Masturbation—What’s Wrong With It?

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One article in our annual February student-produced issue of OUTLOOK magazine focused on the controversial subject of masturbation. Since God created us as sexual beings, all of us must be good stewards of our sexuality, which is quite a challenge in today’s “sexular” society.

A typical young male reportedly views 50 pornographic video clips a week, and females increasingly are consumers as well. Meanwhile, most pastors and teachers seem reluctant to talk about porn and the accompanying masturbation. But as the church is essentially silent on this matter of common morality, the world is not shy about educating our young people, through sex education in schools and popular entertainment in movies and music.

How unfortunate. Anything that has potential to trouble a conscience needs to be talked about—appropriately yet with clarity—from a biblical perspective. Granted that this is a sensitive topic. If you find masturbation too disturbing to discuss, you might wish to excuse yourself from reading further. Meanwhile, I’ll proceed for the sake of those whose consciences are guilt-ridden, confused or otherwise tormented on this matter. Prayerfully then, I offer the following observations in hopes that some may find them helpful.

From a medical perspective, I’m not qualified to make assessments; but I think it’s fair to conclude that traditional scare tactics regarding masturbation lack credibility. Half a century since the 1960s inaugurated the sexual revolution, we don’t see huge numbers of pornography addicts going blind, needing kidney dialysis or signing up for liver transplants. So let’s be sensible and honest in making the case against masturbation.

I will focus my observations on the moral and theological perspective. Let’s begin with the grace of God, which is our only hope of salvation. The Bible says “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). Thus, inflicting guilt upon a sexually struggling teen—or an adult, for that matter—is inappropriate. A believer’s standing with God is not dependent upon the amount of success or failure in measuring up to His moral ideal.

That said, let’s accept that there is a character ideal to which God calls us–conforming us to the likeness of Christ. Scripture admonishes us to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18). Jesus famously warned against staring at a woman [or a man, for that matter] with lust in the heart (Matt. 5:28). Obviously God’s will—His ideal—calls us to pursue purity in thought as well as deed. But we must not confuse the possibilities of victory over sin with the basis of our salvation, which is always and only God’s grace through Christ for repenting sinners. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins—and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

So, even as we “press toward the mark of God’s high calling in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 3:14), He comforts the conscience by assuring us that He knows when “the spirit indeed is willing though the flesh is weak” (Matt. 26:41). God is more compassionate than we can imagine, and struggling believers are recipients of divine grace, not wrath. Jesus in His ministry among us was ever tender toward struggling sinners, even as He condemned their hypocritical accusers.

Based on that biblical/theological foundation, I offer for your consideration the following moral applications regarding masturbation.

To begin with, masturbation tends to depersonalize and therefore degrade sexuality by focusing on pixelated images versus sexual expression as the ultimate relational and bonding experience in marital union, as God intends it to be.

Accordingly, masturbation fosters selfishness, corrupting one’s ability to actually “make love” in the practice of sex within marriage. It is difficult, if not impossible, to flip a switch on one’s wedding night from a “satisfy me” attitude of sexuality to a “sharing with you” mindset. Pursuing one’s own “needs” (i.e. desires, demands) is a sure portend of endless marital conflict. Additionally, sexual selfishness belies God’s creation of us in His loving image when we express our own act of procreation in marriage.

Masturbation also tends to desensitize one’s ability to view people as one’s sisters and brothers, no matter what they look like; instead, they may be evaluated on their external appearance. This puts on a pedestal those who are superficially attractive and disrespects those who are homely or even average-looking, even if they are loving and faithful in character. The outcome is a popular culture in which girls in particular tend to suffer huge self-worth issues if they don’t look picture perfect in a swimsuit. (Even attractive females, from schoolgirls to mature women, often lament that they don’t match the standard set by photos of airbrushed models.)

OK, then. If pornography and masturbation are unhealthy emotionally and spiritually, how does one deal with the hormonal cravings that begin raging even before teenage years? Does God actually want teenagers and young adults to live in sexual celibacy, with unfulfillable cravings before marriage? What value could there be in self-deprivation?

I propose there is value in suffering sexual non-fulfillment as an exercise in self-discipline—which every young man and woman must learn early in life. (This may come as a surprise to those who have imagined that the purpose of life is the pursuit of happiness rather than to live for the glory of God and the service of humanity.) Without self-discipline, marriage partners may never survive the temptations that reassert themselves all too soon after the honeymoon. Self-restraint learned as a teen serves one well through the next six decades of life, particularly during the infamous mid-life crisis.

So there is purpose behind God’s call for us to be holy in thought, word and deed—but there is also forgiveness when we have given ourselves to God yet find ourselves falling short of His glorious ideal. None of us is perfect (Rom. 3:23). So we may be thankful that with God’s command to sexual purity comes His compassion and grace, which abound even beyond our sinfulness (Rom. 5:20). Much more could be said about immorality and how to overcome it, even as God counts us perfect in Jesus.

