(Theology and Human Sexuality)
It seems our religions are really stuck in a rut when it comes to the sexual behavior of human beings. Often, when we hear preachers talk, it sounds like the greatest evil in the whole of reality is in our HUMAN sexuality; when in fact, it is one of God's most wonderful gifts!
Perhaps you have wondered why night after night you can see: murder, violence, tragedy, bigotry, and hatred portrayed on the TV screen? Yet, if someone were to show an act of copulation (even if it were expressed in love) there would be moral outrage!
So often, religions condemn the life-styles of
homosexuals, or the unmarried, as being evil; to the point where some actually
blame them for the natural disasters on earth, as if
We see many self-proclaimed religious people picketing and protesting so called "porn shops", as a great evil in our society. But where are they when it comes to some of the irresponsible bars, poorly run restaurants, tenements, or environmentally destructive companies? This begs the question: which is a greater evil - a dirty book; or a drunk killing another on the highway - a dirty movie; or a place that risk poisoning its customers with bad food - a girly calendar; or children living in a rat infested house - a sexual toy; or the pollution of a lake which may effect the lives of thousands? Where are our theological priorities?
Too many of the theological positions on sex reduce God to a "peeping Tom" who seems to find our sexual behavior more outrageous than human selfishness, materialism, poverty, exploitation, war, pollution, oppression, and the mass indifference to the needs of others which has become part of our culture. The religious ideals, which are often presented, seem to make sex more like an invention of the Devil, than, a beautiful creation of God.
In such thinking, sex becomes the scapegoat of all human shortcomings. It becomes this great icon of morality, projecting us away from the seriousness of other ethical discussions.
Much of the present Christian theological approach toward human sexuality is seriously flawed. Religion often distorts a psychologically healthy sex drive, turning it into an evil force to be reckoned with. In such cases, sex seems to be a weapon of the devil; rather than, part of the creation of God. It is seen as a weakness of the flesh, rather than, an expression of the spirit. This is an idea that needs to be re-examined and dealt with according to the ethics we discussed. But ethics aside, we need to consider the present psychological understanding of human sexuality. We need to question what we are saying to each other and our children; examining the reality of our attitudes in our physical, as well as, spiritual ideals.
The religious message should be that human sexuality is healthy, beautiful, holy and very much a part of God's plan. And while sex does serve the purpose whereby we can share in the creative process through procreation, it goes far beyond that. Sex, of itself, can be an expression of an act of love. It can also be an act of joyous pleasure that people may wish to participate in. Or, it can be merely a release of sexual frustration. One could conceivably argue that if God wanted sex for only one purpose, there would be only one sex act that brought any pleasure. But this is not the case. He could have made it so we only mated at intervals like the Panda - but She did not.
The fact is: sexual desire is a normal and healthy part of our physical existence, and, it can act as an expression of love coming from the depths of our soul. One could almost argue that in the sexual union we are the closest to sharing in the Essence of the Divine. While sex can be physical, it is not only physical. Sex is also part psychological, part intellectual, and part emotional which takes it into the spiritual realm. In other words, sex involves the whole of being.
To consider any responsible expression of sex as evil, or immoral, is to really say that God is immoral. The human sexual drive, and as far as we know in all its peculiarities, has been in us from the very inception of our primordial form. Today, that drive has evolved into a complex system, which not only ensures our continuation as a species; but it also allows us to share, embrace, exchange joy, experience physical pleasure and become one with each other for a brief second in time. Human sexuality is by no means a weakness of flesh; but a means whereby the spirit can experience its greatest depth of feeling.
While the ethics of responsibility come into play, as we shall discuss, to place human sexuality in categories of violence, immorality, sin, and shame are counter productive and have done little to reduce irresponsible sexual behavior. These concepts have no effect on the irresponsible while producing feelings of shame and guilt upon so many decent people.
Too often, our religious institutions paint a picture of sex, which suggest that sexual desire is of the devil. It is also suggested that in some perverted way, God uses this strong drive She instilled in us as a tool of our judgement, one which can ultimately bring us to eternal damnation.
Many religions compound these problems of human sexuality by glorifying abstinence and celibacy; as if somehow these individuals were closer to God than sexually active people. While we might respect the self-control and sacrifice of these celibate individuals, their abstinence is a matter of choice to express their love of God. But to promote this as a higher state of holiness, is as much to say - God wants us to live in opposition to the way He created us.
We need to acknowledge that many of the religious and social attitudes (which are rooted in our religious beliefs) about sex are out of touch with natural creation of God. These ideals put demands upon us that are unrealistic expectations, which often cause negative psychological effects on adults and make our children guilt laden and confused. From our attitudes about masturbation; to our fear of homosexuality; right down to the embarrassment we feel about things that are sexual in nature - we have a serious problem in our society. It is a problem which religion has a responsibility to address in a realistic and loving manner - a problem that is of religious concern because human sexuality is one of the most awesome gifts that God has seen fit to bless humanity with.
People like Paul, Augustine, Calvin and numerous other religious thinkers and teachers have turned God's most beautiful creation into a disgusting act that can only be performed under certain approvals of the church (marriage). These thinkers that sex should be avoided if one wants to reach perfection in the eyes of God. The whole concept that virgins, or celibate men, are somehow holier than the rest of us is preposterous. We project so much of humanities evil into sex that we are failing to see the real evils, which plague our societies.
It seems that the worst problem with these attitudes toward sex is that the more we proclaim it a sin, the more we condemn it, the more we try to regulate it, the more we try to deny its naturalness; the worse it comes back to haunt us. We have rape, pedophilia, and even cannibalism turning up in our newspapers. There are so many sexually dysfunctional people that one cannot feel safe walking the streets of our cities, yet alone, allow their children out there.
Sexual dysfunction is making its way even into the sacred institution of marriage. It can take the form of violence as in wife beating and child molestation at one end of the spectrum; while taking the form of impotency and frigidity on the other side - both leading to disharmony and dysfunction in our homes. Sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy are at epidemic proportions. And to those who promote the idea of celibacy or abstinence as God's righteous path, they might do well to look at the problems of the Catholic Church and her priesthood in recent years.
