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--Are Sex and Spirituality Compatible in Christianity?

by Paul Williams
"They recognize each other by secret signs and marks; they fall in love almost before
they are acquainted; everywhere they introduce a kind of religious lust, a promiscuous
`brotherhood' and `sisterhood.'"[1] This is a second century description of early
Christians, who the Roman establishment considered to be a promiscuous sex cult which
indulged in orgies at secret meetings.
The sex-cult impression must have been hard to eradicate for as late as A.D. 320,
Emperor Licinius was promulgating laws that forbade Christian men and women (in the
Eastern empire) from appearing in company together in their houses of prayer.[2]
By the fourth century, this persecuted love movement called Christianity was drastically
transforming. Under Emperor Constantine, Christianity became firstly tolerated and later
installed as the imperial religion of Rome (Edict of Milan, A.D. 313). Heavily influenced
by sex-negative Gnostic teachings, fractured into rival Christian groups that hurled
accusations of bizarre sex practices at each other [3], and becoming all too eager to
distance themselves from any sign of sexual impropriety, the great separation of human
sexuality and spirituality began in earnest in Christianity.
Christianity and Sex explores some of the historical, howbeit, not always scriptural,
development of Orthodox Christian views on sex. This is a resource publication
containing quotations from various contemporary writers, scholars, theologians and
clergy on the subject of Christianity and Sex.
And God created . . . every living creature that moveth . . . and God saw that it was good.
And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful and multiply. . . . God said, Let us make man in
Our image, after Our likeness. . . . And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man
should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. . . . [So] in the image of God
created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them, and God said
unto them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it. . . . And God
saw everything that He had made, and, behold, it was very good (Genesis 1:21-26; 2:18;
"Be fruitful and multiply!" "Reproduce!" was one of the first things God commanded the
creatures of His glorious creation. And then again, after the great deluge, God reminded
Noah and all that survived with him that they had an important job to do--reproduce!
And God blessed Noah and his sons, and said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and
replenish the earth (Genesis 8:17; 9:1).
Throughout history, God put His stamp of approval on human sexuality and reproduction.
To Abraham and later to Jacob (Israel) He basically said, "I am God and I want you to
I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be
of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins (Genesis 35:11; see also Genesis 12:1,2,7).
God has a point to make, He is above what currently is considered politically correct in
many matters, even using the human sexual act to illustrate what He wants to say if need
be. The prophet Hosea, for example, was commanded by God to go and marry a whore
and have children by her. God certainly knew this would raise the eyebrows of some of
the self-righteous, letter-of-the-law religious leaders in Israel, but having His prophet
move in with a local prostitute provided God with an excellent opportunity to use the
predictable reaction of the community to illustrate His own displeasure over their far
worse acts of spiritual fornication and unfaithfulness to Him.
And the Lord said to Hosea [God's prophet], Go, take unto thee a wife of whoredoms and
children of whoredoms. . . . So he [Hosea] went and took Gomer the daughter of
Diblaim; which conceived, and bare him a son (Hosea 1:2,3).
Many passages of the Bible are unabashedly erotic, including the Song of Solomon, and
various descriptions of the relationship between God and His "unfaithful" Church. Even
the promised world of spiritual bliss to come begins with the marriage feast of the Lamb
(Jesus) for all who believe in Him, His "Bride," who then enjoy pleasures forever more at
the right hand of God. (See Revelation 19; Psalm 16:11.)
The Scriptures are rich in sexual stories, allusions and sexual terms, demonstrating that
God is far from being a prude when it comes to sex, and that he doesn't mince His words.
As a result, some sections of the Bible, such as the Song of Solomon, were virtually
banned by fourth century celibates who feared they were just too hot.
Some people are trying to have the Bible banned as too sexual and sexist for our times.
The truth is that although the Bible is a sexy Book, it also contains much thorny
commentary on the hypocrisy of humanity, which may be the real source of its
unpopularity in certain circles. What modern writer, for example, would dare to describe
the 600 B.C. city of Jerusalem the way God inspired the great prophet Ezekiel to describe
it in chapter 16 of the Book of Ezekiel?
The chapter begins with a graphic description of God's involvement with Jerusalem, as a
man involved with a woman, using explicitly sexual terms. At first she was just a filthy
little abandoned baby that He took pity on, washed and beautified. Then, when she grows
old enough and it "was the time of love" (verse 8), God makes love to her and showers
her with presents. This ungrateful woman, however, runs away from God to become a
whore, and a foolish one at that, who God says doesn't even have common sense enough
to charge for her sexual services, but rather pays her lovers. To discipline her, God allows
her enemies to strip her naked and abuse her. In the end God takes her back a more
humble and submitted woman. This is not a piece of bizarre sex-cult literature, but an
allegorical part of sacred Scripture revered by millions of Jews and Christians alike as the
very Word of God.
As already pointed out, God Himself created human sexuality and said it was "very
good" and His first commandment to man and woman was to "be fruitful and multiply."
Yet, it only took one sly serpent in the Garden of Eden to foist upon humanity one of the
cruelest lies imaginable--that contrary to Scripture, sex was "very bad" and not "very
good," that God's physical creation, the human body, was evil and shameful, and that it
was not good for man and woman to dwell together, "to be fruitful and multiply."
Sexual pleasures, so the lie went, sprang like an evil forbidden fruit planted by the Devil
himself in the garden of human goodness, and it had to be crushed, uprooted and cast out
if the human soul hoped to escape the flames of Hell. Once the Devil, the "father of lies
and of all that is false" (John 8:44), had successfully planted his evil seeds of doubt about
God, Creation, and human sexuality in the hearts and minds of humanity, the tragic
wedge between spirituality and sexuality was in place.
Those who believed the lie and chose the anti-sexual body-rejecting path to perfection
soon found the Biblical account of Adam and Eve frolicking naked and unashamed
through the Garden (Genesis 2:25) a rather embarrassing quirk in the religious record that
needed to be explained away. Hence, Adam's expulsion from the Garden was taken to
mean that he had been booted out for having had sex with Eve [4], who was portrayed as
an evil sexual seductress who caused the curse to fall upon an otherwise perfect man.
Sex, therefore, was to be viewed as part of the curse, the evil deed that got man into
trouble; and woman was responsible.
The real sin in the Garden was Adam and Eve's succumbing to the Devil's temptation to
disobey God and partake of the forbidden fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and
After Adam and Eve sinned they became aware that they were naked and hid themselves
from God (see Genesis 3:8). Finding them hiding from Him and covering themselves,
God asked them who told them they were naked and that it was wrong, and asked if they
had eaten of the tree. (See Genesis 3:7,11). Therefore, logically, clothing and the first fig
leaf cover-up should be viewed by Christians as the shameful result of human sin,
rebellion, deceit and disobedience to God. However, it has instead been embraced by
many as the badge of honor, decency and wonderful "natural" modesty.
Sexually bound denominations within Christianity still defend their obsession with
excessive prudery and their extreme, sex-negative attitudes by pointing out that God
Himself endorsed this great human cover-up when He made humans their first set of
clothes from animal skins. Men like Saint Gregory of Nyssa and Saint Maximos the
Confessor championed the case for covering up, teaching that these "garments of skin"
(chitones) represented the animal-like nature that humanity took on as a result of the Fall,
which included an acquired animal-like sexuality. What cure did they recommend for this
awful animal affliction that could have been easily avoided had God only created humans
sexless? Virginity! They argued that virginity was the original immortal incorruptible
state of humankind and that we should all strive to stay virgins (see Sherrard, 1976: 5-7).
It is a fact that "unto Adam and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins, and
clothed them" (Genesis 3:21), when they were about to leave the Garden. But let us not
confuse God's love to be a sign of His own personal approval of sex-negative teachings.
God did not make them "coats of skins" because He thought that they needed to cover up
because their bodies were vile, evil, dirty, sensual, sinful devices. It was not true that He
had unfortunately and unwisely equipped their bodies with sexual parts, that
coincidentally worked so wonderfully together and felt so good, but were too wicked to
even be seen without suffering some great spiritual damage. More likely, God wrapped
them up in warm animal skins for protection out of love and mercy, knowing how they
were pathetically unprepared for the harsh new living conditions outside the Garden.
Dealing with the dissonance that erupts when human sexuality and spirituality are set at
odds has plagued all religions, but Christianity in particular. Church history reveals that a
very long and stormy battle has been fought over the question of body and spirit,
sexuality and spirituality, pleasure and piety. When human sexuality became the enemy
of spirituality, humankind was caught in a dualistic dilemma. They were forced to choose
between pleasure now and pain forever, between passion and paradise. Wherever this
dualistic dilemma has seized control of religious belief, people have been thrown out of
sync with their own God-created sexuality and have as a result suffered great mental
agonies tormented by guilt and have become hateful of their own bodies and sexuality.
It is certainly legitimate to ask why sex was associated with sin for such a long time
(Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, 1978).
The entrenchment of anti-sexual teachings in Christianity is actually not as traceable to
the misinterpretations of the Bible as it is to the intentional anti-sexual teachings and
writings of certain individuals. In the centuries following Jesus, a group of ascetics rose
to positions of power and influence in the Church.
In the post-apostolic period Christian writers began expressing much more restrictive
views of the role of sex in human life. . . . Church leaders needed to deal with the
problems that sexual relations raised within the Christian community. There was a broad
agreement that marital sex was acceptable, although a number of important writers
sought to discourage sex among the devout. A few Christian groups taught that
Christians were not subject to sexual restrictions and might have relations with anyone
whom they pleased. Other doctrinal deviants wished to ban all sexual relations, even in
marriage (Brundage, 1987: 74, 75).
The anti-sex lobby of "doctrinal deviants" gained the upper hand in the sex struggle,
labeling their sexually liberated brethren as heretics and "aberrants," much as they do to
this very day. Some "deviants," as we will see, became so sexually uncomfortable with
parts of the Bible that they virtually banned reading of them, fearing that the people
would fall into sin from all those sinful sexual thoughts that might arise while reading
suggestive selections of Scripture.
Reay Tannahill in her revision of Sex in History, points out:
What the modern world still understands by "sin" stems not from the teaching of Jesus of
Nazareth, or from the tablets handed down from Sinai, but from the early sexual
vicissitudes of a handful of men who lived in the twilight days of imperial Rome
(Tannahill, 1992: 138).
Certain members of the church are quick to point out that the great "eunuch" for the
Gospel's sake, Saint Paul's own personal preference was to remain unmarried, thinking it
was good not to even touch a woman. However, he states in 1 Corinthians 7:12 and 25
that this was entirely his own opinion and not the Lord's. Jesus Himself showed no such
qualms about touching women or being touched by even the most socially and sexually
questionable of women, even in public (Luke 7:37-39,44). Even this same sexually
reserved Saint Paul warned of an approaching evil sexual downturn in Christianity:
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the
faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy;
having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to
abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them
which believe and know the truth (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
Marriage is honourable, and the bed undefiled (Saint Paul, Hebrews 13:4).
In the first three hundred years of its existence, the Church placed few restrictions upon
its clergy in regard to marriage. Celibacy was, as Paul indicated, a matter of choice
(Thomas, 1986: 8).
Far from receiving the joys of human coitus with thanksgiving, certain "Founding
Fathers," heavily influenced by Greek, Roman and Persian teachings and traditions, and
pushing Saint Paul's personal preference for sexual abstinence to the limit, lashed out
against all sex. Men like Tertullian [5] (c. 150-230), Saint Jerome [6] (331?-420) and
Saint Augustine (354-430) set their seal of approval to the doctrine that human sexuality
was fundamentally detestable.
The ascetic monks of the fourth century made celibacy and suffering for the sake of
greater spirituality very fashionable [7] and, as Philip Sherrard described in Christianity
and Eros, they began teaching that "only through monastic celibacy can man recover that
natural--sexless--state for which [man] was originally created `in the image'" of God
(Sherrard, 1976: 8).
