What Does the Bible Say about Enjoying Our Sexuality?

Big props to Allan Edwards for being so open and honest about how he handles his sexual desires for men on this week's Morning Edition Sunday on NPR, and to Rachel Martin for asking questions that many people who affirm LGBTQ folks within the Church would want to ask him. Allan and his wife Leanne have found a way to have a loving and sexual relationship, which is absolutely worth noting and respecting. No question. And I deeply appreciate how careful he seems to be to want to avoid condemning others or forcing his perspective on them. Allan's and Leanne's calm and gentle voices and commitments evoked my respect. But their view of the Bible did not.

As I prepare to speak at a Reconciling conference in March, in Bellevue, WA, my thoughts go to and remain with the way people handle the bible in this conversation. This is, it seems to me, the most pressing issue in any of the conversations about how members of the Church can or should view sexuality and marriage. How are Christians to read the bible wisely in the 21st century?

In the interview Sunday morning, Allan said, "I studied different methods of reading the scripture and it all came down to this: Jesus accepts the rest of the scripture as divined from God. So if Jesus is who he says he is, then we kind of have to believe what he believes."

Allow me to offer three brief points in response to Allan's conviction, which is shared by many others as well. The first is that when Jesus refers to scripture, it is only to what is found in the first testament, or what Christians call the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible. When Jesus was around, none of the second testament (New Testament) writings had been written yet. What do we find in the Hebrew Bible on sex and marriage? Many things that we no longer endorse, but most importantly: there are no examples of couples who enter into marriage on equal footing, as Allan and Leanne seem to have, and the women are property of the men. If we stick to what is in the Bible on this matter, even Allan's marriage is heretical.

The second issue is that what is attributed to Jesus regarding sex and marriage is astoundingly limited. Jesus never talks about what to do with sexual desires, and this is an important component of what Allan referred to and what is relevant for us today.

Jesus is never attributed with saying anything about what marriage should look like or who can enter into it. The latter point is hardly surprising, given that marriage was not about love but about economics, progeny, and knowing who would receive your property. But, as many people like to point out, Jesus is attributed with saying that men can leave their families to follow him, and those (males) who can handle it should castrate themselves for the sake of the Kingdom. If we are to "believe what Jesus believes," then would that not lead to no more children or at least to fathers leaving the home with impunity?

Finally, only in the books of Song of Songs (Song of Solomon) and Romans do we have biblical authors talking about or alluding to how to handle desire. The former book seems pretty okay with enjoying it and Paul, in Romans, is notoriously conflicted about even having desires, sexual or otherwise, much less acting on them (which ought to be looked at within the context of first century ideas about passions and desires, many of which might surprise you. See chapter five of Dale Martin's Sex and the Single Savior). Again, if we turn to the Bible on how to view or understand our sexual desires, which are a part of our beings as humans, we are left with very little to guide us. But is this not what it somewhat boils down to: how do we understand our bodies and our (supposedly God-given) sexual desires in relationships?

I understand when a person says that she just believes what the bible says, since I used to embrace this perspective myself (see my forthcoming piece here, "Five Reasons 'I Believe the Bible' Concerns Me" or Permission Granted). But as responsible and socially engaged adults, in the 21st century, simply believing what is in there is not sufficient. We must be able to engage our minds in addition to our hearts and faith as we read the bible. We must be able to respect the changing views on marriage and families, and the developments in our understandings of what it means to be human and to express and enjoy our sexuality.

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