Also, religious condemnation of homosexuality, self righteously in the name of God, creates hate groups; fag beating; and psychological pain and suffering for millions of gay and lesbian people who are simply responding to their own inner sexual drive. This often leads to drugs and suicide at the worst, or low self-esteem and oppression at the very least. In the name of God, we dare command that gay people must deny themselves the expression of love and commitment that we ourselves would not ever think to deny ourselves; simply because, it is different from us! If homosexuality is a sin, than we must have an awfully cruel God to allow it to orient some ten per cent of the people.
We have overpopulation with thousands of unwanted children born every year; some of which could be avoided if religion took a realistic approach toward sex, birth control, sensible sex education and focusing on a purer ethic.
In a sense, we are reaping what we sow. Many in the psychological field, particularly in the area of sex, agree with Jung when he says:
When any NATURAL HUMAN FUNCTION gets LOST (i.e., IS DENIED CONSCIOUS AND INTENTIONAL EXPRESSION) a general DISTURBANCE results.
(C.G. Jung, THE UNDISCOVERED SELF p65)
Dr. Lillian Frey-Rohn further elaborates on the psychological problems resulting from unrealistic moral platitudes in a book called "Evil", in the chapter, which she wrote, entitled, "Evil From A Psychological Point of View":
In empirical psychology, concern with the problem of good and evil is only of recent date. It was the IMPOVERISHMENT of HUMAN VITALITY and Moral HOPELESSNESS at the end of the Victorian age which led to the revival of psychological research. THE EFFECT UPON CULTURE OF AN OPPRESSIVE MORALITY, of false ideals and deceptions, WERE SO NEGATIVE that a psychological reconsideration of the whole moral problem became unavoidable.
And psychology has been, and continues to look
at human sexuality, learning and expanding its views in line with reality and
tolerance. Religion, on the other band, with the exception of some, has
remained Victorian in its teachings and ideals. This can be psychologically
damaging as well as judgmental and divisive - neither of which serve the ideals
of Jesus or the
And what has all this condemnation done for us?
Turn on the television on any given evening and you will see murders, fights, thefts, lies, deceit, and human tragedy of every kind; but if a network were to show a sexual organ, which in reality is no different than any other organ, there would be public outrage beyond belief! One has to ask, isn't there something wrong with this logic? Even the implied sex that is now shown in our programming, as ratings grabbers, is often grouped by church leaders and public officials with the violence, crime and the murders shown on television.
We need to recognize that sex and violence are NOT THE SAME THING. Violence in sex is just that: VIOLENCE "IN" SEX. Violence does not ensure the continuation of the human race, it is not an expression of love, nor is it a source of pleasure for the well-adjusted mind. From a psychological standpoint, to use sex and violence in the same sentence, as if they were alike in some manner, is a mixed message that we should not be sending out in our society; yet alone, be sending it to our children!
Then there are the preachers who proclaim God's judgement upon us for our natural sexual desires. There is an almost universal Christian condemnation of homosexuals who are told that they are going to hell if they don't choose to give up sex. And even with all the psychological advances of the present age, there are many that still state that masturbation is a sin, instilling guilt and shame in children exploring their sexual identity. Religious men are often claiming that the sorry state of our world is because of the sexual attitudes of the society; implying, that if we could just rid the world of natural sexual urges we would somehow be transformed into Utopia. Sometimes churches paint a religious picture where the whole judgement of God rests in what we do in our beds.
And, while religiously emphasizing this aspect of human nature, these same preachers are often ignoring the plight of poverty stricken people - ignoring, the exploitation of working people all over the globe - ignoring, the pollution and abuse of the world's natural resources - ignoring, man's inhumanity to man - even justifying many of the causes of war. Where is the usefulness in such religious ideals? What purpose do they serve in life's flow? And above all, is humanity any better off because of them? Do sexual oppression, guilt, and condemnation even work?
(A Brief History of Sexual Attitudes)
In order to approach human sexuality in a more positive light, it is necessary to explore how we got here in the first place, as well as, looking at some of the people who influenced the present thinking
Doctor Elaine Pagels in her excellent work called Adam, Eve And The Serpent, states:
To judge by the New Testament reports of his few comments concerning marriage, divorce, celibacy - such concerns seemed almost incidental to Jesus' message.
This is the reality: that Jesus didn't find enough of a problem with human sexuality to even mention it. Adultery is the closest he came, but it must be pointed out that marriage was a very different institution than it is today. Jesus NEVER mentions the so-called abomination called homosexuality. He never really addresses the issue of premarital sex, although we must keep in mind that in those days marriage took place just after puberty.
We also see that Jesus defends the prostitutes, often keeping company with unscrupulous people of his time (a charge used against him at this trial).
The fact is - no reading of the four Gospels can account for the emphasis the Christian Church has put on sex. Jesus cannot be cited to support their theological positions on sex in any concise manner. Masturbation, homosexuality, abortion, birth control, oral sex; to Jesus, are not significant enough to mention. Yet, this is so often portrayed as the ultimate human weakness and occasion of sin.
And beyond Jesus, the interpretation of the Bible itself becomes questionable when you compare its injunctions of that time to our understanding and culture of this period. Even adultery doesn't mean the same thing today as it did then.
When we seek biblical guidance on the issue of human sexuality today, we discover that despite the frequent quotation of the Bible in defense of CONVENTIONAL MORALITY, the Bible presents us with ambiguous, contradictory, and sometimes absolutely unacceptable standards for making sexual judgments today. On one side, no sexual practice was condemned more completely in the Bible than the sin of ADULTERY. It was one of the commandments to which was added the DEATH penalty (Deut. ). The story of the Woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11) gives evidence that this penalty was still a possibility in Jesus' time. But on the other side, we must recognize that the PROHIBITION OF ADULTERY, as the writers of the Bible understood it, BOUND PRIMARILY THE WOMEN. Adultery in the Bible was defined as SEX WITH A MARRIED WOMAN. The marital status of the man was irrelevant. If the woman was not married, sexual relations with her were NOT adulterous...
