How “love your neighbor” is the Bible’s sexual ethic

This is the final installment in a five-part series on sexual ethics. Part 1 looked at the ramifications of the evangelical purity culture. Part 2 considered “sex as marriage” as a starting point for a biblical sexual ethic. Part 3 and part 4 explored some of the limitations of this starting point. Part 5 below offers an alternative approach.

Here’s a quick recap of the last four posts in the series . . .

On balance, the evangelical purity culture has done more harm than good, failing (mostly) to prevent premarital sex while marginalizing those who don’t live up to their exacting standards. Yet many of us still think marriage is the ideal setting for sexual intimacy. There are passages of scripture which seem to equate sex with marriage, and this leads some to argue that the former should be reserved exclusively for the latter.

On the other hand, much of what the Bible says about sex and marriage shouldn’t be applied today. The Old Testament tolerated polygamy. It required unwed rape victims to marry their attackers. It generally viewed women as property. So if you’re trying to build a comprehensive ethic on the idea that sex equals marriage in the Bible, you’re going to run into trouble.

OK, so now what? Do we give up trying to extract a meaningful sexual ethic from the Bible?

No, but maybe we’re going about it the wrong way. Maybe this isn’t really about sex. Maybe it’s about how we read the Bible.

Most of us treat the Bible as if it were a series of propositional truth statements. We see it as our job to cobble together a coherent theology or ethic of [insert subject here] from a handful of seemingly related texts pulled from random bits of the Bible.

The problem is, scripture doesn’t work this way. It’s not that kind of book. It’s more story than statement. And it’s a story that’s evolving (which is one reason why women generally fare better in the New Testament than in the Old).

But many Christians don’t just treat the Bible as a collection of propositional truth statements. They treat it as as THE collection of propositional truth statements, the final authority, the “Word of God.”

Except . . . the Bible doesn’t use this last term in reference to itself — that is, to the whole canon of scripture.

There IS such a thing as “the Word of God” with a capital W, but it’s not a text. It’s a person. The Word of God in its truest and most authoritative form is Jesus. (See John 1, Revelation 19, etc. See also Christian Smith’s helpful book The Bible Made Impossible.)

Jesus is the final authority, the definitive revelation through whom we’re meant to read all the other words about God and from God in the Bible. Scripture, then, is a book about Jesus, not a book about sex or [insert your favorite hot-button issue here].

So how did Jesus read all the other words about God in his Bible?

Quite simply, as it turns out.

Everything scripture demands of us, Jesus taught, can be boiled down to this:

Love God and love your neighbor.

“All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” Jesus said.

The apostle Paul echoed Jesus when he wrote that “love is the fulfillment of the law” and that “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”

For Jesus and Paul, everything comes down to this. If you do this one thing, you have kept the only law that matters to God.

In which case, the question is isn’t, When is it OK to have sex? The question is, How do I love my neighbor? Any sexual behavior which doesn’t pass the “love your neighbor” test is off limits.

Sounds weak, right? I mean, did we just open a Pandora’s box of promiscuity, all in the name of “love”?

Well, no. Love is a lot more demanding than that. Love by its very nature refuses to dishonor another person. Love is not self-seeking. Love protects. Love does not pursue its own satisfaction at someone else’s expense. Love teaches us to value others above ourselves.

Which leaves absolutely no room for coercive or predatory sex of any kind: rape, harassment, or even just pressuring someone to jump into the sack before they’re ready. All off limits.

As is pornography, which is inextricably tied to sex trafficking, and which encourages men to view women as objects for their consumption. Such a reduced view of humanity runs opposite to “love your neighbor.”

Casual sex, even when it’s (supposedly) consensual, turns out to be a pretty bad idea, too — because as Jamie the Very Worst Missionary wrote in her brilliant post recently:

[Sex is] the most vulnerable thing you’ll ever do with another human being. Commitment breeds intimacy, and intimacy is what makes sex freaking amazing.

In other words, if you’re not committed to the other person, you’re not doing it right. And if you love someone, believe me: you’ll want to do it right. Good sex takes practice… with the same person. (Notwithstanding Hollywood depictions of strangers falling into the sack and magically satisfying each other in two minutes flat… i.e. fantasyland.) It takes vulnerability, trust, and all those things you generally don’t find outside a committed relationship.

