What is Your Theology of Sexuality? 5 Questions

images52-150x150What is your theology of sexuality?

Most of us do not think theologically about sexual questions. I’m constantly forced to because I teach sexual ethics in a seminary. Most of us do not sort out the implications of our sexual discernments for the way they make space for God to work in and through our lives and other people’s lives.  We do not sort out the assumptions by which we engage our own sexual formation. What do we do with desire? What does it mean that I am attracted sexually to this or that person, this or that object? What if I’m married and attracted to someone else? etc. etc. etc. In society at large, there is an unconscious belief in the merits of self expressionism as the basis of moral action. Pursue sexual self expression as an authentic part of your self as long as you don’t hurt anyone else. It is left at that. In the midst of this, the sexual guidance and formation that our churches have given us has been brutal. The resulting confusion has been ubiquitous. And so, I offer some questions I ask in the midst of the many discussions that are provoked by sexual crisies in a person’s life or the life of the church. These questions, admittedly are at the level of a theologian/philosopher of culture. They are the questions that ferret out issues in the midst of church discernments. But they might be helpful in person to person conversations if they could be translated (maybe you can help me with this?). Yet I find these questions really important as the church seeks to navigate sexual formation from within its communal processes in the current culture. When someone presents to me “I believe such and such” about a sexual issue he or she is confronted with, these are the questions I find myself asking (often internally). I find these questions in particular often missing in the ensuing discussions. So here are 5 sets of questions that make explicit one’s theology of sexuality.

  • Sanctification: What doctrine of sanctification is implied by your position? How do you believe God in Christ transforms/heals human beings and human life? What then does this mean for all people with sexual issues of any kind in their lives? What hope do you offer (from within your own discernment) for people with issues that need healing, renewal, change, transformation?
  • Chastity: All sexuality, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, other assumes a form of chastity, the ordering our sexual desires towards a given end. For instance, gay marriage infers that a gay man shall guide and chasten his desires toward one male in one monogamous marriage. In your own discernment, how are the ends towards which we chasten our sexual drives determined in your views of sexuality?
  • Subjectivity: Subjectivity after the post modern matrix, within post structuralism, after Foucault, Derrida, Zizek, Butkler, sees the human subject as the product of cultural formation, “the Big Other.” Part of this (if not the main part) is that desire is not simply given but shaped by these forces. How does this change the way we view sexuality and the formation of desire? Do you take this into account? Why or why not?
  • Antagonism as Source of Sexual Life: In what ways is our sexual expression/identity formed in antagonism versus healing? What ways have we pointed out faults in others to better secure and avoid examining our own sexual identity and lives.
  • The Limits on Self Expression: If self expression is the source of one’s sexual ethic, i.e. what you feel, desire should be fulfilled because it is given by God, what if any limits do you put on that expression and why? What is the source of that limiting ethic?

For those theologically minded people, what do you think of these questions for church conversations? Are there others that are more important? Do you find any of these questions helpful?  offensive? Herein reveals much about our theology of sexuality. Why are they helpful? offensive? How would you rephrase them? I’m not looking to define the answers here for Christian orthodoxy. Instead I’m looking for the right questions that need to be asked and the ones, given our current culture, that often get missed. In this regard, do these questions help and why or why not?

Posted in LGBTQ, Sexuality, Spiritual Fornation
38 comments on “What is Your Theology of Sexuality? 5 Questions
  1. John Starke says:

    Isn’t the question of authority important to ask? Who governs our sexuality? What teaches us what we are being transformed into?

    I do think the questions you ask are hugely important — especially the first one. Our view of sanctification and transformation is really important. I think it’s interesting that protestants have historically seen sanctification as progressive, never seeing fulfillment on this side of heaven, except on the issue of sexuality, where we expect immediate and complete change on this side of heaven.

  2. David Fitch says:

    John, the question of authority is expressed in the question under Chastity: i.e. how are the ends towards which we chasten our sexual drives determined? This is the question of from whence do you derive your ends, goals, purposes to which you submit your sexual formation to. This is framed perhaps in the terms of Roman Catholic moral theology, but it nonetheless still gets at the question of authority.And it has the advantage of revealing the authority structures at work already in all of us so as to deconstruct, rather than asking something like “do you go to the Bible for your direction in your life?” which for many people circumvents (cuts short) the process of discerning the theology behind our sexual formation.

