How Our Cultural Context Shapes Our Views of Sexuality
On Sunday, we started reimagining sexuality. It was tough sledding. The big idea for us deals with this idea of formation. How are we formed? How are we shaped? We are shaped by our desires, by our loves, by our vision of the good life. What is our particular vision of the good life? How do we arrive at that vision? How do we accomplish it? It takes imagination both to visualize it, as well as visualizing how to get there. Our loves and our longings are things that are learned. We learn to love through the imagination. Sexuality is part of that vision.
There is an old Irish joke that asks a local man how to get to Dublin. The local man responds, “I wouldn’t be starting from here, that’s for sure.” The temptation for us is to make the same mistake in the context of discipleship, and start with the question, “what is the Christian vision of sexuality and relationships?” and then move to the final question, “how do we live that out in our church communities?” What does this miss? It misses the important aspect of contemporary formation. We must first address the contextual…our cultural moment. We must look at sexuality with an eye on our context and an eye on God’s Word. We must understand just how deeply we have been formed and shaped by our culture, our time. What is it about our cultural moment that makes the Christian vision for sexuality seem naive and unrealistic at best and at worst repressive? What makes it so hard to live out a Christian vision? Why does the church’s view about sexuality with rules and restrictions fail to resonate with so many contemporary people, even believers? Once we have understood our present moment and the challenges that we face we can begin to answer those first two questions.
We need to know where we are…we need to make an accurate and insightful diagnosis, and then we can apply the Gospel. If we don’t, then we will either accept things as they are, simply absorbing our cultural understanding of sexuality…i.e. the quality of love two people have is all that matters. We will miss the extent to which we focus on being free and being free from others. We will miss how this idea of freedom has slipped into our Christian imagination, how it has distorted our vision of sexuality and relationships. The other extreme we fall into is the trap of both rejection and lack of understanding or empathy. We see the quest for self-fulfillment as self-centered and problematic, so we reject it entirely. The problem is not with self-fulfillment but that fact that it has been placed above all other priorities. Self-fulfillment has to be placed alongside the other priorities of the Christian life or in the proper order of things. We can also reject others who don’t apply truth the right way, like we do. Forgetting both their humanity and our own in the process. Where are we? What is your temptation?
Our context has shaped and formed our view of sexuality, and often we take this for granted, because we can’t perceive all that is going on. We think we have all the powers of choice at our disposal free from external influences, but in fact our presuppositions are leading even the very way we read our Bibles or hear sermons. So the task is to see with both eyes. One eye on our cultural moment and one eye on God’s vision, God’s word, God’s mercy and grace. In our world today, sexuality and sex have taken center stage. If we ask someone, what their vision of the good life is, it probably includes at some level a sexual partner and a view of sexual fulfillment. It may include things like passion, affection, love, lust, contentment, and pleasure. Where we are and how we got here has taken years, but in our moment, a combination of things like our “Age of Authenticity”, our focus on individual sovereignty and freedom, our consumerism, our loss of the transcendent, and as mentioned our hyper sexuality, has formed and shaped our world, and us too.
Sexuality then is a critical part of our discipleship, because we are connectional beings. The target or goal for us is reconciliation. Romantic relationships are an important area of focus, because we are called to commit ourselves most fully and sacrificially there, and yet it is here that we have so much trouble. So, sustaining faithful relationships and discipling others to live disciplined and God-glorifying sexual lives is one of our greatest tasks. It will impact our witness, our mission, especially in a confused and broken culture. Our priority as a church is to be a faithful presence of Jesus in a broken world, that we would live, speak and serve as the very presence of Jesus, and this includes in the area of sexuality. There is much more to be said here, but our core understanding is that to be the faithful presence of Jesus, we must understand where we are, what are the particular realities about sex and romance in our world, and we need to understand how Jesus begins to remake and reimagine these things. We need to understand how we are being formed and shaped and take counter measures to be formed and shaped by the Gospel and not our culture alone.
How do we do that? Well, we begin by being honest. We admit our own failures and weaknesses. The ways we need the grace of God to wash us, the way the mercy of God has justified us. We understand that we are being formed by our world. We see ourselves as part of this cultural story, and we know that we are implicated in the way the world is. We allow the community of faith, the church, to be the forming and shaping influence of who we are. We participate in worship and community group, because we know of our need to be formed and shaped by the Word of God, the traditions of our Ancient and Future church, the sacraments and the mission of God. We know we can’t do this on our own. And along the way we are always full of grace and mercy, because we have been shown grace and mercy. The Gospel is our leading edge even as we learn about the things that make our world go and tick. Next week we will move the conversation along, by looking at 1 Corinthians 7, and sex and romance in marriage.
This article was largely things written by Jonathan Grant in his book Divine Sex. This important resource would be beneficial for you to pick up and read.