Several years ago, Amee Paparella was an eager student at a state university in Ohio. A conservative Christian, she quickly signed up to join the campus ministry. What she found in the group surprised her.
“It was so misogynistic,” Paparella recalled. “My leaders perpetuated this hyper-masculinized idea of God as physically a man.”
Over the years, Paparella wrestled to reconcile this image of God with her own faith, often to the discomfort of her peers. But an incident of sexual abuse within the ministry proved the breaking point. When it was discovered that a young man had been abusing his female partner, also in the group, the campus minister and student leaders responded by encouraging the young woman to stand by her man and to pray with the other students for his healing.
Whether wrestling with one the of non-heterosexual identities or the exigencies of birth control, the hidden costs of pornography, or the viability of chastity, 21st-century Christians have been confronted with unforeseen challenges that have led us to rethink traditional teachings on sexuality.
In many cases, particularly in more progressive expressions of faith, our sexual ethics have adapted and shifted more quickly than our theology (as is often the case). For generations to come, however, a sound theological framework is needed to support a robust Christian sexuality capable of dealing with “the world we find ourselves in.” The hands and feet of our ethical impulses have progressed boldly into unexplored terrain, but unless we discover the body that will provide a balance and stability, such ethical stances will be bound to collapse.
What we need is “a new kind of sexuality,” a response to emerging realities that is both orthodox and open, free and faithful. Such a framework will ultimately be bound to the Great Tradition of the Church while resisting enslavement to interpretations and applications of this Tradition that are now seem incapable of addressing heretofore unexplored questions. It is such “a new kind of sexuality” that I offer here, a starting point as we begin to shape a foundation that will provide the solid ground from which our ethics might find roots. I believe that such a framework will consist of the following five characteristics.