by Jack Hoehn |  February 14, 2019  |

“Let us make humans in our image, male and female” is the religious answer to why sex exists. With no adequate evolutionary explanation for the origins of sex, something intentional in the Mind behind creation is as strong an answer as any other. Reproduction requiring a giver and a receiver who gives back again could be beautiful and simple. It is not.  

Not only into Noah’s ark, but on any public street of every village, town, city, or metropolis humans can be observed walking two by two. Every person reading this article regardless of age, gender, preferences, politics, religion or lack thereof is evidence of sex. Giving and receiving sexual pleasure is the foundation of human (and most non-human) life. Sex, like all pleasurable and powerful things, can be wonderful but is not without risks and dangers.

Sex has no satisfactory Darwinian explanation.

Cells can reproduce by simply splitting or cloning, but the novelty and energy inefficiency of sexual reproduction requiring gametes with just half a nucleus having to find and join with another gamete to make new cells appears very early in the fossil records of life. There are benefits of this inefficient sexual plan, but its origins have no satisfactory Darwinian explanation. So let’s accept that the Maker intended a plan of reproduction capable of chance, choice, variety, and pleasure illustrating more important things in God’s universe than mere efficiency and energy conservation.

Traditional Adventism on Sex

I read Adventist books about sexuality, starting with Harold Shryock’s “On Becoming a Man” that my mother gave me when adolescent wet dreams announced to my body that I was not to be free of sex. Other Adventists have since have shared broader and more satisfying views than Dr. Shryock’s.

19th Century Concerns

Ellen White had the “risks and dangers of sex” view that for 19th-century women was completely realistic. Before infectious bacteria were identified, before family planning was reliable, before birthing of children was conducted by clean and aseptic helpers, sex led to very dangerous outcomes for women. But in spite of known dangers and risks, 18-year-old Ellen Harmon married, with sexual intercourse documented by four successful pregnancies. She nods to the “privilege of the marriage relation,”[1] while sharing Victorian concerns about “a religious duty to govern their passions.”[2] Her acceptance of the Victorian consensus that masturbation was physically as well as spiritually harmful likely made raising sons challenging.[3]

Bible Sex

Biblical sex stories are abundant, starting in the Garden of Eden, when our parents are displayed as “naked but not ashamed.” Other stories show sexual delight and pleasure (Song of Solomon) but also abuse and pain (rapes of Tamar, the Levite’s concubine, and attempted rape of angels in Sodom come to mind). Fertility and having a lot of children seems to be the goal of most Mosaic sexual rules (restriction of intercourse during menses[4] brings sexual concourse closer to the time of ovulation and fertility) along with some protections of female slaves and women in general from sexual exploitation by males.[5]

David’s adultery with Uriah’s wife was indeed a sin, but not an example of a requirement for sexual restraint. The prophet chastised David for taking Bathsheba, in the context of David’s well-provisioned sexuality. “I gave you your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah, and if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more!”[6] In essence the prophet tells David, you had Michael, Abigail, Ahinoam, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, and Eglah[7] and more women in Jerusalem.[8] He represents God as saying, “Didn’t you have enough sex? I would have given you even more!” David’s sin was not having sex but adultery (theft of another’s partner) and murder.

The creation poem is a “one flesh” story but polygamy appears in Genesis rather soon after Eden with a boastful abusive male noted for murder (abuse of men) and polygamy (abuse of women).[9] The 10 Commandments clearly restrict sexuality to appropriate partners free of other attachment but do not demand monogamy. The New Testament, however, is clear that Christian leaders must not be polygamous.[10] While permitting abstinence the New Testament is pro-sex in its marital advice.[11] And the Old Testament has a book (condemned by some for lasciviousness) regarding the delights of sexual love.

Protecting Sex

Good better by restraint

In the Eden story, knowledge of good was to be obtained by one mild restraint in satisfying otherwise holy appetites.[12] That humans could know good better and avoid evil better by modest restraint was the message of God’s Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil at the center of Eden. Eat freely of all the trees, but preserve that freedom to eat by not eating this one fruit. Likewise, while sex is sinless it must be kept such by some mild restraints.  Adultery (sex with someone you are not committed to and responsible for) is a “don’t eat,” and fornication (premature, promiscuous, exploitative, uncommitted, selfish sex detached from the holiness of committed monogamous community-recognized love) is a “don’t eat.”