The second thing to note about adultery in the Bible is that the prevailing marital pattern of the times was not MONOGAMY but POLYGAMY. What does adultery mean when one man can possess and unlimited number of woman for his own amusement? How can any injunction based on these premises be used to define morality today?
(Bishop John Shelby Spong, LIVING IN SIN, Harper and Row, cl988, pl3l)
We also need to add to Spong's insight, that the structure of marriage was a far cry from the commitment of love we proclaim today. Most often marriages were prearranged taking place at a very young age. The young developing individual didn't have this long period of abstinence which is a norm for only the last century. A fifteen-year-old of biblical times would for the most part be married; and sometimes even younger for the girls.
So then how did we get here? And why is so much of the Christian church so reluctant to change?
The emphasis on human sexuality in Christian Theology begins with Paul who is the basis for much of the theology that overshadows so much of the deeper message of Jesus. Most scholars agree that Paul was a deeply troubled man. A man who in fact never met Jesus, nor did he learn from Jesus first hand.
In fact, Paul is a self-proclaimed spokesman of God and Christ.# It is also recognizable that Paul is often contradictory and has a bias (probably prominent in the patriarchal society of the times) against women. Not only do we get the basics of our sexual attitudes from Paul, but also much of the discrimination against women which exists in Christianity is justified from the works of Paul. In the Gospels there seems to be no evidence that Jesus seen women any different than men, and in the Gospel of Thomas, there is no mistake that Jesus seen the sexes as completely equal, which was a point of contention with several of his disciples.
Paul's injunction against homosexuality, for example, is simply a quote from Leviticus, a book that is full of laws that are no longer observed. Leviticus 19:13, tells us not to hold back a man's wage for a day. Leviticus 19:26, tells us you can't eat meat with blood in it. In fact in Chapter Nineteen: tattoos are
outlawed (verse28), people are forbidden to eat the fruit of a tree for three years (26), cutting your hair and shaving the edge of your beard are forbidden (27). If we examine all the laws in Leviticus, capital offenses in Numbers and Deuteronomy, and scrutinize the laws of the Old Testament, we find that we conveniently pick and choose what we accept, and, ignore the rest.
Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul establishes fornicators, homosexuals
adulterers, sexual perverts as all being banned from the
So it begins with Paul, but he is not the final word on the subject. The guy who cements and glues sin and sex together is Augustine. His ideas about sex are summed up nicely in his Soliloquies, where he says:
"NOTHING IS SO MUCH TO BE SHUNNED AS SEX RELATIONS."
Augustine, like Paul, was a deeply troubled man when it came to human sexuality. Doctor Pagels paints a nice picture of the division and mixed messages that this man received from his early family life:
Born into a non-patrician family, Augustine tells us that his PAGAN FATHER, Patricus was a man HABITUALLY UNFAITHFUL TO Augustine's MOTHER, and not only failed to "root out the brambles of lust" from his son, but expressed pleasure in his adolescent son's appetite... His Christian mother, Monica, patiently endured her husband's infidelities, Augustine says, but "most earnestly implored ME NOT TO COMMIT FORNICATION." As a young man he would have been embarrassed to take such "womanish" advice; but much later, looking back, be came to believe that GOD HAD SPOKEN TO HIM THROUGH HIS MOTHER, and that "When I disregarded her, I DISREGARDED GOD."
(Elaine Pagels, ADAM, EVE AND THE SERPENT, cl988, p122)
It is psychologically easy to see why Augustine might develop his own sexual bang-ups, given his upbringing. Yet, this is the man that would influence Christian ideals about sin more than any other is. Quoting Pagels again:
Augustine would eventually transform traditional Christian teaching on FREEDOM, SEXUALITY, and on SIN AND REDEMPTION for all FUTURE generations of Christians. Where earlier generations of Jews and Christians had once found in Genesis 1-3 the AFFIRMATION of human freedom to choose good and evil, Augustine, living after the age of Constantine, found in that same text a story of human bondage.
Augustine came to view human sexual desire as a weakening of human nature caused by the original sin of Adam and Eve. Our sex drive, in a sense, was placed there to allow the devil more control over us according to Augustine's logic. Natural erections, wet dreams and the like were all indications of the inert evil within us, caused by that stain from the original sin. Where Jesus delivered a message of God within, Augustine chose to accent the devil within - and this has been the position of countless Christian Theologians ever since
But that still does not answer the question of
why the church is so preoccupied with controlling our sexual behavior. The
answer is: power through guilt! Give a man guilt over
the one thing which is his strongest controllable desire, and you make the man
dependent upon the church. Few of us, if any, have no sexual desires that are
not in some way sinful in the eyes of the accepted moral codes of many
Augustine's theory of original sin not only proved politically expedient, since it persuaded many of his contemporaries that human beings universally NEEDED EXTERNAL GOVERNMENT - which meant, in their case, BOTH A CHRISTIAN STATE AND IN IMPERIALLY SUPPORTED CHURCH - but also offered an analysis of human nature that became, for better and worse, the HERITAGE OF ALL SUBSEQUENT GENERATIONS OF WESTERN CHRISTIANS AND THE MAJOR INFLUENCE OF THEIR PSYCHOLOGY AND POLITICAL THINKING.
(ibid., introduction, p.xxvi)
In John Romer's
excellent work called TESTAMENT, he tells us that the Christian
Church took on new meaning when
Arguments about the nature of God were far from being theological abstractions; they were about POWER in THIS WORLD AND THE NEXT.
By Augustine's Birth in 354, the church was still formulating its ideology, but now it had structure and the power of the state to enforce its ideals. Augustine's concepts of man being a slave to sin and God's "saving grace of the church" were ideal components for a doctrine which sought to secure its place in the world. In connecting sex and the weakening of our natures to the original sin, the church could ensure that every individual would need its "saving grace". Such a dependency doctrine would also insure that people look to the church, God's authority on earth, to seek guidance in what is acceptable and what is not.
