OR Making the Church a Safe Place to Face Broken Sexuality
By Ron Brookman
Church and Sexuality go hand in hand
Unlike other groups where individuals seek to have their needs met, the church is not need centred. It is Christ centred. Focussed on Him, He releases the grace needed to love one another out of a greater, cleaner, truer power.
Deeply embedded within each one of us is a divine longing for wholeness that sends us reaching beyond ourselves to God and others. Sexual desire helps us recognise our incompleteness as human beings and causes us to seek the other to find a fuller meaning in life. Authentic sexuality urges us towards a richsharing of our lives.1
Unfortunately the reality is that in many places the church is as broken sexually as the world. This is because Christians have lived in denial for so long about the power of sex, have taught sexual morality legalistically and have not provided a safe place for inevitable sexual struggles and sins to be processed.
Why do problems of sexual immorality abound in the church?
Dr Harry Schaumburg in False Intimacy, Understanding the Struggle of Sexual Addiction2 writes: “I believe that Christianity has sometimes been packaged and marketed to meet the same autonomous desires within the lustful heart that the prostitute’s erotic offer of sex promises to meet in the heart of a lonely man. The real message of the whore is not unlike that of the serpent to Eve You can have it and you can have it pain free.’
This is reflected in the church’s propensity to
preach grace but practise legalistic obedience,“be committed, do more, try harder to please God” rather than teaching how to seek intimacy with God, and serve him from passion and gifting He’s given.
encourage false selves or masks. Outward actions prevail over the inner life. Solitude and accountability are often not valued or taught, while programmes are emphasized.
build itself through programmes appealing to what one can gain, but often neglecting the true basis of church life: dealing with sin and learning repentance.
tolerate sexual sin, whether in open acceptance of worldly sexual practises such as homosexuality or cohabitation, or covertly, in pretending not to notice such behaviours.
Ignorance of sexual addiction in the church. Many psychologists deny sexual addiction, explaining that sexual drives are powerful, but not addictive. The church has often bought this failure to address one of the biggest addictions that is tearing at the heart of western society. Broken sexuality readily becomes addictive through the heart’s attachments to false comforts and escapes, and the flesh’s delight in the powerful pleasures that adrenaline driven sex brings. The secrecy, shame and deceit of addiction steals from true fellowship.
The sexual confusion so prevalent in our world and in our own hearts is nothing but the human desire for Heaven gone berserk. Pope John Paul wrote that the task of the new evangelization isn’t to condemn the world for its excesses and distortions, but to help the world “untwist” them.3 Our hearts become untwisted when we begin to realise that we really desire eternal love and joy. This is what we were created for! And it has already been revealed, released and freely given. How? Where? In the person and body of Christ. This is why Jesus is the answer! As Jesus’ body on earth now we reveal and offer this gospel.
A Theology of the Church as a Healing Community for Broken Sexuality
The church’s call to mission in this age must include connecting with and evangelizing an increasingly hurting, damaged world, which is suffering the consequences of building its sexual Tower of Babel. The good news is of God’s purpose for sexuality, His healing and freedom!
The church is not institution, it is family.
Jesus’ purpose for the church is to be a place of belonging and security where members experience the faithful, unconditional agape of family through mutual love (philia), care and regard.
“Who are My mother and My brothers?” Looking about at those who were sitting around Him, He said, “Behold My mother and My brother. “For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Mark 3:34-5
In wholesome family, parents model a relationship of mutual desire, vulnerability and responsiveness. Children catch this, know they are valued, and grow to know how to value themselves as sexual persons. In a loving, nurturing environment parents and children are secure and enabled to be emotionally naked and not ashamed. Such a family protects itself from the intrusion of a multitude of inauthentic sexual messages and forces which sap it of vitality.
The church’s challenge is to recreate this same foundation to provide a primary group for belonging and identity, where families relate, and those without family, find family. God’s covenant people, ancient Israel, found in their extended families and villages a social world of security, nurture, protection, common values and worship. God ‘s purpose for them was Shalom, the peace which comes from supportive community, where He is the centre. The church can be a 21st century equivalent. Paul used these Old Testament themes of family and Shalom when he espoused community in the developing church.
