Matthew Rueger offers an honest and refreshing apologetic to the issue of sexual morality in his book, Sexual Morality in a Christless World. As we live in a culture that seems to be ever increasing its hostility toward Christianity, Dr. Rueger gently reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun. Throughout his book, Rueger equips and encourages Christians to defend their biblical beliefs, however unpopular and contrary to pop culture they might be, and to do so remembering that faithful Christians have been doing the same for thousands of years.
Check out our Q&A with Dr. Rueger below.
- What inspired you to write Sexual Morality in a Christless World?
I’m a father of seven children. Six of my kids have gone to college. My youngest will be graduating high school in a year. They have all found themselves confronted by open sexual immorality and have all had discussions and debates with their peers. They are usually told they are misreading the Bible or are unloving or bigoted for finding fault with socially acceptable sexual practices. I wrote the book to help my kids and other Christians. My intent was to offer straightforward answers to the questions that commonly confront Christians.
Additionally, I wanted to show that Christian opposition to homosexuality and sexual sin in general is not the same as blanket condemnation against the people committing these sins. Christ is a forgiving Savior who calls all people to repentance. Those who are trapped in sexual sins need to understand that Jesus has not abandoned them. He is there to help them and move them out of their sins into a redeemed and sanctified life.
- What has been changing Americans’ minds on questions of sexual morality?
It seems to me there is a combination of forces at work in the American mind. I was privileged to lecture on this topic in an ethics class at a secular university. What I witnessed among the college students was a gross lack of understanding about the basics of Christian teaching. Part of the reason why so many people go along with immoral sexual behavior is because their churches have failed to teach them God’s Word. Church for many has become about little more than emotions and general concepts of love. They do not know what God’s Word says and many don’t care.
Another factor has to do with our cultural adoration of the popular elite. So many of our leaders, actors, athletes, and of course personalities in the media present a unified voice in support of sexual promiscuity and homosexuality. It is trendy to be pro-homosexual and bash those who oppose it. There also seems to be a shift in our culture toward outright rejection of Christianity and Christian morality. Embracing homosexuality is only one part of this shift. Cohabitation, rampant heterosexual immorality, the rejection of marriage as a divinely ordained institution, and the increased acceptance of pornography are all marks of the same cultural movement.
3a. How do ancient Roman views on sexuality in general compare to modern views? How do they differ?
I spend a lot of time in my book discussing this. The short answer is that Roman society was very open with sex. Prostitution, sexual abuse of slaves, homosexual activity, pederasty, and extramarital sexual activity were all common. When the early Christians challenged Roman views, they often found themselves severely persecuted. Their example is of great benefit to Christians today who face persecution for the same things.
One difference between Roman views on sexuality and modern views has to do with homosexual “orientation.” The Romans did not see homosexuality as an “orientation” or as an immutable part of one’s personhood. Men having intercourse with other men was simply an act. Sex was tied to concepts of masculinity in Rome. A Roman male was strong and took what he wanted, when he wanted it, with whomever he chose (except from other Roman citizens). It was part of his right as a Roman male to express his dominance, which may include dominance over another man sexually.
3b. What about views on women and childbearing?
Rome was a very male-dominated society. Women were given few rights compared to today. They could not be senators, for example, and the amount of education they were permitted to have was very limited. One of the consequences of Rome’s male-dominated society was a very low view of wives and motherhood. Marriage was often just a means to an end. It was the road Roman men took to have children. Women were not seen as equally important in the marriage. In many marriages, they were there to bear male heirs and little more.
- You note that the Romans and Greeks considered homosexual relationships to be “a higher form of intellectual love and engagement.” How would you compare their view to views today regarding homosexuality?
It wasn’t just that homosexual relationships in general were better than heterosexual relationships. There are numerous ancient texts that laud male homosexual activity as more intellectually stimulating than intercourse with a woman. Women were seen as inferior to men. They believed men could engage one another at a higher cultural and intellectual level than a man could with a woman. Many men also believed that young men and boys were more beautiful than women. It is no coincidence that the Greek and Roman gods of sexual desire (Eros and Cupid) were young boys.
Today, there isn’t the blatant misogyny in homosexual culture. Homosexual activity is not seen as a predominantly male affair. Sexual promiscuity of every form is an equal opportunity sin. It is no more culturally taboo for women to be lesbian than for men to be gay, nor is male homosexuality driven by thoughts of male-superiority.
- You mention how the Early Church broke with both Roman and Jewish cultural traditions. What traditions must we break with in order to address these issues today?