We could go on. Polygamy doesn’t pass the “love your neighbor” test because it un-levels the playing field between partners, undercutting mutuality. Adultery has no place either, because it means breaking faith with someone you’ve vowed to love.

But for the life of me, I don’t see how a committed, same-sex relationship fails the “love your neighbor” test. Sure, we could dust off the so-called clobber texts and argue that it’s “unnatural.” But to do so is to put some other law above “love your neighbor.” Which is the reverse of what Jesus taught.

If “love your neighbor” really is the fulfillment of every other law, then in order to condemn homosexuality, you’d have to show how a committed, consensual relationship between two adults of the same gender violates this law, not how it violates some anachronistic levitical code banning ritual sex between two men.

So what about those who, regardless of their orientation, have a complicated sexual past? What about those who’ve had more than one partner? Or who became sexually active before they were ready? What about those who’ve been told by the evangelical purity culture that they are damaged goods, that they’ve stolen something from their future spouses, that they’ve forever tarnished their capacity for intimacy?

“Love your neighbor” calls out this kind of thinking for the crap it truly is.

That’s the other thing about love. It keeps no record of wrongs. It never stops trusting. It always hopes, always perseveres, always sees the best in other people. Love refuses to define anyone according to their sexual past. To quote Jamie the Very Worst Missionary again, love says, “You are so much more than your sexuality.”

“Love your neighbor” doesn’t offer a simple answer to every “what if?” But maybe that’s why it works as a sexual ethic where other approaches fall apart — because the others try too hard to be all-encompassing, too one-size-fits-all, and end up being undermined by their own inconsistencies.

“Love your neighbor” is not always easy to apply, especially when it comes to sexuality. But I believe it’s the only ethic we need.

Image by Marcelino Rapayla Jr. on Flickr

How we all make exceptions

This is the fourth installment in a five-part series on sexual ethics. Part 1 looked at the ramifications of the evangelical purity culture. Part 2 considers “sex as marriage” as a starting point for a biblical sexual ethic. Part 3 explored some of the limitations of this starting point, and part 4 below picks up that thread. Part 5 will offer an alternative approach.

[Trigger warning: this post addresses the topic of rape in the Bible.]

So what do we do with the Torah’s requirement that a rapist marry his victim?

What implications does this have for a sexual ethic that starts with the assumption that sex equals marriage? (This is the approach some offer as an alternative to the failed evangelical purity culture.)

The Old Testament directive concerning rape was, in fact, perfectly consistent with the notion that sex equals marriage. If a man had sex with an an unbetrothed virgin, whether it was consensual or not, they were married in the eyes of Torah. Thus they were required to wed officially.

Today, we wouldn’t dare impose such a remedy (if you can call it that) on rape victims. It would be like subjecting them to rape all over again — every day for the rest of their lives.

Preston Yancey explains why the Torah might have required such a remedy for the ancient Israelites:

A woman who was raped in Israel [had] her physical virginity stolen, [and] would not likely wed and therefore would not be . . . financially cared for.

In other words, she would have been “damaged goods” with no other hope of marriage. And single women didn’t fare too well in a patriarchal world, unfortunately. She would have been seen as a burden to her family. When her parents died, she would have been left with little or no means of provision.

None of which makes this a particularly satisfying explanation of Deuteronomy 22:28-29. I imagine there are many rape survivors who’d say death would be preferable to having to marry their attackers. Then again, no explanation can do justice to the scale of violation that rape entails.

But what I want to address here is the inevitable follow-up question. Not just how do we explain the Torah’s requirement that rape victims marry their attackers but how does this text inform our sexual ethic today?

Preston argues that it would be wrong to impose such a remedy on rape victims today because “we live in a world where a woman is not dependent on a man for income.” He’s right, though I would argue that’s hardly the only reason not to impose this remedy.

But let’s be clear about what we’re doing here. We’re making an exception to the “sex as marriage” ethic found in the Bible. We’re saying it can’t be applied the same way, in every way, today as it was four thousand years ago. There are cultural and historical realities that make direct application dangerous and ill-advised.

But here’s where it gets tricky: Exodus 22:16-17 demands a similar remedy for any case in which “a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married.” And it does so for basically the same reason: the man has stolen her virginity and thus deprived her of any other prospect of marriage.