And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” says the Lord Almighty. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household. 2 Cor 6:18, Eph 2:19
The Changing, Challenging World in which we live
Contemporary society is arranged around fluidity. Economics and the labour force are fluid commodities. Short term contracts, casual work, frequent expectation of changing jobs and the nature of work, and regular, sometimes global, relocation for work, have influenced western society to view relationships as casual. Post -modern values have both resulted from this fluidity, and helped enable it. Stability has yielded to fluidity, mobility has influenced morality, making it relative and situational. Contractualizing of society has reduced the number of life long relationships. A bumper sticker puts it, “Stable relationships are for horses.” The sexual revolution and the advent of easy birth control have altered society’s understanding of our bodies: they are seen to be more about consumption, less about giving in life long covenant relationship, and reproduction. Birth rates have fallen and consumables
increased, as our lifestyle focusses on ease, comfort and success, measured by what we possess. The restoration of gender equality has been misinterpreted to mean that gender has less relevance, leading to confusion in gender expression. The body has come to gain value through how it is exchanged in sexual encounter. Thus it has become a matter of choice as to who people copulate with at various stages of their lives: hetero, homo, bi, abstinence (‘I’m over this sex thing’). These factors have combined to bring about a superficial sexuality, where the values process and duration of true intimacy have been neglected for fast, flashy and therefore, false intimacy. Inevitably the social cost will be increasing brokenness and pain. God’s purposes cannot be mocked, or short cut. In stark contrast the church’s challenge is to present herself as a community of hope, healing and truth:
become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life. Phil 2:15
She needs to promote herself as a primary group, bringing the true sense of belonging, identity and morality that the human heart was created to yearn for, which society increasingly denies.
Culturing fracturing has led to a decline in the number of primary groups in society, cutting people adrift, leaving them prone to the effects of secularization, and the erosion of Christian values and sexual morality. Homosexuality and sexual addiction have increased as people clamor for intimacy, love, meaning and connection. More immediate ways of attempting to do so, such as the internet, cell phone and other electronic media, feed this flood of superficial sexuality.
If the church is to be a sexually authentic community she needs to play a prophetic role, challenging
these unhealthy and inauthentic social trends, as well as becoming a place of restoration for the
sexually wounded and hurting victims.
The Post Modern World View
Challenges to traditional morality are so entrenched, as to become normalized. Orthodox Christian morality is now held and practised by a shrinking minority. The many flavours of ‘truth’ and the personal experiences which ‘define reality’ have forsaken absolute, and Scriptural truth. However, this is not unprecedented! Jesus, Himself, faced a highly immoral society. He called converts out of greed, lust, fantasy, promiscuity, adultery and homosexuality, to fidelity and purity. Following Jesus, the church’s task is also to call people from choosing human perspectives over God’s truth, by modeling the same healing strengths of love, compassion, truth and covenant. We too, are to minister miracles of restoration from the savages of sin.
Jesus bestowed on His disciples Peace, Shalom. Shalom is a model for a sexually authentic society. For shalom to be present in society there must be an affirmation of the goodness of sexuality and a climate of openness and comfort in dealing with sexuality. For the church to exemplify this and be a safe place for the sexually broken to be attracted and to find healing, we face the challenge of holding out truth gracefully. It’s not to condemn, but rather understand, care, and humbly point to the higher truth. As John Paul ll said about the task of the 21st century church. We are not to condemn the world for its excesses and distortions, but to help the world “untwist” them. It’s not to offer programmes, but rather to introduce people to Jesus, who said, ‘I will always be with you!’ Our call is to set an agenda for the restoration of healthy sexuality for the good of society, rather than merely being opposed to the world’s agenda. Its to introduce them to the Person who is always with us, not to programmes.
Men are given to higher rates of involvement than women in the various forms of inauthentic sexual activities: premarital sex, sexual promiscuity, extra marital sex, sexual abuse of children, sexual harassment, consumption of pornography, sexual addiction, rape and other violent offences.”4 Sociobiology can point to the number of eggs women have to fertilize as opposed to the number of sperm men have to plant as reason for this, but it probably has as much to do with the broken, traditional definition of masculinity: being sexually aggressive, proving manhood through sexual conquest, etc. The gospel reclaims the honour of masculinity, and the dignity of femininity.
How does the church become pro-active, to point the world to Shalom?
We need to offer LIFE, healing, compassion and a safe place to be able to engage the healing process Jesus did not come to judge but to save.
We are to offer understanding, patience, compassion, mercy, grace and a place to heal.
