Sexuality

i-Lust and Other Confessions in a Millennial World

Nude art photogaph,  Viktoriiapdb / Shutterstock.com

Nude art photogaph, Viktoriiapdb / Shutterstock.com

I lust. The words almost seem like they could be a tagline for a new Apple product — an appropriate image perhaps for a generation that is glued to our smart phones. Or perhaps the words are better suited in a kind of Descartes revolution for the 21st century, “I lust, therefore I am.” In either scenario, the words are an accurate reflection of the inescapable truth that lust is consuming all of our lives.

In the church, the word lust has strong sexual connotations. It is a word we are ashamed of and work hard to ignore. When we do talk about lust, it is mostly in the context of uncomfortable sermons or youth group sessions about dressing modestly, not looking at porn, and not gazing at one another with desire. We also often think of lust as a sin that plagues only men — particularly young men with “raging hormones” and that it is something they need to “break free” from.

Essentially the message has become, “If you do lust, don’t; if you don’t lust, good.” But such assumptions do not accurately represent the complex and diverse ways that lust manifests itself in our lives. That being said, I sometimes think that if the seven deadly sins included a clause for a sin that was more deadly, feared, and misunderstood than all of the rest, this would be it.

Does Mormon Modesty Mantra Reduce Women to Sex Objects?

Karen Birdsall (L) and Kammi Bean sign at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – Lenexa Ward. RNS photo: Sally Morrow

When Mormon leaders sense a decline of moral standards in the world, they roll out sermons on modesty.

In the 1960s and early ’70s, they preached against miniskirts and hot pants; in today’s sex-drenched society, it’s spaghetti straps, bare midriffs, and skinny jeans.

The message remains largely the same: Cover up, lest you cause the males around you to sin.

It’s often couched in the rhetoric of “virtue” and usually aimed at young women, even girls.

Women and Taboos: Leaning In, and Getting Frank About Faith, Sexuality and the Bible

In this age of third-wave feminism, many Americans may not realize that Christian women continue to struggle with what many would deem outdated gendered notions. This includes things such as a woman’s calling being second to her husband’s, women as unwitting temptresses who therefore must hide their bodies, and that women may not lead (or sometimes even speak) in church. Both external and internal pressures and fears have historically kept women silent on these matters.

In the recently released Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith,  40 women under 40 address head-on many of the taboos remaining at the intersection of faith and gender, and how they are stepping out of historical oppression to make real change within the church. 

In her book Lean In, author Sheryl Sandberg notes that while women are outpacing men in colleges and graduate schools, one cannot see this translate to positions of power within corporations. For this imbalance to be righted, Sandberg asserts that women must take charge of their circumstances: “The shift to a more equal world will happen person by person. We move closer to the larger goal of true equality with each woman who leans in.”

This is no less true of women in the church, and leaning in is exactly what the essayists of Talking Taboo are doing.

While Sandberg focuses on issues such as long work hours, daycare, and more flexibility for working moms, the common, though not exclusive, themes of Talking Taboo are sexuality and biblical interpretation.

‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ Moves Evangelicals Beyond Black-and-White Sexuality

RNS photo courtesy Random House UK

RNS photo courtesy Random House UK

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.

Top 5 Best and Worst Bits of 'Christian Sex' Advice

Heart-shaped lollipops, © Julian Rovagnati, Shutterstock.com

Heart-shaped lollipops, © Julian Rovagnati, Shutterstock.com

“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.

Activists Say Religion Key to Combating Female Genital Mutilation

Demonstration against young marriage and female circumcision in Africa.

Demonstration against young marriage and female circumcision in Africa.

BOSTON -- The one thing that Afrah Farah will tell you about her genital cutting experience is that it happened. She doesn’t want to say how old she was, where it happened, or who was or wasn't with her.

Yet, despite the painful memories that the experience evokes and her concerns about people's reactions, Farah, said she knows she has to speak out.

“It’s basically a traumatizing experience. It’s traumatizing for every young girl that goes through that. It’s something that sticks in your memory, and physically,” said Farah, a Somali immigrant who came to the Boston area by way of Kuwait and Germany in 2007, and now works as a drug developer in a Massachusetts laboratory.

“There are millions of people who are affiliated with this procedure -- parents, grandparents, people in the community -- and to label them all as bad people or barbaric, that’s wrong. You will push them away. To solve a problem like this, you need to approach people with respect.”

Because of its severity and prevalence, female genital mutilation (FGM, or "cutting") is arguably one of the most important human rights issues in the world. It’s also become increasingly important in the U.S. as the number of immigrants from countries where it is practiced grows.

Did Jesus Get Married and Have Children?

It’s amazing what a difference six words can make in our understanding of a figure as central as Jesus to the lives and faith of so many. Even historians and others who don’t claim Christianity personally are intrigued by the scrap of text recently discovered to contain, in Coptic, the sentence fragment: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”

Was this Jesus of Nazareth? is it authentic? Did the author have an original source to pull from, or simply word-of-mouth legend? After all, this writing seems to be several hundred years newer than the synoptic gospels. Perhaps Jesus was speaking in parable, as he often did, or maybe the “wife” was the Church, which often is referred to as “the bride of Christ.” Who knows? It’s likely we never will, but the buzz that this find creates is more interesting to me than the source of the scripture itself.

Why do we care so much if Jesus had a wife and kids or not? Why does it seem to matter if he died without ever having sex?

A New Kind of Sexuality: Finding a Theological Framework

Photo: Dave and Les Jacobs / Getty Images

Photo: Dave and Les Jacobs / Getty Images

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.

The Age of Innocence: Wes Anderson's 'Moonrise Kingdom'

 Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) in "Moonrise Kingdom."

Suzy (Kara Hayward) and Sam (Jared Gilman) try to find their way in "Moonrise Kingdom," the new film from director Wes Anderson

I liked this film so much I've already seen it twice. Moonrise Kingdom is so good, in fact, I almost couldn't bring myself to write about it for fear of not doing it justice.

And yet, since I first took my 11-year-old nephew, Ethan, to see it last month, I've been talking about Moonrise Kingdom nonstop, encouraging everyone I know to go see it. It has captured my imagination completely, an absolute tour de force — wholly original and an "instant classic," as I heard one film critic utter tell a companion on his way out of the theater.

Perhaps Ethan, a mythology buff who's never met a fantasy film he didn't like, put it most eloquently when he said (surprising no one more than himself), "That was the best film I've ever seen."

Moonrise Kingdom is director Wes Anderson's seventh feature-length film to date. In an iconoclastic cinematic oeuvre unrivaled among filmmakers of his generation, Anderson's latest stands above the rest of his stellar films — Bottle Rocket, Rushmore, The Royal Tennenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Darjeeling Limited — as an eloquent, funny, enduringly poignant homage to childhood and, moreover, to innocence.

In a word, the film is perfect. I wouldn't change a thing.

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