Good Christian Sex, Bad Christian Teaching

Defending Premarital Sex Goes Mainstream

By Jeff Laird

The Washington Post recently published an excerpt from a book titled Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn't the Only Option — and Other Things the Bible Says About Sex, by Bromleigh McCleneghan, a "pastor" in the United Church of Christ. Her contention is that Christians need not refrain from having premarital sex. In fact, to hear her tell it, denying yourself sexual pleasure prior to marriage is a damaging, unfortunate choice.

It's even a "disservice to God." No, really, McCleneghan actually says that.

She should have titled her book Why Reason Isn't the Only Option — and Other Things We'd Like to Make the Bible Say. That would at least have set a candid tone for her approach. Which, as one would expect, is entirely based on feely, flowery pop-babble and not one single shred of Scripture. This is becoming old hat for the UCC, whose motto of "God is still speaking" more and more seems to mean, "God's word never means anything other than what we want it to."

In this line of work, I encounter a fair amount of weak reasoning. Some of that is pro-faith, or pro-Christianity, some is not. Some is slightly flawed, some is awful. And then, from time to time, I come across something so profoundly asinine that it literally makes my head hurt. Something so absurd and intellectually perverse that it's hard to believe the author is serious. Something like this excerpt from McCleneghan's book, and the line of reasoning it puts forward.

Normally, I'd prefer to leave such dreck to rot in obscurity, rather than call undue attention to it. But what McCleneghan is doing perfectly exemplifies the modern era of so-called-Christianity. Words are re-defined to allow for whatever sins people want to commit, Biblical passages are ignored, and the entire history of Judeo-Christianity is sneered at as irrelevant "tradition."

So, it's at least worth pointing out — to those who still care about truth — just how obnoxiously insipid some self-styled Christian leaders have become in their argumentation. This is 2 Peter chapter 2, Romans 1:2122, 2 Timothy 3:17 type stuff, here.

How, you may ask, does one attempt to argue that premarital sex isn't a sin, without merely saying, "Who cares what the Bible thinks?" By taking a page from the George Orwell Handbook of Theology. First, define words to mean whatever you want them to mean, instead of what they actually mean. Second, accuse the opposition of doing whatever it is you yourself are doing.

Here are some of the low-lights from the published excerpt. First, we see the attempt to re-define words McCleneghan doesn't like:
As fully human, fully sexual, fully incarnate beings, who just happen not to be with anybody, single Christians can yet do good, saving work in the world.
Fine, more or less, except that in her estimation, "fully sexual" means actively partaking in sex, which we have both the right and a need for — a point McCleneghan will overtly make later in the excerpt.
Singles can yet have intimate relationships. No one need be defined by relationship status, or remake themselves to fit into existing social structures and roles. We can be like Jesus. Maybe celibate, maybe not. It's really no one's business but ours and God's.
This idea of "being defined" seems to come up a lot in her discussion. As McCleneghan is using it, this means "letting anything but your feelings define what you should do." It certainly never seems to occur to her that when something is between us and God, His opinion ought to matter more than ours.
Part of figuring out how to live into the creative life of God is figuring out how to live into being yourself, and choosing the spiritual practices and disciplines that support your own discipleship.
Once you get past the psychobabble of "living into being yourself," catch a crucial point: according to Bromleigh McCleneghan, you need to choose whatever supports your own opinions on the Christian life. That's not an unfair characterization, because the excerpt continues by saying...
One of the most unfair things the Christian tradition has foisted on singles is the expectation that they would remain celibate — that is, refraining from sexual relationships.
Ahh, so the last 4 to 5 millennia of Judeo-Christianity, and the 2,000-plus years of the New Testament church have merely been foisting an unfair "tradition" of premarital celibacy on all of these poor, suffering singles. I see. Once again, this fits the postmodern approach to religion perfectly. Enlightened souls like Bromleigh McCleneghan grasp these ideas in way that unwashed rubes like Moses and Paul simply did not. I mean, Paul actually told people that it was better to marry than to have premarital sex (1 Corinthians 7:9)! What a Neanderthal.

