Tag Archives: sex

Sex and Hierarchy

I led a seminar on sexuality for a church a couple weeks ago. I’ve also been reading a bit about sexual ethics and polemics in the ancient world. So, yes, I’ve been thinking a lot about sex lately, but strictly for professional purposes.

Here’s something I’m seeing that probably makes sense to folks: the ways we think and talk about sex are tied up with larger ways of thinking and talking about the world.

(Way to go, Mr. Profundity! I can tell this blog post is going to change my life…)

In evangelical circles we have created an elaborate system of morality that only concerns our souls, so when we think about sex we create paradigms in which sexual purity means keeping your heart pure by only having sex with the person of the opposite gender to whom you’re married.

When this gnostic-like separation of body and soul gets carried a bit further, we hear folks saying things like, “God doesn’t care what you do behind the closed door of your bedroom.”

But for most of history, the connection between whom one had sex with and how one had sex with them was much more integrated.

Sex was understood to be a focused expression of what was true in the broader world. Acting in accordance with society’s sexual mores was an expression of wisdom, manliness, and self-control. Acting out of step with them was an expression of folly, womanliness, and enslavement to the passions.

Uh oh. Did I say “manly” versus “womanly”? Well… yes…

You see, part of the story is that hierarchies were developed that were alleged to reflect the order of nature, the order of the cosmos.

Strength, virtue, wisdom, and manliness all coalesce in the elite male. He is naturally more gifted to lead, and thus occupies a higher place on the social ladder, than his wife or the peasants or his slaves.

What does this have to do with sex?

Well, there are manly ways of having sex and not-so-manly ways. Sex is an expression of power and social hierarchy. To play the man’s role in a sex act was to express that power, strength, and dominion that is naturally the man’s. To play the woman’s part in the sex act was to express that weakness, “softness,” etc. was appropriate to a woman.

There are lots of implications for this. But the bottom line point is this: sex was seen as an expression of the inherent hierarchy in the world.

This is not just an ancient idea.

It is alleged that there are (or have been) laws on the books of some states restricting sex to the so-called “missionary position.” Why would such a law exist? Because of the idea that copulation is supposed to be an enactment of the structure of society in which men rule over women, generally, and husbands rule over their wives.

The notion that sexual is an expression of authority and strength, or lack thereof, is ancient as well as recent. It is pervasive and, in the ancient world, assumed.

So what’s my point?

Today my point is this: that when Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7 “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but her husband does,” he was saying something that fit perfectly into his first century context. Men rule women. A husband has sexual authority over his body and over the bodies of those under him.

But when Paul says, “The husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does,” he has said something fraught with revolutionary potential.

What kind of world is it where a woman has authority over her husband’s body in the bedroom? Not a world, surely, where God simply doesn’t care and where sex doesn’t matter?

Perhaps, instead, it is the dawning of a new world. A world where authority is not aligned with gender. A world where “inherent” and “obvious” systems of strength and power are upended by the cross of Christ?

I do not think that Paul fully works out an egalitarian vision of men’s relationships with women. But assumptions of power and structure and authority and hierarchy are being undone. And you should be able to see it in the bedroom.

Post script: If anyone who knows the ancient literature better than I do knows of parallels about women exercising authority over husbands’ bodies, I’d be interested to hear of it. I know that there are instances of Jewish women exercising sexual authority and control–but it’s usually to keep some dirty Gentile from laying his hands on her!

Selling Sex

There is a sex industry because people are willing to pay for it. There is a sex industry because men (mostly) want to have sex, yes, but also because we want to be aroused by it.

Last night I attended a screening of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, a Christian documentary about the sex industry. It focuses on the lack of freedom that the women and children have who are servicing the “Johns.”

They are entrapped. They are enslaved. They are held there through physical and psychological coercion.

There were two bright spots in the film, one of them in the progress that Sweden is making in cutting down on its sex industry.

Sweden criminalizes the hiring of a prostitute at the level of what would be a felony in the U.S.

And the prostitutes? They are treated as people who need social services, counseling, protection, and rehabilitation in order to escape the industry, recover their dignity, and reenter society.