    • John Starke says:

      Right. But when I’m talking with skeptics about their sexuality, the immediate objection is “who says?” I can’t just say, well, “cultural Christianity says you shouldn’t” or “it’s healthier to be chaste.”

      There’s got to be a more compelling way in appealing to divine revelation.

      • David Fitch says:

        If they’re asking “who says?” then I’d like my dialogue partner to answer this question for themselves equally as much as I shall answer it for me. I’m for uncovering the assumption (especially with a skeptic non Christian?)that there is an authority for the ends we submit ourselves to in all our given sexualities. Christians submit to the ends and purposes of God as revealed in Scripture through Jesus Christ as worked out by the Holy Spirit in a body submitted to Jesus as Lord. Others submit to other formations etc. contsruals of the way sexuality is. It’s important for the skeptic to understand the structure of their sexuality in all these ways mentioned in the 5 areas, before I start hammering them on my particular view of authority and the Bible. Agreed?

        • John Starke says:

          To be sure. But I wouldn’t want to “hammer” — I hope you know that. I can sense a bit of Barthian opposition to apologetics. No? I’m sympathetic to that, at some measure. But I’ve found that skeptics want to know why my view of sexuality would be more satisfying then theirs. Which means I don’t simply say, “Because the Bible says so!”

          • David Fitch says:

            John,
            I think we have to sit there ..in the presence of the other … and allow the Holy Spirit to get at the heart of what is going on in this exchange. So for me …I don’t want to answer too quickly (which I think you already get where I’m coming from) why “my” construal/interpretation of sexuality according to the Bible trumps someone elses. I want to go deep into the core of what is going on, the struggles, pains, antagonisms, narratives that are driving ouir sexuality, I want to open space then forthese questions, so we each self-reflect together what is going on here. Let us get to the heart of my discontent … So I get you know all this, but it’s out of this space that the Bible offers a redemptive narrative in Jesus Christ of sex … but too often (in fact most of the time) our conversation partners have constructs which prevent it even being heard. Spaces of mutual transformation create conditions for these questions, including the authority question, to be seriously engaged.
            This may be overstated (I’m prone to it) …there are times and places to listen to a good Tim Keller video on some subject … and these can help … But most of the work of overcoming antagonism will happen in these places in my view.

  3. Frank Turk says:

    This is only the most important issue of our generation, David. Our culture thinks sex is a hobby and not an ethical issue, which is like all the civilizations which were in decline before us. If Christianity can salvage a God-centered view of sexuality for our culture, we will have done something historically unprecedented.

  4. Seth says:

    Dave,

    From your perspective, are issues of brokenness (i.e. the extent to which someone perceives brokenness or what counts as brokenness in their sexuality) grounds of exploration prior to issues of sanctification? Or is that implied/revealed by starting with sanctification?

  5. David Fitch says:

    Seth, most of these questions are aimed at clarifying the implications of the discernments/judgements we’ve already made concerning sexuality/gender etc.I think they help both Christians and non-Christians sort out what we believe and why. But I think these questions are helpful especially for those of us within committed bodies of Christ who are trying to sort out what we believe and why?For this reason, I am asking about the implications of one’s already existing view of a sexual issue for sanctification.

  6. Lise says:

    I appreciate this post although as a psychotherapist and as a woman, I find it hard to think about sexuality in such cerebral ways because of the very subjectivity you mention above. Desire and sexuality are definitely impacted by our social conditioning, particularly when objectification and abuse come into play. (And statistically speaking, the numbers of women who have been abused at some point in their lives is shocking). When someone has been molested and sexualized at an early stage in life and by a parental figure, this can wreck havoc on perceptions of attachment, love, self-worth, etc. And it can take years to sort all of that out no matter how hard one tries to do what the Bible says. Then mix that in with the secular norms of today’s dating world and it’s an even bigger battle to fight.

    I personally couldn’t come to a place of honoring sanctification and chastity until I sorted out much of my subjective experience. And I think we as Christians have to be very sensitive to where individuals may be wounded in regards to their sexuality. I also think that desire is a beautiful thing but needs to be channeled into a Higher purpose versus acted out on when not “appropriate.” This can only happen if one fiercely acknowledges that very desire through deep self-examination and prayer as opposed to repressing the feelings and automatically viewing them as evil or bad. This however requires spiritual maturity.

    I agree whole-heartedly that our culture has grossly distorted and cheapened sexuality. We live in bodies that get objectified and that people sometimes can’t even stand to be in, let alone take pleasure in, which is not how our creator designed us to live. Our bodies are temples and relationships are covenantal and sacred.

