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.
I’ve stewed for a long time on this topic, trying to find something that feels worth writing about. For me it seems there is both too much and too little to fit into 800 words.
Straight, cis, and white, I don’t find my identity under attack by the church. Somehow avoiding explicit celibacy talks with my family and my church, but not terribly interested in sex myself, I am able to shrug and say “you do you” without much impact to my own self-image. Fortunately safe from the sexual abuse that is so rampant in churches, some recently uncovered in the conservative Baptist denomination where I grew up, I find myself with more power to protect myself. Not so far faced with an unexpected pregnancy, in some ways the attacks on my bodily autonomy seem distant and farfetched.
So, then, mine should be the easy job.
And, truly, mine is the easy job when it comes to sex and the church. All I must do is mourn with those who mourn, offer my voice to those who can’t find the words, condemn hate and harm, and do what I can to cultivate spaces and communities that seek justice, health, and flourishing for others. I sit with the luxury of privilege, able to distance myself from the daily reality of my community members, while called to advocate for those exhausted with the endless burden of self-advocacy in the face of a system that denies their rights and their humanity.
So why, then, does this job seem so difficult?
Hear me when I say that my anger, heartache, and deep hurt pales in comparison to the folks around me. I care deeply for people in my life who are directly, constantly impacted by the active harm the church perpetuates—both consciously and unconsciously—and I am exhausted. How much more, then, are others?
People in the LGBTQ+ community who find their identities up for debate? I cannot begin to imagine a foundational part of myself being debated by a group of majority straight, cis, white men. I seethe at the mere mention of the CRC’s Human Sexuality Report—intellectualizing deeply personal, emotional experiences as a way to become comfortable with rejecting people made in God’s image. And so nonchalantly too.
People of all ages and genders, shamed, condemned, and rejected by toxic purity culture? Yet with celibacy framed as a punishment? I have had too many conversations with friends whose relationship with sex is colored with shame—either because they think they’re having too much or too little—shame that was first formed in their childhood churches.
Children and adults who are gaslit by their family, friends, and church community into believing sexual assault is their fault? My heart breaks thinking that even our children are not safe, nauseated and furious to be asked to serve as the only adult in an elementary Sunday school—in direct opposition to every Safe Church policy in existence. And I am disgusted that our children’s pastor didn’t give the request a second thought. Do we learn nothing?
People who have faced abortion in their lives for one reason or another, labled “baby killers” and finding their already-tenuous legal rights stripped away as though an individual’s bodily autonomy can be justly legislated by someone—anyone—else. I fear for myself, I fear for victims of assault, I fear for the people I know whose very lives depend on the ability to access hormonal birth control. I find myself paralyzed, speechless and furious, that fundamental human rights can be so callously disregarded.
And yet, mine is still the easy job.
I am full of fear and fury, horror and heartbreak, unnamable disgust at what I think can only be described as the church’s deeply broken relationship with sex. I am without concrete solutions to quash all future sexual harms, or the capacity to soothe every past injury, with only a sliver of impact that never seems enough. But with the luxury of my privilege, I experience only the smallest hint of this harm.
Ideally, I think, no one should have my job. No one around me should ever find themselves in a context where their identity, experiences, or right to autonomy is so egregiously contested that they cannot be taken at their word. Never should a person be subjected to a situation where the very act of being themselves is made so exhausting that someone like me must take up the fight on their behalf.
But I will, with gusto. Because I want our world to look different. Because I know I must leverage my privilege to the benefit of others. Because I am not yet so tired that I cannot keep fighting.
Because mine is the easy job.
Lillie grew up on a forty-acre hay farm in Central Oregon, making the trek to Michigan to study mechanical engineering and sustainability. After graduating in 2020, she moved to Rochester, NY, where her day job as an engineer for the local gas utility funds her outdoor adventures, love of books, various craft projects, and investment in her new community.