Deconstructing the God of Sexual Identity

What follows is the manuscript of a sermon delivered in Ozark Christian College’s chapel on 2/25/2021.

I feel some conflict this morning. It is a strange thing to be asked to preach about a god you no longer believe in. I’m not sure I ever actually believed in this god. There was a time I suppose where I might have gone along with the worship of this god just because so many people around me had become devoted followers. Like so many gods, it is a god who seems easy to believe in. Believing in this god seems natural, maybe even desirable. But desiring something to be true and something actually being true are often different things. There was always a part of me that was suspicious about this god. If this god did exist, it was certainly a twisted, capricious god. It was a god who seemed to consume all of those devoted to it. I’ve heard all the arguments, all the apologetics, but I’m here to confess that as I’ve grown older, I’ve grown into a skeptic, and unbeliever. It’s not popular to say. In fact, it would make some people positively hostile. When you reject the popular worship of a culture, it tends to get people upset, but I’ve deconstructed faith in this god and found it to be completely empty.

And so it is that today I’ve been asked to preach on sexual identity – a god that I don’t believe in. It’s not that I don’t believe in sex. I do. It’s not that I don’t believe in sexual attraction or even sexual orientation. I do. What I don’t believe in is the centering of identity – a sense of the self – in sex or sexuality. Because whatever we center ourselves upon, whatever we use to define our identity is a god, and in this case is a false god.

As I was writing this sermon, I knew I needed to do some research on this god, like Paul walking the streets of Athens before he speaks to the Areopagus. So I went to our modern day agora. I went to Wikipedia. Sexual identity is how one thinks of oneself in terms of to whom one is romantically or sexually attracted.” So sexual identity is not merely about attraction. It is about how a person thinks of themselves. Sex is so important that who we are is governed by who we are or are not sexually attracted to. The next paragraph makes this clear. “Sexual identity has been described as a component of an individual’s identity that reflects their sexual self-concept.” To their credit, Wikipedia seems to recognize that sexuality alone might not be enough in forming our identity. In the next sentence they add, “The integration of the respective identity components into a greater overall identity is essential to the process of developing the multi-dimensional construct of identity.” The problem that we have is that those other components that have traditionally helped to shape a person’s understanding themselves – components like religious commitments or even ethnic or family identity – have all tended to melt away in significance compared to the pressing needs of this hungry god.

My next stop was a website devoted to educating the public about all of the options that a person has in regards to their sexual identity. They listed nearly forty options including…

Allosexual, Androsexual, Asexual, Aromantic, Autosexual, Autoromantic, Bicurious, Bisexual, Biromantic, Closeted, Cupiosexual, Demisexual, Demiromantic, Fluid, Gay, Graysexual, Grayromantic, Gynesexual, Heterosexual, Homosexual, Lesbian, Libidoist asexual, Monosexual, No-libidoist asexual, Omnisexual, Pansexual, Panromantic, Polysexual, Pomosexual, Queer, Questioning, Sapiosexual, Sex-averse, Sex-favorable, Sex-indifferent, Sex-repulsed, Skoliosexual, Spectrasexual, and Straight.

I don’t list all of these things to make fun or to mock anyone. I do think a list like this illustrates two things. It illustrates that we are both obsessed with and confused by sexual identity. The multiplication of terms is usually a sign of confusion rather than precision. And apparently this is a god who is equally consuming and confusing.

How did we get to this point? Where did this god come from? There are at least three high priests of sexual identity who have helped to create this modern god:

Three Priests of Sexual Identity

First, Jean-Jacques Rousseau who was an 18th century French philosopher. His most famous quote is “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.” Central to Rousseau’s philosophy is the assumption that man is born good but is then corrupted by culture and society. Specifically, our most authentic self is constricted by the rules of society. Society forces us to live a lie. Romantics like Rousseau turned being your most authentic self into the most important virtue. We don’t look outside of ourselves to find a meaningful life. Instead, we turn inward. The most authentic person is the counter-cultural individual. Rousseau is the patron saint of little girls who grew up belting let it go and thought it was just about a young queens tolerance for the cold. He is the patron saint of little boys who grew up choosing iron man over captain America because iron man was the sarcastic rebel who broke all the rules.

Under the romantics, sex isn’t just an act. Sex is an expression of who you are as an individual, and the more societal norms you break with your sexual expression, the better.   

This has led to profound confusion about the purpose of sex. For instance, the San Francisco Department of Public Health issued guidance for safe sex during COVID.

“The challenge of safer sex and COVID-19 is making changes work for you and your sex life. A big part of figuring that out is learning what you want to get out of sex. Is it about getting off? Is it the touch? Is it the need for intimacy and emotional connection? Is it all of those things? Staying safe with COVID-19 may mean learning more about yourself, what you need most out of sex, and how to communicate your needs and fears with current and potential partners.”

Notice the assumption: Society doesn’t decide what sex is for. What is important is what you need out of sex. For the romantic, sex is terribly lonely. They recommend masks during sex without kisses, but the safest sex during COVID is virtual sex because after all if sex is ultimately about yourself it might as well be masturbatory.

The second high priest of sexual identity is Sigmund Freud, a 19th century psychologist. Freud and Rousseau agreed that happiness was the most important thing about human existence, but Freud associated happiness primarily with sexual fulfillment.

