06 August 2005

reading notes: Real Sex

I've just finished Lauren Winner's most recent book, Real Sex: The Naked Truth about Chastity. Her writing style is as accessible as in her other books (Girl Meets God, Mudhouse Sabbath).

Winner properly located the relationship of singleness and marriage within the Church. It often seems that the Church focuses on those who are married to the exclusion of those who are single. Winner's point that both married and single Christians have wisdom to offer the Church is important, because it redresses this imbalance.

Wisdom Bits:
  • "No matter how clearly we see ourselves and our fiances, marriage will prove difficult. We will both change. We will argue and feel broken, and wonder why we ever married in the first place -- and it is God who will sustain us in those spells."
  • "This is how sin works: it whispers to us about the goodness of something not good. It makes distortions feel good."
  • "[Society] has defined sex as something unsustainable -- bodice-ripping, stupefying, and nightly." (She goes on to point out that sex can be enriching and fulfilling in the habitual, the routine, and regularity of life. It doesn't always have to be mind-blowing to be good for us.)
Although she doesn't address other questions of sexuality and ethics, her reliance and, indeed, emphasis on the Genesis account in support of marital sex suggests to me that homosexuality, even of the married/covenanted kind, does not fit within her paradigm of sanctified and licit sexual relationships.

Which leads me to the central question that remains: Is the line that Winner draws between illicit/nonmarital and licit/marital sex as clear and well-defined as she would have us believe? Can a relationship outside of marriage vows but functioning as a covenanted equivalent of marriage be licit?

As Paul wrote:
19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
If a relationship manifests the fruit of the Spirit, that is, if it is characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control: is this relationship not a representation of the life to which Christ has called all of us? If marriage is to reveal "God's love actualized among God's people," then can relationships that manifest the fruit of the Spirit also reveal the love of God?

Winner's book is thought provoking and often insightful, but she loses the distinction between promiscuity and other, potentially licit nonmarital sexual relationships that may exist. She has something important to say, but it neglects the grey areas that do exist and that are the most difficult to navigate.