our position on human sexuality
The sexual ethics of American culture have never been more confused and contorted. Divorce is rampant, sex before marriage is almost universally accepted as a reality, cohabitation before or instead of marriage has become normal, new technologies have made pornography immediately accessible, the once inconceivable notion of same-sex marriage is now recognized by law, and gender has become fluid. The need for a clear voice from our church on all these matters is critical—both for the health of our church community and to serve as a faithful witness to the world.
The following Statement sets forth a Christian vision of human sexuality as a good gift from our God.
In it, we will affirm marriage, singleness, celibacy, sexuality, and gender as we believe God intended them, as well as address a variety of sexual attractions, behaviors, and relationships that the Bible prohibits. We will focus primarily on homosexuality and same-sex marriage. And later, in our Church Covenant, we will address what believing these things will mean for our churches and what the pastors and leaders expect of our members.
1. What we believe regarding human sexuality and marriage flows from our commitment to God and his will as expressed in the Bible. On the most important matters of human sexuality, God has not asked our opinion. Therefore, even if our motives are loving and kind, Christians do not have the option to disregard its teachings. (Dt. 6:5; Matt. 22:37-38; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; cf. Dt.32:45-47; Matt. 4:4).
2. God created human beings as male and female (Gen. 1:27). The complementary anatomical and relational nature of the human race as “male and female” reflects the created order given by God when he created human beings “in his image” (Gen. 1:26-27; 5:1, 3; 1 Cor. 11:7; Jms. 3:9; Rom. 8:29; 2 Cor. 3:18; Eph. 4:23-24; Col. 3:10). While our created differences as male and female have often been used to oppress women, we believe in the full equality of women and men as image bearers of God our Creator.
3. Scripture grants two life-enhancing options for sexual behavior: monogamous marital relations between one man and one woman (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:18, 21-24; Matt. 19:4-6; Mk. 10:6-8; Heb. 13:4) and sexual celibacy (1 Cor. 7:1, 8; Matt. 19:12). Either is a gift from God and is given as he wills for his glory and the good of those who receive and rejoice in his gift to them.
Our Definition of a Biblical Marriage
Marriage is the original and foundational institution of human society, established by God as a one-flesh, covenantal union between a man and a woman from different families that is life-long (until separated by death), exclusive (monogamous and faithful), and generative in nature (designed for bearing and rearing children).
This is still true whether a couple is able or intends to have children. Procreation was one of God’s original intentions for marriage but may not be a requirement in the present age. Additionally, there are circumstances under which we recognize a biblical divorce, which allows for remarriage, but that was not God’s original intent either.
1. In Scripture, monogamous, heterosexual marriage bears a significance that goes beyond the regulation of sexual behavior, the bearing and raising of children, the formation of families, and the recognition of certain economic and legal rights—all of which are important. Marriage between a woman and a man is emphatically declared in Scripture to create a “one flesh” union (Gen. 2:23-24; Matt. 19:5), which exemplifies the mystery of the union between Christ and his body, the Church (Eph. 5:22-33).
2. Although many people do choose to get married, the Bible (especially in the New Testament), celebrates singleness. Jesus, Paul, and many early Christian leaders were both single and celibate. Singleness gives greater freedom for service, is desirable, and should be celebrated and honored in the church (Matt. 19:10-12, 1 Cor. 7:1, 8, 25-30).
3. All humans have a sinful nature. This doesn’t mean that everything humans do is a sin, but it does mean that sin has affected all aspects of human nature including our sexuality (Gen. 3; Rom. 3:23; 5:12). Therefore, all people—straight and LGBTQ—have a broken sexuality which is manifested in different ways and in need of the healing grace of Christ.” Whether the prohibited heterosexual or same-sex attractions and temptations men and women experience are the product of their life experiences, their biological or psychological influence, or the influence of demons or another source—no matter the origin, they are not what God intended. They are the result of the Fall (Genesis 3) and sin’s corruption of creation. Therefore, while we try to understand those circumstances, these prohibited behaviors are still sin. God did not make us this way. It’s what we’ve become as a result of sin.
