I grew up, thanks to my parents and the particular but various churches we attended, thinking of God as a loving God. However, God’s church was not always so loving. And as I grew into my teenage and young adult years, I realized that what I read about Jesus (healing, forgiving, uplifting the oppressed) did not match–at all–with the primary messages I got from most Christians (celibacy, straightness, shame, judgment… ooops, don’t get an abortion).
Christianity in the US continues to be far too deeply influenced by the judgmental patriarchy of its Puritan forefathers. Worse, our governmental representatives spend far too little effort on good governance and far too much effort making claims about morality which may well be Puritan but is not Christ-like at all.
My self-identification as a Christian waned as I realized that many gay and lesbian friends were the people I knew who were most like Jesus, and yet were most likely to feel excluded from Christian faith communities. As a bisexual person, I’ve found a spiritual home in the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church has, for decades, ordained LGBTQIA+ folks, including civil rights leader Pauli Murray, who helped construct the legal framework for women’s rights. Despite finding this spiritual home, I continue to have a complex and fraught relationship with my identity as a Christian.
Jesus repeatedly told his followers to love one another, to leave judgments to God, and to lift up the poor and marginalized. Christians, as a group, seem to focus far more on fundraising and stratifying others according to their perceived sins.
The Song of Solomon celebrates desire, lust, and love in a relationship that might be marital. The one mention of lust by Jesus is assumed to be aimed at men and women equally, even though it could be directed only at men because men held so much financial and civil power over women. The power relationship between men and women is and was not equal, and Jesus always advocated for protecting the less powerful. Jesus healed the Roman centurion’s “boy”, arguably his lover, without asking about the details of their relationship.
Even if virginity is truly meaningful — obviously it gets held in high regard due to the whole Virgin Mary thing — we still have no real answers about how to sexually behave or advise someone whose virginity is already long gone. Preferencing virginity significantly complicates healing for survivors of rape or abusive past marriages. Unintended pregnancy can be a moment for grace, not shame. Prohibitions against premarital and nonmarital sex inhibit conversations about how much sexual intimacy might be right for a couple, about how healthy sexual intimacy can, in the words of Nine Inch Nails, “bring [us] closer to God.”
We have failed to explore, even theoretically, what Christian sexuality should look like. The whole idea sounds like an oxymoron, but the judgment about the conversation, in my view, is more sinful than the sex itself. A Christian sexuality might include discussion of how sex can express and enhance love, fostering communication about sexual expectations, discussions of healing touch beyond the back rub, understanding how not to conflate sex with power and how to recover when power abuse manifests as rape or incest, and understanding the right relationship between sex and vulnerability.
What is the right role of state-sanctioned marriage and varied familial and household bonds? How do we alleviate poverty, especially among women, so that sex work is a consensual choice, not an economic necessity driven by powerlessness, and so abortion is a decision made medically or by family needs, not economically? How do we shame the people who are exacerbating economic inequality, rather than the women trying to cope with that inequality?
Meanwhile, we should ask our community leaders: do you strive for workers to be paid living wages? Do you respect the dignity of every human being? Do you spend resources to help meet the needs of the poor? Do you share your power and privilege with marginalized people?
And honestly, if they don’t do these things, I don’t care where they spend their Sunday mornings or what religion they claim to be; they are not people I have any faith in at all.