The onset of the sexual revolution has massively challenged the church and caught it unprepared for dealing with new ways of looking at sex, especially the last two stages of rebellion. While most Christians would no doubt believe that adultery of the kind Kenny is involved in, is wrong, the use of pornography, sex before marriage and cohabitation, marriage breakdown, homosexual practice and transgenderism are increasingly seen as secondary issues by orthodox believers, and even illustrations of love and truth to be celebrated by more liberal Christians.
Amongst evangelicals in some quarters, a narrative has developed whereby we can affirm the historic teaching on sexual desire and practice – the need for sexual self-control; celibate singleness for same sex attracted people, and monogamy for marrieds – as long as this teaching is only directed at practising Christians. The reason more are not attracted to this lifestyle, we’re told, is because of lack of pastoral care and failure of communication. So, the argument goes, Christians must repent of ‘homophobia’ and general lack of compassion towards those not following the Christian sexual ethic like Kenny, and must improve communication of its message. There must even be a visible reconciliation and working together of Christians who have different views on sex. An example of this thinking can be found in the participation of an evangelical minister in a video commending the ‘pastoral guidelines’ from the Church of England’s Living in Love and Faith project.
If we take this view, we will see Kenny’s story as illustrating just two problems: Kenny breaking God’s commandments, and the church’s failure to show God’s love. But Kenny’s rebellion is not just adultery. He has also embraced a profoundly anti-Christian belief system, based on self-justification, the creation of a new identity celebrating his sin as an innate part of himself, and an ideology which wants to replace ‘repressive’ Christian morality with something which must in the end repress authentic Christian faith and practice.
These powerful new forces of sex/ gender identity and neo-Marxist ideology, sinful and idolatrous thinking now embedded in society’s structures, are too often not addressed in contemporary evangelical discourse about sex. Worse than that, we can end up being ‘orthodox’ in terms of our understanding of marriage and personal application of Christian sexual ethics (remaining opposed to rebellion stages 1 to 3), while at the same time imbibing the philosophies of the sexual revolution (ignoring or affirming stages 4-5). This is perhaps the reason why Bishops are able to sign a document affirming the historic teachings of the church on sex and marriage, and at the same time also support re-naming and re-baptism for those who have rejected God’s design for their bodies, and even call for blessings of same sex relationships.
If Kenny is to become a Christian, it will involve not just stopping his adultery with Ellie (stage 2 and 3), or even gaining control of his lustful thoughts (stage 1). He will need a profound change in the way he views himself (stage 4), and the world (stage 5). It won’t help if Christians positively affirm his understanding of himself, and agree that he is an oppressed victim. Similarly, if society is to become Christian, winsome presentation of Christ will need to be accompanied by a call to widespread repentance from false ideologies, and practical help to escape them, not collusion in them.