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January 14, 2013


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.

Jesus said,

“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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18 comments

As a never-married middle-aged man, I want to say “thank you” for this post. I also want to thank you for the reminder from Galatians 6, especially verse 1. I’ve seen far too much condemnation directed at singles who struggle and sometimes fail, regardless of their orientation. I’ve even seen, and experienced, condemnation from fellow Christians simply because I’ve never married, although I’m single by circumstance rather than choice.

[1] Posted by the virginian on 1-5-2013 at 12:16 PM · [top]

I agree that we have forgotten to honor single people.  There are a wide variety of reasons for people not marrying.  One of the things that annoys me the most is the assumption that there’s something wrong with people who aren’t having sex.  Why should Christians of all people make sexual gratification the highest good?

[2] Posted by Katherine on 1-5-2013 at 01:39 PM · [top]

A post that’s long, long overdue.  Your link between the LGBT movement and the obsessive sexualisation of our culture is spot on.  (Actually, it was a gay opponent of my blog that made me see this many years ago).  Ultimately being LGBT is being defined by your sexual activity, but that’s not the only way that can happen.  Ultimately the ethic being promoted as “normal” these days is that a sexually active life (in whatever marital state) is the only fulfilled life there is.

Evangelicals have responded with beauty pageant Christianity, but that isn’t Biblical.

Christianity came into a sexually “wide open” culture and, with its austere ethic, became Rome’s official religion.  Can’t we do this now?

[3] Posted by vulcanhammer on 1-5-2013 at 02:14 PM · [top]

Fascinating. In the 1970’s, I dared to suggest that celibacy was a “sexual lifestyle” in (of all places) Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The silence before they turned as if with one mind to any other possibility at hand was truly deafening. Thank you for this post.

[4] Posted by ears2hear on 1-5-2013 at 10:49 PM · [top]

a more narrow focus on that suffering spouse: I think Dr. Ruth would advise her that there are other ways to be intimate with a disabled husband.  our culture is focused on gonads, not relationships.  cuddling counts!

[5] Posted by elanor on 1-6-2013 at 08:55 AM · [top]

elanor - I agree, and I’ve known many couples that can testify to that transition.  But they all endured a season of discomfort, loss and sadness when familiar sexual intimacy was interrupted or lost.

You are right about the culture, for sure.

I also wonder at the cruelty of Episcopal Church conventions.  They fill a hall with aging people, then take up most of the time and energy with a clique celebrating its sexual antics and fetishes (which, looking at some of that crowd, I believe to be massively exaggerated and vicarious).  Apart from the anti-Biblical teaching, there’s something just manifestly dysfunctional about the whole thing.

[6] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 1-6-2013 at 10:06 AM · [top]

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.

Hear hear!

There are scads of different groupings of Christians who have no sex. It’s not simply The Wounded Gays who have this challenge—it’s a bunch of other people, some of whom are doomed to be Abstinent Forever.

On the one hand, it’s a challenge.  On the other hand, it’s Not The End of the World, despite all of the victimization bellowed over at General Convention.

And boy, Tim, you nailed it here too:

They fill a hall with aging people, then take up most of the time and energy with a clique celebrating its sexual antics and fetishes (which, looking at some of that crowd, I believe to be massively exaggerated and vicarious).  Apart from the anti-Biblical teaching, there’s something just manifestly dysfunctional about the whole thing.

The thing is . . . they don’t see just how bizarre and dysfunctional they are.

[7] Posted by Sarah on 1-6-2013 at 01:07 PM · [top]

of course they can’t see how bizarre and dysfunctional they are—compared to the San Fran parades so many of them attend, they are a veritable bastion of normalcy!

[8] Posted by elanor on 1-6-2013 at 06:17 PM · [top]

All I was doing this morning was browsing the web.  Then I caught your quote at the beginning of this post.  I began to weep.  I’m not alone.  Someone, even one person, has experienced what I’m going through.

Four years ago, as a 45 year old man with two children, I was suddenly forced into a celibate life due to my wife’s illness.  For two years I kept trying to talk to anyone I could about how to deal with this sudden and unwanted change in my life.  No one wanted to hear.  The doctors, the social workers, and even the Church had no answers.  They were uncomfortable speaking of this issue.  I stopped trying and figured it was a struggle that I had to endure without comment. 

Thank you for the whole post but more than that, thank you for the first quote.  It made a difference.

[9] Posted by WesleyAnglican on 1-13-2013 at 08:23 AM · [top]

#9 God bless you and thank you for expressing the reality so openly here.

It is shameful that the church, in babbling so much to justify those who live an un-Biblical lifestyle, is tongue-tied when it is time to support those who truly carry the cross.

