How Do We Know What God Intended For Sexuality?

August 21, 2015

In one of his famous dialogues with the Pharisees Jesus skillfully appealed to creation norms to trump the part of the Mosaic Code that permitted men to divorce their wives for frivolous reasons.

Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate. . . . Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery. (Matthew 19:4-6, 8-9)

Here Jesus intertwined the teachings of Genesis 1 and 2 to tie marriage indelibly to the ordering of human beings as male and female, an ordering that was itself indelibly tied to God's purposes for sexuality and procreation. By linking the sexual relationship between male and female introduced in Genesis 1 to the one flesh union introduced in Genesis 2, Jesus pronounced judgment on all legal engineering that would reduce marriage to something else (in the case of Matthew 19, an opportunity for men to treat women like slaves).

It was a powerful argument and one that played no small part in elevating natural law as a fundamental concept in Christian ethics. Calvin used the “hardness of heart” argument to explain numerous parts of the Mosaic Law that he found lacking. The ultimate standard for Christians, he pointed out, is the natural moral law that stems from creation, not the various stipulations of the Torah.

Others have appealed to creation norms to critique slavery, various forms of oppression, sexual immorality and environmental degradation.

Can we appeal to creation to defend same-sex marriage?

And yet here is the rub. Christians have also appealed to nature as justification for racial segregation. Others have used it to defend social patriarchy. Now some are beginning to appeal to creation to defend same-sex marriage.

The question is, how do we determine the moral meaning of creation? How do we determine the content of natural law?

Surely we can rule out a few forms of argument.

1. We should not be gathering ethical norms from the ways in which animals interact. It makes little moral sense to say, “if chimpanzees do it, why can't we?” There are fundamental differences between humans made in the image of God and animals.

2. We should not be slavishly imitating the ways of life of the first human beings. It makes little sense to argue that if Adam and Eve walked everywhere they went, so should we. We can accept the accomplishments of culture and technology.

3. We do not have precisely the same obligations that were given to the first human beings in Genesis 1-2. For example, Genesis says that God rested on the seventh day and declared it to be holy. Deuteronomy 5 presents this as the basis for the sabbath law that was so central to the covenant with Israel. But Paul declares that Christians are no longer bound by a sabbath day (Colossians 2), and even most Christians who believe in a new covenant sabbath emphasize that it no longer falls, as it did at creation, on the seventh day of the week.

4. This last point is very important. Christ has fulfilled the purposes of creation, and it is in him that we now seek our own participation in that fulfillment. Christian ethics does not look backward — as if the goal were to try to get back to creation — but forward, toward the fulfillment of creation in Christ.

Is the natural law relevant?

But does that mean that creation, or the natural law, is no longer relevant?

Jesus' teaching regarding the nature of marriage, like Paul's various appeals to creation, remind us that the order of creation remains, even though it must now be interpreted in light of the work of Christ. So the task at hand, when wrestling with matters like human dignity as grounded in the image of God, the call to be fruitful and multiply, the call to work, the command to exercise dominion, the institution of marriage, and the meaning of gender, is to determine how we fulfill the purposes of creation in light of what Christ has done and is doing.

Yet this can be tricky. For, how do we tell the difference between the sort of fulfillment that entails the transcendence of a certain dimension of the creation order (i.e., the sabbath day) even as it continues to be fulfilled in more meaningful ways (i.e., resting in Christ, worshiping God, etc.), and claims about fulfillment that amount rather to a contradiction or nullification of the creation order?

These latter claims can take various forms, but they invariably embrace dimensions of the fall into sin and integrate those dimensions into a new, corrupted understanding of creation. Is this not what we see in forms of patriarchy that exploit women, defenses of social systems that idolize racial segregation, and visions of cultural progress that run roughshod over the environment?

Christians wrestling with whether or not God is calling us to affirm homosexual relationships within the church need to work through these basic questions.

Does it transcend or distort the created purpose?

It is one thing to say that the work of Christ points us to the fulfillment and transcendence of marriage, procreation, and gender, a logic that leads to a new appreciation for the significance of celibacy within the Christian tradition (1 Corinthians 7). After all, Jesus himself said that in the kingdom there will be no marriage (Luke 20). Those who choose to be celibate therefore anticipate the fulfillment of creation's own purposes. Those who devote themselves to bonds of love that transcend sexuality anticipate the future communion of all in God.

It is another thing entirely to say, as some are saying, that we may therefore do with marriage, sexuality, and gender whatever we desire. To engage in sexual intercourse without a willingness to accept the children God may provide (if our birth control fails, for instance) is to turn a basic purpose of sexuality on its head. Do we not do the same when we seek sexual gratification through practices fundamentally different from what sex actually is and was intended to accomplish according to the design of creation? This is not transcendence or anticipation of future fulfillment, but distortion of created purpose. It does not direct people to the renewal of creation in the coming kingdom of God. It drives them back to the hopelessness of corrupted and fallen creation.

It is true that in Christ there is no male or female, just as there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free (Galatians 3). But this points us to the transcendence of sexuality in the communion of Christ, not to its distortion. Because we still live in that time between the two ages, inhabiting the tension between the already and the not-yet, we can anticipate that communion only by forming bonds of love while abstaining from sexual activity or by entering marriages oriented toward the purposes of the created order that nevertheless reflect the love between Christ and his church.

Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the assistant professor of moral theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is the author of Calvin’s Political Theology and the Public Engagement of the Church: Christ’s Two Kingdoms.  Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24