‘Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends’ John 15:13
Background: Christian Teachings on Love, Marriage, Sex and Identity
Please note: This background detail helps to explain the content of the declaration, but signatories to the declaration will not necessarily agree with everything in it.
With orthodox Christians of every denomination, we affirm:
- There is one Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
- As the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds affirm, Jesus Christ, God the Son, has come down from heaven, taken human nature, and sacrificed himself for us on the cross for our salvation. Raised from the dead, he has ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father, as our Lord and Saviour. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
- All humans are made in the image of God, to be valued for his sake whatever our age, sex and race, and whatever our moral failings, past and present.
- All humans have been spoiled by sin, which has corrupted our hearts so that our inclinations and desires are opposed to God and his good and loving design and commands.
- Jesus showed a love greater than any other, in laying down his life to save us; so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
- Christ calls us to repent and believe the good news, that through him, his death and resurrection, there is salvation and forgiveness of sins.
- Christians are therefore not to be conformed to the passions of our former ignorance, but as he who called us is holy, so we are to be holy in all our conduct (1 Peter 1:14-15).
- Following Jesus’ teaching and example, we know that Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
- Therefore, in all areas of life, it is self-denial and self-sacrifice for the sake of God and of others, not self-satisfaction and self-fulfilment, to which Christ calls us. It is in such self-denial and self-sacrifice, in imitation of and service of Jesus our Lord, the new head of humanity, that true humanity, freedom, fulfilment and satisfaction are found. This is the Greater Love that Christ commands.
Chastity and Marriage: Christ-like love in sexual ethics
- God’s purpose in making humanity was to bring about the final, eternal, blessed marriage between Christ, the bridegroom, and his redeemed people as his Holy bride, when Christ returns. (Revelation 21:2)
- God designed us as men and women so that we, as his images, might reflect this in the lifelong self-sacrificial union of one man and one woman in marriage. Marriage is therefore a fundamental part of human nature. In marriage God truly unites husband and wife as one flesh. This is spoken of in Scripture as “a profound mystery”, being intrinsically linked to the sexual difference of man and woman, the nature of human procreation, and our creation in the image of God. Marriage is therefore not something which we humans designed or created, and not something which we humans can redesign or recreate.
- Sexual difference and sexual attraction are made by God for the purpose of marriage and all the good that flows from it. Sexual union between husband and wife is designed by God as a delightful and joyful part of the union of their hearts and lives. However, sin has distorted and damaged sexual desires in all people, as it has all of human nature. Sexual behaviour has particularly widespread effects far beyond those immediately engaged in it, on family, friends and beyond. Therefore, where sexual inclinations are wrongly indulged, this results in damage and harm to ourselves, to others and ultimately to all of society. Where they are resisted for the sake of others, the result is good for ourselves, for others and for all of society. The Christian doctrine of marriage is founded upon the need for lifelong sexual self-sacrifice. This deliberate abstinence from all sexual activity outside of marriage is known in Christian teaching as ‘chastity’.
- Outside of marriage, sexual desires, feelings and inclinations are to be resisted for the good of others by entirely abstaining from following them. This principle of sexual abstinence for those not married, demonstrated for us by the Apostle Paul and by our Lord Jesus himself in his earthly ministry, has always been deeply valued by the church. In chaste singleness we bear witness to the reality that true life is found not in sex, nor even in the goodness of human marriage, but in the eternal, blessed marriage between Christ and his church.
- Within marriage the same principle of lifelong sexual self-sacrifice also applies. One man is to lay down his life, under oath, including his sexual desires, feelings and inclinations, for the good of one woman and the children which their union will normally produce. Likewise, one woman is to lay down her life, under oath, including her sexual desires, feelings and inclinations, for the good of one man and the children which their union will normally produce.
- When the pursuit of sexual self-satisfaction is surrendered in these ways, though this may involve pain and difficulty, God is nevertheless pleased to bless both those who are married and those who are not with joy and fulfilment that cannot be found any other way.
The Goodness of Marriage
- Founded upon this Christ-like Greater Love, marriage is a gift of God in creation and a means of his grace. Husband and wife give themselves to each other in love throughout their lives. Mutual care, self-sacrifice and commitment, subordinating selfish desire to the differing needs and interests of each other, makes marriage a source of joy, comfort, help, delight and tenderness, as husband and wife are united as one, in a reflection of Christ’s union with the Church, his bride.
- Furthermore, this belief in marriage, and the sexual self-denial it involves (both outside marriage and within it) works powerfully for the good of all of society. Where marriage is widely honoured:
- It guards against sexual exploitation, abuse and manipulation.
- It protects women, children and the vulnerable.
- It deeply values children, ensuring that they are only conceived when both father and mother are already committed to their love, care and protection. It ensures, as far as humanly possible, that children are raised by both their natural father and mother, who of all people are normally those inclined to love them most.
- It binds generations together, for it sees the conceiving, bearing, raising, teaching and supporting of children as a single lifelong task which is not to be separated. It therefore establishes stable families, and so enables the passing on of knowledge and wisdom, culture and values, from generation to generation, blessing the young with the learning of their ancestors.
- It enables the union of bodies to take its rightful place as an expression of the joyful, self-giving union of lives, hearts and minds which constitutes true married love.
- It enables the distinct characteristics of men and women to be used for the good, not the harm, of the opposite sex.
- It makes true friendship and true family love possible, for all relationships outside of the marriage bond – relationships with family, friends and neighbours – are only truly loving when they are entirely and dependably non-sexual.
- Most of all, by expressing self-sacrifice as a central principle of sexual behaviour, it enables all, whether married or not, to give and to receive the ‘greater love’ which Jesus taught, modelled and enables, in sexual and in all other matters.