There are even remnants of this power hold today, for it seems, the more a religion seeks to control its membership the greater its emphasis is upon the sins of the flesh.
Now let us compare the words of Augustine:
"Nothing is to be so much shunned as sex relations."
to the Words Of
Sexual pleasures, WISELY USED AND NOT ABUSED, may prove the stimulus and liberator of our finest and MOST EXALTED ACTIVITIES.
SEX LIES AT THE ROOT OF LIFE, and we can never learn THE REVERENCE FOR LIFE until we know how to understand sex.
(From: "Studies in the Psychology of Sex'" Random House, 1936)
Now, ask yourself: Which of these two statements make the more sense in light of the reality of our natures? Given the nature of our sexual drives and feelings, which is the more rational statement? Would a loving and logical God give us such a strong sex drive and then expect it to be used only in the narrow manner that many religious leaders tell us it should be used?
The statement by Augustine, cited above, is totally unnatural and out of touch with the psychological make-up of most men and women. What Augustine considered the weakening of our human nature (sex drive) because of the original sin; is the natural - God given - sexual drive of a human being. This totally unrealistic morality which is preached, is not only unnatural, it is unhealthy. In many cases, such teachings go against the very natures of men, especially, if we acknowledge our animal primordial state as part of the complete human.
As always, the first premise of a responsible theology is that men have no right to declare God's word for other men. Even those who declare the Bible "the word of God," ignore much of its content. The truth is, no matter what we profess to believe people pick and choose from Scripture that which supports their beliefs and disregard the rest.
Responsible theology will see sexual morality as a personal issue between an individual, their partner, and God. The only moral law which should be declared are those laws of the state which are needed to protect a society from unscrupulous members of that society, and the regulation of social contracts where absolutely necessary. No church, no state, no man has the right to declare God's law. The responsible approach for religion is to encourage an ethic among its followers, especially the young, by which they can develop a personal moral code, which is positive in the life of the individual and respectful of the rights and lives of others. The responsible theologian will take literally the directive of Jesus that no man can sit in judgement of another.
To declare human sexuality between consenting adults a sin, is a presumption of God. For example, is prostitution a sin if a mother resorts to it to feed her children? One could say no, for in reality the sin is in the society that forces individuals into such circumstances. Too often, our religious views have us so focused on a microcosm of immorality, blinding us to a bigger picture that encourages the so-called immorality.
We are not saying that there cannot be a right and wrong in sex. Sex is definitely wrong when one forces themselves upon others, when it is harmful to another in some way such as in child sex, or when there is unwanted life brought forth in the cases of irresponsibility, or, when we spread disease. But, to overcome these things involves individual ethics, personal responsibility, respect and love among people - these are the things that will remove the immorality from our society - not the condemnation of sex!
Sex is not the greater evil. It's the selfishness, indifference, and lack of respect that we have for one another, which creates the problem. It is true that to take advantage of someone sexually would be immoral, but that applies to all aspects of our lives, not just sex! In many respects, our business practices where lying in advertising, where exploitation of workers, where cheating and overpricing, where the need to create a market is of greater priority than one's ability to pay: these things are every bit as much of an evil as irresponsible sexual acts - but no church equates business to weak wills or evil. To take advantage of another, to lie or cheat them, to oppress them is evil whether it is sexual, social, business, or pleasure.
The ethics a responsible theology would encourage should also be realistic - in touch with the reality which God created. The church itself has a responsibility to promote good mental health and take into consideration the effect of its teachings upon its flock. Theology may be able to disagree with psychology, but it can never ignore it. The mind of an individual is as much a part of that human being as is the soul. The soul may give life, but it is the body which lives it, experiencing it through the mind. God would never declare a law that would require us to act against our natural well being; therefore, it is imperative that religion considers what we know about psychology, genetics, and the biological realities of our human sexual natures.
In so far as sex has been repressed by many of our religious ideologies, theology must work hard to establish a healthy view.
Religion can't advocate a complete disregard for moral teaching, or advocate promiscuity, for both would be irresponsible. But, it can strive to get away from archaic reasoning and unnatural doctrines; approaching the whole ideal of human sexuality from an open, tolerant, and loving approach. Churches need to stop viewing "sex as sin," and approach it as the beautiful gift that God has made it. Theologians need to see that sexual pleasures are as diverse as eating, respecting such diversity among humankind. Religion needs a sexual ethic which will help protect the society from destructive sexual behavior; but one that does not condemn an individual on the basis of our own personal dislikes or beliefs. And, we need ethics that apply across the board equally to all our social activities.
These issues need much further study and open dialog to formulate approaches which can work, but the first thing we must admit is that we have something wrong. While this work makes no claim to have all the answers, it does have some suggestions toward overcoming some of the problems which religion faces in dealing with this issue.
Theology must support the concept of marriage based on the psychological importance of children needing a stable environment in which to grow. It would seem that those who wish to bring forth children have a special responsibility to each other and the children that they bring into the world. Committing to one another in the concept of marriage is a good way to achieve this objective. While one cannot say that marriage is the only suitable lifestyle to bring children into the world, for there are many loving parents who are single or not married, we have to recognize that marriage is an important part of our social order.
But this idea of marriage for love is a relatively new concept of just the past century, and, we have already established that polygamy was the norm throughout much of scriptural writings. And even in the development of the Christian Church marriage was only required for certain classes of people in much of its history:
The true agenda of marriage at its inception was by far MORE ECONOMIC THAN IT WAS MORAL. The woman would produce the heirs to the man's wealth and property. Among the upper classes, who really made the rules, the virgin status of one's bride and the faithfulness of the married woman were the only guarantees a man had that his heir would be legitimate and therefor the one to whom he could pass on his fortune.
