Sex, the Church, and Miss California: Hyper-romantic Notions of Sexuality

meatcutsTo try to get a sense of what David Fitch is saying in his article, I figure I should sort through the summary points he makes at the end —

I believe we need to become the kind of community that

a.) does not indulge hyper romanticist notions of sexuality that objectifies sexual attraction as the basis of heterosexual marriage,

b.) quits disembodying sexuality in the way we do whenever we make the Bible into moral propositions that should be enforced instead of a narrative world to be shaped and directed towards so as to live into.

c.) worships in a way that orders desires towards God and away from narcissism (feel-good pep-rallies), for any other kind of worship cannot train us out of our narcissistic obsessions with sex.

d.) stops acting like heterosexual marriage and sex itself are absolutely essential for a fulfilling Christian life. We should elevate celibacy/singleness as a vocation, testifying that sexual drive and all desire needs to be sub-ordered to God’s purpose and mission for anything remotely fulfilling to take place in our lives.

e.) loves and nurtures the hurting souls and bruised lost ones who seriously desire to be shown another way but are too consumed at this moment to see anything else.

Indulging hyper romanticist notions of sexuality that objectifies sexual attraction as the basis of heterosexual marriage

Hmm … Lots of long words. Let’s see: “sexual attraction as the basis of heterosexual marriage.” What’s wrong with that?

In my opinion, most evangelicals date and marry much like the rest of society, where an unexamined sexualized attraction is a guiding factor. We teach that lust before marriage is bad, yet lust after marriage is good (implicitly). In our practice of salvation, there is no formation of desire to be integrated and developed into a narrative of self-giving love and commitment to mutuality, self giving and procreation over time in marriage.

If I get Fitch, his point is that marriage must be about much more than having the hots for your future spouse. It should be about commitment to a mutual, self-giving relationship pointed toward procreation. Is that right?

Many argue from 1 Cor 7 that marriage is all about sex —

(1 Cor 7:8-9)  Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

And make no mistake, sex is a big part of marriage. But is marriage about sex? We have to see the rest of what Paul says on the subject —

(Eph 5:21-33)  Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Notice just a few things. First, the theme sentence is found in v. 21. It’s about mutual submission — out of reverence for Christ. The big debate nowadays is over the mutuality of submission, but Fitch would argue, I think, that the larger point is the “out of reverence for Christ.” We teach newlyweds — typically during the wedding — that Christ is a party to the wedding covenant, but we usually teach that as a means of arguing that the covenant is unbreakable. But that’s not Paul’s point here. Rather, Paul is arguing that because we are Christians, our marriages should be different.

Let’s go back to the Blue Parakeet lessons from the spring. The narrative of scripture is that God made Adam and Eve to be one flesh and united, in intimate relationship with one another and with God, who walked with them in the Garden. Jesus came came to restore us back to Eden. And for marriages, that means being united with our spouses. Obviously, sex is a part of “one flesh,” but so “flesh of my flesh,” that is, recognizing that we have been made one by God.

So what is God’s remedy for the injury done to marriage by the Fall in Genesis 3? “Submit to one another.” How?

Wives submit to their husbands as the church submits to the Messiah. How? By learning to love as Jesus loves and being on mission as Jesus was on mission. The church never has to submit to abuse or neglect by Jesus. That’s not the submission Paul has in mind. The submission is in letting God change our hearts so we can love selflessly and unconditionally as God loves.

Husbands love their wives “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” This language recalls an earlier passage in the same chapter —

(Eph 5:1-2)  Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Paul again defines “love” by reference to Jesus’ sacrifice — his death on the cross. To given oneself up is to give up everything. It’s utter selflessness. A similar passage is —

(Phil 2:5-8)  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death — even death on a cross!

The role of the husband is to give up his throne, as Jesus did, and become a servant.

Now, at another time and place we argue whether Paul is speaking of equality or mutuality or complementarianism or whatever. He is certainly not arguing for domination or for husbands to have the tie-breaking vote. He’s telling husband to give themselves up for their wives, which is quite a different thing indeed.

So what does this have to do with lust and sex? Well, if you marry your wife or husband because she or he is sexually stimulating, then you are marrying for selfish reasons. When her or his looks go, what’s left? Marriage based on sexual attraction is not a Christian marriage.

Does that mean it’s wrong to find your wife sexually appealing? No, I don’t think so. It means that if sexual attraction is at the center of your relationship, you’ve messed up.

And it tells you how to have a truly great sex life — by serving your spouse. If you derive your greatest pleasure from pleasing your husband or wife, you are well on your way — so long as this is from a healthy self-respect and love, not from a low self-esteem and desire to compensate by seeking praise from your spouse. Again, that’s selfish. You must seek your spouse’s pleasure, not praise.

[continued]

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2 Responses

  1. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body* in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God.” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, NIV)

    The footnote is actually a better translation than the text. The footnote reads, “learn to live with his own wife” or “learn to acquire a wife.”

    This text strongly supports the above conclusions. Even the marriage bed is not to be given to selfish, passionate lusts in which one person takes advantage of another.

    There is something holy about the marriage bed that brings God into the relationship instead of the Playboy Philosophy.

  2. […] narrative (or story) is a tough one, but we’ve already addressed a large part of it in the post on hyper-romantic notions of sexuality. Let me see if I can expand just a bit on that. You see, here’s the story […]

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