4. Temptation (including sexual temptation) may not be a sin—if it is a brief and fleeting thought, almost immediately dismissed and not seriously contemplated. Even multiple temptations are not a sin. Jesus was tempted three times, and “in every way,” and did not sin (Matthew 4:1-11, Hebrews 4:15). Same-sex attractions/temptations in themselves are not sin. Leviticus 18, 20, and 1 Corinthians 6 all refer to the sexual act (not the person) as sinful. However, someone who is attracted to the same gender is not allowed to engage in it either physically (sexually), according to these passages, or mentally, according to Jesus in Matthew 5. Indeed, God does prohibit the serious contemplation of sin, and the Bible warns us against dwelling on it because it often leads to the actual act (James 1:13-15). For instance, although the Bible does not call temptation sin, it prohibits not only adultery, but the desire for adultery (Matthew 5:27,28). Therefore, while same-sex attraction alone is not a sin, dwelling on homosexual thoughts, engaging in lustful fantasies, and ultimately acting on same-sex behaviors are all sins. Living holy lives in spite of ongoing temptations must be the goal of all Christians.
5. The good news of the Gospel is that all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, who gives us both the desire and the power to resist temptation. Therefore, saying, “I’m powerless to overcome my sin,” is a lie from Satan, the deceiver (Romans 8:9-11, Eph. 4:30, 1 Tim 2:25, 26, James 4:7, 1 John 2:4, 1 John 4:13,18).
6. Cohabitation of two unmarried people, whether by an SSA or a heterosexual couple, may not be a sin if there is sexual abstinence, but it may be unwise for these reasons:
Cohabitation increases the risk of falling into sexual sin and therefore is very unwise. Even if a couple is committed to sexual abstinence, living together significantly increases the temptation and likelihood of sexual promiscuity of all varieties. “Flee from sexual immorality.” 1 Cor 6:18
Cohabitation of men and women attracted to one another hinders a couple’s witness for Christ. The Bible calls us to be holy and set apart. Even if a couple is committed to sexual abstinence, people may assume they are having sex and as a result, they will be a poor witness (1 Peter 1:15-16; 2:9). For these reasons we urge cohabitating, heterosexual couples to either choose marriage or live separately.
7. The Scriptures have much to say about sexual behavior, from the beautiful affirmations of the Song of Songsto the prohibitions found throughout the Bible (e.g., Rom. 13:13-14; 1 Cor. 5:1-2; 6:9-10, 15-18; Gal. 5:16-21; 1 Thess. 4:3-8). Jesus himself warned against all sexual immorality (porneia), which includes all sexual practices prohibited in the Old Testament Law (Mark 7:21). The Apostle Paul affirms that among believers “there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.” (This includes both heterosexual and homosexual immorality as found in Eph. 5:3, 1 Timothy 1:9, 10.) References to same-sex behavior in the Bible are always expressed in negative terms. All same-sex sexual behavior, whether it is consensual or not, is specifically condemned as sin in both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Gen. 19:4-11; Lev. 18:22; Lev. 20:13; Judges 19:22-25; Rom. 1:24-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Tim. 1:8-11). Homosexual behavior and other prohibited sexual behaviors, along with the experience of same-sex attraction, are not God’s intent for human sexuality as revealed at creation and throughout Scripture. We can assume from Scripture that it was God’s intention that men be attracted to women and women to men. Additionally, there are no examples in Scripture of any other human sexual attraction of which God approves other than opposite-gendered attraction. So, even if it sounds politically incorrect, any other sexual desire, whether intentional or not, is not God’s original intent for humans (Rom 1:26, 27, Gen. 1:27-28; 2:18-25, Mat. 19:4-6).
8. We have this warning from God in 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10: “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” God, through Paul, is not referring to those who struggle with committing various sins, repent of them, seek forgiveness, make a serious effort to resist temptation, and call on the Holy Spirit to help them in these areas. Instead, God is warning those who have given up the struggle, who no longer call it sin, and have given themselves over to and embraced, accepted, or celebrated these behaviors. God warns that in so doing, individuals prove themselves not to be children of God, thereby disqualifying themselves from inheriting the Kingdom of God.
