Monday, 3 February 2014

Sexuality and the church

Our congregation is in the midst of a four week series on sexuality. A beautiful opportunity to explore this oft neglected aspect of our lives. Thus far, I sense that it has been a sacred time, a time of deep reflection, vulnerability and support. Beauty and brokenness at every turn. 

As I look back over my years in the church, I find it difficult to recall a time when we shared at any great depth about our sexuality, about what it means to be "inspirited bodies, embodied spirits" to use Margaret Farley's term. And I wish we had. I've had a love/hate, mostly hate, relationship with my body over the past 37 years, and its only in the past couple of years that I've actually come to a place of loving my body. That's a long time to be at complete odds with my own created being. It certainly felt like a long time! And given my conflictual relationship with my body, there wasn't a chance that I was going to consider that my sexuality and my spirituality were connected.

As an adolescent I recall being incredibly afraid of what was happening to me. I didn't have language to describe what was going on with my body, let alone what was happening to me emotionally. It was all rather traumatic to suddenly learn about breasts and vaginas as if they hadn't been a part of me all along! The degree to which all of our families, school and churches prepare us to engage in the world as sexual beings isn't the same for all of us. And in my case, I simply could have used more support.

And I wonder what it would have been like for me if we had talked openly and honestly in the church about our sexuality, about our bodies, about our maleness and femaleness, about our attractions and desires, and practices. I don't mean just talking about what we should or shouldn't do, but creating a healthier framework from which to understand our sexuality. A framework that started with our goodness and beauty and created a safe space to talk about the changes and transitions that are simply a natural part of life.

I wish I had known as a little little girl that my body was beautiful. And that all the freckles and creases and scars and idiosyncrasies were beautiful too.  That they were all just a part of the beautiful person God wanted me to be. I wish we had talked about the beauty of growing, the beauty of aging. I wish I had known that praying and singing and playing and learning were all things that we do as "inspirited bodies, embodied spirits."

This past Sunday (the second week of our series) I preached on sexual ethics and felt privileged to have the space to present some of Margaret Farley's work (Christian ethicist and author of Just Love).  Rather than trying to do interpretive gymnastics with every biblical text that involves sex (most of which have significant contextual issues to address), she honestly names that a clear ethic for sexuality cannot be found in a quick literal reading of scripture. Instead, she engages scripture seriously, alongside tradition, secular knowledge and experience to create a framework that can help us discern in community what it means to practice "just love" or "just sex," as in loving relationships or sexual practices that are just. I love her framework, because even though she sees it as primarily for coupled relationships, it really has the potential to speak to all of us. Not only that, the framework extends outward, acknowledging that what we do in private has impact beyond the individual or the couple as it shapes each of us as persons in relation to others. She invites us to serious engagement and reflection, rather than rule following which most often fails to deal with the complexity of our sexual lives.

Her work has amazing depth and beauty and I'm not doing it justice here at all, hence the reason my sermon was so long! Here are the 7 norms in her framework:

1. Do no unjust harm
2. Free consent
3. Mutuality
4. Equality
5. Commitment
6. Fruitfulness
7. Social justice

Check out her work, it's worth it!

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