[Photo credit: ME. Rainbow over a church men’s retreat in the Black Hills of South Dakota. No, we were all straight.]
OK, fair warning: coarse language in the upcoming movie quote. I’ve taken out some letters but that’s just cosmetic – your mind will fill in the blanks:
Do you think God gives a damn? War. Famine. Disaster. Millions slaughtering each other. With all these things on his mind, do you really think God gives a damn… about what men do with their d***s? ( Priest, 1994, Screenplay by Jimmy McGovern, nominee for BAFTA Best British Film Award )
The lines are delivered via a Roman Catholic priest’s homily in defense of his recently outed gay assistant. The senior cleric is shamed by his own hypocrisy, enjoying straight sex with his housekeeper while the church denies sexual pleasure to the junior cleric. The gay priest has been busy saving a parish girl from her sexually abusive father (the scene in which he hurls the situation at Christ in prayer and gets a terrible but real answer is worth seeing), so he’s clearly a good guy who deserves a sex life, too, especially in the film’s world where all heterosexual men are hypocrites, prigs and/or abusers.
The advocates of Christianized sexual self expression like the idea that God is more concerned with other stuff, especially great big political causey stuff. Why are people so upset that Johnny wants to use the girl’s locker room when the planet is only minutes away from ecological collapse?
Which is weird because they mount the simultaneous argument that God creates and blesses sexual self expression and that human life borders on meaningless without it:
I won’t deny that there are fair criticisms of the churches for centuries of strict and even lethal approaches to, say, same sex relationships while straining like a Twister player to legitimate serial marriage for monarchs, movies stars and ultimately the whole biologically straight but morally bent majority.
Recent church fights degenerated into obsession about sex acts and precious liturgies. There was little discussion of simple affection and the day to day realities of how we all find comfort in relationships in which sex is just one component that diminishes over time.
Man, I don’t want to get into TMI territory here but I’m in my 60s now, with a 30th wedding anniversary on the way. Wish I could write about how everything is the same as it was decades ago, but it is not. I’m not the same bundle of physical vitality, emotional need and cultural assumptions that I was in my teen, young adult and child raising years. Not dead, either. Just different and descending gently, at this point, into the shorter, terminal years of my life.
It’s hard to type that – I sense that the world is like a nasty schoolyard on which I’m subjecting myself to the posturing and bullying of those who will claim no changes in their sexual prowess over the years. Guys have the legend of Hugh Hefner; women have their factory rebuilt show biz types; all have reassurance that everything is fine with the cool kids. I can only imagine the comments to which my uncool paragraph above will be vulnerable on social media.
But taking a deep breath I realize that schoolyard braggadocio is mostly myth. There’s a reason that blue pills and lubricants are so widely and publicly marketed. (Yeah, I know. Millions of people only buy them for a friend. Everybody’s fine). There are lots of aging people, especially in my baby boomer generation, for whom quick access to sex acts was a shortcut to claims of intimacy and relationship ; today that quick access is gone unless real intimacy and relationship are in place through years of shared effort and commitment. God is not mocked.
I agree with Scripture, through which God does express concern about what we do with our body parts, rather than the glib lines of the movie sermon. I Corinthians 6:12-20 is a helpful passage, for what it says literally and specifically and for its comparison of sex and food that connects right to the words of Christ:
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
The bit about our finite food and digestive tract bridges to what Jesus said when he overturned religious food taboos,
And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:18-23, emphasis added.)
Indeed, the Apostolic witness of Paul flows right out of the red letter word of Christ. (Paul, writing earlier than Mark, had received the teachings of Christ by hearing and in 1 Corinthians 6, as in many other passages, they clearly inform the Apostle’s letters). Our identity must not be hitched to the dying things of our fallen world, or they will drag us down the drain with them.
Sexual identity, like a meal, is a finite thing. Yes, there’s giddy fascination in getting it ready, intoxicating enjoyment while we’re into it, and a wonderful afterglow that demands, well, I like port (here I affirm choice). But if we are honest, we experience the dying of sexual identity now, in the flesh, albeit more subtly and slowly than the digestion and elimination of a meal.
The difference is that God doesn’t care about food (except that those without have it provided), but does care about our sexual behavior. God knows its power to enthrall and gives us teaching on its sober limits, all the while reminding us that even sex according to Biblical standards is finite,
For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. (Red Letter Jesus, Matthew 22:30)
So when it comes to our sexual identity, Jesus affirms that it’s real, that it’s dying, and that by finding our identity in Him we don’t have to die with it.
This is why I remain with traditional church teaching on sexuality. It’s not about affirming some notion of normal vs. abnormal, or an argument about which Bible verses will make for your most happy life. Christians making traditional marriage a statistical metric of well being and Christians waving the rainbow flag verge into the prosperity gospel.
No, I stay with what God says through the Bible because it is reality. Sexual identity is finite. To sell it to others as the ueber-measure of fulfillment and happiness is to sell them a toxic product.
Even red letter Jesus affirms that.