Just Do "It": Sex, That Is

Perhaps you’re one of the many who have noticed the church’s bumbling silence about many of the sexual issues plaguing our society (e.g., unwed pregnancies, homosexuality, HIV/AIDS, abortion, bioethics and reproductive technology, sexual violence, pornography). If you have, then I should probably point out to you that the church’s awkwardness has a lot to do with the fact that Christianity has always been conflicted about what to do with the sacred and the sexual. Some of it is due to the fact that many of the issues we deal with today are simply outside the social territory of biblical writers.

Let’s face it: there are some questions modern women wrestle with that the world of the Bible never anticipated.

For example, biblical writers never imagined a day when a woman could put off getting married or postpone having a baby until in her 20s, 30s, or 40s. Likewise the notion that a man’s sperm could be placed into a woman’s uterus without the two having sexual intercourse, and the woman getting pregnant as a result, would have struck even barren women like Sarah and Elizabeth as “inconceivable” (forgive the pun).

But in fairness to the church, I should point out that the church’s botched handling of today’s sexual issues is also because the biblical world was itself conflicted about how to talk about God and sex in the same sentence. Sex is never fully integrated into the world of the Bible. Yeah, it’s obvious from all those “begats” that biblical writers knew full well where babies come from. Yeah, someone in the Bible pointed out once that the marriage bed is undefiled (whatever that means). Yeah, lots of thought went into coming up with a laundry list of what constitutes proper and improper sexual contact (as odd as that might seem to us today).

But what do you expect the church to say about sex and the sacred when God who otherwise shares many characteristics of human beings (loves, hates, pleads, forgives, punishes, weeps, fights) does not share, it seems, the one characteristic that drives us to distraction? Our thorn in the flesh. God does not do “it.” You know –have sex.

God is gendered in the Bible, and that gender is male for the most part. God and men are in many ways alike, or so the male writers would like us women to believe. But God does not, like men, have sex on the brain all the time. (Wow!) God creates, but not in any way that resembles the way human beings reproduce. God does not even need a female partner to get things going. (And you wonder why women are marginal players in the Bible?) How good and healthy, and even normal, can sex be if there’s no mention of the Creator engaging in sex? The gods of other ancient religions did “it.” But not ours.

Just the fact that talk about God having sex has you squirming in your chair right now and wondering if you should click from this page lest lightning strike you is proof positive that you think 1) that sex is “nasty”; 2) that talking about God having sex is like talking about (and imagining) one’s parents having sex (yuk!); or 3) that the gulf between God and sex is so far apart that it sounds preposterous even to mention the two in the same sentence.

Let me put it this way.

How good can the one activity human beings have been known to risk health, family, sanity, reputation, faith and national security to do “it” be if it’s hard to find one unequivocally positive thing said about “it” in the Bible?

Better yet, how good and healthy, and even normal, can sex be if some of the most important role models and spokesmen for the Christian tradition (e.g., Jesus, Paul, and even the Pope) shunned sex and marriage for themselves? (Or, so we’re told.) If God has no part in sex, if sex is relegated ultimately to the realm of humans, if all the great figures of religion are all single, celibate, and detached from women and children, why are we surprised that we can’t figure out as Christians and as the church how to talk openly, honestly, intelligently, compassionately about what we are to make of and do with our raging sexual urges?

So, to the question that I’m asked a lot by single women. What are we supposed to do about sex?

Of course, there’s actually a simple answer to the question. It’s the one the church has been doling out for centuries. You’re supposed to do what the Bible expects you to do: Um, remain a virgin. OK, then abstain from sex until you get married. Stay chaste if you’re divorced or widowed. Period. No exceptions. End of the matter.

Did I mention that sex is one of those urges that’s not easily quieted by sermons, prayers, fastings, self-mutilation or condemnations?

I’ve made it clear on this blog my problems with the apostle Paul. But here’s one of those instances where I think Paul offers us our best example on how to go about dealing with modern questions of sexuality. He shows himself willing to engage the topic. I commend Paul because he’s not there in the books of Romans and Corinthians trying so much to offer a full fledged theology of marriage and human sexuality. Rather what we find is Paul engaged in serious theological conversation with churches about the deeply human issues facing people. He admits that marriage is not for everyone, and that abstinence is darn hard for many. He is grappling with the gulf that sometimes exists between theological and moral ideas on the one hand and the changing context and reality of human existence on the other. It’s a gulf that demands the church be willing to return to the table again and again for honest, open, heartfelt discussion with its members about human sexuality.

If God does not do “it,” and if sex belongs solely in the human realm, and if sex is a gift from God ultimately for human pleasure, then humans should do a better job of talking about sex.

What are some healthy, holy, life-affirming ways for us to connect and commune passionately with God and each other? The church can continue to stutter about these matters. The church can continue snatching bible verses and hurling them at folks in the hopes of quieting their raging sexual urges. No one’s listening, from what I can tell. If they are, it’s only on Sundays.

