Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Christians Behaving Badly...

It's all over the news these days. Google "Catholic" and "abuse" and you'll find more than enough reading material to sadden, anger, and sicken you for days. What you won't find is much of an analysis regarding the why of this tragedy. Protestants will glibly declare that the problem is the doctrine of celibacy, conveniently turning a blind eye towards the grave failures in our own camp.

Let's forget about celibacy for a minute and look at this through a different lens. At the risk of oversimplifying things, and realizing that there are complexities in each human heart and situation, I suggest that there's are several deep truths we must consider:

1. form without power is worse than nothing at all. Paul addresses the church in Corinth, warning them that they're headed down a path that will eventually be very ugly if not checked. His warning in I Corinthians 4 is that "God words" are deeply destructive when they're not coupled with God's genuine power of transformation. This is because, as history shows us, the forms of the faith can be perpetuated long after God has left the building (see Ez 10:18). When this happens, you'll have institutional structures used to feed the only appetite left in some individuals, namely our flesh.

2. our culture has a terrible double standard with respect to sexuality. We appropriately decry sexual abuse, and the use of power to dominate others sexually. We also rage against the objectification of women. At the same time, we mock abstinence as some unattainable ideal, treat sexual expression as just another form of recreation, like playing tennis, and use sex and objectified women to sell everything from soda pop to cars. These realities aren't offered as license for religious professionals to be abusive. The call for self-control runs throughout the Bible, and the danger of allowing ourselves to live by our appetites is clear. But perhaps we as a culture shouldn't be surprised that, having declared two messages at the same time, a large percentage of the populace, including people with power, have chosen the low road of allowing our appetites to govern our behavior. It affects everything from shopping, to eating, to sexuality.

There are no doubt other contributing factors. Feel free to share your thoughts. But whatever the reason, the church is in the news once again for all the wrong reasons. Once again, we're not "as bad" as the surrounding culture. We're worse. That's nothing new. We who serve as leaders would do well to call our own lives, and our communities to a sense of dependence on God's power for our transformation, and sense of commitment to God's ethics in every area... including our sexuality.


At 20/5/09 13:01, Blogger Donte said...

I don’t necessarily agree that our culture has a double standard about sexuality as you described. I think it’s totally possible to believe that consensual recreational sex is okay, yet vehemently oppose sexual abuse and misogyny. One could privately engage in recreational sex and object sexual abuse and public expressions of misogyny. I don’t really see a tension there. That being said, I believe that abstinence and self control should continue to be preached as God’s ideal standard. This is certainly the message I will preach to my daughter. I will preach this message with a heart full of grace; understanding that even if she fails God will love her still.

At 20/5/09 13:40, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

I completely agree with the 'heart of grace' issue surrounding our failures. This must underpin everything. We declare an ideal, and also recognize we're on a transformative journey which we'll never finish.

On the other hand, I see a common thread between casual consensual sex and sexual abuse because both are rooted in a failure to subjugate our desires, limiting their expression to a particular context. While one can argue about the ethics of consenting adults in the privacy of their bedroom, God seems indicates that sexual expressions are best expressed in covenant relationships. When I pick and choose other contexts, it seems that I've elevated my longings and appetites to a place where they're driving my behavior. This, it seems, is at the root of both issues.

At 20/5/09 14:07, Blogger Kevin said...

Perhaps, Richard, the subjugation of desire is what is truly the problem, not our ability or inability to do so. Our sexuality, although commonly expressed through the creaturely act of sexual intercourse, works less in response to physical needs than it does spiritual. Sharing in the the same divine nature as the Holy Spirit (expressing the character of God), our sexuality cannot be controlled, cannot be subjugated. Just as the Holy Spirit moves like the wind and is beyond our ability to grasp and encapsulate, the dynamism and power of our sexuality often provokes similar fears. There are those who would shrink back from that power, afraid that to hold it is to be burned by it, and in doing so embrace an ethic of sexual recklessness that leads only to their physical, spiritual, and emotional detriment; conversely, there are those that in holding would seek to tame that power, seek to control and subjugate it, ultimately finding its uncontainable nature breaking through in moments of sexual abuse, to themselves and to others.

Sexuality is about more than sex, however. Sex is only what our sexuality does, but it is not its purpose. Our sexuality is one of the ways through which our desires (yes, even our appetites) are expressed. Were we to take the time to understand our desires, we would find that our behaviors become less about lowering or elevating them and more about finding healthy ways to meet those desires. The problem in both cases--irresponsible celibacy and sexual recklessness--is that those involved do not understand what it is that they really want, and thus are incapable of of meeting that desire in a way that honors themselves and God.

At 27/5/09 18:45, Blogger ryan said...

I wonder about the relationship between loneliness and sexual sin. It seems that much of sexual desire is much larger than a feeling; it has to do with a sense of belonging and knowing, it is a piece to knowing the fullness of a person in an intimate way. And when there is loneliness and separation in a person, whether between themselves and god, themselves and a spouse, or even just a dis-ease with self, misguided sexuality can be an attractive medication, an attempt to find fullness. Clearly this leaves one empty and unsatisfied; and yet, as with consumerism, alcoholism, and other addictions, its allure remains.

And if this is true, I wonder how is loneliness avoided? How do we, as Nouwen puts it, convert our loneliness (negative) to solitude to with god (postive)? In regards to people, our culture is moving away from face to face interaction and true relationship, and jumping on board with twitter, facebook, myspace, fill in the blank. And through our connectedness lose true relationship with those physically around us. So, we're lonely, longing for real connection with others and with God. Enter sexual sin...? Thoughts?

At 28/5/09 09:10, Blogger Kevin said...

I think you've nailed it on the head. Sexuality is ultimately the desire for connection and intimacy, a desire to be reconciled to God which is beyond our ability to fulfill. This inability to reconcile ourselves, this distance from the ground of our being, is the heart of loneliness. Unlike Nouwen, though, I don't think that there's any need to distinguish between loneliness and solitude; loneliness is characterized, in a large part, as being a state of solitude and isolation (I sometimes wonder if Nouwen was trying to put a pious spin on an ugly reality, getting us to swallow a bitter pill through a simple semantic shift). Nor do I believe that loneliness should be avoided. The more that we seek to avoid that which is intrinsic to our existence, the more that we will fall pray to medicating and soothing the pain of that existence. This soothing is not always accomplished in ways that we, as Christians, would deem to be sinful; we seem to have far more issue with the person who soothes themselves through sex than we do the person that works 80 hour weeks. Even what might outwardly seem to be a life of prayerful devotion to God might in truth be one that exists solely to insulate the individual from the reality of loneliness.

At 28/5/09 15:18, Blogger ryan said...

I really like your thoughts regarding loneliness and think you articulated important aspects of loneliness and our response to it, whether through misguided sexuality, avoiding our loneliness, etc. As I re-read my post I see how it sounds like the goal is "loneliness avoidance," which certainly shouldn't be the goal. Much of the intimacy of my relationship with the lord has come through the lonely and isolated periods in my life. Where the goodness of Nouwen's semantic shift, if that's what it is, is that it allows for a different perspective on a common (and necessary) human emotion and place, giving it hope and purpose rather than despair and anguish. So yes, by trying to totally avoid something that is natural to the human experience certainly can lead to self-medication, but re-naming something to better understand it has value. And so, with regards to mis-guided sexuality, loneliness that is not appropriately viewed/understood can lead us to destructive responses. I like your thoughts!


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