God’s Judgment on Heterosexuality and the Church’s Caring Response

Caveat lector: The following is intended as a work of irony. The author is particularly anxious that readers not impute to him any of the opinions expressed therein. While he agrees with some premises and conclusions advanced, many, if not most, are far from consistent with his attitude or opinions. The author does, however, feel that what follows is no more selective in its use of Scripture, casual in its logic, condescending in its attitude, erroneous in its conclusions — nor less guilty of asserting bare notions as if self-evident truths — than countless similar essays prepared by the committees, congregations, curiae, and theologians of numerous scattered members of Christ’s church.


The church is faced today with a pastoral problem of some gravity. It is becoming more and more apparent that many heterosexuals now consider themselves faithful members of the church, while committing acts very much at variance with the church’s solemn teaching. The problem is far from new; the Scriptural witness, and the unbroken tradition of the church attest to the ongoing nature of this tragic discontinuity. The matter has only come to the attention of the church in recent years due to the efforts by some heterosexuals to seek to justify their behavior.

Origins in Creation

The inability of heterosexuals to form lasting, stable relationships has long been noted. A survey of the biblical material provides a sad witness to this inability, and one explanation for its source, in the judgment of God upon Adam and Eve. This judgment provides a climax to the creation account in Genesis (3.16), and may therefore be taken as substantive testimony to God’s plan for humanity. This passage explains the tragic inability of heterosexuals to work together as equals: the female is cursed with being placed under male rule, rather than coexisting as the full and equal partner that a healthy and life-giving relationship requires. This order or hierarchy — a veritable “civil war of the sexes” — fosters an incapacity for mutuality that renders stable heterosexual relationships nearly impossible.

The rest of the biblical material portrays the unfortunate consequence of this constitutional incapacity. Even the patriarch Abraham, who in all other respects was a model of fidelity, was willing to deny his wife and turn her over as a potential concubine. (Gen. 12.13) The overwhelming majority of heterosexual relationships portrayed in Scripture are devoid of any appearance of human care, affection, mutuality, or concern. Few of the heterosexual relationships that do evince a degree of personal commitment (e.g., Elkanah and Hannah) are monogamous. One is hard pressed to find even a handful of faithful, loving, lifelong, monogamous, heterosexual relationships in the whole of Scripture.

We must remember, however, that God’s power is perfected in weakness. The people of Israel fell away from the true path time and again, yet were capable of repentance and redemption. So too, God will be patient with erring heterosexuals who repent of their sinful behavior and return to God. This analogy between the corporate behavior of Israel and the personal behavior of heterosexuals is linked throughout the Scripture: heterosexual adultery and prostitution are _types_ of idolatry on Israel’s part throughout the prophetic and poetic literature, so much so that at times it is difficult to determine if the acts under condemnation are cultic or sexual in nature. Condemnation of heterosexual activity (real or figurative) is almost always paired with a call to repentance, and an offer of divine forgiveness. A striking example of this in the New Testament appears in Jesus’ forgiveness of the woman taken in adultery. Christ forgives her, while making it clear he considers her behavior to be “sin.” (Note too, that this is one of the few times in the Gospel that Jesus directly and specifically designates any behavior by the title of “sin.”)

Disease and the other consequences of heterosexual acts

It is incumbent upon the church to avoid suggesting that the high frequency of infant mortality, death in childbirth (which until the introduction of antiseptic procedures was common worldwide), and sexually transmitted disease represent in some way God’s punishment of heterosexuals for their sinful behavior. All human beings share in common mortality, fall prey to disease of one kind or another throughout their lives, and ultimately suffer death. All disease and death may therefore be seen as a tragic consequence of Original Sin rather than of the particular sins of any given individual.

However, we would be negligent in our task were we to fail to note the biblical witness on this matter. Travail in childbirth is singled out by God as a means to punish womankind for having led mankind astray (Gen. 3.16). This judgment is partially deferred in the Deuteropauline literature, where it is promised that a woman believer will be “saved through childbirth.” It is important to note that the promise is not that a woman will be “saved _by means of_ childbirth” (which would be out of keeping with the Pauline opposition to works righteousness), but “_brought safely through_ childbirth”; i.e., a woman’s faith will preserve her through this difficult trial, her faith serving as a balance to Eve’s primal infidelity. (1 Tim. 2.12-15) It must also be acknowledged that at least one instance of child mortality is explicitly related to heterosexual sin: the death the child born out of the relationship between David and Uriah the Hittite’s wife. (2 Sam 12.14)

Moreover, it would be irresponsible of the church not to warn heterosexuals of the dire medical consequences their behavior might cause. When medical conditions (childbed fever, sexually transmitted disease, ectopic pregnancy, etc.) can so clearly and directly be linked with a form of behavior the church is obliged to provide at least warning and counsel.

Relevance of biblical material

Many today would argue that the injunctions placed upon heterosexual contact in the Law of Moses are no longer relevant to a discussion of heterosexuality. We must point out, however, the general ritual opprobrium attached to heterosexual acts. All heterosexual acts render both parties unclean at any time, due to emission of semen (Lev 15.18), and abominable at other times, due to contact with menstrual blood. (Lev 15.24, 20.18) The continued condemnation of the latter in the prophetic literature (Ezek. 18.5-13; 22.10), and in early church tradition (e.g., the _Didascalia_, Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, John Chrysostom, and Thomas Aquinas) warrants our caution in disregarding the Mosaic material as simply “cultural baggage.”