9. In Scripture, God has made it clear that he values and guards the moral and spiritual health of the community above that of the individual. This was true both in Israel (in the Old Testament) and in the Church (in the New Testament). Therefore, an individual’s right to disobey God in order to “be happy” never trumps the declared will of God for his people (Deut. 19:20, 1 Sam. 2:25, Acts 5:9-11).
10. As followers of Jesus, we are to find our primary identity in Christ, and not in our sexuality or any other distinctions. Christians have rarely identified themselves as Baptist Christians or heterosexual Christians. We are first and foremost Christians who may be Baptists, straight, etc. Therefore, we encourage Christians who experience same-sex attractions to not use the term gay Christian. To do so can have the appearance of having a dual allegiance of identity (Eph. 2:19, Gal. 3:26-28, Phil. 3:20).
11. Having read, understood, and considered the best affirming interpretations of Scripture for same-sex sexual activity, we have concluded that they do not present a more faithful or compelling Christian vision for human sexuality than the historic Christian view of not affirming same-sex activity.
12. The church is to be a new community that resembles a family of brothers and sisters united in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, displaying deep relationships of love (1 Cor. 12:12-13; Rom. 12:10; 1 Tim. 5:1-2). Celibacy and singleness—whether by heterosexuals or same-sex attracted men and women—are to be celebrated and affirmed within the church family.
13. The theology of self-denial is based on Christ’s description of what it means to follow him and take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23,24). Any teaching that elevates personal sexual expression and sense of fulfillment over clear Scriptural commands fails to account for Christ’s demand that each of us joyfully suffer the consequences of self-denial and obedience. Further, Paul’s and Peter’s desire and plea for Christians was to suffer rather than compromise their faith (Luke 9:23, Phil. 3, 1 Peter 3:14-15, Hebrews 11:24-26). Therefore, as we interpret that for our church today, our positions on human sexuality may be very unpopular with some people, both homosexual and heterosexual men and women. It is quite likely that as individuals and as a church we may suffer for holding to them and living by them.
River Valley Church Covenant on Human Sexuality
Our churches’ Position Statement on Human Sexuality describes what we believe. This Church Covenantdescribes our aspirations for how we hope Christians who experience same-sex attraction or struggle with gender identity feel at our church, and how we behave toward them. The leadership of our church is committed to changing the culture within our church to be more empathetic and understanding of those who are navigating same-sex attraction, as well as their families.
If Jesus said the second greatest commandment is “to love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31), as a whole church, we must confess we have not always done that to certain people (such as the LGBTQ community).
Jesus was criticized by the religious establishment for associating with those who were perceived as “untouchables.” The untouchables of Jesus’ day were the people whom religious Jews would never befriend (Luke 15:1-2). To imitate Jesus, we must risk what Jesus risked—our reputation. Our goal is to help our church understand these sexual issues biblically and respond gracefully in order to make Jesus’ command to love a reality in our church.
We Believe and Promise…
1. We welcome anyone who is not yet a Christian, regardless of marital status, sexual orientation, or gender identity, to attend church services with us. You are welcome here! If for any reason you are not received with kindness and dignity, please contact any elder or pastor.
2. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, because each of us bears the image of God. Men and women who experience same-sex attractions (SSA) or are struggling with gender identity deserve this dignity and respect no less than anyone else. We, as Christians, should demonstrate this in our thoughts, speech, and behavior. Words and humor that demean SSA/LGBTQ men and women have no place in our church or the Christian community. Such demeaning words are a sin, and church members are expected to speak out and address this sin whenever it occurs.
3. We covenant to be a friend of any Christian who experiences SSA.
4. We oppose any mistreatment of those who identify themselves as LGBTQ, whether they identify as Christian or non-Christian. However, we do not accept that simply holding our biblically based views on same-sex behaviors and marriage is, in and of itself, either homophobic or unloving. God simply does not give us the freedom to accept behaviors he has prohibited.
