ATLANTA—The boundaries of covenant in regard to sexuality can be unclear for single adults, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender individuals and senior adults, speakers told a [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant.
Many single adults are “making up the rules as they go along” because they lack leadership and guidance, said Roz Nichols, an African-American single woman and pastor of Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church in Memphis, Tenn.
“What we are lacking is a way to express ourselves in our intimate relationships that is born out of our understanding of our faith and our human sexuality,” Nichols said.
Christian conversation on sexuality must recognize sex as basic to who human beings are, she insisted.
“We are, like all of God’s creation, hardwired to crave food, sleep, water, and—yes—sex,” she said.
Recognizing the basic hunger for sex as healthy does not mean “anything goes,” she insisted.
“On the contrary, I am seeking just the opposite. I am seeking to elevate all that we do with our bodies to the level of the sacred,” Nichols said.
Rather than viewing the biblical condemnation of fornication as referring only to sex outside of marriage, she called for a broader, deeper and more expansive understanding.
“I would argue that we begin to think and rethink of fornication not merely in terms of not having sex because we are not married, but in terms of how we prostitute ourselves, objectifying others, bartering our bodies in exchange for momentary release from the loneliness,” she said.
“In this regard, we commit fornication not simply because we are not married, but because we have failed to value ourselves and we fail to value the other person.”
When it comes to covenant relationships, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender people of faith may have lessons to teach the church as a whole, said Cody Sanders, a gay pastoral counselor and member of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth.
“Traditional marital relationships in the U.S., especially in Christian contexts, come with a host of culturally conditioned gender expectations that are imbued with unequal power relations between women and men,” he asserted.
“Yet, when no predefined gender roles exist to unthinkingly guide how intimate relations are to be fostered, the potential—at the very least—is present for covenants forged not by centuries of gender-role residue—much of which has served to subjugate women to male dominance—but through commitments to mutuality and equality.
“While same-sex relationships are not immune from power inequalities, persons in same-sex relationships must, of necessity, give explicit considerations to relational roles and power relations when these relationships are not between man and woman, but between men and men or women and women.”
Because many LGBT people have been rejected by their families of origin, they have formed covenantal communities of support and friendship from which others can learn, he added. And because they have been rejected by many churches, they have been forced to think deeply and creatively about the connection between sexuality and faith, he added.
Mature dialogue in churches about sexuality—particularly regarding same-sex relations—demands self-education, Sanders insisted.
“This self-education, as well as congregational education, should not only engage the written works of scholars, but should generously engage the living human documents of the transgender, lesbian, bisexual and gay persons in our midst,” he said. “We have much to teach you.”
Sanders rejected the idea that same-sex relations are a second-class status that falls short of the ideal.
“Rather than a tolerable but undesirable Plan B, LGBT relationships are stellar examples of covenant forged in the fires of oppression, marginalization, injustice and violence,” he said.
Among senior adults, sexuality is “a world of gray,” said Rhonda Blevins, associate pastor at Tellico Village Community Church in Loudon, Tenn.
“A discussion about sexual ethics and the senior adult requires nuance and compassion—often the ethical dilemmas for those in this age group emerge from loss, whether death, divorce or illness,” she said.
Any responsible sexual ethic for a single senior adult “must reject the permissive sexual culture of our day while affirming the inherent sexual nature in each man and woman of God,” Blevins asserted.
“A one-size-fits-all ethic falls short when senior adult sexuality is taken seriously,” she continued.
“Good Christian people may reject the proposition that sexual ethics for seniors is a world of gray, but the convention wisdom of ‘sex within marriage, celibacy without’ is a failed sexual ethic for seniors because it fails to offer compassion for the 16.4 million single senior adults in America. … It fails to recognize the growing crisis of older adults facing isolation and loneliness.”
Blevins called churches to what she considers a balanced approach.
“Too far in the direction of compassion and the church may promote a reckless sexuality that cheapens sex. Too far in the direction of appropriateness and the church slides back to its all-to-familiar role of guilt mongering,” she said. “Senior adults need a truly Christian sexual ethic that is both lovingly appropriate and honorably compassionate.”