The pattern repeats itself: Sexuality in the Church, Part One.
Tina Sellers, a professor of human sexuality at a Christian university, pens a beautiful essay on the topic of how the church engages (or doesn’t) with a wide variety of sexual topics. She expresses a sentiment that I’ve shared for several years now but have struggled to articulate it as well as she does in the following selection:
“When we continue to shroud sexuality in silence and an abstinence only discourse, we continue to burden faith filled children, adolescents, young adults and adults with a deep shame that interrupts their ability to fully know God’s love and grace. Shame modulates distance in intimacy and sexual expression in the monogamous relationships that are foundational to community living and a significant expression of God’s active love. When people are filled with shame and self-loathing, their affected self-esteem takes precedence in interactions with others. It dominates and eclipses a person’s ability to see and love another. In essence, sexuality encased in silence and shame keeps people from intimately knowing both God and each other, and cripples our ability as a community of believers to truly love and be a healing force in our hurting world”.
Sellers makes several critical points here. In her role as a professor of human sexuality at the graduate level, she notes that after having read literally hundreds of sexual autobiographies, the story is essentially the same. The subject begins to explore themselves sexually, learning how their bodies work and how to provide themselves with pleasure, their parents inevitably discover this behavior somehow, chastise them roundly, wherein the subject begins the process of hiding an intimate part of themselves, shrouded in the unfortunate cover of guilt, shame, and remorse. Sellers reminds the reader, via a thorough examination of historical events regarding the Church’s dealings with human sexuality, that the guilt-shame cycle we create as a faith community is not actually based on some moral code located within the Scriptures, but rather a number of individuals, including St. Augustine, helped to shape a rather Puritanical approach to sexuality and sexual expression. Thousands of years later, we’re still struggling to throw off these unwieldy, and unnecessary, shackles of shame and guilt. If we are to understand, rightly, that this cultural moral code is just that, a social norm, rather than something directly from the Gospel itself, why do we insist on its preservation? And, as Sellers beseeches, at what cost do we insist on upholding such a repressive, damaging, and scarring ethic?
Many, many generations of Christians have been raised on these types of norms, and as a Church, we’ve created legions of individuals who, having been hurt or scarred in some manner, spend years or decades working to create a healthy, balanced sexual ethic, whether they remain within the faith community or not. Online communities such as the “No Shame Movement” and “Thank God for Sex” are working tirelessly to create a safe spaces where people can come together to heal, share their stories, and reconcile the Gospel and their own sexual identity, which has for so long been an object of derision, guilt, or self-loathing.
For so many of us, myself included, the Church handed out an impossible ideal of sexual norms, activities, and rules, and expected us to fall into lockstep with these mandates. For the tiny minority who managed to somehow live up to these terrifyingly high expectations, they were welcomed with open arms. For the eight of of ten of us who “failed”, we were left with an unrelenting (and unfair) sense of shame, guilt, and remorse that cycled through itself over and over until we began the process of creating a healthier, more reparative, and more authentic sexual ethic. Ultimately, we wish to glorify and give praise with our bodies, to rejoice in the pleasure they bring us, and to be grateful for the connection we have between the divine spirit and our own sexual expression.
Next week I’ll be unpacking and exploring the “eight out of ten” statistic I alluded to in the paragraph above. Thanks to everyone who reads and allows me to honestly share my heart in regards to the difficult topics being discussed. Blessings to you all.