Spiritually-Mixed Marriages= Bad Sex

I haven’t posted in nearly two years but it is with good cause. I was in the thick of my PhD coursework but now I’m out, actually I’m just done with coursework. I’m currently studying for my comprehensive exams which are the exams PhD students take to demonstrate intellectual proficiency and prowess in their discipline and research and the test that, once we pass, we become conversant members of our guild. My core discipline is Ethics with a focus on Women, Gender, and (Sex)uality, thus my reading for exams spans those areas as well as Catholic Social Teachings because, hey, I’m Catholic now (more on that later). Nevertheless I hope to share a little of what I’m reading and thinking as I study over the next few months. The quote below is from True Sexual Morality: Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis by Daniel R. Heimbach. This book isn’t on my exam list–though I’m considering adding it–I am considering using a chapter out of the book for a Sexual Ethics class I’ll be teaching for a group of high school students. The class will be a brief survey of sexual ethics on the spectrum–meaning students will study ethicists who theorize on sex from conservative, moderate, and liberal perspectives. I’m using Stanley Grenz’s Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective as our conservative sexual ethics text but Heimbach’s book goes the extra mile–and an extra 200 pages or so–to provide a thorough view of biblical sexual morality. The quote below jumped out at me while I was looking for a chapter to read with class. Check it out:

God’s general prohibition against spiritually mixed marriage is consistent with his interest in guarding the positive value of complexity, intimacy, and complementarity in sexual relationships. Spiritually mixed marriage weakens the complexity of sex by trying to construct relationships that do not include the spiritual dimension. Since sex remains spiritual no matter how we try leaving it out, relationships that ignore the spiritual dimension are doomed to failure because of what couples try pretending is not there.

The prohibition guards the value of sexual intimacy as well. The spiritual dimension of sex is not just unavoidable but is the most important dimension, and spiritually mixed marriage leaves a vacuum at the deepest level of sexual intimacy. So long as the vacuum is there, sex will never reach the potential for intimacy that God intends it to have. Nothing else in a relationship goes as deep as the spiritual dimension, and nothing else can take its place.

Finally, the prohibition against spiritually mixed marriage protects the value of complementarity in God’s design for sex. If a Christian marries a non-Christian, the two may be able to complement each other physically, emotionally, and psychologically, but they cannot complement each other spiritually. Daniel R. Heimbach, True Sexual Morality, 211

Simply put, an unequally yoked marriage will impact your sex life because you will be unable to reach the intimacy God intends in loving relationships. There can be no intimacy between two people with differing spiritualities.

This is fascinating.

I know those within Christian traditions are well aware of the prohibitions against unequally yoked relationships and marriages, but have you ever heard of the prohibition against it for this reason? Do you purchase the claim that a spiritually mixed marriage can impact sex life? If you do believe sex is spiritual, do you believe that your partner must share the same spiritual and religious practice as you do? And a more fundamental question, does shared spirituality come from shared religion?

It has been a longtime but let’s talk about sex.

Throwback Thoughts: Protecting Your Vulnerable Position

It turns out I’ve been thinking and talking about sex for some time but experience and reason have changed the way I look at scripture and tradition on the matter. (Whether it is for better or worse is still to be determined.) Nevertheless, Thursdays here for the next few weeks will be for Throwback Thoughts–posts on sex and sexuality re-published from my old blog which was active from 2007 to 2010–and Fridays I will share where I currently stand on the issue(s) taken up in Thursday’s post. Let me tell you, 4-7 years makes a difference, whether it is for better or worse is still to be determined. So without further delay, here is a post from October 21, 2008 about my trip to the gynecologist which prompted a reflection on vulnerability and purity. See you tomorrow and enjoy or be confounded by the me of yesteryear.

_____________________________________________________________________

This afternoon I incurred the wrath of the speculum. It was my annual “special woman doctor” appointment. I don’t ever, ever, ever look forward to these appointments.

This is not me.

This is not me.

So there I was laying on the special recliner and mentally freaking out at the sight of the stirrups. They were menacing and the thought of putting my feet up in them and spreading made me sick. The moment had arrived when I was told to scoot down and put my feet in the stirrups. “This is it,” I thought to myself. “This is the moment when I am at my most vulnerable, feel most scared and all my defenses are let down all because of the way my legs are positioned and my life is exposed.” I thought about the profound implication of being in this position.

