Photo by Charles Bonham
I think everyone would agree that Americans are a people of comfort, people who will sacrifice anything for convenience. We also like choices – menu choices, lifestyle choices, education choices, religious choices, multiple choices, etc. We don’t like to choose between A and B. We like to choose between A, B, C, D, and E. We don’t like to choose between black and white. We like to choose from an infinite spectrum of gray. But can our preference in making decisions be carried over to the spiritual realm? Hardly. The land of the gray is not compatible with Christianity. Unfortunately, society today doesn’t even believe in good and evil, but in a vast expanse of uncertainty where sin has been replaced by imperfect examples of good and there are no standards. Hence, the popular concept of gradualism has entered the lexicon of sexual ethics where everything is 50 shades of gray. How did we arrive here? I think much of it can be traced to valuing the world-centered nature of marriage above the heavenly nature of celibacy, family greed above self-sacrifice. Without the perspective of celibacy, marriage devolves into a greed-centered dust cloud of power and pleasure. One without the other is like day without night, ocean without desert, or a body without gravity.
The same has happened to biblical standards. The Ten Commandments have become ideals floating in space; subject to change based on a person’s skin color and socioeconomic status. There’s no right and wrong, only shades of gray on a continuum of relativity, with banners of comfort and acceptance leading the way. And there can be no positive reference to the quaint ideals of virginity and chastity, only mercy and forgiveness and stories of brokenness. Political correctness thrives in a land of gray where marriage has no meaning. Instead of symbolizing God’s marriage to the church, we have a society today where marriage means no more than a free ticket to sex. We have a church that is lost in a land of gray, much like the people of Israel wandering in the land of Egypt. We have a world where sexual sin is met with comfort and affirmation; because political correctness requires a word of hope, never a word of condemnation. Conversion from a life of sin has been cast aside because there is really no sin in the land of the gray. Only redemption. As John Lennon said: “No hell below us. Above us only sky.” We are currently seeing that in the same sex marriage debate. The church is no longer turning to the Bible for answers. They’re turning to opinion polls and surveys. The tragedy is that the lights of evangelism cannot be seen if they have been dimmed to match the gray of the world.
A lot has been said recently about “all or nothing” thinking, especially as it relates to sexual purity and saving sex for marriage. The truth is that the idea originated in the Bible: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon (Matthew 6:24).” That’s what you call all or nothing. A comfortable area of gradualism and relativism does not exist between serving God and serving Satan. Likewise, a comfortable area of gradualism does not exist between marriage and celibacy, between the affairs of the world and the affairs of God.
Meanwhile, the church – ever so afraid of voicing judgments of value – offers up another dose of appreciation, affirmation, love, and acceptance. “Come one, come all, receive blessings of hope.” Many church leaders have even wandered so far out into the gray area that they consider all relationships virtuous and all committed relationships biblically ordained, whether they’re between a man and woman or a man and a panda. If it feels good, it must be right. And they can’t point out wrongdoing – only positive values they perceive to hold any semblance of a Christian value. Unfortunately, the common core curriculum has come to our churches, where everybody’s opinion is of equal value and all definitions are up for grabs. Indeed, a marriage idolatry society has no clear definition of marriage – only shades of gray between strangers and lovers, meetups and hookups. It only knows how to take, not receive. If you can relate to it, it must have a common good. Many religious scholars today consider “relationality” a virtue in itself because they can’t fathom life outside marriage. They cannot comprehend the binary opposite of marriage – the solitary nature of celibacy. Instead of two clear lifestyle choices of marriage and celibacy, moral relativism allows for multiple choices – homosexuality, cohabitation, polygamy, common law marriage, divorce, remarriage, etc. Whatever arrangement feels good, just raise your hand when the church takes the next survey. After all, marriage is just a piece of paper you get at the courthouse, right? With no definition or defense of marriage, attributes of it have been counterfeited and used to support sinful lifestyles. For example, same sex marriage has been defended because it offers a level of stability, commitment, public bond, deep affection, mutual aid, sacrifice, and responsibility to offspring. Sound familiar? But no one can point out wrongdoing, only the positive aspects of “imperfect” relationships. “Ah, look at that deep level of commitment. Can we get another amen!” Just two animals bumping against each other in a cage and – presto – you’ve got a marriage. Bump again and you’ve got a family.
The same thing has happened to the virtue of purity. It has devolved into a gray area of dirty tape and damaged flowers, worthlessness and shame. You would think those who advocate purity before marriage today were mercenary terrorists, out to destroy the world. Those evil virgins . . . for the love of God! Christianity is not a club offering varying degrees of membership. It is, like virginity, all or nothing. Christ is either accepted or rejected. This is where human sexuality transects the sacred, where two become one flesh. If parents can’t pass these values to their children, it’s not everybody else’s responsibility to make them comfortable. It’s not everybody else’s responsibility to dim the lights to a neutral gray.
Straw men accusations of shame and worthlessness thrive on gray areas in youth culture. But sadly these areas become more black and white when forgiveness doesn’t relieve them of the responsibilities of children they’ve brought into the world, when their STDs are not cured, when they don’t have the money to pay for college, and when their memories are not forgotten. Most tragic is when they realize their sexual history will permanently affect (not doom) their capacity for intimacy in a future marriage, when the tape metaphor makes a little more sense. Maybe it’s time for a little more shame and duct tape to clear the gray area out of chastity and reinforce the permanent nature of the sexual union.
Rape/sex abuse is not addressed on this blog.