June 19, 2020
Our rapidly changing moral landscape presents a daunting challenge for Christians committed to biblical sexual ethics. The LGBT movement continues to challenge centuries of norms concerning the family, marriage, and human sexuality. And a recent Supreme Court decision means legal definitions and understanding regarding human sexuality are changing, too.
Secular progressives often criticize conservative Christians for their alleged obsession with sexual ethics. But secular and progressive elites are increasingly forcing the issue, insisting everyone embrace their worldview and the full spectrum of LGBT policy positions or face social ostracizing, public shaming, loss of jobs, or other increasingly dire consequences. Those in positions of cultural and political influence are willing to use the coercive power of government to accomplish their political objectives. This was evident this week in the U.S. Senate as Democrats argued for the immediate passage of the Equality Act, legislation that represents one of the greatest threats to religious liberty ever introduced in Congress. It would gut our nation’s flagship religious liberty law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was passed nearly unanimously by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a 6-3 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. The majority ruled that employment discrimination “on the basis of sex”— prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be understood to include actions based on sexual orientation and gender identity. By reinterpreting the statute in this way, the Court essentially rewrote civil rights law.
Many conservatives were surprised by the decision and considered Justice Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion to be a betrayal of the originalist and textualist approach he had previously insisted guided his judicial philosophy. As both Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh pointed out in their respective dissents, the majority opinion authored by Gorsuch imposed a meaning that would have been foreign to those who authored the Civil Rights Act and ignored the plain meaning of the statute.
The consequences of the Bostock decision will play out for many years. In the immediate future, there are significant questions about how the ruling will affect religious liberty. Can religious institutions such as colleges and seminaries continue to have have sex-separated dormitories and housing? Are sex separated private spaces like bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing facilities now discriminatory? Will women athletes be forced to compete against biological males in both scholastic and professional sports? Will employers be forced to cover treatments and surgeries that are not medically necessary and that are in opposition to their religious beliefs on human embodiment?
Originalism and textualism are methods of interpreting the law. But as theologically conservative Christians, we hold to a form of originalism and textualism when reading and interpreting Scripture—the historical grammatical method. In other words, we believe God’s Word is authoritative, infallible, and inerrant. Because the Bible is “breathed out” by God, followers of Christ are called to obey and align their lives with it (2 Tim. 3:16). In order to obey and align our lives with the Bible, we must read and interpret it.
The historical grammatical method of interpretation means we take seriously the grammar and syntax of the words and phrases that appear in the Bible because we want to know what the text says and what it means. We also want to place the text in its historical context. The Bible was written in a culture that is very different than our own. To understand many of the stories, we need some understanding of the ancient world in which it took place. Although this process of reading the Bible takes effort, there is no other faithful way to read Scripture.
As theologically conservative Christians, we know our views on marriage and sexuality are increasingly unfashionable and go against the cultural zeitgeist. But we hold to these views anyway, because we believe the Bible’s teachings about marriage and human sexuality are clear.
Transgender activists posit a distinction between the biological reality of sex and the subjective, internal feeling of gender identity. The biblical worldview, however, affirms the goodness of the material creation and the human body. In fact, the doctrines of creation, incarnation, and bodily resurrection provide strong theological affirmation of our physical bodies. Genesis 1:31 says that everything God created, including the human body, is “very good.” In other words, our bodies (including our maleness or femaleness) are essential, integral components of who we are.
In a world disordered by the fall, the goodness of the body may be difficult for many to affirm, and the church should show grace to those who struggle with accepting their bodies. But Christians must also speak the truth in love and stand on our convictions, which biology and anatomy support.
Christians cannot and should not compromise their Bible-informed beliefs about human sexuality. Why? Because we believe in the authority of God’s Word. And because we believe the Bible’s teachings are what is best for society and individual flourishing.
The real reason theologically conservative Christians disapprove of the LGBT movement has nothing to do with wanting to deny people rights or oppressing a group of people. Our convictions come from our compassion for them and our concern about the consequences of certain chosen behaviors. Both the Old and New Testaments prohibit homosexual conduct, and since God created us “male and female” (Gen. 1:27), we have no right to recreate ourselves any more than the clay has the right to tell the potter what to do (Is. 45:9).
As evidenced by the muted outcry to the Supreme Court’s decision on Monday—even among many conservative groups—conservative Christians are increasingly on the periphery when it comes to our convictions on human sexuality. Christians, especially pastors, will continue to face mounting pressure to compromise—or at least downplay—the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. However, we cannot compromise our beliefs because we are committed to Scripture. While the Court’s decision is deeply discouraging, we do not give up. We know that we are advocating and fighting for timeless truths revealed to us in Scripture.
So, let us continue to articulate a biblically robust, theologically informed perspective on how Christians think about the major issues facing our nation in order to promote the true flourishing of individuals and of society.