Jessie’s knuckles were now bleeding. So far, mother had hit the back of each hand a dozen times with the wooden spoon, and didn’t look like she was going to stop. Jessie was sobbing quietly, because she knew her mother would be more violent if she protested.
Eventually, after another few hits, she stomped out of the room and left Jessie to deal with her pain.
Jessie’s mother had come into her bedroom late one evening and discovered her masturbating. This had happened a year before and that time she had publicly shamed her before the pastor and his wife. This time, she decided her 15 year old daughter needed a stronger lesson.
Jessie reported these events to me during trauma therapy 20 years later. Through Internal Family Systems therapy, I had helped her stay in Self and not blend with the younger self in this memory. As a result, she was able to help 15 year old Jessie to feel better about life. She invited her to notice how she lived her life in the present day. She showed her that she was able to have the sex she wanted, that she had cut her parents out of her life, and she was feeling confident.
Back in teen years, her preachers and parents had peppered her with predictions of great destruction if she ever embraced her own sexuality. By the time we were in therapy together, Jessie was no longer married and was as sexually active as she wanted to be. She had not gotten an STI, been pregnant, or had mental illness.
The main emotional struggles she faced surrounded her strict upbringing in Purity Culture.
She asked me at one point: “Mike, I know you used to be a preacher. Why is Christianity so negative toward sex?”
At the time, I was only sure it had a lot to do with patriarchal culture. But in the years since, I have learned a lot more.
There actually is an historical reason that Christianity adopted a very strict moral viewpoint toward sexuality. It has everything to do with fear.
If you want a much deeper look at this and other issues regarding early Christianity and Sexuality, read this lengthy article I wrote earlier this year.
In this summary, I’m going to rely on the work of William Loader. Specifically, I am going to draw upon the historical evidence in his book “Sexuality and the Jesus Tradition” and his landmark article, “Not as the Gentiles”: Sexual Issues at the Interface between Judaism and Its Greco-Roman World“.
After the Jews returned from captivity around the ancient near east, they re-settled in Jerusalem and the surrounding area and rebuilt the temple. This is known as the Second Temple Era. For the next 400 years, the Jews faced pressure from an ever-changing landscape of nations wanting to conquer them.
The Greek armies under Antiochus Epiphanes finally did just that.
When the Greeks conquered Jerusalem and the Second Temple, they instituted new laws forbidding Jewish men from practicing circumcision, reading the scriptures, or worshiping in the temple. They also practiced a much different set of sexual standards, which included homosexuality in public bathhouses and gymnasiums, freer access to sex workers, use of young boys for sex (catamites), and an open policy on having sex with slaves in public places.
In short, the Greek conquerors exploded the Jewish male’s understanding of what was allowed sexually. When the Maccabees were successful in chasing the Greeks out of Israel during the revolt, a backlash started against all the Greek sexual practices. As I write about in the paper mentioned above, the Jewish religious leaders hated the incursion of Greek ideas about sexuality into the lives of the average Jewish male.
What was the concern about sexuality centered on? Why were they so afraid of allowing any Greek sexual practices to become part of their culture?
After the Jews returned from captivity to Jerusalem, they began to wonder: “Why did our god allow this to happen to us? Why did we go from such a free-spirited, powerful nation to become a nation that other nations trod upon?
The answer they came up with emerged from many sources. But the general gist is that they had not kept themselves pure. Because they were seen as impure, their god abandoned them to slavery and captivity. If they wanted to avoid being judged by their god again, they wanted to purify themselves. But that meant they had to figure out what purity meant.
One prophet said one thing–another prophet had another theory. But they all focused on the concept of syncretism. This is the practice of allowing the behaviors of other nations/cultures to become part of your own. The Hebrew word for “holiness” has the twin ideas of being pure and being unmixed with the practices of other nations.
Several religious sects formed to combat the slide into syncretism. The Pharisees began to emphasize the importance of following all of the rules of the Torah. By this, they hoped to garner their god’s favor and eliminate all Greek influences. The Saducees decided the way to approach this was to gain political power and enact laws and regulations to prevent any foreigner from influencing their nation. In this, they seized control of the dominant political structure.
Finally, a third group emerged, more home-spun and rural. It was known as the Essenes. This movement had a grass-roots appeal and it reached into the sensibilities of most Jewish families. Even Jewish communities as far-flung as the North African city of Alexandria were affected. We read the Jewish historian Philo and we can see the Essene influence in their lives.
Essentially, the Essenes believed that the wrong practice of sexuality is what caused god to be angry at them.
When Philo first begins to write about Jewish history, he has a very expansive view toward sexuality. He sees the legitimacy of men having sex with slaves, with sex workers, and even with foreign women. But over the years, as the sexual purity ideas of the Essenes caught hold of Jewish culture, he began to be more strict about what kinds of sex were legitimate.
By the end of his writing life, he recommended that Jewish men ONLY have sex for procreation. He considered a man having recreational sex with his wife to be akin to making her a prostitute. In this, he echoes the teachings of the Essenes.
The christian scriptures only makes a passing reference to this movement, and that is in the description of John the Baptist. He was the quintessential Essene male–and perhaps the most famous adherent to their approach to faith. He was unmarried, solitary, lived in poverty, and preached a message of repentance and moral purity. He was eventually killed by the king for criticizing the king’s sexual practices.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were collected in a place called Qumran and represented this community’s dedication to the Essene views. From these documents we learn that they believed the following about sex:
Sex was only to be practiced in marriage
Sex with foreigners was forbidden
Sex with another man’s slaves was forbidden
Masturbation was forbidden
Sex with one’s wife for any purpose other than procreation was discouraged
Sex with sex workers was forbidden.
Finally, the ultimate spiritual man was one who lived a celibate life. This was the highest ideal. Sex with a woman was considered an act that made a man impure. The book of Revelation reflects this attitude.
Many theologians, myself included, believe that not only John the Baptist was heavily influenced by the sexual mores of the Essenes, but also Jesus and the Apostle Paul. Paul’s viewpoints on sex and marriage in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7 reflect the party line of the Essenes.
Look at that list of names: Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul. These three represent the dominant leaders of the origins of the christian era. Add to this Peter, James, and John who were originally followers of John the Baptist and it is clear that even if they were not Essene members, they were sympathetic to the teachings of this group.
From the very start of Christianity, there was a repressive element to the faith. The first five centuries of the church reinforced this. By the end of the fifth century, most christian leaders considered celibacy to be the highest station regarding sexuality. In no wise were any christian leaders sex positive. There are occasional sex positive mentions in early christian writings, but these are almost completely from writers considered heterodox (heretical) by the early church.
In short, the early christians inherited their fear of judgment if people strayed from sexual purity. This was always fear-based. Repression is always more powerful when it is based on the fear of punishment. These are the roots of the christian approach to sexuality. They are the roots to the endemic sexual repression we see all over the church today.
In next week’s article in this series, we’ll look at what sexual repression does to a person and how it affects a person’s behavior.
Willa Cather was the world renowned author of “O Pioneers”. Edith Lewis was editor of several of New York’s better known publications. Over time, Lewis also edited all of Cather’s work. Eventually, the two of them moved in together. The world assumed they were two writers functioning as each other’s muses. In reality, though they hid this from many people, they were also lifelong lovers. But two became three. Later in life, they added socialite Isabelle McClung to their triad. The three of them traveled the world and reveled in their unique love for each other.
Virginia Wolfe was another famous author in love with another female writer, Vita Sackville-West. But this time, both women were married to men. Both couples had open marriages and both husbands approved of their relationship. In time, though Vita and Virgina did not have sex with each other’s husbands, a deep bond formed between the four of them. Eventually, they split up, which actually caused more pain for the husbands than the women.
Janeane Garofolo and Bradford Cord are much different people, one an actor and the other a singer. They are both asexual and very proud to be so. Though they have had many loves, each of them describes how they enjoy living as a person for whom sexual attraction has never been part of their lives. Because of this, both of them have met confusion and opposition from other people. In interviews, they both regret how their asexual status has closed doors for them in their professions and in life.
What do all of these famous people have in common? In essence, they have all bucked a belief system that almost all of us were given as a legacy. It’s called Amatonormativity. It’s a word you may not have heard before. Most people have not.
Amatonormativity is a word author Elizabeth Brake coined in her book “Minimizing Marriage; Marriage, Morality and the Law” to describe the widespread assumption that everyone is better off in an exclusive, romantic, long-term coupled relationship, and that everyone is seeking such a relationship.
There are so many implications of this for our modern world. Amatonormativity marginalizes so many groups of people: singles who want to stay single, asexuals, polyamorous, open relationships, triads and quad relationships, long-term nonsexual friendships, aromantic married people, divorced people, etc. In our American cultural setting, our laws are geared toward those who are in Amatornormative relationships.
Triads cannot have the same parental rights as couples.
Asexuals and single allosexuals are not afforded the same rights as renters compared to amatonormative couples.
Abiding friendships often must relinquish inheritance rights if adult children contest wills in court.
But beyond the legal stipulations against all these individuals, the culture itself looks down upon all people who do not buy into the idea that the ultimate goal in life is to find one person, fall in love, have children, and stay married until you die. Though most adults in our culture do NOT fit into this scenario, most movies, television shows, books, and songs have this concept as a bedrock belief.
In the 90s sitcom “Seinfeld”, the main characters were always quizzing each other on whether they had found “The one”. At times, they played around with other options, like never having kids, open relationships, remaining single. But they ultimately rejected all of those options. In one case regarding open relationships, Jerry remarks caustically,
“Don’t you know what it means to become an orgy guy? It changes everything. I’d have to dress different. I’d have to act different. I’d have to grow a mustache and get all kinds of robes and lotions and I’d need a new bedspread and new curtains I’d have to get thick carpeting and weirdo lighting. I’d have to get new friends. I’d have to get orgy friends.”
Joanne and Mick made out in the car at the drive-in every Friday and Saturday night. They made sure they were in all the same classes together. They ate lunch at the same time, in the same place, facing each other. They drove to school together and drove home together. They did homework together.
They shared every moment of their senior year of high school with each other.
And for some inexplicable reason, both of them resented all that time together. At the same time, they loved each other deeply and without reservation. This confused each of them so much–but their love blocked them from ever talking about it.
Mick decided to work longer hours at his after-school and weekend job. He told Jo that he had no choice, but he had volunteered to do it. Joanne had her own phone line in her bedroom–this was before the Internet age–and she chose to leave it off the hook more often in the evenings.
By the end of their Senior Year of high school, they saw each other less and less. This made Joanne sad and she started to put her phone back on the hook. This made Mick sad, so he told his boss he needed to work less hours so he could focus on end of the year exams.
By May, they were back to spending all their time together. It felt right and they were both happy to do it. But then again, in July, they both started to pull away. This went on until Mick went away to college and Jo got a job at a local food coop. They were still in the same town, but now their time was completely given over to post high school necessities. This made them all the more desperate to be together.
Finally, after months of yearning for each other, Mick proposed marriage. Joanne accepted.
Throughout the 44 years of married life, they have gone through many of these seasons of intimacy followed by isolation. In the numerous counseling sessions and marriage seminars they’ve attended, they have sought to figure out why they alternate between wanting to be with each other fanatically, and also wanting to isolate with the same amount of vigor.
Some day, I’d love to write an essay on the psychoanalyist, Erik Erikson. Even though he taught at Harvard, Yale, and Berkeley, his academic accomplishments consisted of a certificate from a Montessori school, and another certificate from the Vienna Psychoanalytic Institute. He earned no advanced degrees.
But his understanding of human nature and the human condition far surpassed most of his contemporaries.
