...are the ones that make the biggest difference


Sexual ethics

Adam, over at Pomomusings, has posted a
of the sexual ethics presented in a book called Love Does No Harm by Marie Fortune. Here they are:

5 Guidelines for Sexual Ethics

1. Peer Relationship: Is my choice of intimate partner a peer, i.e. someone whose power is relatively equal to mine? We must limit our sexual interactions to our peers. Some people are off limits for our sexual interests.

2. Authentic Consent: Are both my partner and I authentically consenting to our sexual interaction? Both of us must have information, awareness, equal power and the option to say "no" without being punished, as well as the option to say "yes."

3. Stewardship of my Sexuality: Do I take responsibility for protecting myself and my partner against sexually transmitted diseases and to insure reproductive choice? This is a question of stewardship (the wise care for and management of the gift of sexuality) and anticipating the literal consequences of our actions. Taking this responsibility seriously presupposes a relationship: knowing someone over time and sharing a history in which trust can develop.

4. Sharing of Pleasure: Am I committed to sharing sexual pleasure and intimacy in my relationships? My concern should be both for my own needs and those of my partner.

5. Faithfulness: Am I faithful to my promises and commitments? Whatever the nature of a commitment to one's partner and whatever the duration of that commitment, fidelity requires honesty and the keeping of promises. Change in an individual may require a change in the commitment which hopefully can be achieved through open and honest communication.

All in all, these are not a bad set of guidelines. I don't think there is a whole lot in there to argue with - possibly the "ensure reproductive choice" thing and the part in the last one about how fluid our sense of commitment should be. It is also clear that number 3 doesn't actually require a pre-existing relationship. If I've got some disease, I could just be following simple human decency by putting on a condom; no long-term relationship is necessary. But for a secular set of sexual ethics these would probably lead, if followed, to some healthier choices regarding sexual activity.

These are, however, not written by a secular author but by a minister. And while the author's intended audience is not specifically Christian, "she believes these guidelines would be put to good use in Christian circles as well." Really? A set of ethical guidelines that fails to include any consideration of the biblical witness, the historical witness of the Church or any reference to God or Jesus could be well-used by Christians? I find that sentiment deeply troubling. Moreover, I find Fortune's assumption that an ethic of love that separates and subordinates the Gospel to itself is even possible for a Christian to ponder repellent. Yes, God is love, but we cannot extract that statement from the love God has shown us in Christ. We cannot attempt to shake off the rootedness of that reality in the narrative of God's activity in the world, first through Israel and then through the Church. That is precisely how we know God is love! We are not permitted to take that statement out of its context and try to develop an ethic, a theology or any other system of thought. If we do that, we immediately demonstrate that this is not something we are trying to say about God but about ourselves, about our own way of thinking, our own goals and desires. Which is why we can talk about "reproductive choice" as if it impacted only us as individuals, and not the child in the womb or God in heaven. It is why the sexual ethics we try to create for ourselves make no mention of any external moral set other than respecting the other person's freedom. It is only our choice and their choice that matters, and it is little surprise that Adam's post includes negative commentary on the propensity for the "modern" church to focus so much on convincing youth not to have sex. That is forcing something upon them, not respecting their choices and making them feel guilty about something that should be celebrated.

Needless to say, this is a dangerous game to play. It is true that the evangelical church's youth culture has seized upon abstinence as seemingly the end-all and be-all of youth programs. This is clearly imbalanced - the norms of chastity need to encompass more than just sex, but it is also obvious why sex is so important to youth leaders: it damages people. As does every sin, of course. But the difference is that most other sins do not undermine a future marriage relationship as much as premarital sex does. And a failed marriage hurts kids and thus the damage is perpetuated. So no, these are not good sexual ethics for Christians to use, as they are not Christian and do not take the reality of sin into account.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Is it necessary to have "Christian" language in an ethic for the ethic to be in line with the Gospel message? I can not see why Fortune's writing is not?

the lone barista