How Should We Talk About Sex?
A lot of Christians are talking about it... and some are talking about talking about it.
I do get that part of this is a way to engage culture and answer questions people are asking. As John Ortberg jokes, to draw a lot of people, you should teach on three subjects: sex, the end times, and will there be sex in the end times?
American churches are competing for attention through television, twitter, media, talking heads, talk show hosts, and any other medium they can use. Strategies are developed for their message to be heard over the noise of culture. Sex, indeed, seems to get people's attention-- and many use it for that purpose in the church-- yet, it is also an important issue in need of biblical clarity and discernment, not just attention and discussion. Yes, people want to talk about sex, but how do we do it in a way that glorifies Christ?
In Texas this week, pastor Ed Young of Fellowship Church is taking the conversation to a 'hole 'nutha level. Young and his wife, Lisa, will spend 24 hours hosting an event described as a "bed-in" according to an article by the Christian Post. Young is releasing a book today entitled Sexperiment and to promote the book and his upcoming sermon series he and his wife will answer questions online-- in bed.
On the book's website Young says:
What would happen if we committed to doing our lives and marriages God's way? We feel so passionately about it we will be hosting a Bed-In on the roof of Fellowship Church to promote it!
For 24 hours straight, we'll be joined by some very special guests for bed side interviews, skype with pastors and friends from around the world, and talk about the tantalizing truths about sex as God intended.
Join us here at thesexperiment.com as we bring the bed back in the church and put the church back in the bed!
I am not quite sure what a "bed-in" is exactly (the term has historically been connected with war protests), but I can only assume that is part of the strategy.
Another well-known pastor, Mark Driscoll, has recently published a book on the marriage and sex entitled Real Marriage. While the book apparently leaves no bedsheet unturned, it has received both commendation and criticism from reviewers.
I have yet to read either book, but the issues they address are important. The controversy surrounding these books leads me to ask, "How should we, the church-- and church leaders in particular-- speak about sex?" I'd like to encourage us to do so in five ways.
First, we need to move beyond discomfort on the subject. Everyone is talking about sex-- except people in most churches. Now I realize there are exceptions. A few are talking about it too much and in salacious ways, but most are saying nothing. The vast majority of Christian newlyweds have likely never had their questions about sex answered, nor found a healthy context in which to ask them. The more reluctant we are to engage the issue, the more likely our people's understanding of sex will be shaped by society rather than Scripture. When was the last time someone talked about the issue in your church? It has probably been a while.
Second, we need to answer the critical questions people are asking. Today, that means answering some questions people were not asking in previous generations. Most men and women today have been exposed to a level of sexual knowledge, practices, and (yes) acts that other generations were not. Simply put, nothing is "unmentioned" and "unconsidered" anymore. It may shock you if you did not grow up with the Internet, but people have questions, and Christians need to drop their embarrassment and provide biblical answers and discerning thinking. In regard to sex, if people can't ask other Christians, they will get their answers from culture.
Third, when talking about sex, hype does not help. I have to say that some of the gimmicky sex campaigns are simply unhelpful and can many times be harmful. For example, a friend of mine did a series he called "Storybook Sex" with all the shocking ads and comments-- a series he now regrets. At the end of the day, gimmicks are not what we need-- solid biblical teaching and moral courage is. That does not mean we cannot have fun while talking about sex (thank you, God, for creating sex!), but, in talking about sex, it does mean that we need not appear silly or salacious. As such, challenging people to have sex for a week may not be the best course of action-- but teaching them to both value the wonder and participate in the joy of sex in marriage is.
Fourth, teaching on sex, or at least the same levels of teaching on sex, is not for everyone. We need to guard against children hearing things they do not need to hear, and singles being tempted to do things they do not need to do. Context matters, and we would do well to speak and write carefully when addressing various constituencies within the body of Christ concerning these issues that need our attention and biblical clarification. It should be obvious, but some practical matters will only be suitable for an adult, married audience. Other matters might be appropriate for those who are engaged or newly married. Some might be generally appropriate for all adult audiences, and then some for younger generations.
Fifth, we need to talk more, not less, about sex. Yes, the Song of Solomon is about a relationship and, yes, sex-- let's grow up and stop pretending it's only an allegory. I know this is shocking to some, but let's get honest. God is pro-sex, and I am thankful for the Song of Solomon which shows that clearly. As Danny Akin explains:
The book portrays the deep, genuine love between a man and a woman in marriage. The subject of the book is quite obviously sexual in nature. The intimacy and physical pleasure God intended for a man and a woman is tastefully and appealingly put on full display before us. (Daniel L. Akin, Song of Songs, Holman Old Testament Commentary, 135.)
We should be able to speak about sex as the Scripture does, addressing the abuses and idolatry of sex in our culture, while calling one another to live godly lives where we enjoy God's good gifts as well as the Giver of those gifts Himself. Talking more about sex should result in more biblical clarity and (yes) enjoyment. One of my favorite books that addresses this is Danny Akin's book (in addition to his commentary above), God on Sex.
How do we talk about these things? Well, there is a delicate balance between voyeurism and helpful transparency. I am not sure how to clearly define the balance, but I think it is reasonable for us to set boundaries while still engaging in healthy conversation about the details of sex, not just vague generalities. Again, most churches I know don't talk about sex, while the world mentions sex acts on family television and every third ad is for Cialis or Viagra.
Finally, there is an argument that persists which I'm not convinced of-- that evangelicals are already talking about sex. This argument is based on the existence of evangelical books on sex-- however, that fuels my point, not disproves it. These book resources exist because churches do not talk much about sex. Instead, pastors hand out a book by their favorite author and ignore the subject. Instead of answering questions, they say "read Tim LaHaye's The Act of Marriage or Ed Wheat's Intended for Pleasure." (Might I add that the graphic drawings were a bit of a surprise when I was first given that particular book.)
Books are good and necessary, but pastors ought to accompany their bibliography with a pastoral word in pre-marital counseling. Christians should be asking these questions, and we should be prepared to answer them.
So, let's begin with the idea that talking more about sex and answering people's questions are good things, and God is pro-sex. When we start there, evaluating those who have done so is much easier.