Good Christian Sex--Post-Script

Previous Posts in the Series
Introductory Chapter
Chapters 1 and 2
Chapters 3 and 4  (Especially good!)
Chapter 5 and 6
Chapter 7
Chapters 8 and 9

Rev. Bromleigh McCleneghan's Good Christian Sex is great.  I've given it to a couple of people who have told me they have benefited greatly from it.  It is the book I would give to a teenager or young adult trying to work their way through the process of integrating sexuality with spirituality and wholeness.

Rather than recap the book again, I figured it might be useful as a post-script to think about "where to go from here"?  McCleneghan sketches out a vision of an authentic progressive Christian sexual ethic, but it is no criticism of the book to say that there are places that would benefit from further reflection and development, as no one book can be a comprehensive account of something like sexuality.  Here are a couple of places that I think she or others might jump off from to expand the good work done in this book.

First off, I think it is worthwhile to take a deep dive into marriage and what it is for.  I am sure that many folks hearing that, especially coming from the world of the progressive side of the Mainline, will say "my God, we have been talking about and arguing about marriage for thirty years, and you want to argue about it some more?"  I am also sensitive to, and appreciate of, arguments by people such as Fr. Tobias Haller that the topic of marriage has been blown out of proportion and is just not that central to the Christian faith.

But McCleneghan points to the idea that much of the marriage discussion that has occurred in Christian circles has been predicated around the "Golden Ticket" idea--marriage as a license to have sex.  So much of the discussion that on the surface about marriage was really about sex, who can have it, and when.  Likewise, much of the marriage discussions that occur in the broader society are often not-so-secretly about gender roles, and the broader question of how men and women interact and relate to each other.  If you come to an agreement that you do not absolutely need the Golden Ticket of marriage to have morally acceptable sex, and you have reach a basically egalitarian consensus on gender roles, you are now left with the question of what marriage itself is for and what function it serves.  Some have come to the conclusion that, at least in a church context, the answer is nothing--that the model of marriage as a "church matter" is a product of the Middle Ages that has outlived its usefulness.

While I think that line of thought should be taken seriously, I don't subscribe to it.  I think there is something there in the idea of marriage--a more-or-less singular institution of commitment between a couple.  I have friends who have had very long term relationships (more than ten years, in one case) get married and say that it changed the nature of their relationship, for the better.  There is still some magic in these old bones, which is why I think it is worthwhile to take time to figure out what we mean by marriage when we don't mean "the way straight people are allowed to have sex."  One place we might begin is to check in with our LGBT friends, many of whom are now coming out of the "honeymoon" phase of being married.  What does marriage mean to them now?

In a similar vein, I would like to see a book or books like McCleneghan's written from an LGBT perspective.  It is very possible that such books exist and I am not aware of them, but the only one I know of is Matthew Vines's God and the Gay Christian.  That book is not quite what I have in mind--Vines's book is much more apologetic and technically theological than McCleneghan's model, but more importantly it provides an uncompromising endorsement of the Golden Ticket model of marriage and sexuality (while applying it to LGBT relationships), in a way that cuts directly against many of the themes of McCleneghan's book.  I think one of the really powerful parts of Good Christian Sex is the way it tries to create breathing room for people to explore and even make mistakes with sexuality, avoiding the idea that sexuality needs to be treated like a live nuclear weapon.  All of that seems to me to be an especially important and worthwhile message for LGBT folks, since they are dealing with a set of additional and unique complications with sexuality, in addition to all of the same complications that straight folks have around sex.

What I have in mind is a book (or, perhaps better, a series of books, each geared to a particular part of the LGBT constellation) that avoids apologetics for the legitimacy of LGBT sexuality, but instead takes it as a given and a part of a committed Christian life and builds from that foundation a discussion of the unique challenges and considerations that LGBT folks deal with in coming to terms with sexuality.  Hopefully as time goes on and we have more people who grow up and live in church environments that affirm LGBT folks and their relationships, books like this will emerge, as it cannot be a book written by straight folks toward LGBT folks (ruling out folks like McCleneghan, or someone like me), but has to emerge out of that lived experience.

The third area of exploration that I would like to see, which is something I have talked about before, is a more robust theology of relationships generally.  It seems to me that it is far more productive to start from a general discussion of relationships of all sorts, of which sexual relationships are a subset of the bigger whole.  Too often "relationships," in both Christian and non-Christian contexts, invariably means "sexual relationships."  The result of this is that all of the oxygen in the room is spent talking about when and how you can have sex, with nothing left over to talk about all the other ways people relate to each other on a daily basis.  But non-sexual relationships matter, too, and they can go bad and have very negative consequences for the people involved.

I think about this especially in terms of how do we teach young people about these things.  We often get into knock down, drag out fights over "sex education," but those fights almost always turn into a fight between those who want, by hook or by crook, convince young people not to have sex versus people who want to arm young people with a raft of information about how to have the sex there are assumed to be already having/will be soon having in a safe manner.  But both of these approaches treat sex almost entirely mechanically, split off from any of the relational dimensions of how people get to the point of considering whether to have sex.

Good Christian Sex does an excellent job of bringing those sorts of considerations to the table, and as I said it would be the place I would start if I were talking to a teenager (or perhaps a sophisticated pre-teen).  But I am not denigrating the book in any way to say that there is more to be done in this space.  Really, I would love to see a version of the recent Catholic sex education curriculum without the horrible gender politics and the transcendent significance of my penis stuff.  Something like that conceptually, but written by McCleneghan with her perspective and sensibility, would be exciting to see.  Again, maybe such a thing already exists, but it would be exciting to see something that really dives deep into equipping young people to build strong relationships, instead of just talking about how to (or how not to) use their genitals.

Anyway, Good Christian Sex is fantastic.  Many thanks to Rev. McCleneghan for writing it, and I look forward to whatever she has next for us.


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