There really is no place to escape from the reality of the subject of human sexuality in our experience, or to seek to duck it … because it is delicate, enormously complex, and replete with landmines. But the recent news of the enormous scandal of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church in Pennsylvania makes it inescapable, … not to mention the “me too” expose’s in the media industry. It is not new, nor hidden, nor is it only a Roman Catholic problem. (Buried in most traditional church budgets is a huge insurance item to protect against sexual assault lawsuits.)

A big part of the problem is that we seek to deal with the issue by making it non-discussable. One of my good friends offered her boys this word as they entered puberty: “Boys, you don’t lose your hormones when you’re born again.” Right on. Or, as some secularists state it: Humans are hardwired to reproduce their gene pool into the next generation. Sexuality is an enormous drive in most healthy men and women. Some, to be sure, are happily able to live chaste single lives focusing on some other compelling and challenging goal. But the stimuli are all around us: web sites, most good novels, television shows (case in point: Desperate Housewives of a few years ago), daily newspapers, and on and on ….

It certainly was not new nor un-discussable to the New Testament writers. Paul (who evidently was single) would write to the Christians in Thessalonica that the will of God for their sanctification was that they should abstain from fornication (casual hook-ups). That didn’t say that they weren’t tempted. Then he told those who were ‘hot’ but struggling with a desire to remain single that it was better for them to marry than to burn. He also warned those who were part of God’s New Creation people that they should not make their members to be the members of a harlot. Some of those guidelines were given to the church in Corinth, which was a seaport town and notorious for its sexual industry.

In many of those ancient cultures brothels were a flourishing industry, so that any sexually hungry guy or girl could go to the neighborhood brothel and enter a context of lurid illustrations on the wall, and be serviced. This is the reality. Paul is not denying the reality of the sexual desire, rather, he is calling for wholesome sexual reality and discipline.

Somehow, for the church to make celibacy to be a requirement for the priesthood, seems to me, to be unrealistic and dishonest about the reality of the gift and design of human sexuality. If, out of one’s zeal to serve the Lord as a young person, one takes such a vow it doesn’t make him or her lose their hormones. What it does is to make them incredibly temptable. It denies them the ability to be models of true marital sexuality and family creation, (… but I’ll have to leave that to Pope Francis). Tradition has it that when Francis of Assisi was in his early career in forming a new order, that one of his young disciples confessed to Francis that he was still in love with the girl whom he had known before joining Francis. Francis encouraged him to leave the order without guilt and to marry her, that such was no sin. That’s reality.

Artificial solutions, or the ignoring of the realities of God’s design for such a powerful motivation as human sexuality, only shoves the issue out of sight, but not out of reality. It doesn’t resolve it. God intends human sexuality to be beautiful, to restore intimacy of faithful relationships and to produce family communities that demonstrate his reconciling and recreating design.

That’s just treading the fringe of a huge and inescapable issue. My purpose is to bring it out into the sunshine and look for honest and wholesome expressions of God’s design in creating us as sexual creatures. (God also does not countenance our exploiting or abusing others sexually.)

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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