More Sex (Pt 3): The Sacrament of Sex

A few weeks ago I started posting some thoughts on sex (More Sex, pt. 1, More Sex, pt. 2). In particular, I set out to start forming an answer to the question, Why does sex have to occur within marriage in order to be ethically good from a Christian perspective?

Here is the summary answer I gave in part 2:

    Because at its best, sex is a physical expression of an enduring social, emotional, economic, familial oneness, all of which express the love, faithfulness, hope, and self-control that are the fruit of the Spirit, the embodiment of Christ’s cruciform love for us, and God’s gift as the lavishly faithful God of His/Her people.

I’m starting here as a way of approaching how sex is to be an embodiment of the story of God, especially as the story of God is epitomized in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

I do not want to turn the relationship of God with the church, or Christ with the church, into an allegory. However, given that we are working consciously within a Christian framework, the givenenss of how God has, in fact, related to his people in Christ establishes a way things are that could, in theory, be attained in other ways.

Why demand sex within marriage, given the ideal of sex as expressing such oneness, manifesting the selfless love of Jesus and fruit of the Spirit? Because marriage creates the relationship in which these things can be said truthfully.

Part of the problem with our sense of marriage is that we have lost a sense that anything actually happens there. In our society, it’s more of a binging of family and friends into the celebration of a relationship that already exists.

But marriage is a covenant-making ceremony that actually changes the way we are related to each other. “I now pronounce you husband and wife” is a performative word that actually accomplishes what it says, so that it is true after though not before.

Why is such a tranformation of relationship, into man-wife oneness, important for a Christian view of marriage? I’ll keep working this out in future posts, but here want to draw attention to the connection Paul draws between sexual oneness and our oneness with Christ.

What it means to be “saved” is to be united to Christ by faith, Spirit, and baptism. We are members of Christ’s body, we are “in Christ.”

This is the reason that Paul tells Christians that what they do sexually matters for their faith. Sex with someone outside of Christ amputates a member of Christ in favor of this other illicit union; sex outside of Christ brings the Holy Spirit into that union as well.

When Paul says that marriage is ok, but only “in the Lord,” the reason is that “the Lord” is the space we all occupy together as Christians, we are in Christ’s body, and to marry outside of that is to hold together two incompatible unions.

So why doesn’t this just mean that Christians can have sex with whomever they please , so long as the other person is also in Christ?

Because the seriousness of the covenantal oneness, a relationship established by the covenant-making ceremony and confirmed and recreated by the sacraments and worship, pertains not only to the way believers should be exclusively Christ’s but also how they should be exclusively one another’s in sex.

That is to say, the story is not merely about how we relate to God or are “in Christ” as individuals. The story is also about how we renarrative the story of Christ and salvation in him in our relationships with one another. Marriage is analogous to the covenant by which God creates relationship with his people, and sex like the sacrament that simultaneously affirms and recreates that relational oneness.

Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, because we all partake of the one bread. Sacrament creates and recreates oneness: with both Christ and one another.

Sex performs this same function–and is intended, in this narrative, to reaffirm and recreate the relational oneness declared when the covenant is formed.

3 thoughts on “More Sex (Pt 3): The Sacrament of Sex”

  1. Okay – I interrupted some of my Superbowl viewing to respond to this. The only thing is that I answered via my own blog entry. I’m pasting it below. If it is too long, just delete or go to http://lisesletters.wordpress.com

    Covenantal Sex and the Ethics of Relationship
    February 7, 2011

    Recently, a past professor of mine posted a blog entitled: “The Sacrament of Sex” in which he asks the question of how sex is to “be an embodiment of the story of God” in light of the resurrection. More than anything, he addresses the question of why sex should be restricted to the marriage relationship (among practicing Christians) and answers by stating that marriage is a covenantal relationship which mirrors God’s covenant with us. To act differently would be out of accordance with this fundamental cornerstone of faith. The question and his answer are really nothing new in Christian tradition (as well as some other religions) but seeing how “Christianity Today” just ran an article on the same topic (Sex Economics 101), I feel like I need to weigh in on the discussion.