This is why marriage was never, demanded or enforced, EVEN BY THE
CHURCH' among the lower classes until very late in Western history. The
PEASANTS HAD NO WEALTH TO PRESERVE, so they never developed any great need for
a marriage ceremony to cement restrictions around the wife. In
Without benefit of clergy, lower class men and women simply began
living together. The church, at least in
(John Shelby Spong, LIVING IN SIN,1988, p48)
So, it would seem that the sanctification of marriage by the church was not always a requirement and had less to do with Divine Will, being more about social contracts. People could commit to each other at an individual level, if they so desired.
Marriage is not so much a religious institution, but rather a social contract - for basically social reasons - the rules for which are based upon cultural and other sociological factors.
No church, acting as a spokesman for God, has the right to pronounce, deny, bind or excuse; the vows which individuals pledge to one another. This does not say that the church does not have the right to marry; for that power is granted by the state. Nor, should the church fail to encourage marriage; in fact, the opposite is true; churches should encourage marriage because it is good for the whole and has proven to be a worthy social institution for many.
The fact of the matter is, when it comes to God, no human being has a clue as to what marriage should be. Even if we look to nature, we will see every kind of relationship that human beings are capable of, and even beyond that.
The present theological basis for marriage is
rooted in the story of Adam and Eve, and enforced, by at least some
What God has joined together, man must not separate.
The obvious question here, becomes: How do we know what God joins together? The marriage ritual is performed by human beings acting as self-proclaimed spokesmen for God.
And to support Spong's theory about adultery being considered only a crime for women, Jesus states:
They (those who followed the law of Noses) Were told, a man who divorces his wife must give her a note of dismissal. But I tell you this: If a man divorces his wife for any cause other than unchasity he involves HER in adultery; and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
You will note, there seems to be no injunction against marrying a divorced man. This statement was somewhat corrected in Luke , but that was a later period. Jesus also told us that marriage was not for everyone:
That [marriage] is something, which NOT EVERYONE CAN
ACCEPT, BUT ONLY THOSE FOR WHOM GOD HAS APPOINTED IT. For while some are
incapable of marriage because they were born so, or were made so by men, there
are others who themselves have renounced marriage for the sake of the
(Matthew 19: 11,12)
So, even Jesus is somewhat ambiguous about the institution of marriage. What does he mean when be proclaims that some can't marry from birth? While such might be referring to sterility, it could also include those who are born homosexual. In truth, we don't have God's law on marriage, and Jesus isn't giving it out. Marriage is an institution created by men to protect their progenies. The concept of marriage has not been the same since the so-called origin in the Garden of Eden. It has, and continues, to change.
While it is advantageous for people to express their vows before God and others, such might not really be necessary for marriage in the eyes of God. Nor, do all the moral standards of the church regarding marriage need to apply to every married couple.
As a theological issue, religion is at a loss in its scripture to define marriage, for such was different things at different times. And some of the so-called religious doctors of Christianity pronounced platitudes about a way of life they themselves had never experienced.
And while we are talking about commitment, our
society is a hypocrisy when it comes to the sacredness
of the institution of marriage. The divorce rate for the
For all our religious condemnation of those who choose to live together outside marriage (based on the premise that marriage is a commitment for life), married people are dissolving their commitments left and right! There are many reasons, but at least some of this problem could stem from the idea that marriage is needed to legitimize sex in the eyes of God. So we should not look at marriage as license to have sex in the eyes of God, for such attitudes cloud the true meaning of marriage which is really about the sacredness of love and commitment and the unity in two becoming one.
That leads us to the question of how a responsible theology will approach marriage?
The first reality, which comes to mind, is that marriage is a stable institution for children. To have two parents representative of paradox (male & female), who work together to love and protect them, is a valuable psychological tool. People should be encouraged to marry if they wish to have children, and, such a commitment should be serious, responsible and lasting.
Today, love is supposed to be the root of marriage. People need to determine their own expression of love and the commitments they make to each other without a church telling them what God requires. The role of the church is to respect an individual's decision within the ethical guidelines of responsibility and love. A minister, or a judge, doesn't define love in the eyes of God; it is what is in the heart of the individual that makes the love that God sees; in, or out of, a church.
In the end, marriage is not about sex. It's about sharing, respect, responsibility, commitment, love, unity and often children. Theologically, sex needs to be removed from the equation of marriage. Theology should concentrate on the sacredness of two people committing their love for one another in the marriage contract. Religion needs to also recognize that the vows individuals exchange, should be personal in nature, exchanged in a manner where individuals know if they can keep them or not. These vows could even include what sexual behavior will, and will not, be tolerated.
And a responsible theology will be careful in assessing its moral point of view for those who choose to live together outside matrimony. There are many a couple who live together outside marriage who are happier, and raise their children better, and provide a more functional home, than some married couples. A religious ceremony, or a state license, does nothing to add or take away a commitment that is truly from the heart.
When we wonder why marriages don't work today, maybe its because we instill in people that it is the only legitimate way to have sex. The ceremony, the celebration, and the honeymoon are all more focused upon than the sharing of life that two people are committing to. In other words: the libido is the driving force, rather than, the love and commitment to one another. Such psychological implications can only be our folly.
(Sex outside marriage)
Instead of trying to discourage certain aspects of behavior, especially between consenting adults, religion should be emphasizing the virtues of love, respect, personal responsibility and the idea of treating people as we wish to be treated.
We have already established that the idea of marriage as being the only way to express love is ridiculous. And the idea that love is eternal, or must be for life, is also a folly. Again, one only need to look at the divorce rate. Of what use is a commitment that one knows can be dissolved by simply paying a lawyer a fee?
Realistically, love can, and often is, expressed outside marriage. While socially there are a variety of reasons to marry in love, especially where there are children; God needs no human intervention to determine the value of one's love for another.
