By / Dec 10

Sam Allberry brings fresh insight to both a secular and religious audience in his book Why Does God Care Who I Sleep With? His approach and tone in answering this question are primarily geared toward a secular audience, to whom he states, “I urge you to consider carefully, and as objectively as you can, as I try to explain why I think sex matters so much to all of us” (9). His argument at the outset is: “God cares who we sleep with because he cares deeply about the people who are doing the sleeping” (10).

In the early chapters of the book, Allberry sets out to dispel popular notions about sex. For example, he uses the Sermon on the Mount to show that sex was actually so important to Jesus that the sexual act of adultery was not just a physical act but a mental act as well. And he shows that the Bible teaches emphatically that sex is good and should be enjoyed. 

Contrary to what the world might say, Allberry argues that all people believe in some form of sexual restriction. He contends, “Even the most dedicated proponents of sexual freedom acknowledge that some boundaries are necessary; it’s just that these boundaries are so often assumed, and we don’t necessarily recognize that they’re there and that they’re boundaries” (25). Allberry seeks to bring common beliefs that both Christians and secular people would acknowledge in order to show that the Christian understanding of sex is not as antiquated as one might believe.

The Christian sexual ethic

As the book progresses, Allberry goes on to explain the historic Christian understanding of sex within the confines of marriage. While many people view sex through the lens of personal self-fulfillment, sex is ultimately about self-giving. Sex is not simply the giving of our physical body but our emotions and our minds. He explains, “Our culture often claims that we can give someone our physical body without giving them our whole self, but Christians would say that this is not so” (50). Sex within marriage is the only way to give completely of yourself to another person in the way that God designed.

Allberry also points out that the sexual ethic of Christians, while controversial today, actually brought great benefits to many in the Greco-Roman world. First, for example, Christianity taught that men had sexual restrictions, while in the Roman world, men could satisfy their sexual urges in any number of ways. Second, men in the Roman world had all the power in sexual relationships, but Christianity taught a radical mutuality between man and women. And finally, the mutuality between man and woman became the basis for consent which, as Allberry highlights, is “perhaps the most important sexual ethic Western society continues to insist upon” (61).

A picture of a romance 

The book concludes by circling back to the initial question posed in the title of the book. God cares who we sleep with because the story “of who God is and what he is doing in the world—is actually a romance” (124). Allberry uses the image of the bride and bridegroom to illustrate not only the value of marriage but how marriage is a microcosm of a Christian’s relationship to Jesus. In a wedding, nobody is watching the groom. The bride is the focus, and she is beautiful and spotless on that day. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, he wipes away our sin so that we can be presented as a beautiful and spotless bride. 

Also, on the wedding day, the bride and bridegroom make a lifelong, exclusive, legal, and covenant promise to one another. A Christian’s union to Jesus is also a legal transaction. One receives Jesus’s perfect righteousness, and Jesus takes on their imperfection and sin. Allberry explains that “marriage has a purpose for and benefit to the husband and wife, but it also has the wider purpose and public benefit of being a shadow and foretaste of what God is offering to all people in Jesus” (134).

The primary strength of this book is that it could be read by a Christian or non-Christian with both coming away challenged and informed about the Bible’s understanding of sex. He writes as a pastor with a heart for people. While acknowledging the secular views that many people have, he redirects them toward a biblical understanding of sex. Allberry closes the book with this powerful statement that sums up the answer to the book’s question, “God cares who we sleep with because he cares who we spend eternity with, and he wants us to know him and experience his ultimate love forever” (137).

By / Oct 9

There is another scandal in the news. This time it involves allegations that a longtime Hollywood movie mogul used his power and influence to sexually harass numerous women across several decades. And this is but the latest example. Similar scandals have recently brought considerable upheaval to the conservative cable network, Fox News, which witnessed the departure of both executives and on-air talent in the wake of multiple allegations of sexual harassment.

There is a lesson here: The failure to appropriately harness our God-given sexual desire is not a partisan issue; it happens indiscriminately on the Left and the Right. But an issue of even greater consequence lies beyond the problems of Hollywood and the media. For far too long, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual misconduct have plagued the church and harmed her witness.

Sexual harassment and human dignity

Sexual harassment is an issue of human dignity. If we affirm that every person bears the image of God, then we also affirm that every person possesses an intrinsic and inviolable dignity (Gen. 1:27). Making aggressive and unwanted sexual advances violates a person’s dignity and personhood. But to speak plainly, recognizing this principle isn’t usually the problem. There is almost universal agreement among Christians that sexual harassment is bad. Instead, our problem is that we often fail to recognize subtle breaches of this principle, or worse, fail to take the appropriate action when we do.

Sexual misconduct should scandalize us. God hates it. And we must not tolerate it.

Sexual harassment is more than physical abuse. It can manifest in a number of different forms—including verbal and non-verbal communication—all of which can devastate and ruin lives. For this reason, Christians need to be attentive, not only to our actions, but to all of the ways we interact with others to ensure that we are treating those around us with dignity and respect. We must not assume that our behavior is permissible simply because it doesn’t cause any physical harm. Sexually-charged words and actions that stop short of physical contact can be just as threatening and just as wicked.

Dealing with sexual misconduct

No one should feel safe to be an abuser. There is no position of authority that should insulate or excuse a person for inappropriate sexual behavior, and certainly not in the church. Authority requires accountability.

For victims, there should be no shame in speaking up. If someone comes forward with accusations of sexual harassment, those allegations must be handled with the utmost seriousness. Anyone subjected to sexual harassment or abuse should be met by the church with grace and compassion. Further, those possessing knowledge of such abuse should make every effort to be sure the matter is thoroughly investigated, and that the appropriate actions are taken. And it must be said, in the case of abuse involving a minor, call the police. When warranted by the circumstances, Christians should immediately contact the appropriate authorities without guilt or hesitation.

