Sexuality and Theology: Part 2

Here’s Part 1

We then started to talk about sexual consumerism—no, not human trafficking, but rather sexuality being consumed to fuel one’s self worth and give them validity as ‘fully human’. So often people feel that they cannot be ‘fully human’ living in the way God created us as sexual beings without the ‘sexual’ part. But what so many miss is that God didn’t create us to idolatrize sexuality, but to be conformed to His image. And if His image was made manifest in Jesus, and Jesus was single (and peep this from the Book of Isaiah), what’s the deal with the world today?

Culture (Mainstream: Christian and secular) look to marriage as the end-all-be-all of ideal human sexuality (gay and straight). In his book, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries, sociologist Rodney Stark notes that in 59 BC Julius Caesar secured legislation that awarded land to fathers of multiple children, and Cicero fought to outlaw celibacy. Then in the year 9 AD emperor Augustus passed laws that:

*Gave political preference to men who fathered three or more children

*Imposed political and financial sanctions upon childless couples, unmarried woman over the age of twenty, and upon unmarried men over the age of twenty-five

Stark goes on to document how each successive emperor after Augustus added additional perks for married couple with children and additional penalties for unmarried people and married couples without kids.

Here’s my problem—during Jesus’ time and the disciples time after that, marriage, in their culture, was being stripped from a God-honoring covenant to a legally sanctioned relationship with political and financial gains associated with said relationship.

At that moment, sexuality and marriage, became a product to consume to give worth. It’s a shame that mindset has lasted so long.

Much love.

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  • J.Random

    My church is reading through the book of Genesis, and marriage in Genesis sure doesn’t appear to be a God-honoring covenant. Nobody ever takes vows before God: Parents just “get a wife” for their sons, or the sons go get a wife for themselves. (Often, multiple wives.) And they’ll do just about anything to procreate: from Sarah giving Abraham her slave as a second wife, to Leah and Rachel each competing to give Jacob more sons than the other, to Tamar pretending to be a prostitute in order to trick her father-in-law Judah into fathering children with her.

    (And Genesis is only Israel’s history. Marriage arrangements were happening across the whole world for all human history, not just Israel’s.)

    Marriage as a God-honoring covenant may be a noble goal to which to aspire — but historically speaking, it appears to me that such a picture is simply wishful thinking. Marriage has *always* had that political/economic component.

    Maybe the better question to ask is, what is it about Jesus that makes Christians want to *rescue* marriage from its ever-corrupt historical state? What would a rescued, redeemed picture of marriage look like? Did we achieve that picture in 1950s white America? Or is the true picture as yet unrealized? And what Christian justification exists to exclude some people from that picture?

  • J – Such powerful questions you brought up in your last paragraph! I’ve never thought about those before… You just challenged the heck out of me; and I don’t actually know the answer. Maybe I should do a post about that? Anyone out there have any thoughts on J’s questions?

    On another note, I do think that there is such a thing as God-honoring marriages individually with two people in fidelity with God and each other, I was just trying to speak to the broad Structure of Marriage in the mainstream thought (and subconscious/imputed) processes.

  • Rebecca

    I’ve always wondered how we arrived at the conclusion that one man-one woman is what God always wanted and intended. The Old Testament knows nothing of that thinking and the New Testament doesn’t say much about it at all. I don’t see that God ever told people they were wrong to be involved in polygamy. He even told David that he would have given him MORE concubines if he had only asked. I’m not advocating for polygamy. I’m just wondering who decided it was wrong and how we came to the one man-one woman concept as being the ONLY thing that God approves of. I’ve been curious about this for a long time and now seemed like a good time to ask!

  • Bruce

    Quick stab….
    Only one marriage before the fall…. a helper, in the face of… corresponding to, and fit in every way to be a companion and mate…. and to actually become one flesh when they unite.

    All went downhill from there, and much was “acceptable” because of the fallen state, until the time of redemption.

