I have been asked to provide a brief historical perspective on the issue of human sexuality in the context of Christian life and culture.
When does one start? Do we try to find a beginning and move forward? Do we start today and trace our way back step-by-step?
And where does one start? Do we focus more on relational aspects? Or do we turn to the constitution of the human being? Or perhaps, even, the human experience?
It is just such questions as these that have caused so many Christians to stumble around the matter of human sexuality, hoping to find some purchase on which to gain the proper footing for the first steps down a path that can be (and has been) fraught with misunderstanding. Of course, there have been just as many Christians willing to make definitive statements, often insisting that everyone agree on all aspects of the issue.
Like so many other matters in the course of human society, the easy way is to agree with whomever you happen to be talking to at the moment. Of course, those of us who are serious about following in the footsteps of the Christ learned long ago that there is very little easy about the life we have chosen. And wrestling with tough questions is one of those not-easy-things.
So, let me just jump straight into this. Or, maybe not. It seems to me that the willingness to just jump-right-in has been at least part of the problem. For example, when addressing the nature of the cosmos, it pays to stop for a moment and think. Should I just ‘jump right in’ on the nature of reality itself? Or, should I pause, reflect, ask, listen, and then perhaps offer some insight into where and when we are?
The same is true for the concerns of culture and society. Should I have at least one thought before offering my voice on race, religious liberty, poverty, and justice, just to name a few? Or should I just jump-right-in?
Maybe one way to begin is to listen to what some have said about human nature and sexuality (I’m paraphrasing):
Paul the Apostle: It’s a good idea to consider your own body as holy.
Augustine of Hippo: I was so confused by puberty that I didn’t really understand love.
Benedict the Monk: We should give up all passions excepting our passion for Christ.
Pope Gregory I: I live by the Rule of Benedict.
Thomas Aquinas: In this matter it is necessary to use our reason.
Martin Luther: We should not deny that sexuality is important to our lives.
Ralph Waldo Emerson: Since your whole life is an experiment, why not experiment?
Walt Whitman: Our sexuality encompasses everything.
Mary Baker Eddy: Marriage and sexuality are separate issues.
Ellen Gould White: We should guard against excess.
Google: I have over 10 million results to the search ‘Christianity and Sexuality.’
The first thing to notice is that I have chosen just a few to cite, while leaving thousands silent. The second thing to notice is that it would be easy enough to find each of these (except Google) saying something that sounds exactly the opposite.
In other words, my subjectivity has caused a fog to roll in before we even begin talking. As usual, my subjectivity is quite subjective indeed. And someone is going to wonder why I never really got around to addressing my stated topic.
It is a tricky path. Volumes have been written, but we continue to have polarized opinions. We Christians have never been very good at having conversations about human sexuality.
But, once again, Easter is approaching, when all things are new, and it is a very good time to begin having real and open dialogue.