Peter Saunders


How to combat flak from Christians for teaching biblical sexual ethics

Peter Saunders

Anyone who presents a biblical perspective on sexual ethics on the internet will come in for a lot of criticism and be called all manner of things, especially if writing about homosexuality. 

This is entirely what we should expect. 

We live in a world that is hostile to Christian faith and values and to many people biblical sexual ethics are antiquated, bizarre, naïve, unrealistic or even unchristian.

But when that criticism comes from fellow Christians it is can be more challenging to handle.

The Evangelical Alliance’s recent survey on the views of evangelical Christians in Britain reveals that there is a wide range of views on sexual morality even amongst those who accept biblical authority. 

Only 59% of 17,000 British evangelicals surveyed in 2010, for example, ‘agreed a lot’ that ‘homosexual actions are always wrong’. 14% ‘agreed a little’, 11% were unsure, 8% disagreed a little and 8% disagreed a lot. 

And yet the Bible is very clear on this issue and the stance of the Evangelical Alliance has been very strong in recent statements. The Accepting Evangelicals group, who wish to bless gay partnerships, are a very small minority indeed.

So why are so many evangelicals so unclear? There are certainly strong pressures from the prevailing culture to adopt an unbiblical view, but I suspect it really boils down to what they are being taught (or not being taught!) in their churches. 

Are evangelical pastors and teachers equally confused, or have they just been intimidated into silence by the fear of what reaction biblical teaching on this issue might generate? 

I suspect it is largely the latter. So in this blog I have given some of the usual reactions Christians give when the issue of sexual morality is raised along with some suggested responses.

As always our best guide is the Bible itself, and so I have illustrated (and linked) each point with Scripture: 

1.  It’s unloving

It’s increasingly common to be told by Christians that telling people they can’t be true to their feelings is ‘unloving’. Above all we should love one another and that means affirming and building up and not implying that other people’s behaviour is unacceptable. 

But Jesus himself said that the commands to love God and love one another are summed up the Old Testament Law (Matthew 22:37-40). The command to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ comes from Leviticus 19:18.

But Leviticus 19 is sandwiched immediately between Leviticus 18 & 20 where most of the explicit OT teaching on sexual morality is found. And these verses are very clear that the only context for sex is within a lifelong marriage between a man and a woman (marriage).

Furthermore all this teaching is upheld in the New Testament.

Leviticus 19:18 is preceded by the command, ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy’ (19:2) and its immediate context is 19:17: ‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbour frankly so you will not share in their guilt’. 

Loving God and our neighbour involves being holy, being sexually pure and being concerned enough about our fellow believers to challenge them over sin.  Real love is willing even to risk being rejected for challenging a brother or sister because you care more about their walk with God than you do about what they think of you.

2. We shouldn’t judge

Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you’ (Matthew 7:1,2).

But it is clear from the wider context of Matthew that this is challenging hypocritical and judgmental attitudes and does not excuse Christians from challenging one another about sin. In fact looking out for each other in this way is a Christian duty. 

Jesus commands in Matthew 18:15-17:

‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.” If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.’

The Apostle Paul is even more explicit about the need for church discipline for sexual sin:

‘ I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you”.’ (1 Corinthians 5:9-13)

3. It is between them and God

The Bible is very clear that sin is not simply between us and God. Sin damages the Christian community because all of us are inseparably linked as members of the body of Christ. In the body of Christ we are responsible for each other and when one falls all suffer. What damages the body is the body’s business. Furthermore sexual sin damages the body of Christ in a way that other sin does not:

‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!  Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies.’ (1 Corinthians 6:15-20).

4. The Gospel is about grace not law

It is of course true that we are saved by grace through faith through Jesus’ death for our sins (Ephesians 2:8, 9). It is also true that we rely on his grace and power to live holy lives. But once saved we are to imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1), to walk in his footsteps (1 John 2:6), indeed to imitate God himself (Ephesians 5:1). 

