DECATUR, Ga. (ABP) – The co-convener of a conference on sexuality and covenant said April 20 that long-term committed relationships are the best model for Christians struggling to make sense of changing morals about sex.
“I believe that covenant is a, if not the, single best way that has emerged in the great Christian tradition to talk about what we are supposed to do with our sexuality, and for that matter, our relationality,” said David Gushee, an ethics professor at Mercer University, co-sponsor with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of the April 19-21 conference at First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga.
Gushee defined covenant as a “voluntarily entered sacred pact between two persons and between those two persons and the God to whom both are committed.” In Christian-influenced countries like the United States, he said, it also has legal status and is the socially approved context for having and raising children.
For adults, Gushee said, covenant is a “divinely given response to human nature, human potential and human sin.”
“If we lived in a sinless Eden, we would not need covenants,” Gushee said. “Our hearts would always be true. Our relationships would be always sturdy. We would never be so angry as to want to give up. We would never be attracted to another lover. We would just follow our sexual-relational urges to the first available attractive person and then mate for life, like pigeons or ducks.”
He described covenant as both a concession to and provision for sin. “Covenants are the best possible arrangement for binding human bodies and lives in this not-best-of-all possible worlds,” he said.
Gushee said covenant is also better for children. “It is good news for children when they never need to wonder who or where their father or mother might be,” he said. “It is good news because their father and mother are far more likely to be bonded permanently to each other than in any other adult sexual-relational arrangement.”
Gushee said he thinks children have a natural expectation that their parents will remain together. “The adults may not be aware of that expectation, but their children are deeply aware of it, especially when it breaks.”
“Children want to know their parents,” Gushee said. “They want their parents to love them and be involved in their life. Children want their parents to treat each other right and keep the promises they made to each other, which is one reason why children of divorce so often fantasize about their parents getting back together.”
Gushee said he doesn’t think the main issue facing the church today is which groups of people are to be viewed as eligible to make covenants. “The main issue is to rescue the very practice of covenant before it disappears forever, not only in society but in our own house,” he said.
There was a time, Gushee said, when churches would have covenants committing members to walk together instead of moving from church to church. Today, he said, church is often viewed as just another product to be consumed.
“I call on churches to be better and more faithful covenant communities, not casual drive-up products but covenanted communities of brothers and sisters in Christ there for each other in good times and bad,” he said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.