DALLAS – There was a time when someone wanting to talk about sex would seek understanding anywhere but at church. Religion has often preached sex as sin — a dirty and shameful urge, something far from sacred spirit, and best left alone.
Times have changed.
“You go back to Hebrew Scriptures in Genesis, and it says God saw all that he’d created and found it good,” said Sister Lorita Moffatt, of the Catholic Mercy Center in Burlingame. “When we really connect with our sexuality, that connects us with God, and that moves us to different levels of awareness and consciousness of what it means to be sexual.”
Human sexuality should be viewed as a gift from God, said the Rev. Ron Rolheiser, president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.
“In its purest teaching, which wasn’t always evident, the church has always taught that sex is a sacred force, not sinful,” said Father Ron Rolheiser, author of “The Holy Longing,” an often-quoted book on the human desire to connect, spiritually and sexually.
He acknowledged that for most of history this teaching hasn’t been the most popular.
Historically, Rolheiser said, the church has viewed itself as a defender of family life — and, therefore, it’s been extremely cautious in its approach to the potent force of human sexuality.
While that’s led many church leaders to want to suppress frank discussions of sex, he said, “the church … is a massive organization that has millions of people speaking for it. … … At its purest best, the church has always taught that sex is not sinful.”
Father Ron and Sister Lorita represent a fresh movement in Christian spirituality, one recognizing sexuality as an integral part of being human and not something to be set apart from spirit.
In their view, cultures err when they separate sex from spirit, thereby reducing sex to a physical act divorced from a desire to be closer to others, and to God.
Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter’s House in southeast Dallas said in an interview on Beliefnet.com that sex remains one of the church’s taboo subjects, “and because we never talk about them, we open up doors for them to be misappropriated.
“We’re taught to believe that being a Christian means that you should have no interest in (sex). … It’s so hypocritical because in reality it’s part of the human experience.”
The result when people suppress healthy discussion of sexuality is, “either they don’t talk about it, or on the other extreme, that’s all they talk about,” Bishop Jakes said.
While you may not have heard this message on sexuality from your pulpit, it is spreading. One who is spreading it is Tommy Nelson, pastor of Denton Bible Church.
He teaches a nationally acclaimed seminar on the Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon), the Old Testament book in which Solomon woos, weds and experiences love — physical and emotional — with his wife.
Nelson said many Christians have viewed sex as original sin, only to be endured — even in marriage — for procreation.
He said mankind has a tendency to think that anything enjoyable must be bad for us. The church, he said, has a pattern of “throwing out the baby, the bathwater and the rubber ducky” when it comes to pleasurable things like music, films — and sex.
“There are a lot of errant notions in movies, and it’s easier to throw them all out than to think critically,” he said.
The Bible, he said, clearly states that sex is to be enjoyed — within the confines of marriage. He quotes this advice to newlyweds in the Song of Songs 5:1: “Eat, friends, drink and imbibe deeply, oh lovers.”
The message that sexuality is good is deeply rooted in the Judaic tradition, whose Talmud — commentaries on the Old Testament — states that when people die, they appear before God to account for all the legitimate pleasures in life that they denied themselves.
This is a passage that Sandra Lommasson, a 56-year-old Protestant, recounts when she works as a spiritual director at the Bread of Life Center in Davis.
“”We live in a world with mixed signals,”” Rolheiser said. “So much around us says (sex) can be casual, and there’s a whole lot inside of us that says it can’t be.”
Lommasson favors the metaphor of sex as a sacred fire, one that must be carefully tended to warm and nurture us. Treated carelessly and allowed to run wild, it can cause destruction, she said.
And for those who think that joining sex and religion makes for a dull combination, Sister Lorita says not so.
“Sacred doesn’t mean it can’t be playful,” she said. “The deeper the relationship, the more serious, playful, intimate — all of that — you can be.”