Sexuality and the young Christian

I’m lifting a sub-thread from ST’s post inspirational lunch which has the potential for an interesting discussion of its own - we’ve certainly talked about sex before on YAR (check out sex outside of marriage, or is it really a sin? for all the talk about gayness you could care for.) Clearly sexuality is a central issue for all young people, and I think it’s one of the essential tasks for everyone, especially people in the typical YARer’s age range (thinking late teens to early thirties), to figure out how one’s sexual nature can be integrated & expressed in one’s life. But, getting ahead of myself, that already might be language that we’re not all comfortable with. So, here’s the conversation so far:

somasoul (starting in the middle of the post)

Society, whether black or white, seems to want:
Power
Sex
The appearance of monetary wealth.

The Christian needs to look at these things and find the Godliness in what prompts these desires:

Instead of power; servanthood. (Is that a word? Who cares.)
Instead of sex; mature relationships.
Instead of the appearance of wealth (keeping up with the Joneses); Monetary stability……food in the storehouse you might say.

If you, if we, get our shi….stuff straight and keep it straight, if we do it as a whole, vast social change follows because we alter the fabric of cultural worldviews.

But if you crave power; political power to end racism; monetary power to keep corporations in check…….

If you want sex with a stable partner, not mature relationships…….

If you want to keep pace with Joneses even with organic free-trade goods…

You won’t change anything.

The world ain’t changed by more of the same; even in the name of the greater good.

lukelm:

Somasoul, I’m kind of curious as to how you fit sexuality into the picture of empty vs. life-giving culture. I’m not sure I get the sex vs. mature relationships dichotomy. In my experience, sexual liberation and living a free, open sexual life (yes, definitely in the context of mature relationships and loving others) is essential - maybe even key, in my case at least - to spiritual liberation, and to fully be in touch with one’s own creativity and the healing power one possesses. I, at least, experience my sexuality (not just speaking abstractly here - referring especially to “getting it on”) as an expression of creativity, spirituality, and self-giving. I think you might be getting more at the objectification of bodies/genders that happens in our society, sex disconnected from relationship, in which case you certainly have a point. Yet you categorize “sex” as if it necessarily includes such negativity. I personally think young Christians of all persuasions, radical or conservative, have been fed a lot of falsehoods about sexual life - that sex itself is intrinsically something selfish, rather than a good part of ourselves, intimately tied to all our creative powers, a potential for joyful sharing with others.

somasoul:

luke,

I definetly have a disconnect with you on the issue of sexual relationships and sexuality. I had to read your post twice to get a grasp with what you’re saying and after thinking about it all day I cannot come to terms with it.

Open sexual relationships outside of marriage are clearly not God’s intent. Nor are homosexual relationships. But, I digress, this post is about neither.

The lie is simple: sex with commitment is okay. As with all believeable lies the truth must be included. Commitment is good but……marriage is God’s will for most; celibacy the alternative. Sex outside of marriage was not appropiate in Judaism and was assumed included in statements like “Sexual Immorality”. In 1 Thess Paul tells us to be content with his own wife and not be lustful like a heathen.

Again, my post wasn’t even about that.

My post was simple, a Godly view of sex is the only thing that can disrupt the social norms of culture. Buying into the lie of pervasive or even temporary-long-term commitment sex with a partner justifies any type of sex outside Biblical principals.

“I, at least, experience my sexuality (not just speaking abstractly here - referring especially to “getting it on”) as an expression of creativity, spirituality, and self-giving.” (Does this “getting it on” is okay or vice versa?)

I have no idea what this means, especially as a Christian. The Bible doesn’t support the concept of “sexual liberation=spirituality” and such a concept is largely foreign to traditional or modern Christian thought.

And with all due respect; I tend to think that the classical Christian thinkers, Christian thought throughout history, and the pillars of Judaism and nearly all denominations of Christianity are right on this one. Call me crazy.

TimN:

Song of Solomon 4:1-16 (NIV)

Lover

1 How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
descending from Mount Gilead.

2 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
not one of them is alone.

3 Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon;
your mouth is lovely.
Your temples behind your veil
are like the halves of a pomegranate.

4 Your neck is like the tower of David,
built with elegance ;
on it hang a thousand shields,
all of them shields of warriors.

5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
like twin fawns of a gazelle
that browse among the lilies.

