We hear proponents of sexual purity often bemoaning the fact that we “live in a sex-saturated world,” and yet, certain Christians seem to be as obsessed with sex as the secular society. A few days ago, I received an anonymous, complimentary Christian newsletter that had a very fundamentalist, evangelical slant. There was a two-page spread about “What God Says about Sex.” It was then divided into various sexual “sins” (fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality, etc.), with Biblical verses used to back the “sinfulness” of each one. Several things about this article struck me.
- It gave more attention to homosexuality than to pedophilia, and neither lust nor rape were mentioned.
- Most of the passages came from Old Testament “moral codes” that Christians are no longer required to observe.
- Nearly all the passages zeroed in on sexual practices as a way to differentiate their own group, whether Jews or Christians, from other dominant cultures.
- None of the quotes came from Jesus.
For a long time, I’ve questioned Christianity’s hang-ups about sex, which is often used as a “defining” feature of the faith. But I can’t help but notice that in all of Jesus’ teachings and parables, he’s decidedly silent on the subject of sex, only hinting at it when he correlates lust with adultery. And I can’t help but wonder — if Jesus wasn’t hung up on sex, why are Christians?
I’m not saying that sexual sins don’t exist. Sex is a powerful force, and like all powerful forces, it can be used to create or destroy, to heal or to harm. And although a lot of Christian speakers and writers dress their sexual agenda in the mantle of concern for one’s feelings and bodily integrity, I can’t help but recoil from the element of control that underlies this obsession with sex. Because that’s what I think it does come down to: a fixation on sex because it seems “easy” to regulate and to preach. Before you object that restraining sexual desires is anything but easy, juxtapose it against Jesus’ true obsessions, which were compassion, service, and humility. Now, those are hard pills to swallow.
But those ethics must inform every Christians choice, including sexuality. The Theology of the Body gets at this a little bit, but it feels more like do’s and don’ts dressed up in compassion than compassion-centered sexuality. Because in actuality, acting with compassion can bring one up against some very difficult moral choices, as we all saw recently when a Brazilian girl’s mother, acting with compassion for her daughter, made the difficult moral choice to preserve and protect her daughter through abortion. Ultimately, the Christian obsession with obsolete sexual codes is a way to keep them (or perhaps more accurately, us) from having to make adult, difficult, nuanced moral decisions.
I’ll be the first to admit that Christianity’s perverse entanglement of sex and the politics of power has left me feeling a bit adrift, unclear about what the “right” sexual choices are beyond the all-important element of consent. Christianity has been used to control sexuality, especially women’s sexuality, for so long that I can no longer implicitly trust sexual ethics that come from the Church or a “Christian” standpoint. But I do know that every day, our brothers and sisters in Christ are suffering from violence, hunger, poverty, disease, and oppression. I do know that, as Christians, we could do a lot better if we stopped wringing our hands over decisions made in the bedroom (or backseat of a car, or whatever), and started putting those hands to work building a more just world.