Posts tagged ‘Human Sexuality’

Stopping Sexual Assault

Kevin Spacey

Credit: Netflix

Roger Ailes.  Harvey Weinstein.  Kevin Spacey.

These are just a few of the more recent names that have turned right-side-up the seamy underbelly of sickening sexual power-plays for the world to see.  Charges that these men sexually assaulted people with whom they worked have sparked a social media movement among countless victims of sexual assault, who are now declaring, #MeToo.  These men’s alleged sexual crimes have been roundly condemned, both in word and deed.  Roger Ailes, who has now passed, was ousted from the powerful cable news network he founded.  Harvey Weinstein was likewise booted from his own company.  Production on Kevin Spacey’s hit show “House of Cards” has been suspended.

Sexual assault is one of those issues on which all people with any moral center can agree: it should never happen.  So, why does it?  From a theological perspective, sexual assault can be said to be a result of humanity’s fall into sin, a fact to which the many gruesome stories in the Bible of sexual assault attest.  And no inexorable march of human history toward increasing moral enlightenment seems to be able to arrest the problem.

So, what can make a change, or even a dent, in the tragedy of sexual assault?

Our modern sexual ethics have, in many ways, been reduced to the word “consent.”  As long as people consent to any kind of sexual activity, any kind of sexual activity is permissible and, yes, even moral.  Indeed, in our sexually indulgent culture, it is considered immoral to restrain and contain one’s sexual desires, for sexual desire is considered to be at least a window, if not the window, into a person’s core identity.  But, as David French points out in an article for National Review:

The practical result of consent-focused morality is the sexualization of everything.  With the line drawn at desire alone, there is no longer any space that’s sex-free.  Work meetings or restaurants can be creative locations for steamy liaisons.  Not even marriage or existing relationships stand as a firewall against potential hookups …

 When everything is sexualized and virtually every woman is subject to the potential “ask,” scandals like those that rocked Hollywood, Fox News, and – yes – the Trump campaign become inevitable. And they’re replicated countless times on a smaller scale in schools and workplaces across the land. Desire is elevated over fidelity and certainly over propriety, so bosses bully, spouses stray, hearts break, and families fracture.

Mr. French is precisely right.  Sexual assault is a huge problem.  It is a huge problem in and of itself, which is why we must stand with the women – and the men – who are victimized by it and declare, “No more!”  But it is also symptomatic of another huge problem – a sexual ethic that has become so attenuated that it amounts to little more than a “yes” or “no” answer to an ask.

Andrew T. Walker, the Director of Policy Studies for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, tweeted last month:

So much cultural & personal hurt due to sexual sin.  Maybe the church should see its sexual ethics as a gift of common grace to the world.

 – Andrew T. Walker (@andrewtwalk) October 10, 2017

Mr. Walker packs a lot of profundity into 138 characters as he invites us to entertain a wholly different, and certainly a more robust, sexual ethic than that of our culture’s as the remedy to our sexual assault problem – a uniquely Christian sexual ethic.

The Christian sexual ethic is wholly different from our culture’s not only because its content is sweeping, as any glance through Leviticus 18 will quickly reveal, but because its very trajectory is countercultural.  In a culture that approvingly trends toward the permissive, Christianity vigilantly trends toward the restrictive.  This is why Jesus says things like: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).  In sexual ethics, Jesus goes far beyond consent.  He cuts straight to the heart.  Even what happens in one’s interior life can be an opportunity for sexual immorality.

Why would Jesus trend toward the restrictive with regard to sexuality?  Is He a prude?  Or a prig?  Or a Puritan?  Hardly.  He simply knows that with great power comes great responsibility.  And sex does, in fact, carry with it great power.  So, Jesus is inviting us to handle with care.  To quote David French again:

It virtually goes without saying that the sex drive is incredibly powerful.  Sex is also a remarkably intimate act that often has a profound emotional impact.  An ethic that indulges that drive while also denying the emotional significance of sex will inevitably wreck lives. The wise person understands that desire – even mutual desire – can be dangerous. 

