Thursday, March 15, 2012

Changing the Church's Sex Talk

A couple weeks ago I started to share my thoughts about the sex-obsessed nature of the American church.  I had planned on posting more thoughts over the following days, but my life changed dramatically when my first son was born!  Things have been busy and exciting, and I thank you for your patience, but now I want to return to this topic.

Yes, the church talks about sex.  It talks about sex a lot (could you say we talk about it "a plethora?").  Some would condemn the church for this action, claiming that our obsession is leading kids into lifestyles of sexual sin.  Others, of course, would suggest that the church is simply trying to present an alternative to the sex saturated with which we are surrounded.

I think there is an element of truth in both sides.  However, I would like to suggest that the major problem with the church's approach to sexuality is that it is saying the wrong things about sex.

The church's discussion of sex has often been very static.  It attempts to teach simple biblical truth, but it often does so in a way that is condemning and uninviting.

If we are to be a respectable voice on sexuality in our culture, we need to develop a dynamic, honest, and life giving conversation about sexuality.

 Let me give you a few examples:

1. The church must move away from talking about abstinence and begin talking about chastity.

The church's focus on abstaining from sex--avoiding it at all costs, as come with a price.  First, it removes context (why should we avoid sex) creating a sense of unrealistic expectations (Can a person really remain pure until marriage?).  Secondly, it paints sex in a negative light, which hurts marital sexuality for those who do remain virgin's heading into marriage.  

Chastity, on the other hand, presents something of Paul's theology lost on the American church.  Namely, singleness is a blessing from God.  Remaining pure, focused on serving Christ without the constraints of sexual relationships, was a big part of the ministry of Paul and many other early Christians.  Chastity provides purpose in singleness instead of a lingering sense of "missing out."

2. The church needs to present grace rather than condemnation.

The church is built as a beacon of truth and grace.  We are far too often so focused on the truth that we neglect the grace.  The fact is that most of our church people have struggled with some sexual sin in their life.  If the only talk they receive is one of condemnation of sin, we fail to show the mercy of Jesus that leads people out of their sins.

3The church needs to be consistent.

Can I just be honest?  It seems to me that we are OK with some sexual sins and not OK with others.  We turn a blind eye to our guys checking out girls, with looking at much soft pornography (Swimsuit Issue?), and with guys and girls fooling around to a certain extent.  However, if someone even utters the words "I'm gay" a barrier is built between them and the church that can often never be overcome.

Homosexuality has become the leprosy of the modern church as we seek to ask these people to yell out "UNCLEAN, UNCLEAN" if they get too close to our church's or people.  

I am not here to advocate that homosexuality is OK, because I believe that any sexual act committed outside of a male-female marriage is sin, but there is still a problem here.  We cannot be taken seriously on the issue of homosexuality when 80% of our teens are sexually active, 50% of our marriages end in divorce, etc.  God says more about divorce than he says about homosexuality, folks.  We need to put forth a consistent message.

4. The church should be realistic.

Most of our people have struggled or are struggling with sexual sin.  We need to stop pretending otherwise.  Every time we preach a sermon about the need for purity, calling our people to never look at pornography or think about cheating we will certainly get some amen's.  However, we will also ostracize many of our people who are told in all too clear a way that they are not good enough to be part of the church.

The church is about grace.  Christ dined with sinners, spoke with adulterers, forgave the worst of people, and loved them all.  If we are to become relevant, we must learn to do the same.  It is only in lovingly providing grace that the chains of sin will be lifted, and our people will find the freedom of Christ.

How has the church's discussion of sex affected you?  What changes would you like to see the church make in regards to sexual conversations?


  1. I just had a youth leader over me advise me to have my high school girls sign "purity covenants" before prom.

    I can't help but feel that it just might not be helpful. I'm wrestling with all of this now. Is our sexuality immensely important? Yes. But I feel like we've presented it as THE sin that will give you the scarlet letter if you happen to cross a line. I don't want to give them a line and tell them not to cross it. I want to give them a goal - holiness and deepening knowledge of Christ. I want them to pursue that goal with all their heart, and through that pursuit end up with sexual purity.

    1. I will be very interested in your thoughts! Thanks for sharing.

    2. Kacie....SO true agree! It's the heart not a piece of paper! I'm about to be 38 and still a virgin. I never signed a card....but I love Jesus. Your thinking right...keep pushing them in grace and gratitude. :-)

    3. That reply was meant for your comment on another post! Silly me, I didn't really look carefully!

  2. These are really good thoughts. It makes me want to dialog with someone about it. I don't communicate in writing really well.

    I agree that we frequently "hurt" the marriage bed because we tell singles, "You better say NO!" Then they get married and we expect them to instantly and willingly say yes. Yet, when singles give pieces of themselves away before marriage (and there are ways to do that other than the act of sex itself) it also affects the marriage bed.

    A wonderful single friend of mine says that we must be "whole" singles before we can be "whole" married, and that wholeness comes only through an intimate relationship with Christ himself.

    When John has "praught" (Kristen and Nathan's word) on the subject there has always been an emphasis on the body and the mind being connected and how being intimate (look it up - it means way more than the sex act) when we are single with anyone but God will affect us as married people.

    This IS NOT the unforgivable sin. But it sure does carry
    A LOT of baggage with it and it will always affect the other person in our lives.

    BUT, as a married couple we need to also realize that as Christians sex is also an act of worship. Do you want to go there? Go on - I dare you! :)

    I love reading your thoughts. Hugs.

    1. Arlene! Thanks for dropping by with the encouraging word. I am curious if you have read Mark Moore's article about homosexuality from the Christian Standard a couple weeks back--really good stuff. Make sure to thank John too, from the sounds of it he is one of the preachers that gets it.

  3. A thousand times yes! This is what I believe, particularly points one and three (points two and four are also good, but apply to any topic in Christianity). Thank you for writing this and living it out in your life and ministry.
    Also, I agree 100% with Kacie, which is really what drove me to ask the question in the first place. If we focus on discipleship, everything else should fall into place, including sexuality.

    1. Discipleship is key. As soon as we remove the issue of sex from discipleship, we lose our ability to be relevant. Thanks for spurring me on to think about this issue more deeply B.J.

  4. I found your blog via Kacie, and really resonate with this post. I love the distinction between abstinence and chastity--that gives all Christians, whether married or single, gay or straight a goal to strive towards.

    Also, my maiden name is Shedd. Wonder if we're related?

    1. Thanks Rach! And it would be interesting if we were from the same Shedd heritage! Most of my family has been in Indiana and Kentucky the past 50 years or so. Any connection?