What you endure has similarities to losing a spouse through death - if you’ve truly loved someone and “become one” with all that means, then the loss is going to be an horrific amputation.

But to what do we compare a situation like yours, in which the relationship is not removed but is diminished in a significant way?  “Chronic death”? 

There are not easy answers but, for Christians, we must come back to the fact that celibacy is something the Lord endured - “he shared our sufferings” and “having been tempted, can help those who are tempted.” 

This doesn’t take away the pain (crosses are painful, even when just carried along), nor should it, as that would suggest that your loss wasn’t anything meaningful in the first place.  But it can make your path holy and transform you more into the likeness of Christ.  That’s the direction in which the church should be guiding and helping you.

Again, thank you for commenting - you both honor and humble me by your witness.

[10] Posted by Timothy Fountain on 1-13-2013 at 03:43 PM · [top]

I’m slow, but here’s my 2cents:
I think that one of the things that got thrown out with the Reformation bathwater was the ideal of celibacy as a means of grace, just as marriage is. Without celibacy as a viable option for some, everything gets sexualized to the nth degree.  No longer can we point out a good holy and celibate priest (or nun) to our hormone-addled youngsters as living proof that sex isn’t the only thing in life.  No longer can singles consider a chaste and celibate life as a possibility.  No, all that matters is that we define ourselves as sexual beings, and that sexuality must be expressed genitally if we are to think of ourselves as fully human.

[11] Posted by MTDave on 1-14-2013 at 02:30 PM · [top]

The vagaries of human sexual activity needs to be addressed by the parent in one or more of the “facts of life” talks with the child.  Pre-marital counselling sessions
should address the times when sexual intimacy will certainly be interrupted during the course of a marriage.  A good Bible based Sunday School program will provide any number of Bible stories fit for a jumping off place to discuss sexual issues.  If the teacher has a “matter of fact” approach to the subject, the students will too.

My Father had a way with words; from my youth I can remember him saying, “Age will do for you what religion never could.”  My siblings and I knew that an active sex life is a temporary condition; we were prepared to get over it.

[12] Posted by Frances S Scott on 1-14-2013 at 03:42 PM · [top]

#11 I was thinking something along the same lines.  The perhaps too overt emphasis on marriage as the only “normal” way to live, especially among clergy leads to a paucity of role models with regards to celibacy.

We had several young clergy go through my church when I was young and the whispering and speculation about those who weren’t married was quite obnoxious.

The sort of anti-Catholic over-reaction to issues such has clerical celibacy has led to some rather unhelpful unintended consequences.

[13] Posted by Bill2 on 1-14-2013 at 07:44 PM · [top]

I attended a conference with many gay people in attendance.  For the Gay people it was all about SEX.  When I admitted I was gay, looking for a loving relationship, why my sexual orientation was wonderful.  There were discussions of how so many had supported my sexual orientation making my sexuality and me special.  I wondered if God was at all important or if they were worshiping physical pleasure instead of God.  No discussion about when I found God, orienting to God, God in my life, and my life hide in God. Yes the current age is upside down and lost in the pursuit of physical pleasure!

[14] Posted by Dave B on 1-15-2013 at 04:09 AM · [top]

#9, I also wept when I read it. I am experiencing the same loss (which I pray is temporary) for reasons different from yours but I wanted you to know you are not alone in that reaction.  For me it is the realization what such a loss has really cost me both personally and within my marriage that has brought me up full stop.  I don’t want it to be my future.

I am not coping with it because I have been avoiding the possibility it might not be a temporary loss.  I am not coping with it because it is not due to my MS (which can be one of the results of that illness and which my Dr. would at least refer me to somebody to discuss).  I am not coping with it because I just can’t stay that angry all the time. 

The hardest part is missing my spouse, because loss of that intimacy does lead to loss of other intimacies.  Even a great marriage most feel the pain of such a change, forced or not.  Sex within marriage should be for Christians a sign of the covenant they have made with one another.  It is very hard to find something else that can substitute for that sign.  The porn world simply believes it to be a matter of physical relief so their solution is to hold intimacy in contempt and argue that anything that provides the relief is the right remedy.

[15] Posted by Paula Loughlin on 1-15-2013 at 01:41 PM · [top]

How long before Europe develops Soylent Green?

[16] Posted by midwestnorwegian on 1-15-2013 at 05:32 PM · [top]

My apologies #16 was meant for the Belgian Deaf Twins thread.

Paula - God bless you.

[17] Posted by midwestnorwegian on 1-15-2013 at 05:38 PM · [top]

Thank you, midwestnorwegian.

[18] Posted by Paula Loughlin on 1-16-2013 at 04:47 PM · [top]

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