    This year I have been performing two monologues from “Lady Parts: Biblical Women and the Vagina Monologues.” One of the pieces, “The Woman Caught in Adultery” is a beautiful monologue reflecting personal and sexual redemption. The character says, “Could my flesh become Word? Could the sediment of my past become the sentiment of grace and truth expressed?”… It’s a beautiful piece that deals with these issues. Performing the monologue has been a wonderful experience and when in role, I can feel how Jesus liberated this woman. “But that word he used for sin was new to my ears. Sin wasn’t about breaking the law, or committing adultery, or missing the mark. He wanted more of me. The best of my flesh and the deepest of my words. Could I tap into both? Could the sediment of my past become the sentiment of grace and truth expressed?”

    In the women’s movement we say, “The personal is political.” There must be a similar correlation in theology. And I’m curious why no women have responded to this important post.

    • David Fitch says:

      Lise… Wow that was good writing … and I agree … very much … that we start different places. I agree so much that the subjectivity piece is missing, and how we cometo understand the forces that hagve shaped us is essential to being in a place where we can become ‘subject’ to tredemptive forces at work in Christ … and I agree … theology can often be cerebral … and if it doesn’t get translated by people other than like myself … the work of God in our lives shall be hampered… thx for commenting

  7. Brandon says:

    This is brilliant, and even something that I have been thinking about for a while. When I was in youth group, and now as a youth group leader, much of what we hear/tell young people is ‘For God’s sake, keep your pants up!” or for the “good” Christian kids in the youth group, “Don’t have lustful (read: sexual) thoughts!”

    I think that the project of Christian sanctification involves submitting ones sexuality to God, asking him to form your sexual desires in such a way that he wants us to want sex. In my church’s youth group, one of the things I try to tell the guys I lead is that 1) sex is good, 2) lust is a good desire gone awry 3) God wants us to want sex in the way he wants us to want it.

    I think there’s great wisdom in the postmodern analysis of the formation of our desires. I think the Christian project is then to remake those desires. The first step is probably to ask God to make us want to be conformed to his image.

  8. Lise says:

    Thank you, David. And Brandon, I appreciate your thoughts. I did not grow up attending a youth group. I think young Christians are lucky to have a place where they can get some guidance in this area, although I have heard that if handled too simplistically or legalistically, this can cause problems too. But it seems only the youth get mentoring around these issues whereas older adults less so, which is a shame because many of us came to Christ as adults and after living in the secular world.

    Sexuality is a complicated subject that must be allowed discussion in an intelligent, mature fashion.

    And why does no one ever seem to preach from Song of Songs?

  9. Fantastic questions, David. Thanks! Helpful comments too. I need to ponder these things.

  10. Michael Knowles says:

    From the perspective of biblical theology, I venture to propose that two more questions are vital (the pun is intentional). Both stem from a reading of Genesis 5:3, “When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.” The reference to “image and likeness” (recalling Genesis 1:26-27, where the “image of God” in humanity is “male and female”) implies that the human ability to bring forth new life corresponds to God’s own creation of humanity (and, at a deeper level, that this generative potential itself represents the “image and likeness” of God in us). If this is a fair reading of Genesis 5:3, then the two additional theological questions are 1) in what sense does our sexual expression correspond to or reflect the fuller nature and character of God, and 2) to what extent is the goal of our sexual self-expression that of giving or offering life (as distinct from simply seeking to sustain our own)? For all that these are, in one sense, rather abstract theological considerations, they are at the same time immensely practical (or so they seem to me!).

    • David Fitch says:

      That second question is at the core of Roman Catholic theology of sex and is absolutely fundamental … in a multi-layered way.

      • Michael says:

        Indeed: I read Humanae Vitae many years ago for an M.Div. course, and found its reasoning (if not all of its conclusions!) instructive.

    • These are good questions. I particularly like the first one. I think Grenz hints at it when he talks about our sexuality as an expression of our exo-centricity, i.e., our being centered outside of ourselves in ecstatic love (imaging an expression of God’s own ecstatic being and expression). On the flip side, our fallen nature, with its heart turned in upon itself as Luther puts it, seeks to assimilate the other.