6 Until the day breaks
and the shadows flee,
I will go to the mountain of myrrh
and to the hill of incense.

7 All beautiful you are, my darling;
there is no flaw in you.

8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride,
come with me from Lebanon.
Descend from the crest of Amana,
from the top of Senir, the summit of Hermon,
from the lions’ dens
and the mountain haunts of the leopards.

9 You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.

10 How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much more pleasing is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice!

11 Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride;
milk and honey are under your tongue.
The fragrance of your garments is like that of Lebanon.

12 You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride;
you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.

13 Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates
with choice fruits,
with henna and nard,

14 nard and saffron,
calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,
with myrrh and aloes
and all the finest spices.

15 You are a garden fountain,
a well of flowing water
streaming down from Lebanon.

Beloved

16 Awake, north wind,
and come, south wind!
Blow on my garden,
that its fragrance may spread abroad.
Let my lover come into his garden
and taste its choice fruits.

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13 Responses to “Sexuality and the young Christian”

  1. somasoul Says:

    Well, okay, I don’t know where to really go from here. Two things:

    “My Bride”

    Seems to indicate marriage and heterosexual relationship.

  2. lukelm Says:

    Somasoul,
    I think you’re right when you sensed that disconnect in reading my post from where we both are in thinking about sexuality. Possibly the divide is so great at this point that there’s not too much more we could say to each other other than “call me crazy.” But I think it’s certainly a discussion worth (attempting to) have, and hopefully others will chime in (as Tim has so winsomely already done.)

    First, I think that a couple of my words might have thrown off the conversation a bit from the start - using the terms “open” and “free” to describe sexuality I realize will probably means very different things to most others than the way in which I necessarily intend the words. Namely, the usual use of those terms as related to sex connote sex without commitment, which isn’t really how I meant them. I use them to describe more of an internal state in which one is fully accepting of one’s sexual nature and doesn’t feel the need to hide/repress/be ashamed of it, but can fully accept it as a positive attribute of one’s self.

    Anyway, it seems that the divide between us on this is so great that we aren’t even sure what ground the other is even claiming to stand on. I notice that in your post what you claim as truth is based on scripture, Christian thinkers, Biblical Judaism, and Christian tradition. In my post I spoke mostly of personal experience and maybe a kind of nebulous “spirituality” without really saying how such spirituality is grounded in the world. It might be useful at this point to bring up the four pillars of any claims for Christian truth that I learned in Keith Graber Miller’s ethics/morality class: scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. I’d say that on sexuality I base almost all my beliefs on the latter two - reason and experience - and not much on the first two. This certainly wasn’t always the case, in fact it used to be the opposite - but maybe I’ll avoid getting too intensely autobiographical here - it might be appropriate later, and can probably be inferred from reading other posts scattered around.

    Since we’re being radical around here anyway, I’ll just go ahead adn say that I have rejected what I always perceived to be “biblical” (although I’d disagree now it really came from scripture) and traditional Christian (which I do agree can be objectively called “traditional”) views of sexuality because I’ve found them to be too false, in my life, and in the lives of others, to really hold any water. So the discussion I’m bringing up is really one of experience, and the one you bring up is more one of scripture and tradition, with reason as possibly a little bit of a bridge but most likely something we each assume fits in with our own side.

    So that’s a bit of meta-speak, maybe laying a bit of groundwork for a discussion, maybe not - I’ll see if some others want to chime in here, and share what they have found most valuable (scripture, tradition, reason, experience) in placing sexuality in their own lives, and take it from there.

    respectfully,
    Luke

  3. lukelm Says:

    Tim,
    Please, be appropriate! Young children read this site…

  4. markymark Says:

    somasoul and lukelm,

    I’ve appreciated your discussion thus far and have been trying to ponder each perspective. I also wish to offer my own.

    One place of clarification I think needs to be made is on this idea of “sexual liberation.” From my perspective it seems that Luke is trying to redeem this term from the polygamous hippy overtones of the 1960’s that it typically carries and identify it more closely with how sexuality impacts our self-image as children of God. Bringing in the four sources of theology, Luke claims to be rejecting the biblical and traditional views on sexuality because of his reason and experience. However, I would submit that the traditional Christian view of sexuality being something shameful is far from biblical and actually finds its foundation within Evangelical Christian culture (I am thinking of stories like the Scarlett Letter and issues like the battles over legislated media censoring). Instead, I would propose that if we attempt to detach ourselves from this shame based mentality on sexuality and attempt to view scripture with new eyes, we’d read something passages like the Song of Songs the way it was meant to be read, as a celebration of love, specifically romantic love between spouses, which is ordained by God.

