Sex and the Church: Gender, Homosexuality, and the Transformation of Christian Ethics

By Kathy Rudy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SIX
Toward a Progressive Sexual Ethic

It is a story familiar to all of us. Two people -- a man and a woman -- are given paradise, the garden of Eden, and told that the pleasures and riches of this kingdom are theirs forever as long as they do not eat the fruit of one tree -- the tree of knowledge. In the interpretation that most of us today have received, eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge means doing something sexual. Adam and Eve, with the help of the serpent, eat the apple and suddenly, mysteriously, sexual activity becomes intrinsically suspect. They no longer wander about the garden happily unclothed but hide their nakedness from God and each other. As a result of their sin we, too, learn that we should not understand our own sexual appetites as good, but rather as dangerous impulses that must be curtailed. The apple has become a symbol for us of the depravity of our own flesh. Most of our ideas about sexual ethics are designed to stave off evil and ensure that when and if we have sex, we're doing so for the right reasons.

In the last chapter, I argued that in the present way we speak of sexual morality, sex has nothing to do with God. But in fact, from a broader perspective, sex has everything to do with God. That is, Christian ethicists, moral theologians, and religious leaders throughout the ages have spent an enormous amount of time and energy thinking about when sex can be considered moral and when it cannot. While this preoccupation with sexuality has produced many detailed rules regarding acceptable Christian sexual conduct, it has also served as the foundation for persecution of difference within the church. In this final chapter, I examine existing systems of sexual ethics and the thinking about sexuality that lies behind them. Although some of the church's teachings have led to the disestablishment of women and gays, others offer momentous insights about when and how our sexual activity is pleasing to God. This chapter sifts through the tradition, retaining what is helpful in constructing a sexual ethic focused on God and jettisoning those things designed primarily to keep sexual and gender identities in outdated, oppressive hierarchies.

I suggested in chapter 1 that for many liberal Christians, issues of sexual preference fall under the umbrella of tolerance. Although the philosophical concept of tolerance has often helped curtail a great deal of human strife and suffering, it is not it

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