Whenever we have “Biblical” or “Christian” discussions about sexuality, there are inevitably some people who are left out:
1. People in relationships with someone of the same sex.
I understand that this can be tricky in non-affirming churches. Even so, the message is essentially limited to, “Don’t do that.” I honestly can’t imagine what it would be like to hear a three-week sermon series on Biblical sex which doesn’t resemble my own experiences, and on the rare occasion that it’s supposed to, it still doesn’t. Ethical sexuality doesn’t have to be so specific to twenty-first century American male-female relationships. At the very least, we ought to be expanding our discussions around the topic.
2. People who don’t have typical gender roles in their relationships or are non-gender-conforming.
We make this assumption when we say, “Men are like…and women are like…” I’ve heard it excused by saying, “But most people relate to this analogy!” Yep, and most people is not the same as all people. It’s offensive when it is done regarding race or ethnicity, why isn’t it the same when it comes to gender roles? I had a friend tell me that she is the “man” in her marriage because she enjoys sex more often than her husband. No, honey, you’re not. You’re a confident, sexy woman who appreciates her body and enjoys sex. Nothin’ wrong with that at all. Standing up in front of the congregation and giving men a list of things they should do to make their wives happy isn’t a good idea. The reverse is also true. Why doesn’t anyone ever just say, “Find out what your spouse likes and make the effort to grow together?” It seems like that would eliminate nearly all of the issues.
3. People who are transgender.
Yep, I’m going there. I don’t know what that would be like, but I’ve seen how transgender folks are treated by clergy (I posted about it before). I don’t have anything productive to say about it, just that having at least some awareness around the issue might be helpful. A basic understanding of biology and genetics would be good, too.
4. People with different cultural backgrounds.
That might be surprising, but it’s true. When I was in training as a health educator, we talked about how much of health education assumes a white, male, American-born perspective. The problem is that there are underlying cultural norms within other communities which affect the lens through which people see. What works in one situation (a predominantly white middle-class suburb) would not work in another (fill in the blank). A blanket statement about “what the Bible says” isn’t necessarily helpful because it doesn’t eliminate those cultural overlays.
When I mentioned all of this to my husband, he said that one place to start might be a simple change in phrasing. Instead of saying, “Men are…women are…” we could say, “In my relationship…” Making it specific to ourselves allows people to put themselves in our places. For example, if a pastor says, “Men, bring your wives flowers for no reason,” he could change it to, “My wife loves when I bring her flowers for no reason.” My husband knows there is little I dislike more than 1. surprises and 2. flowers. But hearing how our pastor and his wife show each other love creates space for us to say, “What would it take for me to show love to you?” It creates conversation rather than missives.
I believe the same applies in sexual ethics. By putting ourselves in the story, we can help others put themselves in their own stories. I think it might help when it comes to questions of purity, too. Instead of listing the twenty reasons to abstain, why not tell us your own story? Let us use our creative minds to understand how you felt, what you went through, and what the outcome was. Tell us how it affected you. Use Scripture, certainly, but show us how your faith and your understanding of Scripture affected you. Then let us place ourselves in the narrative. It’s a stretch. But as Carl Rogers said, “What is most personal is most general.“ That which we feel and think deeply, our own experiences, resonate much more than attempting to speak to the middle, generalizing to the greatest number of people.