Embodiment, Sex, and Our Life in God

I believe God does care what we do in the area of sex, that God's vision is quite different than the traditional "it's only good if it's inside the marital relationship" ethic, and that Friends are capable of discovering together what God's new message is to us in this area. It may take us quite a long time to reach substantial unity in this area, but the difficulty should not prevent us from attempting to begin this process. The goal would be to provide guidance to our members on a wide range of sexual issues that they face in their own lives.

This principle is also rooted in what has been referred to as the Quaker "testimony of community." What this testimony means is that we are part of a fabric with others. We are influenced by what others are experiencing in their lives and they in turn our influenced by what is happening in our lives. This is true when someone is treated cruelly even on another corner of the planet. It is also true that our sexual acts and decisions affect others. This is true particularly within our circle of family, friends, and local spiritual community. Many meetings have faced great spiritual challenge when a couple that is deeply involved in the life of the meeting breaks up. Our acts and decisions affect others. Theirs affect us.

On a less immediate level this interconnectiveness extends to the local communities we live in, our relationship with the other branches of the Society of Friends, and with other parts of the Christian Church. If we teach and practice a form of sexuality that brings us closer to God, we build and support a worldwide process of growing more in tune with the sacred Heart of all life. When we act contrary to God's hopes and dreams for us sexually, we to that same extent create fissures and barriers from God's unfolding plan for humanity and the earth.

#2 Individual Guidance

God also cares about the sexual decisions we make personally. God wants us to attempt to hear and heed the leadings of the Spirit as we attempt to be faithful in our personal sexual lives, as individuals, as couple, and as families.

It is my understanding that part of Quakerism is also the personal effort to hear and obey God's voice for us as individuals. We face a host of choices in our life every day -- whether to take or leave a job, how to parent a child, whether to confront wrongdoing when we encounter it and how we can best do so, whether it is right for us to spend money on a new house, car, or large appliance, etc. Although we may not usually put these kinds of decisions before God, I think it is right to assume that God does care what decisions we are making, even on very small questions in our daily lives.

In the past, clearness committees were limited primarily to decisions to join a meeting or to marry. Since the late 1960s, many Friends have begun to utilize clearness committees to enable other Friends to assist an individual Friend in hearing God's voice around a wide variety of personal issues. This has ranged from decisions about entering the military, payment of war taxes, employment, separation and divorce, leadings to undertake a particular project or act of witness, and even to some extent disciplinary issues at Friends Schools.

There is no reason to believe that God only cares about a decision to enter into a life-long committed relationship with another person. I believe God cares whether we choose to have sex in a relationship outside of marriage, whether or not we regularly view pornography on the Internet, the quality and frequency of sexual acts within a married relationship, and a host of other personal sexual decisions. Jesus addressed these same concerns in his suggestion in the Sermon on the Mount that lusting for another person's spouse in one's thoughts was a form of adultery, not simply engaging in sex with someone who was married to another (Matthew 5:27).

#3 Embodiment

We are physical beings. Sexuality is an integral part of our spirituality. Sexual joy can be as holy as any other kind of joy. Physical expressions of love can draw us closer to God as well as to the person we are touching physically.

Our spiritual selves are not higher than our selves as bodies. Integrity involves wholeness. It implies that there is no area of our life that is apart from our spirituality. It involves embodiment and carnality. The church traditionally elevated the spiritual above the physical or carnal and saw the carnal as the enemy of the spiritual (often also seeing women as a temptation and a threat to men's spiritual path).

God rejects all such dualism. God embraces our sexual feelings, our longings. Is an orgasm in itself less holy than a moment of spiritual harmony or a moment of great artistic creativity/inspiration?

Our bodies are temples of the spirit. What we do with these temples is holy business -- including when we touch others sexually, when we touch ourselves sexually, and when we think and feel in sexual ways.

4/13/2010 4:00:00 AM