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Posts Tagged ‘sexuality’

One thing I’d really like to look at more is theology and sexuality. More evangelicals are becoming gay and lesbian affirming, at least in the sense that everything is all good within the bounds of a mutual, monogamous relationship, i.e., marriage. Now I’ve only read what’s come across my path here, not having done a lot of research on this specifically, but I am aware of the position(s) that “marriage equality” doesn’t mean a whole lot for equality or justice really at all. It’s gradualist in the sense that it allows those previously excluded from certain privileges to attain them in some sense, but it’s not radical because it doesn’t go past the basic framework that is already offered. It wants into marriage rather than reimagining relationships, sex, love, etc from the ground up, creating new alternatives. Moreover, same sex marriage focuses on including lesbians and gays into a historically heteronormative system, but it becomes more problematic when considering bisexuals, pansexuals, transgender persons… If that’s ambiguous it’s because I’m trying to generalise a whole lot of vaguely recollected reads which also each probably frame the issues differently.

Anyway, this is just one factor that has got me thinking about some questions to pursue around theology and sexuality, specifically marriage. Some other factors include the high numbers of evangelicals especially who have had pre-marital sex (yes this includes oral and manual), in relation to this evangelical purity culture, pornography, people getting married later, increased divorce rates, and an increasing amount of people (mostly outside the church as far as I know) exploring alternatives to monogamous relationships, such as various approaches to polyamory. I want to pose the question, what does this mean for our theology of marriage? I can think of three main approaches:

(A) A “traditionalist” approach which seeks to maintain traditional evangelical/Christian understandings of marriage (whatever they are!) while acknowledging the difficulties people have maintaining this as a reality, like in pre-marital sex and getting divorced, and supporting them accordingly, another kind of love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin-approach. With any approach there will be ongoing failures and exceptions which cannot be accounted for. However, these need to be addressed through understanding tradition as dynamic, creating new tradition, and remembering as good Protestants that our source is not first tradition but the person of Christ.

(B) This leads into a “retrieval” approach which would seek to draw on the sources of Scripture and tradition, engaging with both critiques of marriage from within and outside of the church, to attempt to restate what marriage has been and what it might be today. For example, I’ve been thinking a bit about Paul’s frequent use of porneia, usually translated as “sexual immorality” in the New Testament. While I’m sure that because Paul didn’t understand sexuality, gender, etc in the same way that we do he would have provided some very different answers to ours, it also needs to be asked what connection early Christians such as Paul saw between life in Christ and the Spirit and their sexual decisions and how this should relate to contemporary Christian practice. Nonetheless, this approach has not yet heeded what it might look like to imagine and affirm new relationships and sexualities outside of the concept of marriage altogether.

(C) The final would be a “liberation” approach which understands Christ as coming to liberate creation for a completely new order which is new creation. So, Jesus, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt 22:30; cf. 1 Cor 7:25-31). This also concerns undertaking theology not from the perspective of those who benefit from marriage (or benefit from promoting and defending it) but from those who are in different senses excluded from marriage, so LGBTQI persons, and in a different again yet still important sense the never-married-but-lived-as-in-a-relationship-which-in-many-ways-was-marital, the widowed, the divorced, the forever alone/never-got-married-but-wanted-to. Obviously such an approach would both need to engage critically with the married (though I’d like to think many who are happily married would provide some kind of support for this approach) but also acknowledge in what senses marriage has and continues to be a source of love, growth, support, healing, strength, etc, for so many people.

I began writing this post as I had until recently thought only in terms of B, though suddenly I found my self considering the value of C. This is all provisional and a sketch. Others will have given this more time and thus more thought and probably considered a lot more things than I have in this post.

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The biblical Deborah drove a tent peg through an enemy commander’s head. Rebekah was the wife of Isaac who helped her favourite son deceive his father and win the deathbed blessing usually given to the eldest. Sarah laughed when God told her she would conceive in her old age, and she was more than awful to her handmaid, Hagar. These, along with many others, Rachel, Hannah, Sarah, Esther, remain semi/popular girls’ names today.

