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An essay donated by Dean Akrill

Church and Sexuality:
A very turbulent relationshipÖ.

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Sponsored link.


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Sex! The world is full of it; it sells everything from shoes to cars. Itís plastered all over the Internet and the sexual awareness of our children seems to come at an ever younger age. For years the Church and other "defenders of moral integrity" have warned about the potential dangers of cheapening an intensely personal and fundamental part of human experience. The Church has often (justifiably) accused much of the media of being obsessed with sex, but in recent months the tables have been turned, with large sections of the media making fun of the Church for its own obsession with sex; a clear case of the pot calling the kettle black! For many people the split within the Church over same-sex relationships is hard to understand.

Sexuality is a deeply personal issue. Whenever the subject arises it provokes strong feelings from people with all points of view. I know homosexual friends (at least one of whom is a committed Christian) who have been deeply hurt by the Churchís rejection of what they believe to be their God-given sexual identity. At the same time, other people have been perplexed by what they perceive to be a rejection of traditional biblical teaching when same-sex relationships are felt to be affirmed from within the Church. Itís a tricky situation, with people on both sides of the debate feeling deeply disillusioned by the Church.

So, what is the Churchís teaching on sexuality? It largely depends on who you choose to listen to! You might think that a definitive Christian perspective on sexuality can be gained from the Bible; however, this is not as straightforward as it might seem. The gospels tell us very little about Jesusí attitude to sex; although he was keen that people be honest to themselves and to each other, hence his concerns about adultery. Most of Jesusí more radical teachings were concerned with gaining personal, social and spiritual freedom by embracing the ethic of love. St. Paulís letters to the early Church speak a lot about Paulís own view, but his teaching bears little resemblance to modern day Christian thoughts concerning sexual relationships. Paul essentially thought that sex was unnecessary except for those so weak that they had to marry to give in to the urge!. Imagine saying that in a family service! Much of Paulís thinking was probably influenced by a belief that the "end of the world" was to take place within his lifetime, he was very much a man of his own time and culture, although there are great spiritual treasures to be found in his writing.

For those seeking some mention of homosexual relationships in the Bible, the most obvious place to look is in the Old Testament, particularly in the book of Leviticus. This book sets out a series of laws and practices which were to be observed by its Jewish readership. The priests of this time were very clear as to what they thought about homosexuality:

"If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination. They shall be put to death, their blood is upon them" (Leviticus 20:13)

Strong words indeed! So, does this mean that homosexuality is inherently sinful and against the divine order of things? Well, it might do, but we have to be careful when reading the Bible so to take into account the social and historical context in which it was written. The book of Leviticus also forbids you to cut the hair on the sides of your head, and warns about the perils of wearing clothing made from mixed fibers; so from this we could conclude that those of us who wear nylon/ wool mix socks are in danger of losing our mortal souls! Hardly issues which vex the modern Church. More crucially, much of Jesusí anger was directed at those whose observance of these laws led to a lack of compassion and the exclusion of people different from themselves. Something we could do well to remember when we examine our own attitudes.

The Bible is the foundation of the Christian faith; within its pages are profound insights as to the nature of God. But we need to be very careful as to how we use it and we should never lose sight of the fact that it was written by people from a very different world to our own. Much of what we read is deeply unsettling, and is indefensible in our own society; in the book of Numbers Moses appears to condone the murder of Midianite children and the rape of "young girls who have not known a man" (Numbers 31.18) Hardly a reliable guide to sexual morality, and a profound contradiction of Jesusí gospel of love.

Whatever our beliefs regarding sexuality it is this Gospel of Love which we should hold within our hearts if we are to remain true to the Christian ethos. There has been much bullying from within the institutional Church whenever the subject of sexuality has arisen, a situation which has prompted understandable derision from much of the wider society and has caused many such as myself to question their involvement with the Church. Just over two thousand years ago Jesus Christ began a radical movement in which peopleís individuality and freedom were paramount; Jesus questioned conventional wisdom regarding ritual and identity, and he sought to affirm those who felt excluded. Jesus had a way of recognizing the divine within all people, and was concerned primarily with wholeness; he was concerned that people should be whole people, and be recognized as such. In the spirit of Christís teaching I personally believe that a truly progressive Church should be inclusive of all people, whatever their sexuality, so that we can provide a spiritual home for a variety of people in an increasingly diverse society. In respect of this, I feel it necessary to promote a truly broad church which is able to hold a diversity of views and traditions, or else I fear it runs the risk of becoming completely irrelevant to all but a select few; with the danger of the mainstream Church becoming a narrow cult instead of the diverse church which has served people for so long.

The power of the sexual urge is essential to our humanity and a deep part of who we are as people born in the image of God. Whatever our views we shall never be a whole people or a whole church unless our sexuality is celebrated and affirmed from within the Church walls. Its needs to be done prayerfully, and sensitively of course, but thatís not the same as being obsessed with sexÖ

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Originally posted: 2008-JAN-15
Latest update: 2008-JAN-15
Author:  Dean Akrill

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