And when two consenting adults choose to participate in sex, for even a brief encounter, theologically we have no right to judge the act. The pleasure they may bring to each other, or self-pleasure as the case may be, may be what each of them need. Such sex can be healthy as long as it is responsible. By this idea of responsibility we mean we care enough and are serious enough about the step we embark upon. One would hope that when one sees sex as sacred, one would act responsibly. They need to consider protection (so unwanted children are not born) either by contraceptives or sexual acts that would not produce children. They need to make sure that disease is not spread to another. These should be ethics that go without saying. But these individuals who take such a step need to also consider the feelings of those they have sex with; striving to avoid exploitation of someone in weakness; striving to make sure the other person's wishes are of the same type of an encounter as they envision - in other words, complete honesty.
Responsible theology will recognize that sex can express many different things to different people. It certainly is not always about love. Loneliness, connectedness, pleasure, and just plain sharing are all part of sexual drive. Religion needs to acknowledge this, allowing individuals the right to determine the morality of their own personal choice, which is really what people, do anyhow. It would seem that God cares whether people are hurt or not, not what two people decide to do in their bed. People should not be made to feel immoral or guilty for actions, which affect only them. Sex, like any other expression of human nature, is only immoral when it hurts someone, when it exploits someone, when it is forced upon another, when it produces unwanted life which is rejected in some way.
The act of having sex cannot be a sin. The only immorality, which can come about in a sexual union, is one of hypocrisy or destructiveness. Sin is in indifference to the feelings and needs of others; compounded by a lack of self control over self-gratification. These things are what lead to evil, in sex, as well as every other aspect of life. It's not the sex that's evil, but the individuals who may take advantage of others in selfish pursuit.
As far as youth goes, we have a unique problem today. It has only been in the last hundred years that marriage began to occur "later" than "sooner" in life. One thing is for certain in dealing with the young, to teach youth that sex is immoral is useless and confusing.
While religion must be careful NOT to encourage youthful sexual activity, it would seem that sex education in the form of responsibility, as we discussed, would be a far better tool than the religious standard many churches often employ. Many of the present ideals simply drive the young away from God, make them feel guilty, or are ignored in the moment of passion. Studies have shown that quality sex education significantly decreases teen pregnancy. Many teenagers are going to have sex whether we give them commandments or not - better, they are prepared with responsible knowledge, than judged.
Once again, with sex among youth, theology must shift their focus from condemnation to an assumption of responsibility. Responsible theology must stress the sacredness of sex, not its immorality or our weakness. Many of the ancient religions saw the sacredness of human sexuality, and sometimes, even incorporating such into their rituals. While we are far removed from that world, their motif of sacredness is as valuable today as ever. Perhaps, if the sacredness were the message, young people may try a little harder to be responsible. We must not forget, young people get a very mixed message about sex in our society; from, the preachers who condemn such acts as vile, to the entertainment media using sex to sell, entertain, or get our attention.
In our rising to consciousness, God gave us the free will to make our own destiny as individuals as well as collectively. In the paradoxes of myth, and scripture, are outlined the ethics which would best serve that gift. Balance, tolerance, and unselfishness are things that best serve the whole. Dogmatism, judgement, and narcissism need to be controlled. It is easy to share and tolerate the concepts of those who think like us, but it is much more difficult to be tolerant of those who differ. Jesus makes this point several times in the Gospels.
Human sexuality is a diverse thing, like appetite or creativity. Ultimately, the responsibility for sexual behavior is personal, between individuals, their partners and God. If religion led people to God, instead of a church, there would be no need to proclaim what is moral or immoral. It is not our weak human natures that are causing the problem. It's the misguided priorities of so many of our theological decrees. It is a religion's responsibility to proclaim the joy and sacredness of sex for it is in this way that healthy and responsible sex can be nourished. Sin and guilt are not answers, but love and respect make people think more about what they do.
Another archaic idea of many of our present religious institutions is the idea that masturbation is wrong and displeasing to God. The fact of the matter is that masturbation occurs in all primates, and it can be a release for vent up sexual frustration.
Several years ago, a Surgeon General was dismissed in a controversy of advocating masturbation as an acceptable deterrent to teenage sex. Churches and self-righteous politicians were outraged; when in reality, the common sense of this woman was profound. If masturbation becomes a sin as some claim, then people might as well go after the sex anyhow? If its sinful to masturbate and sinful to have sex outside marriage, then what is the difference between the sins? The folly of this Victorian thought process is self-evident.
Here again, Jesus never mentions this act for all the preaching some of the Christian churches do about it. When we read in the Bible the injunction against "spilling one's seed" as it is called, we cannot ignore the mentality of the individuals who reasoned such. They were under the assumption that semen was actually the seed of humans. They felt that the male planted the seed into the female, thus, any wasting of that seed would somehow threaten procreation. There was no consideration, or understanding of the biological role that woman played in the creative process. The writers of the Bible, as well as other ancient text, seen the woman as no more than an incubator for male seed. It would make logical sense from their perspective that masturbation would be sinful. But, to base one's moral position today on such logic speaks for itself.
Today we know that masturbation is not harmful and the spilling of seed is a natural happenstance. God didn't make our ability to masturbate as a sexual release in order to create some Divine Law against it, for such would not make any sense. In fact, under the laws of logic, combined with the powerful and emotional sex drive, such a concept could be seen as a brilliant and loving plan offered to those who are deprived of having sex.
Masturbation also allows the young to explore their sexual identity, preparing them for future relationships. There is no danger of the spread of disease, it doesn't bring about unwanted children, and it doesn't hurt anyone when practiced by healthy human beings. There are far greater ills and problems in our society which churches should devote their energy toward. It really wouldn't hurt to encourage masturbation as an alternative to premarital sex as Dr. Elders suggested. Nor, would it hurt religion to acknowledge that masturbation is a normal way to vent sexual frustration or desire.
And our religious and social attitudes toward homosexuality, too, must be questioned. The strongest Christian rationalization for the evils of homosexuality is "that it is unnatural". But, as Bishop John Shelby Spong states in his work entitled "Living in Sin":
Can a religious tradition that has LONG PRACTICED CIRCUMCISION and INSTITUTIONAL CELIBACY ever dismiss any other practice on the basis of its unnaturalness?
