Our theme for the month of June is “sex and the church.” To read posts from our first pass at this theme, check out our June 2018 archives.
“Though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it as clear as I possibly can that the center of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither” (Lewis, 1952, pp. 102-103).
Seventy years ago, it seems a grave temptation of the church—or at least a number of her people—was to regard sexual morality as the chief Christian virtue, and to turn her nose up at its lack (or corruption) as the chief vice. That this misperception persists today is an embarrassing, lamentable, and baffling flaw, and collective repentance is in order.
The church laments abortion and all sins (sexual and otherwise) that draw us away from God and His plan for creation, but we can be lamentably blind to the blood on our hands. How many pregnant young women would make a different choice, if their communities did not lead them to believe sexual morality is the primary Christian concern? How many would not have left the church if her main message was of grace—if she made it evident, as Lewis did seventy years ago, that guarding against pride was vastly more important than condemning the licentious and adulterous, the fornicators and unwed parents?
“Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
“But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’
“Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ ‘No one, sir,’ she said.
“‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’” (John 8:1-11).
Jesus did not condone sin, but neither did he condemn the adulterous woman. He condemned the pride he saw in those who dragged her before him. As Lewis points out, the center of Christian morality (what should be the church’s primary concern) is humility—which the immortalized woman had and her detractors did not.
“You may remember, when I was talking about sexual morality, I warned you that the centre of Christian morals did not lie there. Well, now, we have come to the center. According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind” (Lewis, 1952, pp. 121-122).
Lewis, C. S. (1952). Mere Christianity. Harper One.
Natasha (Strydhorst) Unsworth (‘16) is a science communication researcher and practitioner working on her Ph.D. at Texas Tech University. Natasha hails from Calgary, Alberta. Some of her favo(u)rite authors are C. S. Lewis, Francis Collins, and Bill Bryson. Her favourite earthly place is the Canadian Rocky Mountains, and her favourite activities are reading and enjoying the great outdoors—preferably simultaneously.