His most significant contribution to psychology was his chart of the psychosocial development of the human being. He broke down the human condition as a learning process of eight parts. Each of these parts highlighted a different tension between two opposites:
Trust and Mistrust
Autonomy and Doubt
Initiative and Guilt
Industry and Inferiority
Identity and Confusion
Intimacy and Isolation
Generativity and Stagnation
Integrity and Despair.
I want to focus attention on his sixth stage of development: Intimacy and Isolation. He recognized that all of us have this growing need to be connected to others. In later years of the development of Psychology, Dr. William Glasser would identify Love and Belonging as the second most basic human need behind only Safety and Security. After Glasser, others would notice that our early years define how we will attach to others–or in some cases, seek not to attach.
This gave birth to the Attachment Styles movement.
But no one denies we have a need for others in our life. This is the Intimacy Stage in Psychosocial development. At the same time, as Jo and Mick discovered, there are so many things that can make this stage difficult. We may have been betrayed by intimate friends or family, lied to, abandoned, rejected any number of ways, abused, neglected, or marginalized. Individuals may do this to us or collective groups may hurt us.
In addition to this, most people try to control our lives either actively or passively, and this makes us afraid or aggressive toward them.
In addition, a lot of time spent with another person can invoke boredom and a sense of over-familiarity.
Therefore, along with the need for intimacy we also develop a need for isolation from others.
All of our life reflects this tension between wanting to be close to others and wanting distance and agency from others. Each person finds their own path to it. But the balance of both intimacy and isolation is not easy. The reason we struggle with this path is that too much emphasis in our society is placed on the supremacy of intimacy.
Psychologist Esther Perel notes that
“I see others who believe that Intimacy means knowing everything about each other. They abdicate any sense of Isolation, then are left wondering where the mystery has gone.”
Esther Perel, “Mating in Captivity”
This is the problem that has plagued Mick and Joanne for years. They have a pendulum swing toward total intimacy, but it leaves them without any autonomy. When they swing back to isolation, they lose a sense of closeness.
Within Christianity, the goal of monogamous marriage is stated this way: “That a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife. And the two of them shall become one flesh.” Many modern interpretations of “one flesh” teach that this one flesh concept applies to more than just bodies joining together sexually. The idea is that two people would be dyadic–which means they will find all of their emotional, sexual, and psychological needs met primarily through this person they married.
Since this ideal supposes that the couple will meet most, if not all, of their psychosocial needs through each other, isolation feels like failure. Even couples who take a break from sex, sleeping together, or even hanging out with each other are seen as “in trouble”.
But many couples find seasons of isolation from each other to be rejuvenating and restorative. This is not just true of people in long-term relationships, but can apply to friendships, family relationships, and even co-workers at job sites.
I have spent many hours with couples in crisis in my counseling practice. Though I don’t give this advice to many of them, I have suggested some pairings do in house separations where they do not spend much time together. Almost all of them found this period of time therapeutic.
Perel writes about this in “Mating in Captivity”. In working with one couple, she noted that the husband was doing so much care for his sick wife that they had lost the closeness seen in other elements of their relationship. Here is what she advised them:
“To John I said, “You are such a caregiver that you can no longer be a lover. We need to reestablish a degree of differentiation and re-create some of the distance you had in the beginning. It’s hard to experience desire when you’re weighted down by concern.”
In the next few months Beatrice did move out. In a remarkable turnaround she found her own apartment, sent in her application for a PhD program, took a trip with her friends, and started earning her own money. Gradually, as John became convinced that she had two feet to stand on, and as it became clear to Beatrice that she did not need to abdicate her own person to merit love, they created a space between them into which desire could flow more freely”
Excerpt From Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence
Not every couple needs that degree of separation. There are many reduced levels of isolation that can be helpful.
Here are a few:
Have one day every weekend where each person just does their own thing with no expectation of getting together and no need to account for what was done.
Adopt markedly different hobbies
See your own therapists, not for relationship work, but for personal growth and fulfillment
Take separate vacations occasionally.
Many people reading that will immediately think this is a recipe for people having affairs. But that fear is based on a false presupposition. Many affairs are chosen because a couple already feels isolated from each other. Rarely do affairs happen with people who feel too close to each other.
I worked with Jo and Mick on two occasions. Once when they had been married just over 30 years and the second time coming up on their 40th wedding anniversary. They both noted they felt over-enmeshed with each other’s lives and were becoming bored. During our discussion, Jo mentioned she had always wanted to take a three-month sabbatical. Her profession allowed for paid time off to do this, so she asked Mick what he thought.
He answered, “But I can’t take that amount of time off.”
“I know” she said.
“That’s why I want to do it.”
In the end, Mick agreed to her sabbatical and to the relative isolation from him this would bring.
During those sabbatical months, Jo did a lot of things that Mick was not included in. I met with them at the end of that time, and both of them told me it was so refreshing. It wasn’t so much that they didn’t see each other, but that they felt no pressure to spend time together. Several times, Jo went away for a weekend with friends or by herself. She went mountain biking and slept in a tent for three days without Mick.
He told her when she returned how impressed and turned on he was with her independence.
They are still going strong together at 44 years. Perhaps we do need a balance of intimacy and isolation in all our relationships.
Recently, a close friend and fellow writer asked about my latest writing projects. This person knew I had been writing an article on what the Bible has to say about unmarried people having sex. They also knew it was taking a long time.
I started to tell them it was almost done, but I stopped. I have started and restarted this article four times in the past 12 months. With each reboot, I do new research and approach it from a different angle. I joked to my friend that I now have enough research to write a book.
Even the primary question of the article is difficult: Does the Bible allow people who are not married to have sex? Do you think you know the answer? So did I. But four reboots have shown me how complicated the answer is.
First, the bible doesn’t have a definitive position on non-marital sexuality, no matter how many preachers and theologians say it does. Second, the sexual ethics of the cultures that produced the answers within the pages of the Bible are just as important as the question itself. Third, most of the discussion about the bible’s position on non-marital sexuality concerns the meaning of one particular word–Greek: Porneia–a word that is both ambiguous and culturally adaptable.
Finally, I aim to make this article relevant for those who profess faith and believe the Bible is without error, as well as those who do not believe the Bible is inerrant. Doing both is what makes it really difficult.
With all of those distinctions in mind, this article follows these parameters:
I will refer to the so-called “Old Testament” as the Hebrew Scriptures. The “New Testament” I will call the Christian Scriptures. I do this to distinguish them for the purposes of the cultures represented.
Though I am following some of the conventions of an academic research paper, I am keeping those conventions to a minimum. For instance, though I will cite every source I use, they will not be in footnotes, but rather in a separate document. The link to that document is here!
I use the word “non-marital sex” instead of “pre-marital sex” because not every unmarried person who has sex will get married, or even desires to.
I will not list all the scriptures where the word Porneia is mentioned. Rather, I will summarize the findings about those verses according to the three scholars I rely on for the meaning of this word.
I will not be addressing the issues surrounding the Jewish, Greek, and Christian views and practices regarding male-male homosexuality. I hope to address that in a later article.
So let’s begin our discussion with understanding how Jewish, Greek, and Christian cultural biases radically affect how we view sexuality from a biblical vantage point.
Patriarchy and Female Agency
As I said, I have enough background material on this subject to write an entire book. More than half of that research focuses on how sexuality was viewed in the Ancient Near East (ANE) during the centuries that people wrote the documents in the Christian and Hebrew scriptures. I don’t want to belabor the point, so allow me to condense it down to one proposition:
Women had no official social standing or agency to consent regarding their own sexuality.
The only thing a woman was expected to contribute to sexuality was a vulva which had never been penetrated sexually. Today, we refer to that as Virginity. The Hebrew language only had one word for “virgin” and that word only referred to women. There was no such thing as a male virgin. The issue of whether men had to abstain from sexual intercourse before marriage is not addressed in the bible.
Women could not choose their mate. That was done by a woman’s father or nearest male relative. Female slaves could be sexually violated by any man who owned them. (Glancy, “The Sexual Use of Slaves: A Response to Kyle Harper on Jewish and Christian Porneia”, page 216). Foreign women were not allowed to be married to Jewish men, but they could be made sex slaves (also known as concubines).
If a woman was raped in the city and did not scream, she would be held liable as an Adulteress. The Law allowed for her to be stoned to death (Deuteronomy 22:23-29). There is a story in the Hebrew scriptures of a man whose concubine was raped by many men. The slave’s owner retaliated by cutting her into parts and sending those parts to the various tribal leaders in Israel.
The point of that story was to show the slave owner’s outrage, not the ignominy of the crime against the woman.
Men had sex regularly outside of marriage in the bible. Women did not. Men took concubines. Women did not. Men could have multiple wives. Women could not have multiple husbands. So even though it is said that the Jews practiced polygamy, it was actually polygyny (multiple wives, not multiple husbands).
On these points, I am summarizing. No Jewish or Christian theologian would disagree with those conclusions.
In short, a woman had no say over her own sexuality. She had to sexually perform whenever her husband or owner wished it. This isa feature of the cultures who wrote the Christian and Hebrew scriptures.
After the Babylonian captivity, when the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple, the ideas about what was sexually allowed began to change. We will cover the most significant of those changes later in this article.
But no change was made to the sexual fortunes of a woman. She still had to be a virgin before marriage. She still had to meet the sexual needs of her husband, or he would be allowed to divorce her. She gained no sexual freedom. It was a world in which patriarchy prevailed among the Jews. And the Romans. And the Greeks. And eventually, the Christians.
These are all the cultures that wrote the Christian scriptures and the Hebrew scriptures.
These cultures showed contempt for women, afforded women no sexual agency, and practiced total male domination over women.
Therefore, everything written in the bible about sexuality is patriarchal, covertly and overtly misogynistic, viewing any female agency negatively.
The Shift of Sexual Ethics in Judaism
The first five books of the Hebrew scriptures are called the Torah. These books tell the story of the Jewish tradition and explain the development of the nation from its roots in Abraham. This is also where the roots of their sexual ethics began.
The Patriarch Abraham and his grandson Jacob had both wives and concubines. Concubines were slaves whose work roles included providing sex for the slave-owner. It would have been unlikely a later Jewish teacher would teach against sex with slaves or polygyny. If they had taught against either of these, they would have been criticizing their patriarchs. At no point were either polygyny or sex with slaves condemned in sexual ethics.
Many Hebrew scriptural sources give ample proof that though women were forbidden from having sex with anyone other than their marriage partner, the same was not true of men. We read about the lives of King David and King Solomon, and their sexual practices include multiple wives and sex slaves. The so-called harems of the Ancient Near East were just as prevalent in Jewish leadership as they are with Sumerian and Babylonian leaders.
Judaism did differ from other nations around them in a few areas. During the 1000 years of formation, the Jewish religion developed distinctive sexual ethics that clashed with the nations around them. This was part of the unique identity that their god Yahweh demanded of them.
In the Torah, the book of Leviticus, chapter 18 lays out the distinctive elements of this formational sexual ethic (Omanson, “How Does It Fit Together” page 419):
No incest of any kind
No marrying sisters
No sex during a woman’s menses
No male homosexuality
At the beginning and the end of chapter 18, the writer of Leviticus emphasizes that these rules are given to distinguish the Jewish men from the men of other tribes and cultures surrounding them. The land of Palestine has always been a small but strategic land bridge. Cultures constantly clashed and intermingled. It was clear from Leviticus that Yahweh did not want any intermingling with the practices of those cultures.
