Sexuality and the Church: Part 3.
We are truly wonderful creatures. Spanning the millennia, our biblical tale tells of a creation from the dust of the earth. Being God-Breathed. Beings created from the mind of a God larger than what we can imagine. God created us in His imagine; our very selves becoming imbued, imprinted with a sense of the divine spirit, wonder, and passion. What a magnificent legacy we have been given. What a treasure.
As such creatures, we were given the capacity to feel a tremendous sense of affection, of beauty, of love. The heights of pleasure were within our grasp, and we were allowed to revel in the messy, wonderful, glorious, divine act of loving another human being so deeply with every fiber of our being that we ache with joy at the thought of it. To be fully open with our lovers, to be vulnerable in their gaze, and to be accepted into their embrace. There’s a majesty in this. There’s grace here. We are indescribably, incorrigibly connected to a sense of higher consciousness when we share in the act of connection with someone whom we love, whom we care for, and who returns the favor in spite of our flaws.
Oh, what an immeasurable treasure we have set before us. And yet, to know of love, to feel this sense of wonder, it’s never as easy as it may seem at first glance; sometimes, its not as straightforward as it should be. Even as these words are coming forth, its a comprehensive struggle to articulate both the majesty and the mess when we speak of love, and of creating spaces where loved is given, and received, and shared. There’s a film I love deeply, in which a young woman does an admirable job of summing up the difficulties in which we experience and struggle with this goal of understanding “togetherness”:
“I thought I understood it, that I could grasp it, but I didn’t, not really. Only the smudgeness of it; the pink-slippered, all-containered, semi-precious eagerness of it. I didn’t realize it would sometimes be more than whole, that the wholeness was a rather luxurious idea. Because it’s the halves that halve you in half. I didn’t know, don’t know, about the in-between bits; the gory bits of you, and the gory bits of me.”
It’s true, isn’t it? We work so hard to wrangle this sense of love to where we can get it under control, so we may study it and perhaps understand it fully. If we know something comprehensively, we no longer fear it. We’re no longer controlled by it. The tables are turned. If we can truly, absolutely grasp an idea, it no longer holds us captive. And yet, love is a temperamental beast, refusing to be tamed under any circumstances. Sometimes we can’t help but wonder: Has the Creator been playing a trick on us from the very beginning? We’ve been given a game to play, as we somehow stumble our way through seemingly made up rules that seem to create more problems than they solve.
This sense of the unknowable, the unexplained, is incredibly pervasive. As an institution, the Church cannot be faulted for wishing to control and tame the largely mercurial sense of “Love”. It cannot be blamed for wishing to create a sense of order within the vast, incredible spectrum that is human sexuality and sexual expression. When we look at Church efforts from an objective standpoint, we find a rather checkered history of our faith traditions performing the theological equivalent of holding water in a sieve. Even a cursory glance at expressions of love across time, cultures, and communities paint us a picture of human affection that can only truly be seen as a magnificent tapestry that grows more varied and beautiful by the day.
It behooves us to see the world through an objective lense. To have faith is a gift, one that believers are certainly blessed with, to be sure. Yet, when we look out into the world and see a wide array of experiences, we do others and ourselves a severe disservice when we attempt to pigeonhole individuals into a select number of predetermined categories based on harmful interpretations of scriptural dictates. This practice is what I’ve come to think of as “The Danger of a Single Narrative”, and I’ve had the displeasure of seeing many lives, lives belonging to people I know and love, harmed or ruined in many damaging ways because the sexual expression or sexual identity of these people didn’t fit the pre-determined theological mould. Even though we know the tapestry of human sexuality is woven with a wide variety of fibers, most of our religious institutions seem quite fixed on maintaining a single narrative, one which many of us know by heart (“Boy meets girl. Courts girl. Proposes to girl. Girl accepts, and they begin a live of sexual and emotional monogamy for the rest of their lives”).
Does the above “fairy tale” work for some people? Sure, perhaps a moderate number. But what about the teenagers who struggle with determining where they fall on the gender spectrum? What about the girls who were sexually assaulted and told they were no longer “pure”? What about the men and women who feel miserable in their marriages but think that there’s no solution to their marital dilemmas? A huge number of people simply do not fit neatly, or fit at all, into the single story narrative. These people feel as if, based on their past experiences, the Church holds no place for them, and I can’t really blame them for thinking that.
We need to write a new story. As a faith community, we need to create safer spaces to discuss issues pertaining to sexuality in a non-judgmental and open manner. We need to instill a norm so that women who are assaulted recognize that they did nothing wrong and there’s nothing that can ever make them “impure” because of what was done to them. Better yet, we need to create a culture of consent, and teach this to all young people in the Church. We need the church to be a welcoming space for those who don’t adhere to a gender binary. We need our community to be an encouraging place for those with a different variety of sexual orientation, so that they can understand the truth that God created them as beautiful creatures in His image, and that their desires are not deviant inclinations. We certainly need to stop proclaiming such damaging falsehoods from our pulpits.
If there was any impression given that the author has the solutions, allow me to disabuse you of that notion. I might have a few ideas of where we can start to fix the mess we’re in, but it truly takes a village to continue working on the process of reconciliation. In regards to sexuality as a whole, the Church has horribly failed some of its members, many of whom will never return, and those who do, do so with a guarded heart, unsure of how honest they can be. Above all, we need to ask for forgiveness. Oh, we must do that first and foremost. And this is the true message of the Gospel that covers this issue so neatly: we fail. Stumble. Commit error. Christ forgives. We are humbled. We move on. We grow.
For those who are reading this and have been irreparably hurt by someone in the church family, I am so very sorry. You have every right to be angry. If you want nothing to do with faith, I understand, and I do not fault you. I’m sorry.
For those who are reading this and have not been hurt in such a way, and are committed to a gospel of compassion and reconciliation, join me in doing everything we can to create a church so that the person mentioned above feels safe, cared for, and unconditionally loved by the Church.
Is this going to be really hard? Yes. Is it radical, this notion of unconditional acceptance and love? Absolutely. But may we always remember that every radical action we take in the name of love, kindness, and mercy is a direct manifestation of Christ our Lord. What a gift. What a magnificent, healing, restorative gift.