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.