What Isn’t Being Said About our Sexuality

This semester I am taking Theology of Sexuality with Dr. Hans Madueme and, as you would expect, the class has been great— so far. Both the teacher and the opinionated students (of whom I am a particularly vocal representative) are animated and engaged, and tackle the avalanche of class readings with gusto. The class has only met a few times and we have already run up against a whole variety of issues including (but not limited to): homosexuality, contraception, masturbation, and beastiality. Fun class.

We began with a review of the basic purposes of human sexuality derived from scripture, as presented in books by Robert Gagnon and Dennis Hollinger, respectively. These purposes are: unity, procreation, intimacy, and pleasure. I won’t go into detail about these here, but do yourself a favor and read the chapters yourself. They are a good review even if none of the concepts will strike you as particularly new. I especially enjoyed knowing how some of my classmates would squirm when they read words like “coitus.” However, I did have one problem with these two chapters— they seemed to miss the point.

Jumping right into a conversation about what sex is supposed to accomplish leaps over the more important question of why we have it in the first place. Sex itself is full of strange fluids, embarrassing transitions, and bizarre noises— it really makes you wonder if God qualifies as the true originator of slapstick. But I often wonder if the strangeness and awkwardness of sex is the key to understanding its deeper significance.

In a recent podcast episode on the ethics of sex, Bromleigh McCleneghan defined human sexuality as, “The physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual energy that permeates, influences, and colors our entire being and personality in its quest for love, communion, friendship, wholeness, self-perpetuation, and self-transcendence.”

While I do not agree with most of her conclusions about the ethics of sexuality, I did find this definition insightful. It explains why sex itself demands such an unparalleled level of vulnerability and transparency. It also moves our sexuality out of the context of heterosexual, monogamous marriage. It means that my sexuality is a part of every relationship I experience, e.g. father to son, son to father, uncle to niece and nephew, brother to sister, brother to brother, friend to friend.. etc. And, it is perhaps the most important area of my life in which my image bearing is played out. No wonder it is such a cultural battle ground and source of confusion and controversy.  

In class, Dr. Madueme mentioned that part of the reason that younger generations of Christians struggle to accept traditional evangelical definitions of sexuality is that we have been “out-narrated by the culture.” I wonder if part of the reason we have been out-narrated is because we are so concerned about creating a list of “dos” and “don’ts” that we have forgotten why God gave us our sexuality in the first place. So what would a more convincing and aesthetically appealing narrative look like? I think it would begin with a rejection of prudery as an affront to the goodness of God’s design, then go on to show how human sexuality is an integral and beneficial part of relational living.

I’m already sure that something in what I have written reveals my naivete, ignorance, or inherent biases, so don’t come down on me too hard. I also reserve the right to change my mind. By the end of this class I might believe something very different, but I at least hope to be asking the right questions.