Heaven became thought of as a sexless place, though by all New Testament eye-witness
accounts, Jesus Himself seemed to have survived the transition to His new body with His
manliness still plainly evident, and appropriately so for a bridegroom in waiting. The
monastic mindset took the Scripture where Jesus said that men and women would not
marry or be given in marriage in Heaven as a proof of celestial celibacy. However, far
from proving that a sexless eternity awaits believers, it could just as well mean that
Heaven will be more sexually liberal than most people presently imagine.
David Rice, a former priest, in his book, Shattered Vows, tells us that the early anti-sexual
teachings and practices embraced by this rising celibate class of clerics were "steeped in
gnosticism, one of the oldest and most persistent of all heresies, which sees the body as
evil and only the spirit as good" (Rice, 1990: 139).
Robert T. Francoeur, a Catholic priest and a fellow of the Society for the Scientific Study
of Sex, is Professor of Human Embryology and Sexuality at Fairleigh Dickenson
University and has written no less than twenty books on human sexuality. This very
respected author and academic, in his essay The Religious Suppression of Eros, gives us
the following summary of the sexual derailment of Christianity:
"To understand the evolution from the early sex-affirming Hebraic culture to
Christianity's persistent discomfort with sex and pleasure, we have to look at three
interwoven threads: the dualistic cosmology of Plato [i.e. the soul and mind are at war
with the body], the Stoic philosophy of early Greco-Roman culture [i.e., nothing should
be done for the sake of pleasure], and the Persian Gnostic tradition [i.e., that demons
created the world, sex and your body--in which your soul is trapped, and the key to
salvation is to free the spirit from the bondage of the body by denying the flesh]. Within
three centuries after Jesus, these influences combined to seduce Christian thinkers into a
rampant rejection of human sexuality and sexual pleasure."
Many people forget that the pleasure-loving Greek society contained anti-sexual ascetic
extremes as well. Epicurus condemned sex, saying, "Sexual intercourse never benefited
any man" (Davies, 1984: 176). Diogenes, a famous Greek cynic, lived in a washtub to
shun the temptations of the flesh, and the Greek Stoics only permitted sex for procreation
purposes. It was these and other ascetic forces that came to affect Christianity.
Plato taught in The Laws that the world would be a better place if all sex were "starved."
Socrates and Plato both taught that all sexual activity was harmful to the health of the
soul. In the third century, Plotinus went far beyond Plato in denigrating sex, teaching that
mystical ecstasies could be had through denying the body.
Saint Augustine, the leading theologian of the fourth century, embraced the faith on April
25, 387 along with his "illegitimate" son, leaving behind his wife and his second mistress.
He had already split up from his first concubine, the mother of his son, after 17 years of
living together. He turned his home in Hippo into a monastery, and as Bishop of Hippo,
proceeded to make many literary contributions to Christianity. His sexual views were
affected by the monastic temperament of the times, perhaps an over-compensation for the
sexuality of his liberal youth.
It was Saint Augustine who, according to Nigel Davies in The Rampant God, "set the
final seal on the anti-sexual bias of the Church" (Davies, 1984: 180). Before becoming a
Christian, Saint Augustine had studied the works of Plotinus, and for eleven years was a
member of the Manichaean sect, whose founder taught that Adam and Eve resulted from
the Devil's children having sex, and procreation was just another evil part of the Prince of
Darkness' creation.
Saint Augustine did, however, consider sex a necessary evil, though certainly not
something to be enjoyed. He even thought it was permissible to take a second wife if the
first was barren, and grudgingly admitted that Adam and Eve may have had sex in the
Garden before their Fall, but theorized that it was a very cold dutiful mechanical act
without passion. After daring to suggest that even if they did have sex in the Garden, he
assures his readers that they certainly would not have enjoyed it.
The stance of an earlier theologian, Saint Clement of Alexandria (c. 150 - c. 200), may
have helped temper Augustine's attack on sex. Clement, himself a celibate monk, taught
that those who condemn sex within marriage set themselves against the teachings of the
Gospels, and that marriage was conducive to the spiritual well-being of faithful
Christians. Though, having sex for pleasure rather than procreation, "voluptuous joy" as
he called it, he discouraged [8] (Brundage, 1987: 66,67).
Many contemporaries of Saint Augustine were equally cool towards human coitus, and
therefore cold towards women in general. Arnobius (d. c. A.D. 317) called intercourse
filthy and degrading.
Methodius thought sex was "unseemly," and Ambrose, a "defilement." Saint John
Chrysostom, the "golden-mouthed" orator of the fourth century, had little golden to say
about the fair sex in general: "Among all savage beasts, none is found as harmful as
Tertullian publicly renounced his own sexual relationship with his wife and taught that
sexual intercourse drives out the Holy Spirit. Women, he declared, are "the devil's door:
through them Satan creeps into men's hearts and minds and works his wiles for their
spiritual destruction."[9] Saint Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century showed little
improvement in attitude, saying that "Woman is defective. . . a male gone awry . . . the
result of some weakness in the father's generative power" (cited in Rice, 1990: 138). A
teaching common during that time taught that women and the lower half of men were
created by the Devil.[10]
As the dark clouds of Gnostic body-hatred gathered within Christianity, human sexuality
was no longer viewed as a blessing, a Song of Songs, a gift from God, but rather a
seducing curse which was dragging humankind into the flames of Hell.
Certain Scriptures became very troublesome because they plainly did not support this
anti-sexual attitude. Hence the new anti-sex medieval world order found it expedient to
limit Bible reading, in practice, removing the Bible from circulation, replacing it with
long lists of rules and regulations, punishments and penance and anti-sexual explanations
and new interpretations of God's Word.
A few early religious scholars became so ill-at-ease with the Scriptural record that they
decided to write their own scriptures. Some of these remain to this day and contain
numerous anti-sex passages that degrade marriage as "a foul polluted way of life" or call
it "an experiment of the serpent" or say that Jesus came "to destroy the [sexual] works of
the female." Fortunately such writings as The Acts of Andrew, The Acts of John [11], etc.,
have ended up on the scrap heap and not in the New Testament.
Origen (c. 185-254), an early monastic but Greek philosopher at heart, became so
unsettled by his own sexuality that it is said he castrated himself, to become a literal
eunuch. However, by so doing he spoiled his chances for canonization due to concerns
over certain rules in the Old Testament regarding emasculated men. Origen took
particular sexual exception to the Song of Solomon, warning Christians, "Everyone who
is not yet rid of the vexation of the flesh and blood and not ceased to feel passion of his
bodily nature should refrain completely from reading this book" (cited by Francoeur).
Origen wanted to make sure that this highly erotic Biblical account of tempestuous
lovemaking centering around Solomon, the king with 700 wives and 300 concubines (1
Kings 11:3), would be viewed by subsequent generations as purely allegorical.
Saint Jerome was also bothered by this "tawdry tale" and taught that it was not really
about sex with a lover, but about virgins who mortify the flesh. Other monastic minds
taught that the woman in the Song represented Christ, and the two breasts mentioned
were the Old and New Testaments.
Francoeur makes the following interesting observation about the Song of Solomon:
The history of Jewish and Christian responses to the Song of Songs is a microcosm of the
evolution of Western culture from a sex-affirming Hebraic perspective to a sex-negative
Christian one, ill-at-ease with eroticism, sensuality, passion, and pleasure.
Some of the most sexually repressive times and regimes in history are also marked by
much Scripture illiteracy, either through repression, rejection or misrepresentation of the
Word of God. Repressive and sex-negative church teachings soon made the Bible
virtually a banned book to be locked away from the laity who might "misinterpret"
certain Scriptures--in other words, who may realize while reading the Bible that
something was wrong with Christendom. Davies explains:
A Dark Age followed, after which in the Middle Ages, Church control over mind and
body was so absolute as to make the totalitarian tyrannies of our century seem almost
tolerant. To question a mere syllable of Church dogma was to court death (Davies, 1984:
Cut off from Scriptures by a ruling celibate clerical class, the laity soon fell prey to their
doctrines. All manner of sexual myths were foisted upon the faithful, complete with
terrifying tales of eternal torment to all who dared to deviate from the virgin ideal. The
war between sexuality and spirituality had begun in earnest. Men and women found
themselves forced to go contrary to creation and natural order, and fight their own "flesh"
to save their souls.
Fourth century celibacy and ascetic madness, patterned more after pagan teachings than
Jesus or the Bible, soon threatened to overthrow all Christendom. Brundage tells us:
As the Church became part of the mainstream of Roman life, it borrowed increasingly
from the pagan world, from which it had formerly been almost totally estranged. In the
process, both Christian institutions and thought were irrevocably altered. These
developments also signaled the beginning of radical changes in the ways the authorities
of both Church and government dealt with sexual matters (Brundage, 1987: 76).
By the eighth century an enormously strict system of sexual rules and penalties was
firmly in place, covering every imaginable thought and action related to sex. Jesus, as the
Merciful Intercessor, the joyful Messenger of God's love and forgiveness of all sins, as
well as His free gift of Salvation through faith, were trodden underfoot by an emerging
supposed sex-hating ascetic god who demanded complete sacrifice and much suffering
from humanity. The message of damnation soon replaced the Good News that even the
vilest of sinners could be forgiven and saved through Jesus. In fact, "it came to be held
that only one person in a million could hope to reach Heaven" (Taylor, 1970: 69).
Sexual accounts in the Bible were twisted to fit the new non-sexual image of holiness.
The mechanics of how Mary was impregnated by God and yet remained a virgin was
most challenging for anti-sexualists to resolve. One popular explanation was that God or
the Archangel Gabriel impregnated the Blessed Mary through her ear or windpipe using a
special vapor (Taylor, 1970: 62). Some early paintings show the Holy Spirit, in the form
of a dove, descending with great speed carrying God's sperm in its bill. In one early
carving, the semen came from God's mouth and entered a tube which led under Mary's
Of course, once she was pregnant they faced the task of figuring out how Jesus could be
born without having to touch or pass through Mary's "parts of shame," explaining why
some taught that Jesus emerged through Mary's breast or navel. Certain Gnostics insisted
that Jesus had not been born of Mary at all but descended from Heaven fully formed, thus
avoiding the whole question (Davies, 1984: 179).
New Testament references to the other children born to Mary after Jesus, were brushed
off as being "relatives" and not literal brothers and sisters. (See Matthew 12:46; 13:55;
Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 2:12; Acts 1:14.) Mother Mary could not be allowed to be
seen as having been too "motherly," since she would have had to indulge in sex after
Jesus was born in order to have other children. That simply could not be allowed.
The warm, colorful, people-loving Christ of Scripture, comfortable with His own body
and the little pleasures of life, was replaced by a solitary suffering celibate who fought off
sex as well as Satan. The soul-freeing, sin-forgiving significance of His death and
resurrection was blurred by long lists of do's and don'ts, indulgences and sacred relics.
The liberating message of Jesus, who came that we might have life, and have it more
abundantly (John 10:10), was greatly toned down. This joyful wine maker and wine
drinker, this friend of sinners and harlots, this divine Man, who healed on the Sabbath
and constantly confounded and challenged the religious rules and the showy deeds of the
religious of His day, while being cared for by an entourage of worshipful and often
wealthy women (Luke 8:2,3), was not the exemplary ascetic figure envisioned by a
celibate ecclesia.
As celibacy and anti-sexual teachings spread throughout Christianity, they quickly took
on political dimensions as well as spiritual.
The Spanish provincial Synod of Eliberis (the Council of Elvira), in 305, enjoined
bishops, priests, and deacons to separate from their wives. This ruling was disallowed by
the Council of Nicaea, in 325. The counsel did not agree with the total banning of priests
from marrying, deeming that honorable marriage was as truly chaste as the life of a
celibate. However, in 385, Pope Siricius again commanded complete celibacy for
bishops, priests, and deacons, and called for the separation of those who were married.
In A Handbook of Church History by Samuel G. Greene, we learn that:
False notions of Christian purity led in many instances to the voluntary separation of
husband and wife. . . . Justinian was the first in the Eastern Empire to forbid married
persons to be elected bishops. [Subdeacons could still have wives.] In the West,
endeavours to enforce celibacy on all the clergy were made with indifferent success, until
the days of Hildebrand (Gregory VII), in the Eleventh Century, by whom the law was
made absolute. The East, on the contrary, while eventually (after the Synod of Trulla,
A.D. 692) requiring celibacy in the bishop, not only permits, but encourages the
marriage of the rest of the clergy (Greene, 1907: 229).
