There’s a war on religion!
Relax. There’s always been a war on religion. Not fake religion—that’s sometimes quite popular. But real religion that focuses on a relationship with God, on tough choices and moral integrity, on trusting God in the midst of difficulty, on humility and emulating Christ? Well, that’s been opposed over the breadth of cultures and the course of history. So let’s not presume, or panic, that we’re in some unprecedented time in which things are worse than they’ve ever been before.
Including in the arena of sexuality. Purity Culture has not destroyed Christianity any more than the Corinthians’ pagan practices did. Gnosticism, as bad a message as it sent about the spiritual versus the physical, has not won. And harmful myths about sex are prevalent in the church but not utterly controlling.
I could point to couples from various Christian sects—Catholic, Orthodox, Mainstream, Evangelical, etc.—who have healthy sex lives in their marriage. Sometimes in spite of their church’s teachings, sometimes apart from it, and sometimes because of it.
But saying it’s not the apocalypse doesn’t meant that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with wrong messages about sexuality spread by those in the Church.
Where has Christianity gone wrong?
When it comes to sex, we’ve had two major problems in the Church: bad theology and hypocritical practice.When it comes to sex, we've had two major problems in the Church: bad theology and hypocritical practice. Click To Tweet
Examples of bad theology include:
- Sex is sinful or selfish in any context
- Sex is mostly for husbands
- Sex is solely for reproduction
- Sex is optional in marriage
- Sex outside marriage leaves an unforgiveable stain
- Sex can and should be demanded from one’s spouse
- Sex in marriage doesn’t require consent
- Sex acts of any kind are permitted in the marriage bed
Examples of hypocritical practice include:
- Engaging in affairs
- Sexual abuse and harassment
- Use of pornography and erotica
- Withholding of sex without cause
- Habitual solo masturbation
- Extreme sex acts
The world often sees the Church as having the paradox of prudish teachings combined with sexual misbehavior. As an example, consider those pastors and priests who have engaged in perverse sexual sin at the same time they engage in rhetoric about the utmost importance of sexual purity. It’s heartbreaking to think about the witness we’ve lost through the bad teaching and actions of some in the Body of Christ.
Just in my own circle, I have two close friends who were sexually abused as minors by church leaders. One stayed in the church, one left. My heart aches for both, but especially the latter. The cost was not only to her childhood heart but her adult faith.
We as a Church, as the representative for Christ on earth, have to do better. Every call to better theology and practice is worthwhile, not because it knocks out sin for good, but because it saves that one person who is too precious to let go. (See Luke 15:3-7 and Matthew 25:34-40.)
What has Christianity gotten right?
Contrary to popular belief, some theologians throughout time have gotten it right. There really is a remnant in nearly any time period that “gets it” regarding sexuality.
Moreover, the answers proposed by secular culture are more than lacking in their approach.
Stating the truth
Just looking at the last century or so, I’ve been reading through some books from my late father’s library and delightfully discovered such examples as these two:
- In Orthodoxy (1908), G.K. Chesterton, writer, philosopher, and lay theologian, likened sex in marriage to making love to the moon. Mind you, this was more than 60 years before anyone visited the moon, so the idea of being that close to a heavenly body was…well, heavenly!
I could never mix in the common murmur of that rising generation against monogamy, because no restriction on sex seemed so odd and unexpected as sex itself. To be allowed, like Endymion, to make love to the moon and then to complain that Jupiter kept his own moons in a harem seemed to me (bred on fairy tales like Endymion’s) a vulgar anti-climax. Keeping to one woman is a small price for so much as seeing one woman.
Chesterton goes on to point out that having many sexual partners cheapens the experience, but you can read that yourself here if you want.
2. William Barclay, a well-known minister, professor of divinity at Glasgow University, Christian author, and radio personality wrote A Spiritual Autobiography (1977) in which he says:
I believe in love and I believe in marriage. I have never been able to see or to agree that celibacy and virginity are superior to marriage. In one sense and from one point of view they are far easier than marriage, because they have dispensed with the problem of living together. I know well that those who undertake celibacy or virginity may live in community, but life in community does not present the problem of living together in the crises and the trifles of day-to-day-living. Celibacy and virginity do present one problem—the problem of dealing with the sex instinct; but that is a self-manufactured problem which should never have arisen. Sex is part of life and the deliberate annihilation of it is not a virtue; it is a criticism of life as God made it and meant it to be.
