Traditionally, the Christian Church has considered both fornication and adultery sinful.
Fornication is sex between two (or more?) people who are not married. Adultery is sex by a married person with someone who is not his or her spouse.
In our culture, we tend to frown much more on adultery than fornication. My theory is that we do this because we don’t really consider either a sin. What we object to is the broken promise. Cheating on your spouse hurts that person and violates a commitment. We almost never speak of it as an affront to God, though, which explains why we find adultery easy to condemn but speak hardly at all about fornication – unless it is concern about diseases and pregnancy.
In matters relating to sex, we buy into the cultural standards. If two (or more?) people consent to a sexual relationship and they don’t have an obligation to someone else then we act as if it is really no concern to anyone else.
But does such an attitude comport in any way with Scripture? Whether we can agree on the exact outlines of a biblical view of sex, it is pretty hard to argue that the Bible expresses no interest in the topic. On the contrary, it gets repeated attention. The Bible – at least – appears to believe that God cares about who we have sex with.
The conduct of United Methodists as a whole, however, suggests to me that we do not consider such behaviors as affronts to God. We do not believe that the adulterer or the fornicator is placing his or her salvation at risk. We don’t fret about God’s righteous judgment on those individuals. We are practical atheists on matters of sex. So long as no one is hurt, we say, it does not matter.
How did we come to this position? How can it possibly be biblical or loving to our brothers and sisters who get caught up in such sins?