Editor's Note: This is a Top 15 CBE Writing Contest winner. Enjoy!
“Healthy” is not exactly the adjective I would match with the word “sexuality,” especially when it comes to the ways the church and Christians have portrayed and lived out what we believe about sex these past few centuries. According to Scripture, I believe God’s desire for a healthy sexuality means that sex is reserved for a woman and a man within the safe boundary of marriage. Healthy sexuality is also chaste, for both single and married people. The church has called all Christians to faithfulness, and in relation to sexuality this means abstinence for singles and fidelity for those in marriage. God’s plan for healthy sexuality also requires that sex in marriage is a mutual and reciprocal act of love that brings both parties joy.
Instead of health, sexuality has been attached to shame, guilt, fear, and abuse way too often in the church. The increase of sexual harassment and abuse allegations surfacing, in part thanks to the #ChurchToo movement, is proof that until today churches have neglected to address our failures in the area of sexuality. The list of those we have failed is long.
We have failed our young people by turning sex into a taboo and leaving them to sort out the answers to their sex-related questions.
We have failed sexual abuse victims by not believing them, shaming them, and silencing them. Our churches have not been places of healing for victims, and many have covered for aggressors and thus have denied victims justice.
We have failed single people by denying the reality of their struggles to remain chaste until marriage, by giving easy answers to complex issues around their sexuality, and by giving them an inaccurate image of sexuality in marriage.
We have failed married people by assuming that after their wedding night everything about their sex life would work out seamlessly, that each spouse would know what to do and how to do it.
We have failed one another by not listening to each other.
We have failed our society by not portraying sexuality as a God-given gift.
These failures are obviously not the case in every church. But they are a general trend that I have observed as a church member, and specifically as a youth worker and leader, in various Christian groups the past fifteen years I have served. The judgment, shaming, accusations, and general hypocrisy in relation to sexuality in church has made me angry, sad, and fed up. I want it all to stop.
I decided to start researching the topic of “faith and sexuality” because of a very honest conversation a friend once had with me a few years ago. A conversation where there was neither judgement nor shame when talking about sex and related matters. From then on, I decided that one day I would be able to speak with as much grace and openness, especially to younger people. I felt these kinds of conversations were missing in many Christian circles. This has been a journey of intellectual research and also personal healing with God’s help, as I dealt with my own issues in this area. I can only encourage you to seek healing for yourself.
A Vision for the Church
Reading the Bible has left me longing for something different than what I have witnessed in the church: I have grown to believe that God’s idea, when making us sexual beings, was for sexuality to be a very good gift to both be shared and channeled within God’s boundaries so that we would not be overcome or dominated by its power. I am convinced that if we start having honest, biblical, positive, and healthy conversations around the topic of sexuality in marriage and singlehood, not only will we break the power sex has over us and prevent the spread of sex-related shame and guilt, but we will also start to attract public attention for positive reasons.
There is great value for the church to take the lead in talking about sexuality in honest, positive, and truthful ways. For young people, it is the work of prevention: as we welcome their questions and answer them, kindly and openly, we will create safe environments for young people to explore deeper sex-related issues. Hopefully, this will prevent them from finding wrong answers on the internet or from their peers. Many young people have no space in their church or family to ask questions about sex, singleness, marriage, or anything else around these subjects. But the church can provide that space. As a youth worker I believe that the earlier we make room for these conversations to happen in a culture of truth and kindness in our groups, the better our young people will be equipped to thrive in the jungle of their teenage years. I believe that it is better to equip them well in their youth instead of mending them once they reach adulthood.
Youth groups, small groups, and church services are good places to start if we want to change church culture. But how can we go deeper? I think that the following three steps are necessary if we want to change our current church culture around discussing sexuality and other related topics. First, we need to do some thorough introspection and acknowledge our wrongdoing and its impact on individual people and on society as whole. Second, we need to lament and repent from the deadly patterns we have embraced. Finally, we need to be renewed in our thinking, which will lead to renewal in our actions too.
In the story of the prodigal son, before going back home, the youngest son took time to reconsider his situation. My suggestion is that we, the church, do something similar. We need to take an honest look at our current situation and the history of shame, abuse, and injustice regarding sex. I’m advocating for truth based on actual facts, instead of the denial and suppression I have seen. We will never be able to repent from what we haven’t acknowledged. So let’s engage locally, nationally, and globally with this lengthy and difficult yet crucial task.
Here are some questions to begin these conversations: Where did I get my current ideas and theology about sex? Is my church a safe space to discuss my own sexuality and related struggles? How does patriarchy negatively affect what we believe about sexuality?
And, specifically, it can be good to consider how our churches understand sexual abuse: Is my church a safe space for sexual abuse survivors today? Are there people trained to support survivors? Are there accountability systems in place for those in power?
Once we are aware of what we have done wrong before, we will be able to lament and repent of the hurt caused to individuals and groups because of the unhealthiness of our church cultures in the area of sexuality. If we want to initiate reconciliation and lead people to healing, we will have to go through repentance and ask for the forgiveness of those we have hurt. I believe this is Jesus’s way. When the French abolished the aristocracy, aristocrats had to publicly renounce their privileges: there is something powerful in public declaration. I believe our repentance should be both private and public because the impact of our sin has reached individuals and whole societies.
Finally, after having unveiled the truth and repented from our wrongdoing, we will find ourselves in a position to be renewed by the Spirit of the living God. Only the Holy Spirit is able to inspire us and move us to start deep radical changes. In our will to change the conversations around sexuality in the church, we should never neglect the part that God plays. Our desire to have better conversations about sexuality is all about God, his glory, and his will being done on earth. This is why prayer should be at the forefront of this whole process, not simply at the end when we need to be renewed. The Holy Spirit is the one who will guide us in all truth, lead us to repentance and renew our minds. I trust the Holy Spirit to do that in and through each one of us; let’s ask God personally and as whole communities to come and change us, change our minds, and change our habits.
As our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit, we will be led to change our actions. I have a dream of the church being synonymous for the place where people young and old are constantly reminded of their worth in God’s eyes. The church should be a place where no unrighteous judgment or shame is placed on people’s shoulders because of their sexual experiences and a place where no one is afraid to ask questions about any topic of their lives, including sexuality.
We all need to be reminded of the beautiful things God says about sexuality, no matter what age we are, because our society has made it to be something mundane. We all need to be reminded of our loving God who pursues us passionately like a lover and longs for a close, intimate relationship with us. Our world longs for a better story to be told. I believe the church does have a better story to tell the world and to live out. We can move in this direction by developing a healthy view of sexuality, by welcoming questions without judgment, and by openly talking about sex in our church groups and families.
By God’s grace and our joint efforts to push for change, we will get there.
Photo by Chiến Phạm on Unsplash