Sexuality

Spirituality and Sexuality: Deconstructing Boundaries

Photo by Lilly Roadstones/Getty Images
Photo by Lilly Roadstones/Getty Images

As I began reflecting on my past sexual interactions with men, I tried to bring God into the conversation for the first time.

It was easier to punish myself with guilt, follow youth group-style sexual boundaries or just say, "forget it" and do whatever I desired. I was reluctant to process my sexuality. Not only would it be a lot of work and uncover a lot of past hurt, but what if it unraveled foundational faith and lifestyle beliefs?

Up until six months ago, I had never questioned my decision to not have sex until I was married. I just did what I thought I was supposed to.

Once I began to reflect on it, though, I realized I was angry that God was asking me to wait. Or maybe it was OK to have sex, and God hadn’t told me sooner! I envisioned what would happen if I didn’t wait.

Who Controls My Body? The Struggle to Reconcile Spirituality, Sexuality

Heart lock and key photo, Paul J. West/Shutterstock.com
Heart lock and key photo, Paul J. West/Shutterstock.com

When I was in high school, I used to have a recurring dream that it was the night before the apocalypse and I was somewhere with a guy I liked. We weren’t married, so the dream always came back to a debate over how to spend my last night alive. Would I obey God and die a virgin or would I give in and finally have sex, albeit in sin?

I don’t tend to think of myself as someone who is all that angry, but when I get the most upset, it is almost always because of some circumstance or person that’s kept me from getting my way. And as those dreams portended, following God has frequently meant not getting my way when it comes to sex.

When I was in my 20s and would get mad about being chaste, it always hinged on this notion that I was missing out on a lot of great sex. But the older I get, the more I see that as a lie. In every situation where I could have had sex, it would have been with a man I later got over. And if you had sat me down and asked about other parts of my life, I probably wouldn’t have been as eager to share them with him.

But that’s what sex with someone I’ve not committed to sharing my life with is. If I wouldn’t give him access to my bank account or power of attorney, maybe not even my journals or my house plants, why would I share my body with him? Should that be the least guarded part of my life?

The Delicate Art of Persuasion

Photo by Getty Images.
Photo by Getty Images.

It’s been a mind-boggling fortnight at the Internet water cooler. Kony 2012. Mike Daisey’s dubious portrayal of Apple’s manufacturing practices abroad. Questions of whether the “Christian Movie Establishment” is “out to get” Blue Like Jazz … and an Amazon petition to let Rachel Held Evans use the word “vagina” in her forthcoming book, The Year of Biblical Womanhood.

Running through each of these stories and the surrounding debate are similar themes: truth, storytelling, power, persuasion. The online conversation is often vicious and acrimonious, reflecting a trend that’s spurred some writers to leave reader comments unread.

Adding to the intensity of the discussions is that almost each of these controversies involves an effort to change something: the Ugandan geo-political scene; unethical manufacturing practices; ways of talking about religious experience; “Christian” expectations for women. That’s not to say these creators set out with those ends as their foremost goal, but their projects were certainly meant to be more than beautiful or useful.

From Sex to Satan, Some Churches Will Try Anything

The Devil Inside movie poster.
The Devil Inside movie poster.

This is a touchy subject for me, as I am a strong advocate of bringing cultural criticism and dialogue into the church, and I’m equally supportive of churches having frank forums where they deal with issues of sex and sexuality. But there is a distinct, if not fine, line between stretching a church to be relevant and jumping on the latest trend simply to draw attention to yourself.

Yes, I know religious institutions are collectively flipping out about the decreasing number of attendees and increased number of church closures. The fact is that some churches will do the world more good once closed than they’re doing today. This is not to say they’re doing active harm (though I’m sure some are), but rather that the tireless, copious use of resources – both human and financial – to prop up dying institutions is to point to one’s self rather than toward God. We get hung up on the idea that the former is a necessary means to the latter end, but not necessarily. Like a fallow field, sometimes it’s best to take what is left, turn it into the ground and allow it to be reborn into something entirely new.

Sex God: Jesus, Intimacy and Exploitation

Sexperiment, the book.
Sexperiment, the book.

Ed Young and his wife, Lisa, have penned a new book called “Sexperiment: 7 Days to Lasting Intimacy with Your Spouse,” which is a sort of how-to guide for couples to rekindle intimacy in their marriage while remaining within the boundaries of biblical virtues, as interpreted by the authors.

