Evangelicals and the Marriage Bed
Evangelical Christianity seems to be harboring two conflicting approaches to sex, which might be called the spirit approach and the flesh approach. The spirit approach refers to the Evangelicals who are questioning the nearly universal embrace of contraception that occurred after the 1930 Lambeth conference. According to Dr. Albert Mohler, young Evangelicals “are doing their very best to rethink the basic questions and, in doing so, they are embarrassed by the easy, rather unreflective embrace of the contraception culture that marked evangelicalism in the 1960s and ’70s. So they want to rethink all this.”And then there is also the small but growing “quiverfull” movement which completely rejects all contraception and family planning (including NFP) and aims at producing large godly families.
On the other hand there is the “flesh” approach, which refers to the disturbing trend among some evangelical pastors, in the name of correcting a lack of information about sex, of embracing a slightly modified version of the sexual revolution. This approach can be summed up as “don’t lust, except for your spouse.” Anything goes as long as you are heterosexual, married, and monogamous. A mainstream media series called America Unzipped did a profile of one such pastor, Joe Beam. Beam is a “sex expert” studying “sexology” in Australia. He gives his eager audience of evangelical Christians sexual advice that is too shameful to describe.
Playing with Fire
Suffice it to say that it would sound no different than sex advice from a call-in show on MTV or from Planned Parenthood, the only difference being a few token biblical boundaries. Joe Beam insists he is a “Bible-only” Christian, which in this case means that if it’s not in the Bible, then it is OK. He would forbid homosexuality because Leviticus says so, while simultaneously blessing sodomy among married couples, provided “it doesn’t hurt the body.”
This pharisaic approach to the Bible illustrates why—as Pope Benedict reminded us in Regensburg—religion can not dispense with reason. These “Bible-only” Christians use the Bible like a collection of whimsical rules existing in a void, unrelated to each other, unrelated to anything. They throw around words like “purity” and “lust” while reducing them to empty syllables.
Furthermore, the message of Joe Beam and other preachers—that Christians ought to be having more and “hotter” sex—is the sentiment of an addict. Sex is not hot, it’s holy. It is a dangerous and awesome power that no couple dares approach without fear and trembling. We should learn from Tobit on his knees praying that he would not take his wife in lust, but in truth.
But when you have embraced contraception, sex does not have a truth. One can’t find a meaning in it, and you end up hearing lame statements like: “sex is supposed to be fun.” The marriage bed is not an amusement park. When people play with sex they are playing with fire, a fire that—as the people of Sodom and Gomorrah would learn—comes from heaven and can burn you to ashes.
A Sacramental View of Sex and the Body
While some Christians act as though sex has nothing to do with Christian life, others err in the opposite direction by celebrating the goodness of sex without any real concept of chastity, biblical or otherwise. As Catholics we do have this treasure and should continue applying it to the nuts and bolts of the marriage relationship. If sex is a language, the body is its grammar. The nature of Pope John Paul’s theology of the body demands a thorough exploration into both the spiritual and physical side of the conjugal relationship. It’s not only the sacraments where “matter” matters. This same sacramental perspective differentiates the Catholic from the secular, and also often from the evangelical, view of marital sexuality.
It is precisely because the body does have a symbolic dimension that it can’t be ignored, if those living the sacrament of marriage are to integrate their sexual relationship and their faith. The secular view, which denies any transcendent meaning, reduces sex to pure biology. Under this view sex is “great” merely by being physiologically complete. On the other hand, no couple automatically experiences what God intended for the marriage bed simply by getting married. Perhaps some day there will be new ministries carried out by and for those living the sacrament of marriage. “Liturgists” of the marriage bed, who could illuminate the conditions for achieving that “full and active participation” in the bedroom.
At present, Catholics are likely getting information from poisoned wells, from sources that don’t subscribe to the idea that “the human dimension of sexuality is inseparable from the theological dimension.” (Ratzinger). May we continue down the path started by Karol Wojtyla in his book Love and Responsibility – there could be no better start for a truly Catholic marriage manual.
Taken from a lovely blog I stumbled upon