Meanwhile, even if we may disagree about a moral component regarding masturbation, we certainly can concur that it is better to be compassionate and reasonable than to frighten guilt-ridden souls when they fail in their sincere struggles (e.g., about re-crucifying Jesus or making angels weep). However well intentioned, such graceless warnings are not only legalistic but constitute spiritual abuse.

To summarize: If we hope to have any kind of credibility or usefulness in the sensitive yet vital ministry of promoting morality, we need to receive for ourselves and express toward others the same balance of grace and truth that characterized Christ’s own life and teaching.

That’s my take on this important yet controversial subject. I hope and pray in Jesus’ name that something here has been helpful.

Note: This article has been republished with permission from outlookmag.org.

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mw_feb2011Martin Weber, DMin, served as pastor, editor, author, evangelist and police chaplain across North America and taught pastors on five continents with the General Conference Ministerial Association. He is currently the Seventh-day Adventist product manager for Faithlife/Logos Research Systems in Bellingham, Washington. Visit his website in defense of fundamental Adventist beliefs: www.SDA4me.com

Our Language Matters

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One of the many reasons I love our Adventist Education is the emphasis it reveals about us being a global church. This is transmitted in our schools by emphasizing mission trips, both domestically and internationally, as well as encouraging students to study abroad through Adventist Colleges Abroad. I was fortunate enough to spend a year abroad at Collonge-Sous-Saleve in what was probably the best year of my life. 

Spanish is my first language which gave me a bit of an edge to learn a third language. I prepared the year before by taking beginner French courses, learning French grammar (which is not at all easy to learn), and practicing what phrases I could. When the time came for me to go abroad, I could butcher some basic phrases… enough for about a two minute conversation with a French native. My year abroad taught me how important language was.

Did you know a bad pronunciation for “beacoup” which means “a lot” in English can be “nice ass”? Well I didn’t. I was just trying to say “Merci Beacoup” or “Thank you” to my teacher, and I ended up inappropriately complementing her. (My French teacher quickly told me, “that’s incorrect”—that is after bursting into laughter.) 

I wasn’t only there to learn the language, I wanted to learn French culture also. And no matter how many French culture courses I took, it wasn’t until I became fluent in French that I was able to understand the culture. The subtle nuances in their language were blind to me before. There were times I had been taught to use some proper French terms which French people didn’t use anymore. Other times, I was told that sentences I pieced together were “technically” correct, but there was a more effective way of communicating what I wanted. 

I had to immerse myself in the culture, allow French people to correct me, and experience the French way of life in order for me to truly understand the language.

The same happens between Christians and LGBT individuals in conversations. While most LGBT individuals (at least in the U.S.) understand Christianity and likely were even raised in a church, most Christians have little true experience or real relationships with LGBT individuals. As someone who straddles the line between these two groups, I often see them talk past each other, mostly because they are not actually speaking the same language. I’m not talking about English. I’m talking about definitions, phrases, connotations, and assumptions.

For example, when someone identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual; we mean it’s our sexual orientation, or in the case of transgender people it’s their gender identity. It’s a deeply integral part of who we are and how we see and experience the world. But, for a lot of Christians, when they hear someone identify themselves as gay, they assume that means that the person is having sex. Being bisexual doesn’t mean I’m sexually active. It just means I acknowledge the capability of being romantically attracted to both men and women. You don’t become straight when you lose your virginity (which is on your wedding night amirite?). You realize you’re straight right about, if not before, puberty when you start to notice your attractions to someone of the opposite sex. Here we end up using the same terms, but we mean two totally different things. 

Too often Christians use the term “homosexuality” while referring to their theological paradigm about same-sex sex. Christians will then condemn “homosexuality” saying the bible is against it. The problem with this is that gay people, who typically would never use the term “homosexuality” anymore except in a clinical setting, hear that their sexual orientation, which they experience as innate, is condemned. It sends a message that they are condemned as a person. Is that really the message we want to be sending?

There are also terms that are exclusive to the Christian community. For example, the phrase “gay lifestyle.” What do you actually mean when you say that? As someone who identifies as part of the LGBT community, I understand it as a phrase that stereotypically categorizes a large and diverse group of people into one “lifestyle.” What exactly does a straight lifestyle look like? Many times people actually use this phrase as a euphemism for “having gay sex.” But this is almost always based on the (misguided) assumption that identifying as LGBT equates being sexually active. Can you see where we start to miss each other with just a few key words?

In order for us to be on the same page, Christians need to learn to talk the talk of the LGBT community.

In order for us to be on the same page, Christians need to learn to talk the talk of the LGBT community. It’s really a minimal step that shows respect and genuine interest in knowing someone beyond a label. When I speak about a particular demographic, I go to great trouble to make sure I understand the terms that community uses when referring to themselves (and that evolves over time too). Christians need to be using the terms LGBT people use to identify ourselves with, in order to talk with us. You might be saying here, “Well Eliel, why don’t they learn our words and definitions?” 

Could you imagine me telling my French teacher “Now, I know this is your language, and you have used it for a much longer time period than me, but I think this way would be better. Do it my way.” That would have only accomplished personal academic failure and the perpetuation of the “Americans are arrogant” stereotype that many French have.

