On the Choice of Sexual Expression – for clarification

I seem to be having a discussion on the same issue in two different threads and I think some folks might be confused. Therefore, I want to clarify an argument I was making.

Here is my argument: sexual expression is a choice. For everyone, regardless of orientation. I don’t think I’m making assumptions on particular sexual practices here or pejoratively ranking different types of sexual expression. There have been terms in the debate on this issue that have become ambiguous.

I have heard the argument levelled often that people who are queer have “chosen” to be that way. When you hear this argument, it is made by someone attempting to prove that they have left their “straight” ways and gone to “the dark side” (i’m a Star Wars geek, I can’t help the reference). However, as Walter Wink has noted, this does not allow the possibility of a homosexual orientation (thanks Katie).

A common queer argument in response is “this is how God made me”. I think this can put the queer debate in the hands of the anti-queer opinion holders because it suggests that sexual expression (different then desire) is given by God at birth, that it is natural. Then they can pejoratively privelege their sexuality as more natural because there are (seemingly) more people who are hetero and heteronormative expression has institutional backing.

An alternative response is that sexual expression is a choice. It could be easily argued to a Christian. Here goes:

1) We are born with sexual desire, or the capacity for sexual desire.
2) Sexual desire is according to the flesh, not according to God.
3) That desire necessitates expression. Expression enters the realm of choice.
4) No matter how that sexuality becomes expressed, either hetero or queer, it is a choice made by an individual. Anything that is according to the flesh, that concentrates itself primarily within this world without building toward the Kingdom, is a choice in rebellion to God. That includes heterosexual sexual expression. While the desire is a not a choice, the expression of that desire is a choice regardless of what that expression ultimately is.
5) Therefore, without scriptual backing for argument, nor the argument of “natural sexual expression”, we can only conclude that there is no sexual expression that is right or wrong, but that sexual desire is something which all of us must at some point in our journey overcome.

I can anticipate one criticism of this line of thinking (thought I’m sure it’s not the only one). I have basically taken up a sixteenth century (and earlier) view of sex, the kind of view of sex our Anabaptist antecedents had (to use an adjective of Buffalo Sabres announcer – ” Sex is SCARY bad!”). This view of sex may be seen as irrelevant; however, there is plenty of scriptual backing for it, which I would be happy to discuss. I am suggesting a more radical monasticism on the part of Chrisitans, which has had its failings. However, I want to make it clear that I don’t think you are burning in hellfire if you have sex. I’m more concerned with the place of sexual desire and sexual expression within one’s spiritual journey. Sexual desire is not spiritual desire, the latter being longing for connection with God, while the former is longing for connection with the human. Sex (and I don’t limit this to Coitus…thanks for that post Eric)is according to the Flesh, spirit is according to God.

Therefore, I think as a church we should encourage right relationships, but I think it is only secular teaching (as there is no biblical basis for it) to say that queer sexual expression is wrong.

I am still trying to develop this argument, so any input (for or against) would be much appreciated.

If you read this far, thank you so much.

Comments (5)

  1. Skylark

    Folknotions—that was a clarification? I apologize if I’m dense, but I’m even more confused about what you mean now than before.

    This line (“Anything that is according to the flesh, that concentrates itself primarily within this world without building toward the Kingdom, is a choice in rebellion to God.”) prompts me to question if you think sex/sexual expression has no capacity to build the Kingdom of God. Is it at best neutral? What other passions do we humans have that are at best neutral in supporting our faith?

    I’ve heard some Christians argue for a view of married sex that describes sexual union as a metaphor for the eventual union of Jesus with the Bride of Christ. They usually cite Ephesians, though the exact reference escapes me for the “profound mystery” they like to talk about. How would you respond to that perspective?

    Reply
  2. eric

    I’m not sure how to handle this. I guess I wasn’t expecting neo-Platonic medieval dualism (especially as an argument for GLBT rights).

    There are so many facets to this, that I’m compiling more of a summary with links than a single coherent argument. Skip to the final paragraph for a summary of the summary (a meta-summary).

