Sex, Teens, and Christianity

It may be that Christianity confronts no more daunting issue than sex. This is because sex is one aspect of life that affects every human being regardless of any other distinction such as race, class, economic or social background. It may, therefore, not be a coincidence that sex is one moral issue about which much of Christianity is, quite simply, wrong. I admit that that is a sweeping statement, and if it is correct, one might ask, "How can this topic be addressed in a blog?" Clearly, a blog cannot fully address the issue, but it can provide a foundation for understanding and further discussion.

I suppose the first question to answer is what Christianity got wrong. Consider the newly released study indicating that fewer U.S. young people, ages 15 - 24, are having sex, a decline from 78% to 72% in the last decade. One response to the study, heard on National Public Radio, came from a young woman who stated she was not surprised because "there are more Christians and conservatives in this age bracket." Conservatives, perhaps, but Christians? Does sexual activity really determine one's Christianity? And if it does, what kind of Christianity are we talking about?

A significant part of the Christian right, considers anything having to do with the flesh as evil. By the way, these are the same people who think non-christians are going to hell. So I guess we cannot expect too much from them by way of dialogue. To be fair, though, this is not just a problem for the Christian right, or for other fundamentalist Christians. The Catholic Church does not have a stellar record on sexual theology, either. Nonetheless, from an intellectually open perspective, we must ask the question, "How does sex fit in with the Christian Faith?"

Tradition holds that most of Jesus' apostles were married. Certainly, we know that Peter was. At the same time, the best scholarship indicates that Jesus, himself, was not married. The same holds true for Paul, and possibly the Apostle John. Were any of these three sexually active? The very idea is anathema to most conservative Christians--at least as far as Jesus is concerned. Yet, there is no indication one way or the other. And if we wanted to try to make a guess, we should begin by looking at the teachings of Jesus himself.

Consider that of all the social issues Jesus addressed in his lifetime, of all the issues period, sex was not one of them. Jesus, simply did not speak about sex. Why, then, do so many Christians obsess about this most basic element of human existence? Certainly, if there were something intrinsically evil about sex, Jesus would have addressed it. He did not.

Admittedly, an argument can be made that hedonistic living can leave devastation in its wake. That would, in part, explain the over reaction of John Calvin and his brand of Christianity--a presumption that all flesh is evil and everyone, with a few exceptions, is predestined to hell. Another contributing factor seems to be a lack of understanding about the goodness of God, and certainly a total incomprehension, if not flat out denial, of the humanity of Jesus. For if God, in Jesus, chose to become human, then the flesh must fundamentally be good.

In fact, Jesus speaks directly to the goodness of life, stating in John's Gospel: "I have come that they might have life and have it to the full." No hedging there. Jesus's vision is one of a joyful life. When speaking about living in God's love and according to God's commandments, Jesus says: "I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete." That love and those commandments do not include abstaining from sex. Now, I do not mean to suggest that Jesus supported some kind of licentious living. Nonetheless, it is obvious that he did not consider sex a topic of significant concern.

It seems that the problem for many of today's Christians is not so much sex, in and of itself, as it is pleasure. Sex is enjoyable and some Christian churches, sorely lacking a theology of pleasure, have a problem with that enjoyment in the same way that they had (or still have) a problem with dancing, music, gambling, smoking, drinking. What's left to enjoy in life? Perhaps that is the reason they make a mockery out of politics and attempt to dictate every aspect of morality beginning with abstinence only education.

Now power is one area and issue Jesus did address. He castigated the religious leaders of his own time for their legislation: "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them." He also cautioned his disciples: "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you." Jesus condemns abusive power and control, but not a word about sex.

I suppose if sex was not enjoyable, specifically if it was an unpleasant experience, today's condemning Christians would not have a problem with it. In fact, they would probably command sex on a regular basis--especially if it made people feel even more miserable! I, for one, prefer Jesus' view of life--fullness and joy over misery and suffering. There is nothing inherently wrong with the flesh, and sex is something to be enjoyed, albeit responsibly.

If there are fewer teens having sex today, fine. That is their choice. It may even make them more conservative. It does not, however, define them as Christian. My fear is that many of these same teens will grow up to become tomorrow's conservative and intrusive legislators. Would that more of them paid more attention to what Jesus says about power, and in the process learned how to love and enjoy life--even through responsible sexual activity--rather than learn how to judge and condemn.

Sex and Sainthood

On October 17th Pope Benedict XVI named six new saints. Wait a minute. Doesn't everyone go to heaven?

I suppose it depends on whom you ask. For many years now, an ancient belief of the Christian faith has been on the rise. Theologians call it Universal Salvation and in the early Church this was the dominant belief. I spent many years preaching, "everyone goes to heaven without exception or prejudice". I will reserve further explanation and examination of that subject for another time. For now, let me say that there is a problem with the six newly named saints.

Fundamentally, a saint is a person who has died and now lives with God in the fullness of the kingdom. So everyone who is in heaven is a saint, and since I believe that everyone goes to heaven, you might be wondering what possible problem I could have wtih the Pope naming new saints, or what objection I could have to these six in particular.

On the surface, I have neither a problem with nor an objection to these new saints. Many millions of people are living with God in heaven and, as I said, they are all saints. Very few, however, are declared such by the Church. That is just a practical reality. Still, no problem. When people are canonized by the Church, it is because their lives serve as an example for the rest of us to emulate. On that level the six new saints are no exception.

Among them is Canada's first male saint, a 19th century brother, and the first native born Australian, a nun. There is certainly cause for Canadians and Australians to express pride that their own are among those venerated in the Catholic world. The other four are Giulia Salzano and Camilla Battista da Varano (both Italian nuns), Stanislaw Soltys, a Polish priest and the Spanish nun, Candida Maria de Jesus Cipitria y Barriola. Without question, all of them serve as models of Christian virtue and commitment.

But did you notice? All six were either clergy or religious. This presumes they were also celibate. Here is my question: What is the Vatican's problem with sexuality? Wow! Now that I think of it, maybe that is too loaded a question. After all, these are the same people who insist on an all-male, celibate clergy. And come to think of it, Benedict is just following in the footsteps of John Paul II who, while setting out to name more saints than any Pope in history, clearly favored those of clerical, religious, or at least celibate background.

From the beginning of our Sacred Scriptures in the Book of Genesis, we are told of the goodness of God's creation. The first chapter, containing the beautifully poetic creation myth, ends with this statement: "God looked at everything that he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed--the sixth day". God had just created the first humans and sanctioned their sexual activity. Throughout the Scriptures there continues a successive celebration of love making, most notably the erotic Song of Songs. Then came Rome.

I realize that canonization is a long, drawn-out affair. In part, this is to guard against the Church formally proclaiming an unfit person to be a saint. However, the Roman Catholic Church has a penchant for naming saints who were either celibate throughout their lives or who gave up sexual activity long before their deaths. This represents an unhealthy bias. Is it really possible that among the many millions of good, Christian people who have died, there is not one to emulate who was sexually active at the time of death?

These six new saints and their commitment to celibacy are part of our history, but they are not the whole story. As Catholics we will now venerate them and seek their intercession in our personal lives. Perhaps we should also seek their intercession for the institutional Church. Since most of us enter the world through the act of sexual intercourse, and since it is a part of God's "good" creation, shouldn't the Church celebrate sexuality in its canonization process? At the very least, it is as valuable as celibacy.