Some of you may know that I have been reading, ‘researching’ and reflecting on the inter-related topics of sex, sexuality, identity, body, and the theology of all of these, for some time. Today’s post echoes that reflection, both in its direction and in its timing. I found out, whilst writing it, that tomorrow is apparently ‘Pride’, when many human beings of LGBTQIA orientation/persuasion, and their friends and family, will be celebrating their pride in how they define themselves and their sexuality.
To them, and to myself, and to everyone who identifies as anything remotely related to sex, I want to say something. Very clearly.
Sex(uality) is not enough.
It is not enough to define yourself, it will not be enough to sustain yourself in, and it is a poor basis on which to construct or live an identity.
One of the books I have come across that has had a helpful impact has been Richard B Hay’s superb ‘The Moral Vision of the New Testament’. In this fairly weighty tome, Hays examines a wide range of ethical and moral issues, amongst which is, of course, the area of sex and sexuality. In his superb chapter on homosexuality in particular, he has a couple of observations that really bear repeating, for both Christians and non-Christians, for the church and for the culture.
Firstly, on page 390, Hays observes that;
“In the view of the world that emerges from the pages of Scripture, sex appears as a matter of secondary importance”
This is a powerful contrast to the world we live in. Whether we like it or not, and however we understand it, our culture is incredibly sexual, sexualised, and confused. You can’t engage in modern media without coming across images that, in various ways, degrade women and men/sexualise objects/reveal innuendo/use sex to sell, and so on. Sex, and our sexuality, is something that our culture is so immersed in that the Church must articulate a coherent alternative, not based on soundbites, but deeply compassionate, intelligently winsome, and scripturally deep.
Secondly, speaking directly to his own cultural context, Hays notes on page 401 that;
“Despite the smooth illusions perpetrated by mass culture in the United States, sexual gratification is not a sacred right, and celibacy is not a fate worse than death”
You could easily be forgiven, noting the nature of many debates and discussions in culture today, that sexual gratification, in a recognised relationship, is the ultimate point of human existence, what our (allegedly secular) culture holds as a ‘sacred right’. To deny someone what they want, or what they think they want, or what adverts tell them they want, is to deny someone themselves, it seems. Yet this is simply not true. Hays is right; ‘celibacy is not a fate worse than death‘. The most complete human being who ever lived, claim his followers, was celibate and unmarried his entire life. We don’t know Jesus’ sexuality, because there are more important things about a person, things more fundamental to their identity.
The worldview that emerges from Scripture seems to portray sex as a matter of secondary importance. Properly understood and articulated, it seems, the primary point of Scripture is Jesus, and our relationship and orientation to him. The Church needs to consistently call itself and the culture back to Jesus, away from an over-elevation of sex, and, where appropriate, to a full and healthy understanding of sexuality, identity, and humanity.