    It is a very old tradition you are in, and one that has been used not only to suppress sex but to suppress women, often seen as more tied to the body. Here’s one hint as to why, taken from an article on Process Theology and God as Parent:

    As one raised on Plato’s dualism and, earlier, the Bible Belt Protestant version of it, I had already come to suspect the validity of this notion before the experience of childbirth erased the last trace. Those moments were marked by such an intense concinnity of mind and body, spirit and matter, that I cannot again conceive of those two poles of my experience as separate.

    But it’s not just an issue of Feminism. Body/Spirit dualism is the basis of the gnostic heresy, which beyond being a dangerous denial of existence isn’t really founded in the Bible (despite first century Greek culture being steeped in it), and certainly didn’t originate there.

    From The centrality of the body in Christian theology:

    The striking thing about the Jesus history related in the New Testament is that the embodied nature of Jesus is affirmed at his birth, during his life, at his death, in the resurrection and the ascension, and presumably, in his sitting at the right hand of the Father. At no time does Jesus become spirit or idea or mere memory.

    Jesus descends in the flesh, is raised in the flesh and ascends in the flesh and this is recognized in the creeds of the church. The one who is raised and ascends is the one who was crucified who bears the marks in his hands and his sides.

    There’s plenty more where that came from. Here is one on A Theology for Care and Counseling. And here is an interesting one from “Sacrament of Sexuality: The Spirituality and Psychology of Sex“:

    In the Old Testament we find almost none of this negativity toward sexuality. In fact, sexuality, sexual relationships, copulation, childbearing and rearing were all considered perfectly natural, normal and acceptable.

    You are, of course, in line with Menno Simons on this one, and therefore more radically connected to the root of the Mennonite denomination than I am. Anyone opposed to schism, however, will find that Simons’ dualist celestial flesh theology just might be the source of constant Mennonite struggle for the “pure and spotless church” – that entirely spiritual body of Christ made up of physical people – and the root of our often judgmental and schismatic history. (It is also another sexist result of dualism, but I’ll leave that for now).

    But at the very simplest: were we not created in the flesh in the image of God? And was it not Good? And was not “the fall” a movement away from the flesh and towards the mind with the dire consequences of shame regarding that flesh?
    It’s just not adding up for me.

    Reply
  3. folknotions (Post author)

    Skylark,

    Don’t have an answer for you yet, but I’ll work on it.

    Eric,

    You made some fascinating points I will reflect on. It might send me back to the drawing board on this one.

    I will say a few things tho:

    1) I don’t think valuing mind over body shames the flesh, it only does when this valuing goes to an oppressive end, when theory and thought becomes dogma and doctrine.

    2) My understanding of feminist theory on the subject of mind/body is that it has reclaimed body in the dualism (some have outright oppossed the dualism), which is important, but has done so upon the basis of the “phallocentrism” of the Logos, that men developed Reason (with the big “R” – which we can take as the “mind” in the dualism) and excluded women from it. I don’t think that bars feminist theorists from developing another kind of Reason or dismissing the phallocentric version all togther. That said, I also don’t think that what was developed in the phallocentric tradition becomes entirely irrelevant or without any value.
    3) You said: “But at the very simplest: were we not created in the flesh in the image of God? And was it not Good? And was not “the fall” a movement away from the flesh and towards the mind with the dire consequences of shame regarding that flesh?
    It’s just not adding up for me.” That was Milton’s position on the subject, and he actually gave Eve better powers of reason (mind) then Adam prior to the fall.

    I agree with it. I don’t think it’s as hard and fast as “you must become celibate (hetero or queer) during your spiritual journey or you are burning in hell”. I’m not attempting to be terribly dogmatic. I’m saying it’s one of a myriad ways to express Christian faith.

    but thanks for the thoughts, I’ll re-examine this.

    Reply
  4. eric

    My understanding of feminist theory on the subject of mind/body is that it has reclaimed body in the dualism

    Just wanted to touch on this enough to say: I think it’s dangerous to ever talk about feminist theory (or any other category of theories) as though it were a unified monolith. Some feminist theory quite possibly does argue as you say, but it is by no means representative of a universal feminist theory, and it isn’t the one I was using as a critique of dualism (for obvious reasons).

    Reply
  5. folknotions (Post author)

    Eric,

    then which feminist theory were you using? I was referring very much to Helene Cixous. Additionally, I said “my understanding of feminist theory”, indicating that it is within the scope of what I know, rather than “feminist theory states…”

    Reply

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