In a patriarchal society, this was viewed mainly as a crime against the woman’s father. There was certainly some interest in the woman’s well being, but the main concern was for her father’s welfare. Notice the requirement that her seducer “pay the bride-price,” even if the father absolutely refuses to “give her to him.”

Exodus 22

In my Bible, the laws preceding this one (verses 1-15) are put under the heading “Protection of Property.” Yet the command about a seduced virgin (verses 16-17) appears under a different heading. I think the section break is in the wrong place. (Remember, whatever your view of Scripture, it’s not as though section headings are inspired.)

This command isn’t about sexual morality or “social responsibility,” as the heading before verse 16 suggests. It’s about property.

The man who slept with an unmarried girl stole her virginity — which according the ancient world belonged not to her but to her father. Thus he deprived her father of his right to the “bride-price.” In effect, the seducer took the father’s property without paying for it.

That’s why the consequences for raping or seducing an unwed virgin* were the same. Marriage was the mandated remedy in both cases. The perpetrator had to pay a penalty to the father in both cases. All of which was perfectly consistent with the patriarchal — and misguided — notion that women were the property of men.

So… do we really want to make this the basis of our sexual ethic today?

Bottom line: the Old Testament assumed that sex between a man and a virgin woman initiated marriage, whether or not it was consensual. This was in keeping with the notion that sex equals marriage. Yet those who suggest that “sex equals marriage” should form the basis of a modern sexual ethic understandably want to make an exception for rape. But the Old Testament treated rape and run-of-the-mill seduction the same. So if you’re going to make an exception for one, you have to make an exception for the other.

In which case, it’s not quite as straightforward as telling someone, “You shouldn’t have sex before marriage because sex is itself the act of marriage.” Sex may well be the act by which a true marriage is consecrated, but that doesn’t mean sex should always be interpreted as an act of marriage. There are exceptions. We all make them. The only question is, which do we allow for?

None of this is to propose doing away with a “sex as marriage” ethic entirely. But we need to understand its limitations.

The fact remains that marriage, according to Scripture, is a relationship where two people “become one flesh,” a phrase with pretty strong sexual connotations. If nothing else, this language should alert us to the significance of sex, to the fact that it’s not something to be treated casually.

Sex is the act by which a marriage is consecrated precisely because of the profound connection it forges between two people. Sex involves intimacy and vulnerability, which makes it something you don’t just share with anyone.

For Christians, sex and marriage are also deeply sacramental, serving as a picture of the anticipated union between Christ and his church. This should be another clue to the significance, to the distinct un-triviality, of sex.

In which case, casual, uncommitted sex doesn’t fit with a Christian sexual ethic. It’s not “anything goes.” But neither is everything as black-and-white as it might seem at first glance.

So that still leaves a great big unanswered question: where do we turn for a suitable starting point to a Christian sexual ethic? More on that in the next post.


*Postscript: It’s worth noting that Old Testament law treated betrothed and unbetrothed virgins differently. The penalty for sex with a betrothed (i.e. pledged to be married) virgin was far more severe than the penalty for sex with an unbetrothed virgin. That’s because Old Testament law made no legal distinction between betrothal and marriage. (See Deuteronomy 22:23-24, which refers to a betrothed virgin as “another man’s wife.” This also explains why Joseph initially planned to “divorce” Mary after she became pregnant with Jesus.)

All of which creates something of a problem for the “sex as marriage” ethic. If a legally enforceable marriage covenant existed even before a sexual union had taken place, then can you really argue that sex is itself the “act of marriage”?

How Christian sexual ethics gets tricky

This is the third installment in a five-part series on sexual ethics. Part 1 looked at the ramifications of the evangelical purity culture. Part 2 considers “sex as marriage” as a starting point for a biblical sexual ethic. Part 3 below explores some of the limitations of this starting point (as will part 4), while part 5 will offer an alternative approach.

Sex — not a ceremony or a legal document — is what made a marriage official in the Old Testament. That’s what Preston Yancey argues near the beginning of his thoughtful series on sexual ethics. (Seriously, he is tackling some difficult issues with sensitivity and insight. Much respect.)

But “sex as marriage” is bound up with a number of cultural realities that do not hold today. Most of us don’t practice arranged marriages anymore (at least not in the West). Most of us are free to marry for love, rather than survival. Polygamy is generally frowned upon; and, mercifully, rape victims aren’t forced to marry their attackers.