Increasingly Christians have to be willing to stand alone and be berated and excluded for disagreeing with the masses. Yet, we must also show that disagreement with sin doesn’t mean hatred. The pattern of the world around us is to show disdain and contempt when disagreeing. Demonizing your opponent is the norm. It’s not so much of a tradition we have to break with as it is a culturally accepted method of disagreement. Christians have to rise above the rhetoric of hate and voice genuine concern for the souls of those affected by immorality. We do not speak up just to protest. We speak up because we love those caught in sin and want to see them turn back to God and be saved from His judgment.
- It’s a common belief that gay marriage is a new, progressive concept. Is this true? What about the transgender phenomenon?
Gay marriage is nothing new. There is solid proof in ancient texts that none other than Nero was married to a man in a very public ceremony. The early Christians had to contend with a culture that allowed gay marriage. They didn’t change their witness of sexual chastity and purity simply because the culture around them allowed for gay marriage. Cross-dressing and “transgenderism” is also nothing new. Several of the Caesars were known to cross-dress and most were known to have homosexual liaisons. One Caesar went so far as to request that his surgeons physically alter him to make him able to have intercourse as a woman. While today’s culture believes it is being progressive, it is actually being regressive. It is returning to ancient attitudes of sexual conduct that had devastating effects on individuals and society.
- What is the most misunderstood Bible verse regarding sexual morality?
There tends to be misunderstanding of many of the verses involved. Some people ignore the cultural context of passages and “reread” them in light of the modern agenda they wish to push. A verse that I hear cited regularly, in a way completely contrary to its intent, is Matthew 7:1: “Judge not, that you be not judged.” This passage gets thrown into the ring whenever Christians say that some act of sexual immorality is sinful. It almost becomes a trump card to any debate. “God says, ‘Don’t judge,’ so you are disobeying God by judging this as sinful.” It should be obvious to anyone who reads the Bible that this passage does not prohibit people from making judgments about right or wrong. As the rest of that section of Matthew shows, “judge not” is instruction for Christians not to judge the sins of others without considering their own sins first. Judging morality and doctrine is necessary for Christians. In John 7:24, Jesus tells us to “judge with right judgment.” “Judging” is not wrong, it is necessary. What is wrong is failing to see one’s own sins, or judging by appearance alone, or making judgments that are contrary to God’s Word.
- Did Paul’s treatment of sexual morality differ from that of the Old Testament? How?
To a certain extent, Paul’s views of sexual morality were different than the Old Testament. The Old Testament idea of Levirate marriage (a woman marrying her husband’s brother or relative after she is widowed so she can have children in the name of her dead husband), for example, is no longer taught in the New Testament. There is also a shift in language when discussing sexual morality in the New Testament. Where the Old Testament framed its discussion mostly in terms of Law, Paul places the emphasis squarely on the Gospel. Men and women are sexually chaste because they are new creations in Christ through grace. It is not the Law alone that shapes their sexual behavior; it is the purity of Christ at work within them that shapes what they do and how they act.
- How has the Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage changed the way Christians should discuss homosexuality with others?
Prior to the Supreme Court decision, Christians could make the case that even the secular world recognized the uniqueness of marriage between a man and a woman. Though the courts were not Christian, they at least paid respect to the husband-and-wife family as the bedrock of society. After the Supreme Court decision, Christians can no longer claim societal support for traditional marriage. We now find ourselves actually arguing that the courts are wrong and are acting contrary to God. It places us as Christians much more on the outside of social acceptance.
- What advice do you have for Christians who seek to debate issues of sexual morality more effectively?
I tell my children not to go into debates expecting to win. Winning arguments is not the Christian goal. The purpose in engaging those who disagree is to plant the seeds of God’s Word and to point to Christ as the Savior from all sin. Any growth that comes from that is from the Holy Spirit. We should not expect the world to suddenly agree with us. It won’t. But in speaking God’s truth in love and pointing the way to Christ as the Savior of sinners, there will be individuals who listen and are drawn to Christ. We might not see the fruit of that labor, but God promises that His Word will not return to Him void.
- What do you hope readers will take away from reading this book?
My hope in writing the book is that people who are struggling to understand God’s will, or who are finding it difficult to put into words what they know God wants, will find more clarity. I wrote primarily for my own children in college who have to deal with this issue on a regular basis. I wanted them to know God’s teaching about sexuality, so that when they are tempted by sin or confronted by people who deny God’s Word, they will have biblically sound answers. Ultimately, my hope is that Christ is presented to those in need who may be confused by the sexual chaos of our age. I hope that through this book, hurting people can come to understand that they, too, have a place in Jesus’ Church among the forgiven and redeemed and that the power of Jesus to forgive is greater than the power of sin.