Adultery and fornication are serious enough to keep you out of heaven (Revelation 21:8). Drowning in the ocean pulled down by the equivalent of a concrete slab tied about the perpetrator’s neck is Jesus’ opinion on child abuse (Luke 17:2). Unwelcome hands that inappropriately touch are better amputated (Mark 9:36-43). Sex with family is taboo for many good reasons (see Leviticus 18 and 20).

Homosexuality?

Males (heterosexual, straight) sexually abusing boys or girls for comfort or pleasure (often in a quasi-religious setting as so called “temple-prostitution” with male or female prostitutes) was common and culturally acceptable in Palestinian, Greek, and Roman pagan practice, especially among the ruling classes.  Sexual abuse of adolescent males and females has always been part of the horror of slavery. Even today, economic bondage still leads to abuse of the young or powerless, as we learn from the #Me Too revelations.[13] All abuse of boys or girls by men is strongly condemned in both Old and New Testaments.[14] However, to quote those condemnations as “anti-gay” is a common but harmful misunderstanding of Scripture.[15] This has had terrible consequences for many gay people.

Men born without the normal sexual attraction to women may have been included by Jesus as one class of “eunuchs so born” who should not marry women.[16]  Male-to-male love as a concept is prized by Scripture,[17] although not necessarily sexual. The traditional condemnation of homosexuality as a sinful choice must give way to the clearer and more widely recognized fact that same-sex attraction for homosexuals is no “choice,” but a biological reality. Guilt for the church’s past persecution of homosexual relationships must be matched by a new Christian zeal to remove all barriers to full acceptance and support for those so born. Those texts we thought were cut and dried condemnation of homosexuals were discussing straight privileged male pagan sexual abuse of both boys and girls, not committed homosexual marriages.[18]

One Morality for all Lovers

No Bible command to “Be Normal.”

Monogamous commitment and pre-marital chastity are Biblical rules for sexuality.[19] As far as I know, there is no Bible commandment to “be normal.” How sexual morality rules apply to the born homosexual seeking to be both chaste and fulfilled in relational love is not something for non-homosexual to dictate.[20] As Pastor Greg Boyd told his church, “It is NOT your job to tell homosexuals how to behave. It is your job to tell them that Jesus and you welcome them into his church. The Bible and the Holy Spirit will instruct them how they are to behave.”[21] Many now consider the availability of the legal protection of “same-sex marriage” as God’s answer to avoiding the dangers of enforced celibacy and the harms of promiscuity for those born with same-sex attraction.

Visual Sex

If you ask most people of my generation how they learned to be happily sexual, most confess to stumbling trial and error, or at least confusion, if not outright pain. Birds and bees were discussed in broad general terms or not at all. Printed books and diagrams may have been handed to us.  But no child today will have any excuse for technical ignorance about sexual intercourse.

Can’t Protect by Ignoring


Thousands of exploited women’s bodies and their men slavishly demonstrate sexual intercourse on videos available to everyone with a cell phone or computer. What freely available pornography cannot teach, however, is the difference between lust and love. It does not reveal sexual equality, safety, and mutual satisfaction considering the different needs of each partner. Pornography is abusive to women and fictional about men. Yet all young humans today are being exposed to it.

It is no longer realistic to “protect” children from pornography by ignoring it. I wish healthy, happy, sexually responsible adults (hopefully parents or parental substitutes) could sit down with each interested child and help them understand what the good and wonderful is in the visual sex they will be exposed to, and what is harmful, dangerous, sad, and sick. In timidity and embarrassment have we as Christians surrendered this sinless pleasure and joyous gift to crass and commercial exploiters? If you are not willing to guide your children through this reality of their lives, there are literally thousands of others who will.

Sexual Shame

Rape, child abuse, power abuse, sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancy, fatherless children, sexual dissatisfaction or avoidance, marital dissolution, homosexual suicides—these are just a few of the terrible consequences of sexual sin, sexual ignorance, and sexual arrogance.

