Theology of sex

A recent post on fornication and adultery has generated some interesting comments and commentary in other places, but reading the responses reveals that I was not careful enough in making one of my points. So, I will try again by asking a question.

Does God care what we do with our genitals?

Much of our conversation about sex in the church acts as if such a question is beside the point. Our sexual theology tends to devolve into sexual ethics. We talk a great deal about sexual behaviors as “bad” if they hurt us or hurt others and indifferent or “good” if they do not. We take a “first do no harm” approach but measure harm entirely in social, physical, and emotional terms. Or frame of reference is human and only human.

Of course, theology is concerned with how humans treat other humans. But it is concerned with human relations within the wider context of the relationship between Creator and creature. We tend to ignore the context when we talk about sex.

This, I asserted without much argument, is why most people condemn adultery — although in our culture we commonly have movies or other entertainment that suggest adultery can be redemptive or healing — but find fornication much less objectionable. We might worry about “the risks” of pre-marital or promiscuous sex, but absent any harm to people, we see it as natural, good, healthy, and part of who we are as people.

What I struggle with in this conversation is the absence of reference to God.

Many resist the use of biblical injunctions on sexual behavior to guide our theology, which is why in matters sexual we become atheistic. We end up with no theology of sex because absent Scripture and tradition we are left without any materials from which to construct a theological understanding of sex.

The oddity of this, of course, is that the Bible seems to deal a great deal with sex. It deals with it in conflicting ways at times, true, but to judge from Scripture, God cares. Shouldn’t we?


5 thoughts on “Theology of sex

  1. I’m always surprised by the lack of awareness of John Paul’s philosophical/theological work on this problem. It’s sometimes referred to as the “theology of the body” and is most fully presented in the book Love and Responsibility. In this work he thoroughly integrates sexuality in its many forms and manifestations into a theological and scriptural context.

  2. I was going to comment along similar lines as Frank, and while I have not the former Pope’s work, I understand the RCC has a very thorough and consistent theology of sex. It leads them to some conclusions that I think UMCers would have a hard time with, regarding birth control, etc., but I think it has the advantage of being quite internally consistent and faithful interpretation of Scriptures. My point is, I think, the same as Frank’s – some Christians have a real theology of sex, but most mainline Protestants are not in that category.

  3. Thanks for your thoughts Larry. I’m not Methodist but I do wonder about and care for those in the faith. Why not discuss sex? Why are there just two of us talking about this blog, and, did you notice, neither of us answered John’s final question. We just agreed with him. My home church–Episcopal–treats the topic similarly. If you run into something that is not Biblical you just ignore the Biblical admonitions, guidance, whatever, and plow ahead with what feels like the right thing to do. In my experience it makes for poor theology and declining membership but a self-righteous feeling clergy. Methodists speak up, confront the difficult issues!

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