The following article was writing as part of the Living Liberation! blog series put on by the Wild Goose Festival’s blog tour. The Wild Goose Festival is a gathering at the intersection of justice, spirituality, music and the arts. Happening June 26-29 outside of Asheville in Hot Springs, NC. You can get more information and tickets here: www.wildgoosefestival.org.
I grew up in fairly ecumenical settings. For the first few years of my life I attended Anglican and Lutheran congregations and then later attended a Baptist (BCOQ) church before finally finding my place among the Mennonites at 14 years old. After high school, I also attended Tyndale University College and currently am a seminary student at this institution, which is one of the biggest Christian liberal arts universities in Canada. So, it’s safe to say that for the majority of my life I have known a lot of Christians, been influenced by Christian thought, and had my entire worldview shaped by the church. This, of course, has been mostly a good thing. Through church I have learned the principles of service, discipleship, and social justice. Church is the reason that I have taken an interest in issues of marginalization and in the beauty (and unfortunately all too often, destruction) of our world – creation, humanity, and salvation.
Growing up there were a variety of topics which I explored in my Sunday school, youth group, and later small group times. These topics centered primarily on pacifism, immigration reform, and Dietrich Bonheoffer. Yet, there was one topic that was sadly either misrepresented or left out all together – that of human sexuality.
You see, growing up, sexuality was a topic that was rarely explored, rarely discussed, and rarely acknowledged. The general sense that I got as a teenager and young adult was that sex was dirty, gross, and something to be ashamed of. That is, until you got married. Once you got married it automatically became something beautiful, worshipful to the Creator, and an emotionally binding experience which brought two hearts and two souls together. Yet, this created a huge problem. How do you go from years of thinking of sex as something God frowns on to thinking of it as one of the best gifts God gave to His creation?
Now, let me backtrack here for just a moment. Every church that I have ever been a part of would say that sex IS a beautiful thing as long as it is within the rightful parameters of marriage. Therefore, it is not a sin to want to be sexual, but it is a sin to practice it before making a commitment. For a long time, this has been my viewpoint, and in many ways it still is. But, there are unfortunately some loop holes with this argument.
First, there is the whole debate about what the difference is between attraction and lust. Many Evangelicals would argue that it becomes lust when you start thinking sexual thoughts. These same individuals believe that it is entirely possible to think about love and marriage without ever being tempted to have sex and if you do think about sex (even with your committed partner) you must repent right away. To me, this is unrealistic. Almost all humans have a need and desire for closeness, companionship, and intimacy with another person. For many, the physical intimacy they crave goes beyond simply having a hug or a hand on the shoulder by a best friend. Many, need to take this further and this was God’s design. God created sex and He made it to be a beautiful thing. Therefore, there should be no shame in thinking sexual thoughts towards a lover; repressing it only leads to feeling guilty and sinful. NOW, don’t get me wrong. As Christians, we have a certain level of responsibility. While we might not be able to stop thinking sexual thoughts about a lover, we can willingly choose not to engage in those thoughts or how far we want to take those thoughts. This is a personal decision and one to be discussed with a partner – fully respectful of the other partner’s limits. However, to say that you will date someone for one or two years and never think fantasies… well, I think that is just very unrealistic.
Second, there is unfortunately a lot of gender imbalance when it comes to liberating Christian sexuality in the church. Even amongst Christian groups it is thought that many men do not have the power or the ability to control their desires, but Christian women are taught to either be asexual or to repress their sexuality altogether. Some examples I have noted in my studies on Christian human sexuality and through my internship work at a pregnancy center include:
1) Women are taught to dress modestly so that they do not tempt a brother to fall into sinful temptation, whereas men are rarely, if ever, taught to dress or act a certain way. That’s why it right away becomes a big deal if a woman’s shirt is too short, but it’s never a big deal when guy’s boxers are showing. That’s because it is thought that women will tempt men, but somehow women are above sexual temptation and thus will not begin fantasying regardless of how a man acts or dresses.
2) Unfortunately all too often when a women becomes pregnant outside of marriage she is the one who is looked down on rather than the man. Many Christians have this viewpoint that it is entirely the woman’s job to make and keep the boundaries and therefore even when the man becomes sexually aggressive towards her she still needs to be able to control herself. This is a wrongful responsibility to place on a woman. I do agree that women should learn to be more assertive and also are responsible (outside of assault) if they become pregnant, but I also believe that the man needs to respect her, not pressure her, and take responsibility to become a Godly father even if he is young. The parents of both the man and the woman should also work with the young couple rather than shunning them, and help them to develop skills to be effective and loving parents. Churches should not shame or dishonour a young unmarried couple, but rather should extend the love of Christ to them and help disciple both the couple and the child. Pastors and youth leaders should also be prepared and equipped to provide referrals to other resources for teenagers and unmarried young adults such as local pregnancy centers, Christian counseling agencies, and adoption agencies (if requested).