We are called to ‘the obedience that comes from faith’ (Romans 1:5) and to be sanctified: avoiding sexual immorality; and learning to control our bodies in a way that is holy and honourable (1 Thessalonians 4:3,4). Furthermore God’s grace and patience is intended to lead us to repentance, not to be used as an excuse for continuing in sin (Romans 2:4). Loving God and obeying him are inextricably linked: 

‘If you love me, keep my commands… Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me… Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love… You are my friends if you do what I command. ‘ (John 14:152115:9,10,14)

5. We shouldn’t be modern day Pharisees

Absolutely not. The Pharisees ignored God’s real commands and substituted their own human traditions and made up laws for them.  They were also obsessed with outward appearances rather than any change of heart . (Matthew 15:1-20) They were hypocrites.

We should certainly not be like them, but seeking outward and inward sexual purity so that our thoughts and actions are aligned with God’s will is not being pharisaical. It is rather taking holiness seriously.

6. None of us is pure

This is of course true. Each of us misses the mark and falls short and who can say they have never looked at a man or woman who is not their wife with lust, or had an impure sexual thought? (Matthew 5:27-28)

But nonetheless we are called to a life of holiness and warned about the very real dangers of deliberately keeping on sinning after coming to a knowledge of the truth (Hebrews 10:26-31). We need to be very mindful of our own vulnerabilities but this does not absolve us of the responsibility to correct and restore one another. It is rather part of bearing one another’s burdens and fulfilling the ‘law of Christ’.

‘Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.’ (Galatians 6:1,2)

7. Why don’t you preach about other sins?

Sexual immorality is of course only one sin, and we should remember that true discipleship involves teaching disciples ‘to obey everything I have commanded you’ (Matthew 28:19-20). But as we can see from the above sexual purity is very important which is why so much of Scripture is devoted to it, not just in pure didactic teaching, but through the many narratives of sexual sin put there for our warning: 

‘We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died...These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!’ (1 Corinthians 10:10-12

Pastors and teachers must teach the whole counsel of God, but neglecting areas where one is likely to encounter criticism – and this is a prime example – is not being a faithful teacher. And teachers will be judged, we are told, more strictly (James 3:1): 

‘For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 5:18,19

‘A curse on anyone who is lax in doing the Lord’s work! A curse on anyone who keeps their sword from bloodshed!’ (Jeremiah 48:10)

It is essential that the sword of the Spirit, God’s word, is enabled to do its work (Hebrews 4:12).

There is of course more to holiness than sexual purity, but sexual purity is nonetheless an integral and essential part of the whole.  

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Therapists to offer sex change drugs to nine-year-olds

Peter Saunders

Children as young as nine are to be prescribed drugs which delay the onset of puberty as the first step towards a sex change operation (Mail on Sunday and Daily Telegraph).

Doctors at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust said a trial of the treatment on ‘gender dysphoria’ patients aged 12 to 14 had been successful and it could now be offered even earlier.

Monthly injections of the drugs, known as hypothalamic blockers, are used to slow the development of the children’s sexual organs by blocking the production of the hormones testosterone and oestrogen.

The rationale is that by delaying the onset of sexual maturation this gives more time for gender conflicted youngsters to decide whether they wish to embark on hormone treatment and surgery aimed at changing their gender. 

Most people will be shocked at this news but it is actually a logical consequence of accepting four prior ideological presuppositions – that gender is a social construct, that personal autonomy should trump other considerations, that emotional suffering should be avoided at all costs and that technology should be used to achieve these ends. 

There are obvious safety concerns - although the gender treatment is reversible, the long-term effects on brain development, bone growth and fertility have not yet been fully evaluated.

But safety considerations aside, using hormones to suppress puberty in transgender children is highly controversial, not least because of deep societal disagreements about the causes and nature of transsexuality and the effectiveness and appropriateness of transgender therapies per se.  This means that therapists remain strongly divided about the best way of handling the issue.

Transgender people are born with the anatomy and physiology of one sex but believe that they belong to the opposite sex.  Should therapy therefore be aimed at changing bodies (using hormones and surgery) to match a person’s beliefs or should it rather be aimed at helping people to adjust mentally to accepting the bodies they were born with? Even more fundamentally, is ‘gender dsyphoria’ a mental disorder or is it just a normal variant like eye or skin colour?