All of which means we have to be careful how we articulate and apply a “biblical” sexual ethic today.

For example, how do we address the growing gap between the onset of adolescence and the average marrying age today? How do we do so in a way that is both principled and pragmatic?

When we tell kids to wait, we’re asking them to do so longer than ever — and during the most hormonally intense period of their lives. That’s not to say there’s no point in postponing sexual activity, especially given that many teenagers (including two-thirds of females) look back on their first sexual encounter with regret. But let’s not kid ourselves: we’re asking kids to wait a long time.

Another cultural dynamic which complicates the development of a biblical sexual ethic: the Bible’s treatment of polygamy. How could two people become “one flesh,” as God apparently intended, if one of them was united to multiple wives? How do we make sense of the fact that Scripture tolerates polygamy — even mandates it in at least one case?

Neither Abraham nor David were ever criticized for having multiple wives and concubines. Solomon doesn’t fare as well in the final analysis, but it’s mainly because of his wives’ pagan religious attachments, and less about the fact that there were 700 of them.

This is not just an “Old Testament” problem either. The closest the Bible ever comes to an outright prohibition of polygamy is Paul’s requirement that church elders be monogamous. While certainly nothing in the New Testament can be read as encouraging polygamy, ultimately it still falls short of issuing a blanket prohibition. In order to reject polygamy as we should today, we have to go beyond the Bible.

In other words, making the biblical concept of “sex as marriage” the basis for a Christian sexual ethic doesn’t adequately account for the Bible’s implicit tolerance of polygamy. Polygamy is incompatible with a “sex as marriage” ethic, yet it escapes outright condemnation.

So we’re faced with a couple of possibilities: perhaps “sex as marriage” isn’t a viable basis for a comprehensive sexual ethic, or perhaps it just needs to be flexible enough to accommodate the realities of a particular time and place.

“Sex as marriage” may still be where the bar is set. Which means that polygamy is far from ideal. But time and again in Scripture, God seems willing to overlook certain shortcomings like polygamy for the sake of a larger redemptive purpose. Thus David can still be a “man after God’s own heart,” even though he had more wives and concubines than was good for him. He’s still God’s man; he’s still moving God’s plan forward.

Or to put it another way, maybe God isn’t as preoccupied with sex as we are.

Even if “sex as marriage” is the ideal, in figuring out how to apply it we may have to make exceptions, depending on our cultural context. More on that in the next post.

How sex = marriage

This is the second installment in a five-part series on sexual ethics. Part 1 looked at the ramifications of the evangelical purity culture. Part 2 considers “sex as marriage” as a starting point for a biblical sexual ethic. Part 3 and part 4 will explore some of the limitations of this starting point, while part 5 will offer an alternative approach. 

Here’s what much of the criticism of the evangelical purity culture comes down to: a growing sense that there has to be a better way.

There has to be a better way to talk with our kids about sex, to help them see both its promise and its pitfalls. To give them a realistic vantage point, not one that’s shaped either by excessive fear or by fairytale expectations of what their wedding night will be like if they wait.

There has to be a better way of doing this than purity balls and pledge cards. We’ve tried them for almost 20 years now, and the jury’s in: they don’t work. And having failed for the most part to prevent extramarital sex, they go on to heap needless shame on those (especially girls) who, for one reason or another, don’t make it to their wedding night as virgins.

There has to be a better way to articulate a sexual ethic that’s authentically Christian AND relevant to the world we live in, not the one we might wish we lived in.

Preston Yancey is trying to do just that. He’s proposed a sexual ethic that doesn’t depend on memory verses quoted out of context or on patriarchal notions of virginity.

Preston unpacks his main argument (worth reading in its entirety) in part two of his series on sexual ethics. He observes that marriage in the Bible was made official not by a ceremony or a legal document but by the act of consummation. Therefore, the reason we should reserve sex for marriage is because sex is marriage. Or, at least, the initiation of it.

Consensual sex, the uniting of male and female, is itself the act of marriage . . . [it] is the action that unites two into one and thereby pronounces them wed. And this understanding of uniting, of sex being true consummation of marriage, was the historic understanding of the Church up until modern times, and remains so in some denominations.

This approach certainly helps make sense of what we find in Genesis 24, the story of Isaac and Rebekah. No sooner had they met than they made their union official by having sex.