    I see a connection between this model of sexual liberation and spirituality. If a person believes their sexuality is shameful, they are believing one of the most foundational part their existence is not something to be proud. This undermines the image that God has created us within. If we are able to accept our sexual natures, not as something to deny exist, but rather as something which God has created in us, which God calls us to master as we strive to offer our full selves to God, then we have overcome one more hindrance keeping us from deeper intimacy with our righteous creator, thus instilling spiritual formation. It is important to remember that sexuality is not something we are encouraged to let run rampant in our lives because of our tendency to twist all things righteous into fallen actions, but to be good stewards of our sexuality in ways that bring God glory and build up the Kingdom.

    I would also like to mention something on this idea of “mature relationships” as somasoul discussed them. The primary point I took away from soma’s first post was that we should not be fixated on monogamous relationships, but rather on cultivating mature relationships, which will ideally lead to monogamous behavior in a marital relationship. I affirm this thinking (given that I have read it correctly) and would offer that the reason this is the case is because of how fulfilling the marital relationship is meant to be and that a mature perspective on both marriage and all relationships would cultivate those levels of fulfillment, as opposed to the superficial models that society offers us.

    I hope these thoughts offer some common ground to this discussion and help to facilitate further understanding. Please let me know if I misinterpreted anything thus far.

    -Mark

  5. Dave Carrol Says:

    Great discussion.

    You know as long, as within your bedroom, a husband and wife are both cool with it… i honestly don’t know of much that wouldn’t be biblically permissable.

    Since it’s so much about serving each other and letting each other experience pleasure, it’s very hard to go down the list an give yes or no’s on specific acts.

    Either… sex is an area where we (christians) need to press through some of our messed social moires and get freedom in
    Blessings
    Dave

  6. somasoul Says:

    Luke,

    I don’t think you can erase 2,000 of Christian history and Biblical authority based on your reason and experience.

    And to clarify: By “Mature Relationships” I mean deep rooted relationships inside of sexual/marital relationships but also, and more importantly, relationships of the business/friendship/community variety. Our culture pushes heavily romantic relationships while virtually ignoring simple friendship-type relationships. In movies it’s always about meeting and saving the girl, or the sex comedy, or whatever. Music follows the same path almost exclusively. Friendship relationships are always second in our culture.

  7. char Says:

    I recommend the book Just Cohabiting? The Church, Sex and Getting Married by Duncan J. Dormor.

    This is controversial, but insightful, written by a Christian in the UK, where thinking on these issues (as in the some other parts of Europe) is more liberal. It at least gets you thinking and engages the issues with a of relevance I haven’t found previously from Christian writers.

    While you might like to stick with those classical Christian thinkers, this book exposes some of the unhealthy thinking of those thinkers. It explores the historical developments, and societal shifts on these issues of marriage and sex. I was most intrigued by the background he lays out on practices around Judaism, and how marriage and sex was treated from a pastoral dimension, with a version of co-habiting by around the time of Jesus. So I would say that this book speaks to scripture, tradition (unpacking the history of this really well), reason, and experience.

    One idea that really got me thinking was the idea that most Christian sexual ethics were determined by celibate male priests. Now there’s a gender and power dynamic to unpack! Much of sexuality has been seen negatively, for procreation rather than as an action of creativity in itself. Thus, I’m pleased with TimN’s response of Song of Solomon scriptures, reclaiming sex in its original beauty before the corruption of it by classical Christian thinkers.

    This historical discussion may be a bit exclusive of GLBT since that has not been taken so seriously in history. On the other hand, it might mean healthier relationships across the board if we’re talking about meaningful relationships and meaningful sexual expression developing naturally as our relationships mature.

    It got me doing a lot of thinking about the history of Christian sexual ethics, and the general obsession of the Church on sex and weddings rather than proactive preparation for the right sort of relationship for marriage. The final chapter concludes with three points which, if I remember correctly, said that the Church should:

    1. Adopt a more discriminating/discerning approach to sexuality before marriage.

    2. Accept cohabitation as a legitimate part of the process of becoming married.

    3. Engage couples in preparation for marriage and not just the wedding day.

    I say, AMEN! I think we need a much more nuanced understanding around ethics of marriage and sex that looks at healthy development of relationships. In Hebrew scriptures sex and marriage were the same. Sex might function as the ceremony in a way, or a deciding moment.