Sexual sin, ignorance, arrogance

Fake and harmful doctrines still found in some Christian churches on the supposed superiority of celibacy, masturbation as unhealthy, sex only for procreation, male headship/female insubordination, birth-control as evil, and condemning all abortions without exception as murder,[22] are surely marks of the Anti-Christ that Adventists should be eager to distance ourselves from.

But who with fallen bodies, fallen parents, fallen spouses, poor choices and selfish minds can lay claim to perfect Edenic sexuality?—no one that I know. But there is One who wrote men’s sexual failings only in the sand, and kindly only for an audience of one. After thoughtfully rebuking the sexual failings of perpetrators, he turns to shamed victims, saying, “Neither will I condemn you. Go now, no more sin.”[23]  God didn’t send Jesus to condemn us for sexual sins; he sent him to save us from our sexual failures and misunderstandings. “I have told you these things so that… your joy may be complete. This is My commandment, that you love one another…”[24]  This love surely includes healthy, happy, holy, ravishing, mutually satisfying, rewarding, and enduring sexual love and safety for all in an Adventist church from the imposition of pain and sexual shame on one another.


FOOTNOTES—

[1] Ellen G. White, Testimonies on Sexual Behavior, Adultery, and Divorce, Ellen G. White Estate, 1989, page 15.
[2] Ellen G. White, The Adventist Home, page 122.
[3] The Ellen G. White Encyclopedia, pages 233-235, Review and Herald Publishing, Hagerstown, Maryland, 2013, is the closest a denominational publication has come to admitting her views were wrong—they were!
[4] Leviticus 15:19-33.
[5] Exodus 21:7-11.
[6] 2 Samuel 12:8, NIV.
[7] 1 Chronicles 3:1-2; 2 Samuel 3:2-5.
[8] 2 Samuel 5:13.
[9] Lamech, Genesis 4:19-24.
[10] 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6.
[11] 1 Corinthians 7:1-9; Hebrews 13:4.
[12] Ellen G. White, Signs of the Times, October 8, 1894, “…one mild restriction was placed upon the sinless pair…”
[13] Nearly 201 powerful male abusers have been brought down by the #MeToo movement.  https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/10/23/us/metoo-replacements.html

[14] Leviticus 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9.
[15] Justin R. Cannon, The Bible, Christianity, & Homosexuality, 1 Timothy 1:8-10, pages 15-19. Available from  www.InclusiveOrthodoxy.org .
[16] Matthew 19:12.
[17] 1 Samuel 18:1, 2; Samuel 1:26; John 12:23.
[18] See https://atoday.org/adventism-tomorrow-part-3-against-all-abuse-for-all-love/  for a discussion of how to understand the texts against prostitution and abuse of males and females in the Old and New Testaments.
[19] Dawn Eden, The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, is a classic discussion of Christian chastity by a young woman.  https://www.amazon.com/Thrill-Chaste-Finding-Fulfillment-Keeping/dp/084991311X

[20] The principles of Luke 6:41,42 and John 21:22 surely apply here. Perhaps a more earthy way of expressing this is with the old joke about what an Italian mother of many children said, dismissing Papal condemnation of birth control, “You no playa da game, you no maka da rules!”
[21] https://reknew.org/2012/10/homosexuality-and-the-church-finding-a-third-way/

[22] How can all therapeutic abortion be murder, if God allows spontaneous miscarriage to end half of all normal early pregnancies and 15-25% of all recognized pregnancies, when the fetus is in any way unsuitable? Surely there is a middle ground between “abortion on demand as birth control” and “all abortion in all circumstances is murder?”  https://www.webmd.com/baby/guide/pregnancy-miscarriage#1

[23] John 8:11
[24] John 15:11,12.


Jack Hoehn is a frequent contributor to both the print and online versions of Adventist Today. He has served on the Adventist Today Foundation board since 2012. He and his wife Deanne live in Walla Walla, Washington. He has a BA in Religion from Pacific Union College, and an MD from Loma Linda University. He was a licensed minister of the Adventist church for 13 years when serving as a missionary physician in Africa. 

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