Since little distinction was made between the policy of celibacy for the clergy and the sex
lives of the laity, and since the celibate class controlled "the keys to the Kingdom," all sex
was deemed as bad and only virginity was good.
During the fourth and fifth centuries Mary's popular appeal greatly increased, and her
[lifelong] virginity became widely accepted, providing a still more secure basis, in the
teaching of the Church, for its priests and later its nuns to accept compulsory celibacy.
But there were married clergy, who in theory remained continent (Thomas, 1986: 9).
Building upon the Roman tradition of vestal virgins, female virginity under the celibates
took on a new twist and nunneries spread. All virgins became viewed as being the "brides
of Christ," therefore for anyone to take away a girl's virginity was a crime against Christ
Himself. Virginity became viewed as so much superior to marriage that even for husband
and wife to avoid sex and try to remain "just virgins" was greatly encouraged.
The real "sin" of sex, however, was not so much the procreative act, loathsome as it was
perceived to be. It was the experience of sexual pleasure that was the prime source of sin.
Many took steps to make sure that even marital sex was limited to procreation purposes
and was made as unenjoyable as possible; some even rigged up animal skin barriers with
a hole cut in the rough hide that caused the maximum discomfort and allowed the
minimum of body contact between a copulating couple. This device and others
presumably reduced the amount of sin involved by reducing the amount of pleasure
(Taylor, 1970: 51). Saint Paul was never so unkind. He insisted that men and women
should not "defraud" each other of their sexual rights, seeing their bodies were needed by
and belonged to each other (1 Corinthians 7:4,5).
A few Christian churches today still teach that sex is solely for the purpose of procreation
and not for pleasure. Would they be so zealous, we wonder, if they realized that it's not
the Bible they have to thank for this harsh approach to sexual joys, but heathen teachers
and non-Christian philosophers like Seneca the Younger and Musonius Rufus, Stoic
contemporaries of Jesus, and others? And it was the Greek Stoic Artemidorous, not
"missionary" Christians, who first taught that the only morally acceptable position for
intercourse was male-superior face-to-face (Francoeur: The Religious Suppression of
In modern times, several passages in the Bible are used as justification for condemning
"fornication." However, "porneia," the word used in the Greek Bible, actually had many
meanings such as whoremongering and excessive, illicit sex, and not simply casual sex
between couples, as is pointed out by Brundage:
Several passages in the Gospels condemn porneia. This word carried a number of
different meanings. At times porneia means prostitution, at other times it refers to non-
marital sex in general.[12] It is difficult to be certain, for example, whether the term
applied to premarital intercourse between persons betrothed to one another or, indeed, to
any type of non-commercial, heterosexual relations of the kind conventionally labeled
fornication. Since neither the Torah nor rabbinical teachers contemporary with Jesus
prohibited intercourse between unmarried partners as a moral offense, perhaps porneia
referred primarily to sex with prostitutes, adultery, and other promiscuous relationships
[13] (Brundage 1987: 58).
Regarding sexual liberties which were taken by the early Church, we know that they did
have some trouble with "wild fire" in certain quarters, as indicated by Saint Paul's rebuke
to the Corinthians, where reports of fornication and incest were quite common (1
Corinthians 5:1).
Saint Paul subscribed marriage as a solution to such excesses:
Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman
have her own husband (1 Corinthians 7:2).
Much of Paul's conservatism may be attributed not only to his strict Pharisaic
background, but also to the fact that most of his Greek and Asian converts had come out
of cultures in which male and female temple prostitution were noble professions. And,
sexual excesses and orgies were a way of life amongst the pagans of the Near East. This
is why many scholars interpret a number of New Testament references to "fornicators" to
be specifically talking about "[male] temple prostitutes," not inclusive of all those who
engage in sex with a partner to whom they are not married.
Paul's pronouncements regarding sex, as applied by sexually conservative Christians,
come in direct conflict with the central theme of the Epistles. We believe that Jesus has
utterly delivered us from the old Mosaic laws and purity requirements, against sex
between consenting men and women. For "Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the
[Mosaic] Law" (Galatians 3:13), "blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was
against us [the old Law], which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to
His cross" (Colossians 2:14).
Surprisingly, sex between singles was not viewed as being as sinful as masturbation in
the Middle Ages, at least by some. However, David A. Schulz and Dominic S. Raphael in
their article, Christ and Tiresias: A Wider Focus on Masturbation, make the following
historic observation:
In other cultures less restrictive [than Western cultures] by tradition, parents even
encourage self-stimulation by playing with the genitals of infants. The medieval
printmaker Hans Baldung Grien, shocks many Christians today because he incorporated
this custom into his portrait of the Holy Family. In his picture, Saint Anne stimulates the
genitals of her grandson, Jesus, while His mother and father look on [14] (Feuerstein,
1989: 222).
Still, according to Aquinas, masturbation was a greater sin than fornication. The death of
Judah's son, Onan, who "spilled his seed" (i.e., performed coitus interruptus) rather than
willingly impregnate his widowed sister-in-law as custom required, is often mistakenly
pointed out as the example of how displeasing to God masturbation must be (Genesis
Read in context, however, one quickly sees that what provoked God to slay Onan was his
selfishness, greed and withholding and refusing to accommodate Tamar, his brother's
widow, not wanting her to have any children to inherit part of the family property. In
slaying Onan, God was intent that Tamar receive justice, but He also had another reason
to be particularly concerned about her success in love-making; she was chosen to be an
ancestor of Jesus. As a spicy epilogue, Tamar assisted God's purpose by posing as a
prostitute, thereby luring Judah to fulfill his Godly duty (Genesis 38:13-26).
The "Agapae," or "love feasts" of Early Christians, had for the first three centuries been a
time when liberal contributions were made by the rich to the poor at a special gathering
held for fun, feasting and fellowship. The Council of Carthage, in the year 397, repressed
and solemnly condemned these "love feasts." Rev. Charles Buck described the demise of
this quaint Christian custom:
The kind of charity, with which the ceremony used to end, was no longer given between
different sexes; and it was expressly forbidden to have any beds or couches for the
conveniency of those who should be disposed to eat more at ease. Notwithstanding these
precautions, the abuses committed in them became so notorious, that the holding of them
(at least in churches) was solemnly condemned at the Council of Carthage, in the year
397 (Buck, 1838: 16).
In spite of every new rule, restriction and "religious" precaution, human sexuality did not
for one moment depart, it only smoldered, mutated or transformed, often into more
"acceptable" forms of religious expression. As Taylor points out in Sex in History,
"Sexual energy cannot be reduced or annihilated; if denied outlet in one form, it soon
finds it in another" (Taylor, 1970: 300).
In a Washington Post interview, Rev. Richard D. Dobbins, an Ohio psychologist and
pastoral counselor points out that the unhealthy suppression of sexual drive easily leads
to deviant sexual behavior, and adds:
While the Bible takes a healthy view toward the body and sexuality, institutional religion
tends to see those things as wicked and evil. Children are not taught how to think of their
body. It is a dark, secret side of themselves (cited by Session Steps, 1988: 3, Section A).
All this suppressed sexuality soon manifested itself in the most appalling of practices.
Shamefully, many of these practices were then elevated to the level of Christian piety and
virtue: the weekly flagellation of penitents and priests stripped naked, self-mutilations,
castrations, sexual fixations and obsessions--frequently involving Jesus or Mary,
sadomasochistic behavior, witch-hunts, religious massacres, to touch on only a few.
Noted anthropologist Nigel Davies, in his book The Rampant God, comments on the
sexual anguish endured by centuries of Christians robbed of normal sexual enjoyment:
No one can ever quantify the mental anguish inflicted upon Christian believers through
the centuries, an anguish beyond comprehension of other people; accepting in their
minds [as] divine truths that every fiber of their body impelled them to ignore, they were
forever haunted by fear of the fires of hell and thereby even suffered the torments of the
damned during their life on earth (Davies, 1984: 184).
The glaring inconsistencies between the anti-sexual version of Christianity, and the Godly
origins of sex and salvation as revealed in Scripture, fortunately were never successfully
obliterated, even under the most unbridled of Gnostic attacks to overthrow the natural
order of God-ordained human sexuality. Men and women of God throughout Church
history have, under inspiration of Scripture, struggled to lift the cruel, unscriptural yoke
of sexual repression off the shoulders of their fellow Christians.
Peter Abelard (1079-1142), one of the leading medieval theologians and the famous lover
of Heloise, openly opposed this anti-sexual value system. Abelard wrote:
No natural pleasure of the flesh may be declared as sin, nor may one impute guilt when
someone is delighted by pleasure where he must necessarily feel it. . . . From the first day
of our creation when man lived without sin in paradise, sexual intercourse and good
tasting foods were naturally bound up with pleasure. God himself had established nature
in this way (cited by Robert T. Francoeur in his essay, The Religious Suppression of
Abelard's liberal views were not well received by at least one powerful priest. When
Abelard's secret love affair was discovered with Heloise (a student he was tutoring, who
was the niece of the Canon of the Cathedral of Notre Dame), Heloise's outraged clerical
uncle, Fulbert, had him castrated.
Francoeur comments:
Because we live in a society that prefers a puritive work ethic over an ethic of love and
compassion, it is risky indeed to assert pleasure, especially sexual pleasure, as a
legitimate social goal.
The sexual outrage unleashed against Abelard by the furious priest Fulbert is not
perceivably different from the sexual hostility that lashes out even today against men and
women of God who sincerely question the unscriptural anti-sexual bias and burden
placed on Christianity by an ascetic movement some sixteen centuries ago. What "fallen"
priest or pastor being pilloried in the public media today for "sexual misconduct" with a
woman does not long for this weight to be lifted at last?
Men like Martin Luther (1483-1546) were alerted by Scripture to the fact that
Christianity, carrying its precious message of salvation by grace, had been seriously
blown off course. Heartened by a renewed access to the Word of God, many men and
women placed their lives in peril to repulse the tide of untruths that had swept not only
human sexuality off course, but covered and confused the entire message of salvation by
grace through Jesus Christ.
Luther, the one-time monk liberated by the Light of the true Gospel, burst out of his
celibate cage, shook off his sexual shackles, married a nun and joyfully proceeded to be
fruitful and multiply and fill his house with children. He rocked the Christian world when
he proved by Scripture that human works, such as sexual abstinence, fasting, good works,
body deprivations, self-effort, donating to the church, etcetera, could contribute nothing
towards a man's salvation. "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but
according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the
Holy Ghost" (Titus 3:5).
Men could only be saved by having faith in Jesus. Salvation can only be received as a
free gift from God. "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it
is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8,9). When
threatened and asked to recant his "heretical" teachings, Luther stood firmly on Scripture,
proclaiming, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract
anything, since it is neither right nor safe to go against conscience. I cannot do
Downstream from the Reformation and the great awakening of Luther's time, teachings
that saintliness can be had through personal piety, generosity, self-inflicted suffering and
suppressed sexuality still persist in various forms throughout much of Christianity and
secular society today. However, more and more Christians of all denominations are
awakening to the sexual "captivity" they have endured for too long.
As Christendom finds itself buffeted and battered by increasingly violent storms, a great
awakening is taking place. One of the fruits of this new awareness is that the sad results
that anti-sexual extremes have had both on the Church and on humanity must now be
undone. Even in the Roman Catholic Church, the anti-sexual teachings of sainted
celibates are slowly being set aside. Many Christians are accepting the liberating love and
salvation of Jesus and coming to accept their own human sexuality as a truly natural and
God-ordained part of life, meant to be received with thanksgiving.--"For every creature
[creation] of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving"
(1 Timothy 4:4).
God's Yes to Sexuality, the report of a working group appointed by the British Council of
Churches, edited by Rachel Moss in 1981, reports:
Given and received in mutual surrender and trust, sexual intercourse can heal hurt,
mediate forgiveness, restore hope, and provoke laughter and a resilient attitude to life
(ibid., p. 157).
