Sex & The Single Christian
Choices That Can Change Your Life
Not About Sex
The commandments given Moses by God dealt mainly with
selfishness—thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife—which
treated thy neighbor's wife as property of thy neighbor, showing
little if any concern for her as a person. And the same
commandment goes on to name several other things of thy
neighbor’s we shouldn’t covet—including his donkey or his slave,
male or female. The tenth commandment was not about sex, it was
about learning to be satisfied with the things we have and not
constantly envying others. We, human folk, Church Folk, tend to
misinterpret this scripture, making it about sex. We equate sex
with sin and sin with guilt and we who live under grace and not
the Law nonetheless tend to live a curiously legalistic
existence, fearing the wrath of God not so much for treating one
another like crap—which too many of us do each and every day—but
for turning down the sheets with Leroy. Many of us commit
adultery or fornication and then quake in terror, fearing hell
if we die in our sins. But each and every day we mistreat one
another without a second thought, without any perceptible
concern about our spiritual jeopardy.
We are, in fact, applying man’s rules and man’s behavioral standard to God, treating God like some Galactic Accountant who keeps a running tally of felonies and misdemeanors which will determine whether or not we get the hot seat. Which is completely anti-scriptural and antichrist, and shame on our pastors for allowing this ignorance to go on. Many of our pastors simply lack the moral authority to do much teaching on the issue of sex because they themselves are carrying huge guilt around because of their own clandestine behavior. We treat sex as though adultery and fornication were, somehow, the only sin if not the most grievous sin, when the bible teaches us sin is sin [I John 5]. God hates it all. But, in our culture, many of us engage in these patterns of giving in to sexual immorality, feeling guilty about it, repenting, only to then start all over. Far too many of our sisters, particularly our divorced or single moms, are simply lonely. And they cave into loneliness moreso than lust, to these clowns who prey on lonely women. Some of these clowns wear clerical collars.
Sexuality is both a human strength and a human weakness. In the proper context, it is a fulfilling and wonderful experience. Outside of that context, it can be a terribly destructive weapon that destroys lives and cripples self-esteem. Most of all, it is something rarely discussed from the pulpit much beyond a crowd-pleasing condemnation of the behavior, a criminalizing of something God ordained to be perfect and extraordinary. And it perpetuates guilt, which holds God’s people in bondage because we don’t understand what the bible actually says about this stuff and, more importantly, what those words mean. Many if not most of us police our behavior on assumptions, on spiritual hearsay or stuff we done heard someplace. And too many of our pastors simply allow this vague kind of oral history to substitute for sound doctrine. It’s much easier to holler at people from the pulpit, telling people sex is sin. Sex is not sin. But that’s what pastors allow even married people to believe, this nonsense handed down one generation to the next, guilt-tripping folks while holding everyone to an impossible standard of chastity the pastor himself doesn’t always achieve. It’s much easier to point fingers and scare people about The Galactic Accountant, about how God will send you to hell for having sex, than it is to tell you why. Beloved, we will never grow as Christians until we stop being lazy. Until we stop governing our lives and measuring our spiritual growth on the basis of stuff we done heard someplace. Stop waiting for the pastor to tell you who you are and what to do, make him tell you why. Pastors: stop being lazy, open the Book and teach.
Choosing Boo: Hearing the call of the Holy Spirit and being lured away by our loneliness.
Many people, faced with a choice between their God and their
Boo, choose Boo.Which is utterly stupid. Because Boo never
lasts. Ever. And we always think it will. We always think, this
time, we'll get it right. And four months, six months later,
we're wounded and broken and wondering why. It's all such
foolishness, the time and energy and money we spend on this
nonsense, how great a distraction all of this is. Imagine who
you could be, what you could be, where you could be, if you
hadn't wasted so much time in that relationship. That
relationship that ended just like every other relationship: with
you barely speaking to this person you'd invested so much of
yourself in. If Boo were a Christian, marriage would be in this
equation somewhere. The fact you're forced to make a choice
between God and Boo guarantees this is a broken relationship
just waiting to happen, and you are therefore risking your
eternal soul over foolishness. But people are frightened of
loneliness. People are human beings with real biological urges
and needs. And a spiritual life loses much of its appeal when
faced with the looming specter of celibacy. So people delay,
deny, put off a commitment to God, carving slices of their
humanity, when God intended us to be a whole people, a well
people. But there is likely no bigger crippler of God’s people
than sex. And that’s mainly because (1) pastors don’t preach
about it and (2) we, as God’s people, are just sort of winging
it, living our lives by assumption. Cutting ourselves off from
God. It's a lack of faith which stems from the puritanical moral
standard we've set for sexual behavior, a standard based upon
vague and ambiguous spiritual hearsay rather than any firm
understanding of what the bible says (or doesn’t say) about sex.
