This is part 5 in a 5 part series of a response to Carter Heyward’s essay “Notes on Historical Grounding: Beyond Sexual Essentialism,” which can be found in Sexuality and the Sacred:Sources for Theological Reflection, edited by James B. Nelson and Sandra P. Longfellow.
Heyward concludes her argument with a rallying cry for change. As is the case throughout her article, her call to change is correct, but the direction in which she desires to enact this change is deadly. The following is Heyward’s proposed solution to the issue of a misunderstanding of sexuality in the church:
If we are to live with our feet on the ground, in touch with reality, we must help one another accept the fact that we who are christian are heirs to a body-despising, woman-fearing, sexually repressive religious tradition. If we are to continue being members of the church, we must challenge and transform it at the root. What is required is more than simply a “reformation.” I am speaking of revolutionary transformation. Nothing less will do (Heyward, 16).
Heyward’s call to recognize the past sins of the church is valid. Only when sins are acknowledged and repented of can true healing take place and forgiveness be granted. A vast number of problems within the Church today would be resolved literally overnight if believers were willing to repent and humbly seek forgiveness from their God and from their fellow believers. God confirms this promise in 2 Chronicles 7.14: “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” True change occurs not through bitter retribution, as Heyward suggests, but through humble repentance and forgiveness.
This issue of creating idols out of sex and self ultimately stems from a misunderstanding of the person, nature, and work of God. Most claim that their disdain for God’s moral law has little to do with their “personal” relationship with God. They claim to love God. Their problems is with Scripture. Some may think that this type of thinking is extreme and could never be found in the mind of the average church member. But it is creeping into the pews and can be heard in excuses given concerning sexual immorality, divorce, exorbitant debt and a host of other self-gratifying sins. When people make statements like, “I know the Bible says it’s wrong, but God wants me to be happy,” they are judging Scripture through the lens of personal experience—the exact thing sexual pagans do to justify the worship of sex and self.
This idolatrous thinking has made its way into the local church, and it will not be corrected through a “revolutionary transformation,” but only through a humble reformation, by a return to the recognition that the God worthy of service and worship is powerful and sovereign, and He alone ensures that His will and ways have been communicated to His people without error or confusion. Those who think that Scripture is irrelevant today because it has been corrupted throughout time do not have a low view of man or of Scripture. They have a low view of God and his ability to maintain His promise that “the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever” (Is 40.8).
Carter Heyward has so much right in her argument: sexuality can be seen as an aspect of humanity that is fluid and changing. While people (with very rare, medical exceptions) are born biologically heterosexual, through the influence of man’s sinful heart and the impact of the sinful choices of others, some go against the loving and unchanging one, right way of the loving Father and go astray, seeking to do things their own way (Is 53.6). Choosing to follow the sinful desires of the heart is not a liberating way of finding oneself and realizing one’s full potential, as a loving bodyself like Heyward tries so hard to claim. Rather, when man chooses to go his own way, his iniquities are not laid upon the Suffering Servant described in Isaiah 53. By going one’s own way, one is committing to pay the price for sins committed against an infinitely holy God.
For too long the church has silently sat back and uncomfortably watched society claim sex as its own. Before it is too late for the next generation of believers, the church must heed the warning of those who seek to take the good gift of God and further corrupt it in sexual paganism: “Our silence will not protect us…. We are shaping history with our words. Either we speak as best we can or our power… will slip away like a thief in the night” (Heyward, 16). Unlike Heyward, who believes that humanity’s power comes in unity with one’s self and with one another, Christians must remember that God’s grace is sufficient in whatever battle may be faced when standing in the truth of the Word. Christians are called to speak out against those who claim to speak for God but spread lies. Silence will not protect us, but it will most certainly condemn us if we remain silent concerning the increasing attack on biblical sexual morality.