Fast forward 795 years. Benedict, Charlemagne, and Francis have long since passed from this life and into eternity, but their effects are still felt to this day. Without these men’s contributions, the church as it is known today would not be the same. However, whereas their issues are distant but complex, the issues that evangelicals face in the twenty-first century are near and complex. Evangelicals today can take Benedict’s, Charlemagne’s, and Francis’ life, work, and emphases and integrate them to address today’s issue: orthodoxy (epistemology) as it relates to sexuality.
Stated affirmatively, the Christian sex ethic is that God created male and female and when they covenant together in marriage, they are committed to each other and can have sex in those confines (Genesis 2:18-25). This truth reveals four beliefs Christians have concerning sexuality: 1) God affirms gender and designs in each person male or female qualities; 2) marriage consists of one participant from each gender; 3) the spouses in the relationship covenant for a life-long bond; and 4) sex occurs in those confines. This affirmation excludes all other interpretations of sexuality: sexual immorality, adultery, homosexuality, etc. (1 Corinthians 6:9). However, this Christian view of sexuality is upside down in society. Gender is no longer set in stone and one may choose their gender (or not) whenever they please. In fact, the construct of marriage is disregarded in favor of cohabitation—no strings attached marriage. Not only that, but people in the same gender can also enter these types of sexual relationships. If partners do decide to get married, the commitment level is subpar—divorce and separation is a commonality in life. Besides, if marriage is simply a common thing, then why is sex a big deal?
How did the culture get to this view of sexuality? Carl Trueman helpfully points to our epistemology: people simply do not have the requisite epistemological basis to process their world. As a result, people do not know how to view each other, let alone themselves, and how they should live. He argues that it begins with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, an 18th century French romantic philosopher. His central thesis was that the inward life is more significant to understanding how one knows himself than one’s society or culture. Therefore, if one is a man and feels as if she is a woman (or vice versa), though society may disagree with this assertion, the internal understanding overrides the external understanding. Friedrich Nietzsche, a 19th century German nihilist philosopher, furthers Rousseau’s idea by intertwining it with purpose. He argues that since there is no overarching, shared purpose in life, meaning and purpose are constructed from one’s perception of what their good life would be. Thus, if one perceives that they have been unfairly dealt the wrong gender, to achieve their highest purpose in life they should be able to change their gender. Not only that, but if their highest aim in life is a mutually fulfilling marital relationship with someone of the same sex, they should be able to purpose this desire. This groundwork created the perfect condition for Sigmund Freud—a turn of the 20th century psychologist and counselor—and his psychoanalysis theory to take hold in human understanding. Essentially, Freud understood the person in nearly all sexual terms, concepts, and categories. His understanding and subsequent therapies became widespread during the time he flourished. However, though he is not viewed too highly in the psychological realms anymore because of his date and strange views, nonetheless his conception that the human is merely a sexual being took root in public society. So, if one is merely a sexual being, then why should they not act on their desires? If one believes that they are actually the opposite gender, or even want to pursue someone of the same gender, what or who is to stop them?
Holiness | Orthopathy
The first factor evangelicals must strongly adhere to is holiness (orthopathy). Holiness, during this moment, is necessary if Christians are to be “a light to the nations”—in this case, in their communities and relationships; their example will beckon others to holiness. There are three contributing factors from Benedictine monasticism evangelicals should consider if they are to be holy: community, disciplines, and engagement. First, Christians need a community to grow in holiness. While one can grow in holiness in isolation, it will be stifled. Christian community can enable other fellow brothers and sisters to sharpen and encourage others to follow Jesus’ example. Second, Christians need to practice spiritual disciplines to grow in holiness. Practices like prayer reorient and align the heart with God’s will. Giving to others releases the heart from being too attached to this world. Service softens one’s heart for all of God’s creatures. Third, contra hermitic and some forms of cenobitic monasticism, this holiness serves as a solid foundation to serve those around them. While the original intention of some forms of monasticism was separation from the world, holiness calls Christians to reenter the fray of sin. If we do not inhabit a holy lifestyle, our witness to those struggling with sexual orientation and gender identity will not be effective. For their inner life and the Christian’s inner life would look no different. If evangelicals are going to engage with their neighbors, they will need a deep well of holiness.