"Sex was created and instituted by God in the very beginning! God is the Author of
genuine pleasure, genuine happiness, genuine fleshly satisfaction, even sex! "All things
were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made" (John
1:3).--Including your sexual organs, your body, and every part of you. If sex is a sin, then
God is a sinner, because He made it and He created us to have it and enjoy it!
Sex was not the Devil's idea!--It was God's.--And the Devil is its arch-enemy because it
encourages the growth of the Kingdom of God! The Devil tries to take the credit for it,
and then turns around and condemns you for enjoying it. God created sex, not Satan!
God is the One Who made those sexual organs and every single nerve that feels so good!
He's the One Who dreamed up sexual pleasures and bodily contact and God Himself
created that marvelous final explosion called the orgasm!
God is the God of the body, the God of sex--He made your flesh in His image! `God
created man in His Own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female
created He them'(Genesis 1:27). Praise God for sex! He created it!"--by David Brandt
Berg (compiled quotes).
Serious cracks are forming in the moral retaining walls that have for so long stood for
what was assumed right and wrong in sexual matters. Social and sexual storms of the
nineties have left much of Christendom in a quandary. Faced with a growing disparity
between official policy and actual practices, Church policymakers are increasingly forced
to rule on issues unthinkable only a few decades back[15], having to accept or reject
sexual teachings and practices that at best will divide and at worst will alter or destroy
their church as they know it. Few denominations remain aloof from this battle, as
evidenced by the volume of sex-related articles, public debate and open dissension and
disagreement that can readily be found in many mainstream Christian publications and
public forums. Even the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, a prestigious
religious publishing house presided over by the Archbishop of Canterbury, has many
senior clerics upset over its publishing of Dr. Adrian Thatcher's book, Liberating Sex,
which calls for a wider acceptance of sex outside marriage, the right to remarry, and the
recognition of homosexual unions by Christians. Dr. Thatcher feels it is time for the
Church to "rethink" its sexual teaching and recognize that the Bible was written in a
different culture, one where most marriages took place at a very young age.
Some Christians react to the sexual changes taking place by lapsing into an inflexible
anti-sex siege mentality, wishing they could somehow turn back the clock to former times
and sexual customs they were more comfortable with. Some keep hoping that divine
intervention will perhaps suddenly pull them off the planet before "things get any worse."
Other Christians unite, organize, take action, picket, protest, lobby to change laws, and
fight to win back Christian political control of local and national government. Some face
the sexual storms of change boldly, searching for realistic and positive solutions. Others
simply run with the winds of "anything goes" sexual theology.
The Voices of Dissent
Until the twentieth century, [much of] Christianity and much of the Western world in
general have demonstrated for nearly 2,000 years an otherworldly, ascetic spirituality in
which sexuality [was] suspicious, if not actually sinful. Present inroads on the tradition
insist that:
1) Bodily experiences can reveal the divine.
2) Affectivity is as essential as rationality to true Christian love.
3) Christian love exists ... as the proper form of connection between ... human persons in
4) The experience of body pleasure is important in creating the ability to trust and love
others, including God (Gudorf, 1994: 217-218).
Sex-negative teachings have been blamed for driving many sincere and searching
individuals away from Christian churches, wearying the faithful as well as the clergy with
needless sexual concerns, shame, guilt, confusion, loneliness and frustration. Many
church-originated sex-negative teachings are now being ignored, challenged, re-evaluated
and even blamed for the growing apostasy and antipathy to Christianity in society.
Christianity as an institution is now suffering in part for having accepted the Gnostic
teachings that human sexuality is basically bad.
The churches have tried to tame our bodies and put us in pews (Rev. Matthew Fox cited
by Wright, 1993: 209).
Matthew Fox is a Dominican priest of international renown, founder of the Institute in
Culture and Creation Spirituality at Holy Names College in Oakland, California, and
author of several books. For making such pronouncements, as quoted above, he was
"officially silenced" in late 1988 by his church for a period of one year. Back on the
offensive and alluding to Martin Luther and others who spoke out for reform, Fox wryly
comments: "The Roman Catholic Church's track record on silencing its most prophetic
voices is not impressive!" (op. cit., 205).
Fox teaches that instead of trying to maintain control, Christians should practice letting
go, allowing themselves to participate in the natural ecstasies of the universe--including
sexual pleasures.
The Catholic Theological Society of America (CTSA) declares that "sexuality is the
Creator's ingenious way of calling people constantly out of themselves into relationship
with others." [16]
By directly linking "original sin" with sexual intercourse initiated by Eve under the
influence of Satan, second to fourth century theologians opened the door to a dreadful
attitude toward sex and women. Sex and women became the chief culprits that cost
humanity its immortality and to be cut off from God and brought the curse of disease, toil
and death into the world. Logically then, if sex and woman were such evil devices of
Satan, then presumably by renouncing them both, men (and women following the same
example) might earn some measure of favor with God, and begin to undo the curse upon
them (Brown, 1988: 86).
In his book, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, Fox writes:
If I were asked to name in one word the message I have received from my religion
regarding sexuality I would answer regret. I believe that the Western church, following in
the spirit of St. Augustine, basically regrets the fact that we are sexual, sensual creatures.
"If only sexuality would go away," the message goes, "we could get on with important
issues of faith." (Fox, 1988: 163).
To the question, "Did Jesus have sex?" Fox responds:
[The sexual revolution of the sixties] did not stop at the monastery door. Some of the
greatest monks and priests also had relationships. Remember that, except perhaps for
John, all of the disciples of Jesus were married. And of course, Jesus Himself was
certainly a fully sexual human being. . . . He was biologically developed as any other
human being. He had energy, He had vitality, He had passion--that's all sexual energy. As
to whom He made love with, or if He did, we don't know, but I feel this: because He was
Jewish, I don't know how He could be celibate. Celibacy is not a part of Jewish tradition.
. . . Obviously He knew a lot about women, and they were attracted to Him, not just
sexually but politically. He broke all the taboos toward women in His culture, and I think
it had a lot to do with His crucifixion (Fox cited by Wright, 1993: 214).
And what does this outspoken Dominican priest say about the celibate life?
I don't recommend to healthy young men that they go into the priesthood as it is currently
constituted. Celibacy was invented by the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century (op.
cit., 211).
It is generally acknowledged that there is a sexual awakening taking place in Judeo-
Christianity, so much so that even those of other faiths are beginning to notice and
applaud, saying, "What took you so long?" In an article for East West called, "Massaging
the Spirit," writer Mirka Knaster, commenting from an Eastern religious perspective,
enthusiastically observes that religious leaders from Catholic priests to Jewish rabbis are
attempting to bring body and spirit back together again:
Our attitude toward the mind-body connection has come a long way in the last two
decades, but resolving the body-spirit split has lagged. Acceptance is now growing, with
the help of people like Fox and [Sister Rosalind] Gefre [a massage-promoting nun in the
Order of St. Joseph of Carondelet], in mainstream religion. Catholic priests, sisters and
brothers, Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, and lay persons with a theological
background now openly support bodywork [massage] or are directly involved in it
(Knaster, 1990: 50).
Father Theodore Tracey, a Jesuit involved in retreat work and spiritual guidance, is
another Christian exponent of a "body-positive" perspective of theology. In his 1987
essay in Weavings, a journal of the Christian spiritual life, Father Tracey refers to St.
Paul's words that our bodies are in truth living temples of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians
6:19-20), and notes that our bodies as well as spirits are the foundation for salvation. The
physical body being important enough that God chose to manifest Himself in human
flesh through Jesus (ibid).
Fathers Tracey and Fox point out that accepting the teachings of the Greeks and others
led to a distortion of the original Judeo-Christian attitude toward the body. Fox says:
Jewish thinking takes for granted that the sensual is a blessing and that there is no
[spiritual] life without it (ibid).
Georg Feuerstein, from an eastern religious perspective, notes in his book Enlightened
Sexuality: Essays on Body-Positive Spirituality:
[Fox] envisions a renaissance of sexual mysticism, and in his book The Coming of the
Cosmic Christ, he offers one of the finest commentaries on Solomon's Song of Songs,
with a wholehearted endorsement of an erotic spirituality. . . . Fox is not alone in
protesting an antiquated theology and moral teaching. There are a growing number of
Christian notables who do not hide behind dogma but are considering, questioning, and
voicing their opposition against current Church attitudes. Sexuality is now generally
viewed as an area where genuine love and mutual delight can be expressed (Feuerstein,
1989: 8).
An increasing number of respected religious writers are turning out in force to challenge
the notion that Christianity and erotic sexuality are incompatible. They also challenge the
assumption that all Christians regard sex as something evil and alien to the Christian way
of life.
... the kiss of peace is sexual. Any worship that is true worship is sexual. It's all the same
energy. . . . I use sexual energy as a resource . . . (Woman pastor cited by Lebracqz and
Barton in Sex in The Parish, 1991: 25).
Sexual intimacy can be a means of grace, a resource for healing and transformation in
our lives (Rebecca Parker, "Making Love as a Means of Grace: Women's Reflections,"
Open Hands, vol. 3, no. 3, Winter 1988: 9-12).
James B. Nelson, author of Between Two Gardens and Embodiment: An Approach to
Sexuality and Christian Theology, takes the perspective that sexuality is the base on
which our capacity to enter into life-enhancing and life-enriching relationships is built.
Through one's sexuality, one has the possibility to become what God wants them to be:
fulfilled, integrated, sharing, and free recipients of divine love.
I was feeling unmistakably sexually aroused [during prayer]. My entire body was
longing for the Divine (Nelson, Between Two Gardens: Reflections on Sexuality and
Religious Experience, 1983: 4).
Sex Is Holy is the title of a thought-provoking book co-authored by respected Catholic
writers Mary Rousseau and Father Charles Gallagher [and] only one of many similar
serious publications done in the last decade by respectable theologians, writers and
publishers. It has been well received by church membership and given excellent reviews
by mainstream critics.
These two authors not only leap courageously into the Christian sexual fray, but even
laud as uniquely Catholic the view that having sex is not only a way to closer human
intimacy, but a way to greater intimacy with God:
The view of sex as a way to intimacy with other human beings, and into intimacy with the
Father, Son and Spirit is a distinctively Catholic view (Rousseau and Gallagher, 1986:
Prior to World War II, procreation was the sole purpose and only justification for sexual
intercourse in Catholic teaching. Vatican II fostered a kinder and gentler view of
humanity and the God-given sexual side of marriage. Tossing off the last vestiges of any
lingering concerns that marital sex may be hazardous to one's spiritual health, Rousseau
and Gallagher write:
We can absolutely guarantee that growing up in an atmosphere of sexual intimacy is,
next to life itself, the most precious gift that parents can give to their children.One who is
confused, inhibited and unhappy in his or her sexuality will be confused, inhibited and
unhappy as a person. Sexual identity and personal identity go together. The passion of
parents automatically gives children the most important message about sex that they
need to hear: that sex is not just intercourse, but intimacy . . . that sex also has a strong
positive redemptive power (op. cit., 100, 113).
These learned Catholic authors even boldly tackle the question of conduct and moments
of intimate affection between parents while in the presence of children:
The sexual intimacy of parents is the power base of their children's identities, including
their sexual identities. It grounds their emotional health and maturity, their overall
enjoyment of life, and their faith in God, Who is Love.
A child who sees his parent give and exchange eager little signs of passionate affection
gets the message "I am loved, because Mommy and Daddy love each other."
Sexual intercourse should have its due privacy, but the sexual intimacy which is the
couple's way of life is very much their children's business. It is the source of their
children's identity, and children have an absolute right to have that intimacy displayed
before them in a forthright and exciting fashion (op. cit., 101, 110, 115).
Why do the youth of today have problems forming wholesome and positive sexual
attitudes? Rousseau and Gallagher lay some of the blame on parental inhibitions about
sex which cause children to turn to more vulgar and perverse sources of information that
distort the image of a loving sexuality.
