Q:Do your religious beliefs exalt or stigmatize sex (or both)? Is religion a useful tool for helping young people navigate the treacherous world of sex, love and relationships? Does religion present an alternative view of sex and sexual relationships to the culture at large? Should it?
Could any pastor or parent feel good about the state of affairs regarding sex in our America, 2010? I certainly can’t.
From the divorce rate to hook-ups to Internet porn and unwed pregnancy, our culture presents a sordid mix of messages about sex, love and relationships that the church could help heal if it weren’t so often adding to the problem.
The Christian tradition has been conflicted about sex and relationships since Paul — a single man living in a culture founded on the Roman patriarchal family — advised the Corinthians on marriage. Ever since those early days, the Church’s attempt to stand for some kind of purity — presumed to have been true for people in the past, but never true, not in the 50’s, not in the Victorian Era, not now — has only served to remove the Church from the real conversations going on in our hearts and communities as we make choices about our lives every day.
My advice to my own sons has been this: have sexual intimacy arise out of other kinds of personal intimacy like enjoyment of one another’s company and shared interests, and give priority to love, mutual respect and safety. My sons know that this counsel grows from my Christian faith where the heart of the matter is love.
And the central model in Scripture and Christian tradition for God’s love is “covenant,” first between God and creation, second with Israel and finally with the church. In each instance, God’s invitation to relationship stems from God’s yearning for intimacy with another. In all three cases, love, respect and safety play a part: safety from destruction in the covenant of the rainbow (Genesis 8:20-9:17), respect for the harlot in the prophet Hosea (Hosea 1:2-2:20), and love, above all else, in Jesus (1 John 4:7-21).
To truly help young people navigate the world of sex, love and relationships in the 21st century, the Church must set aside its single-minded focus on purity and take up this central tenant of faith: God’s love as a model for our own relationships. As attested to in Scripture and experienced daily by the faithful, covenant is the concept the Church can offer to us all as a way to place sex in its true perspective of faithful, joyful and profound connection with another person.