexuality. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, cares immensely about this topic.
Therefore, the second thing we do is re-root sex in its original story, the story of Creation. As the culture understands sex as an end in and of itself, we understand it as part of a larger story. Like an organ severed from a body, outside of its natural context, the meaning and purpose of sex are lost. Placed within the larger organism of human life, sex takes on deeper meaning and greater purpose.
Here is our goal today: We’ve been studying Corinthians, where Paul has much to say about sexuality. Paul is at odds to re-root the Corinthian’s sexual ethic in the story of creation – in the foundational events of Genesis 1-3. Our aim is similar. We will consider the benefits of re-rooting sex in the story of creation. More specifically, we will ask: how does re-casting sex in the Christian story of creation benefit both individuals and society?
PART I: SEX AND CREATED BODIES: “Your body is not meant for sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:13)
A personal story about a friend will help us see the relevance of rooting sexuality in the story of creation. Kevin and I became friends while fellow graduated students overseas. We couldn’t have been more different. He was a rather clever agnostic; I was an aspiring minister. Our conversations were never dull. During winter term, I notice Kevin was not doing well. I asked if I could pray for him, to which he agreed. As I finished praying for him in my apartment, I looked up and found him in tears. Nobody had ever prayed for him before. Kevin proceeded to open up to me: he’d struggled for a decade with his sexuality, felt like a woman in a man’s body, was taking a hormone, and hoping to undergo a transgender surgery. With his words came waves of pain, of a sort I’ve rarely encountered. All I could was listen and cry, as my friend bore his soul. Kevin then asked me a profound question. He said, “Are you a man?” “Yes,” I answered. “How do you know; what does it feel like?” We proceeded to talk about gender and one’s sense of identity. I quickly realized that this conversation was deeper than sexual preferences. We were talking about the fundamental aspects of human identity – what it means to be male or female. We continued meeting and praying, and over the next months something incredible began to happen; Kevin became a Christian. Watching this happen was one of the most meaningful moments of my life.
Kevin did not wake up the next day with his life in perfect order. Rather, what ensued, was a relationship of discipleship between me and Kevin. In order for Kevin to make sense of his identity, we had to re-root him the Christian story of creation – so we went to the opening chapters of Genesis. As we studied the creation story, two very significant truths presented themselves to Kevin, each having to do with his created body.
First, God had created Kevin’s body as male, and this had implications (Gen. 1:27). It was not an accident, but a concrete landmark of identity. God’s creation is good; this included Kevin’s body. Moreover, Kevin’s male body was made in God’s image, which gave it dignity. As we considered the larger story of the Bible, we noticed that Kevin’s male body was eternal. Kevin would be raised from the dead as a man. However, Kevin’s sex drive was temporary, not eternal. Jesus teaches that there is no marriage in heaven, which implies no procreation, either. Therefore, sexual energies are temporary, but gender eternal. Kevin needed to root his identity on something permanent, not transitory.
A second truth related to his body, was that in its created shape it told a story. It was shaped, sexually, for the female body. In form, the male and female bodies were made to fit, sexually. In function, the male and female bodies could create new life. To use the male body, sexually, outside these natural boundaries would be to cut against the grain of creation. Kevin’s body told a story, a story about his identity, and how he ought to use his body.
As Kevin spent time soaking in these concrete truths of creation, I watched a man who’d been drifting for a decade find an anchor. No longer was his identity determined by a sea of sexualized emotions. Rather, his identity rested in the concrete reality of his maleness, and God’s eternal plan for it. To be sure, Kevin still struggled with all sorts of feelings, but, he now had a stabilizing foundation beneath them.
I share this story about Kevin because, for one, it reminds us of how personal and painful the subject of sexuality can be. We are not talking about abstract theology; we are talking about real people. We are talking about human longings and broken hearts. In these conversations we must be so careful and sensitive. Secondly, however, Kevin’s story represents the fundamental question at this cultural moment: who, or what, dictates human identity? Is identity rooted in one’s sexual feelings, or a created order? What does our body have to do with our identity?
