In the past few weeks, I have had important and revealing conversations about sex in three different contexts: two different classes and one adult Sunday School forum. And, in each of those conversations, I came away with the same two impressions: first, how very important it is for the church to be talking about sex; and second, how very poorly-equipped we are to do it–centuries of taboo and silence don’t make it an easy conversation to have, and most of us have precious little practice. So, mostly, the church and its public leaders continue to say nothing: nothing about what it means to be a sexual being [and what it means to say that Jesus was a sexual being], nothing about the difference between sex and gender, nothing about what faithful sexual practices might look like in our 21st century context, and nothing about the joy, the giftedness of our sexuality–we’re too busy spotlighting its brokenness, apparently.
However, I am deeply concerned that young people in particular are growing up in our churches without a safe place to talk about their own fears and hopes around their sexuality, and without any tools to help them integrate their sexuality into their larger life in Christ. What message do we think we are sending when we refuse to have the conversations? Where are we sending them to get their information? And frankly, I’m concerned about old people, too–people who were raised at a time when no one talked with them about sex, not even their parents, and now they find themselves at a stage in their lives where perhaps conversation would be fruitful and helpful: What do we say to widows and widowers? What do we say to those on medication, and those facing treatment for prostate cancer?
For far, far too long, sex has been seen and described by the church as dirty, shameful and sinful, and only permissible in the most restrictive of circumstances [check out the flow chart from James Brundage here: http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/01/a-sexual-decision-flowchart-that-makes-everything-simpler-for-medieval-men/283364/ ]. This has had tragic anthropological ramifications, particularly when it comes to how we view our bodies–and more to the point, how hard it is for us to see them as part of God’s good creation. There is simply no reason this should be, and it is my fervent hope that the generation of public ministers coming out of seminary today [at least Gettysburg Seminary!] are not going to perpetuate that negative pattern, but instead will create the space necessary for the church to have these conversations in a way that is life-giving and nurtures people’s relationships with each other and with God.
Why, you may ask, am I talking about sex today? It’s because of this article in The New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/07/opinion/neither-female-nor-male.html?_r=0. What in the world is a Christian response to Norrie May-Welby? How is the church going to speak to “the global third-gender movement” that is “gaining momentum with a startling rapidity that our laws and language are scrambling to keep pace with”? I don’t have any great answers for the latter question, but I do know the starting place for the first: Norrie, just like you and me, is a beloved child of God, created good. Let’s start with that step, and then keep walking.