In that same work, Spong also cites from a study done by JoDurden-Smith and Diane de Simone from their work called "Sex and the Brain," about the occurrence of homosexuality in nature:
It remains a fact that among higher mammals, homosexuality is found in roughly the same statistical percentages as is found in Homo sapiens.
And Frans B.M. de Waal, in the March 1995 issue of Scientific
The species is best characterized as female-centered and egalitarian and as one that SUBSTITUTES SEX FOR AGGRESSION. Whereas, in most other species sexual behavior is a fairly distinct category, in the Bonobo, it is part and parcel of the social relations - and not just between males and females, BONOBOS ENGAGE IN SEX IN VIRTUALLY EVERY PARTNER COMBINATION (although such contact among close family members may be suppressed). And sexual interactions occur more often among Bonobos than among other primates.
Any religious argument that homosexuality is evil because it is unnatural is as dead in the water as stating the "earth is the center of the universe" because it says so in the Bible. While it may not occupy the majority of natural behaviors, it occurs enough to be part of the natural order of things. If we place our faith in God, such must be in Her plan.
And in still the same work cited above, Bishop Spong covers the gross unfairness and complete foolishness of our positions on homosexuality in a Christian influenced society, especially when Jesus never mentioned the subject.
Our pious conditional resolutions binding moral homosexuality to CELIBACY reveal nothing less than an IRRATIONAL BELIEF in a sadistic God. In light of new knowledge, this God created gay and lesbian people only to punish them. God made them in the creation complete with sexual drive and then said that morality demanded that this drive be repressed. Once again, we are confronted with the dictum that bad biology and bad biochemistry result in bad theology. The traditional position of the church, based on the false premise that loving sexual expression between persons of the same gender are always evil, MUST COME FACE TO FACE WITH THE EVIL THIS STANCE HAS CREATED.
Each one of us is different sexually, and we must begin to recognize and respect those differences. Our likes and dislikes, our greatest moments in bed; are as varied as our choices of foods. Some people may prefer oral sex to genital sex, or homosexual sex to heterosexual sex, or mutual masturbation over actual intercourse. We would never think of telling a person who likes oatmeal never to eat it simply because we don't like its taste, but this is essentially what many religions do with sex!
On the other hand, this is not to advocate sex without ethics - it is simply to say that we cannot establish morality based upon our own standard, even when that standard might be in the majority. We cannot make moral judgements about sexual acts; instead, we need moral ethics by which we can judge our own behavior. Morality has nothing to do with what we do in our beds, it's the intent and consequence of those actions that create moral dilemmas.
Morality, in sex, becomes our personal responsibility toward others; and that varies from situation to situation. Religion needs to concern itself with broader ethics that apply to responsible actions in all aspects of life, which include sex. It's not what we do in our beds that makes us bad or good, or with whom partake. It becomes the consequence of the activity that makes it right or wrong. Is someone getting hurt? Are we deceiving in order to get selfish satisfaction? Is there unwanted life being conceived? Are we spreading disease? Are we breaking our commitments to someone else? Are we concerned with the other person's feelings in this matter - psychologically as well as physically? These are the questions we need to ask ourselves in our sexual encounters as well as every other aspect of our life.
Religion seems to have a standard that if you are faithfully married in a heterosexual relationship, or remain celebrate: that this makes us holy in the eyes of God. But there are faithfully married people who rape their employees every day of the week when they pay them less than they can afford to live on! There are celibate people who prostitute themselves in ways outside of sex for a buck every day of the week. There are faithful people who cheat other people every day of the week and think nothing of cheating as long as it is outside of sex.
And while we focus on sex as a society, we lesson the true evil of many of our greater evils. Churches often condemn the homosexual while ignoring the industrial polluter. They might picket get rid of erotica, but its okay to vividly portray violence and murder in our news and entertainment. Religion often condemns the prostitute, but keep quiet about the circumstances in our economy that cause men and women to prostitute themselves. They tell our youth to say no to sex but say little about tempting them, enticing them, and leading them on in every way we can in our effort to get them to buy our products. It's okay for business to exploit sex for profit, bit it becomes a sin to experience it! This is the double standard of our self-righteous God fearing society.
Responsible theology's answers are not in telling people bow to live. They encourage people to find their own true, God given, sexual nature; and, would strive to provide a religious structure that would encourage a responsible approach to that identity. Such theology would postulate that a religion should approach human sexuality with openness that will allow it to adjust to our new found knowledge of the role that sexuality plays in our development. The religious ideal can not ignore science in the pursuit of self-serving truth about human sexuality. Human sexuality is part of life, and life is of God and science studies the realms of life. Most objective scientist would agree that homo/bisexuality are inert drives which can be influenced positively or negatively by one's conditioning.
It is irresponsible of religion, and a violation of the ethic of love, to make any human being feel guilty, immoral, or cursed from an orientation they may have no control over.
And there is not any strong biblical support to condemn homosexuality. We've already established that for all the citing of Leviticus (), and Paul's re-pronouncement of it, that much of the rest of the book is ignored. Would we think to prevent men with defects from entering our churches (Lev. )? Would the church really advocate putting homosexuals to death (verse )? Are woman considered unclean during menstruation (verse 15:19ff)? Does the church advocate execution for blasphemy (Lev 24:16) or execution for a child that struck or cursed their parents (Exod. ,17)? So why are so many churches exerting so much effort and creating so much prejudice over what two men, or two women might do in their bed?
Some might cite the story of
"The issue of homosexuality is another reality in sexual
thinking and practice that places pressure on Holy Scripture. Once again, this
prejudice is so deep, so widely assumed to be self-evident, that all the major
churches have in the past simply quoted the Bible to justify their continued
oppression and rejection of gay and lesbian persons. THE
In the biblical world of male values, the humiliation of a male was
best achieved by making the males act like women in the sex act. To act like a
woman, to be a passive participant in coitus, was thought to be insulting to
the dignity of the male. This, far more than homosexuality, was the underlying
theme of the
The story goes on to say that
(Bishop John Shelby Spong, RESCUING THE BIBLE FROM FUNDAMENTALISM 1991, p7)
The fact is, if the church recognized the naturalness and legitimacy of homosexual unions they would be embracing individuals that have seen themselves as religious outcasts for a long time. Just as Christians justified many of the atrocities against the Jews by proclaiming them "Christ Killers"; they are creating the same potentially dangerous environment for homosexual men and woman.
