What is it with the Church and relationship talk? It seems as though relationships are the focus of nearly all evangelical events and resources for those in their 20s. We’re stuck in a relationships rut. And when I say relationships, what I really mean is sex.
‘But it’s relevant,’ I hear you say. Yes, it’s often more relevant than talking about other topics like mortgages or parenting but it seems to me that we spend an inordinate amount of time discussing sex when there are many other subjects that deserve the same, if not more, time and attention.
My concern is twofold.
First, that we have succumbed to society’s value of sex: the view that it is the most important thing and if you’re not having it then there has to be some plan of having some in the future.
And second, our attitude towards sex has become the defining feature of young Christians. I’ll unpack these concerns.
Within the evangelical wing of the Church we rarely talk about celibacy. Instead we discuss ‘waiting until marriage’; these two things are subtly different. Celibacy is in many ways self-contained. Be it for a lifetime or a season, celibacy is an end in and of itself. It is defined by what it is, not by what it isn’t. The very phrase ‘waiting until marriage’ is impatient; it is unfulfilled. Perhaps this is why we feel the need to harangue single members of the Church about their plans for the future. Like the society we live in, it’s near impossible for us to imagine that a person can be fulfilled without sex. This is most probably not helped by a lack of single role models in the Church’s leadership.
We fail to provide a fulfilling alternative to a life with sex even though this is the main identifier of young Christians on campus or in the workplace. We assume that at some point everyone will get married and be having plenty of sex. Perhaps it is our very Protestantism that makes a life of celibacy such a difficult topic. Young Catholics are surrounded by religious adults (priests, monks and nuns) who have solemnly committed to a permanent celibate life. Although they make up the minority within the Church, they are a visible sign of an alternative and counter-cultural lifestyle. It is not just in our lack of celibate religious people within the Protestant tradition; many of us are so Bible-focused that we forget to draw upon the wealth of experience found in the Church’s history.
Perhaps we could spend some more time looking at how celibacy affected the prayer lives of godly men and women in the past? In doing so, we could shift the focus away from the lack of sex to the unique affects a celibate lifestyle can have on a person’s spirituality. This takes the focus away from sex and back to God.
What I want to ask is: ‘Are we okay for our views on sex to be our defining feature?’ When our peers think of Christians, is this the first thought we want to come to mind? Of course not! We want our lives to point to Jesus! Let’s put society’s focus back on him.
Jesus didn’t have sex but I am yet to hear him primarily described as a celibate man. Instead, he is Redeemer, Healer, Lover.
Of course we should discuss the importance and value of sex and this will undoubtedly cause a stir as it counter-cultural. But I’d prefer for society’s defining feature of Christians to be Redeemed, Healed; both loved and those who love.