5. We confess that even Christians who attempt to follow biblical mandates on sex and marriage are not immune to expressing our own sexuality in sinful ways, for “all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Rom. 3:23). Some heterosexual Christians have committed adultery, have had sex before marriage, cohabitate, sexually abuse women and children, view pornography, divorce for unbiblical reasons, and lust. All these behaviors and attitudes are sin, and if they are known to the church leadership, will be dealt with according to our church’s Constitution and Policies. However, the fact that immorality exists even in our church and may go unpunished cannot be an individual Christian’s excuse for their own personal immorality. If our church fails to take consistent, timely disciplinary action, please gently remind us, and we will do our best to address it wisely (1 Cor. 5; Gal. 6:1).
6. Many heterosexuals, Christian or not, have a visceral revulsion to same-sex behavior that they do not have toward heterosexual immorality. There may be many reasons for that. However, unless we ask the Holy Spirit to help us, our attitude will be a barrier to making our church a safe place for LGBTQ/SSA men and women. We ask the Holy Spirit to help us grieve all sin equally. However, changing our demeanor does not mean our beliefs have changed.
7. We believe a Christian’s primary identity should be in Christ. Therefore, we prefer, that church members refer to themselves as Christians who experience a same-sex attraction or struggle with gender identity, rather than referring to themselves as a straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender Christian.
8. As open and accepting as we hope to be, we do not view a committed heterosexual relationship within marriage as the moral or spiritual equivalent of a committed same-sex relationship—married or not. Some heterosexual acts are sinful, but all same-sex sexual acts are sinful, according to Scripture, even if done in what is considered to be a marriage by the laws of this land.
9. We are committed to making our church a safe place for transgender and gender non-conforming men and women to hear and experience the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. We do not believe a person needs to fully resolve their gender confusion in order to become a Christian. Their struggle may continue throughout their life, even as they grow in their faith. However, we do believe it is sinful to approve of transgenderism (the pursuit of being a different gender than your God-given biological sex), as it is inconsistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption. We believe that the grace of God in Christ enables a person to forsake transgender self-conceptions and to accept the God-ordained link between one’s biological sex and one’s self-conception as male or female.
10. Any church member or visitor who struggles with same-sex attraction (or any other area of temptation) is encouraged to contact any Christ-centered and mature spiritual leader, mentor, or pastor in our church. You will be treated respectfully and confidentially. We will offer you biblical counseling or refer you to a counselor/mentor. (Please note that this offer is made to those who struggle with any area of sin.)
11. In our church there may be an individual married to someone of the opposite sex and who is also experiencing same-sex attraction. These are often called mixed-orientation marriages. We consider those marriages to be biblical, and we’ll encourage the heterosexual spouse to stay married. Additionally, we encourage the person navigating this SSA tension to contact a Christ-centered and mature counselor, spiritual leader, mentor, or pastor in our church to receive help with what can be a difficult journey.
12. It is commonly believed that if Christians with SSA would only have enough faith, this attraction could be “prayed away.” While we know that God, through prayer, and by the use of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), has reduced the SSA or increased the heterosexual attraction of some Christians, the best evidence leads to the conclusion that, just as not every heterosexual Christian who prays for physical or emotional healing is cured, neither do all SSA Christians experience a partial or complete change in orientation through SOCE and/or prayer.
13. For the sake of unity, church members who teach or lead others, and who express views contrary to those in our Position Statement on Human Sexuality will likely be asked to step down from those positions.
14. The primary principle at stake in the same-sex marriage controversy or about the Bible’s prohibition on all sex outside of marriage, heterosexual or homosexual, is not about sex or marriage. It is about the trustworthiness of the Bible and the authority of God to govern our lives through it. If Christians dismiss the verses prohibiting sexual behavior outside of marriage, then what else about which God has said, “you shall not,” is no longer true or authoritative today? Our church takes seriously Jesus’ reply to Satan, “It is written…” (Matt. 4:4, 1 Tim. 4:1-5, 2 Tim 3:16, 17) Therefore, our Position on Human Sexuality represents our summary of what our church believes the Bible teaches about sexuality.