The sexual ethics of Leviticus were given to further distinguish Jewish men from men of other cultures. For example, in Leviticus 19, Yahweh instructs the men that they should not have sex with the sex slaves of other men. Nowhere in the Hebrew scriptures is sex with one’s own sex slaves disallowed. This was the purpose of a sex slave, and even Yahweh did not disallow this sexual act. (Glancy, page 217).
These sexual ethics remained in place for many centuries. But something changed when the nation of Israel began to be scattered by various conquerors. First the Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken into captivity for many hundreds of years. Then, the Southern Kingdom was conquered by Babylonian forces. Finally, during the reign of King Darius of the Persian Empire, the Jews were slowly allowed to return en masse to Jerusalem. Eventually, the temple which had been destroyed by the Babylonians was rebuilt.
During this era, Jewish sexual ethics began to shift. (Loader, “Not as the Gentiles”: Sexual Issues at the Interface between Judaism and Its Greco-Roman World” page 3). At this time, the priests and scribes, under the direction of Ezra, began compiling the books that make up the current Hebrew scriptures. As Loader remarks, the compilation of the documents of the Tanakh showed a shift to more restrictive sexual ethics.
First, the writings of the prophets compared the nation of Israel to a man who committed adultery with foreign gods. Therefore, the priests began teaching against marrying foreigners. This included having sex with foreigners. The purge against marrying foreigners associated with Nehemiah had this focus. The practice of having sex with a foreigner (also known as Exogamy), though tolerated for centuries, was now forbidden.
The prophets also wrote about Israel chasing after other gods as if one were going to a prostitute. In other words, Israel toyed with worshiping other gods much like men might have casual sex with sex workers. As a result, the teaching of the second temple era discouraged Jewish men from having sex with prostitutes. Up until then, sex with prostitutes was tacitly allowed, though sometimes ridiculed (see Proverbs, chapters 2-9 for examples).
Again, sex with household slaves and sex with multiple wives is allowed. There is some indication that unmarried men were not forbidden from having sex with sex workers, though this is disputed by some researchers. There is no written prohibition against it. The prophet Hosea is told to marry a prostitute. Later, he is told to buy her out of slavery and remarry her. We can assume then that these were not completely forbidden practices.
The longer the Jewish people followed Yahweh, the more restrictive the sexual practices gradually became. But then, suddenly, this change accelerated. This occurred because the Jewish culture came into contact with the Greek culture which had emerged as the world power.
The Greek Influence and the Late Second Temple Sexual Practices
I had several theology professors while working on my theology degree. Occasionally, they would address the period of time between the last book written in the Hebrew scriptures in the Protestant Christian Bible (Malachi) and the first book written in the Christian scriptures (either James or Galatians). This period of time is known as the Inter-testamental Period by Christian scholars.
The rest of the world knows it as history. The Jewish people know it as their history.
My mentor in those days was a professor who had doctorates in both history and church history. He scoffed at this demarcation of the testaments. He told me that there were many important documents written by the Jewish people after Malachi. He introduced me to the Maccabees, Jubilees, and 1 and 2 Enoch among others. Through those documents, I learned that Israel continued to adapt and change their code of ethics regarding sexuality among other practices.
I also realized that as a nation, the Jews went through a difficult, but significant transformation during those 400 years.
My mentor also encouraged me to read some of the Jewish historians of that period, specifically Philo and Josephus. They shed light on so many of the subjects discussed in the scriptures of the Christian church. And these documents certainly show us the progression of thought about sexuality both within and outside of marriage.
A considerable volume of scholarship has recently been devoted to tracing the understanding of the Jewish teachings on sexuality from the ancient patriarchal period, through the early days of the second temple, to the late Second Temple practice of Judaism.
Two of the most prominent christian names in this research on Jewish sexual ethics are Kyle Harper and William Loader. Since I am trying to simplify this paper for the non-academic readers, please refer to this appendix for more information on both men. Between the two of them, they have published the most significant papers and books we have regarding Jewish and Christian sexual ethics around the time of Jesus.
Both men are convinced that the Apostle Paul, Jesus, and the leaders of the early church were in general alignment with late Second Temple sexual ethics. So, to put the New Testament teaching on non-marital sex into perspective, allow me to trace the development of that particular ethic and show how it related to what we read in the Christian Scriptures.
As the Greeks conquered the Ancient Near East, they brought their distinct practices with them. These included their ethics involving sexuality. In some ways, they practiced the same sexual ethics as the Jewish people. The practice of incest was forbidden. This is evidenced in the Christian scriptures in 1 Corinthians 5 where Paul admonishes the man who was sleeping with his step-mother as doing “what even the heathens do not permit.” Adultery was similarly discouraged and frowned upon by many. But sex with slaves was very much in vogue with both cultures.
However, the Greeks were much more open to sexuality outside of marriage. Sex work was common, especially sex work connected to various temples devoted to goddesses. The Greeks also permitted young boys to be used sexually as catamites, and this brought the Jewish culture in sharp contrast with the Greeks. The practices of the Symposiums and Gymnasiums were heinous to the Late Second Temple Jews, who created rules outlawing good Jewish men from attending either.
Loader summarizes the Jewish attitude toward Greek culture this way:
Maintaining one’s Jewish identity in foreign cities was paramount for most and included closely knit settlement patterns, careful observance of rituals and laws that reinforced Jewish identity, such as the sabbath observance and food laws, and the rejection of what were perceived as the dangers to which they were exposed, including idolatry and what they saw as sexual immorality.
William Loader , “Not as the Gentiles”: Sexual Issues at the Interface between Judaism and Its Greco-Roman World” page 8
The crucial breaking point between the Jewish and Greek cultures happened when Antiochus IV of Greece conquered Jerusalem. He looted the temple, forbade Jews from possessing their own scriptures, and sacrificed a pig on the altar of the temple. Jewish men were ridiculed by the Greeks for being circumcised. These sacrileges caused many within Israel to rise up against him. The rebellion of the Jews against the Greeks is written about in the Maccabees.
The result was that the Jewish people sought to distance themselves from Greek culture completely. Sects within Judaism rose up devoted to complete separation from Greek culture. Many of their restrictions focused on dietary laws, laws concerning the Sabbath, and Exogamy. But among these growing restrictions were some focused on sexual practices.
In the Book of Jubilees, we see an entire leitmotiv of prohibitions on sexuality. Sex outside of marriage was seen as a “Greek” thing, and the Jewish man of good standing sought to stay pure.
Kyle Harper, remarking on the teachings in the Jubilees and The Damascus Document notes,
Fornication, here, is sex that falls outside of marriage according to the Jewish law, but the requirements of legitimate marriage are interpreted very restrictively. Fornication is said to include polygamy and remarriage after divorce (CD 4.12b–5.14a) Fornication also includes incest, specifically uncle–niece marriage. Fornication is thus deployed polemically to describe any sexual contact violating the law, even this rigorist sectarian interpretation of the law.”
Kyle Harper in “Porneia: The Making of a Christian Sexual Norm”, page 373
This is the critical part for our discussion on how the Christian scriptures deal with sexual ethics. By the time of the second century BCE, the Jewish religious leaders were reacting strongly against any sexuality outside of marriage, since they defined most sexual practices as reflections on debauched Greek culture.
Philo, writing from Alexandria, a place where the Jewish and Greek cultures both found strong representation, spent many pages calling on his Jewish brothers to be sexually set apart. He focuses on incest, homosexuality, intermarriage with foreigners, and adultery for special condemnation. But as Loader points out, the more he writes about sex, the more acts he wants to prohibit. His earlier writings condone prostitution for young men, but in later writings, he condemns it. Loader notes that in these later writings he encourages married men to only have sex with their wives for procreation and to “not treat them as harlots” (Loader, page 12). The implication is that he considered recreational sex to be a Greek focus and thus to be avoided.
The overall impression we find during the five centuries from the re-establishment of the Temple to the emergence of the Christian sect is that of increasing prohibition against sexual practices the Jews used to find acceptable. The only exception to this was that men were allowed to have sex with slaves living in their household.
Recent research by both Catherine Hezser and Jennifer Glancy have shown that sex with slaves was common in all the cultures of the Ancient Near East. Hezser says,
“Slaves were sexually exploited in both Jewish and Graeco-Roman society. The phenomenon that masters would sleep with and produce children with their slaves is taken for granted by both Jewish and Roman writers.”
Catherine Hezser “Jewish Slavery in Antiquity”, page 175.
As noted above, Glancy shows in her research that no Jewish writer in antiquity ever claims that having sex with one’s own slave is immoral. To our modern sensibility and ethics, this screams as a huge oversight and mistake. Yet, it was part of their ethical system of sexuality.
With all of these things as background, let’s now turn to the Christian scriptures specifically to see how the Jewish christians introduced sexual ethics to the fledgling church.
The Word Porneia as the Basis for Christian Sexual Ethics.
Now we come to the heart of the matter for discerning what the Christian scriptures have to say about non-marital sexuality. The only word used to describe non-marital sex is the Greek word Porneia, which is often translated immorality or sexual immorality. In the history of preaching on this word, the primary meaning given is that of non-marital intercourse.
Therefore, if we can understand what is meant by this word in light of the historical setting of the Jewish and Greek peoples, we can better discern the full gamut of early christian sexual ethics.
Bruce Malina, whose significant paper on Porneia is foundational to all the other studies on this word, has this critical observation about non-marital sex from a Jewish context:
Pre-betrothal, pre-marital, non-commercial sexual intercourse between man and woman is nowhere considered a moral crime in the Torah. Aside from the instance of Rabbi Eliezer, there is no evidence in traditional or contemporary usage of the word Pomeia that takes it to mean pre-betrothal, pre-marital, heterosexual intercourse of a non-cultic or non-commercial nature, i.e. what we call “fornication” today.
Bruce Malina, “Does Porneia Mean Fornication?, page 11”
This flies up against most modern understandings of the word. But as we will see from further investigation by other scholars, Malina’s statement holds to be true in all but one instance.
We start our investigation into the meaning of Porneia by looking at its most unusual occurrence. In Acts 15, the leaders of the early Jewish Church were meeting to decide how to deal with a rapid influx of Greek/Gentile christians into church meetings, primarily in Syrian Antioch. Many people felt these new converts should be circumcised. Contrary to modern beliefs about Christianity, they saw themselves as a Jewish sect. They did not perceive themselves as a different religion from Judaism.
It confused and infuriated many of them that these gentile believers did not consider themselves to be Jewish. Thus, they argued about whether these new converts should have their foreskins removed. If the same people had sought to become Jews, the men would have been required to be circumcised. It stood to reason to these Jewish followers of Christ that these new converts were asking to become Jews.
Paul, Barnabas and others in the church did not agree. A huge church fight ensued and it was all brought to the council of leaders in Jerusalem. In the end, we read this in Acts 15:19-21:
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
Acts 15:19-21 (NIV)
Here are the four requirements they laid upon them:
They needed to avoid food offered to other gods
They needed to abstain from sexual immorality (Greek: Porneia)
They needed to abstain from strangled animals
They needed to abstain from meat that still had the blood in it.
Three of these were dietary restrictions, and one was a moral imperative. Because of this strange combination, some scholars doubt the accuracy of this list. Westcott and Hort, compilers of one of the Greek manuscripts we use for translation, attributes it to one of the two major traditions of copyists, but not the other.
That means they do not think this list is what the original author of Acts actually wrote.
But for the sake of this discussion, we’ll assume this was the correct list.
A few things to note. First, this list is probably a summary of chapters 17 and 18 of Leviticus. One can assume from this that “immorality” is referring to all the sexual ethics of chapter 18 we discussed earlier and not non-marital sex. If that is the case, and both Loader and Harper believe it is, then this was a list of bottom line issues the Jews of that days had with the Greeks. Remember that Late Second Temple Judaism was being taught everywhere in synagogues and that sexual ethics and food restrictions were at the top of the list of things that made Jews angry about Greeks.