A word to Christian leaders

As Christian leaders, we should go out of our way to be sure that everyone around us feels valued and safe. Sexual harassment should be an issue of zero tolerance. The church is not a “Boys Club.” It’s a family. We should repudiate displays of misogyny and bravado and champion a culture of unity and mutual respect.

Authority is a stewardship. Anytime a Christian finds themselves in a place of elevated authority, they must remember that they are no longer standing on equal footing with those they are called to lead or serve. In such cases, there is an increased risk of manipulation and abuse, and extra measures of caution should be taken This is why Peter exhorts pastors to be attentive to their conduct as they shepherd God’s flock (1 Pet. 5:1-4).

Christian leaders should aim to live as examples. Our heralding the gospel’s message of redemption would be of little value if the message is undermined by our misconduct toward the men and women Christ died to redeem. The last thing we should do is allow our actions to present a stumbling block other than the gospel. There is simply no place for sexually-charged language or innuendo among those entrusted to lead the people of Christ.

Ending sexual harassment

Sexual misconduct should scandalize us. God hates it. And we must not tolerate it.

Jesus said those who love him will keep his commandments (John 14:15). To obey Jesus is to esteem the imago dei. And Jesus said the world would recognize his people by their love (John 13:35). Ending sexual harassment gives the church a chance to do both. God help us. The world is watching.

By / Aug 11

A prominent Christian leader recently said to me that for Evangelicals and traditional Catholics and Orthodox, the metaphor of putting our fingers in the dike as holes of evil burst through it is anachronistic.

We are not having a few fissures in the dam, he said. We are experiencing a mudslide.

Our cultural erosion is comprehensive and accelerating. From family structure to religious liberty, the moral implications of our social collapse are stunning.  But this piece is not about that.

Rather, there is a movement within Evangelicalism that says our decades-long effort to restrain cultural disintegration has been futile. Instead of continuing it, some believers argue that we should abandon our public activism and de facto accept the triumph of the cultural and political Left. They argue that Christians should perform private acts of  love and pursue faith-based but socially unobtrusive charitable ministries.

Here’s how one prominent Christian writer, a brother I respect and appreciate greatly, put it in a recent column:

Early Christians had far fewer religious freedoms than we enjoy today. Subjects of Rome were made to worship the emperor; Christians were often targeted for wholesale persecution and slaughter; believers had no legal protection for their faith. Yet they “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6, KJV) and launched the largest spiritual movement in human history. How did they do it? They demonstrated their faith by their love (John 13:35). They met felt needs in order to meet spiritual needs. They viewed the secular authorities not as enemies to be defeated but as people for whom to pray (1 Timothy 2:2).  They did not mount a “culture war,” but gave their lives to a movement of subversive service and grace. 

All true, in that (a) Christians should never depend on government’s permission to obey their Lord faithfully and (b) quiet, persistent obedience and sacrificial love in the Name of Jesus are profound testimonies to His reality and transforming power.

Yet this proposition poses a false alternative. The United States is not ancient, oppressive, persecutorial Rome. At least it hasn’t been, and to allow it to descend into such a state with no resistance would be what Carl F.H. Henry called “an act of Christian lovelessness.”

In other words, in addition to showing Christ’s love in practical, hands-on ways through our churches, para-church and other ministries, and through individual acts of mercy for our Lord’s sake, not to seek legal protection for the unborn and sound medical care for their mothers … not to use the law to fight the commodification of women through sex trafficking and pornography … not to use legal means to protect marriage as God designed it and to strengthen the family unit, which is the fundamental means by which we become healthy, functional, productive persons … and not to work through legislation and the courts to sustain and defend the practice of religious conviction as well as the right of private conscience, recognizing that “freedom of religion” is the foundation of all of our other freedoms … is to abandon a massive sphere of human experience to evil.

Such abandonment is un-Christian, even anti-Christian.

I am not suggesting that comprehensive triumph inevitably will be our lot. We do not know God’s plan for our country, although we do know that as nations propel themselves into spiritual rebellion to Him that He both lifts His hand of protection and renders them subject to His judgment.

What we do know is that in the United States today Christians retain legal, political, and judicial tools to fight the triumph of evil. To lay those tools down in resigned anticipation of persecution is more masochistic than spiritually mature. Even more, not to use these tools is to say to those most at risk, “We love you, and we’ll try to help you, but when it comes to the actions of the state – you’re on your own.”

This kind of attitude hardly reflects the heart of the Savior we profess.

We might well come to a point where the game truly is up and repression becomes our lot. The rights and liberties we have long enjoyed might be dramatically curtailed and Christians could become a socially odious and unacceptable class of people.  Then, our acts of grace will truly become not just subversive but, often, secret – and costly.

We are not there yet.  We have within our grasp the legal and political facilities for advancing and defending things close to the heart of God and essential to the future of this nation. To drop them now would be to invite suffering, something from which we should never shrink but also something we should never seek and for which we should never long.  Such seeking and longing are not evidences of Godliness but of emotional trauma.

As we use the tools our citizenship in the American republic provides us, we must do so with humility, wisdom, and grace, and also truth, commitment, and courage. Christians should want to “crush” no one, but nor should they become passive acceptors of wrongdoing. We want to stop evil and advance good, persuade our adversaries even as we oppose them, demonize no one and yet prevent those who would do (even if unknowingly) the devil’s work from succeeding.

Of course we should do the thousand works of Christian compassion we can do outside the public eye. There will never be a time when private and church-based service to others for the sake of the cross is insignificant. But this kind of service must not exclude our participation in the public square. For the sake of our fellow believers, for the good of all men, and for the sake of God.