Paul faced this dilemma in Corinth. In 1 Cor. 6:12-20 Paul uses the word body eight times. Why? Because the Corinthians had fallen into a way of thinking that rooted identity in an inner sense of self, not a created body. This was called Gnosticism and Paul railed against it. This way of thinking saw created matter as bad, but the spirit as good. This cut against the grain of the Judaism Paul was raised on, and the Christianity he was preaching. God’s creation was good. Jesus’ physical body was raised from the dead. For Paul, you are your body.
Do we face this issue today? I think we do. I think we are facing a new type of Gnosticism. Consider this scenario: Fourteen years ago a baby is born in Arlington hospital. The doctor delivers the little one and says one of two things to the parents: “It’s a boy.” Or, “It’s a girl. How does he know what to say? The baby’s body, of course. Fast-forward fourteen years to last week. The child is now a teenager and is joining Facebook. They come to the page that asks them to share their identity, and there is the drop down box for gender – should be simple, two options, male or female. They click, and what drops down is not two, but fifty-one options. As of February, Facebook expanded their gender options to fifty-one. The list includes: Agender; Bigender; Gender Fluid; Gender Questioning; Gender Variant; Gender Queer; Intersex; Pangender and Transgender.
I share this not to make light of people who struggle with gender identity – I’ve seen this pain first hand. Rather, I share this to simply ask the question, what changed between the birth-ward and Facebook? Did the child’s body morph?
This represents a shift in our society’s way of thinking about human identity. Identity is no longer rooted in created bodies, but feelings, and not just any feelings, but sexual feelings. We are our sex drive. Who chose Facebook’s list of fifty-one. How do we know it won’t be 5,100 in two years?
For a teenager, who is having a hard enough time with emotions, to cast their identity on a sea of passions seems un-thoughtful. What they need is an anchor, not more options. I know this list is meant to liberate, but I am afraid it will confuse. If a person’s primary sense of self is their sexual appetite, then they are cast upon their sexual fortunes. Sex has become their god. People are so much more than their sex drive.
This begs the question: is the language of sexual orientation, which we use so commonly in our day, helpful? Even within the Church, we speak of people as heterosexual, homosexual, or bi-sexual. When we do this, we are subtly shifting a person’s sense of self onto their sexualized emotions. I wonder if we know how novel, and controversial, these categories of sexual orientation are? Words like heterosexual and homosexual were not used in the English language until the late nineteenth century. Certain gay activist have called into question the plausibility of these terms. In his book, “The Invention of Heterosexuality,” activist Jonathan Ned Katz dismisses the notion of a biologically fixed or normative sexual orientation. He sees orientation language as a social construct, not a biological norm. For Katz, the goal is having sexuality as fluid as possible, where it can expresses itself in unlimited variety. For Christians, however, Katz’s research is helpful because it suggests that sex drives are not the place to root ultimate identity; that they are not as fixed as one’s biological body. We are created in the image of God – Male or Female. This is a category that is richer and deeper than feelings. We must re-root our identity here, and be careful about what language we use when describing a human being.
Let me draw all this to a fine point. When sex and sexuality is re-rooted in the Christian story of Creation, it gives an individual a steady anchor for self-understanding. It rescues Millennials from the tyranny of sex, whereby the culture would tell them they are, primarily, their sex drive. Also, it gives the individual great dignity and hope, for one who is created in God’s image, as Male or Female, can be sure God has a plan for you that makes sense of your body. And because of the work of Jesus Christ and hope of resurrection, this is precisely what the Gospel means.
Let us now consider one other point. Along with individual benefits, how does re-rooting sex in the story of creation benefit society at large? What does sex have to do with the public good?
PART II: SEX AND THE COMMON GOOD: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial” (1 Cor. 6:12).