It is time for us to take a step back and recognize this reality.  In a culture that lionizes consent when it comes to sexuality, Christians have something much more profound to protect and prosper sexuality – a conviction that sex is best when sex is contained, not so that joy in sex may be decreased, but so that joy in sex may be released.

November 13, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Rape At Stanford: Recovering Our Humanity In A Culture Of Perverse Sexuality

Stanford University.jpg

The names have changed, but the situation is far too familiar.

Three weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about a sex scandal at Baylor University that featured violated girls, entitled football players, and a campus administration who looked the other way.  Now, another sex scandal has captured headlines – this one at Stanford University – that involves a violated girl, an entitled party goer, and a judge that many are saying looked the other way by sentencing a rapist to an embarrassingly paltry prison term.

The entitled party goer in question is Brock Turner.  He is convicted of violating a 23-year-old girl who, though not a student at Stanford, was attending a fraternity party where she had too much to drink, passed out, and was found behind a dumpster with Turner “lying on top of her unconscious, partly clothed body…Witnesses intervened and held the attacker for the police.”[1]

The judge could have sentenced Turner to 14 years in prison.  Instead, he got six months.

The victim recounted her experience of waking up from her assault in terrifying detail in a letter she read aloud in the courtroom to her rapist:

The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbow. I thought maybe I had fallen and was in an admin office on campus. I was very calm and wondering where my sister was. A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person. I knew no one at this party. When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing. I still remember the feeling of my hands touching my skin and grabbing nothing. I looked down and there was nothing.[2]

It was at this moment that she realized what the officer had said was true:  she had been raped.

The victim’s letter is gut-wrenching.  But the response of Brock Turner’s father Dan to this crime is stupefying.  He defended his son, saying:

As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan. 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy-go-lucky self with that easygoing personality and welcoming smile. His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear and depression…His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life.[3]

Yes, that’s what this was:  “20 minutes of action.”  Just the phrase makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

This tragedy is nauseating. It is disgusting.  But I am afraid we may not learn much from it.

We now live in a world where it is acceptable for college students to hook up using an app where they can register their legal consent for sex unless, of course, one of the consenters indicates they are intoxicated.  Did I mention that this app was created by a group of parents of college-aged children?

We also live in a world where a self-declared “feminist father” can sport a shirt that reads:

RULES FOR DATING MY DAUGHTER 1. I DON’T MAKE THE RULES 2. YOU DON’T MAKE THE RULES 3. SHE MAKES THE RULES 4. HER BODY, HER RULES

Just so I am not misunderstood, I am in complete agreement that no one should ever be forced to engage in any sort of sexual encounter against their wishes.  Period.  To violate a woman’s rules for her body is, by definition, rape.  And it is abhorrent.

But something is missing.

When sex is reduced to concepts like “consent” and highly individualized “rules,” the bar for sex has been set way too low.  It has been set a place that is sure to leave a trail of broken hearts, broken relationships, and broken lives.  Sex is about consent.  But it’s not only about consent.  It’s also about commitment.  Sex is about rules.  But it’s not only about rules. It’s also about trust.  And I can’t stop there.  Sex is also about love.  It is also about marriage.  And yes, as a Christian, I cannot help but note that it is ultimately about God because it is, in its very origin, a gift from God.

Something tells me that God is not pleased when His good gift is drug into the dumpster.  Literally.

Brock Turner took a dumpster dive to the bottom of the moral barrel when he raped this young lady.  But let us not forget that this moral barrel comes with a staircase to the bottom.  And when we, as a culture, are willing to walk down step after step of sexual compromise, sexual selfishness, and sexual confusion – when we, as a culture, reduce sex to consent and strip it of nearly everything with which Scripture imbues it – what makes us think we won’t trip and land at the bottom like Brock?