First off, I’m glad evangelicals are joining the sexuality discussion. Having helped create a series of books whose first title was focused on faith and sex/sexuality, I believe it’s of great importance that faith leaders speak in open, healthy ways about sexuality, sexual expression, attraction, and so on.

One of the most hyped points made in the book is that it encourages married couples to engage in their own “Sexperiment,” where they commit to having sex each day for a week. The theory is that this will renew physical and emotional intimacy, and also help reduce the urge for things like pornography.

Hey, sex for Jesus sounds like a no-brainer to me. Sign me up!

The Top 10 Worst Toys to Give Your Daughter This Christmas

My Cleaning Trolley. Labeled "Girls Only" on the box.
My Cleaning Trolley. Labeled "Girls Only" on the box.

Everyone out there, let’s try giving our girls something positive this Christmas.

One gift at a time, we can foster their intellect.

One gift at a time, we can affirm their worth as contributors and not just bystanders.

We can give them value beyond their curls and big brown eyes, which are beautiful, yes, but what about giving them a book that doesn’t have a princess as the main character?

What about that science kit that you were looking at for your nephew? Would your niece like it too?

Voting for Change

This summer, the largest Lutheran and Episcopalian denominations in the U.S. voted for more complete inclusion of gay and lesbian ministers within their churches. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) narrowly voted to remove a ban on people in “publicly accountable, lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships” serving as clergy and also voted to allow congregations to “recognize, support, and hold” same-gender relationships. Previously, the ELCA allowed openly gay people to serve as clergy only if they agreed to live as celibates. These resolutions were passed in the context of a broader social statement called “Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust,” which the ELCA has been working on for seven years.

In a similar vein, more than 70 percent of the Episcopal Church’s general assembly passed a resolution affirming “that God has called and may call” gay and lesbian people “to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church,” and empowered the church’s liturgical commission to develop rites for blessing same-gender relationships that are “characterized by fidelity, monogamy, mutual affection and respect, careful, honest communication, and the holy love which enables those in such relationships to see in each other the image of God,” according to the convention documents.

Prior to this vote, the Episcopal Church had put a hold on ordaining gay or lesbian clergy as bishops out of deference to the worldwide Anglican Communion. Now, “the constitution and canons of the Episcopal Church are clear about who may be ordained” at every level, Episcopal Bishop John Bryson Chane told Sojourners. “The ordination process does not permit discrimination based on age, sex, or sexual orientation.”

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Sojourners Magazine December 2009
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Levels of Intimacy

“Sex Without Shame” (by Keith Graber Miller, September-October 2009) was brief, concise, and covered some of the major things that need to be tackled as people of faith really embrace issues regarding sex and sexuality.

More churches need to address the various types and levels of intimacy rather than only addressing intimacy when the conversation is about sex and sexuality. It is always assumed (in my limited experience) that the “soul ties” doctrine only relates to sex, which is not true. There are intimacy wounds that have me “tied” to women I’ve never touched, kissed, or even hugged, let alone had sex with! Intimacy is the issue, but it goes way beyond sex. Our churches and children need to know that. Guarding one’s innermost self is important and must happen way beyond the bedroom.

Marcus McCullough, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Sojourners Magazine December 2009
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Yearning for Connection

I applaud Keith Graber Miller’s call for a balanced sexual counterculture that exults sex-positivism in light of God’s gift of sexuality and exposes sexual irresponsibility and exploitation. It’s refreshing to see a reasoned view on masturbation, homosexuality, and youth sexuality coming from a serious biblicist. While the church has a long way to go to shed its sex negativism, popular culture often promotes free love without responsible limits.

Graber Miller hits on two important distinctives the church and society need to hear: 1) God is more concerned that people demonstrate genuine unselfish love, respect, and care in relationships than in what bodily interactions they pursue, and 2) good sex that is life-affirming comes after we get what we really need—a powerful, intimate connection that is protected against hurt, jealousy, and brokenness.

Michael Camp, Poulsbo, Washington

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Off-Focus?

I was slightly disappointed by the cover and headline article for the September-October issue (“6 Rules for Shameless Sex,” by Keith Graber Miller). For a magazine and organization focused on “faith in action for social justice,” I fail to see how talking about the beauty of sexuality is about social justice.

We often complain about how sex is used in marketing. Sex sells. Yes, let’s speak out against that. Yet is it just me, or has Sojourners fallen into that very trap and used it as an attempt to grab attention in the bookstore—and hence to sell more copies?

Alice Hague, Chicago, Illinois

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Sojourners Magazine December 2009
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