Consider with me how Paul opens this paragraph to the Corinthians. He begins, “all things are lawful for me.” This was a slogan floating around Corinth. It’s akin to our modern day, “whatever floats your boat.” This was a tag line for sexual license. It’s akin to our modern ethic whereby as long as no one is getting hurt, “all sexual behavior is permissible.” Paul allows this motto for the moment, but replies with this: “all things are lawful, but are all things beneficial?” It’s this last word, beneficial, that makes us pause. The question Paul is posing to their sexual ethic and to ours is: how does your sexual behavior benefit others – your neighbor, neighborhood, and society? What does sex have to do with the common good?
J.D. Unwin, a sociologist at Cambridge University, posed this very question in the early twentieth century. He had come across a theory of Sigmund Freud that suggested sexual restrictions might cause such suppression in individuals that they would become deleterious to civilization. In Freud’s own words:
“It is natural to suppose that under the domination of a civilized morality [one that restricts sex] the health and efficiency in life of the individuals may be impaired, and that ultimately this injury to the individual, causes by the sacrifice imposed upon him, may reach such a pitch that the civilized aim and end will itself be indirectly endangered.”
To test Freud’s theory, Unwin undertook a study of eighty-six civilizations spanning five thousand years. His question was straightforward: is there a relationship between sexual ethics and societal flourishing. Unwin expected to prove Freud’s theory right. He was astonished when he discovered the very opposite. Unwin found that there was no case of a civilization that practiced absolute monogamy that failed to display great cultural and expansive energy. Whereas, there was no case of a civilization becoming lax in its sexual restrictions that did not eventually flounder. Unwin published his findings in a book titled, “Sex and Culture.” In an address made to the Medical Section of the British Psychological Society he reported the following:
“The evidence was such as to demand a complete revision of my personal philosophy…if we know what sexual regulations a society has adopted, we can prophesy accurately the pattern of its cultural behavior… [Monogamous] marriage has been adopted by different societies, in different places, and at different times. Thousands of years and thousands of miles separate the events. In human records, there is no case of an absolutely monogamous society failing to display great [cultural] energy.”
And in a journal article, he summed up his findings with the following:
“The whole of human history does not contain a single instance of a group becoming civilized unless it has been absolutely monogamous, nor is there any example of a group retaining its culture after it has adopted less rigorous customs.”
Thinkers from Aldous Huxley to Phillip Yancey have commented on the shock of Unwin’s research, and wondered why we don’t hear more about them. Paul may be onto something: “all sex may be permissible for the sophisticated modern man, but is it beneficial?” Least we dismiss Unwin’s findings as outdated, let us consider some statistics from modern America.
With increased sexual freedom has come an increase in births out of wedlock. The number of African American children born outside of marriage today has topped 70%. Besides obvious emotional problems this causes, we would do well to consider the economics. Professor Dale Kuehne has shared that a child born out of wedlock will cost the State 4 to 8 times as much money. Where the absence of healthy parenting is felt the State steps in. We must wonder about the economic sustainability of it. Moreover, will a child who has not been cared for by their father be likely to care for their father when he becomes elderly? Statistics suggest no. Again, the State will need to step in. The economic implications of this are worrisome. The unintended consequences of the sexual liberation movement have been the collapsing of American families. Families are the most cost effective way to raise children, create healthy citizens, and cultivate stable societies. Families are the backbone of society. Sexual ethics are the backbone of families. We must do the math.
The medical industry ought to be concerned with sexual liberations as well. Last February, U.S. News and World Report published an article on the amount of Sexually Transmitted Diseases in America. More than 110 Million Americans have an STD, with nearly 20 million new infections occurring each year. This means there are more new infections of STDs amongst Americans per year than there are people living in the cities of New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Philadelphia, combined. The article goes on to lament that the estimated lifetime cost of treating 20 million STDs is 16 billion dollars. Just imagine what else could be done with that money.
To this list we could add the emotional and relational toll that the Hook Up culture has unleashed. The title of Donna Freitas recent book says enough, “The End of Sex: How Hookup Culture is Leaving a Generation Unhappy, Sexually Unfulfilled, and Confused About Intimacy.” In her survey of thousands of college students, professor Freitas finds that many participants of the Hook Up culture are left empty. Casual sex makes for casual relationships; the enemy of lasting intimacy.
