One of the things the church has found so much time to talk about, with so little to say, is human sexuality. I don’t care if we are talking to about liberal, mainline, or evangelical, Christians talk so much about sex, but seldom is anything of interest shared. One prominent blogger laments:
I’m currently on year two in my current position as Minister for Youth & Young Adults, and while we talked about sex for one month during Sunday School, that’s still only four times in over a year and a half. Four times. I wonder if they are getting information about sex from other sources throughout their weeks? I’d guess that they hear TONS of wrong/bad/unhelpful/unsafe information about sex at school – a lot more than four times a day…
I haven’t quite found it necessary to keep track how often a church talks about sex, but by talking about it too much can reduce Jesus to just that? Can we get so wrapped up in exploring sexuality that we lose the importance of Christ?
Up next is a three part response to a question posed by Christianity Today: What is the best way to encourage people to save sex for the covenant of marriage? Here is a glimpse of the three responses:
The genetic code for True Love Waits is made up of several weeks of thoughtful Bible studies about purity, a promise to God made while surrounded by one’s family and community of faith, continuing encouragement and teaching at home and in church, and support from True Love Waits peers. Students making promises that are Christ-focused, Word-centered, and Spirit-empowered will likely live in purity up to their wedding day and beyond.
If you present a student, already overwhelmed by living in hookup culture, with what sounds like another overwhelming framework for having sex (or not having it), you won’t get very far, at least not with too many of them. They are already living in one impossible situation—offer them what sounds like another impossible situation, and they are likely to keep treading water where they are. And where they are is hookup culture. The unpleasant, unfulfilling realities of hookup culture have made abstinence more attractive. But tying a discussion about abstinence to marriage, in my opinion, is a pedagogical mistake. Most students need help in seeing their way out of hookup culture for this coming weekend, never mind being asked to see years beyond graduation to the second half of their 20s, when the average college graduate is likely to marry.
What we can change, however, is our widespread misunderstanding of how marriage happens. Christian scholar James Olthuis reminds us that entering into Christian marriage is not a light switch that’s flipped on at the wedding, but rather a process in this intended order: a pledge of fidelity, reliability, integrity, and friendship between a man and a woman, a covenant between the two persons and God, a communal recognition of the marriage, and sexual consummation. In one sense, there’s no such thing as premarital sex. There is only non-marital sex and marital sex. When couples skip some of the steps, it’s the job of the church to make sure the others occur, or to call non-marital sex the sacrilege it is…What we have as a result is what we deserve: lots of unmarried Christians trying to discern what does and doesn’t constitute sex, and attempting to retain some semblance of virginity by keeping non-marital partners to "just a few" as they live out the self-centered promises of emerging adulthood. The church is called out of that nonsense to be a peculiar people. In step with their peaking fertility and sexual interest, Christian young adults need to get about the business of their calling to marriage or singleness—whichever it is.
If you get a chance to read further into any of the articles you will quickly notice how each person isn’t even responding to the question the same way and certainly not with the same sort of assumptions.
But the title of this post is “That thing” which I originally intended to refer to sexuality, but at the end of this post I am more inclined to suggests that thing is discipleship. As long as we approach sexuality form a stance of finding a solution or pointing to marriage we miss the point. As Dan Rhodes points out in one of the most helpful articles I have read on sexuality:
One does not remain a virgin in Christianity in order to keep oneself pure for his or her eventual spouse, but virginity and chastity are always defined in Christianity as functions of integrity toward one’s goal of imitating Christ.
Dan’s article exists largely as exploration as an attempt to find a way out of the worship of sex and refocus on the worship of God. Each of the articles above tends to focus on sexuality and how a Christian might respond. But what we need is accounts of discipleship that aren’t merely succumbing to moralism, and that don’t treat sex as the most interesting thing about us. What churches should be attempting to show is how the imitation of Christ is the goal and direction of our lives and that exists as something much larger about ourselves than our sexuality and avoids the false idolatry of our sexual selves.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.a Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1