Our Approach to Sexual Ethics
Conversations about sexuality and sexual ethics in the church can often be a source of significant tension and discord. Many Christians have deeply-held and often conflicting values on various topics related to sexuality, and people on all sides of these debates often do not feel heard or understood by those who disagree with them. At The Reformation Project, while grounded in our own beliefs, we are committed to fostering authentic conversation and relationships with Christians who hold differing positions on sexual ethics.
On the one hand, many conservative Christians look with regret upon what’s commonly called the sexual revolution, and they feel as though society in general is drifting away from Christian values in the realm of sexuality. Traditional Christian beliefs about reserving sex for marriage, monogamy, and lifelong commitment are increasingly less widely held and even mocked. Many Christian parents feel as though much of mainstream culture is sending overly permissive messages about sex to their children, and they worry that greater acceptance of LGBTQ people and relationships is primarily driven by a broader mindset that affirms all consensual sexual behavior.
The Reformation Project takes these concerns seriously. As a Christian organization with a deep love for the Bible, we believe that our values about sexuality must be shaped by Scripture, by the communion of saints, and by the Christian tradition. We celebrate the church’s ancient wisdom in recognizing a powerful link between sex and lifelong commitment, and we encourage churches to bless same-sex relationships in a way that is consistent with the historic marital-covenantal ethic of the church. That is why, even as we advocate for a change to the church’s teaching on same-sex relationships, we are specifically asking churches to bless monogamous, covenantal same-sex relationships. Our goal is not to overturn the church’s traditional sexual ethic, but to graft LGBTQ Christians into the heart of it.
At the same time, many Christians have been deeply wounded by toxic church teachings about sexuality, and they have serious concerns about the ways sexual ethics have been taught in many conservative churches. We take these concerns seriously as well, and we want to acknowledge that what we see as distortions of the church’s marital-covenantal sexual ethic have caused unique shame, trauma, and harm, especially for LGBTQ persons. Therefore, we encourage churches to create gracious space for LGBTQ people regardless of their beliefs about sexual ethics and to present a marital-covenantal ethic as an invitation to an approach they believe leads to flourishing rather than a rigid tool of exclusion. In light of our commitment to loving one another well amidst a difficult conversation, we would like to share core values that shape how The Reformation Project approaches a marital-covenantal sexual ethic. These values are: an awareness of the unique trauma faced by LGBTQ people, a commitment to decolonization, an understanding of the harm of purity culture, and respect for co-laborers.
Values the reformation project brings to this conversation
An Awareness of the Unique Trauma Faced by LGBTQ People:
- We lament that LGBTQ people have historically had their sexualities and gender identities forcibly repressed by the church, the government, and society at large.
- Non-affirming theological teachings have done profound harm to the LGBTQ community through conversion therapy and forced celibacy, and they have contributed to widespread spiritual abuse, family rejection, and physical violence.
- We realize that in places where same-sex marriage remains illegal, LGBTQ Christians receive little to no public support to practice a marital-covenantal sexual ethic. We encourage an abundance of grace in pastoral ministry to LGBTQ people.
- We connect shame-based teachings on sexuality, and their patriarchal foundation, to the roots of LGBTQ exclusion.
A Commitment to Decolonization: Decolonization refers to the undoing of colonization—it is about recognition and reclamation. When people talk about the need for decolonization, it is a call to action to address how countries, systems, relationships, and even minds are shaped by white supremacy (e.g., which cultural practices we see as normal and civilized and which we do not).
- As a grassroots organization committed to an intersectional and interlocking approach to LGBTQ inclusion, we seek to undo racism and to uplift LGBTQ people of color in particular.
- We name white supremacy and colonialism as tools which have historically been used to enforce patriarchy and a gender binary hostile to indigenous peoples who hold alternative expressions of gender and sexuality.
- We seek to question the theological legacies of colonization as they relate to sexual ethics and to acknowledge the racial dynamics at play in these conversations, and we invite our supporters to learn more about these issues at our Making the Connection page.
- We understand that part of decolonization work entails interrogating the theological inheritances of the occupier and oppressor. We acknowledge the violent racial dynamics at play in these conversations. For example, women of color are uniquely hypersexualized and cast as “tempting,” “exotic,”or “spicy.” This contributes to their experiencing greater degrees of shame and violence.
An Understanding of the Harm of Purity Culture: Purity culture refers to the teaching that a Christian’s spiritual worth is inextricably bound up with sex—which, if engaged in outside of marriage, marks a believer dirty and impure for life.
- We reject the idea that those who have had sex before their wedding night are "damaged goods.”
- We lament that purity culture targets young women in particular, often placing racialized double standards on women’s bodies and laying the burden of maintaining purity—in the context of heterosexual relationships—mostly or completely on them.
- We acknowledge that purity culture intentionally erases that acts of sexual violence often occur within a marriage context, and we condemn sexual assault and intimate partner violence wherever they occur.
- We understand that an “abstinence-only” model of youth sexual education has been linked to harmful and high-risk sexual practices.
Respect for Co-laborers in the Movement:
- We understand that, as a multifaceted community, some LGBTQ Christians will hold different sexual ethics than ours. We are committed to holding space for one another, to open dialogue, and to being in authentic relationship across difference.
- We want to name the respect we have for our fellow siblings in Christ with different understandings of sexual ethics. We are grateful for the correcting of weak spots in our approach and for the moral wisdom of our co-laborers in this movement.