July 17, 2013

The Missional Position: What is sex for?

What is sex for? Well, most of you don’t need me to tell you what it’s for. You know for yourself what it’s for…

In my first post, I wrote a simple sentence: Sex is complicated. In the comments of that post Steve Knight reminded us that there’s a lot packaged in the word “sex.” Well, we all knew that didn’t we? Each of us realizes that in middle school, during those awkward human development classes: sex is not just gross anymore… it’s complicated!

But Steve is right. We ought to start with some definition. When I write “sex” as I have so far, I am purposefully using that term to capture all things concerning sexual identity, ethics, intercourse and gender. That's a lot! It gets complicated really fast, doesn't it? I guess part of this conversation is recognizing that.

During my years of being a Christian leader, I’ve discovered an even more complex perspective on sexuality as I’ve prayed with, listened to and counseled a number of folks regarding their sex lives. Sex is a unique experience for each and everyone one of us. In that perspective, David Fitch is right to say that to be truly missional regarding sex issues, the church works out these things locally–personally.

Christian's discern the local through how we read Scripture (I've written about that here). Generally speaking, conservative, evangelical and Roman Catholic Christian groups have done a much better job of defending their position on these issues through Scripture than their liberal counterparts. Nonetheless, starting with Genesis and on through the Old Testament, what is sex for?

It is not difficult to determine what sex is for: Companionship and procreation.

In Scripture, sexual intercourse exists for the sake of childbearing. Not love or romance. Not for sexual gratification. With the exception of the Song of Songs and a few select passages within the New Testament, the main intent of sexual intercourse is procreation.

To begin a conversation on sexuality of any sort we have to come to terms with this:

Modern, western Christianity does not–generally speaking–share this perspective with Scripture.

Certainly, we know that heterosexual intercourse is how procreation happens (Though, those crazy scientist keep pushing that envelope!). But there remain few Christian traditions that advocate for a sexual relationship between two partners for the sake of child bearing alone. Rather, most will advocate mutual gratification within a monogamous companionship acknowledged by the Church.

It is often argued that those Christians that support same-sex unions lean towards cultural compliance rather than biblical reliance (That rhymed!). If most of us agree that intercourse is for more than procreation, then to be fair, all of us are guilty of significant cultural influence, especially as it relates to sex.

Could it be that God is okay with this? I think so.

The world is a much different place than when Scripture was written. In a world facing over population–where we struggle to feed and love many of our motherless and fatherless children, shouldn’t sex be for something more than just procreation?

Throughout Scripture there were cultural, sexual practices that we would not condone today. Though they were completely acceptable in the era within which Scripture was written. Few were monogamous. Women were possessions. When passionate sexual encounters do occur in Scripture they often coincide with inhuman, even malicious treatment of others (And I’m not just thinking of Sodom and Gomorrah, in fact David and Bathsheba is what first came to mind).

I mention all of this to make clear that cultural influences are at work in Scripture and today. They don’t always coincide with each other. Neither side of the same-sex issue is innocent of this. I hope we can all agree that this is okay. So, if we can see that from the beginning culture and Scripture work together to inform all our views and opinions on sex, where do we go next?

I'll get into that a bit next time. Until then, sound off in the comments.