Redeeming Sex in the Age of Obergefell

This post is a review of Deb Hirsch’s wonderful new book, Redeeming Sex.

Our church didn’t say anything publicly about the Obergefell Supreme Court decision during our worship service – not during announcements, not from the pulpit. There were some from our membership who were surprised and hurt that the pastors did not speak out against the ruling. I think some took this silence as a sign that our church was maybe becoming a “welcoming and affirming” church as they saw other members from our church filter their profile picture with a rainbow in support of the decision. The Supreme Court ruling prompted both fear and suspicion towards others in our church even though same-sex marriage has been legal in my state of Illinois since 2013.

In Deb Hirsch’s book, Redeeming Sex, she says the Church needs to have a new conversation about sexuality – a conversation that does not start from a place of fear or defending theological positions. She starts by expanding the scope of sexuality. Far beyond just the act of sex, it permeates all of our relationships, driving us to love and be loved, to know and be known by others. Sexuality creates intimacy and connection – not just with a lover, but in every relationship we have. Once we understand the bigger picture of what our sexuality does, we can talk about with less fear and more gratitude. Expanding the definition also includes everyone in the conversation. Every person – young and old, married and single – is a sexual being for the whole journey.

While we all have sexuality that shapes us to love and be loved, the way we go about that is sometimes skewed. Every person’s sexuality has been touched by sin. We are all broken. Hirsch says, “Everybody’s orientation is disoriented.”[1] In her ministry, “Heterosexuals are no less broken (and in need of salvation) as homosexuals.”[2] We make public pronouncements on Obergefell to keep a sex-sick world from contaminating the church, when each one of us is sex-sick already in different ways.

When you have the chickenpox, your fear of being exposed to it from others should decrease considerably.

In the midst of pervasive brokenness, Hirsch calls the Church to abandon protecting the sexual boundary lines and to reclaim a radical trust in Jesus, who is powerfully present in the Church by the Holy Spirit, to bring us all toward sexual wholeness. With Jesus in the center, a church community can focus on being a safe space where all are welcomed and nobody’s sexual behaviors are automatically affirmed. The community would hold that we are all loved, we are all broken and “limping toward Heaven”, and we are all in the process of being renewed and transformed. The path will look different for everyone but the Guide is the same. [Side Note:  I would like more clarification about the place of boundaries in the church.  1 Corinthians 5 is an ad hoc example where someone in the community has violated a sexual more by sleeping with his father’s wife. Paul commands the church to exclude the brother from fellowship until he repents. I am not suggesting that this example is analogous to homosexuality today. But this passage does suggest that even though there is sin and brokenness in the church, it matters that the people of God reflect God’s holiness in the world. It suggests to me that there are boundary markers that would warrant communal intervention and discipline for the purpose of restoration.]

Hirsh accepts that a significant minority of people will love and seek love out of a homosexual identity, orientation, and/or behavior. This should not shock or scandalize us. Hirsch calls the church to remove the stigma of homosexuality and embrace those who are LGBTQ as people made in the image of God, with respect and dignity. “Embracing is not condoning.”[3]

After reading Redeeming Sex I am intrigued by the possibility of a community where a porn-addicted heterosexual, a same-sex attracted celibate, and someone in a same-sex marriage could share a space of trust, vulnerability, and commitment to one another, submitting personal agendas in the presence of Christ open to the possibility of mutual transformation. In my skepticism, I wonder why anyone who is gay would trust a group of people that do not affirm homosexuality upfront. Perhaps an intermediate step would be for an evangelical church and a mainline church to commit to ongoing times of prayer, worship, breaking bread, and hearing one another’s stories around sexuality.

We have work to do and the work is not to fight back against Supreme Court rulings or disparage those who disagree with us.

The work is to humble ourselves, to respectfully listen to other people’s stories that are different than our own, and to trust in the presence of Christ to bring each of us further into his Kingdom.

[1] P.120.

[2] p.118.

[3] p.146.

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