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by Kate Kooyman
The Christian Reformed Church has appointed a committee of people to spend five years studying how to think more faithfully about human sexuality. I understand that this committee will mostly focus on how to think with more theological precision about the denomination’s forty-year old position on same sex attraction.
I am not gay. I also don’t have it all worked out when it comes to sex. But this committee doesn’t seem to intend to address questions that relate to someone like me. I wish a CRC human sexuality study committee would have the intention of impacting the sexual ethic and health of all its members (not just the gay ones). ‘Cause Lord knows we need it.
Here’s what I wish they would talk about.
I wish they’d talk about porn. Turns out, people who go to church love porn. Porn is changing our brains, conditioning us to be incapable of a sexual connection with another person that is mutual and life-giving. Teens report they’re incapable of sexual response to real-life partners. Girls report they are looking to porn to answer their questions about the mechanics of sex, and they’re also forming their ideas about what’s expected of them, what makes them desirable, what is normal. Married people are unsure what is acceptable or how to recover when their partner discloses porn use. Porn is creating a crisis in human sexuality. I wish my church would study it.
I wish they’d talk about rape culture. I have two sons. They’re growing up in a church that tells them “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife,” but somehow does not adequately explain to them that this does not mean thine own wife is thy possession. (So much of the biblical language about sex reflects ancient and patriarchal cultures, and so little of our time is spent identifying the outgrowths of unquestioned interpretation of those texts.) As parents, we’re working hard to teach our sons to understand consent — so when we tickle and they say, “Stop!”, we stop. No means no, every time. (On today’s college campuses, one in four women is raped. By someone’s son. Who maybe grew up in a church.) We’re trying to teach them that their body is theirs — so when Grandma says goodbye, they can choose to high-five or to wave or to give a hug. (Physical touch isn’t something people owe to one another, ever.) But I’ll be honest — these feel like raindrops in a hurricane. My boys are growing up in a culture that teaches that sex is a weapon. And churches aren’t combatting that — in fact, Christian organizations often strike me as the worst perpetrators of sexual harassment and victim-blaming. I wish my church would study that.
I wish they’d talk about shame. All our talk of abstinence and purity has produced some very poorly-educated and remarkably repressed churchgoers. I don’t think the kids in youth group are less sexually curious or even less sexually active, but they’re definitely more ashamed. With every duct-tape demonstration, we’re producing more silence and stigma and danger, but not more faithful behavior. We have fully failed to articulate a sexual ethic that is interesting, inviting, healthy, and faithful — focusing instead on frightening our children away from their desires. Because somehow we believe that worked for us. Our therapists beg to differ with that. I wish my church would study that.
I wish they’d study masculinity. I wish they’d study ethics related to fertility and technology. I wish they’d study sex trafficking. I wish they’d study singleness. I wish the church could be the place where our many questions could be explored in earnest — questions about what makes us human, what connects us to one another, what teaches us about the sacred and the spiritual.
I wish a conversation about human sexuality in the church could resist the impulse to hyper-focus on “them” when it is glaringly obvious that we’ve failed to talk about “us” — we have let pressing questions go unaddressed in our congregations, and in our bedrooms, on our computer screens, for our kids. I wish we weren’t tacitly telling people they should look elsewhere for these answers. ‘Cause elsewhere is exactly where everybody’s looking.