I once went snowboarding with my friend’s pastor. He was someone I’d heard a lot about and had been encouraged by my friend to draw him into conversation because he was a good person to learn from. I remember gathering all my questions together in a big bundle and chucking them over to him one at a time as we rode the ski lift again and again. I actually remember very little about the specific questions, but the general gist of probing his thinking and experience when it came women and the church, sexuality and the way the bible is used and mis-used – what I do remember is a sense of him grasping my thinking, my questions and affirming my ideas; a sense that I was making reasonable points or progress in my pursuit and faith…and then he dropped the clanger
‘But it’s dangerous teaching…’
What he meant was that some of the ideas that we were teasing out on the snow covered mountain were delicate, provocative, potentially disruptive and threatening – at the time I had an enormous respect for his pastoring heart that was seeking a path of peace, nurture and reassurance to people in the church…
Then over the years, I’ve thought a lot more about what Jesus said, did and was; what ‘gospel’ has the potential to mean, what ‘the kingdom’ really could look like, I’ve gotten a little more brazen both politically and theologically and become a lot more aware of the systems and structures put in place to control and oppress people… and I’ve certainly come round to the idea of ‘dangerous teaching’.
Dangerous Teaching is a theme for me to explore the fears, risks and potential within ideas that have been deemed dangerous in the political and theological culture I’ve come from; and the decisions taken and reasons given to steer clear for the sake of the ‘church’ for the ‘majority’ and for ‘survival’.
We’re starting with sex.
Something is rumbling in the mouths, minds and bodies of people across the church* and I’m quite convinced that something is up. Something is hovering, I think it’s a massive change, I think it’s a quiet revolution – I think it might be liberation – I think it might be incarnation… (and some think it’s dangerous)
In a culture that is supposedly sex saturated and sex obsessed our eyes, ears, mouths, noses, fingers and thumbs rarely are exposed to the wholeness of sex nor our a whole self as a sexual person – it’s body parts, glistening skin, specific sex acts and crude words that are focussed genitally and often imbibding a power dynamic between heterosexual men and women. I call it disembodied, a culture that disconnects the body from the person and perpetuates a misleading sense of sexuality being something that is a part, is separate and open and shut-able, cultivates difference between male and female, implies heterosexuality and neglects the whole person.
Similarly within Christian culture we’ve been taught to sniff at the ‘fallen’ uncontrollable sex saturated, sex obsessed ‘world’ and dismissed, regulated and controlled the body in response and reaction. This results in a disembodiment that idealises and idolises the words, ideas and boundaries we’ve been given as tools. Hence ‘modesty myths’ ‘purity movements’ ‘virginity labels and rituals’ and ‘shaming culture and theology’.
We’re taught that the body is dangerous, that the body is something to be feared a site where we experience dis-ease with the tension between what our body does sexually and what our head tells us about that.
The incarnation at its most revelatory says that body and divinity is the whole and the gospel at the exact same time – we should pay attention to both all the time – in all our lives – throughout our lives.
Being sexual doesn’t start with periods and errections, nor kisses, nor marriage - it is the whole of who we the beautiful created are – and we absolutely have to find better ways of acknowledging this and not fearing it; talking and feeling this rather than controlling and intellectualising it.
For me a good theology of the body and a healthy sexual ethic is about acknowledging ourselves as whole sexual beings from birth to death. Not only for ourselves and the multiple people we relate to sexually over the course of our lives but to really get the church thinking and talking about what we as image bearers and hands and feet in the world have to give – liberation not oppression, healing not shaming, beauty not ashes, hope not regret.
So we’re going to start right here and I really hope you will join me…
For some time now I’ve been reading what writers in often mainstream church movements and sub cultures in the USA have been critiquing about the contemporary culture regarding sex and sexuality – particularly highlighting the inequalities between male and female experience. Then the murmuring got louder about a week ago when those who’ve been gently criticising purity and modesty culture got even braver, bolder and did in my view, something really important – they named sex to be pleasurable even outside of marriage, they called out the wrongness of shaming people, they discarded virginity labels and deconstructed the layers we’ve created around our bodies and relationships under the guise of ‘teaching’ and ‘purity’ and ‘boundaries’ they asked questions about where virginity and purity stops and starts and then critiqued the lines we draw around these boundaries.
I’d like to declare an impromtu British/Irish sex week/fortnight as it’s nicely called here where people of faith or who were of faith start talking, spilling the beans, sharing what they’ve learnt…
Not for confesion, shame, guilt or judgement but for story, for recovery, for honesty and to bring our freaking bodies into the freaking conversation.
Tomorrow’s post: Dangerous Teaching: Virginity & Purity – What The Heck!?
*We/Church – I’m using broad/general terms to relate to the mainstream evangelical culture I have come from here – I appreciate this is critique significantly located in and directed at a mainstream, Western and often conservative Christian culture and acknowledge the diversity of perspectives and views around the world regarding this issue. I find that this particular worldview about sex and the body has strongly influenced contemporary culture as well as views of the Christian church, but I primarily write this to help people find a voice, particularly those who have been impacted personally, relationally and sexually.
I’ve already linked to most of these above but here’s a more accessible list of wider reading:
Dianna Anderson: Rejecting the Premise: Questions of Sex & Sin
Emily Maynard: The Day I Turned In My V Card
Sarah Bessey: In Which I Am Damaged Goods
Sarah Markley: Two Different Things
Joy Bennett: News Flash: You Probably Won’t Marry A Virgin & Many Churches Don’t Talk About Sex Beyond Virginity, Virginity, Virginity