    If we were to see how beautiful sex can be as part of the natural process of a developing relationship, we might be more careful with it. We might even be more careful with it if we think of emotional bonding consequences as much or more than the usual reasons for caution: disease or pregnancy. Care for each other is as important as ever while we live in an age when there is protected sex with reduced risk of these consequences. We might acknowledge the intense bonding process around it and prepare for it.

  8. Brian Hamilton Says:

    Staying out of the substance of this conversation for now, I can’t help but protest your blanket dismissal of ‘those classical Christian thinkers,’ char. (1) It’s usually a good idea to read a text or two of theirs before spurning as ‘unhealthy’ or ‘negative’ over a thousand years of serious and earnest reflection on a question. (2) It is certainly true that more than a flicker of sexism sometimes mars their work, in the same way that sin will distort every one of our most genuine attempts at discipleship. Yet thinking that ‘negative’ is a suitable adjective with which to describe the teachings of Augustine, Chrysostom, or Nyssa on sexuality is already proof that one has read barely a word, or without at all listening. (3) One who thinks that a decision for singleness implies an ignorance or hatred of sexuality knows nothing of what such a decision involves.

    I beg you, be more careful in pinning ‘corruption’ on so enormous a category of disciples. At the very least, one must first listen to them.

  9. char Says:

    I have read classical Christian thinkers on this subject. Thank you. I would not at all want my statement to be interpreted as “blanket.” Rather than saying all (blanket statement) I said much of sexuality has been seen negatively. I also did not address singleness as a call, and I do believe that is a gift to bring to human relationships. I just meant that we should have ethics discerned and taught by more than early church leaders who were celibate, as a matter of practicality and relevance. Hope you can receive my comments a bit differently so we can talk about the issues I began to raise.

  10. lukelm Says:

    First, Mark, thanks for your words that put my thoughts into better language than I had been able to do initially. I especially like the idea that our goal should be “to be good stewards of our sexuality in ways that bring God glory and build up the Kingdom.” It seems that the church has always been stuck on sexuality on simply wanting rules, nothing more. For some reason, on this particular issue, the church tends to have complete amnesia of the core of our theology, that god is present and incarnate in creation in human form calling us into living relationship with others and with the Divine. The church often claims to have made some sort of step beyond the OT Law into some new realm of relationship – yet with sex, it seems that the church stopped at a set of rules (although one could say the rules have shifted through time) and hasn’t moved on since. As a case in point, I think it’s telling how this discussion has gone – it seems that the only core issue to go to once sex is brought up is what is allowed and isn’t allowed (as in, what rules God thought up) or what should/shouldn’t be allowed.

    How can we move to something different, something more Christian? I think Char you brought up some great practical ideas of how the church can start addressing this as a human issue with humans relationships at the center rather than as a law-centered issue.

    I’d love to see us young Christians go even further, and ask ourselves why God chose to give us our particular gifts of sexuality. Why should sexuality be any different than any other potential source of good/beauty in the world? Why did God give me a love for music, especially certain kinds of music? Why did God give me this body, which takes joy in certain things (foods, yoga, naps, sex, weather, running – well, sort of a joy with running) and pain in others, which is born, which changes and grows, and will die and decompose back in nature?

    I’m afraid I can already hear the standard rules chiming in, masquerading as an answer to that questions of why – “so you can get married and maybe have kids.” Yes… but – no. I don’t mean to dismiss marriage (I’m in one, although most people in the church wouldn’t consider my marriage real ), or procreation – I just mean to say that that answer misses the whole point. I’ts like asking “why is music so beautiful, why do I respond to it, why did God create music?” and the answer being “so you can sing songs in church.”

    I suppose what I’m getting at in the very question of beauty itself – of our experiences of mortal life, in finite creation, that lift us out of ourselves, connect us to (or show us glimpses of) infinity and the divine. And I’m demanding that we see sexuality on these terms, as one form of beauty and joy – a very important one – that God uses to speak to human hearts. That’s my personal definition of “sexual liberation” – experiencing sexuality as communication between God and humans, seeing God as present in sexuality and in sex.

