“Thinking Critically. Living Faithfully.” That’s the unintentionally ironic tagline of The Christian Century, a mainline publication that thinks critically about how to accommodate the faith so that progressives can faithfully live without tension with secularism.

A prime example of this attitude is the recent article on ” monogamy in the age of Dan Savage .” While most Christian publications would advise turning to Scripture for guidance on sexual ethics, the Christian Century believes we should be instructed by an advice columnist for an alternative weekly.

The feature by Benjamin J. Dueholm, a Lutheran pastor, is well-written and starts off promisingly enough:


The biblical commandment “You shall not commit adultery” forbids only a narrow, if important, slice of sexual life: intercourse between two people, at least one of whom is married to someone else. Sending lewd pictures seems to fall outside of its jurisdiction.

Jesus, however, famously turns this commandment inward in the Sermon on the Mount, condemning even the desire that could lead to disrupting the bonds of marriage. By that more demanding standard, virtual affairs are forbidden. The original commandment can be thought of as corresponding to the first use of the law in Reformation theology: it restrains our destructive impulses for the sake of civil peace. Jesus’ elaboration corresponds to the second use of the law: it calls for a purity of motive that drives the sinful human to rely on the grace of God.


So far, so orthodox. But then Dueholm describes Savage’s peculiar view of monogamy (“Cheating is permissible when it amounts to the least worst option” but open sexual relationships is a better choice) and forgets what he wrote earlier in the article:
In refereeing tough questions about monogamy and its variations, Savage arguably upholds the substance, if not the letter, of the adultery commandment. The frankness and realism with which he handles such questions provide a sharp contrast to the tepid affirmations and bashful silences that characterize much mainline preaching and thinking on sex.

Um, no, it is not arguable that Savage is upholding the substance of the adultery commandment. As Dueholm noted just a few paragraphs earlier, the substance of the commandment is a prohibition against “intercourse between two people, at least one of whom is married to someone else.”
The contemporary sexual ethics that Savage represents give some degree of order to intimate life; they help manage the human disaster. But such a goal is not enough for a Christian community called to explore the depths of God’s love as reflected and refracted through shared life. We also need sexual ethics to reveal our deeper needs and failings, to create space for the forgiveness of sins and to shape lives redeemed by grace.

As an instrument of familial and civil peace, the commandment against adultery needs a bottom line—something for which Savage has a sharp instinct. Counselors and pastors should expect temptation and infidelity to happen; lingering itches are likely to be scratched. Sex tends to be cloaked in superstition, and stripping this away allows us to regard sexual lapses as no less inevitable than any other sin. We tend to forgive serial monogamy more readily than deviations from stable monogamy. Perhaps this norm should be reconsidered.


The commandment against adultery does not need a bottom line because it already has one: intercourse between two people, at least one of whom is married to someone else, is prohibited. Of course that was the bottom line set down by Jesus a couple thousand years ago. Times change. Norms need to be reconsidered. We need to listen to newer, fresher voices. We need less Jesus, more Savage.
Meanwhile, however, monogamy is no longer the default expectation for many couples (though it still correlates with relationship longevity). The church’s historic promotion of the dignity and fullness of the marriage bond might not enjoy cultural prestige for much longer.

First, what world is Dueholm living in? I don’t know a single couple for which monogamy is not the “default expectation.” Second, the reason that the church’s historic promotion of the dignity and fullness of the marriage bond might not enjoy cultural prestige for much longer is because liberal mainliners have been working furiously to undermine the church’s teachings on marriage .

Read the entire article. It’s equal parts frustrating and depressing, but it’ll give you a better understanding of why the liberal mainline churches are dying. And why few people will miss them when they’re gone.

(Via: TitusOneNine )

Articles by Joe Carter

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