This is the position we assume when we are creating life, the position we assume when life is coming out of us and the position we assume to make sure our life is secured. This position is based on our lives as women and yet so many of us take it for granted and freely put our legs into hypothetical stirrups for people who can’t even guarantee us anything beyond that moment. It’s such a serious matter and in that moment I acknowledged the importance of protecting my womanhood and my purity at all costs. I found it interesting that though this woman was being paid to examine me and ensure I am healthy I was still spazzing out as if she were a rapist coming to take it by force. I was open in front of a perfect stranger and although I knew she meant no harm, I couldn’t help but be nervous and scared. But it also spoke volumes as to how much more we put ourselves in danger when we offer such an intimate and sacred part of ourselves to people who God hasn’t ordained or even deigned for us to be with.

There’s always a scripture that comes to mind for me when I consider purity. Psalm 5:16, “Why spill the waters of your springs in the streets, having sex with just anyone? You should reserve it for yourselves. Never share it with strangers.” (NIV) I always think about that scripture when I hear about the countless numbers of men and women, believers and nonbelievers alike, who see no problem with spilling their waters into the streets. It’s just another past time. Some think they are entitled to it. Some think it’s impossible to abstain from it. Some think you’re a prude if you won’t even entertain the idea of spilling your waters. I think about this scripture when I think about myself some behavioral traits from my past that I had to let go of in order to step into a better and right relationship with God.

In considering all of this, I just feel very convicted and felt compelled to share with anyone who might read this that it’s of the utmost importance that we protect our purity. Everyone may not believe in abstaining from sex until marriage or even keeping themselves away from fornication, but I believe that for the livelihood of our spirits, we must. The temporary pleasure of operating in impurity just because you can is just that, temporary. After you’re done feeding your flesh and taking your feet out of the stirrups, the sweet taste in your mouth will turn as bitter as gall. And unfortunately, you’ll be left with a part of the person you gave yourself to and they will have a part of you, that you can’t get back.

My being in the doctor’s office, in those stirrups scared me (and maybe it’s because I tend to be a naturally scary person) and made me realize that I cannot ever afford to be caught in that position with the wrong person doing the wrong thing. Inasmuch as you can make it possible, see to it not to find yourself in hypothetical stirrups spilling your waters in the street to people who are here today and gone tomorrow. See to it that the only time you find yourself in the vulnerable position is when you must submit to your practitioner or to the person who God has joined you together with.

Bob Jones University and Theological Rhetoric that Mishandles Sexual Abuse Victims

Greenville, S.C. (February 6, 2014) – In the fall of 2011, the national news was filled with a steady stream of heart-breaking revelations of sexual abuse on college campuses. These events prompted Bob Jones University to evaluate its processes and procedures for responding to reports of sexual abuse and specifically to ensure the University maintained best practices for a legally compliant and loving, scripturally based response to such reports.

To accomplish this, the Board of Trustees appointed a committee external to BJU to review our policies and procedures. The committee recommended some policy revisions and also that the University appoint an independent ombudsman to review past instances in which it was alleged that the University may have underserved a student who reported they had been abused at some point in their lives.

BJU subsequently engaged GRACE as the ombudsman. In addition to working with GRACE, BJU independently implemented a number of initiatives to raise awareness of sexual abuse. BJU provided live Sexual Abuse Awareness Training to all 3000+ students and 1000+ faculty/staff members—unprecedented in institutions of higher education—and is creating guidelines to assist present and future students who work with minors in the community and on campus. BJU also is working to provide a comprehensive Child Safety Workshop for local church leaders this spring.

Over the last several months, we grew concerned about how GRACE was pursuing our objectives, and on Jan. 27, 2014, BJU terminated its contract with GRACE. It is BJU’s intention to resolve its differences with GRACE, and we are disappointed a resolution could not be reached before our differences were made public. Both BJU and GRACE desire to raise sexual abuse awareness and minister to victims whose lives have been ravaged by abuse. GRACE has been helpful in assisting us in focusing our efforts in this area.

BJU sincerely appreciates all current and former students who participated in this initiative thus far, and the University regrets any delay BJU’s cancellation of its agreement with GRACE may have on this important project.

We grieve with those who have suffered abuse in their past, and we desire to minister the grace of Christ to them. Our prayer for the abused is that God will be their refuge and strength.

