This originally started as a comment. But as someone who can barely answer a yes/no question without an essay, I figured I’d put some thoughts up for discussion!
As someone raised in a fundamentalist background but also quite aware of my own curiosity about the human body, relationships and sexuality, nothing I say is meant to condemn or even be dogmatic. This is something I’ve dealt with for a long period of time, and the discussion in the comments sections here always seems to point to it: The gaps between history, contemporary senses of ethics, and our faith and its ideals, and our personal thoughts, desires, and realities.
First off, it’s pretty simple to me via the Bible or just basic understanding that human beings are capable of both good and bad (sin.) A challenge for me and others who believe and want to honor their Creator is basically that “natural” does not mean inherently bad—but not everything that’s natural is good. If we followed all our initial, natural instincts, the world would go mad if it hasn’t already.
An advantage/challenge to being raised as I was—and with a mind that runs on overclock—is that I was told stories that were presented as literal history from the Bible, even in Sunday School. Though there was much prudery in my upbringing, the facts were all there. And in some ways, it hinted at perspectives that weren’t entirely unappealing to a part of my nature I didn’t yet know as “bad” but unfortunately for my psyche, later would be treated that way.
So I got presented with some pretty fascinating ideas. I still believe I knew the feelings of loneliness at a very early age, which is a puzzle to me given I did have great parents. But in my lonely youth, I was presented with the idea that God saw Adam (the original one) lonely, and though creation was beautiful and provided sustenance, God still saw that Adam needed a friend, helper, yes, a lover. And so He gave Adam more of a blessing than even Eden and fellowship with his Creator—in the form of a naked woman, no less. Thusly, Eve. To young me, this was incredibly cool. I would later become deeply sad to learn this was not how courtship and marriage usually happened.
Then there were the stories of the Old Testament. There were some marriages and relationships spotlighted there that challenge our modern perceptions of allowable conduct, but that for many people can also play a role in fantasies or “idealized” scenarios. And it’s easy enough to say that was archaic or wrong in hindsight, but the literal reading of the text makes that less comfortably clear. Our Bible seems to permit a lot of things and document many things that aren’t always clearly condemned in a cultural context that seems far removed from our modern times. And it’s equally ungraceful, in my view, to retrospectively condemn things that shouldn’t be (legalism), which we’ve all experienced here on issues like masturbation, nudity, and so on.
So here we are today. On one hand, as Christians, we don’t want to do something sinful that would displease God. But yet, on the other hand, we don’t want to be legalistic or prudish. And let’s be honest, any of us who have spent decent amounts of time in sex-positive Christian sites like MH and SOTB are well aware that fantasy exists within passionate monogamy, and some of those fantasies would be in synch with things that historically happened, while others would be outside the bounds of a literal reading of the Bible. And some of those assessments seem unfair to modern eyes; why, for example, does it seem like men have more marital power in readings of some Scripture? Why does the Bible seem to speak less harshly of female/female sexuality while seeming to be quite harsh (in some reads) of male/male sexuality? Why would it appear that more than one wife was allowed but not more than one husband? This doesn’t seem very egalitarian or tolerant!
But as much as literal reading seems to be in favor of SOME things we might find quite enjoyable, we have to face the fact that most of us want to take literally the parts that support things we at least in theory like —and also, in a modern ethical sense, we want to explain away the things that are uncomfortable for us.
It’s all fine and well, for example, to criticize our modern dating and hookup culture, one where marriages struggle and end, and dating—for many of all generations but especially younger ones—is becoming more difficult and less sincere. It’s come to the point where many young people in certain cultures are abandoning the pursuit of dating or marriage completely, settling for hookups or celibacy, and even from a secular standpoint, finding themselves in deep pain or confusion as a result of living contrary to our created nature. And there’s a nostalgia, even back to the days of the drive-in movies and malt shops when the most scandalizing thing was Elvis shaking his hips and the Rolling Stones singing “Let’s spend the night together,” that says there’s something to the old ways.
Yet as Christians in our time, do we really like what the literal reading of our Scripture says? Do we admire a culture that, to our modern eyes, seems more transactional and often lacking in love or our “evolved” understanding of gender roles and humanity? Are we ready to build a culture where people are more frank about sexuality, marry younger, and have clearly defined roles and purposes that are gendered? Is that something we want to go back to, given the abuses perpetrated by many that weren’t held to account and harmed their families and marriages by violent or domineering behaviors?
And according to my parents who were of the aforementioned generation (who took modesty into the terrain of prudery, didn’t converse with me about or equip me for confidence and positivity about my body and sexuality), there were issues even back then—despite that era producing many happy marriages and being statistically more marriage-oriented than today. Are we truly ready to grapple with the consequences of literalism, good and bad?
On the other hand, for those who would use the New Testament (as many “progressive Christians” do) in favor of a more libertine approach, where “love” is the operative word, this opens something of a Pandora’s Box. We’re flawed in our judgments and often impulsive. As anyone who’s had a reasonable amount of dating relationships knows, as fast as like can turn to love, so our perceived love can turn to loathing or pain and leave debris in its wake. Trust is fragile and easily broken, and the exhilaration of going wild in the night can turn into a sobering and lonely morning.
We want to be “good” and we want to be “happy.” We want to love, but we want to love freely, not feel owned. We want to drink and imbibe deeply of all of life’s genuine blessings—without drinking from the wrong cup and experiencing the hangover of broken hearts and consequences. And for some of us, the cognitive dissonance between the literally written Word and the theoretical ideal of ethical, loving, passionate relationships between ourselves and others is all a bit too much. It breaks our brains and exhausts us. And we start to understand why, ultimately, many of us who believe in Christ end up sidelined; too conflicted to play the game, where rewards seem great but out of reach and the consequences of injury seem far too great, with the added pressure that our coach (the Holy Spirit) may be grieved and the team owner (God the Father) may be displeased by HOW we played the game.
So, your thoughts? How do we who want to please our God with our relational and sexual choices reconcile the differences between what we read, what we have been taught is right, and the real contradictions we see played out in history and today? How does a literal reading of the Word get applied in a society so far removed from the mores of when it was written? What else in this “opus” of mine sparked a response in your mind?
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