Navigating the Changing Currents of Sexuality
Topic: Culture Passage: Genesis 2:15–2:25
Riding the Rapids: Navigating the Whitewater of Today's Culture
Grace Community Church
Oct. 25, 2015
Riding the Rapids: Navigating the Changing Currents of Sexuality
Let's turn together to Gen. 2:15-25. If you're visiting us this morning, we are in a series called Riding the Rapids: Navigating the Whitewater of Today's Culture. We've been looking at some of the issues facing our culture and the church today and this morning we are going to consider the issue of gender and sexuality. This is a sensitive issue and I want to handle it carefully. It's also an important issue as our culture and particularly our young people are being bombarded with sexual messages and images and world-views, and the very landscape of gender and sexuality is drastically changing. Let's begin by going back to the beginning and consider God's original design as recorded in the Bible.
The new Choluteca Bridge in Honduras was completed in 1998. That year Honduras was hit by Hurricane Mitch, a category 5 hurricane that left over 14K people dead or missing, and damaged or destroyed 150 bridges. But the new Choluteca Bridge, having been built to withstand hurricanes, had only minor damage to it. The bridge was left undamaged…but it was also left useless. The roads on either end of the bridge had been washed away in the storm, leaving no trace that they ever existed. Even more amazing was that during the hurricane the Choluteca River which is several hundred feet wide, had carved itself a new channel and no longer flowed underneath the Choluteca Bridge. (show picture) The bridge now spanned dry ground and people dubbed it "the bridge to nowhere".
When it comes to our culture's fast-changing views of gender and sexuality the church can seem like a Choluteca Bridge. The Bible lays out a set or morals and values concerning our sexuality that once did a pretty good job of spanning what our culture believed was right and wrong. But our culture's view of morals and sexuality and gender issues is no longer flowing under that bridge - it has cut a whole new channel in a completely different location. According to Gallup polls, in 1998 68% of Americans did not support same-sex marriage, today 60% of Americans support same-sex marriage and it is the law of the land. Mainstream thought on gay marriage hasn't just shifted a little, or broadened a little, it has carved out completely new channels from where they were just a few years ago. The waters are moving.
According to a recent YouGov poll, the same seismic shift is going on with America's perspective on transgenders and having one's gender altered. Only 31% of people polled consider it morally wrong to identify with a gender different than the one you were born with. What's curious is that only 14% considered changing gender morally acceptable. That made me wonder, where does that leave everyone else in this poll? The answer is that 55% either didn't think it was a moral issue at all or weren't sure what they believed. Whether we believe that poll completely or not, there is no doubt that the currents are quickly carving out new channels of thinking about what it means to be a man or a woman. The June edition of Vanity Fair made a huge splash in the media because it featured former Olympic Gold Medalist Bruce Jenner, whose gender reassignment had just been completed and he was now introducing himself to the world as Caitlyn Jenner. He was now a she. The waters are moving.
Views on marriage and morality have also been changing over the decades: polls taken by Gallup in 1969 indicated that 2/3 of Americans believed that premarital sex was morally wrong, now that number has been inverted, with 2/3 of Americans believing that premarital sex is morally acceptable. The waters are moving.
And as our culture cuts new channels for sexuality and morality and what it means to be a man or woman, any church continuing to teach the traditional views on these issues can feel a little like the Choluteca Bridge: a nice looking structure that is completely useless. The water has moved and we are spanning dry ground. Some churches answer this by trying to move the bridge to where the water is, to move our values to match where our culture's values are. They say, if the church is going to be relevant we need to be willing to move our morals and values to reflect the changing currents of our culture.
But in Genesis we see that, from the very beginning, God did not design these issues to be shifted or moved. He did not make it possible for us to cut new channels and make new streams for human sexuality and gender-assignment and when we try to do so, we are going against our created shape on the very deepest level. Because what we see in Genesis 2 is that…
Gender and sexuality are at the very core of our identity
After creating so much that God called good, here was the first thing that God said wasn't good: "it's not good that the man should be alone…" And so God created a helper that was the perfect fit for him. In verse 22 the Lord presents Eve to Adam like a father presenting His daughter to a bridegroom. There have been a lot of light hearted banter about Adam's reaction, but verse 23 is actually the first poem in the Bible and it beautifully expresses the joy and wonder Adam felt in that moment. It literally reads,
This, this time,
Is bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh
This shall be called woman
For from man was taken this
Eve brought out the poet in Adam! She was the same as he was, yet so different. God didn't create Eve to duplicate Adam, He created Eve to compliment Adam. And then God ordained marriage as a stronger and more lasting bond between two people than even a child has to its parents.
