It’s a topic that used to be taboo in church—a topic that made church ladies blush and teenagers giggle. If it wasn’t totally off-limits in a church, it was handled with great care and (usually clunky) attempts at subtlety. But not so these days. Over the last few years, sex has not only become accepted as a sermon topic; it’s become almost requisite. If you’re a pastor and you haven’t done a sex series or at least a mildly scandalous sermon on Song of Solomon, you’re behind the times.
It’s a topic that Christian authors are writing popular books about. Rob Bell’s Sex God, for example, or Lauren Winner’s Real Sex, which I highly recommend. There’s also last year’s much-praised Sex and the Soul, by Donna Freitas, which I have not read yet. Interestingly, there was a chapel series at Biola University recently entitled “Sex and the Soul.” Doubtless there are dozens others like it happening at other evangelical universities. Oh, and for a “frank discussion of pornography & masturbation,” you can check out Porn-Again Christian by Mark “Sex” Driscoll (more on him in part two of this blog series).
The Christian sex industry, if you can believe it, is thriving. There are websites where you can buy Christian sex toys, and oodles of evangelical sex advice books that talk about the biblical merits of orgasms, vibrators, and other more unmentionable bedroom options. There is a growing cottage industry of books that urge married Christians to vigorously rip off those chastity belts and get busy having wild and experimental sex as often as at all possible.
But it's not just that Christians are talking more openly about sex. They’re making it a community-building exercise. There was a pastor in Florida last year who issued a challenge for all his married congregates to have sex every day for a month; and another pastor of a Texas megachurch did a similar "sex-periment"—challenging married couples to get it on daily for 7 days straight. The Texas pastor, Rev. Ed Young, explained the rationale to CBS news in this way:
I think the church has allowed the culture to hijack sex from the church, and it's time that we moved the bed back in church and put God back in the bed, and I think we are the real sex-perts because, after all, we're made in God's image and he's the one who wants us to do it his way.
I can totally buy this. But I wonder: is this sex-crazy movement within current evangelicalism just one more over-reaction to the err of our past? So yes, it was wrong to be so prudish and silent on the topic for so much of our history; but is the pendulum—as it always tends to be—now swinging too far in the other direction?
Also, I am more than a little suspicious that this sex-ification of church is simply the latest marketing tool to bring in crowds and brand the church as “edgier than you think!” Are we doing this because being “for” sex rather than against it makes us more appealing to the sex-obsessed masses?
This is the accusation of a recent article in the aggressively secular New Humanist, which suggests that “America’s Religious Right has devised a seductive new recruitment strategy”:
From pornography and sex education to reproductive rights and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, Americans have allowed a conservative religious movement not only to dictate the terms of conversation but also to change the nation’s laws and public health policies. And meanwhile American liberals have remained defensive and tongue-tied.
The article goes on to suggest that, in contrast to what most people assume,
[The Religious Right] is far from being sexually uptight. On the contrary, it is wildly pro-sex, provided it’s marital sex. Evangelical conservatives in particular have begun not only to rail against the evils of sexual misery within marriage (and the way far too many wives feel like not much more than sperm depots for insensitive, emotionally absent husbands), but also, in the most graphically detailed, explicit terms, to eulogise about the prospect of ecstasy.
Reading that, I thought about a clip I recently saw of Ted Haggard (more on him in part three of this blog series), where he talked about how Christians statistically have the most and best sex of anyone.
Of course this clip is sad and ironic, given what we now know about Haggard’s sexuality, and it also sirens an alarm of sorts, I think: when we talk so much about sex (even good, married-people sex), is it really helping our psychological state? Do we really need to pump our minds full of sex more than they already are? Are pastors who talk about sex openly and descriptively from the pulpit actually turning their congregations into sex-addicts and horny perverts? Certainly it did Haggard no good…