Up until recently ‘gender identity disorder’ was classified as a mental disorder (in the Psychiatric diagnostic inventory DSM-IV) but it has now been reclassified and renamed ‘gender dysphoria’ (in the DSM-V).  This change was strongly ideologically driven and many psychologists and psychiatrists dispute the reclassification. They still see ‘gender identity disorder’ as a kind of body dysphoria, whereby a person has an unshakeable false belief that they are one sex when in fact they are the other. It has been likened to anorexia nervosa, where the affected individual is convinced she is fat whilst being grossly underweight.

Those who supported the reclassification however, take the view that gender identity is biologically fixed and determined and that it is harmful to affected individuals to deny them sex change therapy or to 'force' them to live with the body they were born with. Some even hold to the strongly postmodern view that gender, regardless of what one’s genes or hormones suggest, is simply a social construct, even a matter of choice. If you wish to appreciate how passionately these views are held, then try expressing a traditional understanding on twitter using the hashtag #lgbt!  

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Is gender identity fixed as male or female or is it more of a spectrum or continuum? Can it change over time? How effective is therapy in changing the strength and orientation of one’s beliefs? How might suppression of puberty using hormonal treatment affect bone, brain and sexual development?

Research is still at an early stage with many of these questions and strong ideological convictions one way or the other mean that scientific objectivity about the real effects of sex change therapy may always be a matter of contention.  It is perhaps not surprising that both opinion and research in this whole area is often driven by powerful ideological vested interests.

Complicating this is the fact that gender identity may change in an individual over time, and that it may be very difficult to predict the outcome of for any particular person. Some children are much more appropriately described as ‘gender nonconforming’ or ‘gender-fluid’ rather than transgender. In many others gender identity may change with time.

Toronto specialist Ken Zucker, who opposes the use of sex change therapies, claims that only about 12% of boys and girls with gender dysphoria will still have persistent dysphoria as adults. This fact alone should lead even the most committed supporters of early intervention to err strongly on the side of caution.

The CMF File ‘Gender Identity Disorder’ goes into the issue in more detail and also looks at biblical principles which can be applied.

The Bible teaches that human beings are created in God's image and of two sexes – male and female (Genesis 1:27). Jesus drew on this when he commented, 'haven't you read, that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female”, and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (Matthew 19:4-5).

The Old Testament command 'you shall not commit adultery' also indicates that sexual intercourse should only occur within the framework of marriage (Exodus 20:14). Sex outside the marriage bond is wrong, whether with someone of the same or opposite sex (Leviticus 18:22, 20:10).

The ideal pattern for existence was spoilt at the Fall when mankind rebelled against God's rules. One consequence of this is that moral values, sexual patterns and also biology (genes and hormones) have become distorted.

The good news at the centre of Christianity is that Jesus, through his death and resurrection, gives people new life and power to change. On top of this, there will be a time in the future when all rebellion against God's plans will come to an end and a perfect relationship with God can be fully restored. This brings the hope that transsexual people may find support as they seek to live in ways that are honest to the way God made them, and open to God's ideals.

It's worth noting that the Bible regards celibacy as a high calling. Jesus was fully human and male, but never married nor had sexual intercourse. He also taught that marriage is not for everyone (Matthew 19:12).  It is important to acknowledge this, as for some people, battling with gender conflict may be a life long process.

Reprinted with permission from PJ Saunders

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Why assisted suicide should not be legalised in Britain

Peter Saunders

I have recently been published in a head to head with Sir Terence English in the Oxford Mail on whether assisted suicide should be legalised in Britain. My contribution to the debate is reproduced below. Perhaps not surprisingly I have said ‘no’.