In our minds, we set this bar so high, going completely cold
turkey (and with most churches claiming the bible condemns
masturbation as well—another untruth (see Part 4). we know we
can never maintain that standard for long. I mean, how long can
you hold your breath underwater? Abstinence is the sexual
equivalent of holding our breath underwater.
Churches universally gloss over this business of breath-holding by insisting, "The Holy Ghost can keep ya." And, yes, that's true. But learning to function within the Holy Spirit, learning Who He is (most of us still refer to the Holy Spirit as an "it") and learning what His Office (His function) is and how He works in our lives, takes time. Christian conservatives tend to bristle at this, and Christian charismatics tend to focus too much on the sensational aspects of the Holy Spirit (tongues), but the Holy Spirit is real, is God at work in us. But learning to trust Him, learning to operate within the Spirit is kind of like a Jedi mind trick: it's not something that comes about intuitively or easily. Throwing single people to the wolves with a pat on the shoulder and "The Holy Ghost will keep ya!" is what we do. But if we were honest with ourselves we'd discover likely two-thirds of unmarried congregants are struggling with this issue, a struggle the church continues to inadequately address.
To my experience, there is very little teaching going on in the black church about sex. There is the gold standard: sex outside of marriage is wrong. Period. Hold your breath. Singles classes incongruently being taught by married folk, folk who get some whenever they want it and, therefore, have an intrinsic disconnect between themselves and the realities of single or divorced people. So people don't come to Christ. Well, not yet. We have developed this culture of spiritual hearsay—a vague understanding that we should never have sex under any circumstances—which confuses faith with morality and practices religion by means of guilt. The result is two-fold: a large segment of Christians who are burdened by guilt over their sexual relationships outside of marriage, whose guilt is at times overwhelming, cutting them off from God and, therefore, whose faith seesaws back and forth based on how long they’ve managed to be celibate this time. The second group is a group of hardened Christians who, weary of the seesaw, have simply stopped trying to reconcile their sex lives with their spiritual ones. They’ve just shorted out the guilt circuit, raising holy hands on Sunday while conducting their sex lives exactly the way the world does. Both extremes are wrong.
Preachers will tell you the bible holds up a moral standard, which is sex outside of marriage is wrong. Well, first, the bible does not hold up any moral standard whatsoever. The bible is, literally, the orderly and progressive self-revelation of God. It proclaims the truth of God’s love and the redeeming power of Jesus Christ. Our sense of morality is the product of our decision to accept or reject that truth. Different people are at different stages of spirituality and discovery. The word of God was never intended to be a one-size-fits-all standard [I Cor 8:7-13]. It was not intended, for us, as a legal document. It exists for one purpose only: to reveal God to us. The more we allow Christ into our hearts, the more decisions we’ll make that please Him.
