Owen Strachan and Gavin Peacock recently co-authored a trilogy of books offering their views on “what the Bible teaches about” lust, homosexuality, and “transgenderism.”
The first book of the series, “What Does the Bible Teaches About Lust?” (Christian Focus, 2020, UK) unlike the other two books in the series, does not directly spotlight the LGBTQ community, but in the rules laid out for passion and sex, the LGBTQ community is explicitly excluded from “good and God-glorifying” sex.
The basis of the book is that all people have a natural tendency towards sexual desire, but the only appropriate place to express that desire is within the confines of man-woman marriage. “Sexual desire directed at one’s spouse is not shameful.” (p. 38) Sexual desire outside those confines is lust. By extension, any sexual desire expressed in a same-sex relationship will always be lust and is sin.
Even within the boundaries of church and religious history, this is not true. Taking 21st-century conservative views of Christian marriage and imposing them on church history is revisionist.
Try to look for some verses where Paul says that it is good to feel sexual desire within marriage. Passion was mostly mildly tolerable. To say that the medieval church was obsessed with sex would be an understatement. They established an elaborate code of regulations. Sex was to be avoided and only engaged in for the strict purpose of procreation. It’s not so much that the sex act itself was depraved, the problem was enjoying it. Pious Catholic men wore a heavy nightshirt called a chemise cagoule with a slit in the front so that during sex, only his penis would touch and penetrate the woman. Even nakedness in marriage was restricted. The Catholic Church still teaches that it is a grave sin to separate sexuality from procreation because procreation is the most essential purpose of marriage. In the 8th century, an elaborate system of rules and penalties related to sexual conduct was constructed. The number of days each year that a married couple could engage in sexual intercourse was limited. No sex on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, or forty days before Easter or Christmas, during a time of penance, or three days before attending a communion service. No sex from the time of conception until forty days after the birth of the child. Sex was to be avoided, well, like the plague.
The idea that sexual desire is good inside marriage and bad and lustful outside marriage is a modern construct—this is not how sex, lust, and passion have been viewed through the bulk of Christian history.
The institution of marriage has changed over time, but never as much as it has in the most recent century and a half. For the overwhelming bulk of history, marriage was an arrangement of economics and politics and an institution in which to procreate heirs. Of course, romantic love was sometimes involved, but marriage was fundamentally not about love. In the 19th century, marriage for love, companionate marriage, became the expected and the norm. Passion associated with sex became “acceptable.” Before the 1900s, however, it was thought that women who enjoyed sex, even within marriage, had something wrong with them. They were an aberration and needed to be fixed. As odd as that may seem, this is the historical record.
Strachan and Peacock value Christian marriage: “It is not too strong to say that the central theme of the Scriptures is the marriage of the Bridegroom who came from heaven and sought His Bride the church. ( p. 119) but they construct a “timeless” picture of Christian marriage that is not historically faithful and then make “timeless” rules for it.
Again, both authors have leadership ties to The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW) founded in 1987. CBMW jointly sponsored a gathering of evangelical and Southern Baptist leaders focused on the need to stop the spread of feminism from the culture into the church which began in the 1970s. Feminism was on the rise and so was “biblical feminism.” Women wanted to teach, lead, and preach. In response, the assembled group drew up the Danvers Statement to affirm “distinctions in masculine and feminine roles ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find echo in every heart.” In the same year that my oldest child was born, this document conveniently took its place as part of “timeless” Christian tradition and biblical doctrine.
Socially and culturally, the time was ripe to challenge patriarchy and gender hierarchy in the US. This scared the leaders of conservative denominations. Transparently discussing keeping patriarchy and gender hierarchy cemented in place would have created significant negative attention amid newly found freedoms for women. Instead, the power and control structures were maintained but softened in appearance with a new more gentle word—“complementarity”—the two genders working together in the church and home with the man as the head was God’s plan for all time.
In the early 1990s, it was becoming apparent that gay people wanted the protections of legal marriage for their relationships, their families, their assets, in making health care choices for their partner, and even burial arrangements amid the AIDS pandemic. Two people of the same sex in a marriage would disrupt the man as the head and woman as submissive model.
The Danvers Statement needed an update and clarification. Marriage partners needed to have different anatomical sexual parts. But God wasn’t done clarifying His stance on men, women, their roles, marriage, and heaven tickets yet. Over the next 25 years, transgender people would seek to be treated with human dignity, have access to civil rights, and even find a place of acceptance within Christianity. The 2017 Nashville Statement was created to affirm God’s guidelines for biblical manhood and biblical womanhood while clarifying who can get married, and what anatomy they needed.
The authors further enshrine the need for complementarity in marriage (pgs. 48-53) in this book. They divide complementarity into subcategories of complementary unity (the creation order dictates that man is the leader over a woman), polarity (penis inserted into vagina is the only God-ordained way body parts fit together sexually), reciprocity (the requirements to be a “biblical” man or a “biblical” woman), interest (the only right sexual desire is a desire for the opposite sex within a man-woman marriage, everything else is lust), and desire for marriage (“it is right and holy to desire marriage”). Unsurprisingly, every one of these additional subcategories of compliance from God disallows Christian same-sex marriage. (Good luck trying to find these “timeless” marriage requirements which were created since 1987 in the Bible.)
The authors unsurprisingly place a great deal of focus on what it is to be a male and look masculine and what it is to be a female and look feminine. “A man should be a man, not given to effeminacy in identity, thinking, or manner; a woman should be a woman, not given to manliness in identity, thinking, or manner.” (p. 47)
I hope the passage “For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” I Sam. 16:7 rushes to your mind as a solid refutation.
This particular book of the trilogy is not at all “meaty.” There’s lots of repetition of the text and ideas in the other two books on homosexuality and transgender people. Maybe the authors wanted a book for the lust-filled straight market, but they were to extract all the “no gays allowed” sections, the remaining contents would have comprised a generous blogpost. I think they could have managed a full book directed at straight Christian people gone wild without taking more swipes at the LGBTQ community.
I devoted a significant portion of time this week in reading and reviewing these books in consideration of my friend Devin. Devin came out at 18 and ended his life at 58. There was deep sorrow underpinning his life. Sorrow birthed in the constant rejection of who he was by his conservative Christian family. For the past four decades, they told him that he lived his life out of the will of God. Their theology was deadly and they were wrong. Devin was a man of God. He prayed, he served, he gave, he sacrificed for others.
His family was poisoned in their hearts, souls, and minds by books like this.
[Final point to the publisher. Two of the books in this series are poorly bound. Pages are coming out.]