Our theme for the month of June is “Sex and the Church.”
In the sweat-soaked shadows of a mid-level music venue, two hundred of us danced and sang and tapped along. The colors of the band’s light show pierced the darkness, and you could see dust in the beams. It was a scene carrying the kind of weight that feels significant, like it might last forever, in an image or in a sound. And though I’m hardly one for sweeping generational statements, it all felt a bit like here we are, millennials (man, I hate that word), reciting a creed together, or singing it actually.
You won’t find love in a
Won’t find love in a hole.
It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.
In all the concerts I’ve attended, I’m not sure I’ve heard a crowd of people sing a lyric so definitively, as if to say: yes, this is true. I imagine the people in Thalia Hall that night ran the spectrum of sexual encounter, though for obvious reasons I can’t be sure. Still, as the song repeated the line, the crowd sang it louder each time, like a mantra, like it was as real as breathing. And here’s the thing: I’ve never had sex with someone I don’t know. I’ve had sex with one person, and I know her more intimately than I know any other human on the planet. Yet I couldn’t help but feel tied to hundreds of people longing for a connection that goes beyond, as Scottish slang so nicely says it, getting your hole.
Reading the essays on our blog this month, it’s clear to me that the church failed to help so many people of our generation develop a cogent, honest, and biblical sexual ethic. I have my own stories: seminars on healthy Christian relationships turned into how-far-is-too-far-ism, adults pawning the sex conversation off on schools, and waves of guilt just for thinking I might like a girl. And from that evening at the concert in Chicago, among other experiences, it’s also clear to me that for many people the alternative to repression and circumvention leaves something to be desired, too. Like the song says, it takes more to keep ourselves warm.
What more does it take? We’re made to want things, to feel a deep burning ache, to pine. It’s innate to being human. We long for intimacy and connection, for a place and a people where we find peace. So I’m with Ben and Jes DeVries when they suggest the church focus less on sexual parts and pieces and more on defining intimacy. We have the diagnosis, now we need/want/desire a cure.
There’s not an easy answer, but there is a better way forward. To be fair, certain strands of Christian discipleship have put energy into finding this way: the mystics (read Julian of Norwich or Teresa of Avila), the contemplative tradition, and the contemporary spiritual friendship movement. We need to hear these voices because intimacy does not equal sex, and there are members of the Christian (and non-Christian!) community who, intentionally or otherwise, do not have sex. Everyone craves intimacy and love. Everyone deserves intimacy and love.
Recently, two pastor friends of mine did some great Twitter exegetical work on 1 Corinthians 6 and 7. You can read their incredible threads here and here, but I’ll give a summary. For the apostle Paul, sex isn’t the most important thing. Jesus is. Too often, both in our culture and in our churches, we’re obsessed with sex-having or sex-not-having. But sex isn’t the point, at least not finally. At times, it might feel like sex and all it encompasses carries a white-knuckled urgency, but the Christian witness should relativize that urgency. I’m not saying that if we hold onto Christian convictions we should just do whatever or whoever we want (see 1 Corinthians 5 for example), but faith in the loving person and saving work of Jesus Christ does free us from finding ultimate intimacy or love or meaning in our sexual pasts, presents, and futures.
I realize there’s a uncomfortable ambiguity to this sexual ethic. It doesn’t tell us to bounce our eyes or wear less-revealing clothes or hold one-on-one conversations with the opposite sex in a public place. Maybe that’s okay, though. Maybe it’s a start. Maybe it will help us keep warm.
Brad Zwiers (’12) graduated from Calvin College in 2012 and Western Theological Seminary in 2015. He will not be graduating from any more schools. He often stares at books he wishes he could read but knows he will not finish and goes for long walks with his wife, Gwyn. Sometimes he plays basketball and always he follows the greatest sporting club in the world, Liverpool F.C.