Naming it “corrosive” and a “dark” sign of contemporary American culture, the U.S. Catholic bishops approved a document this week condemning the production and use of pornography as a mortal sin.
Reaction from the bishops’ critics didn’t take long. Some said the bishops themselves have very serious problems with pornography; others pointed out the not-so-distant sex abuse crisis. The upshot was that the bishops ought to have different priorities.
One could be forgiven for confusing this disagreement with one from the 1980s. Didn’t it play out over a generation ago — with the result that our culture basically accepts porn as part of sexual liberation?
Christians — particularly those of the more conservative variety — often oppose accommodations for transgender persons. But these believers are having a very important conversation in the wrong direction. When trying to understand transgender issues, Christians should start with the personal, not political. When Christians begin by committing to political goals rather than educating themselves on the complicated, sensitive nuances of this matter, they often come off looking privileged, mean, or just flat-out clueless.
But transgender issues are bigger than so-called bathroom bills and similar legislation. Society is beginning to see these issues as personal matters that affect the real lives of real people with real hurts.
A few Christians out there are, thankfully, trying to think deeply about transgender people. Mark Yarhouse is a professor at Regent University School of Psychology and Counseling and author of Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. Megan DeFranza is a visiting researcher at Boston University’s School of Theology and author of Sex Difference in Christian Theology: Male, Female, and Intersex in the Image of God. Here we discuss the complexity of transgender issues often overlooked by Christians.
Bishops participating in the Vatican’s synod on the family have admitted they don’t know much about sex — and that they need the help of lay people to fully understand marital intimacy.
Lay people play an important part in the discussions at their Synod on the Family, the Rev. Thomas Rosica, English-language assistant to the Vatican press office, said on Oct. 16.
“At the heart of the synod is human sexuality. And oftentimes it’s muted and we don’t know how to talk about it, because most of us in the room are male celibates,” he said, citing comments of unnamed bishops.
AS WE APPROACH A PRESIDENTIAL election in which each candidate’s gender is sure to be discussed, it’s worth evaluating the automatic assumptions we—yes, all of us—make when it comes to women, men, and the meaning we attribute to gender. These assumptions include everything from outright sexism to subtler forms of gender bias, such as the knee-jerk association of men with “competence” and “gravitas,” women with “incompetence” and “emotion.”
“The battle for women to be treated like human beings with rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of involvement in cultural and political arenas continues, and it is sometimes a pretty grim battle,” writes Rebecca Solnit in the title chapter of Men Explain Things to Me, a 2014 collection of essays that helped coin the term “mansplain.” “This is a struggle that takes place in war-torn nations, but also in the bedroom, the dining room, the classroom, the workplace, and the streets.”
I would add, of course, that this battle also takes place in the church, our spiritual homes. After all, for women this is a struggle that’s older than feminism, perhaps as old as our faith traditions themselves. So how, exactly, can we end the battle?
The answer, it seems, lies in understanding the difference between explicit and implicit bias, the former resulting from deliberate stereotypes, the latter a growing topic in social science that doesn’t absolve us of guilt but helps us understand how biases of all kinds have been so difficult to identify, name, and change.
I have to force myself to go to church.
Saturday mornings, when Seventh-day Adventists like me observe Sabbath, I lie in bed extra-long. Sometimes, I roll over and shut my eyes. Other times, I have to physically force myself to get up and prepare, both mentally and physically, to go.
It didn’t use to be this way. I remember waking up extra early as a preteen when I was excited to go to church. More than likely, I would be singing at both services, either in a choir or in special music. I would stay long hours after the service for evening vespers.
That all changed when I came out as bisexual. I no longer felt welcome at worship.
Another day, another stunning blockbuster report that … Jesus was married! And to Mary Magdalene!
The latest version of this meme comes from Simcha Jacobovici, an author and filmmaker who is famous for promoting stunning theories about Jesus that on further review often turn out to be dubious.
