Sex and Sustainability

Osprey bringing fish to nest
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/ronguillen/2076029437/">R0Ng</a>

Genesis 1:20-23

Then God said, “Fish! Birds!” And the seas swarmed with fish and whales, and all sorts of living things. And the sky was filled with all kinds of birds.

God saw how good all of this was, and said, “Procreate until the sea and sky are full.” And so continued evening and morning. Day 5.

Here, for the first time, we see the emergence of the idea of procreation. (It was latent in the reference to seeds on Day 3.) These verses, though, are not a proof-text about the one case when sex is allowable. It’s not a mandate for anti-contraception campaigns. They are about sustainability.

Until fairly recently, the earth wasn’t dealing with population overload. Until recently, it was a struggle to survive in great enough numbers to continue life into the next generation. While the ancient Hebrews didn’t track the populations of fish and birds the way we do (if you look carefully at the osprey in the picture above, you’ll see it’s tagged with a radio transmitter), they did have an implicit sense that their flourishing was tied inextricably with their own.

With population overload and the environmental degradation that’s come with it, the wisdom of the ancients returns again to the foundational principle of sustainability – of life surviving and thriving into the next generation. Our flourishing is no less inextricably tied to the fish and birds than were the ancient storytellers.

Corinth’s “Sex Issue”

woman and man
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/indi/4202565878/">Indi Samarajiva</a>

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Even legal habits can be addicting. Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food – but those who live to consume will be consumed. Your body isn’t intended for illicit sex. It’s for Jesus. And Jesus is for your body. God raised Jesus, and God will raise us by that same power.

You know that your bodies are components of Jesus, don’t you? So would I defile Jesus’ body parts by having sex with any whore I can find? Hell no! You know that when you have sex with a whore you become one with her, don’t you? Remember Genesis? “The two shall become one flesh.” But if you’re part of Jesus, you’ve got Jesus’ same spirit. Avoid illicit sex. Every wrong anyone can commit is done externally, except sex. People who have illicit sex do wrong to their own bodies. Don’t you know your body is a holy spiritual temple? Once you have God’s spirit you belong to God, not to yourself. You’ve been bought with cash, so treat your bodies like God’s property.

Paul has a reputation for being a prude. It’s probably well deserved. But if Paul was a prude, the church in Corinth had an issue with illicit sex. Neither of them was dealing with it very well.

Neither of them really gets beyond the view of people as objects. And especially women as objects. (Paul is addressing the men at Corinth.) It doesn’t really matter whether the illicit sex the Corinthians were engaging in was part of other pagan cults that were on the scene. What matters is that they were buying people with cash. And inasmuch as they were participating in the dehumanization of people, they were cut off from Jesus, whose whole aim was precisely the opposite: to re-humanize people who had been objectified.

But Paul applies a theology to the situation in which God engages in the same behavior, buying and paying for people. Paul is too concerned for the purity of Jesus’ body to consider that hanging around with prostitutes and sinners never seemed to bother Jesus himself. Paul is too upset about the whores polluting his church to care for them as the very people Jesus came to re-integrate into the body of humanity.

Thanks to Paul, much of the church still has a sex issue. And the problem is still in recognizing that the sin is not in contamination transmitted by touch or even by the exchange of bodily fluids. It’s still a problem about getting past a theology of transactional redemption that treats people as objects to be bought, paid for, and used.

Think about It Before You Hit “Reject”

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8Reject Button

So friends, we ask you, we call you by Jesus, to do as we taught you, living to please God even more than you now are. You know what we taught you, by Jesus. God wants you to to be pure, to not have sex, to be pure and honorable by learning to control your lust (unlike the Godless heathen), and especially not to lust for one another. The payback will be from God if you do. We told you about this before. We warned you. God didn’t call us to uncleanness but to purity. Whoever rejects these directions rejects God, not humans, because God’s spirit is in you.

Christians have Paul to thank for being so uptight about sex. You’d think that if Jesus had a direct line to God, and if God was really concerned about people’s complete chastity, Jesus would have mentioned it. But he never does. In fact, Jesus left himself wide open to accusations of being impure, hanging out with “prostitutes and sinners,” the very people Paul would imply are unwelcome, or second-class citizens among the followers of Jesus.

Jesus’ concern was for people to be healthy and whole, and of course, sleeping around is not the healthiest of lifestyles. Sexual addictions, like any other addictions, need to be dealt with in order to live well. Jesus would say, “Go and sin no more.” Jesus would affirm that one ought to try to do better than one is already doing. But Jesus never condemned sex in itself as evil, even a “necessary evil solely for the purpose of procreation,” the way Paul and many subsequent church teachers have.

On this account, Paul is just plain wrong. And his threats of God’s vengeance on those who disagree are the projections of his own hostility. One might just as easily retort (and Jesus did say something similar in Luke 10:16), “Whoever rejects the unclean followers of Jesus rejects not them, but the Jesus who welcomed them.”

Think about it next time you’re thinking about someone. Before you hit the reject button.