Wednesday, March 17, 2010

SEX - Part III

Posted by Pamela Urfer

As we struggle to find a way of discussing sex at the university level, let’s first distinguish among different types of “sex.” Premarital sex is one issue, and probably the one most of concern to students. Cheating on a spouse is another. Pornography is a third. Homosexuality comes in here somewhere. And then there’s marriage. And divorce.

It’s helpful if we can agree that not all of these are equally horrible and offensive to God. Nor are all sins equal. The Apostle John distinguishes sins that do and do not inevitably lead to death. (1 John 5:16.) And Jesus speaks of the “unforgiveable sin,” implying that whatever it is, is worse than some others he could name. There’s rape, and then there’s the rape of a child. Much worse.

Currently, Christian practice treats divorce as more a disaster than a sin, even though that is not the traditional stance. Nor does this position acknowledge the relative weight of its consequences. More hurt to families and children has happened because of divorce than because of, say, homosexuality (with only 5% of the population participating versus 50%) even though, at this time, disproportionate attention is given to the evils of same-sexuality.

Going back to premarital sex, we must acknowledge that this is no longer the huge problem it once was. For most of history, for a man to have sex with a woman meant the risk of getting her pregnant. If they were not married and he abandoned her, pregnant, both she and the child would suffer – poverty, ostracization, loneliness.

How could that be prevented? Marriage. And if the man were already married? A little late to be thinking about that, but he could still provide financially for her and the child, at least until she found another mate. That would, at least, eliminate societal approbation and poverty. The problem here is that once the man got a woman pregnant, what would prevent him having sex with her again? If he liked her, it would be hard for him to refrain. This, of course, would place his wife and children in a painful situation. Now they would be the ones suffering societal approbation and perhaps poverty, as funds were diverted elsewhere. Thus, it became common to label the woman a whore and exile her from the community, most likely to a brothel.

These were all serious considerations in the days before reliable birth control. And Christian teaching, quite rightly, proposed many and varied restrictions to prevent these ills. Societal care was taken to assure that unmarried persons not be left alone or in “compromising situations.” A woman’s virginity was considered a prize to be claimed only by her legitimate spouse, and a lack of it a hindrance to a respectable married life. Many less than Christian hindrances were also applied: any illegitimate offspring were labeled “bastards” and had a limited chance of succeeding in life, which was thought to encourage restraint. And, of course, the same “outlaw” fate would be visited upon the woman, if usually not the man.

All these concerns and their (partly successful) remedies were dealt a death blow in the 1960s with the invention of the Pill and other preventative devices. Yet, with (much) less worry today about pregnancy, but with the same societal norms holding sway in many communities, new methods of insuring compliance with the still-existing ban of pre-marital sex must be discovered, or invented. Scriptural quotes are invoked, ignoring the fact that pre-marital sex is never mentioned in scripture, only extra-marital sex, as girls were married off as soon as, or before, they became sexually mature. Chastity is held as a high moral goal, creating the need for Chastity Balls and Purity Rings to validate the effort. And I’m sure Christian parents still warn their sons about marrying a girl who has “slept around.”

But which men today are as concerned about female chastity as they were when the status of their male heir could be called into question, or when one episode of pre-marital sex could label their wife-to-be a whore? And which parents really believe that their daughter will never find a good husband if she is not a virgin? Who cares about this sort of thing anymore?

God? Does God care? I’m not sure He does. Scripturally, sexual purity is not a Christian but a ritualistic concept. The Israelites refrained from sexual acts as a preparation for bringing their sacrifices before the altar. Jesus praised the “pure of heart,” not the pure of body. Scripture also says that God’s bottom line is the Great Commandment: to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Loving your neighbor means looking out for their welfare. Pre-marital sex is not necessarily harmful to anyone’s welfare – and might even be good for it.

What do you think?