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Promoting Intimacy and Other-Centered Sexuality
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Christian Sexual Conflicts Traditional Christianity
vs. "The Faith Of Christ"
"Sex is dirty." - "Sex is wonderful."
"Sex is for marriage only."
"Children aren't sexual."
"Sexual thoughts and fantasies are sinful."
"Sex is an expression of love."
"Sex has nothing to do with 'Christian' love."
The above statements represent some of the many conflicting views about sexuality
with which most of us were raised.
You will recognize that the negative statements are the kind that are used by religion
and society to control the sexual lives and attitudes of people. In other words,
those who have power over others use such ideas to conform others to some moral
standard that is thought to be absolute. Traditional Christianity has used just
such ideas for just such purposes.
Christ and the apostles taught that all power structures were to be challenged,
not in the sense of political or social anarchy, but in the abolition of the control
of one person over another or any institution over groups of people in the sense
of restricting God-given liberties. In these teachings there was an appeal for
transparency in human relationships. This transparency, which really implies both
vulnerability and trust, was to reveal itself in the common bonds of family and
Jesus challenged both family and social relationship structures, suggesting that
following him would break down traditional allegiances and create new ones.
Today we are seeing the serious breakdown of monogamous marriage and the traditional
nuclear family of European and North American cultures.
For the most part marriage and family practices and structures are the product of
culture, rather than of specific biblical teachings.
In other writings Dave and I have challenged the Christian tradition of monogamy.
The breakdown I mentioned above suggests that the time has come for Christians
to seriously reconsider the entire range of marital and sexual teachings that have
been handed down to us in traditional Christianity. It is time to realize, for
example, that monogamy has never really worked as an exclusive marital/sexual option
(we've discussed reasons for this elsewhere) and to seek new structures and bonds
that will better express the vitality and creativity of sexual loving.
Monogamy and a host of other sexual restrictions are the products of a sexually
How has this history of sexual repression come about? Various reasons, including
the body/pleasure-negative traditions of some of the Greek thinkers of the time
of early Christianity, have contributed to this history. In addition, there has
been a tendency of Christians to turn the liberating teachings of Christ and the
apostles into rules to obey and to be enforced by religious authorities (more power
structure). The nature of these rules has also tended to reflect small errors of
interpretation, misplaced emphasis or overemphasis on a particular teaching or a
particular aspect of a teaching and translation or interpretational errors stemming
from a moral bias (for example, the tendency to apply the term "porneia",
usually translated "fornication" or "sexual immorality" in older
English Bible versions, to every case of sexual intercourse outside of monogamous
marriage; the misinterpretation of the story of Adam and Eve as supporting monogamy
and as teaching that nakedness is sinful; interpreting the biblical concepts of
purity and holiness primarily as calling for abstinence from sexual "contamination").
With the passage of time these small errors and their resulting moralisms have continually
increased to the point that the fundamental teachings of Christ have often been
forgotten (for example, loving one another) and the minute and burdensome rules
of Christianity have won the day (for example, the extension of the idea of "fornication"
to any kind of premarital sexual contact, from heavy petting to holding hands --
really, this is actually frowned upon by some Christians; the sometimes organized
Christian opposition to social nudism --trying to close down nude beaches, etc.).
It is my contention that the general repression of sexuality and the repression
of nonmonogamous loving is not inherent in the Bible, nor was it the intention of
Jesus and the apostles to be understood as teaching these views. Yet, it is true
that these ideas are part and parcel of the baggage of traditional Christianity,
which has emphasized them to the neglect of love and liberty.
The French writer Jacques Ellul makes a helpful distinction between what he calls
"Christianity" and "the faith of Christ". True Christianity
(the faith of Christ) he defines as "the revelation and work of God accomplished
in Jesus Christ"; "the being of the church as the body of Christ"
(as opposed to the church as religious institution); and "the faith and life
of Christians in truth and love".
