Today is an exciting today. Today I’m starting a blog series called Sex and the Church. Every Thursday for the next few weeks I’ll be sharing a guest post from someone sharing their experiences with their church and Christian communities’ attitudes towards sex and teachings about sex. These guest posts include personal stories of how churches and communities that have missed the mark, ideas for how the conversation could change, and also examples of churches and communities that have addressed issues of sex and sexuality well. Check out other posts in this series here, here, here, here and here.
I am kicking off this series with a post from my friend Brett “Fish” Anderson. I met Brett via the internets and quickly learned that he is a great friend to have. Not only does he have lots of great stories and insights to share over at his blog, but he’s incredibly encouraging and has a gift for connecting people with each other. He also has a great sense of humor. 🙂 I am honored to have him on my blog and I think this post is a great start to what I hope will be a fantastic and thought-provoking series.
‘And behold Jesus did turn to His disciples and these words He did spaketh thus: ‘Thou shalt not be having of the sexual relations before such time as thou has properly engaged in the ceremony of the holy matrimony and been cleaved unto thy wife. Thereafter shalt the sex be heavenly and magical containing sightings of unicorns. And thus it was so.’ [Imaginations 3.16]
Okay, so that is not exactly the message I received from the church growing up, but in many cases it might have well been. With my parents it didn’t go so much better as I came home one day [aged somewhere between 18 and 21] to find that well-known classic ‘What Every Boy Should Know’ sneakily left on my bed for me to stumble upon. At least I hope it was my parents.
The point being that I was pretty much left to:
# school friends [on a school tour in standard five, grade 7, offered a condom and invited to a visit to the girls’ dorm by Wayne, who had failed the grade at least twice and fortunately wasn’t anyone I was trying too hard at the time to impress, added to the fact that I had NO CLUE what a condom was, or probably a girls’ dorm, let’s be honest]
# and the media [which I guess would include the 30 plus year old man in my dad’s church who went into the shop and bought a brown-paper-bagged Playboy magazine and stuck it into my 12 year old hand one day when I went to hang out with him and his friends – who I used to do street evangelism with, of course]
Hm, so not doing so well here. If not my friends or my family, or the local media, then surely the church would be the one to educate me on a topic so centrally focused to my growing teenager years life?
The big problem was, though, that the church was not doing a whole lot of speaking about sex. Except that we shouldn’t do it. Until we got married. And then we should. And then it would be great. But if we did it before it would be horrible and we’d go to hell and burn and be ruined for the rest of our lives. Or something.
Youth group was not doing a whole lot of speaking about sex either. Except that we shouldn’t do it. Until we got married. And then we should. And then it would be great. But if we did it before it would be horrible and we’d go to hell and burn and be ruined for the rest of our lives. Or something.
I got married at age 35. To a beautiful woman whose first boyfriend was me. We were both technically virgins in the not-sticking-certain-things-into-other-things kind of way, but both of us had endured huge struggles with pornography along the way and racked up an impressive account filled with guilt.
And overnight we moved from a message of ‘Sex is dangerous and must be avoided at all costs’ to ‘Sex [in marriage] is the most beautiful thing and must be embraced with passion.’
Talk about messed up. Add to that the general clumsiness, confusion, figure-it-out-yourselves messiness and in some cases physical or emotional pain that is present with first time sex and it made for a very interesting honeymoon. I can’t imagine how well i would have handled that if i’d been 21?
HOW WE DO WE THIS BETTER?
Let me be honest. I don’t know all of the answers here. In fact, maybe very few. I don’t think the answer is free, encouraged and rampant sex before you get married. But i do think that at the very least we need to create spaces where people can ask the questions and be informed and share stories and not feel ashamed, embarrassed or out of touch. We need a church where it’s okay to say the words ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ [There’s your instant tweet quote for this post]. A sunday preach may not necessarily be the best place for this [although it also might – let’s be open to get creative here].
One of my favourite passages is Hebrews 12.1-2
‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame,and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’
The church through the ages has done its fair share of helping us focus on ‘the sin that so easily entangles’ but not always as well on the ‘everything that hinders’ side of things. When sex has been dressed up as the holy grail of what is not allowed then ‘everything but sex’ and ‘pornography’ are places where christian young people turn to for relief/having their needs met. And that is disastrous.
Maybe it is high time that the church got involved in the area of sex education [a collective gasp goes up around the room] where we get together and figure out a more helpful narrative than ‘Don’t have sex until you’re married. Then do. It’ll be great.’ A place where we can ask the tough questions and wrestle with them together, and invite others into that space of wrestling and not having the answers but desperately trying together to find healthy and helpful paths. Especially for our young people.
With a faith where the focus is on a call towards ‘life and life to the full’ [John 10.10] we need to be doing better in leading the way [and not simply playing ‘survival’ or ‘catch up mode’] when it comes to sexuality and relationships.
Brett “Fish” Anderson is a 27 year old trapped in the body of a 40 year old man. He is married to the beautiful Val [tbV] and lives in South Africa with the world’s most famous stuffed dolphin [called ‘No_bob’ cos he doesn’t bob]. His passion in life is seeing the church live out what we say we believe and you can find some of his writings, ponderings and deep challenges on his blog Irresistibly Fish