Finally, the reformation of meaning is complete, as McCleneghan provides her definition of what "chastity" means: "sex both partners like." No, really.
I'd argue that we can be chaste — faithful — in unmarried sexual relationships if we exercise restraint: if we refrain from having sex that isn't mutually pleasurable and affirming, that doesn't respect the autonomy and sacred worth of ourselves and our partners.
What a joke. "Respect[ing] the autonomy and sacred worth" of another person is exactly the opposite of what premarital sex entails. Those who respect sacred worth are those who are willing to show that respect by restraint. Once again, this isn't rational thought, it's postmodern gobbledygook. Her approach is as sensible as saying "It's not idolatry as long as I'm respectful to God when I'm sacrificing animals to Baal." At this point, McCleneghan's argumentation transitions into phase two of Orwell's approach: the ricochet. Her approach is rooted in exactly one thing: conforming to the sexual appetites of the modern world. We like casual premarital sex, so she's going to find a way to justify it. And yet, at the same time, she'll attempt to say, with a straight (literary) face, that to not indulge in modern sexual sensibilities is illicit conformity! After all, we need it:
There are those who feel that they are called to seasons of celibacy, or even years of celibacy, and if answering that call is life-giving and purposeful, then they should take it up as a spiritual discipline. But no call can be forced on an unwilling person, especially not if they find themselves single only by virtue of circumstance.
I'd love to know how, in Bromleigh McCleneghan's estimation, only those "called" to avoid certain sins need worry about them. Also, note how she tries to sever sex from its intended purpose and turn it into a life necessity:
Plenty of women and men love sex, and need it — we need bodily pleasure, remember — and the abundant life for them will involve seeking out relationships of mutual pleasure. Chastity, or just sex, requires that whether we are married or unmarried, our sex lives restrain our egos, restrain our desire for physical pleasure when pursuing it would bring harm to self or other.
In case you got dizzy reading that, let's rephrase it: your sexual passions should be used in restraint, by not restraining yourself. But wait, there's more!
We're called to see ourselves this way: beloved, no matter (or perhaps because of) our refusal to conform to society's expectations about sex, love and relationships.
So, the "Christian" way to handle sex, according to Bromleigh McCleneghan, is to refuse to "conform to society's expectations" on sex. Which, as we've seen, to her, means rejecting celibacy.

That makes sense, right? Every time I turn on the TV, internet, or radio, I'm just getting pummeled by a pervasive abstinence-only culture. "True love waits" is just oozing out of every pore of our society. Music awards shows have turned into two-hour commercials for purity rings and wedding planners. It's like the modern world has some deep hatred for casual sex, amiright? By golly, what we Christians need to do is stand firm against this modern oppression! We shouldn't be conformed, we should be free to sleep with whoever we want and whenever we want!

I could go on and on, but the point should be clear. Anyone putting forward the kind of argumentation used in this book excerpt needs to grow up and get serious. Speaking of which, the nail in McCleneghan's coffin of spiritual integrity comes here:
Straight, gay, bi, trans, intersex: we are beloved, and do God and ourselves a disservice if we are conformed.
There's the obligatory modern code-speech for the progressive, anti-Biblical attitude towards sex. So much for 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Apparently, those who don't do whatever — or whoever — they feel are not merely mistaken; they're sinning by doing a disservice to God. Read that sentence again, and consider just how brain-meltingly ridiculous it is. This book isn't just silly and anti-intellectual, it's almost blatant

That, remember, is the second Orwellian step: when you go to war, talk about peace. When you oppress, call it freedom. When you torture and murder, call it love. And, when you want to indulge in premarital sex, instead of conforming to the will of God, claim fornication as your way of not being conformed to the world; something Jesus would have approved of!

One has to wonder what McCleneghan thinks of "conformity" through overcoming temptation and sin, like the above reference to 1 Corinthians. I can only imagine, since the only thing she is not willing to conform to is the will and Word of God!

Then again, my scriptural justification for reserving sex until marriage is only based on Romans 12:2, Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:7, Acts 15:20, 1 Corinthians 5:1, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, 1 Corinthians 7:2, 1 Corinthians 10:8, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:19, Ephesians 5:3, Colossians 3:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Jude 7, Hebrews 13:4, nearly five millennia of Judeo-Christian teachings, and probably a few more passages my conformity-riddled mind can't recall right now.

Sadly, McCleneghan's path is exemplary of how the world handles the Word. It's not limited to sex, of course. Humanity will do whatever it takes to get away from God. I'm not surprised that this happens, and I can't even say I'm shocked to see it in people who claim to be spiritual leaders. I am, however, stunned at how blatant so-called-Christian leaders have become in perverting truth in order to get along with the world.

Please pass the Tylenol.

Published 8-29-16