This is a press release issued by Bob Jones University announcing the early termination of GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment), an organization they hired to look into sexual abuse allegations on campus. One month before GRACE was scheduled to conclude their investigation BJU, without explanation, terminated their services. BJU claimed that they didn’t like the way GRACE was “pursuing our objective” but, to me, it sounded like GRACE was digging up a lot of dirt which would have made it harder for BJU to hide. The sexually abused might finally find a voice with the help of GRACE but an institution in size and stature such as BJU might crumble and the higher-ups couldn’t let that happen. So, better to continue to sweep the sexually abused  dirt under the rug than to have a large Christian institution come under fire. But this post isn’t about speculation but dealing with the press release posted above, particularly the last sentence, which I believe perpetuates the silencing of people who have been sexually abused through the use of theological rhetoric.

“We grieve with those who have suffered abuse in their past…”

This might be the only thing the concluding sentences get right about the role of the community with persons who have experienced sexual abuse. The phrase suggests  solidarity with persons who have been sexually abused, an active, emotional solidarity of being present in their suffering and taking hold of the fact that if one of us is broken and wounded, we all are because we are part of the same body. This is significant in a society that largely sweeps these persons away when it should embrace them and standing in solidarity with them. In the context of a Christian community this should be a primary deed done toward those persons. In sharing all things in common, joy and sorrow, happiness and sadness, etc, we partake in gospel work. Yet this is not the role of many churches and it surely doesn’t seem to be the role of Bob Jones University. Why? The next phrase may provide some insight.

…and we desire to minister the grace of Christ to them.

Here the theological rhetoric begins. By this I mean the style of speech or writing used in Christian spaces that projects Christian altruism as a method of persuasion but that concerns rarely results in any effective action. Not action that ends up helping anyone but the utilizer of such rhetoric. It’s in the vain of “I’ll pray for you,” which sometimes sounds like the thing to say so the person can escape an otherwise hard conversation. In this case, BJU establishes persons who have suffered abuse as those in need of the grace of Christ but does a person who has suffered abuse need the grace of Christ? What does that even mean in this context? That was my first question. I imagined that the last thing a person who has suffered abuse wants is for someone to minister the grace of Christ to them, at least not as a first response to an experience of abuse they have lived with in silence for years. This person doesn’t need grace in the way I believe this statement is suggesting. Context can shape interpretation and in this context it seems that ministering the grace of Christ is BJU absolving themselves of any stake in the healing process of persons who have been abused. As a close friend remarked, “The word ‘grace’ doesn’t do any actual work except to satisfy BJU’s conservative compatriot’s desire that certain words are used in dealing with this type of situation.” To be clear, the grace of Christ is effective and can soften our hearts in a world that has hardened them, but the person who has suffered abuse may need and require a different kind of healing work altogether. A work that puts their community in contact with them in tangible ways and doesn’t leave them to their own devices. This has to do with solidarity and consolation, not grace, at least not immediately. Indeed these persons need to be gracious with themselves throughout the unearthing and healing process and they will need to distribute grace to their abuser, but initially grace isn’t sufficient. I confess this is hard to say because it could be interpreted as me not believing in the grace of Christ to heal, but what I am getting at is a larger concern about how some religious institutions use theological rhetoric as a substitute for good work. For years we have watched churches of all stripes sweep the accounts of persons who have been sexually abused under the rug and, in the cases where the abuser is in the church, we have watched how the abuser gets more attention than the abused. In the midst of all of this, God is like a supernatural salve who heals everything on contact without God’s servants ever having being responsible shepherds of the flock God entrusted to them. God is like the ‘Tussin you apply to everything even when it makes no sense to do so, God and prayer…

“Our prayer for the abused is that God will be their refuge and strength.”