Rousseau and Gallagher offer the following explanation:
Parents hesitate to speak to their children about sex, just as much as their children
hesitate to speak to them. As a result, most teenagers get their sexual values from their
popular culture. But the picture of sex that our culture presents is an especially tawdry
one. Sex is vulgarized in rock music, commercialized on television, trivialized in the
movies. As a result, the adolescents of our day have very few sources from which they
might learn that sex is awesomely beautiful, powerfully joyous, deeply redemptive,
sacramentally holy. In fact, if we were to tell a group of teenagers that sex is holy, we
would be met by guffaws of laughter and/or met by stiffened expectations of a moralistic
lecture (op. cit., 112).
Rousseau and Gallagher also realize that sex education, while being a process that is
especially crucial when young adolescents first experience the powerful surges of sexual
feelings, to be effective must begin long before that.
If we do not put restraints on their curiosity, and do not put them down for asking
questions, three-year-olds will ask about love and death, about God, and yes, about sex.
And it is a basic law of educational psychology that human beings learn best when their
natural curiosity makes them ready to listen. The deepest kind of sex education, the kind
that communicates values and meaning, not just information, begins almost the moment a
baby is born. Like the deepest kind of religious education, this kind of sex education is
caught, not taught. It is communicated by the way parents look at each other, speak to
each other, touch each other--and the ways in which they look at, speak to and touch
their children. Passionate parents communicate passion, love and intimacy in ways that
cannot be captured in textbooks and dictionaries (Rousseau and Gallagher, 1986: 111-
[Sexual] intimacy is meant to ... be the medium in which the message of the gospel is
preached. This message is, basically, that love and joy are real, that we must trust each
other and enjoy life together for, in St. John's words, God is love, and he who lives in
love, lives in God, and God lives in him. Sexual intimacy, when it gets that message
across, does much more than promote the mental health and maturity of children (op. cit.,
For if children cannot trust a human love that they do see, how will they ever trust the
divine love that they do not see? But passionate parents reveal to their children in a vivid
and credible way the love and joy that circulate among Father, Son and Spirit, in the
inner life of God. They proclaim the gospel message loud and clear: the message that all
of us are loved passionately and enthusiastically, just for being who we are. Sexual
intimacy is one of the clearest places we know of where the medium is, indeed, the
message (op. cit., 118).
History does not reveal the precise date that touch-phobia crept into Christianity, since it
was more a process than a policy to begin with. However, in 397, when the "Agapae"
love feasts seemed to be getting a little too "tactile" for the celibate rulers, the Council of
Carthage made a decree severely limiting all show of physical intimacies in church--other
than to kiss the priest (Taylor, 1970: 262). In earlier times, Christians had been known for
their love, warm embracing and affectionate greetings. In recent years, Catholic and
Protestant congregations alike have from time to time timidly tried to restore some sort of
touch exchange during religious services.
Dallas Landrum, a Presbyterian interim pastor and massage therapist in Baltimore,
Maryland, explains why some Christians are so slow to accept and enjoy one of the
universal and fundamental pleasures of life, human touching:
Many conservative Christians are afraid of their bodies and touch of any kind, because
they have never come to terms with their own sexuality! (Knaster, 1990: 50).[3]
Rousseau and Gallagher make this comment about negative attitudes towards touching:
Our sense of touch is extremely important. It is, in fact, our chief way of knowing that we
love and are loved. . . . Even a small but direct contact has an effect on people. For
example, students checking books out of the library were questioned by psychologists
about how they perceived the library--as a warm and accepting place, where they felt
comfortable, or as cold and forbidding. Those who found it warm and comfortable had
been touched ever so slightly by the librarians when they checked their books out. The
others had not been so touched. Psychologists have also proven, beyond any doubt, that
babies who are cuddled and fondled a lot actually develop a greater number of brain
cells than those who are left alone in their cribs for long periods of time. But adults need
cuddling and hugging too. The sense of touch gives us a powerful, primitive reassurance
about our own goodness and worth and about the goodness of the world (Rousseau and
Gallagher, 1986: 51).
Christine E. Gudorf, author of Body, Sex, and Pleasure: Reconstructing Christian Sexual
Ethics, adds:
Sex is pleasurable in many different ways. Mere body touch is pleasurable. Another
person's touch on our skin normally releases chemical compounds called endorphins,
which function as pain-killing anesthetics. . . . We actually seem to need the pleasure of
touch. Infants denied physical touch do not thrive. They do not grow, do not eat or sleep
well. They do not develop normally intellectually and emotionally. . . .[17] Elderly
persons who are touched affectionately often retain their health and their alertness much
longer, and complain of pain less than those deprived of touch.[18] The therapeutic
aspect of touch is one reason for the popularity of massage (Gudorf, 1994: 103).
Christianity has come to many sexual crossroads, and the morality of masturbation is one
frequently encountered. A quiet revolution has raged for centuries, a war for common
sense and sexual autonomy in this intimately private area of life to gain free access rights
to experience the pleasures of one's own body without reproach. Throughout
Christendom one finds a complete range of opinions. Historically, while medieval painter
Hans Baldrung Grien was creating his--now considered shocking--portrait of the Holy
Family showing Jesus' grandmother, St. Anne, "stimulating" the genitals of the infant
Jesus while Mary and Joseph look on approvingly,[19] others in the church were busy
making up long lists of punishments and penance for those who "touch themselves in
unclean ways." St. Thomas Aquinas, who included a talk on masturbation in his Summa
Theologica, considered it even worse than outright fornication, since it is blatantly non-
reproductive and non-unitive.
This official church position is gradually giving way. In Body, Sex, and Pleasure (1994),
Gudorf presents the exact opposite position:
Traditional condemnations of masturbation as serious sin [should have] been abandoned
upon recognition that infants begin self-stimulation of the genitals soon after birth. . . .
This self-stimulation of the genitals does not end in infancy, but accelerates at puberty.
Research shows that the practice of masturbation does not prevent men and women from
seeking sexual partners. In fact, it has become clear that women who have masturbated
are more likely to experience general sexual pleasure and...orgasm in partnered sex [20]
(Gudorf, 1994: 91-92).
While Christianity long taught masturbation as sinful, today many Christians are
rethinking the grounds for that prohibition. . . . Nor do we understand the story of Onan
in Genesis 38 to support an understanding of wasting seed. Onan died not because he
wasted seed on the ground, but because, out of greed, he failed to fulfill Yahweh's will
that he raise up a son to carry on his brother's name and lineage. [The argument that]
masturbation encourages ... an inward turning that cuts individuals off from others . . .
[is not valid. Research shows that] virtually all males masturbate as youths, yet virtually
all drift to partnered sex by adulthood. [21]
Well-known sexological writer David A. Schulz and Catholic Dominic S. Raphael
(writing under a pseudonym since masturbation for self pleasure is still officially
forbidden by his church) in their article, "Christ and Tiresias: A Wider Focus on
Masturbation," make several interesting observations and outline the value and spiritual
virtues of "self-pleasuring" (masturbating):
Western society as a whole suffers from a blind spot in the area of sexuality for which the
issue of masturbation is symptomatic (Raphael cited in Feuerstein, 1989: 215).
Christian adolescents have traditionally been traumatized by threats of impending woe
ranging from pimples, to short life and insanity if their "self-abuse" persisted. Schulz
warns that a negative conflict between church and self results when religion assumes a
sex-negative repressive role:
To be told as an adolescent that one form of sexual pleasure over which one has some
degree of control was inherently sinful was to place the immediate positive experience of
pleasure in direct conflict with the Church's teaching. The individual loses, whatever
conclusion is drawn. Either the Church is wrong because the experience feels so right, or
the experience must be wrong in spite of the pleasure it provides (op. cit., 222).
Schulz and Raphael prefer to use the term "self-pleasuring" over the centuries-old
pejorative "masturbation" which literally means "to defile by hand." Dominic Raphael
not only very much approves of masturbation, but even contends that erotic delight can
transmute genital orgasm into whole-body bliss resulting in better communion with God .
The more we accept the original blessing that we humans are alive with God's own
lifebreath (Genesis 2:7), the more we will be ready for both the mystical experience and
primal sexuality--indeed for the possibility of mystical rapture through primal sexuality
(op. cit., 233).
Schulz contends that:
Self-pleasuring is a genuine form of sexual liberation--a freeing of the human spirit for
more creative, caring involvement in the world. As such, it is genuinely Christian--though
not yet recognized as such (op. cit., 238).
Dominic Raphael adds:
Not only have we failed to raise sexuality methodically to higher spiritual levels; we have
instead multiplied prohibitions that inhibit this development. . . . Because autosexuality
remains a pivot of psychological oppression, it must be the concern of Christians whom
Christ has set free and whom St. Paul alerts: "Stand fast therefore, and do not submit
again to a yoke of slavery." (Galatians 5:1b). And because autosexuality is the starting
point, if we want "to connect the genitals to the heart, to bring sex and love together," it
must be a concern of every religious person (op. cit., 238).
Schulz and Raphael both agree that official church sex dogma limps far behind actual sex
practice. Simple observation tells us that this gap is widening in some churches and
disappearing in others. The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior (1993) shows that 63
percent of Protestants, 67 percent of Catholics, 75 percent of the Jewish faith agreed or
strongly agreed with the statement: "Masturbation is a natural part of life and continues
on in marriage." (Janus, 1993: 243, 77).
If there is any doubt that joyful sex should be an inherent part of Christian marital life,
writers Rousseau and Gallagher certainly try to remove that doubt.
Love-making and falling in love--these are two especially clear moments of sacramental
Sex should be to a couple what prayer is to a contemplative religious [person] or the
Eucharist is to a priest (Rousseau and Gallagher, 1986: 46, 54).
These same authors also provide us with a very refreshing portrayal of how sex is a
reflection of God and the Holy Trinity. (In the Family, the Holy Spirit is thought of as
female, which, in my thinking makes more sense than trying to reconcile the image of
three traditionally male aspects of God having "love play" together.)
And so in love play we can get some glimpse of what God does all day. The three divine
persons, Father, Son and Spirit, play--play in love. Our moments of play are the high
points of our days, are they not? We play when our work is done, when there are no more
needs to be met, no services to be performed, no tasks or duties to be done at least for a
while. And so we simply relax and enjoy each other, enjoy the good that we see in each
other, enjoy the life that we share with each other. And sexual ecstasy is a high point of
play--more intense and vivid than any other kind. In our best sexual moments, all cares
fall away, we gasp in realization of the person before us, we shriek in ecstasy at the
realization that we two, wonderful as we are, belong to each other. That sexual moment,
that moment of love play, deserves to be counted as one of our seven sacraments. It is
most fitting, truly, right and just that sexual intimacy should be, a symbol of our intimacy
with the three divine persons. Human love play is one clear and powerful way for human
beings to take part in the love play of the Trinity (op. cit., 23).
Many Christians, Catholic and Protestant, are now saying that loving sexual involvement
with another person has the potential to transcend the physical act and become a spiritual
union, even a holy sacrament. Rousseau and Gallagher are assuming a very sex-positive
stance, hoping to help redirect their church's attitude towards sex and reassure their
congregations that human sexuality and pleasure are all right after all. Almost daily, more
Christian leaders and writers join the movement to shift the sexual emphasis in
Christianity from "sex is sin" to "sex is celebration."
Rousseau and Gallagher, citing well-known psychologist Eric Berne's book Sex and
Human Loving add:
As Catholics we can see a special value, a special reason for the Church to "put so much
emphasis on sex." For the "Wow!" of orgasm is a "Wow!" to divine life. [22] Sex is a
sacramental power, not just a human action. It is the power to cause God's own life in us,
to draw us into the love play of the Trinity. An orgasm as the high point of sexual love is
also one of love's most powerful divine moments (op. cit., 43-44).
They assure us that this sexual force has always been at work and appreciated in the
In fact, it was common among Renaissance painters to emphasize the genitals of the
Infant Jesus, and of the Risen Christ as well. It was their way of saying, "Yes, look! He
really did have what it takes to give life to human beings. Let's celebrate that fact" (op.
cit., 44).