If you don’t count the ‘bad’ ones, there are plenty of other righteous women that have been almost completely neglected when it comes to baby names. Out of the four mentioned women in Jesus’ genealogy in the Gospel of Matthew — Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba — only Ruth is at least a common name. After Tamar was twice widowed, her father-in-law, Judah, promised he would give her a husband when his next son was a little older. He didn’t. She dressed as a prostitute and he slept with her. The line of Judah continued. Rahab was already in business as a prostitute when Israelite spies turned up to scout out her town. When her people came looking for the spies, she lied to them to protect them. The author of Hebrews names her for her faith. Finally, the married Bathsheba was enjoying some naked times on the roof when she caught the king’s eye and somehow things escalated. She later became the mother of the wise Solomon, carrying on the Davidic line which gave birth to Jesus.

Is it just possible that Christendom covered its eyes when its sacred texts named particular women as both sexual and righteous?

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Read ’em and … weep? Just graduated from a year doing a Graduate Diploma in Theology at Laidlaw College in Christchurch. I thought it was a fitting time to share what I had learnt with my readers! I’ve only included the essays which I thought I did a good job at and would be interesting.

Introduction to the Old Testament: This first essay looks at the theme of kingship in the Bible, with special focus on the establishment of the monarchy in 1 Samuel. This second essay attempts to outline “sexuality” in the Pentateuch and then uses Jesus’ interpretation of the law in Matthew to meditate on how best we can appropriate it. I regret not starting with a definition of sexuality and the bibliography is quite thin because the topic is so broad!

Gospel of John: Looking at the theme of divine and human agency in John, i.e. predestination and free will, I argue that each book of the Bible needs to be approached on its own terms regarding the information it gives on this. I had to write an application section as part of the assignment. Ignore that; it’s a let down. For my exegesis I asked if I could do the opening verses, 1:1-5. 3000 words on five verses! That was too much fun.

1 Corinthians: Paul presents the most in-depth discussion of celibacy in the Bible. Naturally, I was drawn to checking out what he was talking about. Our exegetical was on the abuse of the Lord’s Supper in 1:17-34. The application is a bit weak but I think all else went well!

Biblical Interpretation: A short, sharp survey of my favourite book in the New Testament, Philippians.

God and Creation: I will not post this one but if anyone is interested let me know in the comments section. This is a theological examination of the Christchurch earthquake. I definitely think it’s better to say something rather than nothing, and I have tried my best to be sensitive, though I’m still unsure what good reading it will do!

Salvation in History and Beyond: Something which I’m still confused about, Lutheran and Catholic approaches to justification. The essay is a little thin in the bibliography, but hopefully it’s a good enough introduction to the basic concerns. I dialogue with the Finnish school on Luther which sees something like deification being a part of Luther’s thought, the Joint Declaration on Justification, which is the result of many years of ecumenical discussion between Catholics and Lutherans, and a Liberationist critique of Lutheran justification.

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Last night I enjoyed another semi-regular, good late night conversation with the flat mate. The subject of soul-ties came up. What’s that? As good Pentecostals we like to acknowledge — in contrast to secular western tendency to differentiate between the spiritual and material — that everything has a spiritual aspect to it. And this is the logic of soul-ties, that sex is also spiritual and a deep spiritual connection is made with another person through it. Perhaps Pentecostal interpreters were thinking of such verses as:

‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.

(Matt 19:5-6).

Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

(1 Cor 6:16-17).

The logic goes that after having sex with one person, even though that sexual relationship is finished the spiritual connection remains. I wonder though, where does sex start and finish? Is it even possible to use the absolute term, “virgin” to describe someone’s sexual history?

Does having sex make you lose your virginity? What if you spend a few seconds in coitus and then decide to stop? What about oral sex? What about two people who are mutually sexually aroused when in each other’s presence yet unaware of the other’s being aroused? What about viewing pornography? What about seeing a sex scene in a movie? What about masturbating? What about having a wet dream? What about entertaining a stray sexual thought? What about getting a stiffy? What about using a tampon? What about producing sperm or eggs, you dirty little sexual being? Really how virginal are virgins? How sexual is sex?

All this is not to undermine what different things that will come about from engaging in any of these actions, and I would be very reluctant to acknowledge something like pornography as “just part of growing up.” However, perhaps the ideas of soul-ties and virginity as absolute categories need to be re-examined when considering someone’s sexual history? Maybe it’s best for Christians entering into marriage to discuss their differing sexual histories on individual bases?