    Frankly, I think the church talks rather simplistically about sexuality. First, God’s story isn’t played out exclusively through sex (or marriage), even though in the church body, we become one in Christ. And as a single person, I grow rather weary of married people always being the ones to address the issue of sexuality. Rather, I think it is time for the church to go deeper into this issue. Part of that entails really addressing the socio-sexual climate in which people are living that dramatically impacts how we think and live out our sexuality and faith.

    In appreciation, the CT does address some of the complexities related to current sexual trends we see in today’s society. The increase in women’s educational and vocational advances have shaken the dynamic of traditional marriage roles in which men were the primary providers. In the old establishment, men often provided financial stability while women brought sex in exchange. (I find this a bit of an over-generalization but nonetheless this argument is out there). As a result, we have women who can now take care of themselves and who in the name of sexual liberation engage in casual, pre-marital sex. The down side of this though is that men (and women) are becoming less apt to commit to monogamy and marriage. After all, why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? Likewise, young people (both male and female) are looking to sow their wild oats and have fun rather than settling down to marriage right away.

    And the church wonders what it can do about this.

    To me, I think the church needs to work more on spiritual discipleship of its members than on platitudes about morality. Only then can sex transcend into sacred territory.

    I do believe sexuality comes down to that covenantal relationship my teacher was talking about. Yet to talk about sex as a covenantal relationship with another before addressing one’s covenant with God individually is like putting the cart before the horse. For me, I need to know where I stand in relationship to God before I can even begin to think about including another person into my sexual life. This to me makes far more sense than moral teaching or laws.

    If I’m in partnership with God, I see my worth as an individual. And in that, no longer do things that separate me from Him. I also no longer throw away my sexuality like casting pearls before swines. Likewise, I value other people’s covenantal relationships and thus protect them via righteous behavior and loving my neighbor as myself.

    Yet sexuality is a potent powerful force in our lives with the capacity to bring wonder, joy and intimacy. So in many ways, being single and not engaging in intercourse (because you haven’t found the right person) is a dying to the cross. We single people also reflect God’s story in our suppression of sharing this with another.

    And sadly, the current sexual/relational/gender trends in our society make it increasingly more difficult to find a mate. If you are raised in the church and get lucky to find your partner in a youth bible study while you’re young – more power to you. But if you come to a committed faith later in your life like myself, most people in my age category (forty-one) are married. Quite frankly, it is hard to find someone that I feel God has selected for sharing my particular path. Sure, I could go out and have a one night stand – or settle for companionship – but that doesn’t work at this stage in the game. It is not where I’m at with God and it is definitely not where I’m at in my emotional development.

    So why does the church make it so hard for single people to fit into the larger scheme of the community and why does the church seem so perturbed by the single person’s inherent sexuality? I don’t really know. Jesus was celibate and Paul honored singleness, yet as Mark Regnerus states in his CT article, “marriage is the default in the church.” For someone like me, who has never been married, I am an anomaly and I sometimes wonder whether I really fit in.

    I remember this fall on the first day of my Old Testament class being asked to introduce myself to the class and to tell something about myself and my family (with the general assumption that most of us were partnered). I stood up and said that I had two cats and thought I was the only person in seminary who was forty and not married. I also remember the same professor talking about Adam during the creation story and how even though Adam was in paradise, something was missing. He needed a helpmate. A woman. A partner.

    This really struck me. If this is part of God’s story, why isn’t it part of my story? Am I like one of those barren women in the bible who the longer one waits, the more rich the gift God will ultimately bring?

    I’m not sure but if we’re to talk about a covenantal relationship and the sacrament of sex, the lynchpin of that is FAITH – whether you’re single or not.

  2. Lise – your story is touching, and it is an important one to tell.

    My thoughts on this issue is what actually classifies one as being christian, for as an agnostic Christian, I’m sure many Christians would now consider the marriage between my husband and I as unequally yoked. Perhaps I am wrong, and I hope my faith will be rekindled. Furthermore, progressive, narrative Christianity is not very prominent among churches. I worry alot about my children as they grow up, teaching them to be counter-cultural but without the certainty of fundamentalism, and the possiblity their abilities to find spouses will be limited as they might be labeled non-Christians too. Perhaps I am overthinking this!

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