A Christian Approach to Sex-Talk: Social AND Intellectual Hospitality

I firmly believe we Christians need to move towards a more nuanced discourse within our communities of faith on the topic of sex. I think it would be helpful if we began redirecting our condemning energy into thoughtful inquiry and hospitable speech. As the Yale theologian Margaret Farley remarks, Christians should affirm the movement of sexual discourse “more completely from the realm of the pre-ethical (the realm of taboos) to the ethical.”[1] Ethics is not, and never was, simply a system for understanding “rights” and “wrongs.” Nor is ethics simply a language system for the purpose of validating the most popular trends of the day. Ethics is about how we can live well with one another and as a result – what difficult decisions we should make on a day-by-day basis.

As we Christians (should) enter into the public[2] discussion on ethics and sexuality we need to listen and learn (first) as we also speak (second). This recommendation might sound basic or easy…but I’ve found it is deeper and more difficult than it sounds. Since we Christians feel we have good reasons to talk about the good stuff in the Good-Book, we don’t always stop to listen, process and learn before we speak. We Christians usually call this minimalistic approach “bold proclamation,” or “standing for the truth” or “just saying what the Bible says.” But those are just fancy religious lingos for what is actually happening: We become perpetrators of ineffective and irresponsible communication. But if anyone should be well-thought and well-taught in this world, it should be the Christians. It should be the Church because our charge as Christians is to bless the world and God’s people through God’s presence in us. Listening and thinking (first) and speaking well about sex (second) is a good place for us to start…

In my own experience, offering social hospitality is oftentimes easier than practicing intellectual hospitality. It’s one thing to ask a bunch of different people to come over and hang out with me so I can enjoy their presence, and they mine. This is social hospitality. It’s another thing to invite a bunch of different people over so I can enjoy them as they help me understand why they think so differently than me. That is intellectual hospitality. But, how can we be fully socially hospitable if we aren’t practicing a full intellectual hospitality at the same time? Doesn’t the former require the latter? Holistic hospitality is what this world needs!

I believe it’s about time we Christians start approaching the topic of sex with both types of hospitality: intellectual and social. This includes the way we should approach people and it should also include the way we should approach Scripture. We should spend a lot of time listening and learning (unfortunately, the two don’t always go together). And only then, should we speak. This will allow us to better bless the world with what we have to say publically about sex. Our approach to the topic of sex should be through the lens of both social AND intellectual hospitality.

*This is the 2nd in my series of 5 posts on this topic. You can see my first post in this series here. My next post in this series will be on topic of the Challenge of Sex-Talk*

[1] Farley, Margaret. Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics. Bloomsbury Academic, 2008: 177.

[2] As James Hanigan explains, sex is public because sex is “ritual.” Hanigan notices how with sex (like other rituals) we have the constant temptation to show it off, to play to the crowd, or to use the ritual for one’s own sake rather than for the purposes by which it was intended. See page 116 of his What are They Saying About Sexual Morality? Paulist Press, 1982.

 

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