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Depending on how seriously you take the story of Adam and Eve, singleness can legitimately be understood as a form of malnourishment. I appreciate the way we can use the Genesis story as a symbol for the human condition (it’s almost like there’s an invisible gradient in the bible that as you go further towards the end you can take it more literally, with a sudden dip at Revelation), but how far should this symbolism go? Are we to say that it’s just a wee parable for something like human depravity, free will (or quite the opposite), or our need for redemption? Or should we embrace the depth of its meaning so the words, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him” (Genesis 2:18 NIV) be taken seriously?

One idea I haven’t yet managed to take seriously is that some people look at the tasting of the forbidden fruit as a euphemism for sex, which can be disregarded in light of the fact that the first commandment that appears in the Hebrew bible seems a little impossible without so doing, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28 NIV). This positive affirmation of reproduction has often been overlooked.

Papaya, I learnt when in India, means sin (pap-) came (-aya) in some Indian language (Hindi? Marathi?) so it’s a wee joke that Eve tasted papaya.

If, however, we do take God’s observation of the lonely Adam seriously then the context in which he says it should have even greater bearing on our understanding of singleness. In the early chapters of Genesis, Adam and Eve participate in their act of disobedience against God, resulting in the Fall, and expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Mainline Christian theology supposes that before the Fall mankind had everything; Eden is a metaphor for heaven, for perfection. When sin entered the world through disobedience then with that came suffering, death, etc. Since this time God has been restoring his creation through Israel, the coming of Jesus, and the Church, etc. I’m not at this point going to explore some of the problems with this theology, but I do want to examine what it says about singleness when we hold to it. It was in the Garden of Eden, the perfect world, before sin, suffering and death came that God observed something in his creation he could improve on. Adam’s loneliness was a need that had not yet been met, and for Eden to be perfect, there needed to be an Eve.

This is where singleness becomes a form of malnourishment. If health entails good eating habits, then, according to this reading of the Genesis story, it also entails relationship. It was before the Fall, before everything went wrong with the world that God said, “It is not good for man to be alone”. Celibacy is a fast. Celibacy is a forgoing of something essential to healthy existence.

* * *

A danger with the idea of celibacy is a confusion as to its function. Some adherents¹ of monastic orders wear wedding rings to symbolise the exclusivity of their being as wholly Jesus’. They enter into a marital relationship with their Saviour. I really don’t want to mock the sincerity with which they do this, even the positive function that it may have, but I just don’t think the practice is consistent with the idea of biblical celibacy.

The Carmelite monastery around the corner from where I used to live in Christchurch

The apostle Paul’s vision of celibacy is simple, but it gets confused amid his need to address a specific situation. He writes to the Corinthian church at a time when a few of them have problems controlling themselves sexually: “If they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1Corinthians 7:9 NIV)². The Corinthians had written to Paul in praise of celibacy (v.1), but Paul basically writes to them saying that singleness is not all bunnies and rainbows. Some of you really need to get married before you cause any more trouble.

Paul’s vision for celibacy is purely practical. He himself knows marriage is a good thing but he makes no use of it so that he can better serve the Lord³. He wishes that all those he is writing to could be celibate like him (v.7), and as he begins to conclude he gives some reasoning behind it: “I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided” (vv.32-34; cf. Jesus’ similar, but more ambiguous, words in Matthew 19:12). In a practical sense, God can use the single person more widely as they are less hindered by external commitments.

When God takes the place of significant other then, it distorts the practical function of celibacy. The celibate are those who can more fully express their relationship with God — they can love God — because they don’t have to give so much of themselves to another person. But really, Adam was alone when he had God in the Garden of Eden. We need each other. The part of yourself that loves God is not the same part of yourself that loves another. This is the sense in which celibacy is a fast: When you fast you go without something you cannot physically live without, which is food. We use our fasting as a way to say that God is all we need, although physically we would die if we went without it. Celibacy can be a way to say that God is all you need, but are you also going without something essential? The call to love God above all is not just for single Christians. The call to love God is a form of universal celibacy, celibacy for everyone, whereas those who are called to singleness are called there for practical reasons.

* * *

“Come be the fire inside of me,
Come be the flame upon my heart.
Come be the fire inside of me
Until You and I are one.”