    How can we reconcile Songs of Songs being in the Bible, then? Can we honestly look at the Songs of Songs and just think “yep, looks like straight marriage, fits in with the rules” and nothing else at all?

    Brian – It wasn’t Char who made any blanket statements dismissing church fathers’ teachings on sexuality - that was me. I’ll just say – yes, it is possible to read a whole bunch of Augustine and come away quite convinced that he was absolutely screwed up in the head with regards to sex. I mean – he basically founded western Christianity and theology, so I’m definitely not dismissing Augustine here – but on this one issue, he was nuts. I don’t know Chrysostom or Nyssa so I can’t comment on them.

  11. Brian Hamilton Says:

    Char, I’m sorry that my response was too harsh or unfair. When I read it first, I saw there what I see far too often, particularly on this subject: clumping together in one an enormous range of very different disciples (’those classical Christian thinkers’) with a handful of negative adjectives–which usually suffices to set to one side whatever insights they might have had as a straightforwardly ‘unhealthy’ view of sexuality. That much seems to me disastrously untrue.

    At the same time, and I say this to Luke now too, I am certainly far from recommending the teachings on sexuality of any of these figures wholesale; I think there are plenty of things to disagree with in them. Even if I might rate Augustine’s thought on sexuality as slightly higher than ‘nuts’, there is a definite fear there which disfigures a great deal of his understanding. I tire only of sad caricatures and a refusal really to listen; those are the only things I mean to protest. So again, I’m sorry if I myself failed to listen here.

    Still staying out of the main substance of conversation, I will add one little question. The movement from ‘law’ to ‘relationships’ mapped onto the movement from Old to New Testament seems a bit questionable to me, Luke. Could you explain this a bit more? Surely the ‘old law’ was already about relationships, and the ‘new law’ of Jesus still implies a certain rule of life and faith? Why should these loci, law and relationships, be opposed at all? I would grant that conversation sometimes dwells too much on the security of the law without seeking to understand the law, or refuses to recognize where a change in understanding ought to issue in a change in the law–but I certainly don’t think the church (or any human institution with a real mission) has moved ‘beyond’ the need for a rule of life.

  12. lukelm Says:

    You’re right Brian - I probably ventured too much in my argument into a brand of (bad) pop theology that I heard a lot of growing up, that went something like - “in the OT those Jews just had the Law but then Jesus came and changed it into something new.” This does nothing very useful or good for Christians, Jews, or anyone’s understanding of either Christ’s message or a real understanding of the OT and its covenants & laws.

    What I mean in characterizing the church’s approach is less the existence of rules themselves and more in the specific way in which rules /law/prohibitions are used to address sexuality - namely, that the rules themselves seem to be the substance, the core issue, the essence of the church’s stance on sexuality, and not the humans themselves whose sexuality is in question, nor the reality of living sexuality. I think Christians need to completely shift their perspective on the issue away from prohibitions and how/why we don’t live up to them, into an approach of being open to God’s speaking in, through, and of sexuality. Bottom line: Christian teens have fear of sex and sexuality drilled into them, probably just in the hope the they don’t screw up too much, and the assumption is that if they end up in a decent marriage, all’s well that ends well. And maybe all is well for a lot of people, maybe the majority - but I think we miss out on an entire realm of God’s presence & communication with us.

    I’d even go farther and say that for some experience of sexuality is key to partaking of, understanding much more deeply, the mystery & reality of God’s incarnation in the world. At least it has been for me. I really don’t think this is or should be the case for everyone - there are as many languages with which the Divine speaks to humans as there are ears & hearts to listen. The church has been mostly closed off to hearing this particular language, and as much as the church is meant to be a conduit for all of God’s speaking to humans (it never will be, of course, but it should still strive toward it) then the church should change its entire approach to the question.

  13. Coming Out Strong Blog Archive » We have what they need Says:

    […] So occasionally I get sucked into writing on this other blog, and recently I’ve been discussing the topic of sexuality and how the church approaches it.  I feel pretty strongly that the church’s problem in dealing with sexuality through history have come because the church has the wrong fundamental approach to the whole thing - that rather than think of sexuality as a part of being human that has the potential to connect us to each other and to the Divine, it all starts from (and usually ends at) coming up with the right set of rules/boundaries/prohibitions to contain and control sexuality.  It’d be interesting to go into why this has happened, and continues to happen, but for now I just want to focus on whether/how it can be changed. […]

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