(In his dead mother’s tent.)

In other words, it was the act of consummation that made Isaac and Rebekah husband and wife.

Hence the recurring phrase “two shall become one flesh,” found in many wedding liturgies to this day. This may be the closest we’ll ever get to a “biblical” definition of marriage. As Preston points out, this phrase occurs three times in Scripture, which is a pretty good indicator that it’s kind of important.

Yet as Preston also notes, the Bible doesn’t address sexuality in a vacuum. The idea of sex as marriage originated from a particular cultural and historical context. And that context was very different from ours. For example . . .

  • Marriages in the ancient Near East were typically arranged, sometimes between total strangers (n.b. Isaac and Rebekah). 
  • People married younger than we do today. This was especially true for girls, who were considered marriage material basically from the time they hit puberty.
  • Grooms, on the other hand, tended to be a bit older than their brides. One possible reason for this is that marriage was less about love and more about a man asserting himself. There’s some evidence from Assyrian and Babylonian records that men tended to marry after their fathers had died. Marriage, then, was a means by which sons established themselves as the new paterfamilias. 
  • Polygamy was accepted and, in at least one case, implicitly required by the Bible. In all likelihood, polygamy wasn’t that common among ordinary people, given the wealth needed to sustain a large household. But Israel’s most famous patriarchs (Abraham and Jacob) and its most revered kings (David and Solomon) were polygamists. So was Herod the Great in Jesus’ day. Polygamy always and only ran in one direction: a husband with multiple wives, not the other way around. 
  • Women were extremely vulnerable to abuse, and by our standards, some of the remedies were as disturbing as the abuse itself. For example, the penalty for raping an unmarried Israelite virgin was that you had to marry her. Preston addresses this here and follows up in more detail here. There was a reason for this law, which I’ll come back to in another post, because this is where we run into the limitations of “sex as marriage” as the basis for our sexual ethic. 

These are just a few examples of how marriage was viewed much differently then than it is now. (Keep that in mind next time someone tries to tell you marriage has always and only been one thing and that it cannot be “tampered with.”)

In any case, the cultural dynamics which shape the Old Testament’s view of sex should serve as a clue that applying a sexual ethic from the Old Testament may not be as straightforward as we’d like. More on that in the next couple of posts.

How “virginity-gate” became the latest manufactured outrage

This is the first installment in a five-part series on sexual ethics. Part 1 looks at the ramifications of the evangelical purity culture. Part 2 will consider “sex as marriage” as a starting point for a biblical sexual ethic. Part 3 and part 4 will explore some of the limitations of this starting point, while part 5 will offer an alternative approach. 

When I was 16 or thereabouts, I signed a True Love Waits card at my church.

A short time later, when a syndicated columnist poked fun at the nascent abstinence movement, I penned a response for my local newspaper. (It was my first ever published piece of anything.)

Strictly speaking, I kept my pledge. I was a virgin when I married. I’ve only ever had sex with one woman, and make no mistake: I’m very happy about that.

Several weeks ago, Sarah Bessey wrote a brave piece on what it’s like to be one of those labeled “damaged goods” by the evangelical purity culture. Others like her have written similarly brave articles. And predictably, some have reacted with all kinds of manufactured outrage, like this.

Never mind that these brave writers (whose articles, no doubt, were a profoundly liberating read for those with a complicated sexual past — i.e. the VAST MAJORITY of evangelicals) endorsed neither “individualism gone wild” nor “commitment-free” sex, as their critics insinuated.

Never mind that many of these authors embody the very notion of marriage-as-covenant about as well as anyone can.

Ironically, one of the main critics even seemed to accept the basic premise of Sarah’s “Damaged Goods” piece, writing:

Some religious folks resort to a “steaming pile of legalistic shame-mongering.” When a religious community sees the human body along utilitarian lines while sacred texts forbid sexual misconduct, they resort to deontological ethics—unwavering adherence to rules. In certain circles, there is an underlying assumption that God punishes the sin of fornication by ruining the future marriage, when that may not in fact be the case.

The main difference, from what I can tell, between this and what Sarah wrote is that this particular critic likes to use words like “deontological.” (It’s an old trick, appropriating sophisticated philosophical jargon to make your argument sound more impressive than it really is.)

Yet much of the criticism only perpetuates the very problem that prompted Sarah and others to write in the first place: namely, idolizing virginity creates a massive culture of shame, especially for women in the church.

