May 3, 2011
Sacred Conversation About Sex
Thank you to Jenell Williams Paris for this post about her new book, The End of Sexual Idenity.
Let’s face it: sex is complicated. Christians sometimes dodge the complexity and discomfort of talking about sex either by making definitive moral pronouncements that seem to settle it once and for all, or by simply refusing to talk about it. But many Christian leaders, including pastors, teachers, lay leaders and others, want to do more than just get the “sex talk” over with. They want to really love people, helping them center every part of their lives in Jesus’ love, including even their sex lives.
My book, The End of Sexual Identity, encourages Christians to pursue sexual holiness in the complexity of the real world. Sexual holiness is nothing new—it’s the old, old story of Jesus and his love, applied to our sexual journeys. For individuals, it’s the call to live life centered, oriented, toward the love of God. We can then reject any other orientation— heterosexuality, even—that would distract us from the central importance of who we really are as beloved children of God. On the corporate level, it’s a call to Christian unity, that we may love other Christians so much we can’t bear to separate from one another, even despite theological and personal differences in sexuality.
In the book, the sexual identity framework is the lens through which I view broader matters of sexuality such as marriage, celibacy, and sexual desire. The book takes on the sexual identity framework—the secular notion that one’s sexual feelings are indicative of one’s identity. The sexual identity framework is divisive, setting believers against one another, and dividing individuals within themselves as they strive to fit with one category or another instead of living before God as a unique individual.
I wrote The End of Sexual Identity with some trepidation, worrying that it might just add fuel to the fire of Christian in-fighting about homosexuality. I want to step back from those heated battles to begin reframing the conversation in a way that leads to civility and mutual respect. My highest hope for the book, however, is that it would inspire sacred conversation about sex—conversation that is real, vulnerable, and consequential. It’s an invitation to all believers to consider how the love of God might challenge, bless, and renew their sexual lives.
Jenell Williams Paris (Ph.D., American University) is professor of anthropology at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. She has written for such publications as Christianity Today, Books & Culture and Christian Scholar's Review. Her books include Birth Control for Christians, Urban Disciples and Introducing Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective.