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good christian sex part 2: integrating postmodern sexual ethics + empowering beyond the “one”

If you haven’t read good christian sex part 1: theologically solid + enjoyable, I’d recommend doing so before reading this post.

As the Rev. Bromleigh McCleneghan puts it: “Sex and love, though, can be key experiences of the truth of Jesus’s words: that those who would save their lives will save them” (Good Christian Sex, 222). Sex and love is a different lens, a radically different way, of looking at Jesus that is scary, but yet totally necessary. Our faith requires us to seek truth, for ourselves. My Methodist tradition integrations experience into the way we look at theology and from that angle, we are not the same as those who walked before us. We are not the exact church of Paul in the sense; we are a completely different community. We are not the exact church of Augustine; we are a different community. We are not the exact church of John Wesley; we are a different community. However, we can use their truths and integrate them today. My question turns to this, why are we so hell-bent on maintaining the same standards in a completely different context?

why are we so afraid of a contextually postmodern look at sex and society?

“Christian life is less about protecting ourselves from being profaned and more about learning to risk ourselves in love” (71). Jesus took risks. The disciples took risks. The women who followed Jesus took even bigger risks as they challenged the status quo of their time. Historically, Christians have been risk-takers, table flippers, and countercultural.

Wait, I know a few of you are thinking right now: Everyone is having sex, so not having sex is countercultural. What type of sex are we talking about? Could Christians be countercultural if we prioritize intimacy as a part of sex? “Intimacy requires mutuality: mutual vulnerability, mutual disclosure and openness, mutual invitation and consent (obvious, but worth stating)” (141). What if we are countercultural through the embracing and teaching of consent, equipping young boys to not let “boys be boys” and be advocates for girls? There are many ways to be countercultural about sex without just saying it’s no sex until marriage.

Yet, the church I am a member of still embraces celibacy in singleness, and for those of you who aren’t United Methodist or haven’t had to sign a document to follow the statement below, this is a vow I took during UMC ordination process from The Book of Discipline Book of Discipline ¶304: Qualifications for Ordination:

For the sake of the mission of Jesus Christ in the world and the most effective witness to the Christian gospel, and in consideration of the influence of an ordained minister on the lives of other persons both within and outside the Church, the Church expects those who seek ordination to make a complete dedication of themselves to the highest ideals of the Christian life. To this end, they agree to exercise responsible self-control by personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, integrity in all personal relationships, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, social responsibility, and growth in grace and in the knowledge and love of God.

A quick Google search shows that only 3% of Americans are saving themselves for marriage, and by saving I mean aren’t having sex (let’s not even go into what that definition is or should be). The data is there … people aren’t waiting. But, Irene, clergy should be the moral backbone of our society!

  1. Read Good Christian Sex and decide what chastity means for yourself. If you still want to be celibate in singleness, that’s your choice. Embrace your God-given gift of freewill! You have my support and encouragement.
  2. Can we talk about bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, integrity in all personal relationships, social responsibility, and growth in grace and knowledge and love of God? They are equal with fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness, yet… no one is being kicked out of ordination for not taking care of their bodies or other items listed.
  3. If “a Christian sense of fidelity is one grounded in mutual promise and the hope of a shared life” (180), then can fidelity transcend marriage? I’d say yes. Do all people that are married or in committed monogamous relationships have fidelity?

Celibacy in singleness. When it was the social norm to get married early, when women didn’t have options in terms of career, perhaps it was easier, yet, this is not the experience we live in. Gone are the rose colored glasses of finding the (only) one person God designed for me, and not only for me, but many of my friends and acquaintances.

the death of the “one”

I had a roommate out of college who did not believe in the myth of “the One.” I was a bit confused because, well, as much as I wasn’t waiting for marriage, I was waiting for “the One.” I didn’t get where my roommate was coming from. As my sage McCleneghan writes: “The myth of ‘the One’ is powerful in our culture, and I object to it for how much harder it can make life for single folks, but it also presents a challenge to fidelity” (195). Towards the last few years of a relationship, I felt trapped by being with “the One” because it was not working and since I thought he was the “One”, I honestly thought it would work out because it had to. “We assume that when we are in love, the rest will simply fall into place, but… spontaneity–in sex or in intimacy–is a myth. We have to be intentional” (198). I know in my life the “One” myth was unhealthy and unhelpful for me, it made me stay in a relationship years longer than I should have.

Also, waiting for the “One” mathematically means we should only have one sexual partner in our lives. This isn’t the case for 97% of the population and maybe it’s time to start talking about sex and the 97% who do not wait for marriage, than teaching everyone to live as the 3%.

advances in birth control + sexual safety

So celibacy in singleness in a world where puberty is coming sooner, people aren’t waiting to have sex, women can freely enjoy sex without the fear of getting pregnant due to the advancement of birth control, and people are getting married later. The church is no stranger to these things because the pews are filled with us! We are not the church that Paul wrote to. Much has changed in terms of sexuality. We are empowered now, not restricted by sex. It’s not just to be fruitful and multiply–we can enjoy ourselves without the risk of children before we are ready. We have the option to be in partnership and model life like Eve and Adam before they chose to leave the garden. We can chose to leave the garden and explore!

Sex physically is risky, but it’s not as risky as it once was. The Affordable Healthcare Act made it so women and girls could get free birth control, there are amazing education programs about sex in our schools and churches if we just let them happen, and so much research, books about the topic. Sexual safety can be a reality for most women, I have never been scared of getting pregnant because of all the contraception at my fingertips. I’m not alone in this. All my singles out there, the 97% like myself live this and for those that have a call to ministry, we also balance our ordination-track vows. It’s time to rethink the single Christian.

where does this leave us?

Can we strike a balance of sexual relationships in singleness for our clergy, our seminarians, our single congregants that embraces the ethos of Good Christian Sex? Modeling healthy relationships, boundaries, chastity, fidelity, and consent in new ways that aren’t based on of just remaining a virgin? Or, maybe, one’s sex life shouldn’t overtake living our call to justice and health?

So what does a United Methodist Church with a postmodern lens on sex look like to you? Can we spend more time on fidelity? Feel free to leave a comment, shoot me an email, text, tweet, Facebook message. This is what I’m truly looking for, advancing our church towards the future because somethings gotta give.

Enjoyed part 2? read the last part, good christian sex part 3: my failed “purity” + rethinking celibacy.

2 comments on “good christian sex part 2: integrating postmodern sexual ethics + empowering beyond the “one”

  1. Pingback: good christian sex part 3: my failed “purity” + rethinking celibacy – reclaiming my initials

  2. Pingback: good christian sex part 1: theologically solid + enjoyable – reclaiming my initials

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