Is it possible that the Bible is actually not consistently clear about the “do’s and don’ts” of sex and sexuality? Is the expression, “biblical sex,” a bit of a misnomer? Baptist minister Jennifer Wright Knust thinks so, and she has recently written a book on the subject. Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions about Sex and Desire- which is on my list of books to read- has apparently caused a stir in certain circles.
For the time being, author of Sexless in the City Anna Broadway has written a helpful review in the latest issue of Books and Culture, in which Broadway offers a constructive response to the controversy surrounding “biblical sex.” Broadway makes the case that the church and Christian culture have over-emphasized boundaries, the “don’ts,” so to speak, at the expense of crafting a more positive, life-giving ethic that embraces the “do’s” that go along with loving one’s neighbor.
Here is Broadway: “…what if we recovered the more positive aspects of the biblical sexual ethic, paying attention to the God who says, ‘Do this, not that’? When Jesus told his disciples that they should be known for the quality of their love, he did not give them a pass on how they showed love in sexual relations. If we are called to strive for self-giving, self-denying, other-serving love in general, then this must surely apply as much to sexuality as to hospitality and friendship.”
Self-giving, self-denying, other-serving…in bed. How’s that for a fortune cookie message? You will be self-giving, self-denying, other-serving…in bed. (I must confess that ever since my husband taught me to insert the words, “in bed,” at the end of each mysterious declaration on those tiny, white strips of paper all bunched up and buried in our post-dinner munchies, I’ve never again looked the same at a fortune cookie; the ritual makes the Chinese take-out experience that much more entertaining.)
But seriously, I think Broadway has a point. We Christians waste too much hot air talking about all of the things we shouldn’t be doing in bed, as if we might just as well put a great, big red “X” in front of the topic of sex and sexuality and then wear that “X” on our foreheads, so that no one else will want to talk to us about sex, either. Because they’ll only get judgment or a fear-laden picture, rather than a vision that exudes the beauty of intimacy within a covenantal relationship. (Incidentally, A.J. Swoboda, a pastor in Portland, Oregon, has written a great chapter on “messy sex” in his newly released book, Messy: God Likes It That Way, which I’ll be reviewing in the next week. I hope you’ll tune in again.)
And we Christians have managed to thrust our hang-ups about sex on the rest of the world for centuries. Augustine in the fourth century actually believed that it was in the act of intercourse itself that the plague of original sin was transmitted from generation to generation. (How’s that for pressure in the bedroom? At which point I say, “Get thee to a nunnery.”) And if you find some of today’s prevailing rhetoric against the “evils” of homosexuality a bit tiresome in certain circles of the church, consider this: in the Middle Ages there were whole confession manuals that articulated in fine print which sex positions would land you in the confessional with a priest, or worse, the fiery flames of hell.
Broadway goes on to offer up some embodied practices that might encourage greater obedience to God in the realm of our sexuality, towards this more positive biblical ethic. Fasting (especially for those wrestling with sexual self-control and restraint), living in community and even cooking are some of the tips. In the meantime, Broadway’s corrective- an emphasis on the biblical “do’s”- is one I hope to implement in my own conversations as a wife, mother and minister.