      One the second question: if that is the case, what is distinctively human about generating new life? (assuming the imago applies distinctively to human beings)

  11. Jay H says:

    I suppose part of the question as a Christian has to be which texts do we prioritize over others? The vision of sexuality in Genesis (Abraham sleeps with his wife’s maid) is very different than the vision of Jesus. The sexuality of David and Solomon is another example. If you prioritize the narrative depictions of sexuality in the OT, you might come away with the belief that 1)sexuality for women is about procreation and perhaps mutual pleasure (SOS); 2) for men it is about power, wealth, companionship, procreation, pleasure etc.; 3) Men can have sex with anyone except the wife of another man; 4) women must only have sex with one man (and the list goes on). If you prioritize parts of the NT, you might come away with the idea that any form of sexual expression is less than desirable and may get in the way of our greater mission (1 Cor.). So again, I think the question is what story we choose to prioritize as a guide to our theology.

    I suspect that the stories that we prioritize will be those that make sense of how we envision sexuality functioning right now. If I see no problem with gay expressions of sexuality, I will emphasize those parts of scripture that help make that case and vice versa. In reality then, our view on sexuality is not so much driven by Scripture (so many competing visions) but rather by our own present cultural influences.

    • Ryan Donoho says:

      Jay, I think you bring up an important point. If we are having a conversation with other Christians about sexuality, how we interpret the teachings of Scripture on sexuality becomes very important. Most Christians have a sense that they are supposed to obey God and live the way that God instructs us to live. For that instruction and guidance most Christians turn to Scripture and their Christian community. So, the question of how we interpret Scripture becomes a critical question in the discussion. Often, this question is not explored, and instead it is assumed by the people in the conversation that the Bible clearly teaches x, therefore do x (case closed). This then kills the conversation. A broader question also worth exploring is: how does God reveal God’s will to us?

    • David Fitch says:

      Jay H.
      I’ve never been able to read Scripture in this manner you propose… I certainly acknowledge that any Scriptural hermenuetic prioritizes texts … so I get that … but I don’t consider a Scriptural hermeneutic viable if it chooses one text to exclude another … there must in a sense be a unity in the diversity (James dunn). So, I’ve never been able to understand why people cannot see that there is narrative of sexuality in the Bible. That it is narrated as fallen by the fall of the garden … and there is a narrative of redemption that runs from the fall through the corruption of the OT (complete with Patriarchy etc) all the way to the revelation in Jesus Christ and the renewal of all things. So to read a text where concubines are part of David’s sex life and therefore think this is good and acceptable according to God? at that time?… or to read patriarchy off the OT and assume it was God’s plan? etc etc…bizarre … it makes no sense to me who has been reading those texts as fallen … for a long time .. and that God in Christ has been working all along to restore, heal and renew ..over and beyond those fallen forms of sexuality.

      • Jay H says:

        David,

        I understand your attempt to see a narrative thread through the whole Bible that leads us to the renewed vision of sexuality. However, even the New Testament vision of sexuality is different than what most of us evangelical types want to make it. Paul teaches that people should not be married. But those who lack self control can go ahead and get married. You and I don’t emphasize Paul’s vision because that does not fit with what we truly think is best, right? At least that is why I don’t emphasize Paul’s vision of marriage. My point is that we all emphasize some aspect of the Bible over and against many others. By saying that you see a positive reading of Patriarchy as bizarre is a decision to emphasize one part of the narrative over the other (as I do). I emphasize the positive statements about women and their role in the early church over against their contradictions (1 Tim, 1 Cor etc.).

        When it comes to sexuality, most of us American Christians emphasize Paul statement that all us married couples ought to give one another our marital obligation while completely ignoring his other teachings in the same chapter. That is picking and choosing (McKnight, Blue Parakeet). I actually suspect that Jimmy Dunn would agree that this is precisely what happens, even if there is a narrative thread of unity throughout the whole Bible.

  12. Lisa G says:

    I work on a daily basis with people who have such horribly skewed, dysfunctional views of sexuality. The questions you pose, in one form or another, occupy my thoughts frequently as I look in the faces of women who have been abused, neglected, ignored, misinformed and uninformed about their sexuality. After years of promiscuity, and multiple fathers to their multiple babies, it seems the ability to establish healthy boundaries and practices where their bodies are concerned is a ship that has long since sailed.

