Good Seasoning?

Here’s a funny thing folks. Because I talk about sex, some take the opportunity to use that to pour abuse on me and my family. That’s OK – in fact, it’s been a remarkable insight for me that those who like to think that they are at the vanguard in the church of sexual liberation are the same people who constantly use vulgar language in their discourse and seem incapable of actually having a serious conversation about the subject.

Of course, I’m on record as thinking that sex is vitally important in our Christian theology because it is one of the chief Christological signifiers that we have. Sex isn’t just about me and my spouse, it’s about me and God. The most intimate act that humans can engage in is itself a sign of true intimacy with the Godhead.

And yet we simply don’t want to talk about it. Read this great piece from Relevant magazine.

Sex. Everyone wants to talk about it, yet no one speaks up. At least not without a wink or two and a few elbow nudges.

At a recent youth group function where I co-lead, my team member (who is married) and I (who am not), opened ourselves up to questions from the teens. We watched a video about the spiritual nature of sex and tried to host a discussion. “Ask us anything,” we said, steeling ourselves for the very, very worst.

Crickets. Total silence. The horniest age group on the planet had nothing to say, nothing to ask.

So why are people afraid to talk about sex? I mean really discuss the meaning of it? Pastors address it once every few years, but always in lofty language. Teenagers joke about it. The elderly often shush discussion of it. I suspect the silence on the subject stems from the fact that sex is deeply personal and discussing it is a little like the act itself—it lets people inside.

More than touching between two people, sex is a physical manifestation of an emotional event—entering into the inner recesses of another’s soul and accepting the enter-er into yours. In cases of abuse, sex feels violating for exactly this reason. It’s an emotional invasion expressed through physical contact.

Sex within marriage offers a mutual, respectful sharing that symbolizes love—an invitation and an acceptance to permanently participate in each other’s whole personhood. It plays a key role in God’s plan for married unity. Sex outside marriage results in eventual pain because that “invitation” will ultimately be returned to sender. The acceptance note receives a “decline” in response. A blended soul rips apart, back into two pieces.

Discussing sex puts us in a vulnerable position, as well. Revealing our deepest thoughts about humankind’s arguably deepest act opens our souls to others in a unique and personal way. And vulnerability is frightening. It creates an opportunity for others to hurt us.

This is why God intended sex for the safety of marriage and discussions of sex for the safety of close community.

Perhaps the teens in my youth group felt insecure in a large group setting. Perhaps we caught them off-guard. I’m convinced they have thoughts about sex. (If I do, they must!) But they didn’t feel they could vocalize those thoughts.

Could this be the key to the Church’s struggle to discuss sex with believers?

To have meaningful conversation about a personal subject, believers need personal connections where it is safe to be honest. Support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous build upon such a rapport so that participants can share openly and fully with each other. Close group connections conceive a bond of trust that ends in results: alcoholics stay on the wagon, porn addicts turn off the computer, battered women leave abusive relationships. Within a group lies conviction and empowerment.

For that reason, the young Church met frequently to grow, bond and share in their new faith. The book of Acts portrays small groups as central and foundational to the growth of Christians. And, to an extent, Christians have embraced this concept. We meet for Bible study, for prayer, for the ever-popular potluck. But too often we are silent about sex. Are we really content to let generations grow up with a tagline? “Sex can wait,” “Meant for marriage” or my favorite, “It don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got the ring.”

The rest of the world is talking about sex. Loudly. But not clearly. If others are to understand God’s design for sex, Jesus followers have to talk about it. The repercussions of not sharing are frightening and long-reaching—life-altering STDs, pregnancies, emotional scars, baggage beyond belief. Maybe a sermon series from the podium isn’t the whole answer. Pamphlets left on Welcome Centers can’t do it alone. Youth commitment ceremonies need backup.

The Church can’t afford to be silent on this subject. Without close, small group interaction when discussing God’s plan for sex, a crowd of horny individuals will quickly become a crowd of hurting ones.

