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In the Bedroom: Christianity and Sex

In November of 2001, a small film entitled In the Bedroom received critical acclaim. It is the story of a college-age student who has an affair with a young woman who is separated from her abusive husband. The husband finds out about the affair and kills the student. But the central characters in this movie are really the young man’s parents. We witness their terrible grief at the loss of a talented and beloved son, a grief that threatens to destroy their own marriage. Finally, another murder occurs as the father, a mild-mannered physician, decides to take the law into his own hands and exact vengeance on the man who murdered his only child.

The title, In the Bedroom, suggests many things: First, the sexual intercourse itself that entails terrible consequences; second, the murder stemming from the abusive husband's discovery of the student in his estranged wife’s house; and third, the final scene as the father returns home and climbs into bed after taking his vengeance. Everything of significance is connected to a bedroom. The title underscores the theme of privacy. All these events happen in secret or behind closed doors, yet we see how private acts may publicly and permanently damage the lives of so many people.

From a Christian viewpoint, one obvious moral of the movie is that there is no such thing as safe sex if it is illicit sex. Curiously, though, most critics reviewing the film never talk about sexual immorality as precipitating the tragedy. Rather, they choose to see the student’s murder by a jealous husband as the crucial event that unleashes all the ensuing misery.

I believe the greatest gulf between Christian ethics and secular ethics lies in the realm of sexual morality. Christian ethical behavior demands sexual purity and holiness (Ephesians 5:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20; Matthew 5:27-28; 31-32; 15:19-20). Sexual holiness restricts sexual intercourse exclusively to marriage (Hebrews 13:4) and demands that the marriage be heterosexual as well as monogamous (1 Corinthians 6:9). Following Old Testament teachings, it also limits the choice of a heterosexual marriage partner by, for example, excluding close relatives (Leviticus 18).

Secular ethics, on the other hand, sees Christian sexual taboos as unnatural, psychologically unhealthy, and unrealistic. If ethics asks the question, “What ought one to do?,” secular ethics concludes, “All other things being equal, one ought to do what comes naturally; one ought not repress the natural inclinations of human sexuality.” For secular ethics, sex before marriage is not wrong in and of itself, nor is homosexuality. Secular ethics respects the marriage vows, of course, but the wrong it sees in sex outside of marriage is disloyalty or imprudence, not adultery. And disloyalty or imprudence, while regrettable according to secular values, may sometimes be justified by one’s personal quest for self-fulfillment and by one’s individual pursuit of happiness. Secular values may compensate for secular shortcomings, just as the Christian virtue of love "covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).

For Christians, fornication and adultery count among the worst of sins and can never be justified. The very words “adulterer” and “adulterous” are used in scripture as insults, as one-word encapsulations of an evil, wicked, sinful, and depraved society (James 4:4; Matthew 12:39; 16:4; Mark 8:38). When the Christian leaders met in Jerusalem to decide what should be required of Gentile converts, only four demands were made, one of which was to abstain from sexual immorality (Acts. 15:19-20).

Secularists tend to dismiss Christian views on sex by labeling them Puritanism or Victorianism. In part they do this, I think, because they are wary of attacking Christianity (and Judaism, for that matter) head-on, something that would be politically incorrect in a nominally Christian country. But they also do it because they realize consciously or unconsciously that so-called Puritanism and Victorianism are distortions of true Christianity and therefore easy targets. Christians need to be careful about giving their opponents ammunition by succumbing to the faults of Puritanism and Victorianism such as pettiness, hypocrisy, reductionism, self-righteousness, and authoritarianism.

Non-Christians may well ask, “Why is the Christian God so hung up on sex? It is natural, it is enjoyable, it is cool and sophisticated, and, if properly conducted, it is harmless.” Some of the Corinthians were saying much the same thing to Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. The way Paul answers them is interesting. He doesn’t argue against sexual immorality pragmatically by making a list of its dangerous consequences. Rather, he talks about Christian integrity--what it really means to be a Christian.

To the argument, “It is natural,” Paul replies that one day God is going to destroy all things that are natural. To the argument, “It is enjoyable,” Paul replies that we can become enslaved by our pleasures and lose our dignity. To the argument, “It is cool and sophisticated,” Paul says that, in reality, it is degrading because it compromises the Holy Spirit of God within us.

In Christian ethics, what you are determines what you ought to do. Genuine Christians do not behave well mainly because it contributes to the greater good of humanity; they do not behave well to avoid contracting a disease. Rather, they do right because they believe they share the divine nature of God. Their bodies are meant for God (1 Corinthians 6:13), that is, meant to be inhabited by God. Their bodies are the members of Christ and dwellings of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:14, 19). Already, to that extent, Christians are divine beings and, as such, should live holy, divine lives. That is why, Paul says, “the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). The purpose of sexual purity, and indeed of all Christian ethics, is summed up by Paul’s conclusion, “So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

God confined sex to marriage because marriage was intended to be a faithful and committed relationship, a proper place for the intimacy and powerful emotions involved. Faithfulness is an essential quality of godliness. The Bible describes God as faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9-11), and clearly implies that those who want to be like God will shun sexual immorality and the selfishness it embodies.

Much of the modern world, however, does not acknowledge God, and consequently sees no ethical problem in the pursuit of sexual pleasure so long as it does no obvious and irreparable harm. But in all intellectual honesty, we all are well aware that sex outside the bounds of faithfulness often leads to pain and hurt. Films like In the Bedroom send a message to society, whether the critics care to admit it or not. If you think sexual intercourse outside of marriage is harmless, see the movie.


1.When I was a teenager, it frustrated me that my mother would watch her favorite soap opera every day. I considered her daily dose of trash TV, with all its adulterous affairs, to be inappropriate viewing for a Christian. Was I right or was I a little priggish prude?

2.Is polygamy adultery? Should an African with four wives who is converted to Christianity be compelled to divorce three of his wives?

3.Victorianism has the reputation of lumping any and everything remotely associated with sex (dancing, shorts, mixed swimming, even flirting) into the category “sexual immorality,” effectively putting a hedge around the sin. What do you think about this?

4.What would you say to a granddaughter if she told you she was moving in with her boyfriend without the sanction of marriage?

5.Is a marriage ceremony necessary to beginning a sexual union? Is a faithful common law marriage acceptable in God’s sight?

6.Sometimes an elderly man and woman will move in together and, for reasons pertaining to their estates, decide not to marry. Is it right for unmarried couples to live together, even if there is no sex involved?

7.If you were to see a good friend’s husband or wife romantically involved with another person, should you tell your friend about it? When should one get involved in other people’s sexual sins and when should one keep silent?

8.Would it be morally acceptable for two Christian homosexuals to live together as a couple if they were sexually faithful to one another?


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on May 28, 2007 12:20 PM.

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