    As a rather practical person, when I think through issues of philosophy, theology, etc., it’s always with a “So what?” in the back of my mind. Over the years, I’ve come to the conclusion that placing too much emphasis on a the why’s and wherefore’s of sexuality is a bit like painting the walls of a house that’s slowly collapsing because the foundation is flawed. It’s my observation that the flaw in our view of sexuality stems from a crisis of losing a fundamental belief in the sanctity of human life. If I’m going to develop a proper theology of sexuality, I need to begin with a proper view of who I am and what I’m worth. I have to be able look back at the image of the God of the Universe (in the person of Christ), kneeling in the dust of creation ready to breathe the breath of life into Adam, fully knowing everything that breath would cost Him. I have to KNOW that He was aware of everything I would say or do, every thought I would think, every thing that would ever happen to me, and would still say, “Yes, you are worth it!”, before he drew that breath and released into Adam’s nostrils, the life that would flow through the ages until it reached me. When I really get hold of the fact that in the eyes of my Father, I was worth the life of his son, I can find my value and purpose there, and at that point the foundation has been repaired to the point that I’m ready to address the area of sexuality, as well as other aspects of life that image-bearers in a fallen world struggle with.

    Overall, I appreciate your questions, and it is certainly important to have a firm grasp of how sexuality and theology are connected. The church has done a poor job, overall, of addressing these issues and I appreciate your challenge to think more deeply, and to remember that theology and sexuality are connected at a very fundamental level.

  13. Lise says:

    Amen, sister! “It’s my observation that the flaw in our view of sexuality stems from a crisis of losing a fundamental belief in the sanctity of human life.” This flaw however has been there a long, long time and completely negates everything that image of doctrine espouses.

    I believe we have to look at scripture to help us and not turn a blind eye to texts of terror. It’s not okay that a woman in Judges is gang raped and left for dead, then cut up into 12 pieces because, “All the people did what was right in their own eyes.” Nor was it okay for Amnon to rape Tamar, etc. It’s also problematic that Israel is referred to as a whore deserving of abuse. The tyranny over women in today’s world can be just as brutal so we have to scrutinize these texts.

    I wasn’t kidding when I asked why few preach from Song of Songs. It’s one of the few texts that shows a healthy sexuality (and sensuality) for both males and females, plus addresses the need for care and restraint as well. “O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the wild does: do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!” This is a beautiful bit of advice. However, unfortunately, the lack of respect for life sometimes means a person’s sexuality has already been ignited in one way, shape or form without her consent. Theory is important but only if it strengthens our understanding on all levels of the spectrum.

  14. Lise says:

    Correction: Image of God doctrine not Image of doctrine….

  15. Cat Bismuth says:

    So, I was going to ask: Could it be that we humans are WAAAY more hyper-focused on sexual issues and acts than our Compassionate Creator IS or Ever Intended us to be?

    I have come to see it this way: there is something of the animal left in each of us, no matter how long we *walk with God*. This is another way to understand Paul’s *carnal (hu)man*. God is calling us *to s/Him*. Often, God does that in and through our human relationships and couplings. Moving *to God* means moving out of our animalistic tendencies, or the vestiges of the primitives that still course through our physical being.

    The seminarian and/or legalist is taught to focus on human will (which they term obedience) as the means of escaping the animal origins. God, on the other hand, it seems to me, is far more interested in our responsive interaction than our acts of will. In other words, God is wooing us into an integrated wholeness in which our primitive impulses are organically neutralized by the power of love and respect within the relationship with the Divinely Holy.

    Seminarians are also trained to view monogamous heterosexual unions as the only legitimate means of sexual engagement. Clearly, if the Biblical texts provide any valuable insight at all, that is simply Not. The. Case.

    I am longing for a community in which people are being taught to recognize the Holy Call and respond/interact accordingly, to enter in to a full communion rather than a rule set.

    I was going to put forth this question with comments, but then, Lise & Lisa kinda did the same slant, albeit much more poetically. Thanks, sisters!

  16. Cat Bismuth says:

    To Lise’s point about the violence described in the Old Testament, Good On You, woman! It takes a woman to raise these images from the secret vault in the dungeons of male-dominated discussion (waxing a bit Leonard Cohen there). Why do the men/leaders not address this in the clear light of day?

    I say this strategically whenever I can, but I haven’t said it on Fitch’s blog:

    Every individual leading up to Jesus of Nazareth had the exact same opportunity to say *NO* to acts of violence. It is the task of the TWO YEAR OLD to learn to use his/her *NO* appropriately. On the subject of motivated violence (oh, kill the aliens and take their homes as ours? Sure! No Problem! Man up!), NO ONE EVER SAID NO UNTIL JESUS DID.

