Let’s talk about sex, baby….. (remember that song?)
I’m one of thousands of people who have contributed over the last few years to the online dialogue on faith, same-sex marriage and sexuality, but most of us, me included, have actually said very little about sex. But I’m going to be brave and take the plunge….
By the way, if you haven’t already read enough on Christianity’s efforts to grapple with sexuality, you might like to take a look at one or two of my thoughts: Redefining Marriage, Vicky Beeching, Romans 1 and 21st Century Life, and Homophobia, Jesus and Me.
I’ve read mountains of articles and comments on same-sex marriage from all sides of the debate; been appalled by some arguments, enthralled by others; and been concerned by how this all looks to people outside the church. I.e. does what we say build bridges between people, and between God and people, or do we construct unnecessary barriers – which is less about our viewpoint, and more about how we express it: whether with humility, respect and empathy – or with rigid, fist-thumping dogmatism.
This has all led me to one vital question:
Why do Christians care so much about issues of sexuality and marriage? What makes us so vociferous, whether for or against same-sex marriage, whether we support or oppose LGBTQ equality? One vital reason – not the only reason but one often lost in the fracas – is this:
Sex is seen by Christianity and the Bible as inherently good – but even more than that, the physical and emotional union of sex is seen as a reflection or metaphor for the relationship between God and his people1. Sex is…. holy!
You’d be forgiven for thinking that Christianity views sex as inherently bad. Clearly, the church has often given that impression, sometimes creating unhealthy shame for those who fall outside of our ideals.
This is simply because in our view, sex is such a precious, holy thing, that we feel it should be protected – preserved for relationships of love, fidelity and emotional intimacy, reflecting the heart of our loving, faithful God.
And let’s be honest, for most people, sex is more complete and pleasurable when it’s more than just a physical act – when there’s emotional bonding and the two people concerned know and love and respect each other intimately as whole human beings rather than just bodies.
Sexual desire is a powerful impulse, driven by an evolutionary urge (and, according to Genesis, a God-given mandate) to multiply our species, with the potential for huge pleasure in the act itself as well as the natural joy of having children. The church, in its passion to direct people morally and, unfortunately, at times in history, to control the masses, has been afraid of this power. Perhaps understandably. After all, sex is a formidable force.
Some years ago I heard the renowned Christian missionary Jackie Pullinger speaking about how the intimacy and ecstasy of sexual union echo the intimacy and ecstasy of our relationship with God – aspects that we can enjoy partially now (our encounters with the Holy Spirit can be literally ecstatic) – and will experience fully in the future.
The following quote is from a group with differing conclusions from mine on same-sex marriage, but which shares my understanding of the significance – transcendence, even – of sex: “Sex, unlike anything else we might do with another person, transcends the self while radically reorienting it within a new, shared context with our sexual partner”. (From Liberalism can’t understand sex)
Sex is holy!
So when you hear Christians object to same-sex marriage (even though I personally don’t), please bear in mind this noble backdrop to our views.
Please remember also that marriage, in the Christian worldview, reflects God’s heart – our belief in his complete dedication, devotion and affection for his people, expressed supremely and sacrificially when Jesus gave up his life on the cross2, so all of us have a hope in heaven!
So, sex and marriage for Christians reflect the amazing potential blessings of a relationship with God. I hope this goes some way towards promoting understanding of Christians’ views on sexuality. So far, so good…
Just before leaving it there, though, there’s one further element central to Christian understanding of sex that’s worth considering. Jesus spoke of a future world where we will be like angels and there will be no marriage, no sexual relationships3.
But before you start complaining at how dull that sounds (as in Ian Gillan’s 1981 hit No Laughing in Heaven – remember that?), actually what Jesus means is that heaven is better than sex! If sex is an intimate, ecstatic, pleasurable union between two people, Jesus promises something even better between all people and him, where he is the life and unity and intimacy and ecstasy between all of us and him.
Sex and marriage, like many things in this world, are for Christians a pale reflection of something better to come. Sexuality, whether straight, gay, bisexual or other, is not the final word. Sexuality is temporal. What we will be in heaven is something more complete. ALL our human relationships and marriages now are incomplete and to some extent broken because of our brokenness.
For that reason alone, I believe we should let people be who they are in this world. Our sexuality does not reflect the bigger picture, whereas relationships of sacrificial love, affection and fidelity do. Sex is temporary and incomplete, but in a context of sacrificial love it hints at a greater power, a greater love.
Sexuality is temporary and incomplete. Love is eternal.
- Song of Solomon; Ephesians 5:31-32
- Ephesians 5:25
- Matt 22:30; 1 Corinthians 15