The chief enforcement officer of Sweden’s sex industry policies demonstrated what it takes to institute these kinds of laws. Here’s the mentality behind them:

Every act of prostitution is a degradation of a woman.
Every act of prostitution is an exploitation of a woman.
Prostitution is not sex, it is a man masturbating inside of a woman.

Sweden’s laws are undergirded by a cultural shift in understanding of how to think about sex for money.

In America, we are in no place to institute such laws because all of us, all day long, are paying for sex.

Every time we buy our clothes at Abercrombie and Fitch, we are paying for the sexual titillation they have offered us through their hyper sexualized ads.

As Julie Clawson was lamenting earlier this week, NBC won’t even try to sell us Olympic sports where women are large athletes or compete fully clothed or covered.

And we’re not even talking about the $13 billion dollar per year porn industry. (In the U.S., that is.)

There is a sex trade industry because there is a market for it, a market that does not contain solid borders from which those of us who have never paid a sex worker are hermetically sealed. It is a market whose black fades to grey in the everyday purchasing of sex that drives our marketing- and consumer-dollar economy.

Men want sex. A lot. And we pay for it in various ways, even when sexual intercourse is not the actual product we’re buying. (The year that I worked in a restaurant, women servers typically made more money than men; men typically were paying the bill.)

The point in this is that treating women as sex objects, and exploiting that deep seated tendency, is a deeply seated disposition in our hearts and in our culture.

Behind the terrible stories of girls being kidnapped, of mob bosses paying for safe border crossings, of terrified children huddled in out of the way apartments–behind all of this is a market. Men who want sex. Men who will pay for it. Men who are paying for it every day even when we’re not soliciting prostitutes.

As I reflect on my week–watching the Chick-fil-A dust-up, reading Julie’s article on the Olympics, watching a little Olympic coverage here and there, and now screening this film, I’m humbled by a couple of things.

First, most of us are complicit in the selling and buying of sex. And I might say that all of us men are so complicit.

But second, I’m struck afresh by the message that the Church has been sending in the latest wave of our culture wars. We are acting as though the most egregious thing a man can do sexually is to desire and have sex with another man.

While all the time there is this multi-billion dollar sex industry, representing one of the gravest human slavery industries in the modern world, being driven, mostly, by men’s insatiable desire for women.

If only we could redirect our righteous indignation here, against the objectification of women that runs right through the middle of not only the dark alleys but our own living rooms. If only we could agree that the selling of women for sex is degradation and exploitation–and see, also, how we’re all complicit.

Sexual Conquering is Rape

There’s been quite the brouhaha over the piece published last week by the Gospel Coalition. The post pines for the good ol’ days, when men were men and women were women (and therefore subject to all the whims of men’s desires) especially in the arena of sex.

It cites the following from Douglas Wilson:

In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage.

I’m not kidding.

The Wilson quote then goes on to say that men fantasize about raping women because society won’t allow them to exercise the power that is rightfully theirs in the “egalitarian” bedroom.

I’m not kidding.

To cut to the chase, here’s what Wilson misses: when you sexually conquer someone, this is rape. The connection Wilson draws is too much on target: he has, in fact, described all sex as an act of rape. It is therefore not surprising that he sees such a connection between rape outside of marriage and not finding the sort of satisfaction that he suggests is coming to men in their exploits of power.

I am embarrassed for Christianity that such an advocacy of rape (marital or otherwise) could find itself onto a websites that boasts of being one of a “Gospel” coalition.

This is one reason why we narrative theology is so important: it reminds us that the story that makes us who we are must always be the story of the cross.

When Jesus came and showed us what Christian manhood was all about, he did not conquer, but allowed himself to be conquered; he did not pierce, but allowed himself to be pierced; he did not plant by scattering his seed forcibly, he planted by giving up his own life–the grain of wheat falling to the earth and dying that it might produce a crop 100-fold.

Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.

You want to be a man in the bedroom? Learn what it means to give up your power rather than clinging to that primal desire to conquer.

You want to be a Christian man in the bedroom? Go and learn what this means: “The husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Cor 7).

