LOFT sermon’s sexual ethic problematic
In the LOFT sermon on Sunday, Pastor Mary explained what Biblical sex was and was not in a sermon titled (although not quite about) “What if it’s True That Sex is for Marriage Between a Man and a Woman?” Pastor Mary began with some really interesting and thought-provoking descriptions of what a Biblical sexual relationship looks like. As she described it, sex is for both procreation and unity and is both communal and personal. Pastor Mary also affirmed that the Christian ethic of sex is not a negative one but instead a joyful, positive one.
This beginning was wonderful, but, after providing a picture of how the Bible describes the joys of sex in a vaguely defined appropriate context, the sermon quickly shifted to the standard discussion of the horrible consequences of sexual activity outside of the current American evangelical picture of appropriate sex. Specifically, Pastor Mary defined sex as activity that leads to an orgasm, which is why oral sex is not acceptable outside of marriage. Although the sermon started by saying that we needed to look at the Bible as a great place of a Christian sexual ethic, the jump to oral sex as the line that should not be crossed by unmarried people and the explanation of the consequences of sex were not Biblically grounded and quite problematic.
Pastor Mary invited eight people to the front and gave them all pieces of duct tape. The students then stuck the duct tape to each other and quickly the duct tape lost its stickiness and some ripped into many pieces. Holding up the mangled, ripped, ruined duct tape, Pastor Mary declared, “This is what [unbiblical sex] can do to your soul.”
The duct tape analogy went no further. This is a problem. Presumably, the person having sex either loses their ability to “stick” to something else, either other people or God; Pastor Mary did not clarify. Their soul becomes broken, mangled and as worthless as a duct tape that cannot stick to anything. The worth of their soul is destroyed.
This concerns me because I have never seen this analogy used to describe any other sin besides sex. This also does not fit with Pastor Mary’s statement later in the sermon that “purity is not based on your genitals but on who you are with Jesus Christ.” Sin is a problem, whether it is sexual sin or not and the implications of this duct tape analogy can contribute to our Christian cultures Gnostic attitudes towards sex.
The only truly redemptive picture of sex (defined as ‘orgasm’) that Pastor Mary painted was not even a married, heterosexual couple but a nun. The nun was described as in an ideal model because she could truly love everyone more. Although this would perhaps make sense if American Christianity held up Paul’s advice to the unmarried Corinthians as the sex ethic we embraced, few churches today portray marriage as a second best to singleness that is best suited only for those with issues of “control.”
Pastor Mary’s implicit definition of sex as any time an orgasm happens left masturbation shrouded in a cloud of guilt (although, according to her, this guilt should just be shaken off if the masturbation is not a habit) and neglected to truly separate masturbation and pornography. Also, her insistence that sex must always be unifying and procreative in its proper form outlaws birth control, a problematic implication.
Clearly, Pastor Mary was limited in her sermon to the brief time available during LOFT. Yet despite this, I think that given the challenging nature of this topic, avoiding callous and overused analogies to explain an oversimplified and problematic notion of purity and worthiness is a real problem.
Christians often act as though the picture of sex that they present is easy, simple and an obvious reading of the Bible. But, despite the unhesitant jump from the beautiful picture of sex that the Bible presents to an extra-biblical duct tape analogy amongst Evangelical circles and an overconfident declaration that the line between physical intimacy and sex is an orgasm, Christian circles do not have all the answers either. Pastor Mary is certainly not the first, nor the last, to use these analogies and common definitions. Yet I hope that Calvin, as a Christian institution, will question some of these extra-biblical aspects of modern Christian culture and help develop a more robust discussion on what exactly a Christian ethic of sex looks like.
Growing up in youth group culture and attending Calvin, I have become increasingly wary of times when Christians begin by claiming that their opinions on sex are all based in the Bible. The Bible is a beautiful foundation for a sexual ethic, but we absolutely must acknowledge when we are no longer simply reading Bible verses.
This acknowledgment that every Christian of every nationality, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, gender, marital status, etc. bring a different perspective and outside knowledge to the Bible is essential and also beautifully humble. Acknowledging the brokenness of our own interpretations and turning to our communities is a helpful beginning.
This also helps prevent us from spreading twisted, bad ideas in the name of the Bible. As American Christians, we are fine saying that a soul is twisted, ripped, and as worthless as unsticky duct tape because of sex and judge people according to this standard, “hating their sin” with a passion. Yet our hate of other sins stops extremely short of claiming that it makes our souls twisted, ripped and worthless. Often, people respond to this by saying that we need to simply raise the bar on other sins as well. That being said, I’m uncomfortable extending permission to Christians to treat all sins in the same dysfunctional way many of our communities treat sex.
I love what Pastor Mary said about sex being both personal and communal. She also brought up the procreative and unifying aspects of sex which are also both important and valuable parts of sex. Let us acknowledge when we can what culture we are adding to our conclusions. Let us openly admit that our answers are far from perfect and extremely flawed. Only then can we start having healthy conversations about things like a Christian sexual ethic.