I’m taking a class on “The Urban Christian”, and this past week we focused on what happens when the Christian sexual ethic collides with the urban, secular one. We had three excellent readings to which we were to respond. I’d encourage you to read them:
- The Gospel and Sex by Tim Keller
- Practicing Trust (pdf) by Christi Foist
- The Missional Position by Chuck DeGroat
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Good lord, growing up in the Bible Belt, I can honestly say, I heard more breathless, obsessive talk of sex, boundaries, and frustration in singleness in Bible Belt suburbia than I ever have in my current urban setting. This is for a few reasons, I think:
1. Most everyone I encounter is no longer a virgin, and so the mysteriousness and over-idealization of the unknown, for most people, is not…uh….unknown. The magic is gone for many and they don’t spend all their energies trying to get what they can’t have. But, the same contradictory human mind will say that sex isn’t a big enough deal to focus any energy on not doing, but it is a big enough deal that nobody better try to put any limits on that sexuality.
2. At least in my urban setting, the average age at my church is probably late 20’s through mid-30’s (rather than the usual urban church plant full of horny college students surrounded by sex in every single area of their lives and relationships). Most people are now living their lives out of the nightly party scene, stuck in either 9-to-5’s or intense Graduate School programs, and their lives have a pretty regular rhythm. In short, they’ve learned how to live without sex (assuming they’re not in a relationship). It’s just not a big part of their lives, their thoughts, or their conversations. They are getting on with their lives pretty sex-lessly.
3. There is a huge population of those (at least in my church) with very intense brokenness and sexual baggage in their past. And so, many of them are still recovering and healing from these things. They aren’t necessarily sleeping around or even dating. They’re just broken and have divorced sexuality from their everyday experience. Whenever my pastor preaches one of his sermons on sex (rare as they are, thanks be to God), there is a raft of silent tear-stained faces peppering the congregation.
4. In an incredibly secular, urban context like our own, people only really call themselves Christians when they actually mean it. There isn’t a lot of nominal Christianity here, and so you’d be surprised at how many people really are either living out a (mostly) biblical sexual ethic or are at least trying to, however imperfectly.
In our church, we have a lot of people that are not Christians (yet), and though we are clear about our sexual ethic, they’re not hit over the head all the time with the expectation that they should be acting like Christians when they aren’t Christians. Outside of this, among our people the biggest sexual issues are probably differing views on homosexuality, porn-addiction, people in long-term committed relationships that are having sex (most of whom were having sex before they got connected to Christ, so it’s just “normal” for them), or Christians that do lesser forms of intimacy and “one-ness” that they believe don’t “count” (like sleeping together but “not doing anything”, and various other “activities”).
All of our readings this week echoed many of the lessons I gleaned from Lauren Winner’s amazing book Real Sex (my favorite book on a Christian view on sex), namely the corporate and communal nature of sex. Sex is not an individual thing limited to our own bodies, or even between us and those we share that body with. It deeply affects the community in which we live and it affects how we relate to those around us. (This is why I really appreciated Foist’s article where she lists practices that shape and form us into sexual health and honoring God with our sexualities.)
In conclusion, this all reminded me of–and strengthened my conviction that–one of the things the modern church most needs to recapture is the ancient practice of “spiritual friendships”. I’m only now trying to recapture this myself and I haven’t gotten to research it too much to get more specific.
It’s the idea that “single” people are still intended to have and enjoy incredibly deep and intimate human relationships. Too often, the Church has kept “intimacy” as something that is relegated to marriage and mystical union with Christ.
But I am convinced–and have to a certain extent, as a single man myself, have experienced–that true human depth of connection and being known is for all Christians. Which is why all three of the above readings are absolutely right in emphasizing the place of all people to be deeply rooted in the community of God’s people.
The City needs this. Churches in the City need to model this. I feel that urban churches are getting better at articulating themselves as the “Body”–the Hands, Feet, and Words–of Christ for the hurting and impoverished in their cities. But we need to be the Hands, Feet, Ears, and Lips of Christ to those of us within the Body as well. We need this in order to extend touch, embrace, words, and listening to others, no matter their marital or relationship status.
[image credit: Claude Delauney’s “The City of Paris”]