Heterosexual Behavior vs. the Heterosexual Condition

Some argue that while heterosexual behavior is sinful, the heterosexual condition is not, and that a chaste heterosexual is capable of leading a normal, full, and happy life within the moral framework determined by the church.

While this is to a large extent an accurate understanding, the church must also warn of the dangers of sin “thought but not acted.” Both the Old and New Testaments warn of the insidious and serious nature of such sin. The Tenth Commandment (Exod 20.17) clearly places the mental act of coveting one’s neighbor’s wife in the same moral universe as outright adultery. Jesus repeats and emphasizes this connection in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5.28). Given this Scriptural witness it is difficult to see that heterosexual inclination is in any way less culpable than heterosexual action, unless involuntary and immediately rejected by an exercise of the will and moral judgment. Such an understanding must rule as sinful, therefore, all pornographic or semi-pornographic material so widely available in our society. (The latter includes much advertising that appears, at first, to be completely unrelated to heterosexuality, but uses a heterosexual subtext in order to market a product.)

The church may be informed, if not guided, by the findings of science on this issue. However, the scientific community is not yet in full agreement as to the etiology of heterosexuality, or the treatment of its more egregious manifestations. Despite the intensity of the heterosexual inclination, the exercise of the will and moral judgment can assist all but the most clinically unstable heterosexual from committing acts judged to be immoral by the church. However, there can be no question about the position the church must take when dealing with unrepentant, avowed heterosexuals who not only commit such acts, but go so far as to brag about the number of their sexual liaisons (many of them made through contacts in such sordid institutions as “singles bars”).

The marriage of heterosexuals

Given the statistics on infidelity, divorce, abortion, rape, and the abuse of spouses and children by heterosexuals, it would appear that few heterosexual persons are capable of the fundamental, mutual self-giving required to support a lifelong, committed relationship. The biblical material on this matter is again unambiguous. When Jesus told the disciples that the only permissible exercise of heterosexual behavior was within the context of a lifelong, faithful, monogamous marriage, his disciples exclaimed that it was impossible. Jesus went on to assert that while not impossible, it is a supernatural gift only a few could be expected to accept. (Matt. 19.10-11)

The Pauline material does not forbid marriage, but certainly does not encourage it. Paul’s preferential option is for abstinence. Paul spent much of his ministry dealing with the weaknesses of heterosexuals in the early church, counseling them, if at all possible, to avoid entering marriages he knew few of them would be able to sustain, yet allowing it for those unable to control themselves. (1 Cor 7) At the same time, Paul warns against any heterosexual activity outside marriage. Clearly this creates a pastoral dilemma for the church, and an opportunity to exercise forgiveness for those incapable — through no fault other than constitutional weakness — of achieving the highest standards of Christian behavior.

The ordination of heterosexuals

The question of the ordination of active heterosexuals is not a new one. While it appears that some apostles were married (Mark 1.30), Paul clearly regards the whole matter with unconcealed condescension. (1 Cor 9.5) The Deuteropauline material relents slightly, and allows bishops to be married “only once.” (1 Tim. 3.2) The catholic church, however, in its wisdom, determined within the first few centuries of its institutional life that bishops (and in the West, all clergy) should permanently abstain from all heterosexual activity. Since the Reformation, some churches have decided once again to permit avowed, open and active heterosexuals to serve as ministers, sometimes with disastrous consequences, as the natural tendency toward infidelity and instability evinced by so many heterosexuals emerges in socially and morally inappropriate ways.

The heterosexual agenda

Even considering the church’s call to forgiveness and understanding, it would be inappropriate for it to support the so-called “heterosexual agenda” in the secular arena. The church was, to a certain extent, taken unawares when the greatest victory of the heterosexual special interest group was achieved: the liberalization of divorce laws in most states. Similarly, heterosexuals will be found at work mounting efforts to decriminalize those heterosexual acts still forbidden by statute in many states, to lower the age of consent for sexual activity between persons of the opposite sex, and to legalize prostitution and the distribution of pornography.

The church is not only competent to forgive the moral error involved in such acts, it is also able to appeal to the state for mercy and some consideration of the broken condition of the heterosexual offender. The church should model its behavior on Christ, who while acknowledging the sinfulness of the woman taken in adultery, enjoined the crowd to remit the punishment justly due to her. However, it would be improper for the church to seek completely to prevent the exercise of secular law, which may serve — if not as a corrective — at least as a warning of the consequences of immorality.


After all is said and done, we must affirm that heterosexuals, despite the sinfulness of their behavior, are children of God, and worthy of our care and pastoral concern. They are more to be pitied than censured. With the pastoral care and counsel of the church, they may grow to that “full stature of mature manhood in Christ” promised to all faithful believers.

Promulgated by the Sacred Congregation for the Defense of What I Say is True Because I Say It