3) Every year thousands of women are raped, assaulted, violated, and sexually manipulated. Unfortunately, our culture in general still plays the victim blaming game. This is never right or fair. A woman who has been abused has suffered a traumatic loss. From a psychological point of view, going through assault is the equivalent of losing a loved one or being diagnosed with a terminal illness. The victim is never to blame. Yes, in some rare cases there might have been ways to avoid the situation, but women never deserve to have their bodies manipulated.
When it comes to liberating Christian sexuality, there is no one-size fits all type of answer. Human sexuality is one of the most complex issues that Christians and non-Christians alike face. Nevertheless, I would like to offer you a few short suggestions for how churches can begin to encourage their teenagers and young adults to feel sexual liberation rather than to feel like repressed sexual beings:
1) We need to begin to start dialoguing. In my studies I have found that many young adults cannot name a single married couple who they know personally who are good examples to them of what healthy romantic relationships look like. A few more can name a TV or other media example of healthy sexuality, but even then those numbers are few. Rather than to blush at questions, churches and in particular youth and young life pastors need to step up and take the plate when it comes to answering the hard stuff. Church should be the one place where no one feels judged based on their sexual past, where no question should seem silly or should be dodged, and where open and honest discussions are facilitated. We do our youth a huge disservice when we don’t even scratch the surface about sex and instead leave them to figure it out from the world’s point of view.
2) We need to get outside the myth of what a “good little church girl” acts and looks like. Many Christians tend to believe that they are somehow “above” society. That we don’t look like, act like, or otherwise feel tempted by the same things as the rest of the world does. One time I was at a Tyndale chapel and the guest speaker mentioned something profound. He said, “If I were to give you each a blank sheet of paper and told you to write every sexual thing you have ever done on it, some of you would have nothing and others of you would have the whole page filled up and need more paper. DON’T EVER ASSUME that just because you go to a Christian school that people here haven’t done sexual things.” He has a point. As pastors and church leaders, we can’t assume that people in our youth group aren’t like that. We need to know that whether we are dealing with secular or Christian youth they have the exact same struggles.
3) We need to learn what God says and how God feels about healthy sexuality. The “purity” culture is one example of how many evangelicals feel Christian youth should respond to sexuality and it has had its place. However, it is not a cure-all and also has its downfalls.  Our world, unfortunately has completed twisted, warped, and destroyed what healthy sexuality looks like. The media exploits women, teaches men that they have to act a certain way to truly be masculine, and makes it feel that preteens who don’t have an interest in boys have something wrong with them. As a church we need to take a stand against these false claims and be counter-cultural. Our world is riddled with pornography and addictive behaviours, with the abuse of women, and with over-sexualized music, films, and advertisements.
It completely breaks God’s heart when one of the best gifts He has given us is used to shame, hurt, or dishonour another. God has so much more planned for us than this! He wants sex to be an intimate and loving expression between two people meant to build up and honour the marriage bed. He wants it to be sacred – not scary.
There is a temptation in our society to view the sex trade and sex trafficking as something that happens far away from us – in other countries. We view prostitution as an issue only in inner cities and rough neighbourhoods. But when we do that, we forget that there is so much exploitation happening right in front of us. Parents, I would urge you to take a look at the books, movies, and television shows your children are consuming. Become aware of the lies our culture is placing in their young minds and talk with them about what healthy sexuality looks like.
Both men and women need to be discipled by the church and by their parents to understand how to properly respect and treat the other gender. There should be absolutely no tolerance for using sex as a weapon – to violate, exploit, or manipulate. There should be absolutely no tolerance for using sex to receive favours, money, or drugs. That’s not what sex is about! That’s completely ruining what God had in mind!
Sexual liberation can only happen once we begin to be open and honest with ourselves and with our youth. It can only happen once we decide to take a stand against society’s viewpoints and instead choose God’s viewpoints. It’s not an easy road. Many times we will fall, but when that happens we need to pick ourselves up and entrust ourselves solely to relying on Christ. Only then, can God’s reign of peace and justice take place in our lives and in the fullness of our humanity!
For some great sermon material on this topic check on Benjamin Nolot’s sermons from IHOPKC’s OneThing 2013 Conference: http://www.ihopkc.org/onething/#asset/EAC75216-D42C-6B8C-3313-4AB8517C8BF5/auto/true
 While I may not agree with everything in this blog post, this author raises some very interesting points about the evangelical purity culture and starts a good discussion basis as to whether the purity culture is ultimately helpful or hurtful to its young adults: http://theotherjournal.com/2014/03/03/naked-and-ashamed-women-and-evangelical-purity-culture/