The current debate concerning the blessing of same gender relationships and the ordination of people who are in a faithful same-gender relationship has taken place in the broader context of human sexuality. Currently it is also being debated in the context of church doctrine. However, there are further contexts which are relevant to the debate – the context of right and wrong, or good and evil; and the context of Christian identity. All these contexts overlap, but each has its own particular focus. It is to this context of good and evil that I want to turn.
In the account of the “Fall” in Genesis 3, God places a boundary on the behaviour of the human person, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Ge 2:16–17) The command is direct, and is like those of the Ten Commandments. The boundary may appear arbitrary but it is set for the good of the human person: transcending the boundary would mean death. However, setting a boundary creates a possibility of rebellion. In recent years we have regarded sin as engagement (or failure to engage) in particular acts. However, sin is also a state of rebellion. Of course, rebellion will involve specific acts, but those acts derive from the state of being in rebellion. Although eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil describes a specific act, the act stems from a state of rebellion against God.
There are two aspects to this account. The first shows a negative attitude towards what God has said (and even to God’s self), and the second is a positive assessment of the act of rebellion.
In Genesis 1, the human pair are created in God’s image. Already in God’s likeness, they are now tempted to achieve equality with God by “knowing good and evil.” Such knowledge is more than knowing through participating, but knowing in a divine sense – knowing good and evil without relying on God’s own disclosure of what is good and what is evil, or even in contradiction to it. “Did God say?” The temptation is not just to doubt God’s command, but to present it in a more restricted (and unreasonable) form, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’. Next is to question, and even contradict, the result of disobeying the command, “You will not die.” Finally the false motives of deception and jealousy on God’s part are implied – “for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The second part is to see the positive virtues in the act. It is nutritionally good, aesthetically pleasing and educationally advantageous. The human person makes a reasoned decision. There is much to be gained in this act and seemingly little to be lost. The decision to rebel is made and the action of rebellion takes place – “she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.”
How does this relate to matters affecting human sexuality? It is clear that the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, understands that marriage provides that boundary for human sexual behaviour. Intimate sexual behaviour outside of marriage is regarded as transgressing God’s order. This is demonstrated in the command, “You shall not commit adultery,” and in many other such statements. The church throughout its history has consistently held to this position, and it is currently part of the doctrine of the Anglican Church. Yet it seems that some are questioning this boundary. Did God mean it or not? Are there not reasons to regard some intimate sexual behaviour outside of marriage as good? Some suggest there may be. But the disciple is called to faithfulness, and faithfulness to God means acting within the boundaries God sets rather than rebelling against them, no matter how compelling the reason.
Rev. Max Scott
Max is Vicar of St Margaret’s, Hillsborough, Auckland, member the Latimer Fellowship, and Chair of AFFIRM