    Jesus sets the record straight…. “from the beginning it was not that way”….”Nobody should destroy what God has created”. Paul also affirms the standards of a proper marriage relationship. That is not a mystery anymore, but it is a deep mystery in reference to how the Church will one day be Jesus’ Bride…. only bride, forever one with Him.

    Quick thoughts….

  • ‘course, I always found it a bit interesting that the Jesus’s “Bride” is made up of millions of people…male and female….

  • Seth

    I wish I could remember my Sociology of the Family course from back-in-the-day–we had a number of conversations about this very topic! Before weighing in on this topic, it would be helpful to know what the marriage current and historical marriage norms are in other non-Western, non-Judeo-Christian cultures, just to spot what might be widely held among them. I don’t remember, but I’m gonna speculate anyway!

    I agree that marriage is by far more of a civil and economic construct these days that it is a religious one. Many countries sanction marriage through a civil contract/registry which may or may not be accompanied by a religious ceremony. I find the states’ practice of licensing members of the clergy to confer a civil/legal status upon couples to be a notable breach in the separation of Church and State, which Americans adore so much. It also makes the systematic denial of civil marriage to gay couples particularly onerous to me. I don’t expect any faith tradition to bless gay marriages if they object to them, but I do expect governments to license them and provide equal benefits under the law for them. But I digress.

    Nevertheless, we have this mixed-up attitude toward marriage, which we sanction and hold high, but at which we aren’t very successful. So we have an elaborate method of dismantling our marriages when they fail, but we encourage our divorcees to try marriage again, often without any understanding about what went wrong the first time around. And we have enormous wedding industries and larger divorce industries to show for it!

    But I will say this in defense of marriage (even though mine failed): To the extent that God created both male and female, and that both male and female are in God’s image, i.e., that God is both male and female. There is a remarkable sense of completeness when both come together–greater than the some of their parts (and I don’t mean just making love and raising children!). It’s a way in which a man and a woman can create their own “Eden.” I understand Bruce’s statement that Jesus restored this ideal both by his teaching and by his death on the cross. Marriage is a way in which we can give ourselves to one another out of obedience, as opposed to consuming each other for the sake of the socio-economic institution. I think this is why the Roman church calls marriage a sacrament, because (when it works) it’s a way in which God is made known to us. And it’s one of the reasons I wanted to stay married, even as a gay man. Someday I hope to have an comparable bond with a man I love–though I doubt that full civil marriage will be afforded to us in my lifetime–but it will not be the same as the marriage I had with a woman. ‘Nuf said!

  • Mrs T

    Andrew, did you ever investigate what columnist Eric Zorn suggested? Everyone should get a civil union & then if they want, go to the religion of choice for a marriage ceremony. I assume all the laws pertaining to marriage & divorce would be in effect for the civil union.
    Whatever your religious beliefs, our country is known for consenting adults making their own choices as long as no one else is hurt(like kids).

    As a Christian, I think we should concentrate on other issues, not gay marriage! More important is not sexualizing our kids in school. I can’t imagine a 6 yr. old understanding sex, no matter what kind. We should speak out against that kind of thing. Sex ed should be for older kids, in case someone didn’t learn the basics. It still is the parents’ job, & even tho they fail at it regularly, the schools shouldn’t be pushing sex ed at young ages. That’s the battle, not gay marriage!!!!!

  • leila

    I think this is a very neat discussion and I just recently found something that may be of interest to this topic and I was wondering if andrew and the rest of you heard of it. It’s called “A Letter to Louise” by a retired baptist pastor(I was redirected to the site from a emergent blog and didn’t get his name). Basically, he had a conversation over 50 years ago with Louise about her gay brother going to hell and it prompted him to reexamine what the bible says about being gay or lesbian. I thought it was interesting and I thought I’d pass it along, I kinda don’t know what to think of it since I’m not a theologian or bible scholar, I do agree though, that christians need to be more loving and accepting of others like Jesus was. As for the topic at hand, there definitely can be issues for young people when they hear how negative sex is and then are told to have a ball with it once married! How can they when all they’ve been told is how wrong and dirty it is and all the bad things that can happen if sex is abused? Girls have been especially harmed by this because many can’t enjoy sex even when they are in the ‘proper’ settings and can even end up hating it because if it’s ‘dirty’ and ‘shameful’ before marriage it ends up being so afterwards. I’ve also noticed that there’s a sexist type attitude of many church leaders when it comes to women’s dress and mannerisms that they conveniently don’t apply to men. I remember hearing a youth pastor single out girls’ clothing by saying it could cause the boys to ‘stumble’ but nothing to the boys about making us stumble. Anyone else hear such negativity while growing up? Thanks for not shying away from important issues like this one, and Andrew, I love your blog 🙂