Even the bedroom is to be part of the way of the cross. Play the part of the Roman centurion, and you’re not telling the Jesus story any longer.

Historical footnote: the comparison between the conquering, piercing Roman and the conquered, pierced Christ is not mere poetic license, as often as I do riff on such language when it comes to the cross. Wilson’s description of power, penetration, and conquest is a conjunction of themes that the ancient Greco-Roman world used to depict power and social hierarchy. Conquered peoples were displayed as ravaged women in Roman art. Homosexual sex was ok, so long as you were “penetrating” someone of a lower social standing than you and not “being penetrated by” someone of such lower status.

Marriage, Sex, and Procreation

It seems that everywhere I turn, folks are responding in some way to the North Carolina amendment 1, which solidifies NC’s legal ban on gay marriage and also forbids the state from recognizing civil unions of both heterosexual and homosexual couples.

Today I want to respond to one way that my evangelical Christian friends have stood in opposition to gay marriage. This is particularly pertinent to evangelicals, though there are some ramifications for Catholics as well. Here’s the argument from The Gospel Coalition website:

Marriage is more than a union of hearts and minds. It involves a union of bodies–and not bodies in any old way we please, as if giving your cousin a wet willy in the ear makes you married. Marriage, to quote one set of scholars, is a” comprehensive union of two sexually complementary persons who seal (consummate or complete) their relationship by the generative act—by the kind of activity that is by its nature fulfilled by the conception of a child. So marriage itself is oriented to and fulfilled by the bearing, rearing, and education of children.”

Evangelicals have no ground to argue on such a basis because we have embraced birth control.

You cannot simultaneously say that marriage is thus tied to sex-which-produces-children and then turn around and support the use of contraception which inhibits the production of said young ‘uns.

But then, what about other people who cannot make babies through their sex? Should the church refuse to marry any woman who has gone through menopause? Does entering mid-life without a partner mean that you should consider yourself doomed to die without a partner, even if you at long last discover a true companion? Do we refuse marriage to everyone over the age of 50something?

What if a couple in your church wants to marry, but the woman had a tumor as a child that has rendered her incapable of having children? Should the fact that their sex life will not be able to fulfill the telos of marriage as rearing children render her unmarriagable in the sight of the church?

And if this great and grand vision of marriage-for-raising-children fails? What do we do with infertility? It would seem that the stipulations laid out here would make infertility a viable cause for divorce. If violating the one-flesh union through infidelity is grounds for divorce, why not impeding the Great Purpose of child-rearing through inability to reproduce?

It is convenient for evangelicals to grab onto arguments about reproduction when we want to argue against something that we already oppose on other grounds. But I doubt that very many of us actually want to embrace the ramifications of such arguments as they come into the everyday lives we live ourselves.

This is an argument we have to leave aside. At least, most of us do. Because it strikes at the heart of what too many of us consider normal, and what none of us is willing to change.

The problem is, we’re too busy getting the speck of this argument out of our neighbor’s eye to notice that in so doing we’re clobbering him with the plank in our own.

Abstinence is Death

In an interview with Christianity Today Christine Gardner talks about the language that Evangelicals use to talk about abstinence. Gardner’s book is entitled, Making Abstinence Sexy–a telling encapsulation of how Evangelical abstinence are striving to affirm the culture’s obsession with sex–and visions of abundant, great sex in particular–while giving it a distinctive, Christian veneer:

They are using the very thing they are prohibiting to admonish young people to wait. They are saying, “If you are abstinent now, you will have amazing sex when you are married.”

Holy non sequitur, Batman!

Gardner thinks that Christianity has something to offer that has been largely missing from these abstinence campaigns:

Language of sacrifice and suffering can be transformative to those who know that sex sells everything from cars to deodorant and, now, abstinence.

I think she’s getting close. Abstaining from sex is suffering, dying to the desires of our bodies. In a world where people are regularly remaining single into their thirties and beyond, it’s death with no this-worldly promise of new life.

Perhaps reframing abstinence as participation in the cross of Christ is better preparation for marriage than the promise of great sex on the other side.

