Saturday, May 3, 2008

An Interesting Book

I've been reading Karen Lebacqz and Ronald G. Barton's 1991 book Sex in the Parish. I ask you, who could resist such a title? Not to mention passages like this:

... sexuality is a gift from God intended to foster creative growth toward integration. At its best, sexuality fosters creativity, enables growth, and moves toward integration, wholeness and integrity in human life. At its best, it helps us to overcome our alienation from one another, it builds trust, it moves us toward an eagerness for the freeing growth of the other, and it supports work and vocation. When it exhibits these characteristics, then it can be said to participate in God and to bring God into human life. [p. 36]

Gorgeous. The authors seek to develop a theology of sexuality, not merely a compendium of acts or modes of sexual expression. The presenting premise is that sexuality is good, and it's part of who we are, and it's present everywhere, including our sanctuaries and fellowship halls. So, how do we deal with it and, frankly, how do we use it? "Use," not as in manipulation, but rather as in acting knowingly as our fullest sexual selves, something which generates energy and a sense of joy.

Of course, for the closeted pastor, this is a complex situation. To be my fully sexual self... well, we all know where that will/ may lead. To lots of discomfort for lots of people. But, I suppose Christ didn't give us the church for our comfort, but rather to challenge us to take the gospel everywhere imaginable (and some places unimaginable).

I am still pondering all this, still reading. Anyone out there read this book? Any thoughts on it?

12 comments:

anita said...

I'm probably gloating a little to say I took a seminary course from Karen and she's an amazing scholar and truly good person. I haven't read her book but so appreciated the quote you highlighted and to which I totally agree. It goes hand in hand with a line of conversation I'll be going into on my blog in the coming days around the view that being gay and lesbian is a purposeful calling from God.

Cecilia, in writing your thoughtful reflections and questions to Sex in the Parish, you might want to also consider reading, if you haven't already, Gifted by Otherness: Gay and Lesbian Christians in the Church. Again, just some of your comments are directly discussed in that book...one of my favorites by the way :)

Doorman-Priest said...

This couldn't have come at a better time. I have been banging my head against the wall trying to explain to more conservative bloggers that the Bible has one set of sexual ethics appropriate to straight and gay alike and to over emphasise one against the other is a receipe for misunderstanding, prejudice and discrimination, all of which already abound in God's church.

How do you argue the distinction between an orientation, a state of being, a God given sexuality on the one hand and a sexual act on the other to someone who sees homosexuality as a choice and can not distinguish between being and doing? There is no starting point here for any conversation, let alone moving on to arguing an alternative, Biblically based theology of sexuality.

Anonymous said...

i'm getting caught up on the last few entries all at once. wow, to coming out/getting outed at coffee hour. that's just one more reason why coffee is known as the gateway drug.

regarding the interesting book, i'm interested in an ethic of sexuality that affirms adult consensual casual sex (that is not breaking any relational covenant). i don't think this is necessarily at odds with the quote, but there's something about the quote... it almost reads like an updated "go forth and multiply." i'm thinking on it...

peacester

Anonymous said...

second the recommendation of Gifted by Otherness. It has two gifted and very different authors writing alternate chapters. Countryman and Ritley.

NancyP

Julie said...

My understanding of the quote is that humans should strive for a healthier view on sexuality. That sex isn’t something bad, God created sex, and humans are created in God’s image. And if someone has a healthy view on sexuality it will not be misused. The book deals primarily with sexual ethics of the clergy in response to the fall of the mega ministries of the 1980s.

Cecilia said...

peacester, I'm interested in hearing/ talking more on this. Here's what concerns me about adult consensual casual sex. I do think scripture has this to offer us in this realm: the body and soul are one, not easily divided. Take the body for a joyride, and the soul comes along. Even if both parties convince themselves this is for fun, for tonight only, I think they've given a little piece of the soul away in the exchange.

Don't misunderstand. Sex is good. I'm all for sex. But I think it is so vitally important that it be in service of real, total relatedness. Otherwise... I find it dispiriting and potentially sad and draining, instead of the joyful, life-giving thing it is meant to be (and you know I'm not limiting that to biological life).

Does that make any sense? I have to confess that I have no experience, myself, of adult casual sex. My entire sexual experience is with two people, my ex-husband and my partner (with whom, it is my intention, I will be partnered until death parts us). So, maybe I have no right to speak about this.

Pax, C.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I'd like to talk more about this too.

I am partnered with an Episcopal priest. Our relationship feels like a miracle to both of us, and we both remark frequently on how we already feel more married to each other than we ever did to our former spouses.