I had the time of my life abroad. I got to meet some of the most amazing people, and I would have never been able to get to know them if I didn’t learn their language and at least try to pronounce it the right way. 

If your goal as a Christian is to lovingly engage with people of the LGBT community, start by learning the language. Take a walk in our shoes. Ask a lot of respectful questions—and listen to our responses with no agenda but to learn what our lives are like. Learn about our community. BEFORE you jump in that heated conversation on a Facebook thread, think “How will someone in the LGBT community receive this message?”

It’ll save a lot of wounds when we start speaking the same language.

photo credit: Ame Otoko via photopin cc

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AmbassadorsEliel Cruz is a contributor on religion, sexuality and media & culture at The Advocate, Mic, and Religion News Service. He’s the co-founder and former president of Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition, an organization that advocates for safe spaces for LGBT students at Seventh-day Adventist colleges. He studies international business and French studies at Andrews University in Michigan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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The Battle of Church and Sex Part I

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I know, I know, I know. I have been gone for what it seems like forever. To be honest, life has been a bit hectic. Not making excuses, just being real. For an entire month, I have been out every weekend dealing with youth events and programs for my church AND the Boyfriend, popped le question of asking me to marry him….SO I have been kinda, (and I say kinda because you know, you don’t want to give this whole impression that it is controlling your life at the moment), been swamped with wedding planning because we are getting married this December 21st. My wedding registry has a countdown for me and right now it is less than 18 days away, so yes, planning a wedding in what has been roughly three and a half months has proven to be an adventure, but fun, so very, very fun. If I wasn’t called to the ministry, I think I would have enjoyed being an event/wedding organizer.

So, what is it that has called me away from ribbons, satin, pearls, and paper frenzy to pause my life once again to sit in front of a computer and share my thoughts in regards to sexuality and relationships? I would have to say the reading of another blog is what urged me to press pause on my wedding and future marriage planning to discuss what came up in this other blog. I pressed paused because my mouth dropped in shock. You know those moments in movies or cartoons when something pretty shocking happens and your initial reaction is to like drop on the floor or fall out of your chair? Yeah, that was pretty much my reaction. And what kind of was shocking even more was the type of reaction that this blog was getting. Some were laughing in a way of mocking; others thought that it was a pretty great read. I would have to say that this blog is a classic example of God’s church spiritually abusing, or bullying in the name of God. What on earth am I talking about?

This blog entry, entitled, “I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity and I Wished I Hadn’t,” by Samantha Pugsley was Samantha giving her perspective and explaining her journey about keeping her virginity until her wedding night and finding out that she felt dirty, guilty and wrong when she did give herself to her husband that night. Growing up with this understanding that was given to her by the church that if you kept yourself sexually pure, then God would bless you and you would not end up in divorce. That even though that the guy would most likely not have kept his virginity, that being a Christian woman would require you to forgive him and having the duty to wholly give yourself to him, and build off of that. That she was taught to wear her virginity as a badge of honor so that she could “inspire and encourage” other girls to do the same. She goes on to then explain a journey of self discovery and healing, where admitting to her husband that she did not enjoy sex because of the thoughts and feelings going inside of her this entire time, where then she explains that her feminist husband tells her that she doesn’t have to have sex if she doesn’t want to.

Samantha then says these things, “I don’t go to church anymore, nor am I religious. As I started to heal, I realized that I couldn’t figure out how to be both religious and sexual at the same time. I chose sex. Every single day is a battle to remember that my body belongs to me and not to the church of my childhood. I have to constantly remind myself that a pledge I took when I was only 10 doesn’t define who I am today. When I have sex with my husband, I make sure it’s because I have a sexual need and not because I feel I’m required to fulfill his desires.

I’m now thoroughly convinced that the entire concept of virginity is used to control female sexuality. If I could go back, I would not wait. I would have sex with my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I wouldn’t go to hell for it. We would have gotten married at a more appropriate age and I would have kept my sexuality to myself.

Unfortunately, I can’t go back but I can give you this message as a culmination of my experiences: If you want to wait to have sex until marriage make sure it’s because you want to. It’s your body; it belongs to you, not your church. Your sexuality is nobody’s business but yours.”

Why do I even bother with this? Simply because that most likely there is someone out there, a guy or a girl, trying to figure out exactly this process in their lives. And while I do not agree with the conclusions that Samantha ends up with, (because even though she battles everyday with the pledge that she took when she was 10, I think that it is the Holy Spirit trying to still reach her) her journey, her process, and some of her comments point out some very real things that us as people, as humans, as sexual beings deal with.

1. Make sure your foundation for keeping your virginity is biblically solid.

You don’t agree to keep your virginity because the church promises you a better marriage. You don’t agree to keep your virginity because Mommy and Daddy told you so. You don’t agree to keep your virginity because that is what is going to keep you from having a divorce. You don’t agree to keep your virginity so that you can be an example to other people struggling in the “pits of sexual addiction”. You don’t agree to keep your virginity to avoid pregnancy or STD’s. You agree to keep your virginity because it is a response back to God of the gift that He has given you: salvation, grace, sanctification, and future marital sex. Yes, that’s right. Marital sex.

