The following is an opinion piece, the views expressed are those of the author.
We don’t apologize when we say lying or stealing is wrong; we should not apologize when we say sex outside of marriage is wrong, either.
In late January, the Church of England (CofE) issued a guidance reaffirming its commitment to the mainstream Christian teaching that sex is reserved for heterosexual couples within the confines of marriage — a doctrinal understanding that has stood firm for more than 2,000 years.
The House of Bishops declared, in part, “For Christians, marriage — that is, the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows — remains the proper context for sexual activity.”
But now, less than two weeks after sharing that guidance, the CofE is apologizing for simply echoing the words of the Bible. In a joint statement, archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu said taking such a position “jeopardized trust.”
“We as archbishops, alongside the bishops of the Church of England, apologize and take responsibility for releasing a statement last week which we acknowledge has jeopardized trust,” they said. “We are very sorry and recognize the division and hurt this has caused.”
But what does the CofE have to apologize for? From a biblical standpoint, what about the bishops’ guidance is controversial?
Welby’s and Sentamu’s apology came after more than 3,700 people, including nearly 90 members of the General Synod as well as several senior CofE leaders, signed an open letter calling for “radical new Christian inclusion.”
The letter stated the CofE had “become a laughingstock to a nation that believes it is obsessed with sex,” adding the Bible-based guidance “has significantly damaged the mission of the Church and it has broken the trust of those it seeks to serve.”
Essentially, those who signed onto the letter are asking the CofE to abandon years of biblical interpretation and Christian history in the name of “inclusion.”
The CofE, though, isn’t “obsessed” with sex. Instead, its leaders just realize the importance of sex and the weight of sexual immorality, be it extramarital sex, the rise of sexual assaults, or perhaps the scourge of pornography in the internet age. Aware of just how big an issue sexual sin is, the apostle Paul often put sexual sin at the top of lists of temptations that often beset us. For example, in his writings to believers in Thessalonica, Paul directly linked sanctification to abstention from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Much like the Thessalonians, sexual sin is a major stumbling block for Christians in the West.
Because of that reality — because sexual sin is rampant throughout our culture — the truth is affronting. It’s jarring in a relativistic society where anything goes to say there is an absolute standard: a preordained purpose for sexuality and romantic relationships.
Marriage was created by God at the beginning of time as a union between two distinct sexes, male and female (Genesis 1:27, 2:18). In the New Testament, Paul said the marriage union between a man and a woman is “a great mystery” designed to mirror the relationship between God and his people (Ephesians 5:31-32).
The CofE called marriage “a gift of God in creation and a means of his grace,” describing it as “central to the stability and health of human society.”
There was, and remains still, no reason for an apology or backing down. The CofE was simply amplifying the words already found in Scripture, echoing the theology that has been taught throughout Christian history.
Lying is wrong. Stealing is wrong. Sex outside of marriage — no matter its form or fashion — is wrong, too.