This is fourth in a series of articles showing how western society has become confused about issues relating to human relationships. We are (i) confused about children , (ii) confused about sex and (iii) confused about gender.
Sexuality is generally understood to be the area surrounding our sexual desires and preferences and the modern concept of orientation. It’s an area that provides ample evidence of the confusion that exists in western civilisation.
It’s most evident in the initials. When I was at university in the mid 1990s we had LGB. Twenty years later we have LGBTTQQIAAP. I doubt the list is finished. Some think paedophilia could be added and others incest. LGBT advocates are generally offended about these connections and with some justification. But once the gender genie is out of the bottle it’s pretty hard to shove it back in.
A few of these letters relate to gender but most are around sexual identity. Another new concept. For most of the last decades of the 20th century sexual orientation was seen as fixed & innate. A gay man had as much choice in the matter as a straight woman, in other words none. Even today, the ‘born this way’ idea is very, very strong. However that ground is shifting towards a more fluid state.
While the rest of the world is discovering new orientations every couple of months the main debate amongst evangelical Christians remains homosexuality. Not because there is particularly anything new to say on the subject but because an increasing number of churches and leaders who still claim the label ‘evangelical’ are also saying that homosexuality is OK, without of course giving any particularly new or good reasons as to why.
You can read a summary of the best arguments for the ‘affirming’ position (affirming same-sex relationships that is) and nine arguments why they’re wrong. It’s also worth debunking seven myths about the Bible and homosexuality.
What is also needed is a fresh engagement with the cultural issues at stake, some sharp but gracious critique of the ‘truths’ that are accepted by the wider culture and a much better and more robust presentation of what being a Christian means in a society obsessed with both sex and self.
Enter Glynn Harrison and his book A Better Story. He argues that we have witnessed such a phenomenal sea change in cultural values because the progressives began to tell a different and compelling story.
The revolutionaries cast a vision and an ideology that the human spirit finds deeply attractive. People see what is on offer and they want it to be true. And until we understand that and think it through, our apologetics will remain enfeebled and our public posture confined to the defensive.
But these shifts in society developed hand in hand with radical new ideas about morality and human identity. New thinking about equality and freedom. The revolutionaries cast an inspiring vision drawn from an underlying narrative of authenticity, freedom and fairness. In sitcoms and romcoms the story was told over and over: compelling narratives about the little people – oppressed and marginalised – who found their voice and claimed their freedom. The freedom to be truly, authentically, themselves.
The response of the church was to initially respond with law, with tradition, with the Bible says, with revulsion and disgust and far too often with hate. More recently evangelicals have begun to get to grips with their apologetics but have more work to do if the situation is to change. We cannot simply be on the defensive, we must instead start to tell, what we believe to be the case, a better story.
You can’t respond to a great story like this simply with facts – you have to tell a better story. A different story that connects with the issues the revolution places at the centre of our cultural narrative – its vision of authenticity, freedom and fairness. Our culture isn’t interested right now in what Christians are against. People want to know what we are for – especially in relation to today’s big questions of what it means to be an authentic person, to be free to express yourself and to be treated fairly.
Harrison also holds out hope to Christians who despair that cultural renewal in the light of the Gospel can seem so far away.
We must never abandon the public square because the goods of the Christian moral vision are for everybody and not just for ourselves. But first it needs to be re-vitalised in our own hearts and lives, in our churches, in the work of pastors and teachers, and youth groups and house groups. And there is much work to be done in challenging the compromises of the past, not least in attitudes to divorce and the scandal of our casual approach to extra-marital sex.
A daunting task? We have been here before. Two thousand years ago the belief that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead inspired Christians to create a culture – the way they treated women, children, the sexually exploited, slaves and the poor – so attractive to Pagans that by the fourth century A.D. an entire empire was on the edge of faith.
Of course there are many questions. And there are good ways and there are bad ways of making our case. We shall need wisdom as well as courage. But for the sake of our children, for the sake of the Gospel, for the life of the world, the biblical moral vision is a story we must now be prepared to tell all over again.
Photo by torbakhopper