Church & State | Orthodoxy
The second factor evangelicals must wrestle with is the proper relationship between the church and state (orthodoxy). At least in the United States, it is no secret that many members of congress forward the distorted narrative of sexuality. God has appointed leaders over citizens (Romans 13:1), but if Christians are going to interact with their civil authorities well (and, for that matter, if civil authorities are going to serve their constituents well), then a proper understanding of the church-state relationship is needed. There are three principles from Charlemagne’s ecclesiology that will help evangelicals wrestle through this relationship. First, the church should not hold power over the state; the church should advise the state. This would properly fulfill the subjection rule laid out in Romans 13:1-7. The primary way God brings about his kingdom—with doctrine and ethics—is through the gospel, not political power. While being involved in politics is certainly admirable, and encouraged for those who aspire to practice law, this should not be confused with the church’s ultimate purpose.
Practically, while conservative evangelicals typically do not agree with the state on House Resolution 5 “The Equality Act,” wishing death or attempting to remove political figures forcibly from office is not the proper approach of the church. Second, the state should protect the church; the state should not dictate doctrine or morality to the church. While on the one hand citizens, which includes Christians, are subjects to the state, the state has the moral responsibility for protecting its people. Looking to Charlemagne, though miffed by the surprise coronation, he took his responsibility to protect his people, but also especially the church, from all their enemies. This responsibility is articulated in Romans 13:3-4 (ESV): “For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” In short, both the church and state have their respective sphere of authority that serve the other sphere through their insight. Continuing the earlier example, while many may support the Equality Act, if it takes rights from those who affirm a traditional, Christian sex ethic, this would be an overstep of the governing authorities. Finally, to demonstrate the unity and combat the potential, future hostility that may visit, churches should adopt a conciliar model analogous to the medieval era. The unity would be worked out through relationship among the churches and its members. Christians would be united behind a common cause and vision. Additionally, this communal set up would be worked out through shared creeds. Though controversial, the Nashville Statement would be a prime example of an ecumenical creed on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Gospel | Orthopraxy
The final factor, though certainly not least, evangelicals must weigh is the gospel. Central to this whole conversation and every issue is the mission and work of God. This emphasis is what Francis took up in his service to all—the powerful work that was performed in his life, that disabused him of selfish ambition, pointed him to serving others and proclaiming the gospel to all creation. Evangelicals have taken this call to preach the gospel to all today. They take upon their lips and actions that God is the creator and sustainer of all things, but something is terribly wrong, so he sent his Son to redeem all things, and it will come to fruition. Now, proclaiming the gospel may not be verbal proclamation from the street corner, but may exhibit in the coffee conversations one has with their queer, transgender, or gay neighbor. It may look like humble hospitality and sharing life with each other. It is through these everyday interactions that the Christian demonstrates the life and teaching of Jesus to all who may see. Simply put, gospel proclamation factors in the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:34-40 and the great commission in Matthew 28:18-20. In the words of Saint Francis of Assisi himself: Preach the gospel at all times; if necessary, use words. Christians should verbally proclaim the gospel, but their actions should reflect love for their neighbors around them, no matter who they are. In this paper, I explored the concepts of Benedictine monasticism and Saint Benedict of Nursia, Carolingian ecclesiology and Charlemagne, and Franciscan worldview and Saint Francis of Assisi as they relate to orthopathy, orthodoxy, and orthopraxy. These men each addressed issues relevant to their lifetime: how is one supposed to be holy in an unholy world; how is the church and state supposed to relate to each other; and how am I supposed to serve those around me with the gospel? While evangelicals do not have this central voice for themselves, they are asking the question of how to minister to their neighbor who may be wrestling with sexual orientation and identity issues. I synthesized their answers to these questions and proposed a simple framework for evangelicals to walk forward together and minister to those in their communities who may be wrestling with orientation and identity issues.
- Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 125.
- Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 176.
- Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, 221.
- David VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 195.
- WCF 23.2.
- David N. Cicilline, H. R. 5 – Equality Act, 2021.
- VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 195.
- Cicilline, Equality Act, 13ff. WCF 23.3.
- Morrison, The Two Kingdoms, 55.
- Morrison, The Two Kingdoms, 55.
- Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, “Nashville Statement,” CBMW, last modified August 29, 2017, accessed April 28, 2021, https://cbmw.org/nashville-statement.
- It is difficult to determine if Francis proclaimed this, though tradition attributes it to him and it is consist with his character.
This post was originally part of an academic paper submitted to Dr. Timothy R. LeCroy in Ancient & Medieval Church History at Covenant Theological Seminary. It has been modified from its original version.