16 Responses to “Just Do "It": Sex, That Is”

  1. deborah Says:

    Maybe the church can lead a dialogue about masturbation as a way of singles expressing their sexual selves without fornicating. Dr. Joycelyn Elders brought up this subject and lost her job as US Surgeon General. Maybe that’s why no one seems to want to talk about it.

  2. Ms. irie Says:

    Dr. Weems or anyone else,

    Are you familiar with the book, “Living in Sin: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality” by John Shelby Spong–former Episcopal Bishop of Newark, New jersey?

    In this quite controversial book, Spong challenges the churches traditional understandings of sexuality and argues that traditional christian views on sex represent patriarchal prejudice rather than God’s will.

    He seeks to free the Bible from what he considers “literalistic imprisonment” as he entertains possibilities like services blessing divorce, “betrothal” ceremonies (celebrating exclusive but temporary unions), and rituals sanctifying gay and lesbian partnerships. He sees all this as supplementing traditional marriage (which he also celebrates), not supplanting it.

    Of particular interest is a section of the book that deals with sex among post-married adults.

    Dr. Weems, I would love to hear your views on this book.

  3. Georgia's Angels Says:

    Dr.Weems;
    In the words of my grandmother “you done stepped on the right dogs tail now.” Right now as I’m typing this comment I am on the telephone with two friends discussing this topic. None of us have gone to seminary so this question is based on what we have learned during our christian upbringing. When Mary conceived Jesus through the Holy Ghost was that sex? The word became flesh.

  4. Melva Says:

    It’s about time…let’s have sex in the church already (pun intended)! This has to be one of the top 3 if not the number one issue that plagues singles and otherwise. For years, I lived under such confusion and then I decided to free myself…the truth will set you free right? Instead of teaching the things that we can all rattle off about sex we should teach the importance of mutual responsibility and reciprocity that should accompany sex. RJW, I wish you would break down the real meaning of fornication so as my brother in the movie Love Jones says, “It can forever and consistently be broke.” There seems to be an assumption that sex and fornication are the same things.

  5. talentedtenth Says:

    great topic, yet one the church does not want to touch! and because they don’t want to address it with honesty and trust, you have a lot of people (young people in particular), engaging in activity that have emotional implications, not just physical.

  6. RevMamaAfrika Says:

    Good morning sistren (and brethren),

    Sis. Rev. Dr. Weems, thanks so much for this; you really know how to get us thinking! :)

    I too have read the book mentioned above, “Living in Sin.” It is very good, thought-provoking and candid about our beliefs (or misinterpretations) about what we think the Bible says about sex. I was especially impressed with the book’s chapter on Lot, Lot’s wife, his daughters, the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah (the cities did not burn due to sexual immorality, but due to inhospitality to the strangers — sound familiar?), etc.

    My questions to everyone gathered here, one, when we say “the Bible says”, who is really speaking? The writers? Jesus? God? Some other Biblical character? Who exactly? Second, where in the Bible does it say that sex is ONLY for marriage and who exactly is saying this?

    Thanks everyone! :)

  7. rjweems Says:

    Yes, I am very familiar with Bishop Spong’s book. I’m enjoying the fall out from the book. It’s got folks talking. Not as many talking about it in black church meetings as I’d like to see, but, hey, enough talking to hear the rumblings.

    What are my feelings about the various suggestions he puts on the table? Well, that’s what makes the blog so much fun even to me. Sometime I don’t know what I really think about stuff until I start writing about it. In the days ahead I’m sure I’ll tackle each matter from different angles at various times.

  8. Anonymous Says:

    Great blog! Thank you.
    Another great book is JUST LOVE: A FRAMEWORK FOR CHRISTIAN SEXUAL ETHICS by Margaret Farley

  9. kat Says:

    This is awesome. One thing I love about your blogs (and your word) Rev. Dr. Weems is that you are not intent on staying stagnant nor, afraid of tackling controversial issues. Keep them talking. I do not think that healthy dialgoues on one of the most basic human functions will make us lose our mores. You are truly giving a voice to the voiceless. I find that I am often hesitant to speak on these things for fear of literally destroying relationships with Bible affirming folks in a truly right-winged southern city. I want however, to talk about these things with folks. I want to discuss what role my gay brother has in a church pew (or pulpit??) We knew of his “sexuality” when he was a very small child, it did not just happen one day. I want to talk about how my choice to be celibate wasn’t about purity or virtue but a desire to define and understand myself in a way that wasn’t limited to what my body could do or be. If love is purity than fine, I’ll be pure..but I tire of getting psychologically slapped with the sinner eve syndrome, or unvirtuous woman temptress.
    Its a brand new day. If change is constant and God is in charge, I am thinking he is aware of our need for change (or at least discussion).

  10. Anonymous Says:

    dr. weems…in reference to your comment above that the book by spong isn’t heard of as much in the black church setting…i think that is because many (if not most) black church goers do not read anything other than the Bible or some self-help, self-improvement book written by the newest pastor tunred author. you won’t find many who read other books that are just as edifying, such as christian classics, christian history, etc. let alone a book that talks about such a taboo topic by a man who they think does not share their same church experience. sad, but true.