Christianity as tradition he describes as a movement which has virtually abandoned
its commitment to the above principles and has degenerated into a moralistic religion,
devoid of true love for God and neighbor and obsessed with enforcing a moral code
demanding "chastity, absolute obedience... (and) sacrifice". (The Subversion
of Christianity, pp. 11, 17)
It is this perverted version of Christianity which imprisons people in guilt and
shame about their bodies and their God-given sexual desires. (This is not to say
that there is no such thing as sexual sin or that we are given license to do anything
we please at anytime and with anyone in terms of fulfilling sexual desires. It
is to say that Christian love, properly understood, will both live freely in terms
of sexual loving and at the same time respect all persons in their relationships,
so that fulfillment is accomplished without harming others.) This is not the Christianity
of the Bible, that is, the Christianity that Ellul calls "the faith of Christ".
The purpose of Jesus in his life and death was to enable us to fulfill the demands
of the law of God, not by sacrifice and legalistic obedience, but by loving God
and loving our neighbor.
I believe that it is in the intimacy of sexual relationships where this kind of
love can be expressed in a very full way. One of the greatest deformities of true
Christian faith is the collection of teachings that seeks in every way possible
to remove godly love from the sexual experience.
Contrary to this is the simple, yet beautiful, statement of a Christians brother
who is involved with his family in a sexually loving community in another state:
"We believe that sharing sexual pleasure with one another is an extension of
the love of almighty God."
Obviously, such sharing presents the problem or vulnerability -- the challenge of
opening ourselves to others. Many people are afraid of such openness. I believe
that it is only within a loving, caring community, manifesting the kind of love
that Jesus taught, that sufficient trust can be created to make truly "open"
In a recent newsletter Dave wrote extensively about nudity and that subject was
also discussed at our first introductory couples' session. It was clear from the
response at the session that several people were fearful of experiencing nudity
with others. There may be various reasons for such fears, including past religious
and parental teachings and attitudes. These may need to be worked through. But
I believe that the primary issue with nudity is the same as that for sexual openness
Overcoming this problem in a loving fellowship setting can change a person's life
in a major way -- in terms of body shame and guilt as well as being a preparation
for sexual openness. This is why we emphasize nudity in our materials and group
The elements of fear and distrust are very significant in terms of all aspects of
the religious and cultural attitudes toward sexuality.
In other writings Dave and I have discussed how various attitudes and beliefs of
ancient peoples have contributed to the understanding of sexuality that is present
in modern Christianity. Much of the content of the sexual belief systems of ancient
peoples derived from superstition, born of ignorance of the working of the human
body and psyche. The ideas of conception, pregnancy and childbirth were regarded
with a mixture of fear, awe and even worship. The phenomenon of human fertility
and the mystery of sexual bonding were likewise sources of superstitious wonder
and little or no practical understanding. Without birth control it had to be assumed
that sexual intercourse would result in pregnancy. All of these elements of life
were viewed in almost magical ways and indeed witch doctors, soothsayers and the
like were often involved in ritual practices associated with sexual events.
(It might be observed at this point that the availability of many near-foolproof
methods of birth control today opens the way to much greater sexual freedom in general
and should make possible some of the restructuring of marriage and family models
mentioned earlier. It is worth noting that such restructuring on this basis would
not have been possible in the ancient world and indeed would not have been feasible
until very recent times. It seems to me that practical/scientific developments
such as safe, reliable contraception should make the church rethink the possibilities
of sexual behavior and patterns. I believe that alert and aware Christians have
the opportunity to explore new and exciting options in these areas.)
It happened that Christianity was born in a culture in which these views of sexuality
were common. Thus, all of Christianity's sexual teachings have been compromised
by such views, almost to the point of continuing to treat sexual phenomena as magical,
thus calling for the many controlling taboos.
Today we know that sex is not magic. It may be awe-inspiring, exciting, confusing
and even properly regarded as containing elements of mystery. It may be the most
emotionally meaningful aspect of human life. But it is not magic and should not
be treated with the fear and taboos of the past. I believe that traditional Christianity
perpetuates these outdated views and we must work to rid ourselves of them in the
fellowship of Christian love.
It is these old views that lead to the emotional/spiritual abuse for which many
people reject this version of Christianity. These views are not characteristic of
what Jacques Ellul calls "the faith of Christ".
It is our hope in Liberated Christians that this kind of faith can set us free to
love freely, joyfully and responsibly the way we believe God has made us to love.
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