Good Christian Sex, Bad Christian Teaching

Defending Premarital Sex Goes Mainstream

By Jeff Laird

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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."

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Published 8-29-16