Take a young woman who has told you that she was sexually abused and tell her that your prayer for her is that God will be her refuge and strength. Your prescription for prayer may sound good in theory–and if you ask me it actually doesn’t sound good–but in practice it is weak. As in the case of ministering the grace of Christ to a person who has suffered abuse, prayer can be interpreted as yet another absolution of responsibility. In talking this through with a friend I initially came to the conclusion that “prayer and other things” are needed in situations such as this and in a split second I changed my response to “other things and prayer” are needed. Moving prayer as the last thing that a victim of abuse might need is to suggest that someone who has experienced intimate violence is sometimes in need of more than prayer can provide. Furthermore, praying that God, the God who is traditionally perceived as male presence, become a refuge and strength to a woman who has had an experience of sexual abuse by a man, may do more harm than good. How does this work in situations when the woman was abused by a male figure she loved and trusted? How does she suspend her distrust of male figures long enough to put trust in her God traditionally narrated and given as patriarchal figure? I bring this up given discussions of how inclusive language and understanding about God aids in healing work for those who have suffered abuse at the hands of men and can no longer put their trust in a God who has always been a “He, Him, His.” This is not me being a person of little faith, it is acknowledging that as a people of faith there is hard work we have to do on behalf of our fellow brothers and sisters and it requires carefully measured deeds, not just words that can potentially be interpreted as empty. This is significant given how sex abuse scandals are handled in the Christian church and how the world outside of the church observes what it is we do to help one another–and really it doesn’t appear that much is done. Maybe the whole problem is that many want desperately to believe that the only thing they need to do is minister grace and pray instead of sitting with the broken and wounded and sharing in that space with them for however long it may take. I don’t dismiss God in this process and don’t want to suggest that God can’t handle healing all on God’s own, but I believe, more often than not, God expects God’s people to also roll their sleeves up and do some hard work in the healing and recovery process of abused persons. I believe there is a particular responsibility that we, as a community, have toward one another and BJU is yet another example of a shirking that responsibility in favor of giving victims of abuse, empty theological rhetoric.

Now, I may be making a mountain out of a mole hill. A close friend, whom I also talked through this with, brought this to my attention as we worked through our thoughts on the matter. Overall we agreed that “grace” as referenced in the press release does no real work and that solidarity is necessary but he added this,

But maybe this is just me imposing upon Bob Jones and its representatives my elitist assumption that words, particularly theological words, actually mean things.

The elitist assumption that theological words actually mean things is a longstanding one that stares us–the Christian community–in the face every time we stand before our sacred text. It stares us in the face when we make theological claims. And here it stares me in the face as I wonder if all I have written about BJU’s words is in vain because I’ve assumed that their words mean something. I’ve thought about this throughout the weekend and have come to the conclusion that when it comes to speaking on behalf of a Christian institution or tradition about how to handle victims of sexual abuse you must measure your words carefully because words can do violence. One can never be certain of how their words will be interpreted in general, but when those words are the focal point for a wounded community, those words must do no further harm. I am concerned that BJU’s words–and of course their actions–are doing more harm to persons who have been sexually abused. I am concerned that the language they used throughout this press release continues to hold people who have been sexually abused at a distance instead of bringing them into community. It also makes those persons seem more like cases to be handled than persons to be cared for. I can say all of this because I feel the harm as someone not many degrees of separation from persons who have been sexually abused. It’s time for the empty rhetoric to stop and the rigorous work to start.

The Southern Baptist Sex Summit and Me: It’s Bone Picking Time

A few days ago news broke that leaders in the Southern Baptist church will hold a Sex Summit in Nashville, Tennessee where they will talk about pornography, teen sex, homosexuality and how pastors can talk to their congregations about human sexuality in an over-sexed world. This was intriguing to me for reasons not limited to my academic interest in studying Christian sexual ethics but because of my own experience in the Southern Baptist church.

A little known fact about me is that I spent a fair amount of my teenage years in a Southern Baptist Church. My mom and I were members of a large Southern Baptist church where we were one of a handful of black families in attendance Sunday after Sunday. We both went to Sunday school and I was quasi active in the youth ministry. This was the first church I became a member of and I was baptized in this church. One more significant thing happened in that large Southern Baptist church, it was the church where I pledged to not have sex until marriage. Through the “True Love Waits” campaign I made a pledge in front of my mother and a room filled largely with white people, to abstain from sex until marriage and keep myself pure. My pledge was sealed with a chintzy gold-coated metal ring. Armed with “The marriage bed is undefiled,” I was held responsible for keeping my sexual desires in check without an adequate discussion about what those desires would feel like and how I can embrace them without burning in hell. I knew how to say “No” before I knew what I was saying no to. There was a large gap in my understanding of sexuality that the very institution that initiated the pledge wasn’t trying to fill and little did I know how problematic that would be. Before long I broke that ring along with my pledge.