Image: photostock / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

No only is there no correlation between abstinence now and quality of sex then, this framework perpetuates a self-centeredness that can make sex a source of conflict and tension rather than intimate oneness.

Whatever else sex is, it is also an extension of the other dynamics of who we are both as individuals and as couples. If we are insecure and distrustful in our relationship, that will play out in our sex as well. If we are looking to sex simply as the avenue of self-satisfaction, we are going to discover that the presence of another person with their own set of needs and desires is an annoyance and hindrance.

That’s the deeper problem with the “sex will be great if you wait” dynamic that some seem to be advocating in the church world. It buys into the idea that sex is about “me.”

First, whether you’re Christian or not, sex is always going to be about “us.”

But then there’s the more important fact for us as Christians that “love” is not about seeking our own. Our understanding of sex needs to be reframed as an expression of the self-giving love of Christ by which we are called to make God’s love known in the world.

In other words: if we frame abstinence as the death that it is, we are putting our sexuality within the Christian narrative of Christ crucified. This is the same story within which we are called to love our partners Christianly in our sexual relationship.

Talk About Sex

Talking about sex is one of those “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” sort of things.

The images and lyrics and jokes and stories that fill our culture place sex at the forefront of practically everything we see and hear.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

But when the church tries to speak about sex, it often does so badly, earning it the dubious honor of being the only voice in the culture told to shut its mouth when it comes to sex. Why should pastors be considered sexperts? Stick to what you know, please!

And yet, a strangely religious claim has crept into our culture. In order to free ourselves to have the sexual experiences that we long for, we have as a people decided that sex is a purely private affair, not the sort of business that is the business of the church–or anyone else for that matter.

We adopt a strange gnosticism here, dissociating ourselves form our bodies, claiming that what we do with our bodies does not impact or reflect what kind of persons we are. (Assuming here consensual encounters between adults.)

But this week, the folks at ReImagine did a brave thing: they hosted a discussion about sex. Brave, in that they called a meeting for conversation and listening rather than mandating. Brave, in that the people who did speak told their own stories.

And the stories were honest, raw, humorous, and beautiful accounts of where sexuality fits with their spirituality.

That night of conversation was tremendously valuable; it created a virtual tidal wave (ok, that might be an exaggeration) of people who wanted to go next; it did leave people clamoring for more.

People need to talk about sex in ways that are true to our own experience. And people need to have space to figure out how their sexuality can be conducive to, and an overflow of, spiritual health.

Body and soul come together, as humans our parts are not hermetically sealed.

Image: dan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Hearing the stories was freeing. Storytelling is powerful. It can create a new normal. And, in fact, I would say that this is part of what our culture needs with regard to sex: a new normal.

To take but one example: to a person, I think, those who told their stories expressed some experience of shame in their struggles to get comfortable in their own skin sexually. Gay and straight, single and married, virgin and sexually active and currently celibate. The struggle to find freedom from shame is normal.

Another point where we need a new normal: more isn’t the way to healthier sexuality, and less isn’t the road to dysfunction. Appropriate sexual expression requires what the Bible calls wisdom: knowing what is right for who you are at a given time.

The question of how sexuality influences and is influenced by your spirituality is likely to have as many answers as there are people who take up the question.

But here’s where storytelling is so helpful: it lets us see and hear that it’s complicated. Living as an integrated person is not simply about following a simple rule of no sex until after you’re married and then as much as possible from that time forward.

The “no judgment zone” is not a place where many evangelicals are comfortable. We want to assess, size up, and judge the stories in order to immediately point people toward what we understand to be the way of holiness.

And pursuing holiness in our sexuality is crucial.

But if we are not willing to create space where “normal” is shown to be far from our own experience, if we are not willing to hear that neither the “normal” of the world nor the alleged “normal” of the pulpit is the reality of the people we live with every day–if, in other words, we are unwilling to set up the “no judgment zone,” we will never achieve the vulnerability required to grow beyond the presumed “normal” and into truly integrated people.

Without telling our stories truly, first of all to ourselves!, we will never be able to achieve fidelity. Telling our stories is not the destination, but it might be the only way to begin the journey–not only as individuals, but as communities.

What does such a story look like?