Philip Sherrard, formerly Assistant Director of the British School of Athens, Lecturer in
the History of the Orthodox Church at London University, in his book, Christianity and
Eros, touches on the fact that no great distinction needs to be made between Christian
love involving sex and non-sexual Christian love:
We tend to distinguish between the love of God and the love of one person for another--to
distinguish between agape and eros--and to regard the second as a rather debasing form
of the first and only indulged at the expense of the first. In a sexualized sacramental love
there is no such distinction (Sherrard, 1976: 2).
Welsh-born writer and Anglican priest David Thomas, presents a spiritual view of sex not
unlike that found in certain of David Brandt Berg's writings. In his book, Partners with
God: A Celebration of Human Sexuality, which serves as a manual used in sexual
appreciation sessions, Thomas writes:
If sex is an expression of love, then Christians, above all people, should take a special
delight in it. Unfortunately this is not the case. We need, rather, to develop attitudes that
can make our sexuality the enriching thing of great beauty that it was intended to be.
Used properly [our body] is a miracle of creation, an instrument of love. Its display can
be a glorious psalm of praise to a wise and feeling Creator. The person who keeps a
sexually alert body in tune with positive, loving thoughts and a soul open to the touch of
God is in symphonic accord with creation and Creator alike. Only those who have
understood the principle of sharing in the ways of love have discovered the quality of
growth that has lifted their relationships to the very gates of heaven. Indeed, our
lovemaking is intended to be a celebration of life, of joy, of compassion and of God. Our
sexuality is a sharing in creation, designed for us from the beginning of measurable time.
Because it is of God, it is best fulfilled when it reflects the nature of God--in giving, in
caring, in nurturing. In that spirit, we can use our sexuality to fulfill our own existence
and to enrich the being of those whose lives we touch. And in the same spirit, we can
make our special love relationship a Christian joyful and erotic glimpse of God's creative
presence. To love with generosity and understanding is to proclaim with our bodies the
essence of Christ. Whether or not Jesus had any explicitly sexual experiences--and the
mere suggestion is enough to rend many pious Christians apoplectic--there is no doubt in
my mind that He enhanced other's perception of their sexuality. He didn't deny that gift of
God, He heightened it (Thomas, 1986: 29, 33, 35, 39, 50, 57, 60, 90).
Even sexual intercourse can turn into a ministry, a favor that one does for the other
(Rousseau and Gallagher, 1986: 47).
Passionate couples, who become transformed from being strangers into being intimates,
help all the rest of us strangers become each other's intimates, too. They do so by making
Love credible, so that we can believe in it. And once we believe, we can begin to live it.
Then all of us strangers begin to be each others intimates, and we are the Church (op.
cit., 124).
Professor Rousseau and Father Gallagher put forth a position on Christian sexual
expression that that sex can play [a] divine role in attracting and winning souls to the
Kingdom of God:
Some parishes stand out for being progressive in their liturgy, others for being oriented
toward social justice. But what if a parish were outstanding for the passion of its
couples? If Catholics were known everywhere for sexual intimacy, the church would
certainly not look like just one organization among many. She would be a clear light in
the darkness of ordinary lives. Her light would so shine before men that people who
never heard a professional missionary will be drawn to her--for the right reason.
Converts haven't flocked to us because of our moral righteousness or our organizational
genius. But converts would certainly flock to us if we showed in action the deeply
incarnational truth that human sexuality is a genuine and powerful way to Holiness.
When we say that sex is not evil, that it is quite permissible in certain circumstances, we
take but one very tiny step in the right direction. We need to proclaim from the housetops
that sex is Holy. The passion of couples is part of the church's inheritance, a pearl of
great price, a light that should not be hidden under a bushel (op. cit., 131).
Now imagine another world, one in which Catholic couples were noted for their passion
and intimacy, a passion which transfigured them into living symbols of the living flame of
divine love--the gospel would seem relevant to everyday life because it would be relevant.
People would fall over themselves to join such a church. Few people who know of Jesus
question His goodness. What many do question though is His relevance to them and their
daily lives. Sexual love is central to the lives of most people, but what they usually fear
from the church are prohibitions and inhibitions on sexual love. And so their enthusiasm
for the rest of the message is chilled. But if we, who know the power of sex to tenderize
hearts, would celebrate that gift, the gospel would be relevant indeed (op. cit., 133-134).
The Janus Report on Sexual Behavior, published in the US in 1993, revealed that forty-
four percent of "very religious" people and fifty percent of "religious" people, and fifty-
nine percent of "slightly religious" people admitted they had sex before marriage. In
response to the question "I've had extramarital affairs," thirty-one percent of people in the
"very religious" category indicated they had at least one affair. Forty-four percent of the
"non-religious" responders admitted to extramarital sex (op. cit., 249).
It is said that the French reformer, John Calvin (1509-1564), was particularly preoccupied
with adultery, and made references to it in almost every matter he discussed. G. Rattray
Taylor, commenting on this characteristic in Sex in History, generalizes that "Since
repression always stimulates what it sets out to repress, one is not surprised to learn that
[Calvin's] sister-in-law was taken in adultery in 1557 and that his daughter suffered a like
fate five years later" (Taylor, 1970: 164).
It seems that Episcopalian Rev. Leo Booth could not agree more. In his book, When God
Becomes a Drug: Breaking the Chains of Religious Addiction and Abuse 1991), Booth
points to Eric Fromm's theory that sexual taboos create sexual obsessiveness and
perversions. He also notes:
Jimmy Swaggart preached some of his most scathing sermons against sex immediately
following his liaisons with prostitutes (Booth, 1991: 72).
I believe that God created sex and made it pleasurable to us for a reason; not just to
procreate, but as a means of physically expressing spiritual unity. To insist that it is dirty
is an abuse of God's gift, and from that abuse springs more abuse: guilt, shame,
humiliation, fear (op. cit., 75).
Bishop John Shelby Spong is another very notable player in the unfolding sex-and-
spirituality Christian conundrum [who] suggests that there is much ambiguity in the Bible
concerning sex. To take just one example, adultery in the Bible was defined as sex with a
married woman. The marital status of the man was irrelevant. If the woman was not
married, then having sexual relations with her was not adulterous. Women, Spong points
out, were considered the possessions of the primary male in their lives and he quotes the
story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis chapter 38 and the story of the Levite's concubine in
Judges chapter 19.
Bishop Spong notes that in the Bible the prevailing marital pattern of the times was not
monogamy but polygamy. In fact, moral patterns ascribed to Bible times actually were
never the way those who call us to reaffirm "traditional morality" think they were. In his
book Living in Sin?, Spong brings this fact out clearly. Marriage, for example, was not
ever universally required to legitimize sexual activity even in western Christian society. It
was not until the Council of Trent in 1565, that the Church declared that a Christian
ceremony was necessary in order to have a valid marriage. He adds:
Marriage does not make sex Holy, the quality of the relationship does (Spong, 1989: 65).
The Bible's view on relationships and sex is further demonstrated in the passages which
mention how the patriarch Abraham on two occasions in order to save his own life
offered his wife Sarah, first to the Pharaoh (Genesis chapter 12) and later to King
Abemelech (Genesis chapter 20). His son Isaac, following in his footsteps, later offered
his wife Rebecca to the same or similarly named Philistine king (Genesis chapter 26)!
Spong mentions that in some nations of the western world, older and sexually
experienced women were expected to initiate young post-pubescent boys into the
mysteries of love-making. This would prepare a young man to be a gentle and effective
lover with his virgin bride.
In his book Beyond Moralism, Spong protests:
The original prohibition against adulterous relationships came from a people who
continued to practice polygamy for many years after their covenant at Sinai.
Monogamous marriage is not the original context of the injunction. This commandment
was presumed to have been given in the wilderness around the year 1250 B.C.E. Yet 300
years later Solomon, with his 300 wives and 700 concubines, reigned as king in the land
whose law proclaimed, "You shall not commit adultery." [In Living in Sin?, Spong adds:
"What does adultery mean when one man (Solomon) can possess an unlimited number of
women for his own amusement? How can an injunction based on these premises be used
to define morality today?"]
The patriarchal society in which this law was both interpreted and applied did not regard
sexual intercourse between married men and unmarried women as an adulterous offense.
A story in chapter 38 of Genesis told of Judah's affair with Hirah, an Adullamite who
was described only as a friend, even after he had had three children by her. In chapter 21
of Judges, the men of Benjamin seduced first and married second. A man was found
guilty of adultery only if he took another man's wife. Adultery was primarily an offense
against another man's marriage, not against his own. . . . If a married man avoided
married women, he could have as many sexual affairs as he wished and still not violate
this commandment. . . . [Also] Sexual behavior with foreign women encountered while
traveling or captured in war . . . was not governed by these laws (Spong, 1986: 89-90).
Eric Fuchs, is a Swiss Protestant pastor. He has been director of the Protestant Study
Center in Geneva and head of the ethics department of the Faculty of Theology at the
University of Geneva. In his book, Sexual Desire and Love: Origins and History of the
Christian Ethic of Sexuality and Marriage, he devotes almost ninety pages to a chapter
entitled, "Christianity and Sexuality: An Ambiguous History." One point he makes is that
some sexual conduct can be very very harmful and hurtful. The Old Testament certainly
does not hide these dangers. Improper sexual conduct can lead to murderous violence as
told in the astonishing story of Judges chapters 19-21, where the inhabitants of Gibeah
abused the concubine of the Levite from Ephraim. Since that incident transgressed the
most sacred laws of hospitality, of heterosexuality and of respect for even the concubine
of one's neighbor, it led to collective violence and destruction of almost the entire tribe of
Fortunately, the Old Testament also contains an abundance of beautiful examples of the
creative use of human sexuality being wonderfully used for the good of God's people. As
Eric Fuchs puts it:
The exemplary couples amongst the patriarchs demonstrate how sexuality, ordained as a
benediction of God on life, becomes creative with regard to history and love (Fuchs,
There is the story of Esther who captured the heart of a heathen king and saved her
people from destruction. Then there was Ruth, the Moabite widow who wooed the
wealthy Boaz and became an ancestor of Jesus. And of course there was the stunning
beauty of Abraham's half-sister and wife, Sarah, that more than once was used to save the
life of that revered patriarch. Or the love of Joseph for Mary his young pregnant-by-
another, wife to be, to cite a few examples.
In, Beyond Moralism, Bishop Spong poses numerous sexually challenging questions for
Christians to answer:
What is the basis for sexual morality for Christians in this age?
Half the population in our culture is engaged in serial polygamy--several marriages over
the course of a lifetime with one partner at a time and numerous children related to one
another by step-parents and half parents. More than forty percent of the households in
America are now single-parent or single-person households. . . . How can the
commandment "You shall not commit adultery" be approached within the actualities of
the twentieth century?
If fullness of life is the goal of the Christian gospel, sexual abstinence may not always
serve that goal. . . . Are some sexual relationships beautiful, life-giving, beneficial, even
though they are not lived out inside the marital bond? Surely the answer . . . is yes
(Spong 1986: 96, 99, Preface p. xi, 97, 104).
Christian churches in general are increasingly split over demands for official recognition
and acceptance of homosexuality. However, for a large number of concerned Christians,
the homosexual question remains "non-negotiable" in spite of the increase in homosexual
acceptance[23] and growing support for this lifestyle in society. Politics and media
promotion is not sufficient to overturn moral concerns that rise from Scriptural
admonitions specifically opposing it (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:27).
The Family is considered somewhat liberal in certain sexual views, yet highly traditional
in others as evidenced by the following view expressed by David Brandt Berg, founder of
the Family:
You don't find the Bible condemning sex anywhere, only the wrong kind of sex. So what's
the wrong kind of sex? Well, the Bible makes it very clear the wrong kind of sex is: "men
with men doing that which is evil" (Romans 1:27), homosexuality, sodomy, the misuse of
women, the misuse of sexual organs, evil sex, perversion, masochism, unloving sex, sex
that hurts somebody, sex without love. Sex in the wrong way, perverted sex, sex that hurts
and damages and destroys the body, selfish sex! (Letter no. 2475, September, 1988).