Now if there’s one thing I don’t mind doing, it’s having the kind of conversations that are talked about here. As I’ve discovered in my life that sex in the right environment is not only worth waiting for but also about waiting to give God his worth, so we need to provide the safe space for others to talk and share about their experiences.

And of course this is the reason that Bishop Michael Penham, like James Jones before him is wrong to say lets just ignore issues of sexual behaviour in the church and agree to disagree. The point is this, that those very essentials of the faith that Bishop Michael says are important, who Christ is, how he saves us, the work of the Spirit, they are all so initimately tied up with and signified in the act of sex that that makes sexual activity a clear first order issue. To relegate Christian’s sex lives to the lower echelons of debate is to disregard the clear indications in Scripture that what we do with our bodies is so much more then just about us.

I agree with Salt N Pepa. Let’s talk about it.

7 Comments on “Good Seasoning?

  1. Peter, it depends what you mean by 'vulgar'. I don't think the medicalised latinate language suggestive (wrongly) of a dispassionate discourse is the best way to broach conversation with the Yoof of Today, very few of whom (I'd guess) petition their partners for (say) 'fellatio'. Even Dan Savage (foremost – and very funny – sex columnist acknowledged that, even in the 70s, conservative Christian sex manuals were relatively progressive in terms of emphasising the importance of a wive's right to orgasms. But a quick google of (say) Christianity Today (or worse) will find that particular theological conclusion are still being tied to ridiculous anti-sex taboos that call into question the former. Saying (for example) that women who engage in promiscous and or group sex must have low-self esteem is simply misogynistic – a lot of them do so because they enjoy it (which, of course, doesn't make it any less sinful).

  2. I am not sure James Jones or Michael Perham are saying we should "just ignore" issues of sexual behaviour completely ( although I guess they would like less focus on them.) I think they are saying we must "agree to disagree" – in other words respect the fact that there is a range of opinion on the matter and that, however opposed we are to each others views, we should acknowledge the integrity with which those opinions are held. I don't think that necessarily precludes discussion, I think it might take the heat out of things a bit and it might open up debate, for example we could talk with TEC openly or LGBT groups within the church could talk and be listened to and so could the experiences and views of other groups. The "listening " process has never very successfully occured, more a talking about process, or a silencing process or a denouncing each other process or a "let's turn a blind eye and pretend they don't exist" process.

      • Joe – when partnered Lesbian and gay clergy in the Church of England are deplored, denied and ignored, it hardly creates an environment in which there can be any genuine listening does it?

        • Isn't there a "technical" reason for this – that in their role as clergy they shouldn't be partnered (I'm assuming 'partnered' means something else/more than very good friends) in the first place?

          Whether or not individuals can talk about their personal situations openly, their voice is still heard in endless general debates about sexuality. Or does 'listening' imply (as with Mary Glasspool and Gene whatshisname) a subtle shift towards acceptance?

      • Joe S:

        I think part of the problem is that there are two overlapping but separate debates, which are conflated, with the result that the "listening process" often seems like a dialogue of the deaf.

        Debate number one is a doctrinal dispute about truth – "is homosexual activity permissible?" This is a very important theological-philosophical-anthropological question with a definitive answer. Eventually the church will have to make its mind up about this question and define its doctrine.

        Debate number two is a pastoral debate about how we minister to people with same-sex desire, and how we disciple people who are living lives of unrepentant sin. This is a much more open-ended question, with no real definitive answer.

        The problem comes when Christian conservatives' frequently inadequate responses to debate number two are used to discredit their essentially sound answers to question number one. This is a dishonest approach, but a common one. We see it in the revisionist commentators on this very blog, who try to fog the moral question by talking endlessly about hypocrisy, integrity, and some of the wicked ways in which homosexuals have been treated down the ages.

        That is not to say that these things don't matter, but rather that they are straw man or ad hominem arguments in the actual debate over whether gay sex is permissible.

        • I'd want to add that with Debate Number Two, what is shocking is that Evangelical and traditional Anglo-Catholic churches are simply not willing to put their money where their theological mouth is. Those of us who try to minister in this area are simply not supported by those who will trade off our hard work. That has to change.

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