Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, and Sex

4 03 2019


The picture sums it up.  Christian Churches are talking about sex, and . . . well, let’s just say we still don’t get it!

Few issues have become more problematic for the Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, and Methodist Churches in recent months than issues related to sex.  Sexual abuse, sexual sin, and sexual expression, continue to dominate the national and international gatherings of these denominations, and the conversations being had reveal why the institutional Church is dying!  Three of American’s largest Christian communities still can’t get their acts together, and the result is pain, anguish, and rejection, with little if any love, grace, or acceptance.

But is it any wonder?  Consider the Church’s teachings on the subject.  As far as back as the 4th century, Augustine taught that because there was so much about sexual expression that was ‘involuntary,’ and beyond a human being’s capacity to control, that it could not possibly be ‘of God.’   In the 12th century, Roman Catholic theologian and philosopher Peter Lombard claimed that the Holy Spirit actually left the room when a couple had sexual intercourse.  And for hundreds of years it was not uncommon for the Church to advocate the use of chastity belts to physically protect and constrain a woman from sexual abuse and sexual expression. (Today, Christians are more likely to use chastity rings to psychologically restrain younger women from almost all sexual activity.)

For generations the teaching of the Church was that sexual intercourse is for the sole purpose of procreation.  Having sex for pleasure, or as a means of sexual expression, was simply not an option! Women were given the choice between choosing the path of a virgin or a whore; and sexual expression outside of marriage was and remains forbidden.  And as far as homosexuality is concerned, same-sex attraction has been believed to be everything from a mental illness to a moral deficiency. For generations, the primary message of the church with regard to a person’s sexuality has been to either REpress it or SUPpress it?

Now while the causes of things like sexual abuse and homophobia are far too complex to blame on one singular issue, when it comes to the Christian Church, our teachings with regard to these issues, and others like them, have been so flawed that we need to own at least a portion of the blame for the problems confronting us today!  Almost all of these fallacious teachings have their roots in the Bible: a book written 2000 years ago, when societies knew very little about biology, gynecology, or physiology . . . and even less about gender, psychology, or sociology.

So again I ask, is it any wonder that so many segments of the Church are where they are? We need to own the problems that are before us, for we have created them!  We have been so preoccupied by sex, and for so long, that our dysfunction is clearly of our own making.  And so now, the question is, what are we going to do about it? Nadia Bolz-Weber, in her new book “Shameless,” writes “if religion has been the venue in which the power of sex is taken most seriously, could it also become the place in which a new conversation about it arises?”

My response to that question is “Perhaps!”   But if the Church is ever going to become a place where the truth about sexuality and sexuality expression can be boldly preached and proclaimed, then there are a couple of things we have to get straight right at the outset.

First, we need to remember that love is love is love! Love is OF God: and anyone who loves is born of God, and knows God. Period. This is where our teaching must always begin. And the stories of Eve and Adam in the Book of Genesis are less prescriptive than descriptive.  That means that they can never be so literally interpreted and understood that they begin to place unnecessary boundaries on who and how people love. The Bible is not a rule book on sexual expression, nor it is a biology textbook on sexual identity. And continuing to regard it in such a manner will only perpetuate the tragic errors of our past, and further teachings that are mistaken and misguided.

And second, not only are so many teachings of the Roman and Fundamentalist churches mistaken and misguided, they are unGodly, and . . . dare I say, unChristian. And if that sounds harsh, then let me offer a slightly different perspective on what is harsh. Telling people in same-sex marriages that their relationships are unacceptable in the eyes of God, and that those relationships place them outside of the salvation of God – THAT is harsh! Telling young adults who are living together that they are living in sin, and that every time they have sexual intercourse they are nailing Jesus to the cross all over again – THAT is harsh! And telling young adults that sexual activity prior to marriage results in their flesh becoming one with another person, and if and when those relationships are broken, flesh is actually ripped apart, which will lead to a scarring that never leaves the human soul – THAT, friends, is harsh! And such teachings are not only harsh, they are simply not true!  They do not in any way reflect the teachings or ethics of Jesus, and they can no longer be embraced as valid or acceptable Biblical teachings.

Before being a fallen and sinful people, human beings are the very good creation of a loving and grace-filled God.  Each one of us bears the mark of the divine, and one of the many gifts that each of us has been given is our sexuality.  We all express and live out that sexuality differently; and as is the case with so much of human diversity, our differences are not right or wrong, they are merely differences.  So if the Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, and Methodist Churches want to move beyond the struggles that they are facing today, might I humbly suggest they start by re-evaluating their teachings on sexuality.  Homosexuailty is no more a sin than left-handedness is.  Love is always from God and is never wrong.  And sexual boundaries that wind up leading to sexual sin, often need to be challenged, and in the end abandoned.

Perhaps if we start with our teachings, change will come.  Perhaps if we learn to accept homosexuality as just another way of living out one’s God-given identity, people will stop repressing their feelings, and discover the freedom of experiencing their sexuality in more authentic ways.  And perhaps if we stop confining sexual expression to the marriage relationship, people will stop suppressing their emotions, and allow Church-inflicted guilt and shame to give way to a Spirit-infused grace and peace.

We can do this Church!  We can get out of this mess that we’ve created for ourselves . . . by correcting our teachings on sexuality: teachings that we’ve gotten wrong for so long, and teachings that deny the Christ-likeness we so desire.