1.5 to 2 typewritten pages.

Tell your story–past, present, and/or future.

Ask yourself: how have I experienced my sexuality? Where has God been? Where is there guilt or shame? Where is there joy and celebration and ecstasy? Who am I right now, and what does it mean to be a sexual person (even if not currently sexually active)?

Have at it. And share it with a friend.

Hope, Resurrection, Posture

On Sunday, I posted some thoughts about hope–Christian hope as resurrection hope, followed yesterday by some reflections on the significance of Jesus’ full humanity.

Taking hold of the far-reaching implications of Jesus’ restoration project is something I continually harp on because it can play an important role in transforming the posture with which we hold the gospel.

My experience within evangelical Christian circles has often been one in which followers of Jesus envision themselves as the small, minority truth-holders, struggling to cling to what it right, and ever cautious and even fearful about fully engaging in other “worlds” that might be tainted by godlessness, or liberalism, or the like (since those to are “alike,” right?! *ahem*).

Image: markuso / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last night I had the opportunity to participate on a panel that was responding to questions posed by a group of college students. We fielded questions such as, “What are Christians supposed to do about evolution, especially science majors?” “What should Christians think about environmentalism?” “What about people who never hear the message of Jesus?”

The questions are important ones in many respects. But the overall sense I got from the questions was that Christian faith is a small fortress to be guarded carefully. And I wondered if we didn’t need to start reimagining a capacious vision of the reign of God as our gospel.

I think the problem of a small, carefully guarded fortress starts early. In youth group we learn that the gospel means: (1) Jesus died for your sins; (2) you shouldn’t sleep with your boyfriend or girlfriend; and (3) drinking is bad.

There’s not much good news in that, except in the hope that if you can control your hormones you get to be with Jesus drinking grape juice one day.

But what if we begin, instead, with, “God was, in Christ Jesus, reconciling all things to himself”?

Then the world of nature and science does not stand as a looming threat to our faith, but as a witness to the breadth of the saving care of God.

Then the preservation of the environment becomes not merely a fleeting liberal hobby-horse, but a crucial pillar in the eternal plan of God. You think you care about the environment? Well, you’ve got nothing on the creator.

Maybe even questions about sex and sexuality can be received, gratefully, as gifts, rather than fearful lands to be trod, if at all, with extreme caution.

Paul talks about the reception of the Spirit as a transforming moment that moves us from slavish fear to the freedom of the glory of the children of God. It moves us into the realm where we know ourselves to be members of God’s family and instruments in the turning of the ages.

Posture, it seems to me, is as important as details. If we cannot posture ourselves with arms wide open to the cosmos that God has reconciled to himself, then we are not so positioned as to come to faithful answers to the questions that plague us. And we might not even be in the position to be plagued by the right questions.

The End of Sexual Identity

Once upon a time I was in the practice of saying that the church has something wonderful for GLBT people–the same thing it has for folks who consider themselves heterosexual; namely, that your sexuality is not the most important thing you have to say about yourself.

Your sexuality is a part of who you are, but you are more than the complex of desires, experiences, abuses, successes, fulfillments, frustrations, satisfactions, brokenness, wholeness, sinfulness, and fidelity that pertain to your sexuality.

Jenell William Paris thinks that an uncritical acceptance of the notion of sexual identity is at the core of the church’s problems in its thinking about sex. In her book, The End of Sexual Identity, Paris uses her training as an anthropologist to help us step back and see that the ways we so easily fall into talking and thinking about sexuality are culturally conditioned. And in this case, the church has too readily adopted our culture rather than creatively developing a more healthy and holy Christian counter-culture.

In laying out the problems with sexual identity, Paris begins with the troubles with heterosexuality.

There are several problems with the idea of heterosexuality. One of these is that it presumes a binary of homosexual / heterosexual, whereas the range of human sexual desire falls along a continuum with several intermediate stages between.

A further problem is that this binary has a particular function. It was created, in the past one hundred years, as a way to distinguish what was labelled “deviant” behavior from “normal” desires and behavior. Thus, it was created to be a label that communicates moral superiority.

