A Brief and Loving Sexual Engagement

Colin Coward has responded to my challenge to explain what he means by a “brief and loving sexual engagement”, but the answer just leads to more questions.

Within the post he makes a point that I wouldn’t disagree with:

Conservative evangelicals seem to be obsessed with gay male sexual activity. When sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage is considered, they only seem to think about gay men, rather than the majority of heterosexuals who enjoy sexual activity without being married.

Conservative evangelicals also seem obsessesed with penetrative sex. This is not an obsession shared by gay Christians. There are many ways of being sexual and sharing sexual pleasure and intimacy that do not involve penetration.

Quite right too Colin, but that’s not the point at hand. I was trying to get at how the report posted on his website seems to suggest that a one night stand might be a good thing, regardless of the specific manner of sex involved. Of course, Colin is quick to disavow ownership of the report:

The Sexual Ethics report was published by Changing Attitude on behalf of the Lesbian and Gay Clergy Consultation. It is their document, not ours. We published it as a thoughtful contribution to the process of formulating a Christian sexual ethic for LGBT people – it is not the final word.

The problem I find with this explanation is that it doesn’t make sense. Clergy Consultation have their own website, but you can’t find the report there or even a link to where to get it. In fact, there isn’t a mention anywhere of the report’s existence.  The report itself has a back page that is full of details about Changing Attitude and how to join, with no contact information whatsoever for Clergy Consultation. The front cover has a massive Changing Attitude logo. The subtitle is “A Report of the Lesbian and Gay Clergy Consultation Working Group” but there is absolutely no indication that this is not a Changing Attitude working group but rather an entirely independent organisation. Only inside do you begin to get an indication that the Working Group and Changing Attitude are not the same.

But given that Changing Attitude published the document and host it on their website, one cannot but assume that they support the content. It might not officially be their report, but it is badged with their logo and produced under their banner. There is a degree of ownership in the content that cannot be disavowed, and indeed, Colin Coward is clear in this by the lack of any attempt to reject the more controversial elements of the paper.

So what is Colin’s response to my challenge?

In answer to Peter, the example of a brief and loving sexual engagement that comes to mind is that between an elderly heterosexual couple, widow and widower, who meet in old age, choose not to marry for a number of reasons, form a close and loving relationship and share themselves sexually. This may not be the kind of example Peter was thinking of. The report doesn’t specify age or sexuality in suggesting that a brief and loving sexual engagement may not always be taboo.

I admit, that’s not what I was thinking of, but most traditional Christians would agree with me that such a relationship was clearly one of sex outside of marriage and therefore not what true disciples of Jesus would want to do. What Colin is offering us is a couple having sex outside of marriage. The fact that they have been married before and are both widowed is irrelevant (unless someone can point me to a passage in Scripture that suggests otherwise). The fact that they are old is irrelevant (again, unless someone can point me to a passage in Scripture that suggests otherwise).

Of course, when I pointed this out some of the more liberal commentators were eager to jump in to explain why this sexual relationship was a good thing:

Well, if you take a couple of pensioners, he drawing his own pension, she that of her deceased husband – if they married, she would lose her widow’s pension. But as his second wife, if he then died, she would be stripped of his pension and suddenly find herself pennyless.

They would be really stupid to get married.

What does Erika’s argument actually boil down to? She’s basically saying that since the law of the land would financially penalise the couple trying to live a Biblical moral, they shouldn’t bother. The money is more important than honouring God. That seems such a perverse way of thinking, arguing that the statute book trumps the Bible that I don’t think I need to even give the example of a Roman slave owner who be financially out of pocket by freeing his slave to show how ludicrous that line of thinking is.

The commenter David has a much better go:

What actually constitutes marriage?

1. That a couple go to the state and pay the fee and get a license and then exchange vows of matrimony?

2. That a couple go to the church and exchange vows in the rite of matrimony?

3. That a couple make commitments to one another and live together honoring those commitments?

There is no legal religious marriage in Mexico. There is only legal civil marriage in Mexico. Civil marriage is expensive and so beyond the means of the majority of Mexicans, who are poor. The vast majority of Mexicans who are coupled, live as number 3 above. Are the majority of Mexicans immoral and bound for hell?

The flaw in David’s argument of course is that option 2 is open to Mexicans, I won’t cost them an arm and a leg. It is perfectly possible to get married in church in this country at least for a minimum of cost (I for one would never charge beyond that which I absolutely had to if a couple on income support came to me asking for a wedding, in the same way that we waive fees in other circumstances – e.g. funerals for children) and the issue again for David ultimately isn’t whether a certain action is Scripturally right but whether it makes financial sense.

So I’m definitely not selling that slave of mine.

Colin cuts to the chase on this (and as usual has a better thought out position than many of the commenters):

I do believe that a loving sexual engagement, permanent, faithful, stable, outside of marriage, as any gay relationship must be, can be holy. The implication of this is that permanent heterosexual non-marital relationships can also be holy. Inclusive means that what applies to one group applies to all.

This then is the underlying issue. As Christians, should we make public, visible committments to each other (marriage) before entering into sexual unions that are explicitly “permanent, faithful and stable”. Does the Bible have any clear guidelines on what sort of sexual unions are permitted to Christians as signifying the work of Christ? This question is an ongoing work for me, but I fear that Colin and his liberal commenters aren’t beginning from the same basis (the Scripture will tell us what we need to know) to have any reasonable part in the debate.

Erika commented:

The holiness of a relationship lies in its quality, not in whether there’s sex involved or not.

God isn’t half as sex obsessed as most of his followers.

The problem of course is that Erika will have a hard job convincing me of what “quality” is without a Scriptural basis to her suggestions. Such an approach though might lead her to discover that God has plenty of things to say about sex after all.

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