    Then there’s Jesus: “Kill the sinners and condemn them to eternal suffering? NO. I would rather die… (insert Nadia Bolz-Weber genius rendering at will).”

    Pre-Resurrection, humans also had no clear imperative that saying *NO* to the violent orders was a viable option. Even from our vantage point, we can all see what it cost God to allow the *NO* to enter the world of humanity. But we Westerners are the most highly informed, most well-educated and most affluent/powerful folks that ever populated God’s Green Earth. We have no excuse for refusing the task of the Two Year Old.

    God Almighty waded through uncounted millenia of grotesque human violence and suffering and bloodshed and worse, knowing that we couldn’t conjure up the *NO* in our brokenness, but longing for it anyway. Finally, when the proof of our insufficiency had been fully baked into the timeline: Jesus…

  17. Cat Bismuth says:

    Meaning no disrespect here, but: to Lise’s question about the lack of Pulpit Time in Song of Songs?

    Great question! Answer? In my estimation: 1) SEX and 2) NOT MONOGAMOUS context!

  18. Cat Bismuth says:

    Thanks for the exercise, Fitch!

    Sanctification: What doctrine of sanctification is implied by your position? How do you believe God in Christ transforms/heals human beings and human life? What then does this mean for all people with sexual issues of any kind in their lives? What hope do you offer (from within your own discernment) for people with issues that need healing, renewal, change, transformation?
    ***

    It is my understanding AND my experience (as a rebel, an outcast and an advocate for *authentic, responsible personhood* within the community of faith that SANCTIFICATION is wholly the work of God within me and us. It was appropriated by Christ, not only in His unsullied death, but also in the sinless life that He lived all the days of His human sojourn.

    It is extended to us by FatherGod, who approved and accepted *not so much the dying as the maintenance of righteousness throughout a tortuous, unjust death* and sealed the acceptance of that offering by raising Jesus from the grave and conferring all power and authority upon Him, making Him, with finality, the God of both the living AND the dead.

    It is enacted in our daily lives by the influence of the ever present HolySpirit, Whose counsel within advises and teaches and confirms to us what is good and what is evil, what is expedient and what is detrimental to the accomplishments that God has planned for each of us from before this Creation took energetic form. This counsel will always lead us, over time, to conjunctions in which we must make difficult/complex choices. While sanctification is wholly the work of GodInUs, our responses to the work determine the curricula that God will bring to our lessonplan. #OneDayAtATime

    God in Christ transforms/heals us *in process* as we learn through interaction with the Divine Authority what s/He (articulating Tony Campolo POV on Trinity) intends to bless in us and through us. Faith in Community is helpful, instructive and can be healing, but often it is not because it tends to overwrite the authentic individual personhood with a *community norm* and to commit social atrocities on those who refuse to conform or who choose to remain separated from the GroupThink exercises. Worse, it does this without any therapeutic attempt to address or even acknowledge the underlying issues of *the different*.

    Conformity, as it is practiced and applied in the 21C church in America, is diametrically opposed to the very real work of the Divine in Sanctification. imho

    What does this mean for all people with sexual issues? Not clear to me what set or subset of the population is being defined by “all people”. Within the FAMILY of Faith (defined as a more inclusive, less biased set than community/church), sanctification, as the ongoing work of GodInMe & GodInUs, may be RELIED UPON to bring me/us to an expected end; specifically, to the fulfillment of the good works that have been planned for us. It (sanctification) is not dependent upon my conformity or my enforcement efforts. In the PROCESS of sanctification, the sooner I learn confidence in the good will of God toward me and my *neighbors*, (defined as those whom God brings into my path day by day), the sooner I can get on with it. Expect to wrestle sometimes. Expect to dwell in mystery sometimes, maybe even a lot. Expect to make sacrifices, sometimes big ones, and learn to hold them in abeyance until they can be made with joy and/or genuine thanksgiving. Expect to spend vast swaths of this mortal lifetime just *getting it done*. Even Moses spent a limited number of days&nights on the mountaintop. Expect elation. Expect the GodWhoShowsUp! All of these elements apply to *sexual issues*, as they arise during the process of Life, of Sanctification. The most basic guiding principle, still, is *DoNoHarm*. When we frame our sexual impulses within that context, we cooperate with the process of sanctification.

    Judaism holds forth a concept of cooperating with G-d in *the mending of the universe*. This is a very useful, appropriate and authentic principle to apply to matters of sexuality, precisely because it dethrones both self and doctrinal allegiance, placing the emphasis on the Divinely holistic initiative.