  • kerriann

    Marriage as it is talked about today, is actually quite new on the human scene. Basically, women have been owned by men throughout history, and Biblical marriages are hardly something I would wish on any woman today. There’s just nothing very modern at all about biblical accounts of polygamy, male ownership of women, and a world where women were treated as slaves and wombs. Thank god I’m a lesbian, and never had to be a part of that institution at all! It is an irony that two major issues of “mainstream gays” are marriage and the military. Yuck!

  • Mrs T

    Thankfully the New Testament changed that. Women were given so much more dignity in a culture that ‘dissed’ them. Even today, there are so many cultures where they are treated so horribly. The US needs improvement, but thankfully we can complain & live our lives freely!
    Yeah, the institution of marriage should not be entered into lightly!!

  • kerriann

    Actually Mrs. T, in Jesus’ time, women were stoned, they were forced into prostitution, and they were still considered the property of men. In the US today, the position of women is far from stellar. The US is about 17th or 18th on the list of countries that are the most advantageous places for women to live. I think the number one country for women is Sweden. Even Tunisia has more women in its legislature than the USA does 23%, Rwanda has 49% women in its governing body.

    The economic position of women, access to birth control, abortion or reproductive health is under constant threat in the US. Lesbians have no federal benefits as lesbians, including social security survival benefits, and certainly discrimination is an aspect of my daily life in the US.

    In Jesus’ time and the times of the new testiement women were instrumental in building the church, but as soon as male authority became institutionalized under the councils, women’s rights went out the window.
    We fight right wing christian groups all the time, I still listen to men on the radio telling wives to obey their husbands, or to submit to male authority.
    And they seem to think this is biblical, reminds me of slaves obey your masters. I won’t go to churches because I feel I am not honored fully both in my lesbian self, or in myself as a feminist. So no, I don’t think women have it so good in America, and right wing christianity is pretty much anti- women’s full personhood.

    No lesbian I know thinks of christianity as a force for liberation, and the church has opposed basic women’s rights issues from the get go. I look at right wing churches as one of the main barriers to women having full medical access, and to listen to those men on the radio, well, the things they say about women are downright oppressive.

    It is a fiction that the position of women in America is better than all countries in the world… you didn’t say this, but I don’t believe you are really seeing the full impact of this economy on women’s lives. I still have men who silence women in groups, who say sexist things openly, and who think they are “godly”– it’s why christianity as it is institutionally established was not at the forefront of the women’s movement in this country, it’s why it still opposes the most basic rights of women, and it is secular society that is responsible for women’s liberation, from the vote, to birth control, to abortion to lesbian rights, to women’s right to be hired as pastors in many denominations along with men. It is still LEGAL to discriminate against lesbians and women in the church, in hiring, promotion and prestige.
    Improvement? Women march in the streets for our rights, and I see the church as one giant road block to my progress and full humanity. It doesn’t liberate me, let’s put it that way.

  • Blake

    Marriage is no longer seen as a godly thing- its now seen as a white middle class sign of success. I have recently been at a church event where the groom ( who is a friend) made the wedding almost like a theatre show ( ironic since Im an actor and foound it inappropriate) and someone mentioned that “if you werent ivited to this wedding, you were a nobody”.

    How can a LGBT person compete with such a shallow demonstration of a wedding- its seen as a sign of social success. and they say same sex attraction is wrong?????????!!!!!!