Sometimes topics come to the forefront of the cultural conversation due to a significant event. Mass shootings open up dialogues on gun control, mental health, and terrorism. Several major events led our nation to a discussion on racial injustice.
But other times, an issue bubbles to the surface from several place seemingly distinct from each other. No one event causes the discussion, but several things contribute to forcing an issue into the national consciousness.
Recently, several different articles broached the topic of a Christian perspective on sex. They weren’t connected to each other outside of the fact that they all had that broad focus.
Interestingly enough, these articles presented the reader (and Christians in general) with three distinct ways to regard sex and each corresponded to viewing it from a different direction.
Evaluating each of these pieces, Christians can choose to view sex backward in blame, downward in me, or forward in Christ.
Backward in Blame
In a fascinating piece at Slate, Ruth Graham talks with Joshua Harris about his current perspective on I Kissed Dating Goodbye, his best-selling book from 20 years ago.
Harris is open and forthright about mistakes he made and even pain he caused as a 19-year-old unmarried man giving relationship and dating advice to a generation of earnest Christian teens trying to find their way in a suddenly sex-saturated culture.
In warning young adults of the pitfalls involved with sexual sins, Harris often used the bludgeon of law to keep people away from sin instead of the aroma of grace to draw people to Christ.
Shame was often employed, where love and compassion would have been better served and could have painted a more accurate picture of who God is and what He calls us to do.
Having said all that, it was entirely possible to read Harris’ book, have a misconception about sex, relationships and marriage, but still come out OK on the other side.
You wouldn’t know that from many of the people Graham references who feel as if Harris has robbed them. One wrote:
I have been married to my wife for over seven years. We’ve been together over ten. We have a beautiful daughter, and successful careers. When we were dating, we had sex. Because of the shameful purity movement rhetoric we learned from your book, sex became tainted. To this day, I cannot be intimate with my wife without feeling like I’m doing something wrong. Sinful. Impure. We both adored your book as young people. And I believe our diligent commitment to your ideas, and our “failing to stay pure until marriage” has permanently damaged our relationship. Years of truth and counseling later, I cannot get the subconscious idea out of my head that I am doing something wrong.
There’s lots I could say about that response, but the primary issue is that the writer absolves himself of any blame in his current relational problems and places all of the responsibility on a book he read as a teenager. Does anyone else not see the problem here?
This grown married man cannot move beyond choosing to have sex with his then girlfriend as a young adult. That’s not Joshua Harris’ fault.
I’m all for more reflection and evaluation of the evangelical subculture, but that cannot come at the expense of self-reflection and self-critique.
Much of the issue in those seemingly obsessed with heaping guilt on Harris in response to the guilt they feel he heaped on them is their insistence on living in the past.
A proper view of sex will not be found casting angry (or longing) eyes back toward an earlier time period. There is no joy to be gained from a backwards view of sex, only disappointment and dissatisfaction.
Downward in Me
Others are not looking toward the past, they are consumed with the present and capturing as much pleasure right now as possible.
In The Washington Post, Bromleigh McCleneghan argued that Christians are called to be chaste, but for the single Christian that can be something quite different than celibate. She writes:
There are those who feel that they are called to seasons of celibacy, or even years of celibacy, and if answering that call is life-giving and purposeful, then they should take it up as a spiritual discipline. But no call can be forced on an unwilling person, especially not if they find themselves single only by virtue of circumstance.
Plenty of women and men love sex, and need it — we need bodily pleasure, remember — and the abundant life for them will involve seeking out relationships of mutual pleasure. Chastity, or just sex, requires that whether we are married or unmarried, our sex lives restrain our egos, restrain our desire for physical pleasure when pursuing it would bring harm to self or other.
For McCleneghan, the truth about sex is found internally in the individual.
It is of note that in a piece ostensibly offering a biblical perspective on sex, she makes only faint allusions to Bible passages without ever giving a Scriptural defense for her position.
But that’s intentional because she is not deriving the truth about sex from the Bible, she is adding a biblical veneer to the very cultural idea of looking inside to find what is true for you.
There is no heavenward gaze, seeking to understand what God has said about sex and how it relates to our lives. There is only a downward stare into our own desires and working to develop a spiritual justification for the choices we want to make.
“No call can be forced on an unwilling person.” Not even by God? Are we to demand He accept our personal feelings as higher edicts than His moral standards?
If that is the case, why even try to bring God into the discussion? Clearly, at that point, we have decided that we will be like God and know the real definition of good and evil better than He does.
But we know how damaging that type of thinking can be. It may be only concerned with the current moment, but it has lasting consequences.
Looking downward into ourselves limits our vision and prevents us from having a proper understanding of our decisions and our life as a whole.
Only through an eternal perspective can we rightly view sex, relationships, marriage, our lives, our choices, our desires.
Forward in Christ
After having read those two pieces, take a moment to rest in the beauty and honesty of this piece from Wesley Hill, a celibate gay Christian.
The entire essay is well worth your time, but this paragraph sums up the point I mean to emphasize here:
As someone who hasn’t received one iota of the promised “change” in my sexual orientation that some Christians have held out to me, and as someone who also hasn’t been able to embrace a more progressive understanding of same-sex marriage, I’ve often felt like I’m fighting a kind of long defeat: I’m gay but not seeking a same-sex partner, and I’m still gay and so also not seeking an opposite-sex spouse, and what that feels like is… well, it often feels like the way St. Paul describes his rather stark view of the Christian life in Romans 8: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
Hill has a different perspective on sex than Harris’ critics or McCleneghan because he is looking at it from an eternal perspective. The “long defeat” of this life, as difficult as it may be, finds its victory in the world to come.
Marital intimacy and sexual pleasure may not be part of Hill’s life here, but he recognizes that those are shadows of the complete intimacy and pleasure we will one day experience as the bride of Christ at the wedding supper of the Lamb.
While those who view sex only through the past or the present reassure us that our desires are paramount, those who see sex through an eternal perspective call us to take up our cross and follow Christ no matter the cost.
The cost could be laying down the grudge against someone in our past or it could be surrendering our present desires, but regardless the reward is deeper (and eternal) intimacy with Christ.
If sexual pleasure is the goal, then Christ is not. If Christ is the goal of our lives, then sexual pleasure will not be.
There may be three (or more) perspectives on sex, but there is only one Christian perspective.
No matter how a viewpoint is framed, any perspective that fails to see sex with an eternal mindset through the lens of Christ cannot be a called a Christian perspective.