Summer 2005 Issue
SEX & SIN
I was loaned a book recently which was written over 35 years ago, but the following excerpt really caught my attention as relevant to Christians today. The original was not written specifically about Christians so I have used my "poetic license" to adjust it.
"We've got a problem in America. It is a problem, in a sense, that all of Western civilization has, but it is worse here. Put yourself in the place of [an ordinary Christian] for a moment. Imagine you are [in a Christian community] and you are walking around and you notice this huge animal. He is ninety feet tall - like an elephant - but ninety feet tall. And he is walking around [the community] and he is not very careful where he walks. And occasionally he steps on a whole bunch of people and they are all dead. And you see this going on around you. And you look at your fellow [Christians] and they are not looking at the animal. They are just going about their business. The animal is just about to put his foot down and they walk right under the foot and get crushed. And nobody says a word about it. Everybody goes on as if nothing was happening. And you see all of it. And you see this animal lie down on a building and he crushes the whole building and gets up. But there is nothing in the news about it. Nobody ever says anything about this animal. Wouldnít you start questioning your sanity? Well, to my mind, this huge animal represents the specter of sexuality in [Christian communities - churches and organizations]."
If you think this is a bit of an exaggeration just ask someone in a position of authority in the Catholic Church what they think. But, I would not point any fingers because you can rest assured whatever your denomination is, it has its share of sexual issues not being addressed openly, or objectively discussed.
I received a Christian organizationís magazine a month or so ago which had an article titled similarly to this one. I thought it was great that sex was being talked about, so I took the time to read the lengthy article. But, it simply made me angry because it was the same old rhetoric ó sex is good because God made it; but God made it for heterosexual marriage only; so any other sex is bad; including that which is only in your thoughts; homosexuality is especially bad, and sex on TV and in the movies is really-really offensive. It was basically a waste of my time.
If that is all the better churches or Christian organizations can do in their discussions of sex, I think we should make the following rules for any given Sunday or workday and see what happens. You would not be allowed to attend church or come to work unless the following two criteria were met:
1. You are in a completely fulfilling legal (sexually speaking) heterosexual marriage.
2. You do not question any of your sexual/sensual behavior or thoughts as sinful.
I could be wrong, but I think worship and the (Christian) workplace would be quite empty if sex were as cut and dried to deal with as it is treated.
The (ELCA) Lutheran Church made an attempt not too long ago to have a dialog in local congregations about sexuality which would be sent up the line so the national church could use it to set some of their official positions. I applaud the effort, but if our local congregation was any barometer for how it went, hardly anybody was willing to participate, and the discussion centered mostly around how the church was going to handle homosexuality. This (homosexuality) is the primary "sin" topic of the Christian community these days, as if there were not enough other areas to go around. Contemporary Irish writer John Waters in his book "Every Day Like Sunday?" has this to say: "It is undoubtedly true that, by narrowing the definition of "morality" to embrace only sex, the Church and the hierarchy effectively yielded authority in all other areas. They also, of course, yielded authority in matters of sexuality, because the high standards they prescribed, being unattainable for most people, were privately ignored."
It seems a pretty fair assessment of things. Once in a while you will see a denomination or organization take a verbal stand against war, or something, but I doubt you will find them personally admonishing their biggest donor for his, or her, sin of having more than they need (greed or perhaps even covetousness) while others not so far from there go hungry, or without a roof over their head. I saw the quote "nobody should have two houses until everybody has one" for the first time and was struck at the similarity it had to words straight from Jesusí mouth. But, letís get back to sex.
That elephant stepped on my ability to stay on track with my mission several years back, as a number of you already know. A woman visited the Center who was on staff at a church but did not feel she could openly discuss her philosophies with the pastors there. Over the course of talking about things, she asked if I would be willing to co-lead something she was putting together at the church. I told her I would pray about it. At a subsequent visit she made to the Center, as she was about to leave, she asked about my decision. I had sensed the Holy Spirit saying sexuality and ego were issues pertaining to the situation. With some hesitation, I told her that. From the get-go it became clear that sexuality was not something to be talked about with her. I have learned the hard way, the more you try to fix something going badly, the worse it gets, and worse it got. The next day her husband showed up accusing me of trying to seduce his wife, and admonishing he knew right off that all that hugging and "Godís Peace" stuff was a facade to lure women in unsuspecting. I was totally blind-sided. I did not have the wits about me to point out that she had sought me out, and it was precisely to be able to speak about things openly and honestly that she could not in the church community. While there was no question that I had not been doing what he was accusing me of, I spent at least a year emotionally questioning my motives and choices of words. It severely impacted how openly I was willing to discuss certain issues with others, or even my own journey and struggles. Even today, as I write this, I question if enough years have passed to speak openly and objectively about this experience. Such is the power of the sexual (and sensual). And, it is our unwillingness as Christians to acknowledge we need to start talking about this giant elephant in real terms, not hypothetical "perfect world" scenarios, that give it so much destructive power in our lives.
I do not have a bunch of answers to specifics. That is what makes dialog so valuable. What I do have is a re-commitment to the openness with which I began my spiritual journey 20 years ago. And just in case anybody is wondering, when a beautiful actress takes off all of her clothes in front of me on the big, or small, screen, I do not find it offensive. If it proceeds into sex with some handsome actor, I am not appalled. I can acknowledge that the portrayed circumstances in any given movie or show may not be in the best interests of healing what ails us as a society. But, I am a quite healthy "normal" American male. When I became a Christian the Holy Spirit began to guide me to make choices in new ways. My status as a human being remained.
During the Lincoln-Douglas debates almost 150 years ago. After a long and puffy speech by Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln asked the audience, "How many legs would a horse have if you called his tail a leg?" "Five, called out some of the onlookers. "Four," replied Lincoln. "Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it true." (March 2005 AARP Bulletin)