I was browsing at the used bookstore recently and came across a book that looked pretty interesting. The first thing I noticed was the author. I am familiar with Lauren Winner, but have not had the privilege to read any of her work yet. So I pick up this book entitled, Real Sex: The naked truth about chastity. The book is written for single people, seeking to live out a very traditional, conservative, biblical view of sexuality in the world today.
Now, as a husband and father of two boys, I knew this book probably wasn’t for me personally, but going into my first pastorate, surely these conversations are going to come up so why not be prepared, right? Well, very quickly it became apparent that this book is for much more than just single Christians trying to “just say no” until marriage. The book is about embodying our sexuality as a spiritual practice, whether single, married, or otherwise.
I found myself really challenged about the false lies that the church often teaches in regards tp sexuality and how we have the tendency to drift toward a Gnostic view of the world (earthly flesh is bad, heavenly spirit is good). Likewise, there just seem to be some topics in the church that are off limits, creating barriers to our ability to create any authentic kind of community with one another.
Take this following excerpt as an example. Leading into this, Winner describes a couple of instances where fellow Christians simply lack the resources and vocabulary to discuss/confront one another with sexual sin. Even in a culture where sex is flaunted on television, movies, and magazines (not to mention in the clothing that is so pervasive today), Winner states that sex “may be public, but it is not communal.” We feel like we are intruding into someone’s private life if we confront them about what they do behind closed doors.
But the Bible tells us to intrude – or rather, the Bible tells us that talking to one another about what is really going on in our lives is in fact not an intrusion at all, because what is going on in my life is already your concern; by dint of the baptism that made me your sister, my joys are your joys and my crises are your crises. We are called to speak to one another lovingly, to be sure, and with edifying, rather than gossipy or hurtful goals. Of course, premarital sexual behavior is just one of many instances of this larger point. Christians also need to speak courageously and transparently, for example, about the seemingly private matters of Christian marriage – there would be, I suspect, a lot fewer divorces in the church if married Christians exposed their domestic lives, their fights and tensions and squabbles, to loving wisdom, advice, and sometimes rebuke from their community. Christians might claim less credit-card debt if small-group members share their bank account statements with one another. I suspect that if my best friend had permission to scrutinize my Day-timer, I would inhabit time better. Speaking to one another about our sexual selves is just one (admittedly risky) instance of a larger piece of Christian discipleship: being community with each other.
(Lauren Winner in Real Sex: The naked truth about chastity, p.53)
While there is a part of me that wants to cheer Winner’s suggestion, I do so hesitantly. I’m not a fan of church police roaming the streets, looking for sinners to confront. I’m not a huge fan of shari’a law, as some of our Muslim neighbors may advocate. Just tonight, there was a segment on Dateline about the now infamous Westboro Baptist Church and the way that they propagate a message of God’s hate for those that break their ultra-strict literal interpretation of the Bible. The sheer hatred in their message is enough to make me want to run.
At the same time, however, I don’t want a faith community that is all veneer either. I don’t want to spit-polish my life and show up on Sundays to parade around a pretend to be something I’m not, nor do I want anyone else to do that either. So how do we create and walk that third option? How do we begin to create a community that is honest and open about its life without becoming the “Bible Police” for its members? This is the kind of community my heart longs for, though I have to admit that it makes me a little nervous to think about being that transparent. As it has been said by a friend in the recovery community, we have to “pursue truth at all costs.” Maybe that is the beginning mantra for this new community of Christ-followers.
(As a side note, Lauren winner is going to be one the keynote speakers and presenters at the CBF General Assembly in Charlotte June 23-26. Click here for more information.)
Kim Huntley said:
It seems that the community you speak of is more easily found between two or three close friends, who can function as one anothers’ accountability partners in the areas of their lives in which they struggle, and can love one another despite sometimes painful honesty. The larger the group, the less detail we want to share, perhaps because we all struggle with the temptations inherent in knowing very private information about others, including the temptation to gossip, to judge, or to use others’ sins to rationalize our own, thus making humans our standard instead of Christ, who is THE standard.
God’s blessings to you and your family as you begin your ministry at Ecclesia.
Thanks for your response Kim. While I do agree with you that in practicality, this would work better in a small group, I’m not trying to talk about practicality here. Rather, I am trying to say that this would be the ideal in Christ that we should be striving for as His body (the Church). We may not be able to get there because of the exact points that you bring up, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. (Even the quote from the Winner’s book suggests doing this in a small group rather than church-wide.)
Maybe a good start would be small groups of 2-3 people being rigorously honest with one another. I would rejoice to see what God could do with even that kind REAL community. The problem is, even small groups (or individual friendships) like that are the exception and not the rule these days. Blessings.