    For the extended population that could be implied in Fitch’s *all people*: since we ChristOnes all agree with (or I imagine that none would disclaim) the Word that “judgment begins with the household of God” and since we are all under the directive to “search for peace and work to maintain it”, it seems to me that the more we cultivate the awareness of the GuidingGod who keeps company with us in our mortality, the more we truly *pass the peace* in our time. The promise of God to humans is this: “If you seek Me, you will find Me.” In some instances, the promise is qualified with this condition: “When you seek Me with your whole heart.”

    How, then, is it our business to ALIENATE people/souls from the search, from gospel of Christ? There is one whose mission is defined that way. Where do we lay our heads down?

  19. Cat Bismuth says:

    Chastity: All sexuality, heterosexual, gay, lesbian, other assumes a form of chastity, the ordering our sexual desires towards a given end. For instance, gay marriage infers that a gay man shall guide and chasten his desires toward one male in one monogamous marriage. In your own discernment, how are the ends towards which we chasten our sexual drives determined in your views of sexuality?
    ***

    So sorry, Fitch. You lost me on this one. ALL sexuality does NOT assume a form of chastity. I am certain that your premise has value for the discussion, but I would ask with all respect and courtesy that you restate the premise. The question is a good one, but it is devalued by the false (or poorly articulated) premise. Try again?

  20. Cat Bismuth says:

    Subjectivity: Subjectivity after the post modern matrix, within post structuralism, after Foucault, Derrida, Zizek, Butkler, sees the human subject as the product of cultural formation, “the Big Other.” Part of this (if not the main part) is that desire is not simply given but shaped by these forces. How does this change the way we view sexuality and the formation of desire? Do you take this into account? Why or why not?
    ***

    As an opening gambit, let me state for the record that I have zero familiarity with any formal concept labeled *post structuralism* or any of the cogitators listed by name. Perhaps I will have time and opportunity to look into them at some point, but I don’t see that as being any time soon.

    As for *subjectivity*: this I do know something about.

    Humans were always subjectively influenced by their surroundings and relationships (cultural formation). God was always determined to save us in and from and because of our subjection. God is also the author of the subjection that each of us experiences. We are, at best and for better or worse, co-authors of that. What has changed?

    Within the construct of my current understanding, I would posit that *desire*, at its root, is more of a chemical process than we would like to admit. A 4 year old knows nothing of sexual desire because a 4 year old body is not yet capable of producing the chemistry OR contextualizing the stimuli in a way that is erotic/desirable. A 14 year old boy, on the other hand, is normally full on sex drive all the time, Christian or not, gender preference aside. So there is an element of developmental maturity that needs to be protected and nurtured in a healthy way. As adult caregivers, we are tasked with providing this kind of care to the little ones in our sphere of influence. As spouses, we may also provide some of the needed recognition and nurturance that our partners need. Within the FAMILY of Faith, the Tribe of Peacemakers, we are meant to learn to manage the chemical and behavioral imperatives by the gracious and consistent love and acceptance that God has shown to us in person and spoken of throughout the ages.

    If we can set aside — just for a moment — all of the do’s and dont’s that are put forth in our society and focus solely on *subjectivity* within the individual and in the context of authentic personhood, we can begin to see sexuality as a human attribute that develops in almost every person born into the time/space continuum. (I say almost because I have no reliable sampling data that includes 100% of all humans in all of time.)

    Subjective shaping influences are placed upon the sexuality of each of us throughout our lifespan. Sure. Incontrovertibly. These influences are not incomprehensible to the God that we are called to serve. They matter to s/Him. Therefore, they matter to us. And when I say matter, I do not mean that each of us will naturally or even supernaturally give them the weight that they actually bear. What I mean is this: the fact that they matter to God and that they are knowable to our specific generation of teachers/parents/leaders makes them utterly significant. The weight that we allow them in our human interactions? THAT weight IS a judgment on our faith and our qualifications to teach/parent/lead.

    It is NOT my goal or my position that we should allow or encourage our fledges (avian term for those who are working out to develop flight skills) to randomly pursue any and every erotic temptation that pops up on their radar screen (or our own, for that matter). But we should use this stage of development to learn HOW to think about and process the impulses and incidents in a way that is fully in touch with the generous and forgiving and faithful GodWithUs, who honors and redeems us as individuals with unique value and experiences.