Within the boundaries of marriage and with the right priority, Christianity and sexual enjoyment are entirely compatible.Within the boundaries of marriage and with the right priority, Christianity and sexual enjoyment are entirely compatible. Click To Tweet
Avoiding the lies
Speaking of boundaries, the Church has also avoided some important lies about sex. For example, the Church has never condoned adultery, prostitution, or inappropriate lust. Its members don’t always practice this well, but we have at least recognized such things as sexual sin.
Meanwhile, in a day and age that constantly declares, “Listen to the science,” I’m amazed how few secular sex therapists accept such truths as the perils of pornography. Christians have gotten it right by listening to the Creator of sex Himself, but it’s no surprise that research supports the conclusion that pornography hurts relationships long-term.
Christianity needs to do a better job of noting other sins that impact marital intimacy, such as abuse, long-term sexual refusal, and selfish demands. But while correcting the problems, let’s continue to protect marriages by addressing such issues as adultery, porn, and inappropriate lust.
But has Christianity hurt your sex life?
A teaching or experience linked to your Church, a fellow Christian (or “Christian’), a religious resource, etc. likely damaged your marital sex life in some way. Maybe it came through you, maybe it came through your spouse, or maybe you even sat in a counseling office and got bad advice. I’m sorry.
Christianity should, once again, do better. We have a responsibility to teach and live out God’s truth!
However, the problem isn’t with God’s design itself. Rather, the word Christianity is made up of three parts: Christ + ian + ity. Christ means the Messiah, specifically Jesus; the suffix -ian means relating or belonging to; and -ity means a condition or state of being. Christianity is not simply Christ—who is perfect—but imperfect people trying to follow Christ in their imperfect states of being.
In short, God makes things right, but His people get things wrong. Sometimes out of malice, but more often out of ignorance or their own personal struggles. (Looking at you, St. Augustine.)
For instance, I believe the older ladies in my church, whose sex advice to High School Me amounted to “keep your legs closed,” wanted the best for me. They wanted me to avoid the heartache and real-life consequences that can come with sexual recklessness outside marriage, so they said what they thought would keep me virginal until then. They wanted me to have a good marriage later, so they told me that sex was something I should provide to my husband. They wanted me to have intimacy in that relationship, so they suggested that sex and affection were trades between husband and wife.
Of course, that’s terrible advice! But you know what’s terrible too? That they didn’t know better. I now have deep sympathy for these imperfect Christian wives whose condition of being had not included hot and holy sex in their marriage in a way that they could speak well about that gift of God to others!
If a Church or fellow Christian messed things up for you with their words or actions, maybe it’s time to give a little grace. I’m not talking about something going on right now that should be addressed—and certainly past or present abuse should not be overlooked—but you might need to let go of anger or resentment you’ve held on to for longer than you should.
Embracing God’s design
When you let go of bad theology or practices, you need to replace it with something else—good theology and practices. I have lots of posts that touch on the Bible and sex and will continue to talk about it! But a summary version of God’s design for sex might be:
- Sex was created for procreation, recreation, and unification.
- Sex was thus intended for marriage.
- Sex should be mutually desired and satisfying.
- Sexual challenges are to be expected, given that we live in a broken world, but can be resolved with attention, effort, and unity.
- Sexual sin damages individuals and intimacy and should be avoided, repented from, and replaced with godly practices.
- Sexual oneness between husband and wife reflects God’s longing for intimacy with His people.
Where Christianity has failed, Christ won’t.
Given my difficult past and our prior marital struggles, I should not have the incredibly intimate sex life I have with my husband. But I do. I’m a firm believer that my marriage and sexual intimacy thrive because of Christ and His redeeming power.
Now I’m not saying someone can’t have pleasurable sex outside of God’s design, but that will never be all that sex could be. It is and can be more. God designed sex to be a blessing—a challenge at times too, because that can force us to grow, but a blessing as well.God designed sex to be a blessing—a challenge at times too, because that can force us to grow, but a blessing as well. Click To Tweet
Has Christianity hurt your sex life? Maybe. Probably. But it’s also the very thing that can bring you to a new and better place. Because whatever the –ian and -ity have messed up, the CHRIST part of Christianity remains the core. However Christianity has hurt your sex life, Christ can heal it.