Therefore, this was a list of appeasement.
Apparently, Paul and his fellows were okay with this list. As long as it didn’t have any requirement for circumcision on the list, Paul was satisfied his work was done.
But what is this word Porneia referring to? How are we to understand it.
For this, I am indebted to two renowned scholars and their exhaustive work regarding this word. Bruce Malina (see the appendix for more information on this paper) traces all uses of this word throughout the literature of the Ancient Near East. Kyle Harper’s “Porneia: The Making of a Christian Sexual Norm” took the research of Malina and expanded on it with more recent discoveries from the Dead Sea Scrolls. And though these two wrote many years apart, they come to most of the same conclusions. In addition, I will note one very important contribution brought by German scholar Christiane Nord on how this word should be translated for modern languages.
Seeking to avoid turning this paper into a 200 page book, let me summarize the primary points of each of these scholars:
Malina on what Porneia means:
The word is used often to refer to spiritual idolatry. This is its most common use in Revelation
The Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures (The LXX) uses this word to translate the Hebrew word Zanah. This word often means adultery (this is how Jesus uses it),
Sex with a prostitute
Sex between men
Sex with another man’s slave
Incest. Malina believes this is the primary meaning. Paul uses it this way in 1 Corinthians 5 and probably several of the times he uses it in 1 Corinthians 6 and 7
It also refers to cultic sexual practices.
The Essene community (the community that preserved the Dead Sea Scrolls) believed it referred to all sexuality outside of marriage and used the word in that respect.
Marriage with a foreigner, ie. non-Jew.
Harper on what Porneia means:
Incest. Harper believes that most uses of Porneia in the LXX, the writings of the Late Second Temple Jewish writers and the writers of the Christian scripture books are referring to incestuous relationships
Sex with prostitutes, especially cultic prostitution.
Sex that is forbidden. He believed that many groups used the words to describe sex that their group did not agree with. He quotes Carolyn Osiek: ““To say that Porneia means “fornication” is circular, and the concept of illicit sex only begs the question of what is considered illicit.” (Harper, page 364). One of the most thoughtful contemporary interpreters of Christian sexuality has warned that “the precise meaning of porneia is simply uncertain given the lack of evidence we have” (page 365).
Any sex with a woman who is not an “honorable” woman. Harper indicates that women were categorized in two groups by Jews and Christians. The first group were the Eleutherai. This meant “women of integrity”. These included Jewish single women who had not had sex with a man and lived in their father’s household. The other group were women who were married to Jewish men, had been virgins when they married, and had never committed adultery. To have premarital or adulterous sex with an Eleurtherai was called Moicheia. And it was a violation of the covenant that the woman had with her father or her husband. It was NOT considered Porneia.
The second group of women were not Eleutherai. These are the foreigners, the prostitutes, and women who were household slaves. To have sex with the prostitutes and foreigners was what was considered Porneia. It all depended on a woman’s status.
Reiterating a point I have made a number of times, sex with a household slave was not considered wrong by any group.
Christiane Nord on translating Porneia:
Sexual intercourse or marriage with non-Jews
Now here is where Nord adds one more intriguing observation. She writes,
The Dictionary of Contemporary English (DCE 1978) defines fornication as “sexual relations outside marriage”, whereas Unzucht, the german word for Porneia, is a juridicial term referring to sexual practices sanctioned by the law (e.g. sodomy). While English readers may find St. Paul’s attitude rather old-fashioned, German readers would not see why they should take the appeal seriously: “Unzucht” is something we do not practice, we think it is immoral, and St. Paul is right to tell the Corinthians they should refrain from doing these dirty things. So contrary to St. Paul’s intention to make people change their ways of life, the translation may even cause the opposite reaction: readers feel they are fine as they are and need not worry because they actually avoid “Unzucht”
Nord in “Function plus Loyalty: Ethics in Professional Translation”, page 8
Nord is telling us that Porneia is simply the word used to denote sexual practices that are illegal by the definition of whatever culture or group is defining the term.
We seem to have taken a long time to get to the point, but it is substantial. All of the researchers into this word Porneia come to the same conclusion. It refers to incest, to sex with prostitutes, to spiritual adultery, and sex with outsiders.
Additionally, Harper summarizes that Porneia is sex with non-sanctioned women.
In my opinion, Nord summarizes it even more adequately. Porneia is the sum total of all the sexual expressions a particular group doesn’t permit. For all the cultures of that day, it meant incest. For the Jews, it included prostitution, but that only applied to the later Second Temple Jews. To the Essenes, it referred to all sex outside of marriage. For Philo, it was sex within marriage for any other reason beside procreation. (Harper, “Porneia” 373-374).
None of the cultures had a problem with men having sex with their household slaves. We have no evidence that was a problem for early christians either.
I worked for a number of years in bible translation work. It is never the goal of a translator to take a word in one language and find a single equivalent word in the other language. Many times, that is not possible. Every word is a picture, and one must be part of the culture that created the word and lived in that culture to fully understand what the picture means. Therefore, when we translate, we look for suitable pictures in the other culture even if it uses more words to translate it over.
The hardest cultures to do this with are cultures that are dead and have no living members of the culture to help us understand the meaning. When this happens, we rely on guesswork by reading what has been written by the people of those cultures. This is what we are doing in this paper. We are looking at what little is written on the sexual ethics of people we will never talk to.
In this discussion, we are hampered by some other things that are missing. They lived in realities and with segments of society we do not have today. For instance, slavery plays a major role in the sexual ethics of their day. We do not own any slaves today, let alone concubines. There is no way to draw parallels, and we would be foolish to try.
Even more significant is a group of women that exists now that didn’t exist back then. I am speaking of the single woman who has had sex but is not a prostitute. This is a category that the Jews and Christians at the turn of the first Millennium CE did not understand. Either a woman was married, single under her father’s control, or she was a prostitute. The Greek world had single women who had sex, but the Christian and Jewish world did not understand them and certainly would not have an ethical system prepared for them.
So, taking these differences into account, here are the implications I draw from this short study into the sexual ethics of the Scriptures.
1. Immorality means “sex that is illegal”
In the ancient world, many expressions of sexuality were illegal. Incest, adultery, and sex with another man’s slave were considered illegal by all cultures. The Jewish people also considered homosexuality, rape, sex with a foreigner, and sex with a sex worker illegal. The early church didn’t have much to add to that.
Can we live out that biblical concept today? In America, incest is illegal. So is sex with anyone under 18. Rape is illegal, regardless of the low percentage of men who are convicted of it. Sex with a sex worker is illegal, though there are some cases where this is not true. A sex worker can have sex in an erotic video and not be charged. Polygamy of any kind is also illegal.
Therefore, if a person wants to be biblical in their practice of sexuality, they will uphold the nation’s laws regarding sexual ethics.
In addition, certain religious groups also have sexual ethics they expect their members to live by. For some groups this includes all of the above laws plus abstaining from homosexuality, premarital sex, adultery, polyamory (sex with other partners while one is married, with full approval of one’s partner). Some groups even disapprove of sex outside of procreation. Regardless of what each group believes and teaches, if a person is a member of a religious group, to be biblical means to practice the way that group wants you to practice.
However, if one is not a member of a particular religious sect, the only restrictions laid upon them would be the ones that are laid on all citizens of the country.
2. Virginity is a meaningless concept today
By American law, we do not live in a society which gives different rights to men and women. Though men are treated much differently than women in practice, by law this should not be allowed. We live in a culture which recognizes that men and women are equal and all privileges and responsibilities of one should apply to the other.
In this, I apologize to people of other genders, since your rights have not been recognized by law as of this writing. But the principles I’m writing here apply to you as well.
There is no doubt that men and women in the Ancient Near East were seen differently in terms of sexual ethics. Men were not required to abstain from sex before marriage. Granted, the only women they could have sex with were sex workers and slaves, but this double standard did not apply in any way to women. We abhor the idea of categorizing women into clean and unclean categories. We abhor allowing men to do things we do not allow women to do. I conclude from this that as we move into a more expansive view of the application of scripture, that the idea a woman needs to be a virgin before marriage is meaningless.
Virginity in the ancient world was not primarily about sex anyway. It related to whether a husband could be sure his wife was the mother of those sons who would inherit his lands and property.
The biblical ethic of a woman having to be “more pure” than a man is not something we can ascribe to. And the opposite directive–requiring that men be virgins–is not something the scriptures support either. If a person wants to be biblical in their sexual ethic, then men and women have no reason to be virgins.
3. Slavery and Nonconsensual Sex are equivalent
Just as we eventually opposed slavery as a culture, even though the bible gives approval to it, so too we must stand against all nonconsensual sex. Our opposition to this kind of sex is built on the same reasons as we opposed slavery. Both slavery and nonconsensual sex are centered on taking away the right of a person to have agency over their own life.
Nonconsensual sex is not just rape. It is coercing someone to have sex who does not enthusiastically agree to it. “I’m not sure” is not consent when it comes to sex. In addition, a wife who does not want to have sex with her husband should not be guilted or shamed into doing so. This is unbiblical to the extent that we believe all humans have agency over their own body. If we reject slavery, we must reject marital rape.
All consensual sex that is legal is therefore allowed, unless someone is prohibited by their religious membership from taking part in it. This does not imply people must have sex or should want to have sex. Asexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation. But that is not in the scope of this article.
If a person wants to live as someone who follows the bible ethics regarding sexuality, I believe there is ample evidence that consensual sexuality that is legal is a proper ethic to practice.
4. Lack of Matching Sexual Categories Makes Strict Adherence Impossible and Unnecessary
Today’s follower of the bible and Christ will struggle to maintain the same sexual ethic as those of a first century CE person. We have much different sexual categories now. We do not have sex slaves: at least we don’t have them in modernized, western society. We do not practice polygyny. Our sex workers are usually not connected to cultic organizations. We have laws against using boys as catamites.
Much of western society has come to grips with the validity of marrying and having sex with members of other racial and ethnic groups. That was not true for them and represented a major category of what they called Porneia. In addition, today’s woman is legally allowed to withdraw consent for sex, even with a spouse. Though this is not enforced universally, it is still the law. And even if churches do not teach consent for all, they must adhere to the law like everyone else.
But the biggest category related to sexual ethics currently, is the large number of single people who are not looking to get married but are having sex with others. This was not a category the ancient near east conceived of. Either you were a virgin woman living with your family or you were married off to a man and expected to remain sexually faithful to him. If a woman had sex outside of those boundaries, she was labeled a sex worker and marginalized as such. So the category of single woman who has sex but is not a sex worker did not exist.
And as much as some modern church leaders don’t want to admit it, we have this category now; and we have had this category for a long time. Does the concept of Porneia cover this category? If we adhere to a strict reading of the scriptures, it does not. It also doesn’t cover polygyny or sex with one’s own slaves. It would only prohibit single men having sex with other men’s slaves, sex with other men’s wives, and sex with foreigners.
Glancy is very pointed in her paper on the matter of sex with slaves. She notes from many sources that Jews, Greeks, and subsequently, Christians, were supportive of the sexual dynamics between a slaveowner and female slaves. She remarks
More disturbingly, in a passage condemning the seduction of wellborn, unmarried females, Philo rails against treating free women as though they are (unfree) servants (ταῖς ἐλευθέραις ὡς θεραπαίναις), a tirade reflecting a double standard between treatment of respectable women, whose honor should be protected, and women of lower social status, who have no honor to protect (Spec. Laws 3.69.4).
