Sex, Truth, and Erasing the Tapes.
Has anyone noticed how powerful sex is in our lives? Now this article is not so much about sex but about its consequences, especially in the life of the church. It begins however with the fundamental understanding that sex is powerful, that it is going on just about all the time, that it is what fills young minds and lingers long into old minds as well, it drives us into behavior and relationships, it creates family, complications, comfort and scandal. Sex is also avoided, denied, hidden, and undiscussed when it should be addressed. Sex is exploited, advertised, pimped, and drenches our media and entertainment. We are a society that, in my opinion, has diverging even mutually opposing ideas of sex and sexual behavior, sometimes in the same moment or the same situation. Of course a lot of this is not our conscious fault. Sex is a biological given and a divine mandate. “Multiply and replenish the earth” got the engine started and sin got in the transmission. Sin is our fault, and though we might admit it is inevitable it nonetheless makes us accountable. This notion of accountability is where we have differing views. Some makers and shapers of modern morality have decided that we cannot be accountable for sex, but as makers of modern technology we can protect ourselves from the physical and social consequences of it. We have created birth control, we have created abortion, we have created no fault divorce, and no shame out of wedlock pregnancy. Those makers and shapers of modern morality have sometimes meant well. They noticed the power of sex, they noticed the biological drive of young people, and they doubted the power of the community and the church to curtail it. Earlier in the twentieth century they noticed the failure of community and church in the individual exceptions, the notorious and scandalous moments of an unwanted pregnancy, and the saddness of unwanted children in orphanages, foster homes, and single parent homes. If they were human they knew their own thought life, their own illicit moments, their own lust, their own feelings of desperation, guilt, and shame. They didn’t like what they saw as consequences for themselves, their children, or the cost to society. Some of these folk who made decisions in earlier, not so distant past, generations, were in the church. They felt the censor, the public ridicule and snickering over young people who got caught doing something they knew they themselves wanted to do, and might have done if they could have gotten away with it. I was part of a generation that had to read “The Scarlet Letter” by Nathaniel Hawthorne. It seemed that the lesson they taught from that book was to condemn what secularists thought was puritancial morality and an unhealthy view of sex. Since sex was so universal in a sexed race and so powerful and so appealing, and seemingly so unavoidable, moralities that tended to circumscribe or deny it must be harmful and could only lead to hypocrisy. So what do you do when you are a pastor and young girls in your congregation become pregnant? This brings the role of pastor in its multiple responsibilites into a quandry. Are we responsible to console, comfort, and encourage? Are we there simply to dispense forgiveness? Are we to be protectors of morality, virginity, and self-control? Are we there to put shame on young women, or the young men if we can find the culprit? Are we to be prophets of morality in an immoral culture, and how can we do that without seeming like we are legalistic, mean, stone throwing Pharisees? There are practical questions that evolve; do we throw a baby shower for an “illegitimate” birth? Do we banish the word illegitimate so the young woman, her family, and the child can feel loved and accepted? Do we handle this privately, quietly, so know one even knows, as they used to send young women “away” to cousins, or somewhere, while she was in “confinement?” A so-called youth pastor once came to me to ask if I could help him solve his problem. “What is the problem, and what can I do to help you?” I asked. It turns out he had sex with a teen-ager in his youth group and wanted me to give him money so she could get an abortion. That conversation did not end too well, and later I found out that the baby’s life didn’t end too well either. He told me he has gotten his problem solved, “but not God’s way.” It is not just the young and unmarried that the pastor deals with, but the married and adulterous, the married and the pornograher, the sexually addicted, the sexual predator of children, the same sex attracted. No one prepared me for this much sexual trouble while I was in seminary. Of couse I myself am as pure as the driven snow and have never had a lustful or sexual thought in my life, never lusted in my heart after a woman who wasn’t my wife, never was attracted to porn, never flirted with anyone but my wife. Stand back before this computer is struck by lightening. Guilty, guilty, guilty, and as I struggle with myself I realize my calling won’t let me back away from what seems a tsunami of human frailty. Our society of course takes the wrong lessons from the Gospel. They love the story of the woman caught in adultery and the punch line of “let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” They seem to forget the brutal, no compromise morality of Jesus saying, “go and sin no more.” How could he do that, doesn’t he know how normal and unpreventable sex and romance are? Why doesn’t Jesus go after the man and rebuke him too, or are only women the causes of sex? So the world settles for the idea that we can’t stop sinning, so don’t start throwing stones. It is the pastor’s misson to deal with his own sexuality first. To admit his own needs and weakness, to be a repenter, to be a depender on the grace of God for his own sexual purity, to be constantly in touch with his own need of cleansing at the cross and a humble receiver of it. To never be self-righteous about the call to sexual purity or legalitic. It is also his mission to be uncompromising about the standards of Scripture, to call all people (including himself) to sexual purity, chastity, and faithfulness in marrirage. It is his job to not allow public evidence of sexual sin to go undealt with in a public manner. Discipline should be as private as the sin, but without church discipline we simply are saying “amen” to the morality of the culture. It is the pastor’s job to help his church leadership deal with sexual sin in a loving, healing, restorative, yet morally uncomproming way. If this means a young pregnant woman must come before the Elders, and the young man who sinned as well, and confess and repent, then it must be done. If it means the Elders must pronounce forgiveness to them, it must be done. At the baptism of the infant, or the wedding of a prenant woman, the pastor announces that confession and repentance, and therby demands no gossip and no slander, but now only support and inclusion, it must be done. It is only repentance at the foot of the cross that effectively erases the never ending playing of the guilt tape in our minds. Americans are averse to public shame, but the reality is that guilt and shame already happened, and the gossip will spread unless the boil is pricked. Telling the truth dispells the hidden, dirty story, and we all sympathize with the weakness, and we forgive those who like ourselves mess up, and we protect those yet to come with cautionary tales. We don’t endorse evil by our silence, we don’t surrender to biological inevitability, whether normal or perverted (as is so much in a society of moral abandonment). We do not let our own failures and temptations disqualify, blackmail, or silence us from telling the truth, only letting it help us tell the truth with sympathy, love, and kindness. The prevelant myth was (and is) that sex could not be stopped but the consequences could be avoided with technology and new laws. That it was a myth is proven by the avalanche of unwanted pregnancies, millions of abortions, millions of unfathered children, millions of divorced women, and their suffering in poverty since the introduction of such strategies. It was always a myth, and it turns out the Bible’s take on it is reality and truth.