The reality is that a 10 year old taking a vow to keep her or his virginity is not a bad idea. There are already 10 year olds getting their periods, getting addicted to pornography, or being sexually active and popping out babies. Playing with Barbies and Hot Wheel cars are not going to keep a kid from exploring. Teaching kids at an early age to value one’s sexuality and virginity enough to remember that it is a gift from God will help this little person to begin to cherish and hold onto something that is valuable as they navigate through the craziness of life. Sex is good. Sex is beautiful. Sex is meant to be fun. How sex is taught to us today is that once we marry, sex becomes boring, so it is better to have it outside of marriage, to gain experience, or to understand it better. The reality is if Samantha had had early sex, like she wished she had, she would have had the exact same experience that she had later on in her life because her thinking would still be the same if she had the exact same experiences with the same people telling her the same stuff and the despair would only have come a lot sooner, and it could have even had dramatic consequences such as suicidal tendencies because of the reasons why she was basing her virginity. I think that God, even in His mercy, let her experience this in the safety net of marriage, where she would have had the freedom to express her frustration and do something about it, unlike her being younger and having her hands tied with other complications. Samantha’s church did sexual education on the basis of fear and guilt and the promise of everything but the sun.

While it is true that sex is valuable, beautiful and meant to be a very active part of a marriage, it is not the only thing that makes a marriage. To be honest, there will be days that you are sick, bloated, on a menstrual cycle, cranky, in pain, physically hurt, recovering from surgery, I mean the list can go on. Sexual pleasure is part of marriage, a very important part of marriage, but it is not what makes a marriage. You can have been a person that has kept her or his virginity from the beginning and be the most horrible wife/husband in the world or end up with a failed marriage because the process of character building was not given over to God to be molded and shaped.

2. Your body, while it does not belong to a physical church, is not yours either.

Samantha is correct in saying that your physical body does not belong to your church. What I mean by that is that people can’t fit in a “One Size Fits All” scenario. The advice that someone may tell you to try for your body may not work for you simply because you have a different body. One person’s idea of modesty may be very different from someone else’s idea of modesty. I mean the church has been up in arms over that for years. And while nobody has the right to dominate over you and tell you to do things or to accept things about your body if it makes you uncomfortable, puts you in danger or go against God’s principles, your body is also not something for you to do whatever you feel like. The Bible has a very strong teaching that the church, is Christ’s body, so one person impacts another person. And we are all sexual beings, we all have sexuality, so how we manage it is kind of other people’s business, I am not talking about exposing intimate details or struggles to everybody and their mother, but how you conduct yourself will show. How someone ticks will impact how another person ticks. It is the phenomena of living in a community. Even sticking your head in the sand, like an ostrich, and thinking that if you can’t see it then it means that it is not there (which by the way is a very toddler like mentality) you are still impacting how the Body of Christ works within it’s community.

So before you start off with your brilliant, logical reasoning skills with the premise of, “Well it is my body so I can do….” Stop and think again; No you can’t. Not with the set of values and principles that you have accepted in being a Christian. If you don’t want to be a Christian, then fine, this doesn’t apply to you. Go on your merry little way, and do whatever you would like to your body. But if you are a Christian, and have accepted Jesus Christ, if you have accepted His blood to cover for you, if you have accepted His righteousness, His robes, His life, then the reality is, you are not your own. You have been bought at a price. Your body is not yours; it is for Him to do what needs to be done. Your body is so much so not your own that when you accept Christ, it becomes His dwelling place, He places it inside His body, the church, and even when you enter in marriage, it is still not yours because now you are called to give it to your spouse. This whole business of Madonna’s thinking, “It’s my party and I can cry if I want to,” isn’t cutting it with God’s thinking. God doesn’t force you to enter into a relationship with Him, but boy, once you are in it with Him, He plays no games. Look up this concept of “covenant relationship” in the Bible and you will see what I am talking about. In order for you to come out right in the end with the whole mess of sin in our world, in our lives, and in our hearts, this is the game that He has to play. And really, you come out better for it.

3. Sex will always be awesome if founded on a biblical foundation.

Samantha said that sex wasn’t awesome her wedding night. Well, that definitely can be true. But her first night if she wasn’t married wouldn’t have been awesome either. Sex hurts some people the first night and sex doesn’t hurt others the first night. I have no idea if my first night will hurt. It may or may not. For my mom, her first night didn’t hurt and she said it depended a lot on how gentle was the man. And you also have to handle the reality that a man’s genital is a complete foreign object the first time. While the woman’s body knows that it is designed for accepting the man’s genital, it can still be weird the first time. Listen, being human is not easy sometimes, I think that we can all agree on that. So there will be days when sex might seem too much work at the moment because you are exhausted, or malnourished, or sleep deprived, or sick, bloated. Whatever. You may even get ticked off at your spouse and are giving him/her the cold shoulder. There will be times that you may not reach an orgasm. But the whole point of sex is not to wait to be in the mood, or end up doing bedroom gymnastics or bringing these crazy sex toys or watching porn videos to reach that orgasm, the point of sex is to give of oneself for intimacy, for reconciliation, to understand each other, to forget yourself, focus on someone else and help that person reach her/his climax.

