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Sex, Marriage, and the Church

In last week’s post—Can the Church Still Be Relevant—I wrote about how the Church needs to contextualize the Christian faith in 21st century terms if it wants to stay relevant. This week, I want to begin fleshing out what that might look like through a series of posts titled, Sex, Marriage, and the Church.

Sex is a popular subject these days. Television shows like Sex in the City and movies like Pleasantville have brought sex out of the dark and into the light of mainstream culture. What was once a utilitarian act performed for the sake of begetting children is now a recreational activity for everyone (over the age of 18) to discuss, explore, and enjoy. In response to this sexual revolution what is the Church supposed to say? What is the Church supposed to do?

Here’s what the Church is saying: “Don’t have sex outside of marriage, and if you are having sex outside of marriage, stop it.” And here’s what the Church is doing: nothing. The Church’s commentary on sex hasn’t changed or progressed in 2,000 years, and in what appears to be a losing battle, the church is doing less and less to address this epidemic. It’s remarkable to think that instead of engaging one of the most important social and moral issues of our time, the Church occasionally whispers, “You shouldn’t do that,” and has turned a blind eye to sexual promiscuity, except, of course, in the case of homosexual relations.

So what is the Church supposed to do? Should the Church take a stronger position on abstinence and discipline those having sex outside of marriage? Should the Church go in the opposite direction and somehow try to reconcile traditional beliefs with the values of our current culture? Or should the Church mind its own business by continuing its current “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

As I mentioned last week, being relevant is not about defending your theology or changing your doctrine; being relevant is about explaining your beliefs in a way that connects with people and the world in which they live. In today’s world, most adults are having sex, most couples engage in intercourse before marriage, and most individuals lose their virginity long before their wedding day. For a priest or a pastor to stand in front of a congregation and say, “Don’t have sex,” is like a principal telling a group of children in detention, “Don’t get in trouble.” It’s too late, it’s already happened. At that point, what people need is a relevant message to help them deal with what’s already been done.

On the issue of sex, the Church doesn’t need to change its position, but it better have more to say about sex outside of marriage than, “Stop it.” The Church needs to reclaim sex—it needs to educate people about how this most intimate of acts transcends physical gratification—and the Church needs to explain how every sexual encounter binds two people together forever. You see, being relevant is about meeting people where they are, in the world in which they live, with a message that has real-life implications. The Church needs to be talking about sex in a relevant way, which is what I’m trying to do in this series on sex, marriage, and the Church.

Join me next time as we look at sex in how it’s evolved From Procreation to Recreation.

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  1. Leon,

    Great article and I am looking forward to your next post! I would be interested in hearing more about how the church can “educate people.” What does it look like to talk about sex in a relevant way?

  2. Steve Marsh says:

    Good intro, although your opening line seems a little outdated, didn’t the sexual revolution start way before “sex in the city”? 😉 I’ve been giving this some thought and still really don’t know what to say to some of my christian friends and non believing friends that are living together, or just sleeping together. I would love to figure out a relevant way (more to figure out what is relevant) to discuss the positives and negatives of sex with others and my children (eventually, he is still only 10 months). looking forward to this discussion and your insights on it,

    • Steve, I look forward to our future interactions on this subject. And yes, the sexual revolution started way before “Sex in the City.” For the sake of clarity, my reference to that show wasn’t intended to mark the beginning of the sexual revolution, but to illustrate how far the sexual revolution has come — casual sex is now accepted in our culture as a natural and normal part of life. Sorry for the confusion. (I know I’m getting old, but I’m not that out of touch with reality, at least I don’t think I am. ;))

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