Sexuality has never been an easy subject for the church to discuss. And sexual ethics is steadily becoming one of the most volatile issues the church has ever faced.
Just look at the Presbyterian Church, which has been consumed in recent months by debate over a proposed study document called "Keeping Body and Soul Together: Sexuality, Spirituality, and Social Justice." Released in February by the denomination's Special Committee on Human Sexuality, the 200-page document calls for a "reformation" of traditional Christian sexual ethics -- to be replaced by a "contemporary Christian ethic of common decency."
The heart of this new sexual ethic is a strong emphasis on "justice-love" as the single moral standard by which sexual relationships are judged. In lay language, this means the quality and character of the relationship is viewed as more ethically significant than the marital status or sexual orientation of the persons involved. "The fundamental debate within the church, as well as in society, should not be focused in a limited way on rules about who sleeps with whom," the report states.
Not surprisingly, the report has caused quite a stir in Presbyterian circles -- as well as other parts of the church. It was expected to dominate discussion at the denomination's general assembly meeting June 4-12, and has attracted national media attention. And while a few task force members reported favorable reaction at their last meeting in late April, it didn't take long for a grassroots movement to spring up against the report.