Jacobovici’s new claim that he has decoded an old text that reveals Jesus and the Magdalene were married and had two kids (and she was a “co-deity” with her husband) came out this month and has also been widely dismissed.
But as happened earlier this year with the so-called “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” — a suspect papyrus that receives a further debunking in the latest edition of the Atlantic — people find Jesus’ sex life endlessly fascinating, and plausible.
Why is that? Here are five reasons.
Americans are showing more tolerance for a range of behaviors, with sex between unmarried adults, medical research on stem cells from human embryos, and doctor-assisted suicide all showing record highs and increases in “moral acceptability” from last year .
The Gallup poll’s annual “moral acceptability” scale has been conducted since 2001 and charts shifting cultural attitudes on a number of hot-button social issues. In the 2014 list released Friday, Gallup researchers said 12 of the 19 categories reflected “levels of moral acceptance that are as high or higher than in the past.”
“Americans largely agree about the morality of several issues,” Gallup researchers said. “Most say birth control is acceptable but that extramarital affairs are wrong. However, other issues show clear, substantial divides. These differences are largely explained by party identification, but previous research has shown that age also plays a factor.”
Three issues — sex between an unmarried man and woman, medical research on embryonic stem cells, and doctor-assisted suicide — showed a slight increase in acceptability from 2013. Most of the other issues were mostly unchanged.
Celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, spiritual counselor to Michael Jackson, onetime Republican candidate for Congress, and author of the best-selling “Kosher Sex” and “Kosher Jesus,” has a new book for Jews and non-Jews alike: “Kosher Lust.”
Its provocative subtitle: “Love Is Not the Answer.”
The answer, Boteach says, is lust, the God-given fuel for a healthy marriage. Love, he argues, cannot sustain marriage, but lust — what he calls the unfairly maligned member of the Seven Deadly Sins — can.
The first ominous sign that the Relisha Rudd case was slipping from the local Washington, D.C. imagination was when the police alert signs posted on the roads into the city had their messages changed, or were removed entirely.
For weeks after the news that the little eight-year-old girl was missing broke on March 19, the digital display boards had broadcast the Amber alert in their amber lettering, its grim message truncated in a style all too appropriate for the digital age: “BLK Female, 8 YRS, 4’0”, 70-80 LBS,” along with a contact number to report sightings. Radio stations had urged citizens repeatedly to be on the lookout.
Because I tend to leave WTOP news radio on a little too often when the children are around, my ten-year-old son grew preoccupied with the case, and because he cannot admit to himself that tragedy is ever actually happening, came to me and said, earnest with his watery blue eyes, “Mom, you know they found that girl.”
I don’t know about young girls, but I know from experience that young boys obsess about sex.
They crave it, fantasize about it, do everything in their meager power to obtain it, worry about their adequacy, get confused by their longings, and for the duration of adolescence — and often beyond — see people in terms of “getting laid.”
I suppose this obsession is natural, and that it serves some fundamental purpose, such as perpetuating the species or giving us something to think about besides our gangly bodies, weird thoughts, and being young and insecure.
I don’t know any adult who would willingly repeat adolescence. Yet here we are — we Christians seeking hope, grace, mercy, and purpose, we believers in a God of justice — treating our faith as an endless adolescence centered around sex.
Is Eve all about sex? Or might she want something else? Our popular imagination turns Eve into a receptacle for one set of our fantasies. Our fixation on Eve’s sexuality causes us to overlook the story’s major themes and what they might mean for our common life together. Indeed, biblical scholar Ken Stone shows that Genesis 2-3 has a lot more to say about food than it does about sex. Even if becoming “one flesh” is about sex, and maybe it’s not, there’s all kinds of references in the passage about what the first humans may or may not eat.
The story tells us directly what Eve wants. She doesn’t want to tempt Adam. And she doesn’t want a snake curling suggestively around her body. Eve wants wisdom.
And she gains wisdom.
Let’s review some of the overlooked details in this story.
Oppressive. Boorish. Misogynist: Those are the popular images of Muslim men and how they treat women.
