Monday, November 05, 2012

In Preparation for USA National Conference (Part I - "Since no one else is talkinga bout it"

In general, I thought the statement on sexual ethics was fine.

When it did falter, in my opinion, is when it did what it said it wouldn't do - ie. state good and bad behaviour.
"In this statement, "morals" primarily refers to personal conduct, character, or virtues. Descriptions such as good or bad, appropriate or inappropriate, and right and wrong may be used to describe the morality of individual behavior.  The term "ethics" as used in this statement has two primary meanings. First, "ethics" refers to the principles or standards by which individual moral behavior is guided, evaluated, or judged"
So we were going to discuss basic principles, not good and bad conduct. Specifically, we are told that lists of “do’s and don’ts” are a bad idea:
“Vice lists, rules and prescribed penalties are used to control personal morality, community relationships, and religious life. A rigid emphasis on vice lists, rules, duties, and penalties is called legalism. The inherent danger of a legalistic approach is the tendency of some people to apply rules in absolute terms in all situations.”

And when the statement stuck to principles, rather than conduct, I thought it was quite good.  When it went beyond that, and actually gave its vice lists (which we’re told was a bad idea – “dangerous” even) I feel the statement at least highlights and at worst, exacerbates the problems we are having as an international/intercultural church.
On the “Good” side: Monogamous marriage. Without going into why monogamous marriage is “the relationship through which sexuality can fulfill its potential to bless human lives” – isn’t this the whole point of this discussion? What is monogamous marriage? For years it was a legal marriage, then homosexuals were allowed to be married, and all of a sudden, it wasn’t legal marriage anymore. Interculturally, do all monogamous marriages “promote love, trust, companionship, intimacy, spirituality, and peace?” I submit this is not universal. So why not put forward the “ethic” of this type of relationship, so we can decide if the conduct of marriage fits into this moral principal on a case-by-case basis, rather than declaring a certain moral conduct (marriage) to be “good” and then presuming that such conduct is equally the same across all cultures and countries? Especially when this is the exact issue this statement is supposed to be trying to help us illuminate?

The “Bad” column is far longer, and we are cautioned that it is not limited by these few things (query that no similar flexibility was offered with respect to marriage, which is THE relationship that God blesses): Promiscuity; incest; sexual harassment, pornography, genital mutilation, child abuse, rape, prostitution, and human sex trafficking. That’s quite a vice list. And, as promised, it is replete with all the problems and dangers “inherent” in these sorts of legalisms.

Rape, sexual harassment and child abuse, are criminal/legal terms. They vary not only from country to country, but state to state. Surely the church’s statement on sexual ethics is not meaning to imply that sex with a 16-year-old is ok in one legal jurisdiction but not in another depending on their particular state legislature? Incest, prostitution, promiscuity are all in the eyes of the beholder. Is there anyone opposed to homosexuality that does not consider it to be promiscuous? So does this sexual ethic confirm homosexuality is wrong? And pornography? I’m sure a Victoria’s Secret catalogue would fall squarely within some people’s definition of pornography (and it’s certainly used as such by many). Does a teenager with a flashlight huddled under his blanket with such a sales catalogue really constitute an example of “sexual expressions that damage or exploit others through harassment, violence, or abuse?”

Anyway, you see what I’m saying. I appreciate the “ethics” part – where we affirm principles of love, respect, non-violence, personhood, integrity, etc. But when we start listing the vices, the statement not only gets off track, but perpetuates anyone and everyone’s preconceived notions of what is bad conduct. And I thought that was exactly what we were not going to do.