A respected Christian friend posed a great question yesterday. If you would allow me to paraphrase, he asked: What is the church's hangup with sex? Why in the past 100 or so years has the church become increasingly focused on issues of sexual sin, sexual identity, and sexuality in general.
Anyone who spends a great deal of time in the modern Evangelical movement will know that my friend is not wrong in his assessment of our teaching. Christians, particularly Protestant Christians, seem to be obsessed with talking about sex. We have books for by the hundreds for keeping our youth remain sexually pure, books for sexual addiction, books for what is permissible sexual activity within a marriage, books that prepare engaged couples for marital sexuality, books on sexuality and politics...I am exhausted just sharing the categories!
So the question today is simple: Why is the church so focused on sexuality? This should lead naturally to other questions (is this focus bad? How can we better address this issue? What other issues are we ignoring?), but for today we will leave those questions unanswered.
I would like to suggest three reasons the Protestant church finds itself so focused on sex in its teaching:
1. We are still recovering from the Reformation. You know, when Martin Luther looked the Pope in the eyes and said "Let my people go!" OK, so that may be a little bit dramatic, but the Reformation changed things. In responding to the forced celibacy of the Roman Catholic, the Reformation made celibacy out to be a bad thing altogether! We have made marriage a necessary part of life and spirituality (just ask any single 20 something in your local church), and in so doing have placed a great importance on sexual relationships. This shift also led to the view that sex is about more than just procreation. This shift from celibacy naturally led to many questions: what is allowed sexually? When is it sex? What is permissible for me?
2. Sexuality is one area where we are genuinely "at odds" with our culture. It's easy to ignore the areas of sin and philosophy where we agree with our neighboring non-Christians. Yes, Jesus does say a lot about poverty, judgmental attitudes, and religious hypocrisy, but I agree with my non-Christian friends on many of these issues. We must be right, so why talk about them? In reality, this is what I would call our ability to "shift" emphasis in Scripture to what we consider gross sin. If we look honestly at ourselves, most of us have sin that is tolerable, but others that are gross, unacceptable among God's people. Sexual sin has become the gross, while sins of gluttony, power, and status are acceptable.
3. Whether intentional or not, we practice a system of "occasional theology." Personally, I am a big proponent of occasional theology as an alternative to systematic theology. Most however, practice this without even thinking about it. What is occasional theology? Occasional Theology is the practice of addressing theological issues based upon the situation (or occasion) confronting the local congregation. I would argue that Paul's letter's are great examples of occasional theology. Bringing this back to the issue, you will notice that sexuality is flaunted and discussed now more than ever in our culture. Pornography is bigger business than Hollywood. Sexual agendas are being tackled by our politicians, trumpeted by our celebrities, and promoted by our athletes. The church is simply addressing the pressing issues of our day.
This still leaves the question of whether our focus on sex is good or bad, and perhaps we can discuss that tomorrow.
Perhaps there is something that I've missed. What other factors are contributing to our focus on sex? Why do church's feel the need to spend so much time and money addressing issues of sexuality?
I hope to hear from you!