What’s our message to those who aren’t having sex?
“I love my husband very much, but this day to day financial burden, coupled with the lack of social life, lack of intimacy, lack of being able to do much of anything has brought me close to despair.” A woman caring for a disabled spouse.
What is the church’s message to her, especially when it comes to her lament about “lack of intimacy”?
She got me thinking about the “sexuality” discussions in the church. We are way off on a gay tangent, really squandering the focus and energy of the church (and, in the West, the state as well) on a tiny and relatively well off part of the population. The UK’s Cranmer blog said much the same this week.
And there aren’t just the gay-is-ok-everywhere-all-day advocates, there are the “reparative” therapies and ministries focused on gays - even these got an episode of Dr. Oz.
A central argument in all the gay blather is “they can’t be happy unless…” Unless what? In the West, at least, there’s no legal sanction against their sex lives. In some cities, they include their jollies in public parades. They live in complete equality with the straight porn culture as far as sexual expression.
Unless they can have “marriage”? How is that a source of deep existential pain? The majority culture doesn’t even care about it that much; straights have been waving the “we don’t need a piece of paper to be in love” banner for decades, or spending fortunes on ceremonies to bless short-lived cohabitation. Meanwhile, more states have made gay marriage a reality; in pretty much all places gay couples can set up legal arrangements that provide most everything obtainable via traditional marriage. So I’m not sure the “I can’t have marriage, there’s no pain like my gay pain” schtick makes much sense.
Back to an actually suffering person, the woman quoted above. If our message is the gay one (really, the straight porn culture one), about finding identity and affirmation through sexual expression, is she locked out of the kingdom? Is she like the barren women of the Old Testament, looked down upon as somehow out of God’s favor?
In our zeal to justify (or condemn, or “heal”) the recurring, tiny sliver of the population that is gay, we’ve come up with approaches that ignore and essentially marginalize much larger numbers of people:
+ Those dealing with unwanted loss of sexual intimacy due to illness, age or partner’s impairment
+ Single people of various sexual orientations whose value systems call for celibacy outside of marriage
+ Singles who want sex but just don’t bring the looks, personality or assets to draw partners (yeah, there are plenty of such people out there)
+ Individuals who want intimacy but are inhibited by past hurts, ranging from rape or abuse on the extreme end to unsatisfying relationship experiences on the mundane end
+ Folks who feel a spiritual calling to the single life (for the record, that doesn’t make sexual desire disappear)
Hindsight is 20/20, but it seems to me that the church, and maybe the culture as a result, would be in a much more loving, healthy place if celibacy in all of its manifestations had received the attention given to gay stuff. A gay person saying, “It hurts that the church won’t affirm my sexual intimacy” might have found much in common with the care giver quoted above, to whom the church says “Yep, you’re celibate now on account of your spouse. ‘For better, for worse.’” And both might have been sources of support to the lonely dork who just can’t get dates and questions his/her own value. And that one might have been comforted to know an attractive single chafing at the constraint of “not until marriage.” All might have shouldered the same cross (one carried by the Lord, Dan Brown aside), some temporarily, some all the way up the hill.
“For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (Matthew 19:12 ESV)
Just like there’s all kinds of sex going on, there’s all kinds of celibacy going on. Some celibacy is temporary, some is permanent. Some is planned, some is an intrusion. Some is honored, some is reviled.
I think the church might be better off dealing with celibacy than the gay drama, be it advocacy of or “deliverance” from. All kinds of Christians will dabble in sex or have it denied them, with resultant spiritual distress either way. For which the Scripture says,
My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. For if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves. All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. (Galatians 6:1-5 NRSV)
I didn’t agree with everything in the Cranmer post linked above, but this is worth quoting:
“(Jesus) did not enter into discussion on the fiscal minutiae of cash, credit, bonds, shares, loans or interest; a macro-warning not to be obsessed with Mammon was sufficient. If one were to apply the same principle to the modern idol – ‘Eros’ – it is doubtful that Jesus would address its sub-divisions (gay, bi, straight, oral, anal, tantric); he would most likely directly challenge society’s obsessive fixation with Eros, and by so doing confront both those who prioritise issues of sexuality and those in the church who presume to judge them.”
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