We are all facing the need for hard conversations these days. There are conversations that must be had about race, about social structures, about power and privilege, about insectionality, about culture, about values, and about how to be in the world. One (only one) of the topics to discuss in the giant wheel of “how to be in the world” is about sex. I say that as though sex itself was a simple thing. Either you are having it or you aren’t. Either it’s good or it isn’t. Either it’s consensual or it’s rape. Either you’re thinking it though or you’re using the other person or people.
I realize some of you are wondering what else needs to be said on the topic of sex, especially in the Christian arena. However, the reality is that we have not closed the circle on the conversation on healthy human sexuality as experienced in solo and partnered activity. In trying to demarcate virginity, purity, and time/place/tab/slot, we have missed a whole range of conversations on the beauty, diversity, and holiness of sex as a means of grace in our lives and in the world. So writes Bromleigh McCleneghan in her new book, Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn’t the Only Option-And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex.
McCleneghan writes the book that seminarians will want to discuss, campus pastors will discuss, and young adults in faith communities will be glad to read (and should ask their partners to read as well). Her chapters on a theology of intimacy, vulnerability, faithfulness, and other pertinent topics make the ethical discussion that has happened elsewhere accessible to the parish, campus, and community reader. She writes, “The experience of good sex—and the delightful things that lead up to it—is one of risking showing and sharing oneself with another, of giving and receiving care and attention, of connection and delight. It tends to require a partner, and an enthusiastic, sensitive one as well. ”(48f)
McCleneghan dares to put out (ha!) the idea that the God-given gift of sex (and sexuality) are not to be packed away until some future when a switch will magically be flipped via a ring and certain phrases and then all will fall into place with no awkwardness and mutual orgasms for everyone. Instead, she argues that there is a real discipleship in approaching sex with thoughtfulness and care for one’s self and one’s partner. “Sex—intimacy—opens us up to change. It asks us to trust and let go, to relax and experiment. It draws us into play and pleasure, but also the work of communicating with another person who cannot get inside our heads. Through sex we can practice attention, invitation, hospitality, and the means of grace. “ (150)
This is the conversation starter that many pastors, parents, godparents, confirmation sponsors, grandparents, and peers are longing to have. This book provides structure for having a conversation that is between “Sex is horrible, but you save it for someone you love” and “Sex is great. Have fun!” That ‘and’ covers a multitude of sins, but also of grace moments and ways of learning about one’s body, mind, and soul. The author carefully covers the reality that marriage can be an unsafe place for sex. She also discusses the reality, often overlooked, that sex within a shorter-term partnership can still be holy and fulfilling.
I recommend this book for all pastors’ shelves (to read and to share), as well as for anyone I’ve mentioned above. If you have several books on sexual ethics that you’ve wanted to read or you’ve only read a bit of, this may prove to be a good synopsis of those books or that larger discussion. That is not to say that the author makes the conversation simple, but rather that she makes it more accessible.
I received a free proof of this book for review. No promises were made in exchange for that copy.
The Reverend Julia Seymour serves Lutheran Church of Hope in Anchorage, Alaska. She blogs at lutheranjulia.blogspot.com.
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