In our last post we referenced a discussion of sexual ethics with our middle-school group at church. We acknowledged the weirdness surrounding the topic, but admitted that it was caused not by sex itself, but by the strange, stunted way our culture deals with it. We also affirmed that scripture gives us ethical guidelines to deal with sexuality, but these tend to be more global ethics. The specific passages of scripture that most people think deal with sex tend to be limited and steeped in their historical context. We have perfectly good assertions about ethics that cover sexuality, but we don’t reference them when we talk about sex because we put sex in a separate category than everything else in our lives. This ends up in inadequate, sometimes terrible, discussions of sex and sexual ethics.
Sex and faith do belong in the same sentence. Sex is one of the ways in which human beings interact. Those interactions are meant to show love and goodness.
To find the deepest sexual ethics in scripture, we need to turn to the deepest words we can find about how to treat other people. We don’t have to look far to find examples of goodness towards our neighbors. These two saying from Jesus form the bedrock of everything we do, including sex.
Matthew 22: 34-40
34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
These are the two scriptures we shared with our middle-schoolers as the foundation of our sexual ethics discussion. We first asked, “What does it mean to treat another person well?” The answers seem to be loving them as you love yourself, seeing love of the neighbor as an extension of godly love, and treating them as you’d like to be treated.
Then we asked how those statements would apply to sex and all the things that go into it. We talked about viewing other people as human beings, not just objects. We talked about being able to hear “yes” and “no” and feel healthy about either. We talked about using words that affirm and speaking things that are honest and true. We talked deeply about enthusiastic consent, and that relationships that aren’t right for everyone involved aren’t right, period.
At no time did we say or imply that sex and sexual desire are wrong. We did talk about making sure that sex was healthy, good, and fully joyous for all participants. We talked about how power imbalances, inebriation, or inhibitions make it impossible to have that surety. We also talked about how it’s difficult to be sure at younger ages, and how waiting to engage in sex is smarter, not because sex is bad or mysterious, but because it’s only right when it’s healthy. Finally, we talked about the dangers of abuse, and how that can happen either in families and marriages or outside.
Viewing sexual ethics as part of our larger ethical framework helped us talk about these things in an easier, healthier, and I hope more productive way. I believe there’s a larger call among us to discuss these things, weaving together sexuality and faith instead of keeping them separate, torn apart by our cultural obsessions and shame. I hope all of us, adults and teens, can have more of these conversations, and have them in a better way.