Covenantal Sex and the Ethics of Relationship

7 Feb

Recently, a past professor of mine posted a blog entry entitled: “The Sacrament of Sex” in which he asks the question of how sex is to “be an embodiment of the story of God” in light of the resurrection. More than anything, he addresses the question of why sex should be restricted to the marriage relationship (among practicing Christians) and answers by stating that marriage is a covenantal relationship which mirrors God’s covenant with us. To act differently would be out of accordance with this fundamental cornerstone of faith. The question and his answer are really nothing new in Christian tradition (as well as some other religions) but seeing how “Christianity Today” just ran an article on the same topic (Sex Economics 101), I feel like I need to weigh in on the discussion.

Frankly, I think the church talks rather simplistically about sexuality. First, God’s story isn’t played out exclusively through sex (or marriage), even though in the church body, we become one in Christ. And as a single person, I grow rather weary of married people always being the ones to address the issue of sexuality. Rather, I think it is time for the church to go deeper into this issue. Part of that entails really addressing the socio-sexual climate in which people are living that dramatically impacts how we think and live out our sexuality and faith.

In appreciation, the CT article does address some of the complexities related to current sexual trends we see in today’s society. The increase in women’s educational and vocational advances have shaken the dynamic of traditional marriage roles in which men were the primary providers. In the old establishment, men often provided financial stability while women brought sex in exchange. (I find this a bit of an over-generalization but nonetheless this argument is out there). As a result, we have women who can now take care of themselves and who in the name of sexual liberation engage in casual, pre-marital sex. The down side of this though is that men (and women) are becoming less apt to commit to monogamy and marriage. After all, why buy the cow if you can get the milk for free? Likewise, young people (both male and female) are looking to sow their wild oats and have fun rather than settling down to marriage right away.

And the church wonders what it can do about this.

To me, I think the church needs to work more on spiritual discipleship of its members than on platitudes about morality. Only then can sex transcend into sacred territory.

I do believe sexuality comes down to that covenantal relationship my teacher was talking about. Yet to talk about sex as a covenantal relationship with another before addressing one’s covenant with God individually is like putting the cart before the horse. For me, I need to know where I stand in relationship to God before I can even begin to think about including another person into my sexual life. This to me makes far more sense than moral teaching or laws.

If I’m in partnership with God, I see my worth as an individual. And in that, no longer do things that separate me from Him. I also no longer throw away my sexuality like casting pearls before swines. Likewise, I value other people’s covenantal relationships and thus protect them via righteous behavior and loving my neighbor as myself.

Yet sexuality is a potent powerful force in our lives with the capacity to bring wonder, joy and intimacy. So in many ways, being single and not engaging in intercourse (because you haven’t found the right person) is a dying to the cross. We single people also reflect God’s story in our suppression of sharing this with another.

And sadly, the current sexual/relational/gender trends in our society make it increasingly more difficult to find a mate. If you are raised in the church and get lucky to find your partner in a youth bible study while you’re young – more power to you. But if you come to a committed faith later in your life like myself, most people in my age category (forty-one) are married. Quite frankly, it is hard to find someone that I feel God has selected for sharing my particular path. Sure, I could go out and have a one night stand – or settle for companionship – but that doesn’t work at this stage in the game. It is not where I’m at with God and it is definitely not where I’m at in my emotional development.

So why does the church make it so hard for single people to fit into the larger scheme of the community and why does the church seem so perturbed by the single person’s inherent sexuality? I don’t really know. Jesus was celibate and Paul honored singleness, yet as Mark Regnerus states in his CT article, “marriage is the default in the church.” For someone like me, who has never been married, I am an anomaly and I sometimes wonder whether I really fit in.

I remember this fall on the first day of my Old Testament class being asked to introduce myself to the class and to tell something about myself and my family (with the general assumption that most of us were partnered). I stood up and said that I had two cats and thought I was the only person in seminary who was forty and not married. I also remember the same professor talking about Adam during the creation story and how even though Adam was in paradise, something was missing. He needed a helpmate. A woman. A partner.

This really struck me. If this is part of God’s story, why isn’t it part of my story? Am I like one of those barren women in the bible who the longer one waits, the more rich the gift God will ultimately bring?

I’m not sure but if we’re to talk about a covenantal relationship and the sacrament of sex, the lynchpin of that is FAITH – whether you’re single or not.

2 Responses to “Covenantal Sex and the Ethics of Relationship”

  1. ken February 7, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    Very well said Lise. I struggled with the same questions for a long time. Yes, I am married now, but felt outside the norm of “the church” for many years. At one time I considered staying single for the rest of my life. Anyway, my heart goes out to you in your struggle. It may sound trite, but I feel like God has something really special for you. I wish you the very best, your friend,

  2. Blair February 7, 2011 at 7:03 pm #

    Hi Lise,
    Beautifully said. Congrats to you for making your own path and covenant. Oh it is hard to be different in this world, but it seems to me that the more of your own inherent difference that you honor and respect, the brighter and wider your light shines. The bizarre and powerful effect of being a sociable loner. Thanks for being a voice for single people of difference.

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