Ed Young, pastor of Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Tex., achieved fame last year when he issued a challenge to married couples in his Texas-sized congregation of 20,000: have sex with your spouse every day, for an entire week.
Flooded with media requests to explain his unusual project, Young gladly obliged, performing interviews and appearing on national talk shows (including a side-splitting visit to “The Colbert Report”. His logic was that Christians have far too long abdicated to Hollywood the responsibility of shaping people’s understanding of sexual intimacy. So followers of Jesus should be talking out loud about sex, cheerleading its healthy, robust practice in the proper context of marriage.
Mark Driscoll, the incendiary pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA would agree. In his “Christian Sex Q&A” series on Mars Hill’s blog, Driscoll dispenses counsel with his trademark candor and points the extra-curious to websites such as “Christian Nymphos,” a resource where romantically adventurous wives can exchange sex tips and prayer requests (caution: the banter on this site is not for the easily scandalized).
For these spokesmen, God takes a particular interest in the bedroom lives of believers, intending for them the most titillating experiences possible. According to Young, “It's time that we moved the bed back in church and put God back in the bed, and I think we are the real sex-perts because, after all, we're made in God's image and he's the one who wants us to do it his way.” Why should the devil have all the good sex?
Add to this a fledgling Christian industry of sex aids for married couples (featuring web vendors with names like “The Pure Bed” and “Covenant Spice”) and abstinence campaigns among church singles, such as the Facebook group, “I'm Saving Myself For Wild, Passionate, Awkward Honeymoon Sex,” and it seems that an ironic reversal of events is now upon us. When there is a bounty of Christian websites, books, sermon series devoted to the topic, can it still be said that Christians are silent on sex?
But is this hoopla around sex in fact an accommodation to society’s obsession with sexual fulfillment? Is God really a romance guru, a cosmic Dr. Ruth, choreographing our lives in such a way as to maximize our opportunities for satisfaction?
The authors of two well-trafficked theology blogs challenge this nascent perception of God as orchestrator of sexual intimacy. Halden Doerge, the author of Inhabitatio Dei recently quoted Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams regarding the Christian preoccupation with sex , concluding in a follow-up post: “If marriage, sex, and parenthood are somehow the fullness of humanity we are forced to say that Christ, far from being the true human as the Christian tradition proclaims, was in fact, sub-human.”
Ben Myers, who blogs at Faith & Theology, believes that a fixation on sex causes dire consequences for congregational life, particularly for celibate singles: “This is also why our churches are often so strangely inhospitable to “single” (read: pre-married) people. We simply can’t really believe that these people are fully formed human beings.”
These theologians identify a more pressing issue than listless sex between marriage partners. They caution against the cultural notion creeping into churches that sex makes us more fully human. If Christians believe that God’s best is for humans to be sexually fulfilled, what does that say about Jesus, who never married? Where does that leave those who cannot or choose not to marry? Sex cannot bear the weight of all that the self-anointed “sex-perts” want it to mean.
Our energy would be more wisely spent cultivating lifelong holy friendships within the church, rather than trying to spice up the bedroom. Some of the new monastic communities and recent authors are discovering afresh the long-neglected discipline of celibacy. For our celibate are gifts to the body of Christ who provide us with a sign and foretaste of our eternal communion with God.
We can commend the Christian “sex-perts” for trying to provide an alternative to a culture of meaningless hookups and Hollywood glamorization. But they unwittingly show that we have little distinctive to offer besides parroting self-help columnists. Perhaps what is required is more careful talk about sex that puts it in rightful perspective—in relation to Jesus Christ, the definitive meaning of our humanity.