Responsible theology would not participate in such judgmental and dangerous positions. Instead, it would encourage the same ethics of responsibility that applies to all sexual behaviors.
One final thought on this subject. While marriage is often defined as a contract between a man and woman, which would obviously exclude homosexuals by definition. Despite that, one might still believe it is in the best interest of society to promote monogamous relationships and offer some sort of love commitment for homosexual relationships. This would go a long way to serve such ethical commitment.
(Birth Control, Abortion and Children)
It is absolutely preposterous for any religion to say that birth control is sinful. It becomes especially foolish when it this is based upon a theological assumption that birth control might somehow deprive a human life that God intended. Reason and logic would dictate, that if God were the determinant factor in human conception; far less children would be born out of accident, or, be born to people who might abuse them. And for religions that believe in a Virgin birth, one might conclude that God would have no problem creating any intended life.
While responsible theology can concede conception as a part of God because it is a sharing in the creative process, it is biology, which is the pure determinant that God has put in place for procreation. As the population grew, science gave us the means to limit reproduction and plan families according to the means and resources we have at our disposal. Such intellect comes from God. In a world of overpopulation, in a world of starving children, in a world where children are abused, in a world where children are exploited, in a world where many will have no opportunity; it is irresponsible of any theology to proclaim birth control a sin! True immorality is bringing children into the world irresponsibly, when they are unwanted, unloved or abused , when we do not have the means to care for them, or when we know the child will experience undue suffering.
In light of the overpopulation (and because God has given us the intellect and means to control our numbers) birth control can be considered part of a responsible approach toward human sexuality and morality. Unlike other animals, we can choose through artificial means (or by choosing other gratifying sexual activities outside of intercourse) whether or not we want to procreate during sexual activity.
Abortion is a travesty for an enlightened society. It is a condition which should not exist. The argument over the women having control over her own body and the right of the unborn is a waste of spiritual time. There is no theological position for such irresponsible behavior.
Ignorance, irresponsible sexual behavior, selfishness and indifference are among the evils that lead to abortion. Too often, we seek to legislate against the act, instead of addressing the cause. If we began to exercise prudent behavior in all phases of our life from business to social, maybe, we would be more responsible in our sexual encounters and less abortions might occur.
And there is another hypocrisy of religion in regards to this question; that is, the seemingly indifference of the church and the state in the quality of life of the children that are already born - children who suffer and are neglected - children who are tortured and abused - children who have little, if any, opportunity - children who are doomed to a lifetime of hardship. Reasonable people might ask: what is the difference in aborting a child; from, bringing a child into the world to live in misery?
And those religions that choose to stand in opposition to birth control are as much of a cause of the suffering children in the world as the irresponsible people who continue to produce life they cannot offer love and hope. How dare they tell people they should have a child conceived out of irresponsible behavior because it is a sin to have sex otherwise.
The question of abortion is one about the sacredness to life. It is hypocrisy for any theology to condemn such a practice and ignore the conditions that children face all over the globe. A society has no right to address the issue of abortion until it sees to it that all children are fed, clothed and have shelter - that all children have hope and opportunity - that all children have medical care - that all children have opportunity to live in dignity! To say that life is sacred and to ignore these realities is as hypocritical as it gets. The truth is that in many cases, abortion is more humane than the conditions we allow our children to live in. Go into any inner city and experience the hell that children are forced to live in because of irresponsibility on the part of parents, government and religion, which condone by their silence the exploitation of others. The nature of this problem is a disgrace for religion, inexcusable for a thriving society, and an abomination of hypocrisy for individuals who picket and preach the evils of abortion but do nothing for the children who suffer.
Before religion should even consider asking the state to protect the rights of the unborn, it should be fighting for the rights of the born. It should be fighting for a QUALITY OF LIFE where children need not live in fear, hopelessness and misery. One cannot realistically protect the rights of unborn until they secure the rights of the born. Until the society, or the churches, can offer quality life to the aborted, they have no right to sit in judgement of this desperate act!
Again, responsible theology would emphasize the sacredness of life, the sacredness of sex, and the personal responsibility of the individual to respect that sacredness. It would work to promote an ethic based upon the concept of love, instead of, seeking to legislate its moral conclusions. Responsible theology would recognize that the greatest evil in our societies is the conditions in which our children must live! To rid the world of abortion would do little, if anything, to rid the world of these problems.
(Summary on Human Sexuality)
While this discourse cannot solve all the moral problems of human sexuality, for such would take volumes, it can be used as a starting point where we might improve upon ideas that are out of touch with our world. The present system of Christian values is a failure because of the rampant hypocrisy toward its moral teachings. Divorce, sexual entertainment, using sex to advertise - not to say that these things are evil; but, they are a hypocrisy in a society that lays claim to be founded on the traditional Christian values preached by Jesus.
The theological problem we have is that too often people separate their religious lives from their secular lives. To often the causes of evil, such as, self-centeredness, selfishness, and instant gratification are overlooked and even condoned by religions that remain silent about such things. The same ethics that might apply to church and family are not present in business, social acquaintances or other matters of everyday reality. When religion looses its meaning in everyday reality, as practiced by individuals who proclaim such faith, the religion can no longer lead people to God or effectively serve society. This is why it is important for responsible theology to address all problems in terms of the reality in which we live. A responsible theology will recognize that the church's role is to lead people to God; not speak for Her. It will always see sex as sacred, avoiding concepts that it is evil or something to be avoided like violence.
Human sexuality is one of God's most joyous gifts, one that should be celebrated and not condemned.
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