Sex From the Pulpit: Part One

It’s a topic that used to be taboo in church—a topic that made church ladies blush and teenagers giggle. If it wasn’t totally off-limits in a church, it was handled with great care and (usually clunky) attempts at subtlety. But not so these days. Over the last few years, sex has not only become accepted as a sermon topic; it’s become almost requisite. If you’re a pastor and you haven’t done a sex series or at least a mildly scandalous sermon on Song of Solomon, you’re behind the times.

It’s a topic that Christian authors are writing popular books about. Rob Bell’s Sex God, for example, or Lauren Winner’s Real Sex, which I highly recommend. There’s also last year’s much-praised Sex and the Soul, by Donna Freitas, which I have not read yet. Interestingly, there was a chapel series at Biola University recently entitled “Sex and the Soul.” Doubtless there are dozens others like it happening at other evangelical universities. Oh, and for a “frank discussion of pornography & masturbation,” you can check out Porn-Again Christian by Mark “Sex” Driscoll (more on him in part two of this blog series).

The Christian sex industry, if you can believe it, is thriving. There are websites where you can buy Christian sex toys, and oodles of evangelical sex advice books that talk about the biblical merits of orgasms, vibrators, and other more unmentionable bedroom options. There is a growing cottage industry of books that urge married Christians to vigorously rip off those chastity belts and get busy having wild and experimental sex as often as at all possible.

But it’s not just that Christians are talking more openly about sex. They’re making it a community-building exercise. There was a pastor in Florida last year who issued a challenge for all his married congregates to have sex every day for a month; and another pastor of a Texas megachurch did a similar “sex-periment”—challenging married couples to get it on daily for 7 days straight. The Texas pastor, Rev. Ed Young, explained the rationale to CBS news in this way:

I think the church has allowed the culture to hijack sex from the church, and it’s time that we moved the bed back in church and put God back in the bed, and I think we are the real sex-perts because, after all, we’re made in God’s image and he’s the one who wants us to do it his way.

I can totally buy this. But I wonder: is this sex-crazy movement within current evangelicalism just one more over-reaction to the err of our past? So yes, it was wrong to be so prudish and silent on the topic for so much of our history; but is the pendulum—as it always tends to be—now swinging too far in the other direction?

Also, I am more than a little suspicious that this sex-ification of church is simply the latest marketing tool to bring in crowds and brand the church as “edgier than you think!” Are we doing this because being “for” sex rather than against it makes us more appealing to the sex-obsessed masses?

This is the accusation of a recent article in the aggressively secular New Humanist, which suggests that “America’s Religious Right has devised a seductive new recruitment strategy”:

From pornography and sex education to reproductive rights and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, Americans have allowed a conservative religious movement not only to dictate the terms of conversation but also to change the nation’s laws and public health policies. And meanwhile American liberals have remained defensive and tongue-tied.

The article goes on to suggest that, in contrast to what most people assume,

[The Religious Right] is far from being sexually uptight. On the contrary, it is wildly pro-sex, provided it’s marital sex. Evangelical conservatives in particular have begun not only to rail against the evils of sexual misery within marriage (and the way far too many wives feel like not much more than sperm depots for insensitive, emotionally absent husbands), but also, in the most graphically detailed, explicit terms, to eulogise about the prospect of ecstasy.

Reading that, I thought about a clip I recently saw of Ted Haggard (more on him in part three of this blog series), where he talked about how Christians statistically have the most and best sex of anyone:

Of course this clip is sad and ironic, given what we now know about Haggard’s sexuality, and it also sirens an alarm of sorts, I think: when we talk so much about sex (even good, married-people sex), is it really helping our psychological state? Do we really need to pump our minds full of sex more than they already are? Are pastors who talk about sex openly and descriptively from the pulpit actually turning their congregations into sex-addicts and horny perverts? Certainly it did Haggard no good…

Coming Tuesday in Part 2: Thoughts on Seattle’s bad boy preacher, Mark Driscoll, and my reaction to visiting his church (Mars Hill) on Song of Solomon night.

12 responses to “Sex From the Pulpit: Part One

  1. Even unhip Prairie Village is getting in on the fun! Today I drove by Hillcrest Covenant, and there was a large banner outside advertising their upcoming “Sex in Context” sermon series, “rated PG-13.” http://www.hillcrestcovenant.org/s/266/hillcrest.aspx?sid=266&gid=1&pgid=1256

  2. I’m terrified of Mark Driscoll. And not for the reasons he’d like.

  3. That Prairie Village church is hilarious. Though PG-13 is kinda lame. A good sex sermon series is at least an R.

  4. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” – Phil 4:8.

    Now physical relations between a man and his wife are beautiful and meant to occupy our minds (lest they wander), but talking about it at church and making experimental sex the subject of sermons seems to me to be just one more way the Enemy can distract us from mental occupation with Heaven. I mean, do we really need help with more flesh-centered thoughts? I’m fighting against my “old man” everyday as it is..

  5. Prairie Village is totally hip.

  6. I love Driscoll. I think he offends all the right people for all the right reasons.

  7. Luke—

    You don’t think marital relations are true, noble, just pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, or praiseworthy?

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  9. Tim-

    If they are between the man and woman, yes. If they are discussed in a church setting surrounded by fellow believers, no. Or if a pastor is advocating experimental sex from a pulpit, no. I would’ve thought that was obvious in my post when I said: “Now physical relations between a man and his wife are beautiful and meant to occupy our minds (lest they wander), but talking about it at church and making experimental sex the subject of sermons seems to me to be just one more way the Enemy can distract us from mental occupation with Heaven. “

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  11. I too think the recent evangelical focus on higher quantities of sex within marriage (sometimes at the cost of quality it seems, not unlike the focus on church attendance numbers as THE indicator of church health) is very interesting. But I’ll have to strongly disagree with you on Lauren Winner’s “Real Sex.” As I read it, it seemed like every point I liked had a footnote telling me that her thought was drawn directly from Wendell Berry. So I’ll take Wendell Berry.

  12. As a pastor, I make a choice to declare a broader message from the church’s pulpit (it is not mine). Sex is a beautiful gift to humanity. However, as with so many things, the discussion of its beauty has its place and time.

    I do not automatically ascribe a motive to those individuals who do preach issues of sex from the pulpit. However, I also suspect that there must be some who see the draw of it as strong motivation to do so. It is more than likely that there is not an exclusive reason to preach the benefits of healthy sexuality to a congregation. I suppose one could perceive a need to broadly distribute the information and capitalize on its attraction to boost attendance…at once.

    I’m just glad we are finally having the discussion among people of faith. We will, in time, learn to have it be an ideological discussion rooted in the doctrines of scripture and minus the promotional distractions. So I pray…

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