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.

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Virginity Is Not Just Something to Lose: The Failures of MTV’s Virgin Territory

Last year I vowed to abstain from reality television but three weeks ago I broke that vow in order to indulge in MTV’s Virgin Territory. The show documents the lives of young people who are virgins, most of whom are struggling with their virgin status and looking for someone to lose their virginity to. Each show features four college-aged people trying their hardest not to come off as stereotypical virgins. This means that many of the girls will dress immodestly–according to their perspective of what virgins look like–and many of the guys will spend time in the gym and perform the “playa.” Beyond external appearances these young people roam the streets of their respective cities looking for someone to take their virginity because, you know, virginity is this heavy burden to bear and it gets in the way of so much in life. Talk about a first world problem. On last week’s episode of VT one of the young people finally lost his virginity–the second to lose it during the show’s run–and it broke my heart.

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This is Kyle and, as you can see by the open empty condom wrapper in his hand and his foolish grin, he just had sex. On the show’s first episode 20-year-old Kyle indicated that no one could tell that he was a virgin by looking at him–because he stays in the gym. Moments later he would tearfully explain that he remained a virgin for so long because of the emotional toll his father’s death took on him. All of Kyle’s friends are sexually active and confident about it so much so that Kyle didn’t tell them that he was a virgin until well into the friendship. Young Kyle had a few crushes who he wanted to lose his virginity to; one was a girl who works at the gym and another was a classmate. Both of these crushes fell through but there was a ram in the bush for Kyle, a friend back home by the name of Amanda. They were good friends with some chemistry despite the fact that Amanda was always in a relationship, until now. Fresh on the market, Amanda kept tabs on Kyle and sent him subtle messages about her desire to have sex with him. Unfortunately it seemed that Amanda’s impetus for having sex with Kyle was more about taking his virginity than it was about her burning desire and love for him. So last Wednesday’s episode focused on Kyle’s trip back home and his reunion with Amanda which was wrought with the kind of sexual tension you’d expect from a virgin and a potential serial devirginizer. Their conversations were full of sexual innuendos–including cliche big foot jokes, Kyle’s nervous laughter, and Amanda’s persistent questioning him about being a virgin. All of this came to a head within the last ten minutes of the episode.

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Kyle and Amanda sat on the couch and she once again asked him why he was still a virgin then, in an instant, she invited him into her bedroom. Kyle realized that this is probably going to be it for him and he nervously laughed and told her that he needs to go to the bathroom to “freshen up.” She jokes and says, “What, do you have to shave your legs?” Kyle goes to the bathroom and it appears that he is not ready for what he is about to do, but there is so much pressure on him to do it. Pressure from Amanda, from his friends–who, the night before, were tutoring him on how to test her readiness by caressing her legs and other regions, from a society that largely frowns upon virgins, and of course from the MTV cameras. Finally Kyle got himself together for long enough to take the condom out of his wallet and head toward the bedroom where Amanda was waiting. He laid on the bed, full of nerves, blushing and still looking not quite ready to swipe his “V-card,” but finally he relented and asked her if he could turn the lights off. The last thing virgin Kyle says is something about being anxious to which Amanda responds, “It’s ok.” Post coitus we see a grinning Kyle holding the empty condom wrapper–pictured above–saying, “Once you do it, you’re not going to regret it. You’re gonna want more,” and then he walked back into the bedroom. Cue my heartbreak.

Seeing Kyle just moments after his first time having sex say, “Once you do it, you’re not going to regret it. You’re gonna want more,” was a big disappointment. I thought to myself, “How dreadfully ordinary, like talking about a bag of your favorite potato chips.” It was yet another moment of extolling the virtues of sex for pleasure’s sake, a message that I think is problematic for MTV’s younger demographic. Kyle’s waving around of his empty condom packet, his Cheshire cat grin, and his base articulation of sex indicates one of the problems with sex in our culture, it’s relegation to a pleasurable event, primarily. Indeed sex is pleasurable but there is more to it at every stage. In his book, “The Meaning of Sex,” J. Budziszewski puts it well when he states:

…although we find pleasure in exercising our sexual powers, pleasure is not their purpose; it only provides a motive for using these powers, and a dangerous one, too, which may at times conflict with their true purposes and steer us wrong. Besides, to think of pleasure as the purpose of intercourse is to treat our bodies merely as tools of sending agreeable sensations to our minds. They are of inestimably greater dignity than that, for they are part of what we are.

I believe that we err by treating sex, particularly in this context and to this age group, as primarily a pleasurable event independent of cultivating a desire for lasting union–whether it is a long-term monogamous relationship or marriage–and–dare I say it and sound a little Catholic–procreation. That is creating a safe space where a sexual relationship can flourish and being open to the possibilities that every sexual interaction proffers. But I won’t get into cultivating the desire for union and the procreative possibility of sex because that is beyond the scope of what I want to talk about here. Instead I want to focus on two points of contention; the objectification and commodification of the virgin and the external pressures society and church culture place on young people who are virgins.

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The Purity Ring app is a digital reminder of a purity pledge, mimics the wearing of an actual purity ring, and seeks to compliment traditional pledges rather than compete with them.

If you were raised within the church, your virginity and the indefinite keeping of it was established for you before you even learned to write your own name. When you are young you are marked as a virgin which makes you inexperienced but pure. If you are still a virgin when you get older you are inexperienced and awkward. At every turn the virgin is made aware of their status whether negative or positive–even the flood of articles from the Evangelical community harping on the virtue of purity and virginity border on idolization of virginity. All of this focus on the virgin and virginity bolsters the objectification of the person and their sexual status and catalyzes desire to lose virginity by any means necessary. Furthermore, an entire capitalist system has been built around the selling of purity, chastity, and abstinence to young people, their parents, youth group leaders, and so on so forth. There are are rings, mobile apps–see image on the left, t-shirts, books, conferences, and now this show can be added to the list of people who profit off of virgins. These young people may not be making money but MTV/Viacom is, so these young virgins have symbolically sacrificed themselves at the altar of capitalism and will have nothing to show for it except for a casting credit and a video clip.

But aren’t these young people and young people on general more than a virgins or more than a sexually active person you can create a show around and sell stuff too? Is a show about young people who are virgins really a worthwhile and, more importantly, healthy endeavor?

We may be sexual beings, as is exhaustively stated and a bit cliché I might add, but sexual beings are not all we are. Furthermore, far too often we misunderstand what it means to be sexual beings and interpret it to mean that we have a right to have sex when, where, and however we want it. That is not (fully) the case. I suggest that there must be another way that focuses not on virgins or virginity but on the power of these young people and their ability to form an identity for themselves not beholden to anyone or anything. This is not to ignore sex and desire but to rightly order them in the life of the individual for the individual’s sake. What “Virgin Territory” would lead many to believe is that losing virginity is a focal point in the life of a young adult over say, arriving at knowledge of self and construction of identity. It makes “virgin” the constructed identity of cast members until they are so consumed by it that (some of them) grasp at straws to erase that identity. They are constrained by their desire to lose their virginity so they forge relationships for sex and play into prescribed roles in order to appear favorably before their peers. But all isn’t lost on this show because some of the most fruitful and powerful stories come from those who have cycled through their thinking on the matter. They start as people who believe in virginity in the traditional sense, became people who try to lose it by any means necessary, and land at the place of people who abstain for their own sake and no one else’s. These are the stories that give me hope not because of their decision to abstain but because of their thought process in making that decision. Thinking through rather than acting out is an admirable virtue regarding sex and young people.

As I’ve thought about sexual ethics for teenagers and college-aged young adults, I’ve always fallen on the side of abstinence not for religious reasons but because of that population’s lack of knowledge of self and–more often than not–their inability to make decisions that aren’t influenced by external factors–peers, media, etc. This is not to say that young people are incapable of making healthy decisions regarding their sex lives but it is to acknowledge that there are competing interests for their attention that can cloud their objective decision-making ability. For example, a group of young people in a predominantly Christian setting will abstain from sex until marriage because that is the normative ethic of the group. Likewise, another group of young people may make the decision to have sex before marriage because that is what most of their peers are doing–such is the case of the participants on “Virgin Territory.” In both cases, these decisions are always influenced by external factors and not by the individual’s critical thinking process. This is what Lawrence Kohlberg would call, “Conventional Morality,” located on level two of his Stages of Moral Development. This stage’s focus is on conformity and playing “nice” with an eye toward how decisions affect interpersonal relationships. The key question here is about social acceptability, “What must I do to be seen as a good girl/boy?” We are deluding ourselves if we believe that we foster anything other than a conventional morality regarding sex and sexuality among our young people and this must be unlearned. We must give our young people better spaces to make decisions–which probably also includes allowing them to make mistakes–but we can’t decide for them. The church can’t decide, nor can their parents/guardians, MTV, or culture. This is not to condone reckless behavior or establish a false sense of sexual liberation–and this will surely be a post, but it is to allow young people to decide for themselves, apart from external influences, what’s best for their lives. It’s about trust. We must help them move away from the thought that virginity is a burden to be traded or a sacred object to behold and move them into critical thinking through their identities and core needs.

Virginity is not just something to lose but it is also not something to keep the traditional views on that haven’t served us well for a long time. It’s time to take off the kid gloves and help our young people THINK through their lives and sex–not just their sex lives. Allow them the space to think through who they are and what they want and need in this life and not just cheaply sell them the, “We are sexual beings” line. We ARE sexual beings but that is not all we are and for that reason it’s time to stop holding people’s sexual status over their heads and pressuring them with expectations to maintain a certain sexual status or sexuality. It’s their sex lives but, overall, it’s their lives. Let’s give them the proper space to figure things out. Preferably without the cameras…

 

 

 

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.

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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.