But there’s more to it than that, thought Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi, the editors of Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women.
Many Muslims welcomed the two women’s 2012 collection of 25 stories as an overdue conversation starter. Soon they got flooded with requests for a male version.
They initially dismissed the idea, assuming men wouldn’t want to write so openly about such intimate matters. But as the queries kept coming, the two editors decided a Muslim male version wasn’t that far-fetched, and given the stereotypes of Muslim men, much needed.
I didn’t watch the Video Music Awards last night, but this morning I noticed that Miley Cyrus is getting all the attention.
That was really, really disturbing … That young lady, who is 20, is obviously deeply troubled, deeply disturbed … probably has an eating disorder … That was disgusting and embarrassing … I feel terrible … That was really, really bad. They [MTV] should be ashamed of themselves … She is a mess … I don’t want to see that ever again on this show … It was pathetic.
Well, Mika’s vehemence intrigued me, so I found the video on YouTube and watched it. It's bad. Awkward might the best word I can find to describe her performance, and it only became more awkward when Robin Thicke joined her onstage. Then it became awkward and demeaning. And I was instantly reminded of why I don’t watch the VMAs.
I’ve written before about the seemingly contrasting messages we offer to young people in church about sex and sexuality:
Sex is dirty; save it for someone you marry someday.
Umm, what? Granted, we walk a narrow rhetorical tightrope when discussing sex with our kids. If we tell them it’s actually pretty awesome, and then tell them they can’t do it, that’s a setup for failure. On the other hand, if we focus on the negatives, we risk scarring and shaming them into a life of emotional conflict and struggle when it comes to sexual intimacy.
What we end up with, often times, is a vacuous silence when it comes to the real, difficult issues of sexual identity, impulse, and expression. Add to that the Christian emphasis on marriage, and the result in many cases is scads of unhealthy, sexually awkward young people, married far too early with no idea why.
On April 5-12, the University of Tennessee hosted “Sex Week,” organized by the student organization Sexual Empowerment and Awareness in Tennessee. The week’s activities, ranging from discussions on virginity to workshops on oral sex and a search for a golden condom, sparked the concern of easily provoked and immensely quotable State Rep. Stacey Campfield (he of “Don’t Say Gay” bill fame).
With apologies to Campfield’s ever-vigilant protection of Christian sensibilities, the real problem here is not that mandatory student fees are being used to promote sexual education and awareness. The problem is that our tithes aren’t.
Imagine with me, if you will, what would happen if “Sex Week” came to First Baptist Church . . .
If local congregations joined together to dedicate a week to the promotion and exploration of Christian ethics expressed through sexuality, gender, and embodiment, what might the offerings look like? Perhaps these would be a good start.
Ask Kelley Taylor, a Southern Baptist college student, if she's opened the steamy pages of Fifty Shades of Grey, and she has a ready response.
"Some of my friends have read it but I decided not to because I just heard about the content and didn't think it was something I should be reading," said the North Carolina State University senior, who is majoring in wildlife biology. "I think that it's kind of contrary to what the Bible says about fleeing from sexual lust and temptation."
Taylor is not alone. Many evangelical women say they wouldn't touch the best-selling book, often described as "mommy porn" because of its escapist appeal to working mothers and suburban housewives. But evangelical leaders also realize that some members of their churches and Bible studies can't resist.
“Your body is a wrapped lollipop. When you have sex with a man, he unwraps your lollipop and sucks on it. It may feel great at the time, but, unfortunately, when he’s done with you, all you have left for your next partner is a poorly wrapped, saliva-fouled sucker.”
I cringed behind the wheel, appalled at the quoted words I heard coming from my audio copy of Half the Sky as authors Sheryl WuDunn and Nicholas Kristof discussed this statement uttered by Darren Washington, an abstinence educator, at the Eighth Annual Abstinence Clearinghouse Conference.
Sadly, it wasn’t too far off many Christian messages I’ve received about sex.
But let’s go back to the beginning.