Whatever position on the sexual spectrum other Christians may take, they likely can
agree that
(1) Christianity is in for a very rough ride in the days ahead as society at large becomes
increasingly decadent and anti-Christian; and
(2) that as Christians, we do need some guidelines to govern our sexual behavior,
especially any that would be hurtful or harmful.
In his writings, David Brandt Berg has put forth a simple rule to govern sexual conduct,
in fact all conduct. Based on the teachings of Jesus, this principle is referred to as the
Law of Love. Simply put, this "Law" says that Jesus' commandment to love God with all
our heart and our neighbor as ourselves should be the guiding principle in all our dealings
with others. All other rules and laws should be subservient to--in fact fulfilled by--this
one. God will not condemn us if love and concern for others is our main motive, even in
sexual matters. This general Law of Love principle can be found in one form or another
among the teachings of most Christian churches.
In October, 1993, the Department for Studies of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in
America issued a first draft of a proposed social statement entitled The Church and
Human Sexuality: A Lutheran Perspective. The more controversial sexual aspects of the
document received predictably mixed reactions from church members. That document
contained an excellent summary of what "love of neighbor" is all about, very much like
the Family's Law of Love.
Paul also understood the Law to be completed in Christ (Romans 10:4). Through Christ's
redemption, we are made right with God and called to love the neighbor. All the
commandments are summed up in "Love your neighbor as yourself." "Love does no
wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law" (Romans 13:8-10; see
also Galatians 5:14). Love of neighbor takes precedence over purity concerns, since
nothing is unclean of itself (Romans 14:14; see also Mark 7:14-15). Christians are freed
from the requirement to observe numerous cultic and purity laws. Instead, we are called
to the more challenging task of discerning what it means to love God and the neighbor in
particular situations (as Paul illustrates in Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians).
(The Church and Human Sexuality: A Lutheran Perspective, a draft proposal, 1993).
Bishop John Shelby Spong (whose overall sexual liberality in some areas of his general
teachings far exceeds what the Family considers the scripturally allowable boundaries)
does, however, express the underpinning principles of the Law of Love as follows:
Sex is still powerful. Where sex enhances life I am prepared to call it good. Where sex
destroys or diminishes life, I am prepared to call it evil. I seek a pattern in which sex can
be Holy for the mature post-married adult (Spong, 1989).
L. William Countryman prefaces his book Dirt, Greed and Sex with the following
Controversy over sexual ethics have pervaded the Western world in our century, and the
Bible has been an important factor in them. Some voices invoke its authority; others
attack it as a baleful influence. Some hold that it lays down a clear-cut sexual ethic;
others hear in it a multiplicity of messages not always in agreement with one another.
Whichever may ultimately be right, we have at least learned that interpreters of Scripture
do not all agree with one another and that people can invoke the Bible on behalf of a
variety of contemporary ethical positions. Such a situation calls for a fresh and careful
reading of the Scriptures. . . . I began looking into the Biblical texts on this subject [sex]
with several quite definite presuppositions. . . . I expected to find no more than scattered
and independent moral pronouncements on sexual issues. . . . [and] that the biblical
authors as a whole were negative toward sex and regarded it as something to be avoided
in general and indulged, reluctantly, only under narrowly defined circumstances. In both
cases, I have found that close study of these texts has modified my understanding of the
matter sharply and in directions that I could not have predicted (Countryman, 1988: 1).
Many Christians are tempted to abandon their confidence in the Bible because they don't
see how it can or does apply to "real" life in our times. David Brandt Berg was firmly
convinced that the Scriptures can be just as alive, joyful, liberating, meaningful and
applicable in today's world as they have ever been, and that the universal principles set
down in God's Word will most certainly survive this present troubled world. Part of the
mission of the Family has been to help others rediscover that wonderful path to Jesus, joy
and freedom that is laid down in the Scriptures.
Many liberal theologians suggest we now set aside our Bibles as antiquated artifacts, no
longer needed in the present stage of human spirituality. The very liberal Bishop Spong is
known for making some very strong pronouncements about the Bible's validity, or lack of
it, in today's world. Still, although critical of anyone taking too literal an interpretation or
application of Scripture--which he believes needs to be considered more in the context of
the time in which they were written--he still admits that for Christianity to survive,
somehow our perception of Scripture and our human sexuality need to be brought more
into perceivable harmony, for a house divided against itself simply cannot stand.
I do believe that there is a spirit beneath the letter that brings the Bible forward in time
with integrity. That spirit must be sought with diligence. Without it the Bible will not be
for our times a source of life or a guide in the area of sexual ethics (attributed to Bishop
Is sexual repression one reason why so many Christians are "falling away" from
traditional churches? Are people finding sexual and spiritual fulfillment more attractive
outside mainstream Christianity and finding themselves more and more in conflict with
church teachings and traditions? Are they distancing themselves from what they perceive
as aging Christian institutions?
Catholic priests McMahon and Campbel argue that for spirituality to be authentic and
conducive to personal growth it must be firmly anchored in our bodily existence:
Our experience as two Catholic priest-psychologists active in ministry for nearly twenty-
five years leads us to recognize that a significant number of those drifting away from
institutional churches are responsible, mature, and developing adults. They are by no
means self-indulgent individuals looking for an excuse to live a licentious life. In far too
many instances, these are people who are profoundly concerned about spiritual matters,
and who are totally undernourished by their church and therefore look elsewhere for
resources to support growth (cited in Feuerstein, 1989: 55).
Bishop Spong puts forth the following provocative thoughts in his book, Beyond
Many troubled people find healing, loving alternatives that are clearly short of the ideal
but also short of the immoral. Life conspires to move us all out of a moralistic legalism
into more loving and compassionate attempts to discover the best alternatives for both
the individual and the community in a broken, imperfect world. It is our conviction that
Christianity itself compels us to reject any rigid system that applies rules indiscriminately
to human beings. No one would distribute shoes to people without first checking for size.
Surely the moral code whose purpose it is to support and improve life can not be
dispensed without a similar size and fit.
Christianity can be separated from the repressive legalism of yesterday, a legalism that is
neither biblical nor essential in the realities of the twentieth century. Christianity,
however, does have standards and norms that need to be heard in the midst of the
hedonistic revolution of today. These principles are not so crisp or clear as the old
prohibitions, but they are more loving and do spring from the sacredness of human life.
"Ye shall not commit adultery." This ancient commandment invites us to look at the depth
of personhood, the depth of relationships, the sacredness of bodies, the fact that sex is
powerful, and then decide how love, life, and being can be expressed so as to glorify the
Creator in the sexual acts of the creature. Christians of the twentieth century are called
to bear witness in word and deed in the arena of human sexuality (Spong, 1986: 106).
Although the Family would not fully agree with all aspects of the sweeping sexual
tolerance embraced by Bishop Spong and many other sexually liberal theologians, we can
agree on the universal need for Christianity to make more loving moves forward in
restoring sex to its rightful place of celebration, respect, testimony, joy and pleasure in
Christian life. For nearly three decades our Christian missionary movement has not only
carried the message of God's love and salvation through Jesus into all the world but we
have also encouraged our fellow Christians to re-evaluate their attitudes towards
sexuality. Our Family has weathered many storms of criticism and persecution arising
from our sex-affirmative approach to life in the context of Christian growth and spiritual
A comprehensive study of Scripture allows much greater sexual freedoms than traditional
Christian sexual customs seem to permit.
Dr. L. William Countryman in his book Dirt, Greed & Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New
Testament and Their Implications for Today, carefully examines all the things he felt the
sexual ethic of the New Testament seems to forbid. Still he does attempt to have us look
at these in a whole new context.
The Bible takes sex more or less for granted and does not explicitly lay out a theology or
philosophical understanding of it.
The New Testament's positive account of sex is that it is an integral part of the human
person, joining us to one another, and has a right to be included in the spiritual
transformation which follows upon our hearing of the gospel. The gospel, as it permeates
every aspect of life, will and must permeate sexuality as well. If Christian teaching
appears to flinch from sex, as something dirty or suspect, it is falsely Christian. . . .
Sexuality, like every other aspect of human life, should be related to the center goal of
that life, the reign of God.
Sex, therefore, is to be received with delight and thankfulness. It is a gift of God in
creation which reflects for us the joy of God's self-giving in grace and the perfect
openness of true human life in the age to come.
If I make satisfaction of sexual desire the overarching goal of my life, I have put the part
in place of the whole and thereby lost perspective on its real value. . . . Sex is not the final
goal of the creation.
The world begins in God's free act of creation and concludes in God's free act of grace--
or rather in the rejoicing to which it gives rise. Prudery... will be no preparation for the
life of the age of rejoicing. It is not surprising that Jesus alienated those who practiced
such "virtues."
As marriage and family could not be the final goal for the first-century Christian,
sexuality and self cannot be today. The Christian will find it very difficult to live in an
intimate relation with one who does not understand or accept the kind of demands which
God's calling makes. . . . The Christian must also retain a certain freedom to respond to
God's call loyally in critical times.
The measure of a sexuality that accords with the New Testament is simply ... the degree to
which it rejoices in the whole creation, in what is given to others as well as to each of us,
while enabling us always to leave the final word to God, who is the Beginning and End of
all things (Countryman, 1988: 265-267).
Sex is created and commanded by God for your enjoyment, unity, fellowship, procreation,
and a type of His own relationship with us in the Spirit. God uses sex as a tool to keep
man and woman together in beautiful harmony and having children and families and a
happy, loving home. He wants you to have sex not only for your own physical enjoyment
and satisfaction, but also to produce human beings, immortal souls for the Kingdom of
God in His wisdom has created this sexual union, this husband and wife relationship, this
lover and loved intercourse to be a marvelous picture, an illustration in the physical of
your spiritual relationship with Him and your union with your Heavenly Bridegroom.
The sexual relationships and its fruits are symbolic of His own holy relationships with us,
His Bride. He blessed it, empowered it, used it, and referred to it constantly throughout
His Word as the greatest physical experience and relationship of man and woman with
the most essential results: Procreation of the race!
Sex is the greatest proof of Love and God's existence, and the greatest loving experience
that creates new life and new immortal souls for the Eternal Kingdom of God!--by David
Brandt Berg (compiled quotes, Daily Might 2:196).
Booth, Father Leo
When God Becomes a Drug: Breaking the Chains of Religious Addiction and Abuse.
Jeremy P. Thacher, Inc. Los Angeles, 1991.
Brown, Peter
The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity.
Columbia University Press, New York, 1988.
Brundage, James A.
Law, Sex, and Christian Society in Medieval Society. University of Chicago Press,
Chicago and London, 1987.
Buck, Rev. Charles
A Theological Dictionary. Published from the last London edition by J.J. Woodward,
Countryman, L. William
Dirt, Greed and Sex: Sexual Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for
Today. Fortress Press (USA), 1988.
Davies, Nigel
The Rampant God: Eros Throughout the World. William Morrow and Company, Inc.,
New York, 1984.
Feuerstein, George (ed.)
Enlightened Sexuality: Essays on Body-Positive Spirituality. The Crossing Press,
Freedom, California, 1989.
Foucault, Michel
The History of Sexuality Volume I: An Introduction. Translated from the French by Robert
Hurley, Penguin Books, 1978.
Fox, Matthew
The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. Harper & Row, San Francisco, 1988.
Francoeur, Robert T.
The Religious Suppression of Eros (published source unknown).
Father Robert Francoeur is a Catholic priest and Professor of Human Embryology and
Sexuality at Fairleigh Dickenson University and a fellow of the Society for the Scientific
Study of Sex.
Fuchs, Eric
Sexual Desire and Love: Origins and History of the Christian Ethic of Sexuality and
Marriage. New York: Seabury Press, 1983.
Greene, Samuel G.
A Handbook of Church History. The Religious Tract Society, London, 1907.
Gudorf, Christine E.
Body, Sex, and Pleasure: Reconstructing Christian Sexual Ethics. The Pilgrim Press,
Cleveland, Ohio, 1994.
Janus, Samuel S., and Cythia L. Janus
The Janus Report: Sexual Behavior. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., New York, 1993.
