When Sexual Ideology Coopts Religion

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As a gay man who has engaged a variety of religious traditions, my experiences have been – varied.

While I’m heartened when a religious institution, congregation, denomination, etc. is “open and affirming”, that initial optimism can be quickly dampened if the acceptance morphs into “tokenism.” “This is our gay member,” someone says, showing you off to emphasize their open mindedness or largesse. Granted, I’ll take being a token and accepted over being rejected anyday.

Yet what troubles me often is when a religious community or even an entire denomination accepts the moral legitimacy of same sex marriages/unions – yet is either afraid to engage the individuals and subcultures it has accepted, or sees no need to do so. Acceptance is the end of the matter. And it isn’t followed by calls to holiness in same sex relationships.

The Judeo-Christian moral vision is one of redemption, humane values, and the affirmation of human dignity. Sexuality and sexual ethics is part of this vision.

What I’m getting at here is that – in my opinion – Judaism and/or Christianity can accommodate same sex couples, yet should do so without abandoning the entirety of traditional sexual ethics, and without capitulating to the baser aspects of what some call the “sexual revolution.”

In my thinking, much of Judeo-Christian sexual theology and ethics is about channeling the wild energy of sexuality into positive, life affirming ways, while seeking to resist abusive sexuality rooted in lust, lack of self-mastery, power imbalances, and other dehumanizing trends.

Before I go any further, let me be crystal clear – I’m not seeking to shame anyone. I’m not putting myself out there as a saint or a model of virtue or perfection. I’m not perfect, I’ve sinned – maybe more than some.

Yet let us engage in contrasts, in some useful generalizations, and in some unpleasant truths.

Gay male secular culture, in particular, is for the most part, promiscuous. There’s a lot of hooking-up, a lot of casual sex, even a lot of anonymous sex. There’s a lot of debasing sex. This isn’t limited to LGBT folks, the same applies to straight people. Secular sexual culture isn’t exactly healthy and dignity affirming – straight or gay.

I’m not trying to be prudish. I’m not opposed to pleasure. I’m not anti-sex, or insisting on narrow restrictions to such.

But I think that the Judeo-Christian vision of human sexuality prescribes monogamy, consensual sex, honoring sexual commitments, physical intimacy keeping pace with emotional and spiritual intimacy, caring and loving sex, procreative sex (a value when possible and appropriate), and non-abusive sex. And I think these form a prefered way to love and live our sexual lives.

Now, I’m not advocating that clergy or anyone else appoint themselves as sex-police. There’s a legitimate sphere of privacy and personhood which prevents intrusive or heavy handed interrogations.

Yet, when a gay man, lesbian, or queer person becomes integrated and affiliated with an open and affirming Jewish or Christian community, when some form of accepting Judeo-Christian spirituality becomes an important part of their life – their sexuality should begin to conform along the lines of the theological vision – not the other way around.

There really is no nice or polite way to say this – I know plenty of gay men whose sex lives are the same after making a mature spiritual commitment – as before their spiritual awakening.  They engage in anonymous sex on Saturday night and go to liturgy and teach Sunday school on Sunday morning. Someone is cheating on their spouse and see nothing wrong with it, while other people look away. There’s no sense of disconnect, no sense of discord.

Often such behavior isn’t a secret.

Part of the problem is that open and affirming congregations are often afraid of making any moral demands on their LGBT members – lest they scare them away, offend them, or open thorny discussions about sexual ethics. Such delicacy does nobody any favors.

Another part of the problem is that many congregations and even denominations have allowed the sexual ethics of the sexual revolution to subvert the full sense of Judeo-Christian ethics.

I’m not advocating for shaming or condemnation. But solid teaching, a word of friendly advice, the willingness to both listen and speak, and a firm, yet gentle presentation and expectation of basic norms isn’t beyond the pale.

Acceptance and affirmation isn’t the same thing as turning a blind eye or refusing to challenge others to a better way of living. The same applies to straight couples and single people, too.

To quote an Aretha Franklin song from the late 1980s – Who’s zooming who? Does one’s spirituality and theology make demands of their sexual behavior or does their sexual behavior remain disconnected from their spirituality?

Please feel free to comment – good or bad. My goal is get conversation going. Become part of the conversation.

 

 

 

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