People can end up feeling used if you just come to your spouse to fulfill your need and the focus is for you to reach your orgasm no matter what, even at the cost of your spouse. It is like that you are just a shell with a hole that says, “Insert here” and that’s it, and then you just walk away. If that’s all it was, then God wouldn’t have placed all these restrictions about what sex is, and it wouldn’t matter if we got involved with inanimate objects, toys, or even animals. BUT, that is NOT what sex is. In a previous blog entry, I pointed to the fact that the man represents something of God that only the man can represent and that the woman represents something of God that only a woman can represent. So, with that in mind, sex is a moment of utter vulnerability. Sex is a time of discovery, exploration, of giving oneself, of acceptance; sex is a connection where the representation of the character and image of God is at it’s highest. Wait, what?? Yeah, you read right. So can you see why God is so anti premarital sex?

Biblical sex is designed in such a way, that it requires for the man to give and take, and for the woman to give and take. I have been going through premarital counseling with my fiancé, and we have been learning a lot in the area of physical intimacy. I have learned that sex is so vital to men, so much so, that it impacts their psyche. Men need sex. They do, it is part of who they are, and when these needs are not met in marriage, it impacts the way that they view themselves, how they are incapable of arousing their wife and then feeling like failure. However, when the man just comes to the wife and demands sex regardless of how she is feeling, how her day was, what is bothering her and making her sick, he does nothing but hurts his wife. She just sees it as the next thing to do on the checklist before she can finally relax and sleep. Also, a man can reach his sexual peak in two minutes or less, a woman is 7 to 14. So a man can be done so quickly, and the woman receives no gratification at all from it, it is a drag to her. Which in turn, makes the woman play the game of giving their husbands infrequent sex. When sex is founded on the biblical foundation of focusing on the other person’s needs, when the man takes the time to romance her, to arouse her and play with her, she will respond, which then in turn will allow for frequent sex. When a man focuses on his wife needs and when a wife focuses on her husband needs, when they understand what pleases each other, and what makes each other tick, sex will always be great because the focus isn’t you, it is the other person.

4. You CAN be religious AND sexual!

When I read that a person was struggling in being religious and sexual at the same time that was the moment where I almost fell to the floor. A little of me died inside.

Okay, so before we get into this whole argument of religion versus spirituality, and Jesus wants a relationship and not religion, let me just press stop before we all start hyperventilating. How I am using religion here is how the Bible has always used the concept of religion and that is in a committed relationship to Him, to His cause, and to His church. The book of James uses the word religion and explains that true religion is taking care of the orphans and widows. Religion is a system of beliefs, precepts, values and lifestyle. And while it can be easy to play a surface game of checklist and rules with religion, I think that that is religion taken out of its true context of how God intended it to be in the first place. Don’t you think that God is interested in our beliefs, precepts, values and lifestyle? Don’t you think that in Heaven there will be a certain way of doing things that stem from a solid relationship with Jesus? Anyways, if you still have issues with that definition, just press pause on it, and catch what I am trying to say: it is still possible to have a relationship with Jesus AND be sexual. There.

But first, a little back history to explain why people think that people can’t be religious and sexual. When I was studying for my degree, we had to take a year’s worth of church history. And let me tell you, the early church (not the early New Testament church with the apostles and disciples), but the church that came after that, which then developed into the Catholic Church, had a phobia to sex and women, but yet they made a huge push for marriage and procreation. In other words, you were a good Christian if you married and had babies because God asked for that in Genesis, but you were a better Christian if you did not get married to a person, but married to God and dedicated your whole life to Him. That’s how monasteries came into the picture. Also, different philosophies began to enter the church and one of them was dualism, which came from the Greek philosophy that the person was two, a soul and a body, and that the important part of the person was soul and not body, (which also began to shape other things, like immortality of the soul and the heresy Gnosticism, where people were saying that spirit was good and body was bad) and hence you would have monks and nuns going on these massive fasting trips, and denying oneself of food, water, sleep, and other earthly pleasures, like sex.

They also played this massive blaming game of who sinned first, and the fault always came on the woman, who succumbed to her passions, which then brought Adam down. The church taught that the man was epitome of the gift of God and that the woman was the sexual nature. So the church began to teach if a man could resist a woman in such a way to deny his passions, and act in accordance to his role that was given to him of God, he was a good Christian. If a woman can keep herself from attracting a man’s attention, and dedicate her life to God, then she can redeem herself of her sinful sexual nature. And hence, from generation to generation, this idea of a woman not supposing to enjoy sex, to keep herself this “pure, untouched, blushing, dutiful, not enjoying sex but enjoying motherhood,” was developed into the mentality of people. Also, a twisted version of this, where the man can do whatever he wanted and still live, but if a woman was caught in doing whatever she wanted was sent to death, was also accepted by the church, because man was the epitome of God’s gift, and the woman was sexual nature, so if she got raped, or was caught in adultery, it was never the man’s fault. It was the woman’s fault because either she acted, behaved, or dressed in a certain way to distract the man. A man can have countless of illegitimate children, if a woman was caught bearing that illegitimate child, then it was her fault, never mind the man’s involvement.

So from these humble beginnings is how the church developed from generation to generation that one is not supposed to talk about sex, one is not suppose to enjoy sex, one is not suppose to prepare for it. And naturally all this tension started to bubble up between people and teaching, because clearly, history and human action was proving quite well, that well, humans have a natural inclination to sex. And then that is why finally everything blew up in the 60’s with the Free Love movement (with other political and governmental problems in the picture of course). Anyways, you get the idea.

Nowhere does the Bible say you are holier if you don’t have or you don’t enjoy sex. Paul talks about his gift of singleness (which by the way, the church loved to build up on that) as being good, but if you need to get married, then get married. Listen, being single or married is not going to make you holier. There is nothing by your own actions that is going to make you holier. We have the whole Bible and the story of Redemption to tell us that. We are not holy. God is holy. And when we accept Him, it is His holiness that makes us holy. Not if we agree to have sex or not in our lives.

With that being said, the first human relationship that God placed on earth was a husband and wife. God could have chosen to do a bunch of different things with the first people on earth, but no, instead He chose to do a husband and wife, a man and woman, completely and 100% attracted to each other and His first command to them was, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Did you catch that? He didn’t say, “Pray to me first, grovel at My feet, or recite to Me first the 100 Rules of the Garden.” No, God’s first command to Adam and Eve in the Bible was, “Go. Have sex. Make babies.” And God said that. Not Satan. Not Adam to Eve or Eve to Adam. God. God said that to them. And when sin entered the picture, one of the first things that got attacked and warped was the husband and wife relationship and sex. Already in the following chapters after The Fall, we have polygamy, incest, and homosexuality entering the picture. What was a beautiful representation of the character of God between man and wife, that gift of enjoying oneself with each other, together, aka sex, was sabotaged. One of the perfect pictures of God between man and wife was the one that has taken the hardest hit when sin entered the picture. Now it is to the point that sex is no longer viewed as something to be kept in the marriage context and it is to be enjoyed whenever, with whoever, and however, “no commitments”, “no strings attached”, and “no boundaries”. It hurts families and undermines deeply the foundation of a kid who is born from it in an unstable home, and their emotional, spiritual, psychological, and physical well being is given a huge dose of, “Good luck Kid.” No Jesus. Jesus is no longer invited to sex.

And again you are freaking out. “Jesus??? Invite Jesus to sex???” Yes. Invite Jesus to sex. I am not saying to stop and pray every time you get in the mood and say, “Come Jesus. Amen.” Hey, it might work for some people, but that’s not what I am saying. What I am saying is play by His games of what sex is meant to be and you will have a better sex life than what this whole messed up world or even misconceptions in the church is telling us of sex. He made it. He created it. He knows what makes it work and what doesn’t make it work. Sex was meant to be something beautiful, powerful, awesome, and amazing. It is a gift that He gives to husbands and wives to give to each other and to enjoy each other. Have sex when you are angry, upset, tired, or hurt. Have sex to say you’re sorry, have sex to play and have fun, have sex to explore, to tease and to encourage, to accept, to build, and to show love. And thank God for it. It wouldn’t exist without Him.

Having a strong relationship with Jesus will help you have a strong sex life with your spouse. Because you are not coming to your spouse to see what you can take, but what you can give. There will be nights that yes, it will be better to just snuggle and cuddle over having sex. But for the most part, sex is there for both of you. There is an entire book in the Bible about sex in the marital context. It is called the “Song of Solomon.” Again, the church had this phobia of sex and tried to make it into this whole “allegory of Christ’s love to His church,” and while there can be some truth to that….the book is pretty explicit on breasts, hips, curves, perfumes, muscles and passions. Sex is not bad. It is not ugly and it is not dirty. So don’t treat it as such, and don’t treat it as a rag to wash whatever comes your way.

Getting all dolled up and spiffy for your spouse is not a bad thing. Keeping yourself attractive for your spouse is not vain either. I enjoy wearing a pretty dress for my fiancé. I enjoy getting a new perfume where he will enjoy it. I like seeing him get dressed up, or admiring his body when he is working outside shirtless. It is not a bad thing! If these things weren’t there, then attraction and sex wouldn’t be possible between husband and wife. I am looking forward to the night that I can finally give myself to him, to my future husband. I have pretty things to wear, and pretty smelling stuff. I am excited, nervous, and anxious. It may hurt, it may not. I also know that even if it does hurt the first time, I know that eventually it will not. The point is that even if it is painful and an orgasm is not reached immediately, I do know that I have been given a man that is beyond worth. Here is a man that has agreed to love me no matter what, whether I look like a Hollywood fashion model, or a bum on the couch watching chick flicks. I have been given a man that loves God and follows Him and seeks to submit his life to Him. I have been given a man that I know he will cherish me the first night and be as gentle as possible. I have been given a man that will direct me and we will discover together. I have been given a man that the rest of our lives together are going to be absolutely, wonderfully, and completely dedicated to the God who has placed us together.

I know that there are other things, especially the whole aspect of feeling guilty when maybe some lines were crossed, and this fear of losing salvation over mistakes that are done, that were brought up from Samantha’s blog that needs to be addressed. And I will address it, in the next blog. But right now, I just really wanted to give a powerful, positive affirmation about biblical sex in a married relationship between man and wife.

A verse from Song of Solomon 8:3, “Let his left hand be under my head and his right hand embrace me.”

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Into the Gray

[box_holder background_color=”] This article was written by Eliel Cruz and is part one in a series that will be exploring the topic of sexuality in the church. The views expressed therein are his own and do not necessarily reflect theHaystack.tv. Nevertheless, two of our goals at thehaystack.tv are: To give a voice to relevant views and people who are a part of the SDA Church, and to foster loving and respectful dialogue about these issues. Please take this blog series on sexuality as an opportunity to learn from the perspective of a young man who walks this road. -Keith Bowman II, Co-Founder of TheHaystack.tv. [/box_holder]

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Exploring sexuality and gender is a lot like going into the gray. The gray typically represents the unknown, the parts we haven’t explored either because we haven’t wanted to or needed to. We are often afraid to leave our comfort zones and explore beyond the familiar. Some of us don’t have the privilege of staying in those comfort zones. For some of us, the only way we find our true selves is by taking the steps forward, like Peter walking on water facing his fear. He stepped out of the security of the boat and became afraid he might sink.

For me, stepping out the comfort zone was a necessity. From a very young age, I knew I wasn’t like the other boys. Although I was attracted to girls, I was attracted to guys too. The day I found out there was a name for this—bisexual, which means someone can fall in love with someone of more than one gender—it was as if the heaven’s opened up, and the angels sang.  Because when you spend your life trying to figure out what is different about you, it’s a moment of huge relief to actually realize you aren’t the only one—in fact there is an entire group of people like you. I say I never struggled with my sexuality because it’s true. What I have struggled with is identifying it and my church’s response to my sexuality.

The response came before I even “came out.” I was born and raised in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. I’ve only ever gone to Seventh-day Adventist schools, participated in Pathfinders, spent every Sabbath at church. I was a picture perfect Adventist. I automatically knew that just the realization of my sexuality made me estranged from the life I knew and loved. I knew right away that I was in that gray. But really, I’ve always been in the gray. I just wasn’t always truthful with myself.

As my friend and YouTuber R.J. Aguilar says, “Binaries are easier to understand. When you’re young, binaries work because they’re stepping stones for you to understand how the world works. You get taught about Night and Day, Tall and Short, Big and Small. But as you get older, your understanding of how the world works deepens—at least it should. That’s when you realize there is much more than just night and day. There’s midday, dusk, sunset, and sun rising. If you still stick only to the night and day binary, you would never show up to anything on time. That’s why you learn to tell time.”

In the church, we continue to only want to acknowledge binary opposites, and it’s keeping us from “telling time.” Everything is either straight or gay, male or female, black or white. But that’s not an accurate picture of the fluid, complexity of the current version of God’s creation. We’re much more than that and we have to start stepping into the gray to gain a deeper understanding of all that God is.

We have to stop making sexuality and gender binary. The fields of psychology, biology, and sociology tell us that we are not at all binary but all part of a spectrum. We hear more and more in the church about this spectrum as our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Adventist friends begin to share our stories. For a very long time, LGBT people, like myself, kept quiet. We hid our truth deep in closets, fearful that we would lose absolutely everything and everyone we loved if we were honest. And as we speak up to say that we are here too, it’s requiring everyone to rethink their assumptions about gender and sexuality, and what the diverse family of God might actually be like.

But what does this all exactly mean? Gender? Sex? Sexuality? What’s the differences and why does it even matter? I’m going to be writing a series about that in this space, but one of the first areas that we need to address is some basic language and definitions. That way we are on the same page. I don’t at all think we all have to share the same theological paradigms at the end of this series, but we all owe it to our LGBT children, friends, and neighbors on the pew and in our communities to understand the basic terminology. So here’s a short primer:

Sexuality

Sexuality is the capacity to have romantic and/or sexual attractions to a gender(s). That means someone is capable of being in a romantic or sexual relationship with someone of a particular gender. When someone identifies as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, that means they’re acknowledging the potential to be in a relationship of someone of the same-gender (in the case for gays and lesbians) or of either gender (in the case for bisexuals*). Someone’s sexuality—also called sexual identity because they identify with that sexuality—isn’t attached to their sexual acts. That means that someone is gay whether or not they’re currently sexually intimate or even if they’re a virgin! Just like people are straight/heterosexual whether or not they’re in a relationship or having sex. Sexuality is an innate part of you that doesn’t dictate your sexual acts. That’s why it’s such a problem when Christians are widely known to be “against homosexuality.” That makes it seem like Christians are carte blanche against anyone who isn’t heterosexual. Of course some Christians are, and they really get a lot of attention, but usually, what they mean is that they are against same-sex sexual intimacy. That’s different, and we should use the correct language or we risk doing even more damage.

Sex

We often use gender and sex interchangeably, but they’re actually very different. Our sex is determined by our genitalia—it’s biological. That’s why doctors announce, “It’s a boy!” when they see a penis, and “It’s a girl!” when they see a vagina. Yet, sex isn’t binary. There are also individuals who are born intersex or with chromosomal make-ups that make them fall somewhere along the spectrum.

genderbread

Intersex is an umbrella term, meaning that it’s a term encompassing more than just one strict definition, to describe people who are born with over 30 variations of sex anatomy. Some people are born, internally and externally, in neither purely ‘male’ or ‘female’ bodies. About 1 in every 2000 people have this condition that places them somewhere in the gray area. In the past, doctors almost always performed surgeries on infants to make them appear female in their genitalia (as that was easier). They thought parents could just raise a baby to be whatever gender the genitalia looked like. We’ve learned that is not true at all (based on very tragic examples), because our gender is much more complex than what is between our legs.

Gender & Transgender

Gender is a social construct that is based on social and culture differences rather than biological. These things fluctuate and change according to the time period, culture, and surroundings (for example pink used to be a color reserved for boys because it’s closely related to red, a “male” color, and blue used to be used for girls because it was “dainty”). Gender is also where we get “masculine” or “feminine” qualities, which can vary widely by time, place, and culture.

When people don’t identify with the biological sex they were assigned at birth, they’re transgender. Transgender people are born a certain sex that doesn’t align with their gender identity. They have pronouns they prefer to go by like he/him versus she/her and live their lives as trans women or trans men. There are transgender people in in media such as the talented Lavern Cox and NYT’s best-selling author Janet Mock. The term for those of us who do identify with the gender we were assigned at birth is cisgender.

Not all people who push back on gender binaries are transgender. This is where we get gender expression. What was once acceptable for a man 100, even 50 years ago, is different now. Men wore heels and makeup in Europe a few hundred years ago to show their nobility. Women wearing pants today is an example of how gender expression has shifted. While I may identify with my body as a man and prefer he/him pronouns, I can also dress in a ways that may not fit the typical stereotype of what men “should” wear. Violence against gender-non-conforming individuals and trans individuals is astonishingly high, even in the United States, which should help us all realize just how important it is that we educate ourselves so our assumptions, stereotypes, and language don’t feed into these cycles of violence and intolerance for gender differences.

God’ Beautiful Creation—Beyond Binaries

I know it can all seem quite complicated at first, and Christians are often seen as the number one group opposed to even acknowledging LGBT people.

Recently a prominent Baptist pastor said Genesis 1 shows clear binaries—that God made “heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on and so on, and you end up with male and female.”

My friend and author Sarah Moon responded beautifully, she asks, “Can you stand with your feet in the muddy sand on the beach, waves crashing around your feet, tide slowly rising or falling, and honestly draw a clear line between sea and dry land?”

If we believe in God’s creation, we believe that every human is a child of God, made in the image of the triune God. When we look deeply into God’s creation – ourselves, in the world and people around us – it’s clear that the binaries don’t hold up. When we perpetuate binaries as the only valid options, we limit the awe-inspiring masterpieces that God has created in and around us by making us all unique.

For the next few weeks I’ll be writing for Haystack.TV on sexuality and gender. I’ll be covering topics the web editors pitch to me, but I’m willing to tackle some of the questions readers might have as well. I know I just laid a lot on all of you, but I hope you read, and re-read, this post. Ask questions. Do your own research. Push back on your preconceived binary notions. This conversation is important. It helps us bridge the divides that have been created between the church and the LGBT community (and, of course, we have lots of LGBT people who grew up as good Adventists). For me, stepping out of the boat and into the storm proved life-giving. It was Jesus who was on the other side of the waves, and we’ve been walking closer ever since I started being honest.

Will you step off the boat and into the gray with me?

* I can never write about bisexuality without making this note because it’s a commonly held and very hurtful misconception. Being bisexual does not mean that a person must be with a man AND a woman in order to be happily fulfilled, it just means we can fall in love with someone of either gender. For more information on bisexuals, read this post I wrote on 7 Tips For The Christian Church To Be Inclusive of Bisexuals.

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc
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AmbassadorsEliel Cruz is a contributor on religion, sexuality and media & culture at The Advocate, Mic, and Religion News Service. He’s the co-founder and former president of Intercollegiate Adventist Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition, an organization that advocates for safe spaces for LGBT students at Seventh-day Adventist colleges. He studies international business and French studies at Andrews University in Michigan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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