Sunday, 15 May 2011

Life in a Sex Mad Church

“The trouble with Evangelicals” someone said to me recently, “is that you can’t stop them talking about sex!”.  Surely not, I thought.

I've had 2 articles published in the Church of EnglandNewspaper recently.  The first was at the beginning of March about moving towards the acceptance of gay-marriage.  The correspondence ever since has been both intense and constant.  Every week there have been letters and articles in favour or (mostly) against the argument I put forward.  We are now 2 months on and still not a week goes by without something appearing in each edition.

The second was potentially no less controversial.  It was an article advocating a radical change in the culture of the CofE – from that of custodian for the historic buildings and treasures which it holds, to a policy of selling off whatever is not fit for purpose today, and using the proceeds to fund ministry, mission and evangelism!  If we did this, it would release us from having to raise millions of pounds each year for maintenance, repairs and insurance, as well as providing millions for new ministry.
But what response has this article elicited?  Nothing, zero, zilch.

Both were full page feature articles; both had the potential to arouse deep passions;  both would cause controversy if they were implemented in parish churches.  And yet the one the one which had the potential to completely transform the culture and ministry of the CofE appears to have one vital ingredient missing – SEX!
Perhaps my friend was right…  If you want to provoke controversy, you have to include sex.

I remember when I was at Theological College 20 years ago, there was a book on the bookstall by Joyce Huggett entitled “Life in a sex mad society” (pictured).  It was one in a very successful pastoral series where the author challenged much of the pervading obsession with sex in society.
Also at college with me was Joyce Huggett’s son, Kevin – and I remember the day when someone with considerable artistic talent did a wonderful spoof book cover  which he placed around the book on the bookstall.  At first sight it was difficult to see any difference.  It was identical in every way except one – the title.  Instead of being titled “Life in a Sex Mad Society” by Joyce Huggett” he had transformed it into “Life with a Sex Mad Mother” by Kevin Huggett!  We all laughed – including Kevin.

Perhaps we need a new book today, “Life in a Sex Mad Church”.  I am sure that it would sell millions, because it had the magic ingredient – SEX!
When are we going to get over our preoccupation with sex, I wonder?  When are we going to start thinking about love rather than sex?  When are we going to devote our time and energy to things that might really make a difference - rather than focussing on what people do in bed.

Last weekend I heard a pro-gay friend tell the story of an encounter with a sceptical evangelical who said that one of the problems he has with gay relationships is that he could not imagine what it would be like for 2 men to have sex together.  My friend replied without hesitation, “So please stop trying!”
Say no more..?


  1. Quite fitting that Thought for the Day on Radio 4 Today this morning was on Sexuality!

  2. Yes - I thought that Radio 4's Thought for the Day was excellent this morning at starting the challenge the sexualisation of people into mere objects of desire.

    Well worth listening to....
    (it starts 1 hour 47 minutes into the prgramme)

  3. I will listen to that!
    For all the obsession with sex, the Church handles it really badly. They don't even cope well with heterosexual people as sexual beings really do they, let alone gay or bisexual people?

  4. The problem, I guess, is that sex is such a fundamental and powerful drive in our lives. Many Christians find themselves uncomfortable with this, seeing it almost as being in 'competition' with their devotion to God.

    I don't think we have even begun (as a Church) to seek to harmonise the 2 in our spirituality. Thus 'sex' becomes synonymous with 'temptation' and the whole process becomes a sef-perpetuating circle.

    But that does not mean I believe in a moral free-for-all where there is no moral or ethical framework. Marriage remains for me the bedrock of sexual expression - hence my longing to see the Church embrace same-sex marraige...

    At the end of the day, however, Christians spend far too much time being obsessed with it, in a negative way, rather than living fulfilled lives at peace with ourselves and God.

  5. Hi Benny,

    I don't think this is really fair, is it?

    On any reading of scripture, certain ways of expressing sexuality will exlcude one from salvation. I Cor 6 classically states this, but not only there. While we may need to dig behind to know what St Paul means, it is clear that one can have a sex life that displeases God to the point that He will exclude you from His Kingdom.

    Selling buildings won't exclude you from His Kingdom.

    Sex can be a salvation issue. Selling buildings not. Therefore, of course one gets a bigger and more fervent response than the other, since we are primarily interested in salvation.

    This post is a red herring, is it not?

  6. @ Nathan: Not atall.
    If you read the prophets, you will find that time and time again, God berates and sometimes judges his people for ignoring the needs of the poor, or being too wrapped up in their own self interest to notice what He requires.

    I am much more worried about being a church which continues to pour millions of pounds each year into preserving stone, gold and silver when I see injustice or poverty in the world.

    Jesus did say, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" and yet I worship and minister in a church which places far too much importance on these earthly treasures.

    Is it a salvation issue? Well, perhaps you would like to read Matthew 25:31-46, and then let me know...

  7. Hi Benny,

    Thanks for this. I understand what you say about Matt 25, but I feel uncomfortable using it in the way you seem to suggest. We could sell all the churches in the UK and not deal with world poverty. The sin of omission is always with us and we could always DO more, and should strive to do so. And yes, the waste one sees around does make one angry.

    However, the issue with sexuality and buildings is that the two are not comparable. The problem is to promote a lifestyle which will exclude one from God’s Kingdom and call it “blessing” is dangerous and irresponsible. That is why people get so fervent.

    We cannot eradicate world poverty, but we can teach people what sexuality God does/does not approve of.

    Being poor won’t exclude you from salvation. Not doing enough for the poor won’t exclude you from salvation (since you can never do enough, but you can do what you can). Promoting wrong sexual lifestyles will exclude both the teacher and the one who acts on that teaching from salvation. THIS is my point.

  8. Hi Nathan,

    From your comment: 'The problem is to promote a lifestyle which will exclude one from God’s Kingdom and call it “blessing”'

    I think that we do promote such a lifestyle in the West, and we call it blessing - the life style I am talking about is the comparative riches which we all enjoy at the expense of the developing world.

    We are all caught up in it, and we all fail to challenge it sufficiently in our own lives, or in the lives of others.

    I agree that sexuality and buildings are not comparable, but the issue of life-style is. If God will judge us for promoting a wrong sexual life-style, then He will also judge us for promoting a wrong lifestyle based on affluence. See the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) or The Rich Young Man (Matthew 19:16-25)

    Or perhaps, God is more gracious and more loving and more merciful to all of us whatever our wrong lifestyle...?

    There is much more evidence in the Bible to condemn the sin of affluence at the expense of the poor than there is to condemn same-sex relationships.

    Yet we choose to focus on one and not the other, which brings to mind Jesus teaching on judgment in Matthew 7:1-5

  9. Hi Benny,

    Thank you for this post. I understand what you say. I don’t agree, but I understand the standard liberal catholic line you take.

    You make the comment: “There is much more evidence in the Bible to condemn the sin of affluence at the expense of the poor than there is to condemn same-sex relationships.”

    This idea only works if you take the a-priori assumption that same-sex relationships are not included in the category “sexual immorality” – and herein lies the debate. That distinction has not yet been made clear, let alone conclusively proved or universally accepted, and the Bible is FULL of condemnation for sexual immorality. Thus the need to tread with care, and expect challenges.

    Also, did you ever consider that the reason why you had no response to the buildings letter was that people basically agreed with you, as I do? Maybe you got that one right, and the gay-marriage one wrong. Isn’t that a possibility? Why start reading negative motives into things where there might be none?