    It’s not, “Because I said so”. It’s not even, “Because God said so”. It’s “How does that fit with whom God has called you (or him, or her) to become?” It’s finding the faith to allow the answer to unfold instead of demanding a facsimile of conformity because…

    So one may be called to live into the liberality of God in an interracial marriage. One may be called to celibacy (and gifted for it). One may be called to a single heterosexual marriage for life. One may be called to demonstrate the unfailing faithfulness of God within a committed same sex relationship. One may be convinced that a less monogamous arrangement would not be the unforgivable sin, but since he or she has been called into the FAMILY of Faith, might choose to foreclose those impulses because it would be too hard for the FAMILY to deal with it.

    The complexity of human sexuality with its incumbent choices and behaviors and consequences was never less than it is today, but our willingness to admit/embrace the breadth and scope of God’s grace has probably shriveled substantially. Also, we are poorly equipped to deal with the freedom that is afforded to our generations. God hasn’t changed the Divine perspective on our subjective experiences, but we are less bounded by monarchies and poverties and tyrannies and social conventions than ever before. We have been given much in the way of freedom and we are ill-prepared to extend the same grace to others that we ourselves have been trained to accept and enjoy.

    Much may yet be required of us in that dimension.

  21. len says:

    The poetry of Rumi, and some of the work of Ron Rolheiser (fellow Canadian) have been helpful for me. More work to do. In the context of repressive and dis-embodied (overly intellectual, non-incarntional) western culture, these are tough challenges. I think we especially needs women’s voices, since their experience of embodiment is more vulnerable and raw than it is for us men.

  22. Cat Bismuth says:

    Addendum to my remarks on Subjectivity, per se the bit about *less monogamous choices*. I framed that example for a Western, ChurchInAmerica scenario, but I feel compelled to add that those who are responding to the call of Christ in, say, a Middle Eastern polygamist culture ABSOLUTELY NEED NOT abandon the family or the culture that has formed him/her in development. The GodOfAllComfort is well and truly able to meet and save and renew those whose lifestyle is completely different from our Western/American model.

    Recently, I heard an audio sermon which included the recital of a polygamist African culture in which the men were being forced by their religious leaders to choose ONE of their several wives as a *permanent partner*. The others were being cast out of the community into poverty and starvation. {Not by mere coincidence, this is a true and powerful illustration of what our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are experiencing in Evangelical missions in this country, on a massively spiritual scale.}

    I think it was a sermon delivered by Brent & Janis Sharpe over at SanctuaryTulsa, but I might misremember that. Their point and mine is that such a failure of compassionate, redemptive commitment IS NOT THE GOOD NEWS OF CHRIST.

  23. Lise says:

    I love the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz so much I named my cats after them.

  24. josenmiami says:

    hey Dave, this is a fantastic blog discussion. I have been looking for informed resources like this. I came to faith with my wife shortly after we married 40 years ago and 18 months ago she died with breast cancer. So, now I am single for the first time in my adult life as a believer and I have am tend to have a slightly different perspective. I also spend a lot of time with 30-something single grad students who are not believers in the Christian sense who have an entirely different worldview.

    Is there any way I could get your syllabus? or any writings you have on the subject? I recently read Margaret Fareley’s Just Love and found it informative. Are there any other sources you might recommend to me?

    Thank you so much for opening this important topic!

    JH

  25. Cat Bismuth says:

    RE JayH comment on Paul’s NT teachings, not showing up on blog for me at this time, but: YES! Thank you for the observations. I personally think that Paul is/was far more pragmatic than we *moderners* recognize. I think that his comments concerning *not to marry* are important & 100% pragmatic. I also believe that, while they stand alone through the ages, they are also written in the context of a community that was under HEAVY PERSECUTION and facing EVEN WORSE PERSECUTION in their near future. So, that has enormous bearing on the counsel that is proffered therein.

    Still, the bottom line for Paul is effectual service and his most pragmatic advice is this: “it is better to marry than to burn” (ie, to struggle with the sexual appetites of the flesh when you have a mission to fulfill on behalf of the kingdom).

    This admonition is reason enough, in my view, for us to wrestle with a more therapeutic view of human sexuality than the Victorian valueset that has been handed down to us and which we have MINDLESSLY ACCEPTED without petition or redress.

    This isn’t a fairytale we are living in. This is blood and guts and STVs and orphans and HOPE and TESTIMONY…

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David Fitch
Betty R. Lindner Professor of Theology
Northern Seminary
DMin in Missional Leadership
Prodigal Christianity
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