Knaster, Mirka
"Massaging the Spirit: Bodywork." East West Magazine, July, 1990, v20 p. 50(3) n7.
Lebacqz, Karen and Ronald G. Barton
Sex in the Parish. Westminister/John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 1991.
Moss, Rachel (ed.)
God's Yes to Sexuality--Towards a Christian understanding of sex, sexism and sexuality.
The report of a working group appointed by the British Council of Churches, Collins
Fount Paperback, London, 1981.
Nelson, James B.
Between Two Gardens: Reflections on Sexuality and Religious Experience. New York,
Pilgrim Press, 1983.
Pagels, Elaine
Adam, Eve and the Serpent. Random House, New York, 1988.
Raphael, Dominic S.
Christ and Tiresias: A Wider Focus on Masturbation.
Dominic S. Raphael is widely published and pastorally active Roman Catholic author
writing here under a pseudonym. Both Church and society need healing ideas in the area
of sexual ethics. A pseudonym may help toward healing, by avoiding personal
controversy and promoting objective discussion. At any rate, D.S.R. is in good
company--Benjamin Franklin used no fewer than 57 different pseudonyms in the course
of his life.
Rice, David
Shattered Vows: Priests Who Leave. William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York,
David Rice, born in Northern Ireland and educated by the Jesuits of Clongowes, the
school made famous by James Joyce, was ordained a Dominican in 1958. He has worked
as a journalist all his life, and was an editor and award-winning syndicated columnist in
the United States during the 1970s. He returned to Ireland in 1980 to head the School of
Journalism at Rathmines. He left the priesthood in 1977 to marry. He lives in Dublin.
Rousseau, Dr. Mary and Father Charles Gallagher
Sex Is Holy. Element Books Limited, Longmead, Shaftesbury, Dorset, 1991.
Schulz, David A. and Raphael, Dominic S.
"Christ and Tiresias: A Wider Focus on Masturbation," published in Feuerstein's
Enlightened Sexuality, 1989: 214-241.
David A. Schulz is a part-time professor, Episcopal priest, and wood sculptor residing in
California. He is the author of Human Sexuality, The Changing Family, and other books
on human relationships. He has taught seminars on sexuality and sexual harassment.
Session Steps, Laura
"Evangelicals: Ecstasy and Temptation--Bakker, Swaggart Falls Spur Discussion of Sex",
The Washington Post, November 4, 1988: 3, Section A.
Laura Session Steps is a Washington Post staff writer.
Sherrard, Philip
Christianity and Eros: Essays on the Theme of Sex and Love. SPCK Holy Trinity Church,
London, 1976.
Sipe, A.W. Richard
A Secret World: Sexuality and the Search for Celibacy. Brunner/Mazel, Inc., New York,
Smali, Dwight Hervey
Christian: Celebrate Your Sexuality. Fleming H. Revell Company, New Jersey, 1974.
Spong, John Shelby and Denise G. Haines
Beyond Moralism: A Contemporary View of the Ten Commandments. Harper and Row,
San Francisco, 1986.
Spong, John Shelby (Bishop)
Living in Sin?: A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality. Harper and Row, San Francisco,
Tannahill, Reay
Sex in History. Scarborough House/Publishers, revised and updated, 1992.
Taylor, G. Rattray
Sex in History. The Vanguard Press, Inc., New York, 1970.
Gordon Rattray Taylor brings his broad training in both the biological and social sciences
to bear on the subject of sex as it has historically effected people as people, rather than as
Thomas, Gordon
Desire and Denial: Celibacy and the Church. Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1986.
Ward, Benedicta
The Desert Christian: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc.,
New York, 1975.
Benedicta Ward is a Catholic nun in the order of the Sisters of the Love of God (S.L.G.),
Wright, Lawrence
Saints and Sinners. Alfred A. Knope, New York, 1993.
[1] Minucius Felix, Octavius 9, G. H. Rendall, trans., p. 337.
[2] Eusebuis, Life of Constantine, I.53, E.C. Richardson, trans., Library of the Nicene
Fathers, I:497.
[3] W. Speyer, Zu Den Vorwürfen der Heiden gegen die Christen, (cited in Brown,
[4] Hildegard of Bingen in Germany was a great mystic Benedictine Abbess of the
twelfth century (1098-1179), who interpreted the account of Adam's sin as a "failure of
eros," proposing that Adam was banished from Eden for refusing to enjoy deeply enough
the delights of the earth. In other words, that Adam lost his place because of sexual
prudery. She wrote many books, but her principle work, Scivias, is an account of 26
visions with apocalyptic emphasis dealing with creation, redemption, and the church. She
was investigated by the archbishop of Mainz and Pope Eugenius III and both gave her a
favorable report.
[5] Tertullian was a Latin theologian who was in time won over by an ascetic
"charismatic fundamentalist" sect started by Marcion Montanus. Tertullian, though
married himself, considered sex shameful conduct and marveled at how a priest's blessing
could transform this sinful act into semi-sanctified behavior. He was particularly revolted
by widows and others who would remarry, equating the sin of such "filthy sensualists" to
fornication, adultery and murder(Tertullian, De exhortatione castitatis 9.1 and De
monogamia 4.3, 10.7, 15.1, in CCL 2:1027, 1229, 1233, 1243, 1250, see also Brundage,
1987: 68). Saint Augustine spoke of marriage as "a medicine for immorality," since
marriage took sex into the more "respectable" realm of procreation.
[6] Saint Jerome is the Biblical scholar who translated the Bible into the Latin Vulgate.
He is often remembered for the years he spent among the hermits of Syria battling in his
desert cell with visions of troupes of dancing nymphs come to seduce him. Saint Jerome's
writings there-after reflected that he considered sex most unclean, even adding that,
"Anyone who has too passionate a love for his wife is an adulterer!"
Medieval theologian Peter Lombard (c. 1095-1169) reconfirmed this attitude in his
apologetic De excusatione coitus: "Omnis ardentior amator propiae uxoris adulter est."
(For a man to love his wife too ardently is a sin worse than adultery.) (Cited in Taylor,
1970: 52.)
[7] "In the fourth century, Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Arabia were the forcing ground for
monasticism in its Christian expression; every form of monastic life was tried, every kind
of experiment, every kind of extreme. Monasticism is of course older than Christianity,
but this was the flowering of its Christian expression and in many ways it has never been
suppressed. . . . The Syrian monks were great individualists and they deliberately
imposed on themselves what is hardest for human beings to bear: they went naked and in
chains, they lived unsettled lives, eating whatever they found in the woods. They chose to
live at the limits of human nature, close to the animals, the angels, and the demons"
(Ward, 1975: xv, xvii).
In the fifth and sixth century, St. Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-547), became the master of
monastic "rule" makers--though his first efforts at hermit "reform" were met with an
attempt to poison him. Typical of his deeds, this progenitor of the Benedictine Order,
when tempted with thoughts about women, would throw himself into briars and nettles
until his skin was badly torn and was bleeding profusely.
[8] Clement of Alexandria, Stomata 2.23, ed, 3.6.45; 3.12.80-81; 3.17.102-3.18.110, ed.
Stahlin 2:188-94, 2:216-17, 232-33, 243-47, 3.57.1-3.60.4, 3.71.1-3.78.5, 3.96.1-3.99.4,
3.105.1-3.110.2; Paedagogus 2.83.1-2.115.5, ed. Stahlin 1:208-26. (Cited in Brundage,
1987: 66.)
"The majority of Christians . . . rejected the claim made by radical Christians that the sin
of Adam and Eve was sexual--that the forbidden "fruit of the tree of knowledge"
conveyed, above all, carnal knowledge. On the contrary, said Clemen of Alexandria (c.
180), conscious participation in procreation is "cooperation with God in the work of
creation." Adam's sin was not sexual indulgence, but disobedience, thus Clement agreed
with most of his Jewish and Christian contemporaries that the real theme of the story of
Adam and Eve is moral freedom and moral responsibility" (cf. Pagels, 1988. xxiii).
[9] Tertullian, De exhortatione castitatis 11.1, in CCL 2:1030-31, (cited by Brundage,
1987: 64).
[10] In the reign of Emperor Anastasius I (A.D. 491-518), about the year 494 a sect called
Angelites had spread from the city of Alexandria. They were also called Severites, from
Severus who was the head of the sect.
[11] Refer to Acts of Andrew, Vatican ms frag. v. (J 352); Acts of John, fragment (J 266);
Eusebius Ecclesiastical History iv 29, etc. There have been several acts of the Apostles,
such as the acts of Abdias, of Peter, of Paul, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Andrew,
Saint Thomas, Saint Philip, and Saint Matthias; but they have been all proved to be
spurious. The reference to Jesus coming to destroy the works of the female, i.e., sexual
desire and procreation, are to be found in The Gospel of the Egyptians (9:63) and is cited
by Rosemary Radford Ruther, p. 128, in Sexism and God-talk: Toward a Feminist
[12] Especially Matthew 15:19 and Mark 7:21. In Matthew 21:31-32, Luke 15:30, and
probably in John 8:41, that reference is to intercourse with prostitutes. Bruce Malina,
"Does `Porneia' Mean Fornication?", Novum Testamentum 14 (1972) 10-17, lists and
analyses all occurrences of porneia in the New Testament. (Footnote from Brundage,
1987: 58.)
[13] Bruce Malina, "Does `Porneia' Mean Fornication?" p. 17; but cf. the very different
conclusions of J. Jensen in an article entitled "Does `Porneia' Mean Fornication?" Novum
Testamentum 20 (1978:161-84). (Footnotes from Brundage, 1987: 58.)
[14] Found in Alan Shestack et. al., Hans Baldung Grien: Prints and Drawings
(Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art, 1981), p. 131.
[15] On Tuesday, June 6, 1995, a Church of England report, the first major study of the
family by Britain's state religion for 20 years, was made public by the Church's Board of
Social Responsibility, chaired by Bishop Alan Moorage. The report said that, "Living in
sin" should no longer be regarded as sinful and the phrase should be dropped given the
number of people who now live together before getting married. It also warned against
judgmental attitudes about cohabitation and fornication, the report estimated that four in
five couples will live together before they marry by the year 2000. The report also said
the Church should resist the temptation to look back to a "golden age of the family" and
help people build strong, committed and faithful relationships. The Archbishop of
Canterbury, George Carey, leader of the Church of England, welcomed the report as a
"rich resource in a continuing process of debate and soul searching," but he said it was
not the Church's authoritative teaching. The report's recommendations are likely to go
before a decision-making general synod of the Church of England. (Reuters, London.)
[16] Anthony Kosnik et al. (The Catholic Theological Society of America), Human
Sexuality: New Directions in American Catholic Thought, New York: Paulist Press, 1977:
85. Cited by Labacqz and Barton in Sex in the Parish, 1991: 35.
[17] B. Myers, "Mother-Infant Bonding: Status of This Critical-Period Hypothesis,"
Developmental Review 4, 1984: 240-274; Robert Crooks and Karla Baur, Our Sexuality,
303; Jessie Potter, "the Touch Film."
[18] S. Rice and J. Kelly, "Love and Intimacy Needs of the Elderly," Journal of Social
Work and Human Sexuality 5, 1987: 89-96.
[19] Alan Shestack et. al., Hans Baldung Grien: Prints and Drawings. Washington, D.C.:
National Gallery of Art, 1981: 131.
[20] Jeffrey S. Turner and Laura Robinson, Contemporary Human Sexuality, Englewood
Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1993: 425-426,429.
[21] Crooks and Baur, Our Sexuality, 480, 562-563.
[22] We don't need a lot of words when we make love--four will do. These words are
"please," "thank you," "ugh" and "wow!" The "wow!" is the one that counts, the one that
all the others lead up to (Eric Berne, Sex and Human Loving).
[23] The Janus Report found that 22 percent of men and 17 percent of women in the
study had had a homosexual experience. Of those, only 39 percent of the males (8.5
percent of the sample population) and 27 percent of the females (4.5 percent of the
sample population) were actively involved in regular homosexual relations and only 4
percent of the men and 2 percent of the women polled actually considered themselves to
be homosexuals. (Janus, 1993: 69,70).