Second: nowhere in the bible does it say sex outside of marriage is wrong. There are admonishments and warnings about specific sexual behavior (see the Levitical Code), and the Apostle Paul lays out warnings about the dangers of following lustful desires and pastoral instruction about sexual purity, but there is no passage in the bible that literally or specifically states thou shalt not hit it. Look all you want—it's not there. The church's position on singleness is not God's law, it is man's doctrine. Doctrine is something that is taught; a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government. The Word of God is inerrant. Doctrine is not. Which is not to suggest the church's doctrine is in error, but it is to separate scripture (God's Word) from doctrine (our response to it). I'd guess 90% of Christians reading this are shaking their heads now, this "God demands celibacy" and/or "The bible says sex outside of marriage is wrong..." stuff is so deeply ingrained in Christian culture, that to even suggest the exegesis behind such claims is faulty puts me automatically on the defensive. So, don't believe me: do your own research. Look for yourself. It ain't there. However, the doctrine is, I believe, correct. Doctrine is a conclusion based upon a collection of empirical scriptural evidence. While we may not find the command-line detail of thou shalt not..., taking the bible as a whole, taking the scriptures into context, the conclusion we arrive at is that, yes, God intended sexual intimacy to exist within a Holy covenant. My fight is not with the church's position, but the distortion of scripture routinely employed to support it.
Christians quaking in fear of losing their mortal souls need better pastors. God doesn't toss us out for committing a sin or even eleven hundred sins. The fear and guilt we experience is not God withdrawing from us, it's us withdrawing from God. We toss God out by cutting Him out of our lives—which is exactly what happens when you choose Boo over God, when you withdraw from Him because you're so ashamed of what you've been doing. All that quaking is over some stuff you done heard someplace, that you've broken God's commandment or God's law by having pre-marital sex. Well, we're not under the Law, we are under grace—which doesn't give us a green light to sin [Romans 6:14-15], but it's worth pointing out, being under grace, there are hundreds of laws we no longer follow. A presumed legalism should not be our motive for remaining pure outside of marriage. God responds not to our words or even our deeds but to our motives. If you are abstaining only because you are afraid of hell, that is not a motive God honors. You are wasting your time. A Christian abstaining simply out of fear of hell is like a dry drunk. A dry drunk is just a drunk who stopped drinking. It's not a real or sustainable commitment. A recovering alcoholic, on the other hand, is engaged in the struggle to change. Has come to terms with their own weakness. Has submitted themselves to a higher power.
Pastors who preach the doctrine of Santa Claus—He sees you when you're sleeping, He knows when you're awake, He knows when you've been bad or good—diminish God's inestimable sacrifice at the cross of Calvary, reducing it to a child's fairy tale in order to police behavior. We, as spiritual leaders, should not be in the policing behavior business, but, rather, should be proclaiming truths both eternal and infallible and letting you be a grown up and handle your own business.
What We Leave Behind: Little pieces of ourselves; breadcrumbs dropped along the way..
Casting The First Stone
We, as ministers, as pastors, have a dual responsibility: (1) to
report accurately what the bible says and stop helping God out
by changing or, in this case, limiting the meaning of words in
scripture, taking those words out of context, adding in words
that aren’t there or, worse, omitting words that are but that
don't fit our agenda. Just as important, (2) to model the
personal example of Jesus Christ, Who, the record presumes,
lived a celibate life and didn't marry just to get some. Wasn’t
it Jesus Christ who refused to stone the woman caught in
adultery [John 8]? Did He endorse that behavior? Of course not.
But this is the elemental work of grace: to stop looking at
human failure in a legalistic fashion. To stop trading in moral
absolutes. To stop keeping score. To forgive ourselves and to
forgive one another. And to allow God dominion over our lives.
Most pastors, if they preach anything about sex at all, preach this garbage of God sending people to hell for having sex. Preachers need to stop preaching that, need to stop treating us like children. In our zeal to do God’s work, we frequently tend to help God out by reporting doctrine as scripture [Matt 15:19]. We stand before you and proclaim, “The bible says thus and so…” when the bible, in fact, says neither thus nor so. Rather, under certain conditions we should more accurately proclaim, “Our doctrinal belief, the conclusion we have come to about how we choose to live our lives, is that sex outside of marriage is wrong.” That’s much more accurate. I'm not arguing the doctrine nor the pastoral advice of purity in singleness, I'm saying most of us tend to use faulty exegesis. We arrive at the same place, but most pastors I know arrive there by means of legalism and threat, holding a gun to the head of people already struggling with loneliness and personal weakness. None of which is love, and none of which is, I believe, an accurate implementation of biblical teaching.