What’s the big deal about sex?

I am involved in the planning of a study conference on the topic of human sexuality, to be held in Edmonton in October.  You never saw anything raise the eyebrows of a bunch of Christians like the promise of a bunch of talk about sex.  We’re Christians; should we be talking about sex?  Come now, people, let’s think about this.  I have not done any scientific research into the topic, but I am fairly certain that Christians who make babies do so the same way as everyone else who does.  And yes, it does involve sex.  So we can surmise that Christians have sex, as a starting point, so it is probably not out of bounds to talk about it.  Further, if we are keeping track during our bible reading time, we are bound to conclude that a) God invented sex, b) God has a real interest in how we do it, and c) we are supposed to hold one another accountable in the interest of living lives pleasing to God.  So in the end, some kind of talk about sex ought to be appropriate — not to mention the fact that the bible talks about sex, and in some graphic detail.  So I trust we can get over our squeamishness and move on to the topic at hand.

Another objection I have heard to a study conference on this topic (or on any for that matter) is that the bible tells us the rules for sex, and we are supposed to live by the rules, so what need is there for study?  The problem with this logic is that it overlooks our tendency to neglect things over time; we actually have far worse abilities to remember than we think we do.  We naturally tend to forget, overlook, and distort things over time when we do not refer to them, so it is useful to refresh our understanding of biblical teaching together.  Some things bear repeating, especially on the off chance that someone asks us details about why we believe what we believe.

While we can be quite certain about what the bible says, there are often questions about what the bible means, especially given that it was written a long time ago and in languages and contexts different from those of today.  Even if we think we know what the text meant then, do we know what it means now?  Does this mean that everything in the bible is up for grabs?  No, but we fool ourselves if we think we interpret the Scriptures perfectly, beyond a shadow of a doubt.  When we read and interpret the bible, we have the benefit of generations of Christian history and scholarship to help us, but they does not answer every question we have.  When it comes to sex, are the things the bible teaches connected to the biblical context, or do they relate to us the same way in 2013 as they did then?  What does the bible have to say about committed, same-sex relationships?  Can someone be a Christian in a homosexual relationship and still be a Christian?  Is using pornography really a sin if it does not appear to involve anyone but the user?  Life is far more complex now than it used to be; it is possible that divorce is permissible for more reasons than biblical writers could imagine?  Many of us can give responses to questions like these, but our responses are often more cultural or visceral than biblical.  Maybe some bible study is not such a bad idea.

Let us not make the mistake of assuming that conversations such as we will have at study conference are either so personal or trivial as to be unworthy of the time we will devote to them.  The message of the gospel, incarnated in Christ and recorded infallibly in the bible, is profoundly good news.  But there is another side to it.  If the gospel is true, then the claims it makes on us as human beings made in the image of God, and even more as people who purport to follow the risen Jesus Christ, are too important for us to allow such a significant topic as our sexualities to go examined.  If Christ is Lord of all, then those of us who are Christians need not only to consider carefully what that lordship entails for us, we need to make our submission to that lordship the number one priority in our individual and collective existence, ahead of our wants and wishes and desires, however well-intentioned.

What’s the big deal about sex?  Nothing, unless you consider that the gospel and the fate of the world may be at stake.  Then perhaps it is a fairly big deal after all.

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