Paul knew that sexual ethics were linked to the good of society. Modern research and statistics seems to support this. What is the biblical foundation of this idea? Again, we find it in the story of Creation. When we first are introduced to sexual beings in Genesis one, we find them immediately tied to the care of society. Genesis 1:26-28 reads:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth”(Genesis 1:27-28).
To fill and have dominion means to create culture and society. The sexual relationship between the man and the woman was the means of creating families that would then fill the earth, create societies, and build culture. The relationship between sex and the common good is built into the DNA of the world.
We need to conclude. What have we said? When we re-root sex in the story of creation, we find that it takes on incredible meaning and purpose. For the individual, they find that their sexuality must account for the created order of their body. And, that their sexuality is not the fundamental and final aspect that gives them self-worth. They are male or female, in God’s image, for eternity. Their body has been made good, and is being redeemed in Christ. For the social activist, we have found that sexual ethics are linked to societal flourishing. Research, statistics, and the Bible all support this. By re-rooting sex in God’s story of creation, it takes on new meaning and purpose, and is protected from corruption and idolatry.
Finally, in recalling how difficult a topic this is for all of us, how it represents so much hurt, and so many unmeant longings, I would close as Paul does in 1 Cor. 6:20: “You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Glorify God with your body.” Perhaps the final piece of re-rooting, for all of us, is to recall that we are not our own, but the Lord’s. It’s not so much who you are, but whose you are, that finally matters. Amen.
1. Brandon Griggs, “Facebook goes beyond ‘male’ and ‘female’ with new gender options” (CNN, February 13, 2014), find online at: http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/13/tech/social-media/facebook-gender-custom
2. Cf., Michael W. Hannon, “Against Heterosexuality” (First Things, March 2014)
3. Cf., Jonathan Ned Katz, “The Invention of Heterosexuality” (Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press, 1997)
4. As quoted in Daniel R. Heimbach, “True Sexual Morality: Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis” (Crossway, Wheaton, Ill: 2004) pg. 346.
5. Joseph Daniel Unwin, “Sexual Regulations and Cultural Behavior,” in an address given to the Medical Section of the British Psychological Society. Library of Congress, No. HQ12.U52.
6. Unwin, J. D. (1927). “Monogamy as a Condition of Social Energy,” The Hibbert Journal, Vol. XXV, p. 662.
7. Aldous Huxley, the English writer, summed up Unwin’s work as follows: “[Unwin’s] investigation shows that the societies exhibiting the least amount of energy are those where pre-nuptial continence is not imposed and where the opportunities for sexual indulgence after marriage are greatest. The cultural condition of a society rises in exact proportion as it imposes pre-nuptial and post-nuptial restraints upon sexual opportunity” Cf., Aldous Huxley, “Ends and Means” (Chatto & Windus, London, 1946) pp. 311-12. Cf., Phillip Yancey, “The Lost Sex Study: If we make a god of sexuality, that god will fail in ways that affect the whole person and perhaps the whole society” (Christianity Today, December 12, 1994).
8. “More than 72 percent of children in the African-American community are born out of wedlock,” Don Lemon, CNN.
9. Dale Kuehne, “Sexual Economics: Can Nations Survive Without Supporting Strong Family Ideals?” (Q Ideas Conference, April 2013, Los Angeles, CA). Access online at: http://www.qideas.org/video/sexual-economics.aspx
11. “More Than 110 Million Americans Have an STD: Report,” (U.S. News & World Report, Feb. 2, 2013).
The Rev. Sam Ferguson is assistant pastor at the Falls Church Anglican as a Timothy and provides leadership for the Young Adults ministry. His passion is to see people of all ages intimately connected to Jesus Christ and to increasingly discover, by way of both spiritual and intellectual growth, the surpassing worth and satisfaction of knowing and experiencing God.