This last point has a further implication: the idea of “being” homosexual or “being” heterosexual is new–and is therefore an anachronistic grid for reading scripture. More importantly, it elevates an identity based on sexual feelings to a place that scripture assigns to our belovedness by God.

Who are you? The answer to this question should not be, “heterosexual,” and therefore beloved of and faithful to God; instead, it should be, “beloved of God.” Once we cling to heterosexuality as our identity marker, we then create communities where this is required to the extent that we are not able to tell honest stories of struggle–or of grace.

The book offers a pervasive dismantling of simplistic assumptions about sexuality. In her chapter on homosexuality, Paris reminds us that there are different ways to configure homosexual activity. Though we base the label on desire for a same-sex relationship among equals, in the ancient world there were age and power dynamics that sustained homosexual activity; others who engage in same-sex sex might do so for professional reasons: in some cultures religious reasons in others as professional entertainers or prostitutes.

In place of sexual identity, Paris advocates that we strive for sexual holiness within our fundamental identity as God’s beloved children. Sexual holiness will wrestle with issues of behavior, desire, hopes, histories, choices, relationships, and others as well.

With such a reconfiguration, we are faced with two important outcomes: (1) sexual identity does not become an identity marker for the people of God such that we exclude, include, divide, and the like based on the category of sexual desire; and (2) we are freed to respond to one another, and grow in community together, as people who are all in some ways more and in some ways less healthy, holy, broken, whole, sinful, and faithful in different aspects of our sexuality.

Put differently: if we could stop acting like calling ourselves “heterosexual” meant that we were sexually whole and holy, our sexuality could become a growing and more healthy component of our identity as God’s beloved children in Christ.

Who should read this book? Pretty much everyone. If I were a campus minister, I would read this with my leadership groups, and then have my small groups study it. I think all youth pastors should read this so that they can start thinking about how to transform the minds of their students. I think all pastors should read this so that they can help their churches avoid the pitfalls of reifying notions of identity that cut against the grain of biblical descriptions of identity and wholeness.

I think you should read this so that you can help me continue to think through the issues Paris raises and how her insights clear the way for a better way forward as Christians who celebrate sex as a gift given to us by God and yet have found it very difficult to integrate sexuality into our understanding of our selves as those beloved children of God who were created good, but have fallen, and are now being restored in Christ.

Let’s Talk About Sex?

Yesterday the woman across the aisle from me on Southwest Airlines flight 362 was reading Cosmo. The page she was reading was all about sex.

Then she turned the page.

And that page was all about sex.

And so was the next.

And the next.

And the next.

After watching her flip through her primer on sex for the hour long flight (I, of course, was dutifully engrossed in a book on the Catholic Epistles) I was dismayed. After giving it careful thought for those 42 minutes, I decided that Cosmo was basically the equivalent of porn, but geared toward women rather than men. I was also on the verge of deciding that just as I would not want my daughter to marry some dude who looks at porn all the time, so I would not want my son to marry some chick who reads Cosmo.

But then I had to stand around for 7 minutes waiting for a shuttle to my rental car, so I gave the matter some further thought.

In particular, I started wondering where else people might go to talk about sex. Are there healthy and helpful venues for having discussions about sexuality as something that’s larger than the time we spend with someone else in bed? about differences in ways that men and women tend to experience and think about sex (even if stereotyped and not across the board true, these are often helpful starting points if we don’t get stuck in them)? about …. about… about… ?

And, in particular, are there good places for these conversations where people can speak honestly and struggle honestly even while striving to live within something like the parameters of a traditional Christian sexual ethic?

I’m guessing that there aren’t a lot of good answers to this question. When we talked about sex here a few weeks ago one of the voiced frustrations was that the only times Christians talk about sex is when we are telling you who you can and can’t sleep with–not so helpful, and not conducive to creating people who are holistically aware of themselves and devoted to God as beings that are not only physical and spiritual and emotional and relational and mental but also sexual.

So that’s my question for you: what have (and have not) been helpful places to engage and/or absorb conversations about sex, especially as a Christian?

I’m looking for some help here, because otherwise I’m going to have to get a subscription to Cosmo.

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.