50 Shades of Grace- the awkward sexuality of a Pastor


photo credit: one year via photopin (license)

photo credit: one year via photopin (license)

The other day I sat across from two young men who were questioning a lot about faith and church. We decided to go grab coffee and had great conversations that jumped all over the place. Eventually it got quiet and one said, “this is going to embarrass my buddy, but do you date?” Now for most people that question is a no-brainer – of course people date (unless they chose not to or are married, although some still date when married – but that’s another blog post). But when people are addressing a non-married clergy member, they aren’t really sure what to expect or if they can even ask the question. No I am not a nun, and yes I do date… But why is there so much awkwardness around the idea of dating and sexuality? I think for the next couple of blog posts we’re going to talk about just that: sexuality and dating…

Recently, I was talking to a friend of mine who began working at a publishing house. He shared that he just discovered that the publishing house has a line of Christian Romance Novels. I couldn’t help but be curious what does that even look like? I quickly responded “what the heck would a title of one of those books be – ‘fifty shades of grace?’” I then speculated that the Christian equivalent of Fabio would be someone like Kirk Cameron. The very image of Kirk Cameron in some sort of piratey blouse atop a horse is enough to cause a full on laugh attack that includes a solid snorting session. We laughed for a long time, but the more and more I thought about it, the more and more I became curious and uncomfortable. What would one of these novels have in it? I am so curious, because I think that we have been given really strange understandings of what dating and sexuality look like within the church. We are always told that if we don’t know the answer to something, then we are to look at scripture. The thing is, it’s hard to look in scripture for things when not everything is in scripture. No one in scripture dates. I mean, you can argue that stories like Jacob are stories of ‘courting,’ but lets be honest – a guy who accidentally marries the wrong girl because there was a veil is maybe not the best catch. I hope that the person I am planning on spending the rest of my life with would recognize me whether or not I am sporting a veil or any other head covering. There aren’t any scriptural dating examples because, historically, that isn’t how it has always worked.

Culturally, the idea of courting or dating wasn’t an option. So any dating rules we have applied are just that… rules that we have applied to the text. We are doing what we often do – placing our own cultural expectations onto the text and laying on our own understandings and beliefs. It is impossible to take any current understanding of dating and apply it to a culture where marriages were often prearranged and about political gain or business partnership. Scripture doesn’t directly give us help in the dating sphere. We have to take general rules, such as how we are to treat others, and then apply them to the world of dating in order to help us . We can take rules about the treatment of spouses and work backwards from that.

Because we don’t know how to talk about dating, I think that we don’t know how to talk about sex or sexuality. We have reserved any talk about sexuality for those who are married. I have counseled several girls who were petrified about getting married because they had been led to believe sexuality was dirty when they were younger, and now they are being asked to see it as a blessing and something that will create closeness between themselves and their future husbands. I have also spoken with a friend of mine who became promiscuous after the Pandora’s box of sexuality was opened for him. He had a sexual experience after waiting a long time and believing that marriage was the only place that he would enjoy this kind of connection. Once that changed, it was like the gate was open and there was no reeling him back in. He doesn’t really have a scriptural example of how to move forward from this past other than the famous story of the woman at the well.

Scripture tells us that a woman encounters Jesus by a well mid-day. The time of day matters because women would often draw water together in the morning as a way of catching up with each other — it was a time of gossip and connection. Imagine it as the biblical version of ‘the View.’ Jesus knows, as everyone knows, that she had been partnered with 5 men and she now lived with another. She was scandalous, to say the least. Jesus speaks to her scandal but brings her back into community by offering redemption. Her interaction with Jesus helps us to understand the redemption that can come if our dating story isn’t one that we would want to discuss with Jesus in a public setting. We can move beyond our sexual or scandalous dating stories if the community will allow it, which I think is what Jesus was modeling for us — the ability to help others move beyond their stories. But if we move beyond our past, what should our future look like? Well that’s for another post…

  1. Janessa says:

    i’m really looking forward to the series. This is one of the hardest things to talk about, but I also get asked about the most. I find it interesting how comfortable people are asking me about dating and sex in my personal life and I don’t think they would normally ask quite those same questions. So as much as we sometimes aren’t equipped with the right answers, as you very well pointed out, it seems something that we are expected to be experts on and very comfortable talking about. (while of course having no actual experience)

  2. Ron Simpson says:

    your writing causes me to reflect does that’s good. It’s interesting how this subject, this issue troubled me so when I was a teenager and college student. I think it’s natural for people to have a curiosity about your view and even more about your behavior because that communicates your true view.

    While the socially accepted practice of sexual behavior has changed significantly since I was a teenager, I expect people still question what is good ethical behavior. And so what a young, attractive, single spiritual leader does in her personal life could be a very important guide as to what is good ethical behavior.

    I had a good friend, a Roman Catholic priest who was Assistant Chaplain at Cornell University, tell me once that adultery was a Breach of Honesty.

    It is important to discuss this topic, because it’s important to know feelings around sexuality are normal and healthy and nothing about it is dirty. It is also important to have healthy open respectful communication with dating partners. That means taking ownership for one’s own feelings and being respectful and honoring of the other person’s feelings. This is true about almost everything in a personal interaction but there’s something much deeper and spiritual when it comes to sexuality. That has to do with the potential of the creation of a new life and that can never be forgotten or ignored. Things have changed in our society because we have found a variety of ways to potentially take that spiritual, blessed event of conception out of the sexual behavior equation, but it remains and, when and if it happens/occurs, it is holy and it changes everything.

    As with many decisions around personal interactions, it’s important to ask ourselves what’s the kind thing, what does the other person want, and not be selfish or, worse, manipulative. I’m not sure how to tie this in scripture, but I’m sure there is, or suspect there is, a connection somewhere.
    I’m reminded of something my paternal grandmother told me when I was quite young: “No man is a man that doesn’t have a temper. No man is a true man that doesn’t control his temper.”

    Thank you for writing this and addressing such a very important topic that affects all of us and day-to-day interactions that we rarely discuss and often signed difficult.

    I wish I knew how to get connected so I was a friend or somehow got prompted every time you posted something. I just stumbled across this following some emal line, but could easily have missed it. I think I got here but following some post I received to Facebook and then scanning post by all those resume I am a friend, but I’m not sure.
    So how can I automatically see things like this when you post your writings?


  3. Julie says:

    Utterly pent articles, apctepiare it for entropy. The bravest thing you can do when you are not brave is to profess courage and act accordingly. by Corra Harris.

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