Boy Scouts, the Church, Inclusion and Love

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Druid Hill’s Baptist Church, Atlanta Georgia

Yesterday afternoon I posted this photo on my Facebook page and to my surprise only two people liked it. Two people out of the hundreds of friends and family I have on Facebook which includes a large number of those who would identify themselves as Christians. One of those two isn’t even a self-identifying Christian, she is a Unitarian Universalist who, if my memory serves me correct, also has a Jewish background. I also posted this photo on Instagram and three people liked it, three people whom were my classmates in the theology school I graduated from in May–the second person to like it on Facebook is also a graduate. A grand total of five people liked this photo of a church essentially doing what a church should be doing in the first place, opening the doors and extending hospitality to everyone. Now, in case you have already forgotten why a church would even feel the need to welcome the Boy Scouts in particular, let me jog your memory back a few months…

In January the Boy Scouts of America were considering lifting its ban on gay members and leaders. In April, a proposal was drafted to lift the ban on denying membership based on sexual orientation, and in May that proposal went forth and the ban was lifted. But since then many churches have either been getting on board with the new ruling by allowing Boy Scout Troops who use the facilities to continue their meetings, or by banning the Boy Scouts from the church. North Druid Hills Baptist is one of the first churches here in Atlanta that I have seen explicitly announce their support of the Boy Scouts but it also isn’t surprising since the church is located in a fairly liberal community and it leases out its space for yoga classes, plays that don’t have anything to do with the Gospel–at least not explicitly–and other activities that most churches would frown upon. But aside from the church doing what is par for the course for them in welcoming the Boy Scouts, I was sad. I was sad not for the church but for the fact that this is even something I would be excited about.

I thought about this as the picture made its way through cyberspace and situated itself on my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, and my Instagram account. Is it stupid to be excited about a church welcoming Boy Scouts, including those members who are openly gay? Yes I think it is stupid to be excited about this because I believe the church should be in the business of being the community that embraces everyone. I’m not going to make the “Jesus hung out with sinners and tax collectors” argument because I think it is trite and I’m not certain that openly gay boy scouts are the sinners in this situation. And let me just pause here for a moment…

One of the things most interesting to me about how the church treats LGBT concerns is that they, sometimes, are obsessed with the sex lives of persons in the LGBT community while being totally uninterested in their love lives. As if all gay men do is sit around looking for and having sex rather than or without love. As if sex is a bigger part of the experience than establishing a lifelong relationship in love. And sure, there are some people who are just looking for some sex but they are not the general profile of the community. I’m not a gay man or lesbian but I know enough to know that sex is but a fraction of the LGBT experience that may amount to the same percentage that it is among heterosexual people, so get out of people’s bedrooms and get into their hearts. But this is also an issue with the church as it regards heterosexual people, lots of interest in what does or doesn’t go on in the bedroom to ensure folks aren’t booking quick trips to hell. And I digress…

I’m more concerned in the fact that churches are closing their doors, doors that are supposed to be open to perform the most radical hospitality that can be performed in this sick world that is often too ready to shut people out because it is more interested in clinging to itself. The church, in my understanding, is not a space for exclusion but inclusion driven by love. This is something that should be a given but it isn’t. I remember sitting in a Watchnight service and hearing a pastor speak of family only as that unit which represents the biblical definition of family, man and woman. The pastor repeated this a few times and I remember tuning out of the service because all I saw was the church closing its doors.

Now I understand that this is what some would consider the “biblical” perspective on this matter, but that biblical perspective often seems to leave out love. Love, which is a part of the revelation of God as shown in Jesus Christ. In shutting out those whose lifestyles don’t match up with the so-called biblical definition of family or those openly-gay boy scouts, the church compromises itself and misses the opportunity to love. This is not about tolerance which, as I have stated before, suggests a mere “putting up” with different perspectives rather than a real shift. In the church’s case it would need to be a shift toward love, outwardly expressed. Love that isn’t just spoken about but love that is actually performed. Love that isn’t just prayed about in the way that a prayer can be prayed about something like this such as, “We pray that ‘they’ discover God’s love.” But love that expresses God’s love, the love we all have access to, the love that was bestowed upon us long ago, and the love that we have responsibility to share out. Love that can be expressed through something like say, opening or keeping your doors open to the Boy Scouts. It’s a “Don’t (just) speak about it, be about it” kind of love. Otherwise, the church is no different from the world if it closes its doors on the Boy Scouts, or members of the LGBT community or other communities that would be considered marginalized. Actually, nowadays, the world is exercising a little more openness to inclusion when it comes to persons in the LGBT community so it may be the church who has to keep up. And understand me well when I say this, I know that “keeping up” may sound like you have to be on board with it all, but what I’m suggesting in “keeping up” is being sure that the world doesn’t outdo you, because the world may be able to open some doors but the church and the people within in it, those supposed people of God are (supposed to be) part of the few and the proud that show forth God’s love, and only that kind of love is credible.