So in response to this culture of shame, let’s do a bit of truth-telling.

The fact is, most evangelicals don’t make it to their wedding night as virgins. According to one study, some 80% of True Love Waits signees end up breaking their pledge. (And for what it’s worth, those Christians who don’t make it to their wedding night are more likely to have unprotected sex, more likely to get pregnant, and more likely to end up having abortions.)

Whether by design or by accident, emphasizing Abstinence Above All Else creates more problems than it solves. In addition, it sends Christian teenagers a profoundly unbiblical message . . .

Your virginity is the best gift you can give to your future spouse.
(Really? More important than your heart? More important than a lifetime of companionship, fidelity, and solidarity?)

Once you lose your purity, you can never get it back.
(So all that “new creation” talk in the Bible was just wishful thinking?)

Yes, virginity — namely, a woman’s virginity — was a big deal in the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. But the reason had little to do with the virtue of chastity or the promise of some fairy-tale wedding night. In the ancient Near East, virginity reinforced a woman’s status as someone else’s property.

A woman’s virginity (and, by extension, her body) belonged to her father until he arranged a suitable marriage for her. Marriage, then, constituted a transfer of ownership: from father to husband. (Ever wonder where the “who gives this woman?” part of the wedding ceremony came from?)

A woman’s virginity was a litmus test by which her husband (and therefore owner) would evaluate his newly acquired possession. According to Deuteronomy, if she was found not to be a virgin on her wedding night, then he had the right to have her stoned to death.

Keep in mind all this might have taken place when a girl was maybe 13 years old.

Not the best starting point for a healthy sexual ethic, is it?

Another common starting point: biblical warnings against “fornication.” But contrary to popular opinion (and one very big assumption behind much of the faux outrage of late), fornication doesn’t mean just any kind of pre- or extramarital sex. Words — and how they’re used — matter. Fornication means something rather more precise. It means sex with a prostitute. In a temple.

Which is really, REALLY important. Because when a Christian teenager who maybe got a little too carried away with her boyfriend one night hears her youth pastor tell all her friends something like, “Do not associate with fornicators” (1 Corinthians 5:9), she thinks it means her. And it doesn’t.

Those who fail the expectations of the evangelical purity culture do indeed get labeled “damaged goods.” Just ask Sarah. Just ask the 80% of evangelicals who don’t make it to their wedding night as virgins.

We use these labels as a modern-day scarlet letter, shaming those who don’t clear the very high bar of chastity imposed on them during the most hormonally intense period of their lives. Virginity becomes the standard by which we separate the upright from the outcast.

Which is kind of ironic, because it means we’ve fallen into the same trap as the overly permissive, over-sexualized culture we’re so rightly concerned about.

It’s probably beyond dispute that teenagers face enormous pressure to become sexually active before they ought to. As a result, many who choose abstinence end up being ostracized by their more promiscuous friends. At the risk of oversimplification, young people get divided into two camps: the sexually active (who are therefore socially acceptable), and the sexually abstinent (who are therefore social pariahs). At least that’s how it felt sometimes when I was growing up.

But an all-or-nothing emphasis on abstinence has the same effect in reverse, separating youth into equally damaging categories: the good Christian kids who hang onto their virginity (though many do by the thinnest of margins), and the “damaged goods” whom God might reluctantly forgive but who are nonetheless screwed (no pun intended) because they’ve forever stolen something from their future spouses and most likely squandered whatever shot they had at a healthy marriage.

This message is toxic. And it has no place in a biblical picture of redemption.

Until we stop putting virginity on a pedestal and teaching our sons and daughters to bow down to it, we will continue to get this wrong. Disastrously wrong.

None of this is to say we should toss chastity out the window. It can have tremendous value as a spiritual discipline. Just because something isn’t easy doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.

Over on his blog, Preston Yancey is making the case for a more holistic ethic that still reserves sex for marriage — not based on a single proof text or on patriarchal notions of virginity, but based on the idea that “consensual sex… is itself the act of marriage.”

Preston’s approach isn’t perfect (not that he claims it is). In the next few posts, I’ll challenge some aspects of it. But I think Preston offers a way better starting point for a meaningful, life-giving sexual ethic… one that both honors the Bible and leaves room for grace. Give it a read.