— Misty Edwards, Jesus Culture, You won’t relent

* * *

The temptation in loneliness is to seek in God what we actually find in people. Note that this is a complete reversal of the warning of seeking in people what we should be seeking in God. I’m not sure if either have the power to fulfil the function we expect of them, unless we move beyond our present condition of humanity. Jesus Culture songs have had a profound effect on me. I have desired to have the same passion for God as I do for ‘worldly’ things such as reading, eating and good company. But my desire for God has been of an altogether different sort. Jesus Culture is made up of people who seem to actually love God (like I’m not mocking them; they probably really do) and they write songs that create the emotional environment for me to  experience feelings of loving God. Jesus Culture is attractive to me because it allows me to bring God into that place where he hasn’t occurred for me naturally.

To confront the state of your heart is, in reality, heartbreaking. I have desire for eternal life as some barely graspable, distant abstract possibility, but the idea that I could live in the Italian countryside, grow my own olives, and make red wine and become old is a lot more appealing. I have desire to know God as a wise life choice and existential experiment, but to woo, spend time with and bear my soul to some idealised form of human perfection is the fantasy that makes my heart beat. You can speak with God but you can hug a human. That these desires come more naturally and intensely to me than spiritual desires creates disillusionment: I signed up for Jesus and I still love the world. Jesus Culture allows me to experience desire for God.

Sigh…

* * *

Contraception and the 20th Century have largely taken the place of celibacy in the West. The monasteries are slowly emptying (not that the monastery is the only place for the monastic). When I lived in Christchurch, the Carmelite monastery round the corner (pictured above, not directly though; that’s Italy) said they were being reduced to about one new sign-up every ten years. If you’re not procreating, then this isn’t a very sustainable alternative. But with reforms (?) in family planning and gender roles, the celibate are all married. You have the benefits of celibacy (practicality because you don’t have babies just yet and both you and your wife are equals), enhanced by the fact that you can have a partner to work together with, as well as the benefits of marriage (companionship, sex, etc — I really don’t know). Marriage is the new celibacy.

And if you think that celibacy is harder than marriage then you missed Jesus’ response to his diciples’ own marital insecurities:

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given”.

(Matthew 19:8-11 NIV).

It’s as if Jesus’ disciples are saying that all that stuff around adultery and divorce is just so much that I’d rather not risk it. And Jesus affirms them! In celibacy you’re accountable to God, who easily forgives and our experience of him is open to a lot of subjectivity. In marriage you’re accountable to the physical reality of another person in your life, someone weak and irritable like yourself, someone whom you can’t just say, “I bought us a new motorbike with our shared income because I know we’ll both get a lot of use out of it and God was leading me; it was on sale”. If you’re only accountable to God and not another person then you can easily say, “Whoops, that Xbox was a mistake, please forgive me; I’ll sort it out”. Marriage requires more of you. Marriage is the new celibacy.

* * *

Before I conclude, maybe there’s something I’ve missed. Notice that throughout the bible the people of God are referred to as in marital relationship with God? One of my favourites is where God asks the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute as a symbol of his love for an unfaithful people. James echoes this sentiment when he refers to his readers as adulterers (James 4:4). Isaiah makes use of the marriage metaphor to speak hope to the post-exilic Jewish community (62:2-5), as does Paul to illustrate Christ’s love for the Church (eg. Ephesians 5:25-33), as Jesus also does when speaking on eschatological events (Matthew 22:1-14; 25:1-13).

Maybe this is just a loosely balanced observation, but in these examples the marriage is between God and a people, rather than an individual. It is only as part of a community that we experience the marital love of God. God’s love for us in this sense is not love for you, but you all, us. If Jesus is my boyfriend then I don’t experience him as I would experience a boyfriend (girlfriend), because someone does not experience their boyfriend as part of a community. Human relationship holds a private sphere for human desire. If this aspect of human desire enters into the spiritual, it is not between God and I but God and us. The dating-the-deity is unnatural in the same way it is natural between humans because it is always in a communal sense that the marital metaphor is used with God. The words, “It is not good for man to be alone” take on a whole new level of meaning when community is necessity.

I now leave you with Jesus’ words to protect us from getting to attached to the idea of fulfilment in relationship: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).