“Man’s discovery that sexual love afforded him the strongest experiences of satisfaction and in fact provided him with the prototype of all happiness, must have suggested to him that he should continue to seek the satisfaction of happiness in his life along the path of sexual relations and that he should make genital erotism the central point of his life.”

According to Freud, going all the way back to infancy, from the moment that we are born, the purpose of life is to find happiness in sexual satisfaction. It is impossible to live a meaningful life without sexual satisfaction. The psychology of Freud produces movies like the 40 year old virgin. The only reason a movie like that works is because the notion of being a virgin at 40 is absurd and pathetic. There is no virtue in being celibate or “waiting for marriage” because the only fulfilled life is the sexual life.

The third high priest was Karl Marx. He lived about the same time as Freud. Marx was convinced that all of life was political. All social interactions are about the ongoing conflict between the haves and the have nots and history moves inevitably in the direction of liberation. Marx was more interested in economics than sex, but in the 20th century his ideas about politics were applied to sex by some of his more randy disciples. Economic categories of oppression and liberation became sexual categories of oppression and liberation. Freud said that everything is about sex. Marx said that everything is about politics. When you combine the two ideas sex became political. Sex isn’t just about expression. It’s not just about a meaningful life. Sex is now about liberation and power. My sexuality is my public and private identity and society should be structured in such a way as to encourage as much sexual liberation as possible.

The result is that sex is no longer a private affair. The motto used to be, “It’s no one’s business what happens in the privacy of someone’s bedroom.” That motto is now out of date. Not only must you care about what happens in the privacy of someone else’s bedroom, you must also endorse and support it. Because my sexuality is not my behavior, it’s not something that I do. It is now who I am. It is my identity and to question my identity is to question my personhood.

My life is now hidden in my sexuality. It’s not I who live but my sexual appetites that live in me.

The purpose of sex

These ideas have become so ingrained within our culture that it’s easy to assume this is how everyone has always thought about sex when that’s really not true. Sadly, these ideas have become so conventional even among followers of Jesus that it’s become difficult to know where the kingdom of this world ends and the kingdom of heaven begins. In accepting the assumptions of our culture, we have become worshippers of false gods

So many of us are confused about the purpose of sex, and when you are confused about the purpose of something you are more likely to misuse it. We can identify several purposes for sex in scripture. One purpose is clearly enjoyment. Have you read the Song of Solomon? Say what you want. They were definitely enjoying themselves. But sex is clearly about more than that. After all, there are lots of ways to enjoy ourselves. However, there is one thing that sex and only sex can do. The main purpose of sex seems to be creation. The creation of a new being in marriage and the creation of new life in children.

Because of its role in creation, sex is regarded as a sacred thing. Sacred things are given limits and protections. Things that are sacred are things worth protecting because they are so precious. I protect and set rules for my kids precisely because they are sacred and special. We also observe that when sacred things are treated like common things they actually have the ability to bring death and depravity instead of life and community. We see this with sex in our world.

Nowhere in scripture will you find anything about sex being the meaning of life. Nowhere in scripture will you find anything about what we call sexual identity. What modern people have done is they have stripped away everything that is sacred about sex and have made it common. It’s removed from selflessness and commitment. It’s removed from procreation. It is just the fulfillment of my appetites without rules or restrictions. And then they have placed that common thing at the very center of their lives. This empty, common thing has become their identity. It’s no wonder that we struggle with emptiness. It’s no wonder that we struggle with loneliness even as we live in a sex crazed world. We’ve come to worship a meaningless god and have made ourselves meaningless in the process.

Our true identity

The chapel team asked me for my sermon text. I had a hard time. Christopher Yuan expressed my frustration pretty well.

“The terms heterosexual and homosexual originate from a secular anthropology that elevates sexual desires as a legitimate way to categorize humanity…Are we in fact defined by our sexual desires and behaviors?…The Bible does not categorize humanity according to our sexual desires—or any other sort of desire.”

If you’ve never heard of him, Christopher Yuan is a man with one of the most remarkable testimonies I’ve ever heard. He was an agnostic gay man who ended up in prison for selling drugs. Jesus found him in that prison, and now he lives a celibate life and teaches theology at Moody Bible Institute. He no longer identifies as gay or straight because he believes those labels are an idolatrous distraction from the fact that his true identity is in Christ alone. In his most recent book, he says,

“There is no other sin issue so closely linked to identity. For example, being a gossiper is not who he is but what he does. Or being an adulteress is not who she is but what she does. Being a hater is not who he is but what he does. Should the capacity for same-sex attractions really describe who I am at my most basic level? Or should it describe how I am? Might this be a categorical fallacy that ultimately distorts how we think and live? The terms heterosexual and homosexual turn desire into personhood, experience into ontology.”

I really wanted to resist turning this message into a sermon about homosexuality or same-sex attraction, not that those aren’t important issues, but I think that lets too many of us off the hook. None of us is exempt from reflecting on the extent to which sexual identity has become our center, how sexual identity has become for us a seductive god. The properly ordered life is not centered on sex, but is centered on Jesus. The properly ordered life is not subject to sexual appetites but is in submission to our Lord. And so, I think I’m finally ready for my text.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Colossians 3:1-11

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