Critique of LOFT sermon missed central themes

Photo courtesy Rick Treur.
Photo courtesy Rick Treur.

Two weeks ago in Sunday LOFT, Pastor Mary offered students a sermon on Christian sexual ethics. Last week, the Chimes ran an article labeling this sermon “problematic” and claiming it defended “the current American evangelical picture of appropriate sex.” However, I found the sermon not problematic but profound and would like to lend another voice to this conversation.

In her column, Becca aptly points out Pastor Mary’s establishment of sex as having both procreative and unitive features. However, her article describes Pastor Mary as suggesting that “sex must always be unitive and procreative in its proper form” and as defining sex as “any time an orgasm happens.”

It then cites a demonstration in which students attempt to successively adhere and separate pieces of duct tape and finish with mangled messes of gray. She claims this exercise as proof that Pastor Mary subscribes to the “current American evangelical picture of appropriate sex” and the idea that after unbiblical sexual activity, the worth of one’s soul is “destroyed.”

Instead, I would argue that Pastor Mary presents this demonstration as a representation of the damage that comes from underestimating the unitive power of sex. Pastor Mary offers oral sex as an example of a practice that we view as “safe” because it does not engage sex’s procreative side.

However, this stance ignores the powerful binding aspect of sexual relationships and threatens to lead us to emotional tearing and injured intimacy. After the demonstration, Pastor Mary states, “the unitive aspect of human sexuality is like duct tape; it is designed to stick us to another person.” The duct tape isn’t meant to tell us we’re worthless. It’s meant to tell us we’re worth more.

Additionally, the previous article suggests, “The duct tape analogy went no further” than Pastor Mary’s declaration: “This is what [unbiblical sex] can do to your soul.” However, Pastor Mary does in fact describe the importance of this unifying aspect extensively, defending it both biologically and biblically.

She describes a chemical in our bodies, oxytocin, that increases during sexual activity and “bonds you to another.” She says it’s so strong “that you may actually like the person after you have sex with the person more than you did before you had sex with the person” and adds, “It’s like we were created for that!” She makes the idea clear: sexual faithfulness is not merely something prescribed by the Bible, but something that is affirmed by nature and designed to bind us together.

This power of sex is something Pastor Mary warns us to treat with great reverence, citing two passages from “a very sexy love poem,” the Song of Solomon. The first is a piece of advice from the enamored bride to her friends, the maiden chorus: “Do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready.”

God’s gift of human sexuality, it says, is overwhelmingly joyful and good. Yet, the beloved herself warns her friends that sex is not something to be messed around with or taken as less than it is. We do this when we try to isolate only the physical pleasure of sex and ignore its inevitable binding function.

Pastor Mary then goes on to describe the fresh epiphany of the maiden chorus. The maidens talk about a young sister of theirs who is not yet ready for full sexuality and say, “If she is a wall, we will build towers of silver on her. If she is a door, we will enclose her with panels of cedar.” They are proclaiming that they will protect her and take joint ownership of her sexuality. They want her to have what the bride has and know that it will not come from sexual irresponsibility.

It is this irresponsibility that Pastor Mary is referring to when she holds up the crumpled duct tape and calmly says, “And so, when you mess around with sexual stimulation with another person, you may feel safe…but this is what it can do to your soul.”

Becca also correctly notes in her article that Pastor Mary introduces the communal nature of sexuality. This is where that comes in. We must begin to hold each other accountable in our sexual lives. This doesn’t require dragging your housemate away by his hair if he’s giving his date a kiss good night.

What it does require is looking out for each other. It means asking our friend if she’s moving too quickly with that new guy. It means talking with our roommate about his sexuality if we don’t fully understand it. It means lending a listening ear. It doesn’t mean treating others like torn and tattered tape, but reminding them that they are, by nature and by design, so much more.

And so, I firmly believe that Pastor Mary was not trying to impart judgment on anyone, define Christian sexual ethics, or prescribe a list of practices to which we all must adhere. Instead, she was acting as a member of the maiden chorus; she brought her message to LOFT because she loves us and because she wants us to experience the true power of sexuality done well. She wants us to know that we deserve “the beauty of unitive love.”

I would strongly invite you to watch the sermon online. It’s in the LOFT 2012-2013 archives, and the sermon begins at 46:26.
Thus, while Becca and I may disagree on the meaning behind March 3rd’s LOFT sermon, there is something we both certainly agree on: we need to continue conversation on these issues.

In fact, Wednesday afternoon I sat down with Becca at the Fish House and talked with her about Pastor Mary’s message. I think we both learned that writing, while a beautiful medium, is not very flexible and cannot replace sitting down and taking the time to talk. I discovered that Becca has very valid concerns about the sermon’s implications regarding social stigmas attached to certain sexual backgrounds in many Christian circles.

Likewise, I hope that Becca recognized my view that the sermon was intended to show the power of sexual intimacy rather than reinforce messages of intolerance. But regardless of the opinions we walked away with, I greatly appreciated the privilege to talk with her and truly learned a lot.

No matter what our opinions or views, the path leading to healthier sexual lives involves constant conversation. It requires us to take joint ownership of each other’s sexualities and encourage each other toward relationships that bind deeply. I hope that we can find these conversations on campus often and add to them positively and responsibly when we do, and I thank Pastor Mary so sincerely for her willingness to provide us with such a brave, beautiful example of how to do just that.

About the Author

Gabe Gunnink

Gabe Gunnink is a Chimes staff writer for the 2012-13 school year.

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