Monday, April 04, 2016

your body and the Body

I just read an article about a recent, anonymous blog post written by an ordained United Methodist clergywoman arguing for universal access to birth control. That's not why people are reacting to the blog post, though - there are countless UM pastors who would like to see universal access to birth control. What's drawn attention to her post is her personal story:

I chose to go on birth control because I didn't want to get pregnant and I wanted to have sex. Because I am a clergy woman in The United Methodist Church, and I'm single, that information could get me brought up on charges, and I could lose my ordination.  

When one is ordained in the UMC, he or she take a vow that includes, among other things, a commitment to either fidelity in marriage or celibacy in singleness, whichever is relevant. Breaking one's clergy covenant is serious business. Hence the anonymous post.

The post is followed up be a long series of comments, most of which are supportive of the author.

"She was very brave to write this." (I don't doubt it.)

"It's ridiculous that she has to hide behind anonymity."

"My fiancée and I are doing the same thing!"

"The people passing judgment on you are hypocrites."

"No one makes a fuss when men are having premarital sex."*

"What you do with your body is no one's business but your own."

This last sentiment was tossed around a few times, and it's something you hear every time any question of Christian sexual ethics comes up: what goes on in your bedroom is only between you and the other individual there with you; it's nobody else's concern. As the anonymous blogger puts it, "I'm very grateful... that I don't have to justify my [birth control] prescriptions to my bishop. I don't think it is any of his business."

The problem is, for a Christian, that's simply not true. That's because Christians all are united in one Body (1 Cor 12:12ff); we are members of one another (Eph 4:25). And if you're a Christian that has implications for your sexuality.

In 1 Corinthians chapter 6, Paul is addressing a rather awkward problem in the church at Corinth: apparently some of the members have been caught spending time with prostitutes. And not like Jesus did. So Paul writes explaining why this is beyond the pale for followers of Jesus:

15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’ 17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

Your body is a "member" of Christ, and so what you do with your body, you do with Jesus' body. Jesus, who refrained for sexual pleasures in life, whose body was torn apart for us, he is entangled in your sexual activities. Because your body isn't first and foremost yours; it's his.
And, by extension, as members of one another, as members together in the Body of Christ, the other members of the Church are also entangled in our sexual activities.

In the US today - elsewhere too, I'm sure, but certainly in the US - we love to assert our freedom, our personal liberties, our privacy, but (however desirable those things may be) these are fundamentally American assertions, not Christian ones. "For the body does not consist of one member but of many" (1 Cor 12:14), and Jesus is the head (Col 1:18). When we say, what I do in the bedroom is my business, we're saying "I am my own." But Paul says "you are not your own." Jesus bought you at a price. You belong to him; you are a part of his Body.

And so Christians - ministers! - can't sit there and complain that other believers are paying attention to how they live. Christianity is not a religion of autonomous individuals! It's a Body-faith that affects what we may do with our bodies. If that seems repressive to you or like an infringement on your rights, you might want to look into other avenues of spiritual expression, besides Christianity. Or you may need to sit down with the New Testament and see if there aren't aspects of this faith that you hadn't seen and appropriated before.


* If this is true, it needs to be rectified now - not only because it's unjust to the women, but also because the men need to be held accountable. But I personally can't speak to the claims of a double standard here. I just don't pay enough attention to cases where clergy are brought up on charges or suspended or lose their credentials for this or that. What I can say is that I wasn't having sex before I was married, and I expect the same from all of my male and female colleagues in ministry.


Rev. Daniel McLain Hixon said...

I was thinking about writing a blog post along these same lines in response to this same issue (now that I've picked it back up after letting my blog languish a bit).

The sad truth is that if we have a large number of Christian young adults (and young adult clergy) who don't believe in Christian sexual morality it is probably because we have not taught it. The only time I can ever recall hearing a United Methodist pastor talk about sexual purity from the pulpit was when it was coming out of my own mouth. As distasteful or awkward as we may find it - our popular culture has absolutely no problems preaching loudly and frequently the values of the Sexual Revolution (which in my view has brought incalculable damage to our families and therefore to our culture).

I am planning to devote at least a few minutes of my upcoming confirmation class (on holiness) to "sex, drugs, and consumerism." So that they will have heard the "what" and the "why" of classical Christian sexual ethics (and body-stewardship) at least this once...

Emily Claire said...

Well, maybe it was different for you guys, but, as a girl, the only topic of any small group study I did as a youth was "purity" (which only translated into "no pre-marital sex." (not to mention it relied on a purity that was required because girls shouldn't tempt boys; the implication being a sexist assumption about their lack of control and instilling a sexual victimization complex in girls.)

After several weeks at a few of those over the years, I just stop attending any small groups until I was married because they were only ever empty experiences.

So, where ya'll see the problem as under-exposure to "classical Christian morality," maybe sometimes the problem is actually an over-exposure to it with the result of youth feeling that that's all there is to Christian life-- just be one of those people that marry as virgins. And what kind of faith is that?

I'm lucky I stuck with my faith (and chastity) long enough to see that Christianity is more than that.

Just some thoughts, more in response to the comment's statement of causation than the post.

And, an aside-- I wouldn't be too hasty to dismiss the value of the sexual revolution. I can't imagine being a female in a timeline where that hadn't occurred simply from the sweeping affects in had in gender relations.

In whatever way it might have been detrimental to the nuclear family structure or prevailing culture (and I'm not positive about that-- classical Christian morality has rarely been lived how we thought it was by the masses, it's just more obvious in contemporary culture. The disjunct between the pulpit/public morality and the lives of laity/private morality in sexual practice throughout Christian western culture [namely UK and America, medieval through the 1950s] is astounding and fascinating)-- I can't say it would be worth sacrificing the gains in gender equality to have maintained the, in some regards, facade of classical Christian morality you're appealing to.

.... :) Just some Monday thoughts.