Our theme for the month of June is “sex and the church.” To read posts from our first pass at this theme, check out our June 2018 archives.

In general, I really love the topics that our dedicated editorial staff chooses as a cure for the monthly question of what to write. Usually, I find them to be a helpful jolt from my typical style, and I appreciate the creativity they inspire. When I learned that this would be our topic for June, I failed to be visited by enthusiasm or inspiration, for reasons that are as follows: first, I don’t particularly love to weigh in on such a nuanced topic using an online platform. Second, my theology shifts almost daily, and I worry about memorializing my twenty-something opinions on the internet to be dug up in twenty years. Third, I have too often seen this topic used as a placeholder for rigorous theology when we want an easy way to identify insiders and outsiders. Because we can’t see the heart, we sometimes lean on lifestyle choices that are more readily evaluated. As tribal creatures who default to judgement, sex has become one of our favorite litmus tests. 

Recently, I was in conversation with a coworker about dating, and I shared the challenges of finding people who share my faith because the label “Christian” has become (for many people) synonymous with ways of thinking and living that lie far from the religious tradition I am trying to embody. This becomes even more apparent around the topics of sex and its appropriate contexts. Personally, I think that sex probably works best within the context of some kind of committed relationship, but the church’s obsession with regulating virginity seems to me to be sometimes used as a shortcut for excluding people, whether outright, or by insisting that they have come to the right place to be “redeemed” by purer churchgoers. 

I see similar patterns emerging when it comes to other “visible” measures of piety, like in-person attendance at a Sunday morning gathering, a firm anti-abortion stance, or a rejection of diverse sexuality. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have a theology around these things—in fact my favorite thing about Christianity is that it emphasizes God’s interest and involvement in every aspect of human life. I do, however, become frustrated when we choose to scream at each other about the regulation of sex education in schools and don’t talk about the mysticism of Christianity, or God’s concern with creation, or the traditions of doubt and lament that are so sorely needed in an increasingly traumatized world. 

I surprised my coworker when instead of launching into a passionate defense of my choice to remain abstinent until marriage, I shared that I am a Christian because I am struck repeatedly by Jesus’ demonstration of God’s desire to live in proximity to people. I work in a grocery store, and shared with her that I believe God is intimately involved and interested in the happenings of our produce department. I haven’t yet found another tradition that emphasizes God’s nearness over his separate holiness. People are looking for that kind of God, and while my purpose wasn’t the conversion of my coworker, I like that she might think about God’s interest in her life when she walks past the bananas. 

Maybe this: as the church, we might do better by explaining why we are drawn to the Christian tradition than by offering our assessment of how others fall so far outside of the same. In a world that feels increasingly porous, fluid, and subjective, I know it can feel scary to let go of the “shortcuts” for evaluating piety (our own or others), but I think the world needs to see, and the church needs to be reminded, that God has loved people through thousands of years of culture, and will continue to reveal himself in and through every change, every shift, and every question. If we bring our best thought to the table, I believe that we will discover within our tradition, the capacity for a great fullness of human life that goes so far beyond “sex and the church.”

2 Comments

  1. Louise Kelly

    Well reasoned conversation with a person at work.

    Reply
  2. Laura Sheppard Song

    I love this examination of how we talk about God and Christianity, and your nudging us to talk more about the amazing things that God is rather than the behavior he doesn’t like. Thank you for these reminders and He is so much more than a list of who is in and who is out. I wish I could work in a produce aisle with you to chat more 🙂

    Reply

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