* * *

¹A friend told about this and I have no proof of its veracity. Even so, the anecdote makes a good point I think!

²Interestingly enough, Paul maybe should have gotten married too, according to his rule (see 2Corinthians 11:29).

³”Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” (1Corinthians 9:5). In this passage Paul lists his rights as an apostle as an example of what he forgoes so that he can better serve the Lord.

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This is the second post in a three part introductory series on monastic vows. Probably one of the most distinguishing features of a monastic (monk/nun) to the modern eye is singleness/celibacy: What’s going on?

* * *

Probably the best thing about living in Christchurch is Eastercamp. It’s a huge (relative to Christchurch) Christian youth camp that runs the duration of Easter and is filled with every kind of both aesthetic and spiritual goodness. I have this acute memory from the first camp I attended as a leader. In an attempt to maintain piety while away from home I was reading through Matthew. I came to the part where the Jesus and the disciples are talking about divorce: ‘The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it”‘ (19:10-12, NIV).

I remember feeling like poos after reading this. Having prized the prospect of marriage in life so highly, to think that I could be one that God called to accept celibacy was beyond what I could bear at the time. In a very good way, however, this experience helped me to give more of myself in realizing that there was still a lot of my life I was holding back from Him.

Fast forward a couple of years later: The question of celibacy is found to be still flailing tempestuously inside as I attempt to give myself completely over to God again. That question, “Do you require me to live a single life for you?” Maybe the answer goes something like this, “I require you to be willing”. Talking this over with one of the pastors at my church, I got the impression that I wasn’t going to know yet. In fact, there’s also the possibility of celibacy for a season, rather than a lifetime. It’s like in Star Wars Episode I when Qui Gon Jinn takes Anakin to the council of the Jedis so they can see if he’ll be a Jedi or not. There are pulls within Anakin’s spirit, leading him in two different directions and Yoda can’t make what will happen of it: “Clouded, this boy’s future is”.

* * *

At a recent youth group boy’s night (you know where this is going), we talked about the perils of unbridled sexual desire (because ‘unbridled’ goes so well with those words!). I don’t want to generalise, but it’s generally safe to say that when there’s a men’s event with a church group, pornography, lust and general sexual deviance is going to be a hot topic. Everyone tip-toes around it to start, but when some brave soul flings the poo at the fan, it’s everywhere.

A high point of this night though, was looking at the non-physical side of sex. You see, you don’t need to burn with lust while looking at a woman to objectify her. You don’t need to manipulate someone to fulfill your sexual desires to use them. Before I explain, there are two things I must say: Firstly, I don’t want to underplay the importance of discussing issues around lust by emphasising the ‘nicer’ side of sexuality. Secondly, I really hope you don’t get the impression that sexual desire and sex in itself are condemned by Christianity. Rather, they are things to be celebrated, but that’s a-whole-nother conversation.

Reflecting on this year so far, I’ve seen how awesome it’s been for my female friendships. I feel I’ve gotten to know more closely some of my friends ‘from the other side’ and been a lot more comfortable meeting and making new ones. One truly beautiful thing about being single is having the opportunity to hang out with a lot of girls. Wait. No, I’ve really enjoyed it, learnt a lot, and deepened some important friendships. But I’ve continually got to ask myself, “What needs am I seeking to be met through developing my female friendships?” And this isn’t a gender-biased question either because I’ve used a lot of male friends in the past to meet emotional needs. The point is that I’ve found it really easy to use girls to feel good about myself in the same way I could objectify someone sexually. Sounds intense? Sorry for ruining the fun. I’d love to hear some opinions.

But Camo, there must be an alternative? What I’ve been attempting to attempt to work harder at is considering other people’s needs in a friendship or hang out: What are they there for? How can we bring mutuality to the friendship? Even, how can we bring God to the center of this? Will any hurt arise out of this friendship if it continues or ceases for various reasons? At what point is transparency important to set boundaries, yet at what point does it limit a friendship going further? The alternative then, may very well be to take the focus off from myself and bring it onto God and others.

* * *

Anakin from http://images.wikia.com/swfanon/images/4/46/LittleAnakinASWS.jpg

Pepe from http://www.blast-o-rama.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/pepe.jpg

Thank you!

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