Dealing with Our Culture’s Sexual Standards

Unsure Way to Go (610x351)This is our pastor’s article for our October, 2014 newsletter.


Dealing with Our Culture’s Sexual Standards

By Pr. Rich Futrell

An older person may feel out of step because he has spent much of his life living in another culture–the culture that once was. Think back to when you were a child. Do you remember the “old folks” then complaining about the culture and society’s downward spiral? I do. I thought it was just old people being old people, which obliged them to be curmudgeonly, at times. Ah, such is the worldview of a child!

Well, now I’m becoming one of “them.” I now have enough life experience to see the actions of my former elders through the lens of a man with many memories now within me, formed by over half a century of life. And although I did not appreciate their “grousing” at the time, I now understand it better. For I now feel as if I have lived much of my life in a culture that once was.

The culture I grew up in saw someone’s religion as a public matter. One’s faith defined, in part, who someone was. One’s religion wasn’t something about which to boast or hide; it was simply part of someone’s identity. It was what a person did in the bedroom that was private.

Today, our culture has reversed that. Our culture now considers a person’s sexual behavior as a defining characteristic of who he is. I still find this as an odd marker for someone’s identity. Even more, the sexual acts that one does has even become a public matter, which various groups within our culture affirm. Religious observance, on the other hand, has become private and personal–not that it wasn’t also that before, but now the public matter of one’s faith has been cornered into non-existence.

When did this happen? There was no particular event or harrowing moment. Such a change happened over time, sometimes not even realized. But if I were to use some events in our public lives that helped show and mark such a change, it would be events that took place during Bill Clinton’s presidency.

I remember others praising President Clinton for a faith that was so private that he didn’t even share it with his wife. On the flip side, he involved himself in a sexual affair with someone who wasn’t his wife, which became public. He then lied about that affair under oath, and it dragged on and on for many months. What was a private matter became public and what was supposed to have a public side to it (one’s faith) was praised for being fully private. The center of gravity had shifted.

Growing up as a Baptist, based on their theology, a defining moment for someone in that religious culture was the “sinner’s prayer.” So, a Baptist would ask another, “When did you ask Jesus into your heart?” (As a Lutheran pastor, I now know such an event has no biblical basis.) Today, the question is, “When did you realize that you were straight (or gay, etc.)?” Sexuality now gives many their identity, maybe even their purpose in life.

What are we to do as those who are in Christ’s Church? Although it’s always easy to curse the darkness, such a voice is useless if one doesn’t also bring the light. As Christians, Jesus Christ and His Gospel are to define us, not whatever culture happens to surround us. If Jesus and His means of grace coming to us are the center of our lives, then that also shapes how we live out our lives. Faith and works are connected after all!

I now want to bring you back in time, this time not to my childhood, but to the first century AD within the Roman Empire. The culture then was rife with sexual standards that were drastically different from a Christian worldview. Take for instance, the emperor of Rome in Jesus’ day, Tiberius Caesar. He brought others in to perform sexual acts for his viewing enjoyment. Is that much different from watching pornography in our culture?

So, how did Jesus respond to cultural practices that contradicted His own? First, Jesus didn’t compromise His standards to “win friends or influence people.” Do you remember the row Jesus had with the Pharisees about divorce? One rabbi’s school of thought, the School of Hillel, taught that a man could divorce his wife for almost any reason, even if she happened to burn his supper meal. Against such thinking, Jesus said, “I tell you that whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).

Following the sexual spirit of the age was of little interest to Jesus. As His followers, neither should we conform to the spirit of our age. It’s hard to be counter-cultural, isn’t it?

But there was another side to Jesus. Oh, He was rigorous when it came to what was wrong and what was right. Yet, Jesus was also compassionate, merciful, and filled with grace to people caught up in ways of living that were wrong. Jesus did not shun them; instead, He loved them. Perhaps, for you, the woman at the well may come to mind. She was married and divorced several times and was living with a man (John 4). Maybe, you remember Jesus with the woman caught in the act of adultery. Jesus foiled the efforts of those who wanted to stone her. He show her grace, but also told her, “Go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Jesus upheld His norms of right and wrong–yet also brought compassion to those living (maybe even “trapped”) in such ways of life.

As followers of Christ, the way Jesus handled the sexual practices of His day is the right road for us to travel. For where He leads, we are to follow. But, of course, we’ll mess up, even without trying. But when that happens, we get up, dust ourselves off, come to Church to get more Jesus in Word and Sacrament, and begin once more. That sounds a bit like the Christian life, doesn’t it? Yes, it does!

It’s Jesus for you, Jesus in you, and Jesus through you. You receive Jesus in Word and Sacrament. The Jesus for you becomes the Jesus in you. The Jesus in you becomes the Jesus through you. Repeat again and again, and again some more, until God brings you home into His eternal presence. Amen.