Friday, July 13, 2012

A bigger look at sex

American Protestantism is strangled by its own limits - gagging on its own prejudices and asphyxiated by its own toxic air.

The Reverend Dr. Peggy Way said it best when she said, "Human sexuality has become the defining experience for American Protestants."

Protestants no longer care if believers think Jesus is the son of god.

The virginity of Mary, the resurrection of the body, the life after death promise - these former conundrums are no longer pertinent.


Today, the only thing, the only thing that can divide a congregation is discussion about sex.   We'll kill each other over the decision to ordain or not ordain women and gays.  We'll divide and destroy a church with debates over the rights of all people to marry - to adopt babies.  The only time we fall apart is when someone drags us, kicking and screaming into the clear and straight forward, discussion of women, men, sexual intercourse and homosexuality.
For the life of me, I don't know why.

For the life of me, I don't know why anyone wants to talk about any of those things in polite company. 

The things that make us squirm
According to Dr. Way, three theological concepts which once were defined in broad, generous ways are now confined to a limited (Protestant-based), ignorant discussion of human sexuality.

The first - Identity.
The second - Authority.
The third - Community.

Who am I?  I am a human being - a person.  I am a child of the universe - no less than the trees and the stars - I have a right to be here.

I am a child of god - the daughter my mother yearned for, the adored youngest in my family.  I am a mother, a friend, a neighbor and a certain elderly dog's lifeline.

If, however, I only define myself through my "sexuality," I am woman.  Period. 
Who tells me who I am?  To whom do I go to learn more about my affect on my world?  Who holds me as an example?  Who seeks my council, asks for my opinion?  Who loves me and who do I love?

My family validates me.  My children affirm my authority in my family - my extended family seek me out and honor me.

My friends call upon me to stand with them in difficult times, and remind me of my worth.  In my lifetime, communities of faith have reached out to me, called me to serve them, and confirmed my value as a pastor.

If, however, I only define myself through my "sexuality," the only people who value me are those I sleep with.  I am a sexual partner, a potential sexual partner, a former sexual partner or a woma who has chosen to not have a sexual partner.  Period. 

I know who validates me. 

Now that I know who I am, now that I know who validates me - how do I live this out with others?

I join a faith community, become involved with like-minded people.  I volunteer to work with organizations that share my values.  I help my neighbors when they are in need - practice becoming a better friend to those I love.

I let my family know how dear they are to me, and make certain my intentions are clear, my good wishes understood.

And I try to not criticize, harm, hurt or disrespect anyone I misunderstand.

If, however, I only define my community through my "sexuality,"  I line-up with those who are as promiscuous or up-tight as I; defend or attack those who define themselves differently than do I; only see value in the sexual practices of my community, and then only when those practices make sense to me, under my conditions, definitions and terms. 

No wonder the church struggles.
 No wonder the church struggles.
Denominational Protestantism reaches beyond the sexual - and defines individuals, communities and their causes in terms suffocated by the contemporary frame.

My little church in Hager City, Wisconsin (bless their hearts!) was a community of faith.  The folks of my congregation defined themselves first as children of god, second as keepers of a sacred trust  in regard to the well-being of the children and the elderly of the community, and finally - as individuals in need of personal salvation.
Growth when you least expect it
Their miraculous priorities grew our congregation from twelve people who worshiped in the basement (we couldn't afford to heat the sanctuary) to a vibrant, active, eager and exciting church with a membership of 340.

None of us - not one - defined ourselves first and foremost - as male.  Or female.  Gay, straight.  We were all together - we were people - we didn't give a rat's butt to know who slept with whom.

This is gospel.

As my colleagues wrap up their 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Thursday, July 5, 2012, in Pittsburgh, I venture the saints of Hager City care less about their opinions on gay marriage.

Their congregations are dying.  Their gospel is suffocating.

And I wonder what ever happened to The Reverend Dr. Peggy Way? 

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