TRANSCRIPT: We haven’t consummated our marriage.

March 28, 2014

Hello, I’m Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and you are listening to Questions and Ethics. This is the program where we take a question that you are struggling with and take a look at it through the lens of the kingdom of Christ. And our question this week comes from a pastor who says to me, “Dr. Moore, I pastor a small congregation made up mostly of younger people, college students and young couples. And we have a problem that I don’t know how to deal with. There’s a couple, married, they’ve been married for eight months, and they have yet to consummate the marriage. At issue is the husband. The young man is unwilling to consummate the marriage. There is no medical problem. I have investigated asking him if maybe there is a sexual orientation issue. He says, no. He is not attracted to men at all. He loves his wife, but he finds sex to be “gross,” in his words. So they haven’t consummated the marriage yet. I don’t know what to do or how to help them. Is this something that is a church discipline issue, or is this just something I ought to pray for them about and move on?”

Well, pastor, that is a difficult one, and it is something that—you know, I find myself getting this question more and more these days. It seems that I am finding more and more young couples having sexual difficulties. And a lot of times what people tend to think about are older couples, whether medical problems, or they’ve been married a long time and kind of the romantic energy is lagging in the marriage. But I am finding this situation with young couples.

The situation that you are talking about here is a crisis. Eight months without any intimacy within this marriage for a newlywed couple, that is a really significant thing. And it is significant biblically since marriage, biblically, is made up of a vow—a commitment that is being made before God and before the rest of the community—and also consummation, that one-flesh union. “Therefore,” the scripture says, “they shall be joined together,” Genesis 2, “and they shall become one flesh.” So, an unconsummated marriage is something that throughout the history of the church has been recognized as no marriage at all, especially where there is a refusal to consummate the marriage. So this is a serious matter.

What I would say to you is that there are several things I would keep in mind. You said there is no medical issue; that has already been looked at. I would make sure that that’s actually been examined. Make sure that as you are counseling that he has a doctor weighing in on this, not that he’s just assuming that there is nothing wrong. You’ve already investigated the sexual orientation issue. It might be worth talking that through one-on-one with him, without her there, to see whether or not that is an issue.

There are a couple of other possibilities that might be happening. One of them is pornography. And by that I don’t mean that pornography generally leads to this, but it can if you have someone who has been exposed to pornography for a long time, especially prior to that person being shaped and formed sexually during puberty. So you may have somebody who has been exposed to porn since he was nine, ten years old, so he is unable to think of a real-life woman in a way that causes the sort of response to her that God initiated and that God wired within us. And it also may be that somehow he has been involved in porn for so long, or something, that there is a sense of shame that he is attaching to sex. Maybe there is a sort of guilt that he is attaching, and being in the presence of her, there is that sense that the Bible says is the result of the fall, that the man and the woman were naked and they were ashamed before each other. It’s creating a rift between her and him. I would take him one-on-one and say tell me about what’s happening in your past with porn.

Another possibility is that there is some sort of trauma that has happened in his life. It could be that this is someone who was sexually abused. It could be that there was some type of psychological wound that he experienced. Spend some time talking to him. And I think in this case, after eight months, it’s worth bringing in professional help with a professional counselor who can come in and help work him through this, maybe even before you put the two of them together in the conversation. Work him through this to say is there some sort of trauma that is going on.

Now, if this is simply just someone who says I don’t want to have sex with my wife. I refuse to carry out my responsibilities to love and to care for me wife including in the area of sexual intimacy, well, yeah, I think that would constitute an abandonment of her, and that would mean that the leaders of the church should come in and deal with it. My suspicion here, just based on the general stuff that you are giving to me, though, isn’t that. My suspicion is that there is some sort of trauma going on in his life, and you need to help him with that and to provide whatever help that you can give to him.

For her, it sounds to me, based again on the very little that you have said to me, that she is wanting to fight this through; she is wanting to be there with her husband and work through this. She has stayed with him for eight months. So, give her the resources that she is going to need. That includes keeping her from thinking somehow that she is to blame. I mean, of course she is going to think that this is very unusual, and it is an unusual situation to be married eight months and have no sexual relationship with one another. She is going to feel as though she is somehow unwanted or unattractive, or maybe even freakish. That’s not the case. This is not her problem, I am willing to say right here. This is something that is going on in his life. So help her to see that, and give the ministry to her that she is going to need as you work through this situation.

And just find out what the problem is. If it’s a medical, hormonal issue, well, that can be fixed. If it’s a psychological, trauma issue, well then you need to have people who are able to help him work through this. If it’s a sense of attaching shame and guilt to sex, then you need—and that can happen. Sometimes you have Christians who have been diligent watching their hearts when it comes to sexuality in an unbiblical form. They are avoiding, as the scripture says, “flee fornication,” but they don’t cultivate that sense of the goodness of sexuality and the healthiness of sexuality, so they have some difficulties. It doesn’t cause eight months of not being able to consummate a marriage. So there is probably something else going on here. But help him to work through, as you are moving forward, that sexuality is a good thing, a good gift that God has given to us. And just help them to fight through this. But you are right to be concerned about it; this is a crisis in the marriage, because sexuality isn’t something incidental to the marriage. That one-flesh union, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically, and physically is really important in a marriage.

Thanks for listening to Questions and Ethics. For more resources on living the Christian life check out our website at erlc.com, and send me your question. Maybe you have been reading your Bible, and you notice something there that you have a question about. Or maybe you are having a conversation with somebody in your neighborhood, and a question came up. Or maybe it’s something you are wrestling through in your family or in your church or in your workplace. Just send me your questions at [email protected] or Twitter at the hashtag #askrdm. Until next time, seek the kingdom and walk the line. This is Russell Moore.

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is a former President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. His book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, was named Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the … 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