Jennifer Glancy, “The Sexual Use of Slaves”.
This category allowing sex with slaves puts all modern christians on the horns of a dilemma. There is no reasonable way to match up their ethics with ours, except in a few areas: Adultery, rape, incest, and homosexuality. And since adultery and homosexuality are not currently illegal, only rape and incest are the universally shunned and illegal sexual practices in both cultures.
Any ethics added to that are sectarian in origin. They are not necessarily biblical in origin.
Starting in the early 1990s, I had couples in therapy start to mention something about their “love languages”. As a trained therapist, I was confused by this term “love language”. I had never heard it used in any context before, and I asked my clients to explain it to me.
Eventually they pointed me to the book by Gary Chapman called “The Five Love Languages”. I did a quick read and felt it reflected the approach taken by many pop-psych books. I mistakenly predicted it would have no impact on the counseling world.
I was wrong. At least, I was wrong about one aspect. It certainly does have an impact on the counseling world, if one refers to people going to marriage counseling. It has virtually no impact on therapists. There are some pastoral counselors who made extensive use of the material in their pastoral offices. But the concept itself does not line up with any therapy modality accepted by psychologists.
The premise of the book is very simple.
There are five ways we show love to others
Each of us prefers two of these languages
Our partner will appreciate us more if we express love in their language.
Couples should buy the book, identify their love languages, share this information with each other, and have a happy life together.
Boom! Instant marital success. Well, to Chapman’s credit, he never says this is a panacea to solve all difficulties in long-term relationships. Though, after reading the book, that implication is not hard to pick up. More to the point, desperate people in difficult relationships viewed it as a fix-all for their relationship. And on the surface, following this formula can improve some elements of a marriage.
But it can also make some existing relationship problems worse.
Long-term relationships are difficult and nuanced. Tricking out one element of the relationship may mask other problems. Following the principles in this book produce only a temporary fix. And when a couple puts all their hope in a temporary fix, the result can be devastating.
Chapman’s concept, and all the subsequent spinoff books, has several significant problems connected to it.
It is a Reductionistic List
Some people claim that Chapman never said this was a comprehensive list. But he actually does claim that. He goes into detail explaining his background in pastoral counseling and that the love languages that made the cut are the five he sees most often with couples. In fact, he claims several times that all expressions of love can be placed in one of these five categories.
To be fair to Chapman, research psychologists are always trying to reduce relationship and personality characteristics to three, four, or five categories. And Chapman may have seen that and wrote his thesis accordingly.
So in essence, these are five love CATEGORIES. But he doesn’t say that.
My first caution about the book is that it is dead wrong. Not only are these five love languages not the only ones, they may not even be the most important ones.
Let me give several examples of other love languages. Note that these are not even close to being all of the remaining love languages. There could be thousands of love languages for all I know. The five that Chapman chose are very Americo-centric, cis-heteronormative, and very much based in white culture. I am sure that individuals from other cultures would have a tough time identifying Chapman’s five as their subset of love expressions.
Sex: Chapman mentions several times that sex is just a type of Touch. But in this, he is wrong. There are many people that come into sex therapy with me who distinctly don’t like being touched. But they love sex. And then there are some who love to be touched and held, but do not have any desire for sex. Sex would never mean love to them, but touch would.
Sex is a completely different category on its own. Some find rough sex to be loving. Others find the same with oral sex, slow sex, BDSM, group sex, ethical non-monogamy. There are ways that other people find some sex to be unloving. As a love language, sex can have many expressions. But it is ludicrous to place sex under the Touch category.
Respect: Some would say Respect is different than love. But that argument could be made about quality time, and any of the other love languages. Many people believe that if a person shows respect, this shows their love for a partner. And there are hundreds of ways respect can be offered.
Example: A University of Washington study showed that couples married more than 40 years had one thing in common more than any other: The husbands respected their wife’s opinion. That is the only common identifier they found in interviews with these couples. Yet it does not show up on Chapman’s list.
Gentleness: In this sense, I am using the word “gentleness” as the opposite of “violence”. This is one of my major criticisms of Chapman. He does not differentiate between the five love languages shown in a gentle atmosphere versus a violent home. If a person is violent and then buys their partner gifts, the gift does not equal love. Neither does quality time if there is violence. Affirming words do not mean much if someone has bruises from last night’s fight. On their own, gentleness and safety are important ways that love is expressed. Most people would identify that as their first love language if they knew it was an option.
Partnership: This is the willingness to partner with someone you love as they attempt something difficult or painful. There are many examples of this. Being willing to sacrifice money, time, and effort to see your partner get a degree or a better job. Going with them to a funeral. Standing by them as they confront a difficult person. All of these rise above and beyond Chapman’s limited categories of ‘acts of service’ or ‘quality time’.
Listening With Understanding: One of the most loving and effective things a partner can do is to listen in a conflict with the goal of understanding. Most of us in conflict get defensive or want to win. But when someone listens with the goal of understanding, this shows the partner there is a greater goal; to love and work through the issue. The Gottmann Method, a standard in partner therapy, claims this is the greatest of the expressions of love.
There are too many more love languages to mention. Food, giving space for your partner to have time alone, inability to be easily offended, telling the truth, living in integrity; these are all love languages in their own right and should not be diminished because they didn’t make Chapman’s five.
The Basic Premises are Simply Not True
Since the book has now been in existence for over 30 years, it is not surprising a number of studies have been done to determine if the book is accurate.
This study looked at the questionnaire that Chapman uses, the five languages themselves, and whether participants could adequately measure their own preferences from the list. Their study showed that one could not determine their love language consistently from this questionnaire. So, the bottom line is that Chapman’s questionnaire is not accurate by any metric.
You should be aware that Chapman is not a psychologist. Neither is his theory based on any scientific research at all. He never claims it is. He simply says that the book is based on his own observations as a marriage counselor with no degree in counseling. That’s it. He is very up-front about it. So it should not surprise anyone that his results cannot be reproduced by scientific research.
There are several other studies that debunk his hypothesis, but I’ll just mention one more. In 2013, Polk and Egbert published this study in which they proved that people do not have two primary love languages, that they do not respond better if someone shows love in those languages, and that it can’t be proven that learning about and utilizing love languages helps relationships.
That pretty much says it all.
‘Love Languages’ Concept is Manipulative
We manipulate others when we do something for the purpose of getting them to behave the way we want them to. This is the underlying premise of Chapman’s book. He is telling us that if we learn another person’s love language and use that love language with our partner, they will respond better to us. This is manipulative and many people have identified it that way.
I was in therapy with one person who made it quite clear how he felt about his partner doing this. He knew when his partner was trying to get him to agree with him when he bought him expensive gifts over a short period of time. His partner would always follow it up with a big “ask” for something he wanted him to do. It was blatant manipulation. He wasn’t buying gifts out of love or concern.
Now, not everyone does this. But the book lends itself to this kind of use. And though this is an obvious misuse of the book, Chapman’s only caution about it shows up in a subsequent edition, suggesting that he didn’t see this kind of misuse until long after people were trying to implement the book into their relationships.
(Note: It is impossible to find original copies of the book unless you already own one. The book has been revised many times due to outlandish claims in the original edition).
Many therapists have written about the co-dependent nature of the Five Love Languages. They note that many people who are already co-dependent can be easily manipulated via love-bombing using this format. Though I would hope Chapman would be mortified by narcissists and other abusers using the Love Language modality in this way, it is exactly what love-bombing does. Nowhere in any edition of his many derivative books on the Love Language subject does he warn about love-bombing.
Nowhere is Trauma/Abuse Accounted For
One classic symptom of those who have been abused as children is the inability to trust that they are safe with other people. Therefore, a traumatized/abused person will notice how someone is using love languages and will immediately distrust it. If the person who is trying to love notices that the response is distrust, this will create further tension from the non-traumatized partner.
The best way to love a traumatized person is to keep checking in with them, holding space with them, and ask them how they would like to be shown love at any given juncture of the relationship. This is much better than trying to read your trauma-affected partner and guess what their love language might be on any given day.
Sometimes, the best expression of love is for one partner to leave the other partner alone for awhile.
I had been pastor of this church in Northwest Montana for only six months. I took one Sunday off to go back to British Columbia for the weekend to pack up my house we owned there to prepare for moving. Through a friend, I had arranged for a professional singer/preacher to do his thing at the church in my absence. He had good credentials from people I trust.
A week after finishing my move to Montana, an older couple in the church asked if they could go to lunch with me. They seemed nice and my schedule wasn’t overwhelmed yet, so I agreed.
We made pleasant small talk and I started to get to know them. There was definitely something off about both of them. They told me about moving to Montana from Missouri to escape the thug elements of their town. I had no idea what they were talking about. I learned very quickly as they moved to the true reason for this lunch.
“Pastor Mike, I’m sure you didn’t know the guy who spoke a couple of weeks ago. I know you didn’t. There is no way you would have condoned him” the husband began. His wife, who had been smiling sweetly a moment before had a sour face. They were together on this one.
“What happened? I asked.
“You didn’t hear? It is an absolute scandal. I’m surprised the elders haven’t called a special meeting.”
“What on earth did he do?” I was worried he may have committed something heretical.
“You don’t know? Oh my lord. He was Black! A black man speaking in our church. I’ve been talking to everyone since it happened and there is a lot of talk going on.”
I was temporarily frozen in my chair. I wasn’t afraid at all. I was seething with intense anger and I was afraid I was going to do something I would regret. And, I was afraid I wouldn’t do something I would regret.
I stood up. My plate was only half finished, but I was done.
“Lunch is over. I want you to know I consider both of you horrible racists, and I will do everything in my power to see you removed from the membership of the church. Do not EVER set foot in our church again.”
They never did. People revealed to me later that this couple had talked to them and most were embarrassed by the conversations. Montana has very few People of Color. There is an endemic racism there like most states. But the average person hides it better than the couple who met me for lunch.
This was my first foray into this kind of racism. That is not to say that Canadians aren’t racist. We are. But you don’t see it this blatantly. It opened my eyes not just to a different country that I was now living in, but a different church I was now a part of. It is one of the things that I have noticed about the evangelical and charismatic churches in America. There is something going on that is weird. And I couldn’t put my finger on it then.
But I can now. And I am doing that here.
Many of you reading this allowed me to be your pastor. That was something I cherished. Therefore, you need to hear it from me before hearing it from anyone else. I may still be friends with some of you, but I do not identify with either the Evangelical or Charismatic movements any longer. And I haven’t for awhile. But this week’s horrible act at the Capitol convinced me I have to publicly announce where I stand.
I still believe the theological basics of both groups. But I can’t tolerate either movement any longer. I have taught in evangelical/charismatic churches for 36 years. I taught at over 200 conferences, seminars, schools, and training retreats. I have sat on boards of evangelical organizations, been at the head of movements, and participated in both healthy and very unhealthy meetings. I have not seen it all, but I have seen enough to know I am accurate in what I’m going to report here.
The American versions of Evangelical church and Charismatic church are not godly and not where I can go.
And let’s dispense with the “Not All” fallacy at this point. Every time a legitimate criticism is leveled against any group, gender, party, religion, institution, etc., someone will always point out that not everyone is involved in that error. Though that is always true, it is also an attempt to divert from the point. You may read what I’m writing here and say “but not all Evangelicals do that”. Yes, but enough do all these things that I feel confident in lumping the entire movement in with these errors.
Since 81% of evangelicals promoted a maniacal man for President, and based it on the beliefs I outline below, I feel confident lumping in the entire movement together.
Notwithstanding that, here are the many reasons why I will no longer call myself part of Evangelicalism.
