Sex: Sympathizing with the Damned

The more I think about it, the more I think sex divides us more than it brings us together.  How’s that for counter-intuitive?!

And yet it seems to be all we can talk about.  Or more accurately, it’s all we can think about as long as we don’t talk about it except that we can accuse other people of thinking about it or doing it wrong.  Just don’t broadcast it.  During the Super Bowl.  Ever.  Unless it’s a commercial and they paid for it.

Why don’t we talk about sex?  Because we’re very busy hiding it between the thin pages of our bibles.  That way it’s safely hidden from view.  It’s safely hidden in the most scandalous, raucous, kinky, sex-laden book I’ve ever read.

But don’t read those parts.  Those parts make us uncomfortable.

And it’s getting into the uncomfortable parts of faith that Brian McLaren does in his new book, A New Kind of Christianity.  McLaren dives directly and fearlessly into the sex question, spending a great deal of time discussing what is clearly a public hatred of non-heterosexual attraction and behavior.  And he cleverly steers us away from closed-minded rhetoric into thoughtful, scripturally-supported territory.

The reality is, homosexuality has become more of a buzz-word these days, used most often to generate fear and hate.  Residents of California have heard all too often that gay marriage will ruin marriage for everyone, although I’ve yet to hear how exactly that would work.  Conservative Christians will quote from any of 6 passages to condemn homosexuality – although Justin Cannon has written a compelling argument to all of these.  Go Justin.

McLaren correctly recognizes that non-heterosexuality is not the only part of the sex question in relation to faith.  Sadly, we don’t seem to be doing any better even when we avoid that sticky homosexuality thing.  McLaren reminds us of these chilling realities:

  • Social anonymity makes secret-sex easy.
  • Easy drive-by birth control (as long as you can afford it, and many can) makes us forget that sex can lead to pregnancy.
  • The technology of the condom and of medicine make us forget that sex can lead to STIs.
  • The average marriage age is going up while the average age to hit puberty is going down.  That’s a growing gap of time for extra-marrital sex.
  • Porn is easy to find online.
  • Commercial media is all about sex and sex appeal.  Yes, even during the Super Bowl.
  • Poverty and unemployment leave people with very little to do.  And if you don’t have much to do, doesn’t sex sound good?  Even though you can’t afford birth control.  Nor do you have the $$ to support children who will then grow up in poverty & repeat the cycle.

But don’t talk about sex.  That’s for private conversations.  That should be talked about at home.  That way it’s safe.  And in the words of Dr. Phil, how’s that going for ya?

I don’t think it’s the gay Christian who’s damned (or the gay pagan, for that matter).

If there’s any place at all to talk about sex, shouldn’t it be in our churches? Doesn’t it sound better to talk about sex in the context of God and spirituality?  Doesn’t it sound better to teach appropriate love and compassion rather than hatred and divisiveness?

Because when I read my Bible, that’s what I find.  Yes, there’s scandal.  But that’s not all.

11 thoughts on “Sex: Sympathizing with the Damned

  1. I agree. The church should keep the discussion of sex and what is wrong and right and who is damned and not damned in the church. It has no business interjecting its misguided fantasy based decrees and judgments into society and its laws. Ridicule and judge amongst yourselves and leave the rest of us out of it.

  2. Hey Bob,
    My back up job if I don’t get into RE is to be a sex-ed/health teacher in a religious high school. Song of Songs would be central to my curriculum.

    I was most intrigued by the comment McLaren makes about age of puberty and age of marriage. I hadn’t considered it before but it does seem something that is important to respond to. Especially if we consider the numerous books coming out these days about how media, etc is turning children into sexual objects.

    I think the age of marriage is going up because people are in a strange place between determining which is more important: love or security? For hundreds of years marriage has been done under the guise of security. Daughter is given to man who can provide for her and for their future progeny; if they fall in love, that’s great, but not required. In base terms, marriage equated with survival.

    In many places today we have far more freedom in deciding who we want to marry and for what reasons. There is also much more knowledge (good and bad) about sex. Porn is ubiquitous and presenting us with things we had never considered before but might be into for ourselves. We are presented with conflicting images of what we should be looking for in a marriage partner based on competing messages. Sex is supposed to be the most intimate act two people can share. It’s also supposed to be good/pleasurable/etc. Thus, for many, good sex is a criteria for marriage. You don’t want to get to your wedding night and find out you and your partner are incompatible. And if you do, today we have far more options for divorce. But, most people don’t go into marriage wanting divorce to be a viable option; I think most people do want to marry someone and be with that person forever. And in order to search for that we want to have a “test drive” first in as many capacities as possible.

    We also have to consider marriage age historically. 200 years ago you could get married at what we would call a young age (let’s say 16 or 18) because you had already been considered an adult for a number of years and had money and job security in some respect. Or even let’s take the stereotypical ideal of the 1950s, you have job security for years and so you can get married young because your job isn’t going anywhere. Today we are considered dependents/children longer. Most people in their 20s these days don’t those historical markers to be prepared for marriage: position and income. And so they fall in love and then wait for the appropriate amount of security before tying the knot.

    I could go on on this subject for hours. Good post; would like to discuss this more.

  3. Hey Bob,

    We have a “sex talk” at least once a year at youth group, and then it does come up more often. For a while I thought this was a waste of time because it seemed like tokenism – this is they one day we talk about sex. But I recently asked the kids the last time they talked about sex either with parents or at school. For many it had been YEARS. Sex ed happens before high school even starts. So really it depends on parents and religious groups to pick up the slack on education.

    That being said, I agree that the Bible is full of stories about sex and the church should talk about it – carefully. I disagree with Sean Thompson, that the church should keep everything to itself. We want people to keep things to themselves when we disagree, but when they agree with us it is okay for them to talk. So i say conversation is good, publicly, but it it is a sensitive subject after all and so the conversation should be very respectful.