There are many like me who, in their high school years took a pledge to abstain from sex before marriage and, for one reason or another, they broke it. In fact, a study done in 2003 showed that 6 out of 10 people who took the TLW pledge in college ended up breaking it and of the 40% who said they were abstaining from intercourse 55% of them admitted to having oral sex. But few people have gotten to the root of why young people are breaking this pledge. I believe that part of the reason that many young people broke their pledge to abstinence is because of the incomplete education they received regarding sexuality in the church.  In my experience the church specializes in shallow teachings on sexuality that do nothing more than tell people to beat their flesh into subjection without really allowing them to think through and discover what this flesh is all about. People are taught that the flesh is a hard thing to control instead of being taught that it is something we have control of and we ought not be scared of it. We can master it in a way that isn’t guided by fear-mongering that implies it will devour us every time we have a warm, tingly feeling. So many topics are tip-toed around and treated as taboo when the reality is, many pastors would be surprised about what their young people know about sex. Hell, many young people would be shocked to know what some of these pastors are doing behind closed doors and it has nothing to do with the marriage bed, but that’s for another day and post. I believe it is time for the church to stop demonizing the flesh in regards to sexuality, to stop throwing around the same tired scriptural references that are never interpreted correctly, so that we may arrive at a healthy, holistic understanding of who we are in Christ, faithful and sexual creatures. I say all of this as someone who still has a commitment to the church. I’ve not abandoned it and have no intentions of abandoning it ever, hopefully. And so my goal is to take up the work of helping the church have these hard conversation about sexuality and desire in the sanctuary. And this, finally, has everything to do with why I want to attend the Sex Summit.

More than 15 years ago the Southern Baptist church gave me a sexual ethic before I knew what a sexual ethic was and it nearly ruined me. Because it was planted in me during a stage in my moral development when I was amenable to conformity out of fear of consequences, it took root in me and those roots are strong. I have spent years pulling up those roots and trying to discover what is the appropriate sexual ethic for Christians or how and when should an ethic be established. I’m generally curious about how many denominations go about teaching sexual ethics to their youth and young adult, but with the Southern Baptist Sex Summit I feel like I can get in on the ground floor and see what exactly it is that pastors are teaching each other in regards to sex. The Southern Baptist Church’s position on sexuality states “We affirm God’s plan for marriage and sexual intimacy–one man, one woman, for life. Homosexuality is not a “valid alternative lifestyle.” The Bible condemns it as sin. The same redemption available to all sinners is available to homosexuals. They too may become new creations in Christ.” Oh to pick apart this statement, like, “If homosexuality isn’t a valid alternative lifestyle, what is a valid alternative lifestyle?” “And why are they still using the term “homosexual” or “”homosexuality” as if they are still in 1952–the moment in time when the American Psychological Association categorized it as a sociopathic personality disturbance in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM). By 1974 it was categorized as a sexual orientation disturbance.” To use these terms is to treat the LGBT community with clinical gloves, as pure disorders without the possibility that there is some order. I say this as someone who, as of three years ago, JUST removed the term from my own vocabulary after writing it in a paper and having a professor correct me. He told me that “homosexual” is a clinical term that has negative connotations and I should use “LGBT” in future reference. This was in a school of theology, granted not a Southern Baptist school, but a school concerned with educating future faith leaders and scholars of the world. A school interested in how we care for God’s people and that is a universal concern not limited to denominational doctrine. Southern Baptists are not excluded in learning how to speak of God’s children, all of them. So I want to know how they will unpack their statement on sexuality and if any of it will be reworked for language and for logic.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 6.53.26 PM

I’m curious, having looked at the Sex Summit speakers, how a group comprised largely of white men and one black man–and one black woman who will only participate it brief reflection session–are going to talk about sexuality from sexual behavior to sexual preference. How will such a racial and gender imbalanced group handle the vast field of sexuality and dare to teach other leaders how they should be teaching it. I will be honest in saying that I feel some kind of way about the multitude of men who will be in that space, the ones teaching and the ones being taught because the Southern Baptist church “recognizes the biblical restriction concerning the office of pastor, saying: “While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.” So if I am understanding correctly, a bunch of men–mostly white–are going to teach a bunch of other men–probably also mostly white–about what they should be teaching in their churches about sexuality. And these churches will probably be comprised of more women than man, people of color, impressionable teenagers, etc. This should be really interesting…

I’ve said a lot but I’d love to hear from my readers who have experience in the Southern Baptist church, especially those who took a True Love Waits pledge. How did that work out for you? Did you keep the pledge/are you still keeping it? How long? If you broke it, how long until you broke it and why? If you were attending a conference such as this or could send in questions, what would you ask? Let’s talk about it.