Endemic Racism: Every level of American society is affected by the decision to make slaves a part of American culture since its beginning. Regardless of whether you accept Critical Race Theory, everyone has to admit that the vast majority of black individuals grew up in poverty and will live their entire lives in poverty. They will live in fear of the police, and will receive only token support in their efforts to change things. As I have observed, white evangelicals will be “nice” to people of color but will do nothing to change the culture so the disparity can end. Since slavery started in America, the church has openly and tacitly approved of it. It is not enough to say “but I have some black friends.” The church is historically guilty of even finding doctrinal reasons to promote slavery. And though the doctrines on slavery have formally changed, nothing substantial is being done by evangelicals to enact reparations.
Christian Nationalism:The evangelical church (I am including charismatics in this as I don’t want to have to keep typing both), is intricately tied to the notion that God chose America to be the greatest nation in the world, a so called “City on a Hill”. Read any book by Eric Metaxas or others, and you can see this outlined. Most evangelical leaders with few exception, teach their church that country, the flag, patriotism etc. are godly attributes. God supposedly loves America and has chosen her to fulfill a manifest destiny as part of his plan. This is why God approves of our military, our wars, our way of life, our political system, our leaders. They will say that God chooses our leaders.
Everything other nations do is criticized. And yet when America does the same thing, it is excused. Our soldiers executed an entire village of My Lai in Vietnam and christian leaders did all they could to excuse the behavior and justify it. If planes fly into the World Trade Center it is terrorism. If drones destroy thousands of lives in the mountains of Afghanistan in order to kill 20 terrorists, it is justified.
The church will listen to whomever promises to “Make America Great Again.” Even though we are told explicitely in the bible to pledge our allegiance to no one but God, the church has made patriotism its great unspoken doctrine. Our nation is not evil; believing we are called by God above other nations is.
I just can’t do it any more. Trump won you over by making grandiose promises of American greatness. You think he accomplished that when he removed us from treaties with other countries, when he blocked non-whites from coming into the country, when he said we would not participate in climate change preparation.
Christians Support of Guns and Violence: If you have ever heard me speak, it should be clear that I am a Pacifist. I am not passive–these words do not mean the same thing. I do not believe any person should be killed by another person. Ever. I don’t think children should be killed if they are viable in birth. I don’t think criminals should be killed. I do not think we should go to war and kill. I especially don’t think you should kill another person because you’re afraid of them.
You don’t have to agree with that. But in my 30 years in America, I note your obsession with guns. You have to have them in your nightstand for “protection”…even though it has been shown that you are more likely to be killed with your own gun that to kill an intruder. And I find this obsession with guns goes along with this false belief that Christians have to be tough and macho.
Donald Trump knew this. At his rallies, he attacks those who are weak, and makes heroes out of those who are violent and merciless. He criticized the handicapped as weak, he vilified prisoner-of-war John McCain as the greatest loser because he got captured. On the other side, he paraded an openly racist Sheriff of one small town (Joe Arpaio) for all to see and hear because he practiced racial profiling. When the sheriff was arrested for contempt of court, Donald Trump pardoned him.
Evangelicals and charismatics want to be warriors, soldiers for Jesus. You can leave me out of it.
Assuming to Be a Christian Means You are Anti-Choice: Billy Graham was pro-choice for most of his career. So were many leaders within evangelicalism, including W. A. Criswell, Pastor Emeritus of First Baptist of Dallas. That is, until 1980. Then, evangelical leaders made a deal with the Repubican Party. They would make “pro-life” the evangelical thing and Republicans would support their anti-choice agenda.
They did this despite the fact that the Bible says virtually nothing about abortion, and nothing definitive about when life begins. I am pro-life…I don’t broach taking any life…but I also believe that we have never defined that life begins at conception, either medically or theologically. Christians adopted this stance to get political control, and that is all it is for. Before the 1970s, very few people in churches even knew what it meant to be Pro-life.
You don’t think these mega-pastors care about little babies do you? They don’t even allow them in the sanctuary when they’re preaching.
An evangelical church that purports to be against abortion should be very much in favor of birth control. And caring for poor women who are the predominant ones who have abortions for financial reasons. And setting up better systems for childcare for working single mothers. Churches put almost NO effort into these things and teach actively against birth control for singles.
Trump knew that promising to support wee babies in the womb would guarantee the vote. Other than putting conservatives on the Supreme Court (which will likely do nothing to make abortions illegal), he did NOTHING for the unborn or the families of the poor. But that wasn’t the point for him or evangelicals. It was about controlling the voting bloc. If conservatives and conservative christians were all that effective at curbing abortion, why is it that abortion rates have fallen much more in Democratic Presidencies than Republican? Because Democrats teach birth control and care for the medical needs of the poor.
Passive and Active Contempt for Women, LGBTQ, Immigrants, and Victims of Sexual Assault: This was the clincher for me. And it still shocks me. I spent the past 30 years counseling victims of sexual abuse in churches and in church organizations. I have met with over 200 of them. In all but two cases, the churches either tried to cover up the abuse, or claim it didn’t happen, or force the victims to apply grace and forgiveness to the crime.
And this applies even more to well-known evangelicals. Men like Ravi Zacharias, Bill Hybels, Bill Gothard, and Andy Savage were all protected and defended by their churches after assaulting victims. Pastors such as Paige Patterson, C J Mahaney, and Matt Chandler covered up abuse they knew about.
And then, after all that–which goes back decades and decades in evangelicalism–they have the audacity to say that women cannot be preachers and leaders in the church because they’re too weak. They have the temerity to claim that the LGBTQ individuals in the church are disqualified just for who they are, and that immigrants belong on the mission field and we need to build a wall to keep them out. Over 80% of evangelicals supported the building of the wall. At the same time, they send missions teams to Mexico in the greatest show of ironic hypocrisy I’ve ever witnessed.
Trump knew all of that as well and he appealed to white male egos. The pastors as a large bloc touted him as God’s man for this hour. Hundreds of so-called charismatic prophets still claim God showed them he will be in the White House for a second term. And even though they have been shown to be wrong, most of them will not change their minds or repent.
More than anything, I cannot stand all the duplicity of claiming that white males are to lead the church when most of the egregious behavior has been by white males.
Considering all of this, and seeing what it culminated with at the Capitol last week, I see no reason whatsoever to align myself with the culture or community of evangelicals or charismatics.
My granddaughter looked thoughtful. She took more time than I thought a 5-year-old would take to answer the question “What’s your favorite movie?” I shouldn’t have been surprised. This girl thinks things through.
“I’m ready Papa. I know my favorite.”
I waited. “So, which one is it?”
“I just love “Inside Out”. Don’t you? It is so beautiful and I like that the girl has all the same parts inside her that I do. Can we watch it now?”
And so we watched it. “Inside Out” tells the story of a young teen girl. It charts her progress since the moment she was born. The movie shows her brain and how various parts of her psyche (Anger, Fear, Disgust, Joy, and Sadness etc.) develop and create relationships even with each other.
One reason I love the movie is that it serves as a great starting place for discussions on a therapy method I love called Internal Family Systems.
Internal Family Systems is part of a larger branch of psychology called Complex Systems Psychology. The basic idea is that our inner psyche is a complex amalgam of Parts, Structures, and Systems all designed to move us toward our full identity.
Internal Family Systems (IFS) focuses on how the Parts of a person’s psyche work together, much like the various characters in “Inside Out” relate to each other. In this article, I want to introduce you to those Parts and explain how each of them works. In subsequent articles we will address more of the problems which IFS seeks to help with.
The very basic idea of IFS is the concept that most people initially struggle with: That our sense of personal identity is not just one part, but is a multiplicity of various sub-personalities or Parts. When I tell people that, they assume I am saying that these Parts are all fully formed personalities with Ego Power equal to all the other Parts. But this is not true. Let me illustrate.
Have you ever been thinking of doing something and then another part of your thinking totally disagrees with that? And then, in the midst of those competing thoughts, a third thought–more an emotion–reacts to the ideas of the second thought. If we were just one Part, we would always think in a straight line. But our sub-conscious contains many opinions and reactions to the events and ideas of our lives. These opinions and reactions are some of what we in IFS call Parts.
To make it simple as possible, let me outline the four basic Parts that make up our psyche:
The Core Self: This is the decision-making part of our mind. It is the part of us that makes the final designation on what our true identity is. This is the only Part of us that really knows the entire breadth of our life to that point. This is where all the wisdom, knowledge, and experience is centered.
Many sacred writings, including the Bible, Koran, and Baghavad Gita call this Part our Heart. It truly is the heart of who we are and will be. But it is not the only Part.
Exiles: IFS is one of the therapies which believes in Ego States. An Ego State is a snapshot of who we are at any given age. We have a 6-year-old Ego State, another one at 7 and maybe another one a few months later. We are constantly evaluating who we are as we grow up. At significant moments of existential examination, we conclude “This is who I am”.
If those moments coincide with pain, loss, abuse, or injustice–as they often do–we develop a very reactive Ego State that IFS calls an Exile. These Parts are called Exiles because they represent events and emotions we never want to relive in any way. In fact, the entire Internal Family System from those moments forward exists to keep the Exiles quiet.
Let me give an example. A five year old boy witnesses his parents fighting more and more. Each day, he comes home from school wondering what horrible emotions he will feel because of their fights. Already, he is feeling chaotic emotions. He fears the disintegration of his home. He is angry at both of them for not loving each other. One day, he returns home from school and he witnesses the biggest fight of all.
At one point, Mom demands that Dad leaves the home. Dad screams at her and hits her. Then, he grabs his coat and runs out the door. The boy is left with an explosive mixture of emotions and ideas that are overwhelming. He will spend the next two years pondering what all of this means.
But at that moment, he decides one thing. It must be his fault! His 5-year-old brain takes all the evidence and reactions and this is what he comes up with. It is not accurate at all, but this is what he concludes. He doesn’t tell anyone of course. He is too ashamed to do so. But he still believes it. And that’s when this little boy develops a Part which represents the third group of Parts: The Managers.
The Managers: Managers are Parts whose job it is to keep the Exiles from reacting to any current events. To see how this works, let’s return to the little boy again.
He doesn’t like feeling that this is all his fault. So he develops a Part of his psyche–a Manager–who will remind him when he is about to make a huge mistake that will cause other people to get angry and leave. We might call this Manager a “Perfectionist” or maybe even “Shame” or “Obsessive-Compulsive”. Any of these Managers might accomplish the task of keeping that Exile from getting emotionally reactive.
Here is how this works out in adult life. This 5-year-old has grown up and is now married with kids. One of his sons is doing poorly at school. His wife simply suggests the two of them spend more time helping their son with his homework each night, perhaps taking turns.
At that moment, the 5-year-old Exile inside of him starts to react. She is saying that this is his fault, and he is not doing his job as a dad and the boy will be a failure in life because of it. He feels all of this in just a fraction of a second.
Immediately, a “Perfectionist” Manager jumps in to save the day. This Manager takes over and causes him to become obsessive about planning out the homework program. He buys a new desk for his son. He creates a very elaborate chart for homework which includes rewards and punishments. He buys four books for his Kindle on how to manage homework with elementary students.
And now, the Exile quiets down. The Manager has done his job. Unfortunately, the Core Self was not really involved in any part of this process.
Some IFS therapists call the Managers by a different name. They call them Protectors. This is mostly an accurate term. Most of our internal Managers are trying to help protect us from the real and perceived threats in our world. I prefer Managers because Protectors is only one role of these Parts. There are many others.
There are indeed Protector Parts
There are also Shame and Guilt Parts
There are Anxiety Parts. (Some people have lots of them).