Jesus reminds us that the first step to sexual disaster happens long before our clothes come off with the wrong person in the wrong circumstance for the wrong reasons.  The first step to sexual disaster happens when hearts go wrong: “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  Sexual disaster doesn’t start with a rape case that captures headlines.  It starts with a lust that perverts a person’s heart.

The problem with lust is that it sacrifices a person’s humanity on the altar of personal twisted desire.  A meeting that is quite literally designed to give life as it often results in the blessing of children actually takes life as one person uses another person to satisfy himself.  This is why Dan Turner can write about his son’s “20 minutes of action.”  Because for Brock’s dad, that’s all sex is – action with no affiance, amusement with no affection.  It is certainly not the meeting of two people and the mingling of two souls.

The paragraph I appreciate the most in this young lady’s statement to her attacker is her last one.  She says to girls everywhere:

You are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you.

From a woman who was treated as far less than human comes a reminder that her – and our – humanity nevertheless endures.

May our sexuality rise to the occasion of our humanity.

________________________

[1] Liam Stack, “Light Sentence for Brock Turner in Stanford Rape Case Draws Outrage,” The New York Times (6.6.2016).

[2] Katie J.M. Baker, “Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker,” Buzzfeed (6.3.2016).

[3] Morgan Winsor, “Scathing Letter to Father of Stanford Sex Offender Brock Turner Goes Viral,” ABC News (6.9.2016).

June 20, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why Fifty Shades of Grey is Black and White

Movie TheatreComing to a theatre near you this Friday, just in time for Valentine’s Day: 110 minutes of expectation and titillation wrapped in the package of a movie based on a best-selling novel. E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey has been widely panned by literary critics. Jesse Kornbluth, writing for the Huffington Post, admits, “As a reading experience, Fifty Shades of Grey is a sad joke, puny of plot, padded with conversations that are repeated five or six times and email exchanges that are neither romantic nor witty.”[1] A quick tour through a few of the novel’s more infamous lines quickly reveals just how bad the writing really is:

  • His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel…or something.
  • My subconscious is furious, medusa-like in her anger, hair flying, her hands clenched around her face like Edvard Munch’s Scream.
  • Finally, my medulla oblongata recalls its purpose. I breathe.[2]

If you think the line, “Finally, my medulla oblongata recalls its purpose, I breathe” makes for a good novel, in the timeless words of the professor from Waterboy, “There’s something wrong with your medulla oblongata.” I’ve never read either of these authors, but something tells me E.L. James makes Danielle Steele look downright Shakespearean. Something also tells me that when James was writing her novel, clicks on Thesaurus.com went through the roof. Yet, over 10 million copies of this stilted, silly prose have been sold worldwide.

In all honesty, though the awful writing really does bother me, there is a much more sinister side to Fifty Shades of Grey – something that deserves serious theological reflection. This novel unashamedly, unabashedly revels in its sexual depravity. It is a sick foray into all sorts of sexual sin. Some reviewers have gone so far as to call it “mommy porn.”[3] The overarching plot line explores the sexually abusive relationship between a wealthy 27-year old entrepreneur named Christian Grey and a 21-year old college senior named Ana Steele. Christian warns Ana that he is not “a hearts and flowers kind of guy” and introduces her to his room full of BDSM toys. It is their masochistic sexual encounters that form the meat of the novel. Indeed, reports indicate that in the 110-minute movie version, over 20 minutes are devoted to sex scenes.[4] And people have worked themselves into a flurry of anxious anticipation to see them.

Let me cut through the grey and be black and white for a moment: You should not go see this movie. You should not read the book. That’s the bottom line of this blog. You don’t need to encounter the explicit contents of this book and movie firsthand to know its implications are evil.  Allow me to give you three reasons why I believe this.

