Dec 9, 2014

What's Wrong with the Phrase, "God's Gift of Sexuality?"

By Anna Mussmann

Linda Bartlett has worked in the pro-life movement for years. Among other positions, she has served as the national president of Lutherans For Life and as chairman of the LCMS Sanctity of Life Task Force. As a pro-life leader; a mentor of young women; an instrumental participant in the launch of Word of Hope, a post-abortion ministry; and a parent, she has come to believe that the foundational philosophical approach behind modern sex education is in utter conflict with Scripture. This month, I read her book, The Failure of Sex Education in the Church: Mistaken Identity, Compromised Purity: Questions and Answers for Christian Dialogue.

Initially, I found myself somewhat resistant to her message. Two issues distracted me. One was my own background. After growing up in a homeschooling community that included a large number of fundamentalist families who tried to “ensure” their children’s purity by rejecting the world entirely, I have seen overly-controlling parents and overly-sheltered (adult) children. There was no outward immodesty, no dating, and no “sex education” in these households. I remember one woman whose son wanted to become a doctor. She would not agree to his going to medical school because there is “so much nudity” there, and she hoped that he could find a nude-free, apprenticeship route to medical training with a Christian physician. These families sought protection from sin through ignorance, and their legalistic attempts did not usually work out as they hoped. Because of all this, I was hesitant when Mrs. Bartlett argued that children ought not to receive “sex education.” I even shied away from her use of the word “purity.” After all, we and our children are all sinners. How can we be “pure?” However, as I completed the book, I came to realize that what Mrs. Bartlett advocates is different from the errors I saw growing up. Mrs. Bartlett’s arguments are insightful, thoughtful, counter-cultural, and deeply important to parents and to the church as a whole. Her writing is well-worth your consideration.

She argues that the modern understanding of sexuality (itself a loaded modern term) is the result of “sexual social engineering” based upon the discredited and deeply flawed research (some of it involving shocking child abuse) of sexologist Alfred Charles Kinsey. Due to Kinsey and his followers, the world has accepted the idea that human beings are “sexual from birth” and that sexuality (as opposed to sex, in the sense of being male or female) is key to each person’s identity. Believing that these arguments (and all that they imply) were proven science, the church changed its approach to sex, sexuality, and human identity and sought to provide a Christian version of the same flawed sex education that became universal in the public sector. This, Mrs. Bartlett says, was a well-meant but tragic mistake.

She points out that, while God created humans as male and female, Jesus also said that there is no marriage or giving in marriage in heaven. We know that we will not lose our humanity or our identity in heaven. Therefore, our “sexuality” is not essential to our humanity and identity. When we focus only on our sexual identity instead of our identity as a man or a woman, we lose out on the broader picture of who we are. She says, “We are fully human—male or female—whether we are a child or an adult, whether we are married or single,” and that, “To accept that children are human beings and therefore sexual beings is to accept wrong teaching that leads to wrong practice. It bestows a mistaken identity that compromises faith and purity.”

When Christian parents and Christian teachers believe that their children are sexual beings, they teach the wrong things at the wrong time. Instead of focusing on teaching children what it means to live out the vocation of man or a woman in the broad sense (and providing appropriate sexual information in one-on-one conversations at appropriate times), sex is overemphasized. Children are placed in mixed-gender classrooms away from their parents and told how to have sex, how to prevent physical side-effects of sex, that sex is wonderful, and that they will no doubt think about it a great deal and want to have it, but that they must wait for marriage. Twelve years of sex education, added to an oversexed culture, is unhealthy. She argues that this approach is more likely to stir up lust and inappropriate desire than to help young people relate to each other in a Christian manner. It is like surrounding them with wonderful-looking candy and saying that they must not eat it!

She also argues that children and young people’s natural delicacy and modesty about such topics is a good, healthy, and protective thing. “Christians should know that due to sin’s corruption, having sexual information is not sufficient to make good sexual decisions.” A system designed to desensitize them (even if well-meaning and based on the assumption that they are already hardened to sensuality and sexuality because of the culture they live in) does no one any favors at all, and is in fact harmful—it can “actually weaken the child’s resistance to sexual temptation.”

