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Is the church too timid to speak frankly about sex?

Is the church too timid to speak frankly about sex?

The Rev. William Lamar, managing director of leadership education at the Duke University Divinity School wonders why Christians talks so much about sexual issues without paying closer attention to the rich, varied and challenging Biblical texts dealing with sex and sexual violence. Writing at the Huffington Post he says:

The current debate over same-sex marriage in many churches gives me a feeling of déjà vu. We are running to third instead of first. How can we talk about same-sex marriage or homosexuality for that matter without talking about sex and sexuality first? In my humble opinion we are running in the wrong direction. Christians are a people of the book, and that book, the Holy Bible, never shies away from talking about sex. The language about a husband and wife becoming one flesh found in Genesis is a euphemism for sex. Ruth uncovering Boaz’s feet is a euphemism for sex. No euphemism is needed for the voracious sexual appetite of King Solomon or the tragic sexual appetite of King David. Prostitution, concubinage, rape, and incest permeate the scriptures. Speaking of rape and incest, when was the last time you heard a teaching or a sermon on the rape of Tamar and her cries for justice after experiencing the unspeakable? How might congregants be healed by an excellent exegesis of that passage amidst all of the hurt and pain that molestation and rape have caused in our communities? And this is not just a Hebrew Bible affair. Christians at Corinth were not known for their Victorian sexual mores.

The church shies away from frank discussions about sex while claiming to be Bible-based and scripture centered. You cannot be those things and not talk about God’s good gift of sex and how it is to be used to God’s glory. How is being fixated on homosexuality helping young men and women facing puberty deal faithfully and healthfully with their newly discovered urges? How is it helping the chaste singles and the sexually active singles in the pews? How is talk about same sex marriage helping widows and widowers who cannot re-marry because it would upset their incomes but who are sexually active in their later years because they still crave human intimacy (after all they ain’t dead yet)? Why aren’t we talking about these sexual issues alongside issues of homosexuality?

It is an essay full of questions. Do you have any answers?


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No, it’s not too timid to discuss sex. The church is, however, too timid to have a meaningful conversation about sex.

When we have do discuss the issue, it’s all about silly stuff, like “What if we bless same-gender relationships and folks decide to get married?” Um, they already can travel to a number of states and do exactly that. Non-issue.

What we don’t talk about is the sanctity of sex, its role in forming a connection between two persons, and other ethical issues. In that space, we still have a lot of rather Victorian perspectives, in which the unspoken notion is, “If I say something about it, no telling what will happen.” But sex is a normal part of life, and it should be capable of being addressed in the same way that we talk about love, compassion, or any of the “safer” topics.

Eric Bonetti

Bill Dilworth

Kevin, a question: what exactly gave you the impression that people on this thread don’t spend time with adolescents?

I’d also like to say that as a secondary school teacher, I have a pretty firm “no FB friends” policy when it comes to students. TMI experiences when I was teaching middle school and electronically connected to some students taught me my lesson.

Rev.Jim Shumard

In reference to the article, I suggest that you go first. LOL. I must confess that I am chicken to deal so directly with sexuality and those stories from the pulpit, though I did suggest several times in a recent sermon: “DO NOT READ CHAPTER SEVEN OF SONG OF SOLOMON!” Surpise of surpises, a number of them did read it when they got home.

Jim Shumard

Bill Dilworth

Kurt, agreed. It was the article’s mention of addressing the rape of Tamar in a sermon that prompted my comment. But in an “Adult Forum” or class, these topics can and should be discussed.

Another part of the problem is that most Episcopal parishes with which I am familiar do not do that bang-up of a job on adult education, anyway, when compared with adult institutes and classes I know about in various synagogues and Methodist churches. It’s not just that we just do sex talk badly – our Sunday adult education in general seems pretty weak.

Matthew Buterbaugh+

One of the really amazing experiences I’ve had in ministry is teaching adult confirmation classes. It is a great opportunity to deal with some of these texts and talk about faith and sexuality in a much more frank and open manner.

I do think we need to get over sex in a lot of ways. Society is much more open about talking about it, but the Church (even in the progressive branches) still basically says “Don’t!” Even the debates about homosexuality are couched in how we can get these folks married, so their sexuality is legitimized in our eyes instead of dealing with the fact that both gay and straight people have sex in a number of contexts.

It doesn’t mean we have to be permissive or hedonistic about this, but we should at least be as realistic about sex as the Bible is.

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