Updated: Dec 13, 2020
After more than a year of hunting down interviews, editing audio and writing narration to weave the episodes together, Season 2 of the Restorative Faith Podcast is now live! I am so very excited for you to have the opportunity to hear the final product. So before I get into the some of the specifics of what this season is about, I want you to have an opportunity to listen to the trailer:
There are number of different ways to listen to the podcast. You can listen to it right here on the website or you can listen to it on the podcasting apps for Apple and Android phones. Although you can listen to the episodes out of order, I would recommend listening to them in order because the episodes build upon each other. If you read my previous post or you have listened to the first season of the podcast, you are aware that each season focuses on a different theme that is causing people to leave the church. The theme of Season 2 is sexuality.
This season took more than a year to create because we wanted it to be as compelling and informative as possible. I should probably warn you, some of the human interest stories you will hear in this season are not for the faint of heart. On more than one occasion you will hear about sexual assault. If you are a victim of sexual assault, it may be triggering to hear our guests recount these stories. That said, as with everything we do on this podcast, those stories serve a purpose in opening dialogue about very important issues within the Christian faith.
Let’s Talk About Sex
The reason I wanted to focus on sexuality is because Christianity is notorious for its mishandling of sexual topics. Whether we are discussing premarital sex, marriage, divorce, adultery, rape, abortion, homosexuality, the church has caused more harm than good. Part of the reason why this happens is because most Christian denominations treat the topic of sex and sexuality as inherently taboo. For many Christians, even thinking about the subject of sex is considered inappropriate.
The result is that Christians often find themselves misinformed about sex and sexuality. They lack sufficient education to understand not only the mechanics of sex, but also how our sexuality manifests physically, mentally and emotionally. This often leads to the repression of sexual thoughts and feelings, which has the potential to contribute to a malformed sexual identity.
The other reason why the church tends to cause more harm than good in the area of sexuality is because Christians derive their sexual ethics from the Bible, which frankly, is a bit of mixed bag. The biblical approach to sexuality is steeped in ancient ways of thinking. For instance, in the first episode of Season 2, we discuss Christian attitudes towards premarital sex. Generally speaking, the Christian take on premarital sex is that it shouldn’t happen. A person should wait to have sex until they are married.
Interestingly, there is no direct prohibition against premarital sex in the Bible. Rather, the prohibition is implied because, in the ancient world, the value a woman brought to her marriage was her virginity. This is highlighted in Deuteronomy 22:13-30 where it states that the first time a man has sex with his wife, he should find evidence of her virginity, which was blood on their bedsheets.
Because of their limited understanding of human biology, there was an assumption that the first time a woman has sex, there should be tearing in her vaginal canal that will cause bleeding. Today we know that not all women experience this type of tearing during their first intercourse, but at that time it was an expectation. On the other hand, if there is no blood, then the consequences were quite severe. The scripture says that if there is no evidence of virginity, then the men of the community “shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father’s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death.” (Dt. 22:21)
Even though the words—don’t have sex before you are married—never appear in the Bible, clearly, this was expected of women. As you might be able to guess, men are not held to the same standards. For example, according to the laws of the Old Testament, a man could sleep with a prostitute prior to becoming engaged to a woman and he was still eligible for marriage. In fact, a man is allowed to sleep with prostitutes even after he is married. The only prohibition for men is that they were not allowed to sleep with another man’s wife—that is considered adultery.
Today, I think many people would consider these Old Testament laws biased and misogynistic, and yet, for many Christians, these laws still form the basis of their sexual ethics. Within conservative Christian circles, a woman’s virginity is still a highly prized commodity. From my perspective, the perpetuation of these ancient ways of thinking about sex are often harmful. Indeed, because of what we know today about human sexuality, I feel there are many aspects of the biblical approach to sexuality that should be dismissed as antiquated and, in many instances, need to be categorized as unethical.
Encountering the Unexpected
Clearly, I wanted the podcast to reflect this perspective. I figured, since I had spent so much time over the last 20 years contemplating the sexual ethics of the Bible, this would be an easy exercise for me. I anticipated that as long as we had the right interviews, the episodes would easily write themselves. Interestingly, this is not what happened. We were able to procure good interviews, but formulating what I wanted to say and the flow of the episodes was extremely difficult.
I quickly came to realize that my own understanding of sexuality was not as nuanced as I presupposed. As I began formulating the episode narratives, I became increasingly aware of how much I had underestimated the complexity of this topic. I’m very good at critiquing the Bible and saying, “I disagree with this sexual ethic because I feel it’s morally dubious!” It’s an entirely different exercise to offer practical solutions of how to replace those sexual ethics with something better.
For instance, take the scripture I referenced above which claims that a woman who sleeps with a man before she is married has broken God’s law. The Jews were not the only people group to promote this idea. From my perspective, this is a clear case of a cultural norm in the ancient Middle East finding its way into the laws of the Old Testament. Personally, I don’t think having sex before marriage is a morally bereft decision. It is a natural consequence of human relationships.
Therefore, my initial thinking was to claim that the church needs to divorce sexuality from morality. If we don’t see sex as a moral event, then we can do away with this sexual ethic that a woman who has sex before marriage is morally impure. But the more I contemplated this position, the more I realized my thinking was untenable. Here’s the problem: sexual intercourse, by its very nature, always has the potential to become a moral event.
For example, say two people are engaged in sexual intercourse and, in the midst of this act, one person decides that they are uncomfortable. If the other person refuses to disengage, then a moral line has been crossed. When one person is no longer consenting to the act, the continuance of intercourse becomes a violation.
This is when I realized that one can never fully separate sexuality from morality. Indeed, due to the fact that almost every facet of sexuality places us in an inherently vulnerable state, morality is necessarily infused within sexuality. A sexual event always involves a person’s state of mind and motivation, which, depending on the situation, can sometimes be difficult to ascertain. This means that sexuality can hardly ever be viewed as a black and white issue. Sexuality is firmly in the gray, which requires a great deal of nuance if we are going to have meaningful discussion.
A Labor of Love
Once I adopted the posture that my previous thinking around sexuality was inadequate, I realized I had to rethink all of the episodes in Season 2. I decided I would approach this season as a blank slate. This approach would serve me well as every time we interviewed somebody new, it would influence and alter my perspective. I learned so much from the people we interviewed. Whether it was scholars, experts or personal stories, every episode significantly challenged my thinking.
I hope the same will happen for you as you listen to this season. I would also love to hear from you. Are there episodes that resonated with you? Why did they resonate with you? Are there issues you feel we should have addressed, but didn’t? I plan to dive deeper into some of our subjects by bringing back parts of interviews we had to leave on the cutting room floor in the blog.
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, creating this season required more than 400 hours of investment. We are very proud of our end product because it sets the stage for a much larger conversation. I hope it both widens your perspective and gives you pause. The church has a long way to go if it is going to speak to the sexual ethics of the 21st century and, without you, it wouldn’t be possible. Enjoy!