Sex, Lies, and the Truth: Developing a Christian Ethic in a Post-Christian Society.
Linda L. Belleville, Sex, Lies, and the Truth: Developing a Christian Ethic in a Post-Christian Society. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2010. $17.00. 122 pp., pap. ISBN 978-1-60899-519-6.
How often do we hear in our twenty-first century world that homosexuality is primarily a matter of genetics, that it’s important to find out if a couple is sexually compatible before they marry, or that sex should be a matter of choice between consenting adults? Does the Bible really teach otherwise? And if it does, how can it possibly be believed, much less followed in our sex-crazed world? Linda Belleville, long-time New Testament professor at North Park Seminary and Indiana’s Bethel College and now splitting her time between Grand Rapids and Associated Mennonite Theological Seminaries, shies from none of these questions and candidly discloses the truth, from both biblical and social-scientific perspectives.
For such a little book, this is a treasure-trove of helpful information. Belleville introduces her work with a reminder of the staggering changes in American sexual behavior in the last thirty-five years alone. Three main sections then examine the challenges of “casual sex” (sexual activity by the unmarried heterosexual), of remaining sexually faithful to one’s spouse (before and within heterosexual marriage) and of homosexuality.
Television, movies, advertising and public education take it for granted that people from teenage years onward routinely engage in casual sex. The CDC reports that the U.S. has the highest incidence of STDs of any industrialized nation. Few people realize that condoms consistently have a 15% failure rate. Over the last ten years, however, “abstinence-promotion efforts resulted in a 16 percent decrease in sexual activity among high school students and a 24 percent decline among the number of teens who have sex with multiple partners” (p. 12). The repeated New Testament prohibitions of porneia, which referred to all forms of achieving sexual climax with someone outside of a monogamous, heterosexual marriage, make clear the biblical perspective on casual sex. 1 Corinthians 6:18 is based on the conviction that “there is no act more intimate, that renders one as personally vulnerable, as sexual intimacy. To engage in sex apart from the public exchange of vows that promise a lifelong and exclusive commitment is to put oneself and one’s union with Christ at tremendous risk” (p. 21). Nothing in Scripture justifies the notion that sex is a “right,” as we often hear today. God is far more concerned with our holiness than with our happiness, especially as our culture typically defines it.
What about living together before marriage? Studies show that such marriages fail at an even faster rate than traditional marriages. Sex is a skill that is learned and it is best learned in marriage without the inevitable comparisons with former partners that lack of virginity creates. The divine plan for singles is to live celibately, while God’s design for married people is to have sex exclusively with their spouse. As for charges that egalitarian marriages can create wimpy boys more predisposed to homosexual behavior, empirical studies actually demonstrate that overly hierarchical marriages in which men do not bond lovingly with their sons or daughters can’t bond with their mothers because they have been overly repressed and thus emotionally stultified prove far more dangerous.
Belleville’s long-standing work with Exodus International along with her previous exegetical study make her particularly well qualified to address homosexual behavior in the Bible and in modern society. Patiently examining each of the key biblical texts, she shows that there is no legitimate support for limiting the Scripture’s prohibitions to certain forms of homosexual sex rather than others, nor to see them as so situation-specific or culture-bound that they do not apply cross-culturally today. She chronicles the changes in the last half-century in secular psychological, media, educational and governmental organizations, fueled by a wealthy and aggressive gay-lobby that have not been based on adequate empirical support justifying the reversals in policies and attitudes. She points out how the widely touted studies that claimed to find a primarily genetic link to homosexual orientation have subsequently been retracted, repudiated or, at the very least, never again duplicated by those who have tried to do so. Unfortunately, few in the general public ever hear about these later developments.
Belleville also reminds us of some straightforward mathematical realities: if homosexuality were entirely or even primarily genetic, studies of identical twins would demonstrate 100% or at least a very high degree of correlation between twins. In fact they don’t. With the exception of one study that was never replicated at the 75% level, studies have never shown higher than a 40-50% correlation rate. Much higher correlations, however, consistently attach to the absence of a loving, healthy relationship between homosexuals and their same-sex parents, showing that “nurture” is at least as important and often much more important than “nature” in producing homosexual orientations. And to whatever extent there are genetic predispositions to homosexuality, life in a fallen world hardly allows us to say, “God created me that way, so there can’t be anything wrong with it.” Genetic predispositions to alcoholism and violence have long been known but even the secular world generally recognizes that uncritical acceptance of drunkenness and violence is not thereby justified. As for those who would reject casual homosexuality but accept it among lifelong, monogamous partners, it is important to point out how rare such relationships in fact are, especially between men. “A recent survey of 156 stable, committed male couples of five or more years’ duration reported that 62 percent had had sexual encounters the year prior to the survey, and that the average number of extra-relational partners was 7.1” (p. 66). The gay community itself is increasingly defining fidelity not as monogamy but merely as “a loving, caring, honest relationship with your partner” (citing Jones and Yarhouse’s landmark study).
What then is the way forward? Reparative therapy is successful, entirely so with a few, to significant degrees with many, and not much or not at all with some. Celibacy remains a biblical option for anyone, whether or not they seek help in changing their orientation and whether or not they find help in doing so. Christians need much more widely to disseminate the truth about how “unhappy” many practicing all three categories of unbiblical sex are, the extent to which many are physically or emotionally damaged, the true nature of the biblical data, and the real possibility of living in holy ways with one’s sexuality. Then, of course, we need to model it.
Belleville’s book continues in the tradition of larger works by Elizabeth Moberly, Joseph Nicolosi, Thomas Schmidt, Robert Gagnon, and Stanton and Yarhouse, a tradition that needs to become much more widely known. None of her writing denies that many caught up in unbiblical heterosexual or homosexual lifestyles are themselves hurting terribly, more the victims of their own dysfunctional pasts and surroundings than conscious victimizers. Christians must exercise love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness and empathy to far greater extents than we traditionally have. But that does not mean that churches must become open and affirming, that those flaunting unbiblical sexual lifestyles should be courted for the highest levels of church leadership or that one-sided presentations of exegetical debates or social-scientific data prove healthy for anyone. Many in the pro-gay lobby have good intentions and some think they are pursuing what is actually consistent with Christian convictions, but they just don’t have all the facts. And as one turns to legislative debates, different issues intrude that at times may mean that Christians should support certain forms of equal treatment for all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or practices. Few, for example, would dispute equal pay for equal work. Belleville’s book scarcely solves all the debates in the public sphere.
For clarity and succinctness on the key issues at hand, however, and for a completely up-to-date discussion conversant with all perspectives, Linda Belleville has written a gem of a book that has no rival. Christians who care about these issues (and if any Christian doesn’t care about them, what does that imply?) should read this slim volume!
Craig Blomberg, Ph.D.
Distinguished Professor of New Testament