Here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for! It’s the Hubby-Tells-All edition of my Sex and the Church series. Ok, not really. It’s more of the Hubby-Contributes-Some-Wise-and-Poignant-Thoughts-to-the-Conversation edition. But that’s way too long for a headline.
I am so honored to share this post from my wonderful husband. Jonathan is one of the wisest and most thoughtful people I’ve ever known. He has a way of cutting straight to the core of things. He is also a wildly talented fiction writer and the rocker of one sexy beard.
If you’ve missed any of the last three parts of this series, you can find them here, here, here, here and here.
“The first two facts which a healthy boy or girl feels about sex are these: first that it is beautiful and then that it is dangerous.”
Though Chesterton’s work often feels shockingly relevant to the present (considering he wrote almost a hundred years ago), this particular quote is one that, to me, doesn’t seem especially descriptive of us anymore, neither inside nor outside the church. A lot people might be down with the idea of sex as beautiful but don’t want to call it dangerous (not wishing to provoke judgment, guilt, or shame), while many on the flip side insist on the danger while rarely, if ever, articulating the beauty. And a wide swath in the middle seem to feel sex is as commonplace and ordinary as eating, drinking, and digesting – acts which at their core are not especially beautiful or dangerous. Yet I quite like the Chesterton quote and think it has something useful to say to us, if nothing else as an aspiration (which was maybe the point all along), so when Lily asked me to contribute to this series, my mind went here.
A lot of public debates we have in the church, by my feeble observation, force people into false binaries, requiring them to choose between a hardline A or B to the exclusion of any nuance. Maybe we’re taking a cue from most debates in the media and wider culture, or maybe debates just by their very nature split people into camps and make them fight (A: They do. B: They don’t. Debate amongst yourselves.). This isn’t to say that debate can’t occasionally be healthy, or that sometimes there aren’t situations where one side is simply wrong, or a million other things. I just mean that a lot of the time when we talk about sex in the church we seem to be asking something like, “Is sex beautiful or is it dangerous?” and I think maybe: Why not both?
Which again isn’t meant to discourage distinction, nor is it an especially easy way to dialogue. But I wonder if it shouldn’t be our goal. After all, isn’t it a sign of mature thinking to be able hold two ideas in your head without getting them confused or smushing them together? Shouldn’t this be our aim?
In this case I’d suggest that, within the Christian framework, sex is at the very least both beautiful and dangerous. Of the two it’s much easier to accept the idea of sex as beautiful, but I wonder if even in the church we sometimes lose sight of what that really means. It might seem beautiful merely because of the powerful feelings it engenders, but for Christians I think the beauty comes not from physical pleasure alone (though it’s nice, of course), but from the emotional and spiritual connection it brings with someone else, a kind of connection you can share in marriage that remains wholly unique, exclusively with you and your spouse, separate from everyone for all time. That is, I would argue, beautiful.
But for much of the same reason, it’s also dangerous. Dangerous not because sex outside of marriage is an unforgivable sin (which of course isn’t true) or even from something more immediate like the risk of unwanted pregnancy (which is unpersuasive, though does happen to be real), but dangerous because of the same emotional and spiritual forces that make it beautiful. Sex is dangerous because it’s powerful. It can ruin relationships with the ones you love, entangle you with those you don’t, and quite literally bring new people into your life. It has a fiercely potent draw on our attentions and motivations. It affects us at our core (as so much of the rest of this larger blog conversation has already testified). It can expose the things we hide. It can pull us closer to God or push us further from him.
The extreme positions in many popular Christian conversations about sex seem very interested in pushing us to one side or the other. Sex is either beautiful and should be celebrated in all forms, or it’s dangerous and should be treated with extreme caution. I think the solution is that it’s both, provided we’re willing to talk about what we mean by “beautiful” and “dangerous.”
I’m not pretending to break new ground here, and of course I say this not as any kind of expert (“sexpert”), but merely as someone else trying to reflect on sex and the church and where the dialogue might go from here. I hope we can continue to be open and thoughtful and gracious with each other, growing in our understanding without devolving into oversimplified camps, drawing closer to God day by day.
That, at the very least, should be our goal.
Jonathan lives in Daegu, South Korea, where he teaches and writes and enjoys being married to the most wonderful woman of all. You can follow him on twitter @jonvdunn