1. Fifty Shades of Grey robs people – and especially women – of their dignity.

I myself do not know all the illicit details of the sexual encounters between Christian and Ana, nor do I care to. But I do know that BDSM – whether it be in a novel, in a movie, or in real life – is an affront to basic human dignity. Tying up another person and calling them all sorts of nasty names, as is common in these types of sexual encounters, cannot be anywhere near what God had in mind when He designed sex so “two [could] become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In fact, the description of the righteous woman in Proverbs 31 haunts me as I think about the relationship peddled by this book: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come” (Proverbs 31:25). Ana is robbed of both her strength and dignity in this story. May what is fiction never become what is reality.

One additional note on this topic: even if you are married and trust each other implicitly, BDSM still degrades the divine design for human sexuality. It simply does not square with what Paul writes concerning the marital relationship: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). Sex and marriage need tenderness.

2. Fifty Shades of Grey portrays people as little more than the sum of their desires.

Somehow, we have bought into this myth that if we do not indulge whatever sexual desires, fantasies, dreams, or fetishes we might have, we are not being true to ourselves. We are repressing ourselves. First, allow me to say a word about our feckless use of the word “repression.” Repression is when a person pushes something – usually a memory – out of their conscious awareness as a defense mechanism against the pain it causes. Repression often requires psychological help. Suppression, on the other hand, is when a person consciously chooses not to indulge a particular appetite. Repression is almost always dangerous. Suppression, on the other hand, can often be good. For example, I have often desired to try to take out the 72-ounce steak at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, but I have suppressed myself. Why? Because there is no way that would be good for me. I also sometimes desire to sleep in rather than to get up early to work out. But I suppress my sleep and get up. Why? Because I know working out is good for me.

Just because we desire something doesn’t make it good or good for us. This is why the apostle Peter warns: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). You are more than the sum of your desires. And you are most true to yourself not when you’re following every whim and desire, but when you’re following Jesus.

3. Fifty Shades of Grey gives false hope for a happy ending.

Perhaps what disturbs me most about Fifty Shades of Grey is not its graphic descriptions of bizarre sexual encounters, but the arc of the broader plot line over the whole Fifty Shades trilogy. In volume two, Christian and Ana get married. By the end of volume three, the reader learns the couple has two children. Christian, it seems, has been tamed. And even though it’s left unspoken, the emotion of the ending is clear: “And they lived happily ever after.”

Here’s the problem with this ending: if the first part of the story is true, the last part cannot be. The Fifty Shades trilogy tells the story of light being born out of darkness. It tells the story of tender love emerging out of sadomasochism. In real life, however, this does not happen – at least not in the way Fifty Shades presents it. Evil does not wake up one morning and decide, “I’m going to birth something good.” No. Evil begets evil. If you don’t believe me, read up on the doctrine of original sin. The only way for good to emerge from evil is not by evil’s behest, but by evil’s demise. Jesus didn’t come and ask evil to be a little better. He came and nailed it to a cross. There’s where the hope for a “happily ever after” ending is. Not in some accidental stumbling of righteousness out of wickedness.

I hope this is enough – if you were thinking about seeing the movie or reading the book – to stop you. Researching the story and thinking through its repercussions is certainly enough for me.  And I also hope this is enough – if you’re trapped in a real-life abusive relationship – for you to get the help you need to get out. You’re too fearfully and wonderfully made not to.

_______________________________

[1] Jesse Kornbluth, “‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’: Is The Hottest-Selling Book In America Really Just ‘S&M For Dummies?’Huffington Post (3.12.2012)

[2] Brenton Dickieson, “50 Shades of Bad Writing,” A Pilgrim in Narnia (9.21.2012).

[3] Julie Bosman, “Discreetly Digital, Erotic Novel Sets American Women Abuzz,” The New York Times (3.9.2012).

[4] Jess Denham, “Fifty Shades of Grey movie banned in Malaysia for being ‘more like pornography than a film,’The Independent (2.5.2015).

February 9, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,086 other followers


%d bloggers like this: