Contrary to our media-driven culture most Christians agree that sex is much more than entertainment. We agree it should be private, sacred, and precious. We know it is abused. But we are a schizophrenic lot when it comes to being decisive about how to handle the topic– in our homes, in our churches, in our relationships, especially in our marriages- and sadly, in our culture.
From all my years both in the pew and in Bible study groups, the message has usually been some version of the following: If you are single, try not to do it. If you are married, go ahead, but we never want to hear about it. These days, however, things are a bit different. The last part has remained, the part about being quiet, while the first part has sort of melted into the last. We do tell kids, those under 18, not to do it. But in varying degrees and circles, we almost expect that those over 17 are most likely doing it- they’re just not open about it around “adults”- as though they belong to a separate culture. Young, excused, normal.
I call this phenomenon “public secrecy.” But it’s not very secret. It could even be compared to our military’s DADT policy. If you can’t justify a behavior with scripture, but it’s a socially controversial, personal matter, you just call it gray, and look the other way. It’s only marginally private, and only marginally secret. And only marginally wrong? Something’s off here.
The old Jewish nation, chosen to be the beloved bride of God, a precursor to the eventual inclusion of the New Testament (gentile) church as the bride of the Lord Jesus, would squawk loudly at this pseudo “public secrecy” about sex. For in their world, sex was definitely a public matter. Rabbis taught the marital sexual relationship carefully, even graphically, to the young men in the synagogue as part of their regular training– actually instructing them how often not to “have a headache,” as sex was the right of all brides throughout married life. (I know, ironic…)
Jews celebrated sex publicly in their wedding ceremony, even going so far as including a private consumation while the wedding guests partied; then observing, publicly, a proof of virginity- the bloody cloth- as a part of the proceedings. (What a way to teach the little ones the “facts of life!”) It was also a public thing when the rules were broken, consequences outlined in precise detail.
So, in those “ancient” days sex was important and public, because God, the designer of it all, said it was. As the crowning glory of His creation, male and female, sex had personal, familial, and generational impact. Back then, no one disputed its public nature. And as a physical mark of their ownership, circumcision separated the Jews from the idol-worshipping nations around them.
Sex and idolatry. The first, a bastion, a pillar, when the rules were followed. The second, the worst form of rebellion. And all through history the two seemed to go together. Those “other” nations actually used sexual activity in the worship of their gods, even sacrificing the product of temple sex, their children, to the images. The Jews were to stay far away. But because of Adam’s sin infecting the hearts of all people, and the law being but a poor leash, sexual temptation was always huge.
Envious, covetous, discontent, bored, their moral code, written clearly in heart as well as stone, was always too easy to break. They were constantly drawn to the erotic practices of their neighbors, generation after generation. Sound familiar? Thought so.
But all through history God punished, and then reestablished His ground rules: Sex is HIS idea. Sex is wonderful.
Sex is so wonderful it amazingly represents a spiritual reality too marvelous to explain any other way. The wondrous nature of His love is so far above our puny intellects, we can not fathom it— except for one thing. We have an experience here on earth which will give us a tiny taste of His glory. The most amazing analogy: His love for Us—Sexual Union in marriage. The act is private, but the real results– well, a very public thing.
So how did “public secrecy” get into the church? Just like the Jews: envy, discontent, boredom — our wicked, rebellious hearts. Hearts we must deal with. Thoughts are private, but not habitual ones. They will eventually lead to deeds. And therein lies the problem.
The church is opting for leniency in our thoughts. We are a feeling-driven lot. Fearing the accusation of legalism, we have adopted a leniency which always leads us somewhere. It leads us to NOW. And we had better look around and take notice. When boldness about God’s Word on sex is lessened or abandoned, for whatever reason, the church loses its savor. And God has words about that- something about being trampled underfoot. Is that what is happening today? What are the serious breaches in the wall of God’s standards? Here are just a few that should shake us out of our nice, comfortable couch of “public secrecy.”
First, even though we tacitly discourage or somewhat denounce sexual activity outside of marriage, we fail to hold the biblical standard for sex within marriage. (I Cor. 7) Not that parents should parade their sexual routines or pleasures–surely that is hardly a problem in Christian homes! Instead, they should maintain their tender love for each other in a way that children see something to emulate. “Bending” or deferring to one’s mate indicates a soft heart. Doing so for the sake of a sweet home life is a public thing, because “bending” is noticed. It is the outreached hand, the audible whisper, “I was wrong, forgive me.”
Of course, marriage isn’t easy; it is about the most difficult work anyone ever embarked upon. Besides parenting. But the beautiful results of regular and joyful marital sex are both a private and public delight. Whatever happened to married couples, even “old” ones, holding hands, walking arm in arm, and joking in a romantic way? Kids admit this is almost as much a tonic to their souls as it is to their parents’.
Secondly, we “wink” at adult sexuality outside of marriage. We certainly don’t promote it. But we buy and watch movies which glamorize such activity, and shy away from discussing the sexual issues of singleness in an open and honest way. Our tacit respect of “adult privacy” constitutes a refusal to take a stand on what God has spoken clearly. And our young folks need our help in preparing for marriage, as most of them openly want this blessing.
The world of “hooking up” in which our youth live and try to navigate is not preparing them for the sacrificial love that a good marriage requires. Instead of acting as though it is easy to control lust and passion, even though we know it isn’t, let’s talk about the pain of singleness. Getting real about how excruciatingly difficult celibacy is for most, should be the subject of discussions in Bible classes and even around our family tables.
College sex is so rampant that the evangelical church is becoming just another place where students and singles meet to plan a bar-hopping evening, followed by casual sex. If our leaders know this, are they accepting it as though there is no other choice, that it is status quo for our era? Singles bar-hopping before a nightcap of sex is not private. It’s a public thing. These singles are setting an example for the younger teens who are now videoing their sexual escapades and posting them on facebook.
And now, in another shocking slice of real life in the media age, we as a church are only slightly different from secular society in our use of pornography. The jolting statistics show that even pastors use porn in almost identical proportion to their secular male counterparts.
It has been shown that when a person uses porn his or her relationships are harmed as secrecy and deceit compound all the other damages of this false intimacy. Marriage is adversely affected, even if the user isn’t married yet. Damages may not show up for a while, but show up, they will. Chemicals released in the body of the habitual user have been also proven to eventually lower libido. The person’s very soul is damaged, rendering him or her unable to emotionally connect to people, as images take over the mind and psyche. This disconnection becomes a public thing.
If the church doesn’t take a stand and shout from the mountaintops what porn does to the Temple of Christ (our bodies) and to the precious picture of Himself and us His bride, we are doomed to see the day in this generation where sex becomes a purely physical act, lowered to the level of hunting and taking, as for prey.
This is actually happening now as we sit in our public secrecy. How? Hundreds of third-world countries host public sexual perversion as a part of their everyday culture. The sex industry is a billion dollar market- not yearly or monthly, but daily. Women are kidnapped all over the world to become sex Workers. (A more socially acceptable term than “prostitution?”) As Sex Work is considered legitimate work in so many emerging nations – not just third-world- we are only small steps away here in America.
Where are you, Church? Privacy and secrecy need to be replaced by Truth, Biblically-based education, and an outcry against the practices which have always been rejected by God. The future health- the very souls- of our families, churches, and communities are at stake.
And that is a very public thing.