Most people have Anger Parts
These are the more negative Managers. But we also have more positive Managers. We have parts that deal with our relationship needs (Sex, romance, communication skills). We have Parts that deal with other needs (achievements, freedom, fun).
There can be Healing Parts, Numbing Parts, Hero Parts, and Spiritual Parts
But for all their well-designed characteristics, the Managers are sometimes not enough. Let me give an example.
Let’s stay with the man whose parents split up when he was five. Let’s talk about another time in his marriage. Let’s say that his wife, when she gets angry, calls him a name that his mother used to call his father. The Exile of that age is apoplectic and out of control. The Managers that normally can keep this Exile out of sight can’t do the job any longer. This Exile is setting fire to the emotional center of the man’s mind. He can’t sleep at night. He can’t concentrate at work. He doesn’t know what he will do.
After work one day, his supervisor asks what is happening with him. His work performance is suffering. The two of them decide to go to the bar after work. After three beers, for the first time in weeks, he no longer hears the crying of the Exile inside. He is no longer in a constant turmoil. He likes the difference.
From that point on, every time this Exile gets out of hand, he drinks enough so he won’t have to hear that Exile any longer. Alcohol then becomes the next type of Part in the psyche.
The Firefighters: Firefighters are Parts we develop whose job is to calm down the entire Internal Family System when the Managers can’t do the job. Firefighters have one job: Distract the entire system so thoroughly that the Core Self cannot hear the Exile.
It is amazing how ingenious the brain is at creating these Firefighters. The distraction can be as simple as video games, eating more carbs, watching television or working out hard at the gym. It can be more advanced with actions like drinking too much, smoking too much weed, working too hard into the night, watching porn constantly, or bingeing on carbs.
Firefighters can be deadly. They may resort to harmful behaviors like self-harm, eating disorders, heavy drug use, unsafe and adrenaline-producing behaviors, complete dissociative shutdowns, and extreme violence toward others. Remember, the job of the Firefighter Part is to distract the Core Self when the pain of the Exile cannot be ignored any other way.
I think you can see if a person has Exiles who were abused sexually, physically, or emotionally that Firefighters can be quite common. And they are. Often, people come to the IFS therapist because they have a Firefighter problem. All that tells us is there are Exiles that need some loving.
In summary, here are the four main groups of Parts with each person:
Henry Lang came to Downton Abbey to take over as the Valet to the Lord Grantham when the Lord’s previous valet had to leave suddenly. This fictional account of a household of the English aristocracy is originally set during the early days of World War 1. The writers of Downton Abbey researched how the war affected different individuals in England. Lang’s short time at the Abbey is one of the most sublime.
Lang had to leave the war because of a condition we now call PTSD. At the time, it had various names: Shell shock, soldier’s heart, war neurosis, and Combat Fatigue. The general population did not treat these soldiers well. They were often considered cowards and treated like lesser humans.
Lang came to the Abbey and at first everyone was impressed by his skill set as a valet. But quickly he showed signs of emotional deterioration. What made it difficult for Lang is the Abbey was being used to convalesce injured officers. Eventually Lang collapsed emotionally after seeing too many wounds and groaning soliders, and he left the Abbey in shame. Nothing more is said of him for the entire series.
This poignant portrayal of a character is accurately written. It is estimated as many as 100,000 British soldiers had this condition. If one adds the American, Canadian, French, Belgian, and soldiers of other allied nations, the number of soldiers suffering PTSD may have reached 1.5 million.
“Over half a million men were permanently evacuated from the fighting for psychiatric reasons, enough to man fifty combat divisions.” And though many of them were sent to mental institutions, they were not treated with any compassion.
David J. Morris
Despite its prevalence, shell-shock was often attributed to moral failings and weaknesses, with some soldiers even being accused ofcowardice.
As I sometimes do, let me start at the end of the story and then show how I got there.
The end of the story: I was not only fired from being a pastor, I had my license terminated, my career all but snuffed out, and barred from attending any of their churches unless I made a public confession of my sins.
Officially, they were removing me from all my duties present and future because I refused to attend any of the Christian and Missionary Alliance churches.
I had told them, in writing, that I would not attend any of their churches until they made some changes.
I iterated that I would not attend “unless and until the denomination came clean on their involvement with the cover-up of Ravi Zacharias’ crimes, AND renounced christian nationalism AND renounced Donald Trump.”
They had no intention of doing any of those things, and so I have not attended any of their churches since. So their official reason for blackballing me was my refusal to attend.
It was a clean severing, and it was easy to make. It was much easier to do that than to explain the real reasons. If they had gone into the real reasons, it would have been messy and painful for them as well as for me.
They hated the changes in my doctrine, which became many.
They hated how I would not stop talking about their cover-up of Ravi Zacharias’ crimes.
They hated how I would not submit to their authority.
But maybe more than anything, they hated how I supported LGBTQIA+ people. They were confused and bitter about how sex positive I had been for years. I openly taught that all sexuality was good except sex that was illegal, non-consensual, or involving people with more power seducing people with less power.
But, in this article, let me tell you about one of those elements of sex positivity that thoroughly disgusted them and delighted me at their disgust.
For years, I had been a thorn in the side of leaders of the denomination with my insistence on being sex positive. At the same time, pastors, pastor’s wives, and other church leaders sought me out for therapy on sexual issues. One area they wanted instruction and direction was in the area of BDSM. BDSM is about using practices of domination and submission, pain and pleasure, role-playing and costumes. In short, BDSM adds spice to a sexual relationship. It is also focused on many fetishes and kinks. In my therapy practice, I have become very knowledgeable in most variations of kink. The denomination apparently was unaware of how many of their leaders talked to me about it. I was not going to reveal it to them either.
I am, after all is said and done, a therapist. Pastoring became more of my hobby than my calling. As a therapist, I am bound by HIPAA regulations that will not allow me to disclose personal information about clients without their consent.
In the process that led to my blackball, a group of people from one church spied on my Twitter account. They compiled page after page of tweets I had made about anything to do with sexuality. These were not hard to find. I tweet a lot about sex because people need accurate and safe information about sex.
They sent this collection of out of context tweets to my district superintendent. He convened a panel of three national leaders of the denomination due to my notoriety. They spent two months grilling me on every tweet I had sent expounding on sex positivity. To their minds, they had done a ‘gotcha’ on me. They wanted me to know they found me to be morally repugnant and in need of a verbal spanking.
Spanking had a lot to do with their objections to me actually. So did bondage and torture, St. Andrew’s crosses, and dominatrixes in leather outfits.
They hated that I liked kink and wrote about it.
They sent email after email demanding I explain the terms used in my tweets. You might have suspected they had a prurient personal interest in the subject. They were THAT interested.
Like most christians, they approached sexuality from the repressive angle. Repression is the act of subduing or denying sex as a basic human need so that any thoughts about sex and any actions about sex are expressed only through the unconscious. Or, in the case of many evangelicals, expressed only in particular types of marital sex. To their minds, this did not include kinky sex.
They pointed out to me that the “S” in BDSM could stand for Sadism, which they considered evil by its association with the Marquis de Sade. I remarked that they were about a half century behind the times. The “S” could also stand for submission or slave. That’s when I decided to get theological with them (I do have a theology degree after all).
The bible is big on submission; submission to god, submission to one another in the church, submission to the elders or deacons, submission to the governing authorities, wives submitting to husbands, couples submitting to each other. One would think that the concept of submission would get their genitals all in a tizzy. It did not. At least, they didn’t like the idea of submission being applied differently than a church-sanctioned way.
I also pointed out that the Apostle Paul, a supposed author of half the christian scriptures, described himself as a slave of christ. He also describes himself as a slave to his gentile friends on behalf of christ. In addition, he didn’t have any problem with telling actual slaves to be good slaves and to obey their masters. In short, the bible is quite fond of the master/slave dynamic.
“But” they pointed out to me, “you are taking all those things out of their context and applying them to sexuality.” I don’t think I am. The context of most teaching in the bible is patriarchal, meaning that built into all sexuality is the concept of a man being the master over a woman. This is also true in biblical ideas about sex. Please note: I am NOT patriarchal, and I hate all of the tenets of the patriarchy. I just made this argument to them because they could understand it. Then I went further.
I pointed out that Hebrews 13:4 where it says “Marriage is to be respected among all and the marital coitus to be undefiled.” It’s a difficult verse to translate into English because there are no verbs at all in the verse. And really, there are no verbs that can be borrowed from nearby verses either–which is the other way of finding a common verb. In essence, the writer of Hebrews is saying that marriage is a respectful institution. And as such, the sex that two people in marriage have should not be defiled.
What did the ancients considered defilement? It wasn’t BDSM or any equivalent. It was adultery, plain and simple. In other words, the writer here is saying, “These married people are doing something worthy of respect and no one should interfere from the outside in their fucking around.” Yep. That’s what it says. We get the word “coitus”, meaning good old fucking, from this greek word sometimes translated “marriage bed.”
The ancients knew that most people like sex. The writer here is saying that if you are going to be married and have sex, keep it among yourselves and don’t stray. Pretty clear teaching. It also implied, I believe, that whatever the two of them do is fine if it’s consensual.
Now, why did I bring that up to them? I pointed out that in most surveys, the majority of people who practiced BDSM do so in the marriage relationship. Role-playing, bondage and impact play, toys, mind games, etc. are done in marriages. They are done in christian marriages. They are done in the marriages of christian leaders.
I know this, because I counseled many of them to do it with an eye toward SSC (Safe, Sane, and Consensual) behavior. For instance, I taught them where they could safely use a flogger and where a crop could do permanent damage.
The leaders who were examining me were horrified. I’m not sure what they were horrified about. That their colleagues enjoyed kink? That I would counsel people on how to do it? That upwards of 70% of adults have tried BDSM in the past year? That this 70% includes christians?
Their horror pointed out one more of the many instances where sexual repression is harming church people. Next week, we will dive into the harmful effects of sexual repression.
This is the supplementary guide attached to this article.
Primary Documents Referenced in Article:
Glancy, Jennifer A. “The Sexual Use of Slaves: A Response to Kyle Harper on Jewish and Christian Porneia.” Journal of Biblical Literature, Society of Biblical Literature, 6 May 2015, https://muse.jhu.edu/article/580634.
Balch, David L, and Carolyn Osiek. Early Christian Families in Context : An Interdisciplinary Dialogue. Grand Rapids, Mich., W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 2003. (Note: In particular, the Essay by Ms Osiek, titled “Female slaves, porneia, and the limits of obedience.”)
Loader, William. ““Not as the Gentiles”: Sexual Issues at the Interface between Judaism and Its Greco-Roman World.” Religions, vol. 9, no. 9, 28 Aug. 2018, p. 258, https://doi.org/10.3390/rel9090258.
From 1978, Loader was New Testament lecturer at the Perth Theological Hall of the Uniting Church in Australia; from 1986, he was lecturer and later Professor of New Testament at Murdoch University (1998-2003 also as Head of the School of Social Inquiry).
Here are some of his many publications regarding sexuality in the days of the bible:
Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, co-authored with Megan K. DeFranza, Wesley Hill, and Stephen R. Holmes (Counterpoints; ed. Preston Sprinkle (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016))
Jesus in John’s Gospel: Structure and Issues in Johannine Christology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017)
Making Sense of Sex: Attitudes towards Sexuality in Early Jewish and Christian Literature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011)
The New Testament on Sexuality (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2013)
Philo, Josephus, and the Testaments on Sexuality: Attitudes towards Sexuality in the Writings of Philo, Josephus, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011)
The Pseudepigrapha on Sexuality: Attitudes towards Sexuality in Apocalypses, Testaments, Legends, Wisdom, and Related Literature (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011)
The Dead Sea Scrolls on Sexuality: Attitudes towards Sexuality in Sectarian and Related Literature at Qumran (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009)
Enoch, Levi, and Jubilees on Sexuality: Attitudes Towards Sexuality in the Early Enoch Literature, the Aramaic Levi Document, and the Book of Jubilees (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007)
The New Testament – with Imagination: A Fresh Approach to its Writings and Themes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007)
Sexuality and the Jesus Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005)
The Septuagint, Sexuality and the New Testament: Case Studies on the Impact of the LXX in Philo and the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004).