  4. Hey Bob,

    I completely agree. I am just wondering if this stuff is reality.

    Don’t we all succum to the social pressures of being accepted. We don’t drive down the street and see something sexually unattractive and think to ourselves YUCKKY or even start a great conversation in our cars about our sexual displeasures.

    Even this practice perpetuates the taboo nature of sex.

    Lets go further! How many of us would remain at a church that frequently talks about sex.

    If a youth pastor taught for an extended period of time on the topic he or she would likely lose there jobs.

    I think, that if we are going to have any space in church the conversation has to come out of the back corners of our homes and cars and minds and into casual conversation with others.

    C

  5. Bob, I think that we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions…I mean, why would we want to try to put the two most personal things in a person’s life in dialogue together in one roof?

    Unfortunately, sarcasm can’t be picked up well on a reply-post.

    I agree. I think that’s all i have to say. When/what/where you want to talk about it, lemme know. Understand that I’m Asian-American, so i may be shy.

  6. Bob, nice post. You are absolutely right. What better place to talk about sex, intamcy, relationships than in the church. I’m not just talking about doing a dating seminar, all nice and gooey, find a husband or wife ina Christian setting. I’m talking about the real deal. I like what you said at the end of your blog about learning appropriate love and compassion. Isn’t that what the church is about?

    Working with youth for so many years it was so hard to ty to convince the church to talk openly about sex. If young men and women are able to talk about this subject in the church, then is it ok to be silent on this subject? thanks Bob

  7. Bob,

    I think this is such an important topic for the future of the church and unfortunately one that gets shifted away from being spotlighted because it is all too often uncomfortable. I appreciate McLaren’s call to address sexuality so that we can “begin to construct a more humane sexual ethic in particular, but a more robust Christian anthroplogy in genreal.” I am a big fan in having a positive view of the humans, and I find that sexuality is all too often the scapegoat for the all the ways in which we can trash humanity.

    However, one interesting tension I noticed when I looked at half of the list of what McLaren sees as problem areas for sexuality are also places where women see as liberating. Cheap birth-control, working outside of the home, increase in marraige age, are all things that women have fought hard for. I wonder then if this struggle with sexuality is not just about making love, but also about how men and women are supposed relate to each other in our culture in ways beyond sexuality, and how Christianity is supposed to react to that.

    Anyway, I agree with you wholeheartedly, I think that talking about sex does need to happen in churches. As Christians with the Bible we have inherited quite an interesting tradition and as Americans (oh God, those Superbowl ads), we have inherited another really interesting sexual culture. Talking about it in a safe, spiritual environment is key.

  8. there are some extremely touch issues in here for me

    Go to my blog (http://productiveministry.blogspot.com) to see.

    Many issues arise and I disagree with some of the other issues.

    Let me start by saying…

    it is easy to explore your sexuality in private.
    Many people are still trying to discover their sexual identity so this is an advantage and is favorable.

    Sex is very likely one of the easier things to explore, especially with yourself and online. These things are hard to monitor

    Now to Brian McLaren’s reality’s

    I don’t think birth control makes us or people forget anything. The reality is that peoples minds are moved to fantasy, therefore risk is more stimulating and attractive. So people know, they just care less.

    I think that people simply are curious. TV and computers only further encourage curiousity. Parents are not necessarily making proper provision either. Kids are really left to discover for themselves. Shoot some adults are still discovering.

    The result is not forgetting. The result is conscious avoidance and defiance….sounds a lot like Christianity…people know and still don’t do!

    Now I don’t know if this is a paraphrasing or not but it strikes me in a nasty and negative way

    The below quote is very insensitive

    Poverty and unemployment leave people with very little to do. And if you don’t have much to do, doesn’t sex sound good? Even though you can’t afford birth control. Nor do you have the $$ to support children who will then grow up in poverty & repeat the cycle.

    Here are some of my thoughts….

    I am curious about how this idea of economy and reproduction work together. Poverty + unemployment = sexual recreation? hmmm I don’t know how i feel about it.

    Many of my elders had huge families and I don’t know that this happened because they had nothing else to do.
    Yes they were impoverished (some times employed) but I don’t know if their thought process was that which is mentioned above

    There also seems to be a lack of logic implied in the quote. It seems to be a lack of knowledge. I am just uncomfortable.
    I will certainly run this by Brian in class tomorrow if there is time.

    Also, poverty and unemployment are results of a bigger structure of oppression so….yeah….more discomfort

    1. Hi Charles,
      Just an observation about times that the lights go out in inclimate weather or natural disasters, the birth rate goes up in 9 months. I think that the usual routine can not be run, therefore people find each other for solace, as Janis said, or for distraction.
      Jan

  9. Bob, great post. I think church is absolutely the place to talk about sex, love, marriage in the context of what real intimacy and true love mean and compassion, trust and honor have a lot to do with it. I believe parents aren’t discussing it with their children or youth because they have not been equipped to do so. Church can help parents and families deal with curriosity, questions and age appropriate answers. Children are talking about sex on playgrounds these days and that is certainly not where I want them to get information. In addition to the above, our kids need to know and understand the medical risks of early sex and sexual promiscuity in a language they can understand. Young women looking for love by having a child are likely learn more about work and responsibility. Young men need to know that being “a baby’s daddy” is not the definition of manhood. Church is about love and family. What better place is there for the conversation to begin? I’ll step down from my soapbox now. 🙂

  10. Regarding the comment about poverty and economics: I think what Bob was trying to say is that in such circumstances, people tend to turn to one another for comfort and solace. These encounters often lead to sex and sex does lead to having children. In the olden days when birth control was not accessible and women could not elect to have a tubal ligation, this was more likely to happen.

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