Of course marriage does none of these things perfectly nor completely, for until Christ returns sin remains at work in the hearts of us all. Nevertheless, it is a powerful force to restrain evil and uphold good in human relationships in all of these ways.
- Where marriage is not honoured, by being undermined by easy divorce, redefinition, and the normalisation and celebration of sexual activity outside of marriage, serious negative effects follow.
- Children are conceived who are unwanted by one or both parents. Many are therefore killed in the womb; many are born into situations where they may not or cannot be adequately cared for; many more grow up without knowing the love of both natural parents for them and for each other, and the security which that love would and should have provided. In God’s mercy many single parents and extended and adoptive families provide wonderful, loving homes for their children. Nevertheless the absence of one or both natural parents remains a grievous loss.
- In particular, fatherlessness has deep and serious effects on growing children. It is associated with poorer average outcomes in many aspects of life.
- Given the great vulnerability which comes with sexual intimacy, outside of the marriage covenant sexual relationships are deeply susceptible to exploitation and manipulation; women and children suffer particularly. The normalisation of sexual self-indulgence therefore makes sexual abuse far more common, for such abuse is merely the indulgence of an individual’s personal sexual inclinations and desires at the expense of another. The explosion and normalisation of pornography and male sexual violence in recent years are a plain, and tragic, demonstration of this.
- Society becomes more fragmented and unstable: generations are separated, and the wisdom of the old is not passed on to the young.
- The supportive and loving relationships God intends for within the family are undermined, and the burden of caring for the weak falls increasingly on the state, which in general does a far worse job at far greater expense.
- When sex loses its place as just one part of the loving community of the family, of which marriage is the foundation, and becomes an end in itself as a mere means of pleasure, it is simultaneously grotesquely inflated and disastrously devalued. The effects are widespread emotional damage, the weakening of families, the destabilising of friendships, the spread of distrust between the sexes, and many more besides.
- This Christian teaching and practice of marriage is especially important for children. It helps guard them from abuse by adults. Marriage provides children with a loving and stable context for their childhood. It enables them to understand and manage their own lives as they grow up. Children and adolescents are capable of doing great harm to one another and to themselves if, in sex as in every area of life, they do not learn to restrain their desires for the sake of others, in accord with the common good, and with their own nature as male and female. Children especially benefit from the ‘Greater Love’ which Jesus showed and taught.
Sexual ‘identities’ and Conversion to Christ
- The existence of feelings, inclinations and desires which, if followed, would violate marriage as the lifelong, exclusive sexual union of one man and one woman, changes none of the above. Such feelings, inclinations and desires are found in every man and woman. Their existence does not justify their indulgence, nor establish identities which, to be fulfilled, require such indulgence. This is not the case in any other area of life, and nor is it in sexual matters. Christianity does not cut and dice humanity into an array of ‘sexualities’ and ‘genders’, imagining these as internal realities at odds with the natural design of an individual’s body. Rather, it understands us all as a united body and soul, made simply male or female, designed for chastity: abstinent singleness and, for many, faithful marriage to one person of the opposite sex until parted by death.
- The Christian faith therefore teaches, as it always has and will continue to do, that all people of every age are to be taught that the right attitude to sex is self-denial for the sake of others, not self-satisfaction for the sake of self; which means chaste singleness outside of marriage and exclusive faithfulness within it.
- Particular harm is being caused by the currently popular belief that sexual feeling, desire, and experience are the foundation of an individual’s identity. This belief that there is some kind of duty to satisfy the desires of the self is the very antithesis of the ‘Greater Love’ that Jesus commanded. Far from being loving, it results in tragic outcomes for countless people.
- It teaches that our deepest personal reality is irreconcilable with the nature and function of the bodies God gave us.
- It urges indulgence of sexual appetites contrary to God’s design, by teaching that such indulgence is morally necessary and essential for personal wellbeing, with all the tragic effects outlined above.
- It teaches that the route to personal wholeness is destructive misuse and sometimes even the poisoning and mutilation of one’s own healthy body, to bring it into line with the supposed sexual or gender ‘identity’.
- This is particularly being focused on children, urging them to early and limitless sexual experimentation, causing deep damage to their sense of self, reducing their defences against sexual exploitation by others, and leading to emotional and even irreversible physical damage at an age when they cannot possibly understand the consequences.
- It teaches children a principle of demanding and expecting self-satisfaction, founded on a belief that innate desires must be good, which is in the long run profoundly socially destructive. It is the opposite of the ‘Greater Love’ which Jesus has taught, shown and makes possible.
- Conversion to Christ is what happens when anyone becomes a Christian. It involves repentance, turning away from beliefs and practices that are hostile to God, and instead embracing the commandments of God, as found in Scripture. Conversion is central to every Christian’s life and has implications for everything they think, say and do. It involves a total surrender of self; in Jesus’ words, to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow him. It means ceasing to pursue the satisfaction of one’s self and one’s desires and inclinations, and instead to lay those down out of love for Christ and for other people, as Christ commanded. All Christians are to pray for and seek the conversion of others to Christ, and aim to live as converted people themselves. Christian ministers have a particular duty in this regard.
- This applies to sexual matters as in all others. All Christians desire to sin, and are called by God to lay those desires down for love of God and others. Upon conversion to Christ, and subsequently, Christians are to refuse desires for sexual immorality or denial of their created sex, refuse to identify themselves by such desires, and instead pursue chastity: abstinence for those not married, and faithfulness for those who are.
 As included within the Church of England Marriage liturgy, for example
 See for example ‘Family Structure Still Matters’. Centre for Social Justice, August 2020. https://www.centreforsocialjustice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/CSJJ8372-Family-structure-Report-200807.pdf