  11. preachbigman Says:

    Dr. Weems,
    Excellent post. However, in talking about sex what conclusion are we trying to arrive at? Can we explore a little bit more on sex between married folk. Is the marriage bed really undefiled? Should a wife deny her husband? Should both parties be open to try new things with one another? Is masturbating ok if one doesn’t commit the act? Can you have a “ho”( no disrespect)and a housewife? These are questions I kind of struggle with. Dr. Weems I think you opened the flood gates to some meaningful dialog much needed dialog. I look forward to some of my sisters response to some of my questions.

    Preachbigman

    www.Preachbigman.blogspot.com

  12. gyhatcher Says:

    The truth it seems is that our sexuality is so closely interwoven with our spirituality that we confuse/get confused between the two. When I have preached my hardest and/or worshipped at the highest, I find that my sexual self is also heighten. Sexuality and Spirituality: Kissing Cousins?

    And now the what to do still begs to be answered and it seems that the answer is more individualistic based on one’s religious acclimation than anything else.

    As much as I LOVE sex, I am not having sex. By choice? That’s what I tell myself but deep down the little girl inside me hears that, “sex is only for marriage” and she doesn’t want to displease God. Amazing that the guilt from “sexing” outside of marriage begs for a seat in my life as liberated as I tell myself that I am these days.

    Don’t misunderstand me, at 46 I am NOT a virgin. I have indeed sweated my hair out in wonderful “sinful” interchange but many times soon afterwards I would die a slow death from the guilt.

    Sadly I have had good sex, but seldom has it been without the feeling that I have displeased God. So in essence there are still parts of me sexually that I have never completely released and/or trusted anyone with. Wow!

    It’s been a few years since I have engaged in sexual intercourse though I think about it 100 times a day and boy am I ever the more creative one. Poor brother when/if he does show up and want to jump the proverbial broom. It’s on. I will be like Aretha,

    Don’t send me no doctor
    Fill me up with all a those pills
    I got me a man named Dr Feelgood
    That man takes care of all my pains and ills
    His name is Doctor Feelgood in the morning
    To take care of business is really this man’s game

    Until then I imagine and visualize times gone by and smile as I grapple with what my decision will be tomorrow. Let’s be honest masturbation is one way that we find pleasure but for many of us oral sex is yet another one of those, “not really sex” things that we do to take the edge away. Sex is sex or is it?

    Today my decision is still to refrain from having sex but who knows about tomorrow. Maybe if I am in a mature, committed, monogamous relationship, I may decide to get my scream on and sweat my hair out. And maybe this time, I will get up feeling just as saved as I was when I laid down. Maybe?

    Thanks again Dr Weems for being a midwife to many.

  13. Anonymous Says:

    Very nice commentary, but now what. I love the way you avoid giving advice; you leave that for the Dr. Phils’ and Oprahs’ of the world. But, women are looking to “thinking women” such as yourself for direction. Yes, it’s our lives, but we’ve been told so many things about sex that we are thoroughly confused. We know about our urges, but we are stumped about what to do about them. Or, will you simply give us something else to think about, and leave us like you found us, still confused? I guess we’ll just have to figure it out on our own, for once.

  14. ms. irie Says:

    The bottom line is this, as “thinking” women of faith we’ve got to grapple with these issues for ourselves and decide for ourselves what kind of woman we’re going to be and how and to what degree, will we embrace our sexual selves. Dr. Weems is not, and I pray never tries to be, our Holy Spirit.

    In my own life, I have to ask myself do I really believe Galatians 5:1–”It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yolk of slavery.”

    Granted, the writer was not discussing sexual relationships, nevertheless, there’s a principle of both freedom and love. That principle calls me to live free but not to use that freedom for self-indulgence (verse 13). Concerning my sexual self and for that matter, every area of my life, I’m challenged to allow freedom and love to intersect. Either I’m going to live in freedom or I’m goimg to live in fear and guilt. I choose grasp freedom.

  15. Anonymous Says:

    a couple of books I have been reading related to the subject:

    - Kosher Sex by Shmuley Boteach
    - I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris

  16. Jason Anderson Says:

    I find the bible rich with sexual intimacy. Our God equates worship with sexual intimacy by calling our worship of other gods “Adultery”. God has called us to “know” him. Adam “knew” Eve and she gave birth. He created Adam and Eve - and they were naked. The Spirit of God came upon Mary and she conceived. Not to mention an awful lot of tasting of fruit in the Song of Songs. My church speaks often and frankly about sexual topics. I know Jesus wasn’t married and having sex, but that is because he is the groom, and the church is the bride. In Psalms 19 he is coming forth from his pavillion like a “Bride Groom”, rejoicing to run his’ course. I’ve been a bride groom before, and I remember what I was rejoicing to do that day. Maybe it’s all in how you look at it? Just a thought.

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