Schaunburg writes: We can’t prevent the problems of sexual addiction within the church if we don’t change our message from “how to feel better now” to the unpopular biblical theme that the sufferings we experience now “are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom 8:18) We must emphasize the message of patience, endurance, perseverance and hope rather than the message of immediate healing for the wounds of life. We must teach spiritual groaning rather than tacitly encouraging spiritual murmuring when God doesn’t seem to be meeting our needs today.
Groaning is waiting. It is an expression of the travail of the heart for that moment of union. It comes with a deep sigh that is sustained by a living hope. This embryonic hope, which dwells deeply within the heart, is a guarantee of the eternal life to come in Christ. When such a hope is vibrantly alive in a person, spiritual adultery is unthinkable. Preventing sexual addiction within the church isn’t possible until we believe that God is good and worth waiting for.
To achieve this the church needs to
- seek to provide a safe trusting group, open and transparent, within which each is able to share their lives without need for pretense.
When we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5
This starting point for authenticity, carries the promise of cleansing from, and therefore increasing power over, all sin. It enables the removal of masks and the fig leaves of our shame, to be embraced afresh with the affirmation and holy empowering of Christ’s love, fleshed-out through His community.
- grow in Koinonia, true fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Fellowship is more than just relating, it partakes of the supernatural, ministering God’s powerful grace one to another. Without spiritual gifts and Divine Love accessing the deepest imprints of the heart, sexual healing is impossible.
- create a positive, supportive and healing community in church which testifies to the value of authentic LIFE-giving sexuality, which is sustaining and enhancing, enabling essential values of covenan
- teach a holistic approach to sexuality, not merely saying “no” to youth about sexual experimentation, but advocating and demonstrating good reason for sexual abstinence, where she
- encourages men towards a healthier understanding of masculinity and masculine sexuality, incorporating values of fidelity of mind, action and relationship, and
- proclaims the value of femininity so that woman appreciates herself more, and men truly honour her rather than being negative.
- constructively judge promiscuous sexual activity and its portrayal in film, literature and media, by commenting on it according to reality, honesty and its social and relational ramifications. The dishonesty of pornography, many mainstream films, tv programmes and literature is to refrain from showing the real consequences of promiscuity. Our challenge is to take the society up on its own reflections and statistics as to the negative effect of this lifestyle. They abound because God’s standards can’t be broken without fall out. Excerpts of one from the SMH in April 08:5
Is porn making men too picky?
“The onslaught of porn is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women,” Naomi Wolf writes in New York Magazine. “(It’s) leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘pornworthy.’”……. Studies that psychologists Sara Gutierres and Douglas Kenrick, of Arizona State University conducted have also found – and here comes the biggie – that when men viewed pictures of Playboy centrefolds, they subsequently felt less in love with their partner/wife/girlfriend than they did before. No wonder women the world over are so adverse to blokes having a little visual stimulation! “For most of human history, erotic images have been reflections of, or celebrations of, or substitutes for, real naked women. For the first time in human history, the images’ power and allure have supplanted that of real naked women. Today, real naked women are just bad porn.” Ouch.”
- develop Christian excellence in media, art, and culture which espouses a return to Godly morality. As CS Lewis said, the world doesn’t need more Christians writing books about Christianity, but more Christians writing books in the secular world. Bonhoeffer previously wrote: The church must share in the secular problems of ordinary human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live in Christ, to exist for others6.
- not condemn groups within society, be they blgt (bi, lesbian, gay, transsexual), porn makers or the sexually promiscuous, but to recognise that we have all fallen short of God’s goal and purpose for our sexuality. It is to have a me too approach in the need to further embrace truth, authenticity and wholeness in sexuality.
On the other hand she is not to be afraid of speaking the truth in love. Love is to care for the highest good. The call to purity can sound so hard, yet some of the things which Jesus said were very hard. The way He loved gave Him authority to say them. May we grow in the authenticity of that same love! believe that the resurrection power of Christ will work at once sovereignly, through the gifts of healing given to the church, through the power of authentic love shown through the church, the enlightening of truth taught by the church, the freeing power of transparency, confession and accountability practised within the church, and a discipleship which advocates tested psychological and counselling support. As John Paul reminds us, Jesus said, “I am with you to the end of the age!”
It is to invite the sexually broken to be joined to an accepting, forgiving, loving, redemptive, truthful and therefore disciplining body of believers.
This article has set forth the theory. In the next newsletter I propose to set out some practical tips to implement this, largely through describing the model which I am developing at Ramsgate Community Uniting Church in Sydney.