Furthermore, if Christians accept the idea that their primary identity is that of a sexual being, it become far more “excusable” for them to engage in sex outside of marriage and even to have abortions. How can they be expected to live chaste lives if that is contrary to their nature? How could anyone believe that they can really wait years and years to engage in an essential aspect of their humanity? After all, “If we are ‘sexual from birth,’ then one may believe that his current lusts and desires were created that way by God, rather than being horribly corrupted by sin. If people believe their current desires are God-given, it would follow that no one has the right to tell them how to define or express their ‘sexuality’.” Because of this, she objects to the term “God’s gift of sexuality” because it leads to misguided emphasis. If instead we talk and teach about “God’s design for sexuality,” the emphasis is far more Biblical.

Opponents of Mrs. Bartlett’s view would probably claim that her approach will lead children to think that sexuality is shameful. However, she quotes C.S. Lewis’s comment that, “There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips.” She wants to teach a positive, active approach to life, and says,

“Abstinence says, ‘I must wait for sex until marriage.’ Purity says, “I don’t have to wait to be the woman (or man) God created me to be.’ Abstinence says, ‘Because we are sexual beings, I must be cautious with the opposite sex.’ Purity says, ‘Because we are persons more than sexual beings, I can respect, talk to, learn from, work beside, and be patient with the opposite sex.’ …. Purity always journeys toward hope with the encouragement of the Holy Spirit. In fact, because of Jesus Christ, we can be restored to a life of purity even after we’ve failed to abstain.”

Mrs. Bartlett provides a great deal to think about. It took me a while to realize that her approach was not the legalistic one that I have witnessed among some critics of the modern world, in part because her text is composed of (often overlapping) questions and answers, so it felt more like reading material from an online forum than a traditional book, and it took me some time to grasp the overall context of her ideas. She fully recognizes the sinful nature of humanity and the need to provide children with appropriate information at appropriate times. Yet she challenges the church to completely rethink the way we approach sex education and human identity. I find it fascinating that even though most Christians would agree that our culture is over-sexualized, many people respond with alarm to the idea that children should be taught less about sex. We are much more attuned to the danger of insufficient than of over-abundant information on this topic. Mrs. Bartlett’s book offers an explanation for why that is, and suggests an alternative model that could be used to train our children.


***



Anna writes as often as she can, although sometimes it is with only one hand because her baby son requires the other. After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin she taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania. Anna's personal blog is Don't Forget the Avocados.



4 comments:

  1. Thanks for the review, Anna. My own experience, too, with the "purity/abstinence" crowd is they do play by the oversexualized culture's playbook and by its terms, without even knowing it, by reading everything through the sex and temptation lens.

    The easiest way for parents to ease their children into adolescence is to be frank and natural about anatomy from the time they are toddlers, show physical affection openly as husband and wife, and not make the topic of sex weird--either by overemphasizing it, or ignoring it until your kids are 13. Having lots of siblings of varying ages and sexes helps these conversations arise naturally. (Living on a farm helps, too, but we don't all get that luxury). I can't think of anything more painful and awkward and (frankly) unsexy than sex talked about in a classroom.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Katy, Yes, I think that both mainstream culture and some of the reactionary, ultra-conservative crowd make genuine friendship and helpful service to each other impossible between the sexes.

      The balance between matter-of-fact frankness and modesty/respect for sex looks different in different families, I think. Sex is both something special and also something that is part of everyday life. Exactly how parents communicate that probably depends to some degree on personality.

      Delete
    2. I agree 100%, which is why it's so important for families to responsible for teaching their own children. How and when will vary from household to household (and maybe even from child to child within one household).

      (Also, my kids are all under 8, so I'm no expert! Lots of uncharted territory...)

      Delete
  2. Thanks for the review Anna. I've been wanting to read this one.

    ReplyDelete

Please note: Comments are moderated and will appear on the blog once we've had a chance to approve them.

Thanks for joining the conversation!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...