Friday, October 16, 2009

Christianity and SEX

Christianity and Sex by Revd Karl Hand

In my few years of experience as a pastor, I have been surprised to find that I get asked more questions about sexuality than any other topic. It’s a surprise to me because for a long time, I assumed people would ask pastors about God, salvation and other spiritual topics, and also because I don’t think of myself as much of an expert on the subject. Why would people come to a pastor with these questions? What I am beginning to realise is that finding sexual integrity is the burning question that confronts people who want a relationship with God today. People are struggling and searching for answers, and that the answers aren’t easy to find.

People who look for a sexual ethic from their faith, rather than in pop-psychology, or what they first heard in the ‘school-yard’ are looking in the right place – but I wonder how well equipped the churches are to give advice on the subject. Christianity’s two great legacies of the twentieth century have been predatory abuses of power, and the exclusion and repression of people who are ‘different.’ We have not earned the trusted place we hold. We have to grow up, and become people who do deserve that trust. As Natasha Holmes, our worship leader at CRAVE MCC sings, ‘if not us, who?’

The standard Christian response in the area of sexuality has been to look to the Bible for answers about sexuality. ‘God created sex, so surely God’s word has the answers!’ ‘It’s like operating a car; you have to follow the instruction manual!’ But when people turn to the Bible (instead of believing what they are told it says), they find it’s a lot more complicated than a how-to guide or a road map. They find creation stories explaining the origin of male and female, erotic poetry, tales of ancient people’s sexual lives to match anything they would find on Jerry Springer, and a few commandments forbidding everything from incest (Leviticus 18) to inter-racial marriage (Deuteronomy 7:1-3) and many other strange laws including the need to pay a “bride price” for a wife (Exodus 22:16-17), and even to sleep with the wife of a dead sibling (Deuteronomy 5:5-10). An honest reader would have to admit this isn’t much help in the twenty-first century as an instruction manual for sexuality.

For thousands of years, the answer of Christianity on sexual ethics was to choose between celibacy or marriage, and to ‘save yourself’ for marriage. There is nothing in the Bible to recommend this ethic, and for many people, those options don’t work. A century or more ago, the thin fabric of this moral facade was unravelled when Freud showed that sexual repression was the cause of sometimes very severe mental illness. People began to realise that the Christian ideal wasn’t working for many people. Then the ‘sexual revolution’ came, and ‘free love’ was the answer of Western Culture – ‘if it feels good, do it.’ But to be blunt, most people find that way of living is shallow, deeply unsatisfying, and that it has an emotional cost that’s just not okay. A generation on from ‘hippie culture’, what I constantly experience is that many people have reached a place that is like despair. Marriage hasn’t worked for them (or they don’t want marriage, or they are legally denied marriage because they are not heterosexual), but ‘free love’ has no integrity for them. There has to be a better choice than this!

I use the title “Good Sex” with a deliberate double meaning. I’m talking about moral goodness, and also about sex that is good because it’s hot! Sex that has integrity is fulfilling and exciting. Sex with no integrity will never stimulate more than your body – and will probably leave your deeper, true self feeling cold. Conservative Christianity is right when it claims that it is God who makes us sexual beings – so the desires we have are really a clue to God’s purposes for our lives! If we desire things like a fulfilling sex-life, intimacy and integrity it’s because we’re on the right path. God is reaching out to us through those desires.

Like many Christians, I believe that the Bible is the right place to look for guidance. But if we are going to have anything worthwhile to say to a generation who desperately need the truth of the gospel to be spoken to them in a way that engages their sexual being, we must give up the search for easy answers. What we find might be very different to what is pushed as ‘family values’ by the religious right.

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