(Stop rolling your eyes, people! We've been dating for almost a year already...this ain't no flash in the pan or rebound relationship. This is The Real Deal.)

No one seems to know quite what to do with a single rector who's almost 60 and his mid-40s "girlfriend." To tell you the truth, I'm not sure we know either---we're in uncharted waters.

So far, everyone's been wonderfully kind---and the attitude seems to be that we are grownups and deserve our privacy. But I don't know how long that will last if we don't formally "tie the knot." And there are LOTS of reasons why that isn't on the agenda...

People discussing this subject seem to assume that heterosexual people can just get married---therefore, any intimate relationship outside of marriage is automatically sinful for straights.

What do you think, Cecilia?

Pax,
Doxy

Anonymous said...

goodness, i hope we don't have to know what we're talking about before expressing an opinion! (grin) i haven't either had adult consensual casual sex (that doesn't break any relational covenant), yet i believe in it politically and theologically (read: in theory -- grinning again).

i haven't made up my mind.

i wonder whether total relatedness can happen in different increments, and sometimes for just a night. i wonder whether exchanging a piece of your souls, even for just a night, can be a rewarding and life-giving gift. i wonder whether limiting our sexual expression to just one other person is what god expects of us or is a more recent development in human ethics (especially given that the "biblical model" of fidelity is not solely monogamous).

"queer" sexuality i think is scary in part because it provides an opportunity to really live outside of the heteronormative (and heterosexist) model.

then again, i'm not convinced i've seen anyone do this successfully. so it remains a political and theological exercise that i think on...

peacester

Cecilia said...

Anita, how cool that you studied with her. I am finding the book very helpful, and I will look for the one you recommend, thank you so much.

Doorman-Priest, I agree. A biblically based theology of sexuality is not the simple thing our conservative brothers and sisters assume, not by a long shot. Much more complexity is presented there, and much more is required of us to piece it together.

Thanks for that second Nancy. And Julie, I suspected that might be the case, judging by the date of the book.

People discussing this subject seem to assume that heterosexual people can just get married---therefore, any intimate relationship outside of marriage is automatically sinful for straights.

Doxy, I absolutely reject this notion. I think there are lots of reasons people might choose to be covenanted together without marriage, gay or straight. I know a straight married couple who divorced and stayed together, refusing to accept the privileges of marriage in solidarity with those who cannot enjoy them. I know several couples who, because of their ages, the pensions they receive as widows, etc., financially cannot afford marriage. I know those for whom marriage, because of a prior traumatic or sad experience, is poisoned, and something not trusted, even though a new beloved partner is absolutely trusted and covenanted.

And I'm sure there are other reasons. Children, distance... many, many reasons. Marriage under church auspices is not scriptural; all the scriptural models of marriage are property arrangements. I believe marriage can be a calling and a gift from God. But required? No. I don't believe so.

Peacester, you said,

i wonder whether total relatedness can happen in different increments, and sometimes for just a night. i wonder whether exchanging a piece of your souls, even for just a night, can be a rewarding and life-giving gift. i wonder whether limiting our sexual expression to just one other person is what god expects of us or is a more recent development in human ethics (especially given that the "biblical model" of fidelity is not solely monogamous).

I'm intrigued. You've given me something to chew on.

Great conversation, everybody.

Pax, C.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Well, you sussed out several of the reasons quite easily! ;-)

I guess the bigger issue for me is the clergy one. Clergy are---rightly or wrongly---held to a different standard than the laity when it comes to personal relationships.

It's not even so much what we are (or, more likely, are not!) doing in private---it's the whole "appearance of evil" thing...

Choralgirl said...

Cecilia--great topic! Have a number of resources on the subject, which I'll forward to you soon.

Doxy--one of my nearest and dearest is twenty years younger than her Lutheran pastor husband (she's a church musician, herself). It's a second marriage for each of them. They had to walk through fire to be together. I'm telling you this not to suggest that marriage is the only possible route forward, but to say two things:
1) you're not alone in that complicated place, and
2) other than my own relationship, theirs is the happiest marriage I've ever seen.
I suspect that it's partially BECAUSE they had to fight to be together (unhealthy exes, judgmental/dysfunctional families of origin, the complications associated with both being in ministry)

They're beautiful together. :-)

Blessings to you.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

They're beautiful together. :-)

Thanks for that, choralgirl. Your story of your friends brought tears to my eyes. That's how I feel about us...that we are beautiful together.

I hope we have the "happy ending" your friends have found. I'll say a little prayer for them and for you---God will know of whom I'm speaking, even if I don't! ;-)

Cheers,
Doxy