We sat in a living room, about twenty men and women in our home group "Bible" study, and I squirmed. This was a first for me. Apparently it was a tradition in our church for the married couples to talk about sex every February in honor of Valentine's Day. The icebreaker this time: "Other than the bedroom, where do you like to do it?" Huh? Is this conversation for mixed company? Years later, a friend told me about neighbors they had invited to our home group that evening. Who. Never. Came. Back. To. The. Church. Good for them. I endured at least two or three more of these evenings in various permutations over the eight years we were members of that church. I boycotted a few too, and toward the end our time there I think they were being discontinued, at least in our group.
One of those evenings left me in tears. Seriously. I had already asked the new group leader to reconsider this kind of discussion, or at least to split up the men and women in separate rooms. He promised to keep it discreet. Sure, we didn't talk about "where we would do it" or anything graphic at all. But still, due to the sensitive and private nature of the discussion, I fled the room fairly early on and bawled my eyes out in the bathroom. I didn't come out until nearly everyone had left and I could wipe my tears and eat a few chocolate chip cookies in peace. Why did the discussion trigger me like that? I don't know fully, but the inklings I have are not ones I'd want to discuss on-line. (For the record I do not have any sexual "issues" -- not that it matters. I just don't want you to read anything into this post that's not there.) On the bright side, I did write a poem out of that traumatic home group experience though: Do Cry.
There were other cringe-worthy sex-related discussions in that church, some in home groups, some in women's meetings, some in other settings. Like all of the (IMHO invasive, suspicious, accusatory) questions you can ask your husband to keep him from straying with the cute chick across the church aisle. Ugh. I know they were trying to stem the tide of adultery in the church, but that was over the top. At least for me. We left two years ago and I know I left a piece of my heart behind because I love the people there even if the atmosphere was driving me crazy. But that is just part of my more complicated story there and anyway my story is just a small part of what I wanted to write today.
I write because I am concerned about the increasing sexualization of the church -- AND -- the increase of sexual abuse and troubled marriages within the church. I type with much trepidation. Frankly, I don't like to think about this subject in depth, much less write about it. But I know God gave me a voice to speak up and speak out and maybe it will make a difference for someone. Now is the time.
So. Sex and the church. I know, I know. Churches face declining membership, and some of them are looking for ways to boost attendance. Sex sells. Piques interest. Fills the pews. (Yeah, with babies, too.) But in my opinion, sex talk doesn't belong in the pulpit, except in the most discreet of ways.
That said, what are several ways that church leaders can serve their congregations related to sexuality?
Take a long hard look at how sex and modesty are talked about in the church community. Don't sensationalize sex. And don't let someone who doesn't know what they are talking about get up and spout off about it in a public meeting. Let's stick to the spirit of what the Bible says. If a couple has specific sexual problems, they can find a good therapist, or one or both of them can seek out advice from a trusted friend of the same gender. Or they can read a decent Christian book about like Intended for Pleasure by Dr. Ed Wheat or Sheet Music by Dr. Kevin Leman.
- Mark Driscoll, the Seattle pastor who routinely discusses sex from the pulpit in crass and graphic terms, who reportedly has prophetic (cough, pornographic) visions of the sexual misconducts of his congregants, and who has, in my opinion, horrible attitudes toward the female gender -- see my article and link list on Why I'm NOT a Fan of Mark Driscoll and Real Marriage
- Ed Young, Jr., who camped out with this wife on a huge bed on the roof of his church last year to promote their book about sex, titled, unsurprisingly, Sexperiment. Yeah, they really did call their publicity stunt a "Bed In"! They were going to stay up there for 24 hours, but called it off a bit early because of too much exposure. From the sun, not the media, that is. See Pastors with Sexpertise
Churches, please teach equal partnership and mutual submission!
- Submission Is Not Silence by Elisabeth Julin (A Review)
- Help for Hurting Marriages
- Manifesto of Liberty and Responsibility in Christian Families (A pertinent excerpt: "Men and women are equal in dignity and worth in the sight of God, even though there may be different emphases in their roles and responsibilities at various seasons in their lives. Husbands and wives, along with the rest of the body of Christ, are called to mutual submission and respect out of reverence for God. A wife, though specially called to follow her husband’s leadership of the family, still has complete liberty of conscience and responsibility before God for her own thoughts, speech, and behavior. She is not in any way required to go against that, even at her husband’s insistence. A husband’s leadership should be that of a servant, not a tyrant. He is called to live with his wife in an understanding way as a co-heir in Christ, carefully considering her concerns and counsel, rather than lording it over her.")
If you think I am exaggerating the problems of sexual abuse in religious organizations, this is just the tip of the iceberg. I just don't have time to dig up all of the other links about sexual scandals that I have read in the past year alone. Think Tony Alamo, or some of the "Christian" reform homes for wayward girls, or the Catholic priest molesting altar boy cover-up scandals or the missionary boarding schools or even Warren Jeffs and the FLDS. Yeah. It's out there. It's ugly. If you have been sexually abused by a pastor or other spiritual leader, please visit the Tamar's Voice web site.
[Note: After I wrote this post, I wrote another called Abuse Thrives in a Culture of Shame and Silence. Please read!]
P.S. For those of you who don't click links, the poem:
"Do Cry"by Virginia Knowles
There is no shame
When teardrops fall as healing rain
Our Comforter who sees and knows
Collects them all in his bottle.
Do they mingle there with ancient tears of long ago?
Or far-flung ones around the globe?
I do not know, nor do I always know why I cry
Just that there is a deep welling up inside
Or perhaps a thorn prick of conscience
Or an oozing scrape of disappointment
Or a dagger thrust of insult
Or even the gashing grief of death
As blood flows, so do tears
But they are wiped away
By One who also binds up wounds.
But not from indulgent self-pity
Or twisting others to comply
Cry to wash the soul
Turn the heart with fresh resolve
A firmness born from tenderness
Cry for justice, mercy
Mourn for suffering that is not your own
To hear the groans and seek to console
With the comfort you yourself have received
There is a blessing in brokenness
Do cry: then go on in love and joy and peace.
More here: Do Cry