Friday, November 03, 2006

Sexual Sin - I'm Just Asking For Controversy

No singles ministry would be complete without talking about sex. As Believing singles, we tend to hear two constant message about the 's' word:

1) It's a gift to married people.
2) You can't do it unless you're married.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I believe that G-d's standard includes chastity, purity, and good old clean living before marriage. However, we tend to put such a focus on sexuality and the sexual sins, that I believe some very problematic messages are being conveyed to our single people and our young folks.

1) We seem to be sending a message that the sexual sins are somehow worse than other sins. I have seen people put on congregational discipline (a Matthew 18 process) for committing sexual sin on more than on occasion. However, I have never seen anyone put on discipline for lying, cheating their employees, swearing, throwing tantrums, stealing, or a host of other sins. The response I tend to get when posing this question to others in leadership, is that sexual sins are sins against our bodies -- and our bodies are temples, as it says in I Corinthians. But isn't drunkenness a sin against one's body also? And what about gluttony? Are we going to put all the fat people in church on discipline? Of course not -- people would start crying about human rights violations, and rightfully so.

2) Because of this focus on sexuality, people who have had sexual struggles, both currently and in the past, are prone to feeling a lot of guilt and shame. Sexuality strikes to the core of who we are as people. If we're constantly being harped that something with our sexuality is broken, it means that we are broken. I should explain that "sexual sin" can mean anything from premarital sex to homosexual behaviour to pornography to masturbation, depending on the congregation's interpretation of Scripture and the expected rules of congregational behaviour.

3) Singles are being led to believe that if they live according to certain rules of sexual purity, that their lives and future marriages are going to thrive. This is misleading. While certainly, statistics show that people who have had sex/lived with their partners have a higher rate of divorce (if they even get to the altar in the first place); however, abstaining from sex is no sure-fire guarantee that a marriage is going to work out. I can think of three people offhand -- men, no less -- who were virgins when they married. All three of their marriages failed. If we tell people "if you do this, then your life is going to be perfect," and then it isn't, we're essentially giving them permission to sin later on. I also know of cases where a person is now not following Scriptural teachings on sexuality simply because they "did everything the good Christian way the first time around -- and it didn't work."

I've nothing against "smug marrieds" -- in fact, I aspire to be one, someday. But I think one of the reasons these messages are conveyed so often and so clearly is because most singles ministries are run by married people, many of whom married in their early 20's and simply cannot relate to the needs and problems of mature single adults. It is way too easy for married leadership to view singles as somehow incomplete and lacking.

So what are we to do? Like in all aspects of our lives as Believers, we need to approach sexuality with His grace. Singles should not be held up to any higher standard of sexuality than anyone else. And we all fall short of the mark, which is why we are covered with Yeshua's atoning blood. How do married people fail, sexually? Let me count the ways. Besides the obvious of extra-marital affairs, we have being insensitive to each other's needs, being abusive, and pornography -- the latter of which is a huge problem in marriages. It's just a lot less obvious when someone who is married is sinning sexually, because the natural assumption in churches is that married people are somehow more holy and spouses are often unwilling to admit there is a problem for fear of shattering that illusion.

A note to singles: in our lives, there are public and private spheres of disclosure. If someone is involved in behaviour that contravenes congregational expectations and is making it a known issue, there is no choice but to put that person on discipline. If nobody knows, well, then it's between you and G-d. I would be very leery of a church that regularly went on "witch hunts" and was actively interviewing all of the singles and dating couples about their sex lives. Accountability is important, but at the same time people's confessions about their private struggles should not be held against them -- it's a fine line for what leadership should do to protect the person's privacy, while at the same time being Biblically consistent. This is where grace comes into it. We need to cover every decision we make with prayer. And as singles, we need to stick together and support each other in the struggles we share.

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