When God lovingly created Adam and Eve, He wove their gender as man and woman so deeply, so inextricably into who they were and who we are that if you were to drill into the very depth of our souls, you would find your gender at the core of your being. You are either a man or a woman (boy or girl) to the depth of your being and nothing can change that. We can't change our gender like we change our hairstyle. No hormonal injections or surgical procedure can turn a man into a woman or a woman into a man. Every chromosome of a person would have to be altered. Even a man's bones are heavier than a woman's. Women, if you've ever suspected that men are thick-skulled and hard-headed, medical science has confirmed your suspicions!
Now there are plenty of aspects of femininity and masculinity that are fluid and legitimately changeable from culture to culture and person to person. All girls don't have to wear pink and boys wear blue. God has shaped us in a wide array of different personalities and each one is to be celebrated and enjoyed. Girls can be tomboys and boys can be on the more sensitive side and there shouldn't be pressure to conform everyone into the same mold. I have a friend who nearly made it into professional baseball and his teenage son didn't like sports at all. My friend wisely accepted the fact that God had made his son with different likes and dislikes, talents and interests. We should accept and celebrate the differences that God has built into each person and I think our culture has actually done some really good things in this area in terms of breaking some narrow cultural molds about what a girl or boy's personality and emotional make up must be and rigid stereotypes of how they need to act. But none of these things alter the fact that gender is woven into our core identity at the deepest level.
Marriage is also right there are the very beginning. It's not woven into our identity the way that our gender is - a person can be complete without ever getting married. Jesus never married, Paul never married. But marriage closely followed God's creation of man and woman as the only safe and God-sanctioned context for sexual relations. God wove marriage into the fabric of human society as the first and most basic building block to healthy families, communities, and civilization as a whole. In a culture that is bent on portraying sex between two people as no big deal - it is amazing how many movies and TV shows today have the guy and girl hopping into bed on their first date - it can feel like the Bible's morals are over here and culture has moved way over there. But God knows there really is no such thing as casual sex. Gen. 2:24 says "they shall become one flesh". God built a deep emotional, physical, and spiritual component into sex and denying that it's there isn't going to change it.
The lifelong cleaving of a man to a woman and a woman to a man in the commitment of marriage is God’s idea and it is good. Not because it’s a prudish and outdated bridge to nowhere, but because the commitment and protected love found in a committed marriage is good for the husband and good for the wife and good for the children who come along and good for society as a whole. And there are a plethora of studies that bear that out. God doesn't put guardrails up to keep us from having fun, but to keep us from running our lives off the road and doing a lot of personal and interpersonal damage. Gender and sexuality are at the very core of our identity. Because they are…
Brokenness and confusion goes deep when it goes to the core of our identity
Several years ago I accidentally knocked the side-view mirror off my daughter's car as I was backing out of our driveway. And so I found myself in a car junkyard looking for a replacement side-view mirror. And as I was walking through the junkyard at some point I began to look at all these cars that were in various states of disrepair, doors ripped off, seats ripped up, sometimes portions of the engine sitting in the front seats, windshields cracked or non-existent, many pretty smashed up, and I realized that they may all look like junk to me, but they weren't always so damaged. All of these rusting, decaying cars were once in good running condition and driving people around. And all of them had stories of how they got there. I'm sure some had very sad stories –sons or daughters or husbands or wives or moms or dads injured and in some cases killed in car accidents. Maybe it was the rainy, dreary day, maybe it was being surrounded by so many junked cars, but I felt a sense of sadness come over me as I searched for a side view mirror.
And in that melancholic mood the thought came to me that the world isn’t that different from the junkyard, only instead of a junkyard of cars, it’s a giant junkyard of lives. I don’t mean that people are junk, not at all, but that all around us are lives that are filled with brokenness and decay– heartache and tragedy and suffering and disappointment and dreams unfulfilled and potential unrealized and loneliness and rejection and betrayal and on and on. We live in a broken world. And where that brokenness goes the deepest is where and when it reaches deep into our identity. Break what I own and you only hurt me so much. Break who I am and you've hurt me on a far, far deeper level.
Genesis 3 goes on to describe the fall of Adam and Eve into sin and rebellion. That didn’t just happen, they were tempted by Satan, the arch enemy of God. Satan wanted to hurt God by hurting man and distort the image of God in mankind, and he knows there is no deeper way he can do that than by distorting our identity at its deepest level: by messing with our heads about our sexuality, by confusing us about our gender, and by tearing down the guardrails of committed monogamy through marriage.
Consider these heartbreaking statistics: suicide rates among young people has increased more than 300% since the 1950's, and is now the third leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds. Suicide is the leading cause of death among Gay and Lesbian youth now and an estimated 20-30% of gay and lesbian population has attempted suicide. But among those who identify themselves as transgender, 41% have attempted suicide. That is so tragic and sad. Some of this is definitely spurred on by bullying, and that is terribly wrong, and should not be tolerated, but there is far more acceptance of gay and lesbians and transgenders today than there was in the 1950's and yet, rather than decreasing, the suicide rate has climbed 300%. The deeper issue according to God's word is that we can't carve out new channels for our sexuality without paying a terrible price for it.
When society breaks
On an individual level there is a terrible brokenness that occurs when we deviate from God's design, but there is also a terrible brokenness when society as a whole deviates from God's intent for gender and sex and the Bible gives some very strong warnings. I need to share some hard things now, but there is no glee or self-righteous ranting in this. I do so from a place of sadness and heaviness. Sodom and Gomorrah had devolved into a very wicked and sexually immoral place, and the presenting sin was rampant homosexuality. In Romans 1 Paul warns that the "wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…" and one of the primary expressions of that sin is that "women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;  and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." Rom. 1:26-27
What is God's judgment? Verse 24 says that God gave them over to their sinful desires. The worst thing God can do is give them what they want - it is its own destruction. Like Rome in the days of the Roman Empire, who became decadent and self-indulgent and immoral, and was eaten from inside, I believe that America is in danger of going down the same road. Not because of any one thing or any one sin, but because we're trying to carve out totally new channels of morality, rejecting God's established system of morals, and God will in the end give us what we want.
If the Bible is true then we don't get to move the boundaries of gender and morality and sexuality around wherever we want. To try to is to go against God's created order and ultimately destroy ourselves. Some may call that a harsh and unloving message, but I think that is to confuse a hard message with an unloving message. It's not always unloving to say something that's hard to hear, and it's not always loving to say what is easy to hear. The church is called to take a strong stand for the truth of God's word and at the same time reach out to the world with the love of the gospel. And that brings me to my last point:
The gospel isn't the bridge between the church and the culture, it's the bridge between the sinner and God
16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)
Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it. The gospel isn't a message of anger and condemnation, it's the message of God's love for lost sinners which is all of us. One person might struggle with same sex attraction, another person with pride, and another with self-righteousness - all are sinners and all need to be saved from God's coming wrath. So for all of us sinners, the first step to salvation and restored relationship with God is actually two steps: repentance and faith in Christ. Turning away from our sin and towards God and asking Jesus to forgive our sin. And our message as the church is to bring that hard but loving message to those around us with as much care and compassion as we can. There is a way to say, "I disagree with what you're doing and I really care about you." The church needs to be a place where people struggling with these issues finds true love and acceptance and support.
When I was pastor at another church, someone I'll call "Bill" asked if he could meet with me. "Bill" was married and had children and when he sat down in the office I could tell he was very nervous. With great difficulty he began to confess that he had had lifelong struggles with homosexuality and was giving in to them. He was very afraid of how I'd feel about him and how I'd view him after he confessed this to me. I viewed him like I viewed him before he shared this with me: as a dear friend and a precious brother in Christ who needed, as I need, the love and mercy and forgiveness of Christ and the power of Christ to fight the particular sinful urges that he was struggling with. We prayed together and hugged and I consider him a friend to this day. There wasn't the slightest degree of rejection or pulling away in my heart towards him. At the same time I would not have been a true friend or pastor if I had tried to comfort and encourage him by saying that it's fine and he can keep on having homosexual encounters, God's fine with that, God understands, God doesn't mind. Repentance isn't a harsh word, it's a hopeful word. It means turning away from things that are hurting our lives towards God's good and loving plan for our lives. It means turning away from Satan's plan for disfiguring God's image in us and turning back to God's original and good design for our lives and reflecting God's good image in and through us.
In that sense the church is very different than the Choluteca Bridge. The bridge really had become useless because it had no roadway leading up to it and no water flowing underneath it. The church points to the one bridge that leads to eternal life. There is no other bridge to God but Jesus and the road that leads up to that bridge isn't a superhighway. It's a narrow road. There are no charter buses providing mass transit to eternity. Jesus didn't die to save cultures. He gave his life in order to save lost sinners one at a time. The good news is that there is a way opened up into heaven now, a bridge that spans the chasm between sinful man and a holy God, a bridge that leads to an intimate and loving relationship with God as our Father. The church doesn't stay relevant by following the culture even when it violates biblical truths. The church stays relevant by following Jesus and helping others follow him too. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
More in Riding The Rapids
January 3, 2016Evolution and Creationism Part Two
December 27, 2015Evolution and Creationism Part One
December 13, 2015Being Biblically Correct in a Politically Correct Culture Part Two