One.Life (9) Sex.Life

In this chapter Scot asks, Where does sexuality fit into Jesus’ vision of kingdom of God life?

Scot gives some account of a culture ‘on steroids’ when it comes to sex in the USA:

– by the time of graduation from High School (18yrs), 75% of students will have had sex.

– about 70% of college students will have had sex with at least one partner in the last year

–  Very few students were in a long-term relationship with the person they were having sex with. A hook up culture had detached sex from deeper relationships.

–  In one study of 555 undergrads, Laura Sessions Step found 4 out of 5 had hooked up as a result of planning to have some form of sex but with no particular person in mind.

Scot quotes studies that talk about the long-term emotional damage to women in a hookup culture. Words like these are used:

Exhausted, spent, emptied, depressed, pressured, degraded, dirty, ashamed, unfulfilled …

We live in a paradoxical culture that exalts successful individualism yet is full of people McKnight calls ‘highly inspired workaholics’ – busy people avoiding the burden of relationships and who find hooking up to be easier. Hooking up entails less commitment, less complications. Love and commitment are interpreted as a restraint on individual freedom. So sex is divorced from love since love costs; a ‘see how it goes’ or ‘don’t get in too deep’ culture. The result is a wary and cynical generation burnt by love.

Rather than throw up hands in horror, a better question for Christians to ask is ‘What is a kingdom of God vision for sex?’

Scot’s answer to this question is that ‘Love is a rugged commitment to be with someone.’ Sex is about relationship and love, and sex without relationship and love, wounds. A Christian view of sex, love and marriage says “I will be with you”. It speaks of life-long covenant, of companionship, of oneness, of caring most about the other – of a kingdom vision of love, justice, peace and wisdom.

Such a vision has been distorted from the inside out by Western culture.

It is ironic that in a post-Christendom culture the ‘conventional’ idea of marriage is increasingly unconventional and even revolutionary. I asked the other day what does it mean radically to follow Jesus in a western culture? When it comes to sex and relationships, the ideas of covenant, self-giving and forgiveness are deeply and increasingly counter-cultural.

Some questions remain:

Scot’s main argument is to root sex within a loving committed relationship and to show how damaging when detached from that context. But this seems to have little to say to couples who are with each other long-term but choose not to get married?

For example, I was a having a pint with a Christian couple like this a while ago. They’ve been living together for years and would agree with pretty well all Scot says in this chapter. But they do not see the value what they see as just an external ceremony. What matters is their relationship and love of one another.

What would be your response?

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5 thoughts on “One.Life (9) Sex.Life

  1. I think you are spot on in your analysis of post-Christendom and the place of marriage but to answer your question I don’t think we in the church have fully understood this. Under Christendom marriage was all about “settling down”, “finding Mr/Mrs Right.” It was, as Heidegger, might say “what one does” and was all about certainty and control.
    Yet post-Christendom has illustrated that this cannot work. Hauerwas put it best when he attempted to answer your question by saying that people need other people to support them in marriage in a public, corporate way because when we get married “we don’t know what we are doing” which is radically counter-cultural. But still many churches’ language around sex and marriage is grounded in certainty, control and the elimination of risk, all hallmarks of Christendom. It may be that the couple you talked to still think that marriage is about settling down and so they see the corporate affirmation of their life together as unnecessary and, on this basis, they are right.
    The challenge for churches is to develop an ethic and language of marriage that declares that when we marry we don’t know what we are doing and that’s OK, in fact it is at the very heart of covenant. But for this to happen we also need similar language for all of our life of faith and yet such vulnerability, risk and out-of-controlness is the very opposite of how we have expressed ourselves in the West for hundreds of years.

  2. Richard – great stuff.

    I found this quote by Hauerwas: – another counter-cultural aspect of Christian marriage properly understood, rather than a private, romantic ‘love affair’. And that I think speaks the question about why the public aspect of marriage.

    “The requirement of love in marriage is not correlative to the intrinsic nature of marriage but is based on the admonition for Christians to love one another. We do not love because we are married, but because we are Christian. We may, however, learn what such love is like within the context of marriage. For the Christian tradition claims that marriage helps to support an inclusive community of love by grounding it in a pattern of faithfulness toward another. The love that is required in marriage functions politically by defining the nature of Christian social order, and as children arrive they are trained in that order.”

  3. Here’s one: in biblical categories, sex with someone constitutes marriage. I can’t make a case for a judicial act creating a marriage, since the Bible doesn’t see marriage that way, but we can clearly argue that marriages, like all major transitions in life, were established publicly through ceremony.

  4. Thanks Scot, that’s a helpful way of looking at it. Maybe this is off on a tangent due to my anabaptist leanings , but I wonder if, as in some parts of Europe, it would make things clearer if everyone had to have a state ceremony with a registrar and then only those with with religious convictions choose also to have a church (or wherever) ceremony.

  5. Good point Scot and I think the “sex means marriage” argument is also made by Rob Bell in Sex God (can’t remember the Levitical reference he used).
    There is another question that remains for those who do not grant a similar authority to Scripture as ourselves and who do not operate from “biblical categories.” That is why should it be the sex act that is linked to marriage in such a way? In other words what is the ethical or philosophical framework that states that sex and only sex is the one flesh reality described? What is it about sex that we give it such an elevated position? Is it penetration? orgasm? The potential for procreation? What if any of these are absent?
    I think it was James Nelson in Body Theology who, taking the liberal position, struggled to answer this question and so couldn’t fully embrace the idea that sex outside of marriage is always wrong.

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