Principles of Christian Sexual Ethics
Sex is an integral part of being human. Sex also affects all of us profoundly - physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially and spiritually. But sex in church is often a taboo subject - more often than not associated negatively with guilt, than positively as a gift from God that can be shared and celebrated.
The basis for sexual ethics as Christians is in living out the Great Commandment to love God and love others. Loving God is not just about what we say, it is also about how we act and what we do towards others. Loving God also calls us to respond as followers of Christ - to follow the principles that Jesus followed.
As a faith community that welcomes everyone including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons, it is then for us critical to build a sexual ethics framework that can be applied by everyone as part of the principles of community life. Sexual ethics here simply means "with what kind of motives, under what sort of circumstances, in what forms of relationships, do we render our sexual selves to one another in ways that are good, true, right and just?"
In addition to the sexual ethics framework presented below, please also refer to the transcripts of the sermon series for the full teaching around the subject of Christian Sexual Ethics.
Sexual Ethics Sermon Series
Sexual Ethics Framework
* The principles are arranged in no order of priority
** In some situations where the ‘Always Do No Harm' and ‘Always Honour Free Will and Consent' principles are violated, the church may intervene officially e.g. predatory behaviour
The Foundations - Discerning God's Voice through the "Quadrilateral"
We believe that all teaching, beliefs and ethics of the Christian faith is to be based on a quadrilateral of Scripture, Community & Traditions, Reason and Experience. Because human knowledge is limited and tainted by sin, until such time when all knowledge is perfected , we strive to hear God through these four channels of God’s revelation and hold them in a creative tension. By balancing these four channels through humbly relying on the Holy Spirit’s illumination we come closer to understanding and appreciating God’s truth in our imperfect world.
Scripture is the God-breathed word useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. It is the foundation document of Christian belief and practice. The Bible is always our starting point.
Community & Traditions are God’s answer to human isolation for we were not meant to live alone. We live in communities and build our traditions, which give meaning to our collective experiences. But communities are not meant to live in isolation, as ghettos closed to the wider world. So we listen not just to the traditions of our community but also to those that are different or may even disagree with ours. Jesus always taught that the voice of God is often heard in the voice of the rejected.
Reason is not incompatible with faith. Indeed it is when belief is not informed by reason that belief becomes warped and damaging. In short we must listen to the evidence . We need to allow reasoned thinking, logic and the findings of science and the social sciences to shape our beliefs.
Experience is the most personal way God speaks with us. Christians have often been taught to distrust experience and many have experienced untold damage to their lives because of this. But experience is one of God’s great teachers and we are called to listen attentively to the voices of our longings and of our bodies, for often God’s voice is embodied in our experiences.
The Sexual Ethics Principles
We believe that an ethical framework that is useful must help us make good decisions, even if in applying these principles we may come to different conclusions. Each one of us is responsible for doing our own ethics, preferably in conversation with community in order to enrich one’s understanding, insight and eventual decisions. FCC as a church body will only intervene where the ‘Always Do No Harm’ and ‘Always Honor Free Will and Consent’ principles have been violated in some situations ex. predatory behaviour.
A Description of the Key Principles
Always Do No Harm - Our sexual behavior must always do no harm to ourselves or our partner(s).
Always Honor Free Will and Consent – Our sexual acts and relationships must always honor a person’s free will and understand that sex is only ever ethical when one’s partner(s) is able to truly give free consent.
We believe these two principles above are non-negotiable no matter what the circumstances and a violation of these principles are always unethical and in some cases illegal.
Value Mutuality - learn to give and to receive, not just one or the other but both.
Ensure Equality of Power in the sexual act and relationship, otherwise the sex is abusive or manipulative.
Be Committed and be Truly Intimate with the other in the sexual act and relationship
Be Enriching - good sex leaves the partner and the self with a sense of goodness and wholeness
Sex must be Socially Just and Responsible – as strange as this may sound, sex must make our lives, the lives of our partners and the lives of our communities a better place
Be Redemptive and Liberating – Our sexual acts and our sexual relationships should bring us, our partner(s) and our communities back closer to God’s intentions for sex (including self-honesty and authenticity, intimacy and acceptance by others, outpouring of self for others, creativity and play, and spiritual development) and should be a freeing experience for us, our partner(s) and our communities.
Guideline Questions for the Sexual Ethics Principles
Each of us will have to work through out sexual decisions prayerfully and humbly. However the following guideline questions may be useful to guide you in your decision making.
Always Do No Harm:
Am I knowingly harming myself or my sexual partner(s) in any way – physically, psychologically?
What is the relational proximity (social distance) between myself and this sexual partner? While the principle is to do no harm to anyone, the reality is that more I know a person, the greater my obligation to ensure that I do not harm my partner(s) and their significant relationships because with greater knowledge comes greater responsibility.
Do I need to know more about this person in order to decide whether harm will be done to myself or the other person(s)?
Always Honor Free Will and Consent:
Am I and my sexual partner (s) entering this sexual relationship with our own free will?
Has any of us been pressured, manipulated, threatened or coerced in any way?
Have we truly given each other free consent to enter into sexual relating?
Are there any specific sexual acts that need to be clarified, and consent given or sought, beforehand?
Am I ensuring that my sexual partner(s) needs are being met and not just mine?
Am I ensuring that my needs are being met and not just my sexual partner(s)?
Am I being selfish, or too selfless?
Ensure Equal Power:
Do I know the power dynamics (physical, psychological, economic, socio-political) in this sexual act and relationship?
Am I treating my sexual partner(s) as equals even if our situations in life are different?
Does the way I am treating my sexual partner(s) result in her/him feeling more empowered or more disempowered?
Be Committed & Intimate:
How am I showing commitment and intimacy in this sexual encounter?
What aspects of my partner(s) being am I being committed to?
How am I encouraging commitment and intimacy from my partner(s)?
- Am I and my partner(s) expressing a generous interest in, and concern for each other’s well-being?
Does the way we relate affirm the inherent goodness and wholeness in each other?
Will my partner(s) walk away from this encounter a fuller person?
Be Socially Just & Responsible:
Have I considered the impact of my sexual activity on others?
Does my sexual activity contribute to exploitation or depersonalisation?
How does my sexual activity form part of God’s efforts to make this world a more just place for each of us?
Be Redemptive & Liberating:
How does my sexual life contribute to my growth as a person including spiritual maturity?
Does my sexual relating express appreciation for the gift of life and the mystery of love, allowing each other to flourish as individuals and as a community?
Does my sexual relating lead me closer to what I believe is God’s intention for sex?
Additional Recommended Readings
1. Just Love (2008) by Margaret Farley