Any change in the law to allow assisted suicide or euthanasia would inevitably place pressure on vulnerable people to end their lives for fear of being a financial, emotional or care burden upon others.
The ‘right to die’ would so easily become the ‘duty to die’. This would especially affect people who are disabled, elderly, sick or depressed and would be greatly accentuated at this time of economic recession with families and health budgets under pressure.
Elder abuse and neglect by families, carers and institutions are already real and dangerous and would be made worse.
Any so-called ‘safeguards’ against abuse, such as limiting it to certain categories of people, will not work.
This is because exactly the same arguments – autonomy and compassion – would apply to people outside the categories decided upon and so any law allowing it for some would immediately be challenged under equality legislation.
If for terminally ill people, why not for those who have chronic illnesses but are ‘suffering unbearably’?
If for adults why not for ‘Gillick competent’ children? If for the mentally competent why not for people with dementia who ‘would have wanted it’?
The news coming from other jurisdictions which have gone down this route, particularly Belgium and the Netherlands, shows a pattern of incremental extension and pushing of the boundaries – an increase in cases year on year, a widening of categories of people to be included and people being killed without their consent.
Belgium has recently legalised euthanasia for children and in the Netherlands babies with spina bifida and people with dementia are already put to death.
This is why British parliaments have rightly rejected the legalisation of assisted suicide in Britain three times in the last seven years and why the vast majority of UK doctors, almost all medical groups including the British Medication Association (BMA), Royal College of Physicians (RCP) and Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), and all major disabled people’s advocacy groups are also opposed.
Persistent requests for euthanasia are extremely rare if people are properly cared for, so our real priority must be to ensure that good care addressing people’s physical, psychological, social and spiritual needs is accessible to all.
This issue is understandably an emotive one but hard cases make bad law and even in a free democratic society there are limits to human freedom. Our present law with its blanket prohibition on all medical killing does not need changing.
The penalties it holds in reserve act as a strong deterrent to exploitation and abuse whilst giving discretion to prosecutors and judges to temper justice with mercy.
Reprinted with permission from PJ Saunders

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Royal College of Ob/Gyn bars pro-life doctors from receiving its degrees and diplomas

Peter Saunders

Doctors and nurses who have a moral objection to prescribing ‘contraceptives’ which act by killing human embryos are to be barred from receiving diplomas in sexual and reproductive health even if they undertake the necessary training according to new guidelines.

Under new rules issued by the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health (FSRH) earlier this year these doctors and nurses are also to be barred from membership of the faculty and from specialty training.

The FSRH is a faculty of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists established on the 26th March 1993 as the Faculty of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care. In 2007 it changed its name to the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare.

Whilst many contraceptives act by preventing the union of sperm and egg, some, including most IUCDs (intrauterine contraceptive devices) and the morning-after pill EllaOne (ulipristal acetate), also act by preventing the implantation of an early embryo. In other words they are embryocidal or abortifacient, rather than truly contra-ceptive.

Many doctors, of all faiths and none, have a moral objection to destroying human life and wish therefore to avoid using drugs or methods which act after fertilisation.

In fact this position was once held by the British Medical Association (BMA) when it adopted the Declaration of Geneva in 1948. This states, ‘I will maintain the utmost respect for human life from the time of conception even against threat’.

But in 1983 the words ‘from the time of conception’ were amended to ‘from its beginning’ due to sensitivities about increasing medical involvement in abortion. The word 'beginning' was left undefined, giving doctors the opportunity to argue, contrary to the biological reality, that early human life was not actually human life at all.

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Now it seems that doctors who wish to abide by the original wording of the Declaration of Geneva are to be barred from practising in certain medical specialties. This is an extraordinary about face.

The Faculty may argue that they are not barring doctors and nurses from practising, but simply from obtaining certain qualifications. But as many job appointments will be conditional on applicants having these qualifications this is effectively also a bar on practice.

Interestingly doctors who have a moral objection to abortion are still able to complete the Faculty’s qualifications because the Abortion Act 1967 contains a conscience clause which protects them. But there is no law protecting those who object to destroying human embryos.

Many Christians believe that every human life, regardless of age, sex, race, degree of disability or any other biological characteristic, is worthy of the utmost respect, wonder, empathy and protection.

This is based on the idea, taught in the Bible, that human beings are made in the image of God. In a society which is becoming more hostile to Christian faith and values it is perhaps not surprising that we are seeing institutional discrimination of this kind.

Perhaps it is time for Christian doctors and nurses, and others who share their prolife views, to set up an alternative training programme.

Reprinted with permission from PJ Saunders

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