Sex. Sex. Sex. There, I said it. I’m not ashamed of it. I’m not afraid of it. And neither should you be. God has created humans as both sexual and creative beings. Put those two together and you have a myriad of sexual expressions that can be glorifying to God.
How many times can you recall hearing the word “sex” from the pulpit? Probably very few if any, but of those times, how many times was it a positive message? More than likely, it had to do with its relationship to sin. It was probably very specific (between one man and one woman and within the bounds of marriage).
For whatever reason, sexual sins are often viewed as an elevated sin within Evangelical churches (even though within Protestantism all sin is supposed to be equally damning.) Even within sexuality itself, there is a spectrum of sins – from infidelity to homosexuality.
In recent years Evangelicalism has been particularly vocal both in society and from the pulpit regarding issues related to specific sexual sins. Traditionally, Evangelicalism has taken a fear-based approach to address issues of sexuality. This has created large-scale sexual repression within the Church.
Evangelicals Are People Too
The Evangelical college I went to (a school founded in the Baptist tradition), had various rules throughout its history meant to repress its’ young people’s sexual proclivities (no dancing, no televisions, men and women could not be alone together, no hand-holding, etc.) Although many of these Evangelical institutions have relaxed some of their rules, schools like Pensacola Christian College and Liberty University still have extreme rules in place regarding relationships between men and women.
Since its inception, Evangelicalism has sought to repress the sexual urges of its adherents. This has not had the effect they had hoped for – particularly and ironically among clergy and other Evangelical leaders, who have largely been successful in covering up sexual misconduct. From recent problems in the Southern Baptist Church (years of child molestation) to the #MeToo movement which has illuminated rampant sexual misconduct among various Evangelical church leaders, there’s no doubt that this is a serious problem not just in society, but also in the Church. To put it plainly, the Church has grossly mishandled the issue of sexuality.
Sometimes it seems that Evangelicals forget that they are human. Being a Christian does not mean you get rid of your sinful nature. In fact, just the opposite is true in Evangelicalism, you are so aware of your sin nature that it seems to always be on your mind. This is constantly reinforced through the various expressions of the Church community.
The Evangelical Aversion Towards Homosexuality
For whatever reason Evangelicals have a special aversion toward homosexuality as opposed to other sexual sins. (I am assuming the Evangelical position that homosexuality is sin for the sake of the argument.)
The Evangelical community’s weapon of choice against homosexuals has been the Bible. However, that was not always the case. You would be hard-pressed to find any mention of the word “homosexual” before 1946, in ANY translation of scripture in ANY language.The 1946 RSV was the first to include the word.
For example, in Leviticus 18:22, we read “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable” (NIV) The text used to read “Do not have sexual relations with a young boy as one does with a woman; that is detestable”. Three other texts that are oftentimes used: Leviticus 20:13, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:10 use the same linguistic schema as Leviticus 18:22.
The idea behind these passages is that pederasty is an abhorrent sin and should not be practiced. Pederasty as being abhorrent should go without saying so why is it included in both the Old and New Testaments?
Unfortunately, it was a serious issue practiced by most major civilizations. This was a significant issue during Paul’s time as the Roman empire practiced pederasty, both recreationally and ceremonially. During a time where there was no age of consent, many of these boys had to participate against their will. This practice was significant enough that Paul brings it up on more than one occasion. Paul’s choice of words is interesting because he refers to it as straight-up molestation.
Knowing this important contextual information, if we come back to the present and understand these texts in the way they were supposed to be understood, then we see that the molestation of adolescent boys is significantly different than a same-sex couple in a loving relationship.
A Theology of Sex?
We need more Evangelical leaders and scholars to approach scripture honestly and apart from their own prejudices. If they truly care about scripture as much as they attest to, then they must interpret the texts in light of their cultural context instead of superimposing their modern context upon its’ pages.
Although there are some Evangelical denominations making progress in talking openly about sexuality, there are still not enough. The old saying “it’s in the Bible so I believe it”, is not an adequate approach to documents that are as old as scripture.
Additionally, Evangelical leaders must understand that the issue of sexual misconduct is systemic and not sporadic acts of weak-willed believers. Having open and honest conversations is necessary.
Sexuality does not have to be a taboo subject for the Church. In fact, who better to speak about the beautiful nature of sexuality than the Church. The Creator has made us with sexual urges, desires, and proclivities – many of which are good and healthy. I would argue that to deny people those desires, or to urge them into hiding, is to deny the very fabric of what it means to be a human being.