Jesus’ Attitude towards the Law. A Study of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002)
Jesus and the Fundamentalism of his Day. The Gospels, the Bible and Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001; Melbourne: Uniting Education, 1998)
While not as prolific as Loader, Harper is making a name for himself regarding the practice of sexuality in the days of the early christian church. As he describes himself on his webpage:
I am an historian interested in the ways that humanity has shaped nature and vice versa. I hold the G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty and am Professor of Classics and Letters, Senior Advisor to the President, and Provost Emeritus at my alma mater, the University of Oklahoma. I am also a Fractal Faculty member at the Santa Fe Institute.
My main research interests include the history of infectious disease and climate change and their impact on human societies. More broadly, I write on the history of humans as agents of ecological change and asks how we can approach questions such as biodiversity, health, and environmental sustainability from a historical perspective.
I recommend his two books on sexuality and the ancient world: Slavery in the Late Roman World, was published in 2011 and awarded the James Henry Breasted Prize. The second book, From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality, appeared in 2013 and received the Award for Excellence in Historical Studies from the American Academy of Religion.
In 2021, three people died because snow had piled up in their driveways.
That’s the story.
Or is it?
Here is the ABC News version of what happened, which also raises as many questions as it answers. [I also watched the security video of the event, but I won’t put that link here because it depicts gun violence which I will not glorify. I watched it in order to understand more of how the event could have taken place].
Before analyzing this event any further, let’s address a key objection in examining the rationale for violent crimes. People criticize psychologists for trying to determine the reasons someone committed a crime. They feel this will be used as a pretext for excusing their criminal behavior. The reasoning is that no one should spend any time trying to understand a criminal. The full focus of understanding should only be on the victims, not the perpetrators.
But is this a healthy approach for modern society to take?
In seeking to understand why anyone can commit a violent crime, social science attempts to delve into the mindset that results in people being hurt. If crimes were only committed by gangs, organized crime, or “evil” people, the search for meaning behind crimes would be a wasted effort.
As social scientists have looked deeply into crime statistics worldwide, here is what they found:
The majority of violent crimes are committed by males (90%)
The majority of violent crime victims are male (80%)
50% of violent crimes are committed by organized crime members
50% of violent crimes are committed in relation to domestic disputes
Too much of the study involving violent crime and the policing of it has focused on the gang type violence. Not enough has gone into discovering what causes the average person to become violent. I think this is more intriguing and holds the answer to solutions to some of crime’s origins.
I’m a trauma therapist. My job is to delve into the parts of the psyche that cause people to manifest the type of behavior and thoughts which cause problems. One of the tools I use in pursuit of accomplishing this job is called Internal Family Systems. In this therapy approach, we believe the mind is an amalgam of many Parts. These parts each have their jobs and every part functions mainly to protect the individual. Parts like Anxiety, Shame, Depression, Justice, Fear of Rejection, Abandonment, Rage seem to have their own agendas based on the roles we originally gave them. Many of these roles began in childhood. Some of the roles are grounded in traumatic experiences.
Back to the violent snow story. The facts are simple: A single male neighbor lived across the narrow lane from a married couple. Every time it snowed, the couple would shovel the snow from their driveway in front of the driveway of the single man. Over time, this became the basis for their animosity toward each other.
On the day of the murders, the couple did the same thing after a snowfall. The single man happened to be home. He came out and started to shout at them. The two men started to exchange angry words filled with expletives. The longer this went on, the woman also began to shout at her neighbor. The addition of her voice seemed to enrage the single man who retreated into his home at one point.
That’s when he emerged with a gun.
He slowly walked over to the woman and shot her several times. From the video, it is clear this is either a pellet or bb gun, for she doesn’t seem to be seriously hurt by the shots. But the more he shoots, she begins to react physically to the pain. Her husband runs over and the single man shoots him several times as well. They are both left bleeding on the ground. As I watched it, they were moving freely, suggesting they were not seriously hurt.
A minute later, the single man walks out of his house with a different gun. This one is larger and looks more lethal. In fact, he walks over to the woman and shoots her once, killing her. He also shoots the husband. Then, he calmly walks back into his house.
According to the story in the news account, when the police arrived at the scene, they went to the shooter’s house and knocked on the door. That’s when they heard a gunshot. He killed himself before they could enter and arrest him.
Some will watch this video and just shake their heads at the bizarre nature of this violence. Who gets this upset about snow? Who reacts to an argument by getting two different guns to take down their neighbors? Why were they all acting badly in the first place?
As a trauma therapist, my questions are different. What parts of their protective psyche were activated in this scene? What parts had been active in the months prior? As we have analyzed young men who commit multiple murders, we note mitigating factors such as bullying, isolation, or injustice in their background. Are these events what cause a person’s psyche to create violent parts that need to hurt others?
And why do some people create these violent parts to protect themselves and other people do not? This we cannot answer. Every person’s internal system is created differently and uniquely. Many people are bullied in school, but very few come back and shoot up the school with automatic weapons. Why do more men create parts that feel the need to retaliate violently than women do?
This year in America (2022), we have had more than 600 mass shootings. All 600 have been committed by men. Why men? We do not have an answer for this. But the question must be asked. And, in order for the answers to be helpful, we must answer the question with as few preconceptions and biases as possible.
I don’t know why these people were in a dispute about snow. But I guarantee their disregulated internal reactions had little to do with snow. Their parts were convinced this snow dispute encompassed larger principles. Perhaps one or all of these people had been abused as children and felt power taken away from them. Perhaps one or all of them had witnessed their own parents react with violence toward neighbors or relatives. Perhaps one or all of them had a fear of other people taking advantage of them because it happened to them when they were young.
There are reasons we create the protective parts inside of us.
I remember as a boy being surrounded by six older boys, tied up and beaten underneath the bridge near our house. That immobilization for years brought blind rage inside of me when someone would hold me down or cause me to feel panic.
This emerged my first year of college. The guys who lived on my dorm floor decided to attack the floor above us in a pillow fight. We thought about going room to room pummeling them with pillows. But someone had tipped them off. When I lead the charge up the back stairs, I came around the corner on their floor and was set upon by ten guys with pillows. My floor-mates got away but I didn’t. They beat on me for a minute or so.
There was no real pain. But the panic got a hold of me. I dropped my pillow and started to punch and kick the two guys closest to me.
I’ll spare you the details. As a result of my actions, I was suspended from classes for several days. I could not believe I had become that violent. But now that I work with people who have these kind of parts, I recognize that a Protector broke through to keep me “safe” and could not see that there is any difference between a pillow and fists.
I wonder what might have happened if I had access to a gun?
I also wonder what might have happened with the snow shovel people if no guns had been available. I speculate we may never have heard of them. I challenge anyone reading this to begin looking beyond the headlines these days. What makes people so protective of themselves? What would it take for you to lose control and have your internal Protectors take over?
What makes any of us have such bizarre reactions when we feel insecure or attacked?
He lowered his eyes. This boy had endured a vicious spanking and was at a loss for any words to say to me. I kept asking him what he wanted me to know and see.
“No one will play” he said. “My brother will play, but he is so small. I have to do all the playing.”
This wasn’t the answer I expected. I was the therapist, the helper.
The boy was me at 4 years old.
In the therapy I practice–Internal Family Systems, or IFS–we refer to wounded and traumatized younger versions of ourselves as Exiles. We call them that because we have created an internal system for ignoring their pain and shutting it off from our conscious minds.
When I just turned four, my mother was placed in a mental institution. My brother was 2 1/2 and our father decided he couldn’t care for us. We were placed in a group foster care home for six months. After that, we went to a few other homes for several weeks at a time. Finally, my dad’s older brother took us in. We stayed with him for several months. At the end of that time, my mother was released from hospital and we were reunited with our parents.
I was reprocessing one of the memories from my days with my uncle and aunt. He was a police officer and she worked as a legal secretary. During the day, we were cared for by a babysitter. My uncle and aunt never played with us. They had no children and didn’t want any. They felt badly for us and took us in. As an adult, I am thankful they rescued us from some bad foster care homes.
But the lack of play was constant. It ate away at my 4 year old self. I wanted to have some joy in my life. In my desperation for something to do during the day, I discovered the basement of the house my uncle and aunt had rented. In that basement, there were many pieces of furniture covered with white sheets. This was the storage area for the owners of the house.
Every day, in search for meaning and needing to recreate, we went down there and explored. One day, I found a pan of crankcase oil. I had no idea what it was, but it felt deliciously squishy in my hands. I played with it for awhile and invited my brother to join me.
That’s when I noticed the pristinely white sheets covering the furniture. To my four-year old self, they looked like canvases in need of some art drawn on them.
I started to finger paint on the sheets with the crankcase oil. The oil was perfect. The sheets were perfect. We drew grandiose pictures . Here was the fun we sought for.
When my aunt and uncle came home, they had no idea how artistic my brother and I had been. So 4 year old Michael showed them. He wanted them to know that he and his brother could find something to play with on their own. He was quite enamored of the design on the sheet covering the sofa.
His uncle erupted with fury. This 6’4″ police officer blew his stack. He beat the four year old and left him sobbing in the bedroom for hours. Not once did either of them come and check on how Michael was doing. Years later, they admitted to me they were considering sending me and my brother back into foster care.
When I began to unburden Michael, I started by letting him know I witnessed what he had gone through. I affirmed his absolute right to play and to find meaning in such things. I told him I understood how hard that year had been and how absolutely lonely he felt. I assured him that I would never leave him and I would play with him any time he wanted.
He cried for awhile and then stopped. He seemed to have some peace settling on him.
So I asked him if there was anything he wanted me to do for him. He looked up. “Can you tell aunt and uncle that I’m a good boy and they need to play with me from now on?”
I responded by marching him upstairs with me. I sat my aunt and uncle down and explained what Michael had gone through. They were horrified. I also told them that from now on, they would play with Michael and his brother and not leave them so unloved and unwanted. They reluctantly agreed to this.
In IFS, the current version of who we are can create new realities for our exiles. After all, the only place they still exist is in our midbrain. The re-creation we did next is called a Do-Over.
I then asked Michael how he was feeling. He still looked a little despondent. He told me that he didn’t think he was worth playing with. So I assured him this idea was preposterous and we needed to destroy that idea. We created a balloon, and we put the words “I am not worth playing with” on it. Then, we let the balloon go and a huge wind came and took it away.
That second, I felt a loosening inside of me. I realized that for years I had carried an idea that I was not worth having fun with. People didn’t mind doing serious things with me. But they refused to play with me. That idea now felt gone.
Young Michael is now playing inside of me. He feels free.
I take delight in playing with him and he with me. It has transformed me into a much more playful person. And, other people seem to notice as well and are much more expressively playful around me.
[Update: So many people read the first few paragraphs and assume I am building a case for polyamory. I am not. This is because people aren’t reading to see my key point which is further on. If you’re going to read this article to discover my proposal for a new sexual ethical system for Christians, please read all of it before reacting].
“What does the Bible say about polygamy, polyamory, or Open Marriage?” The man who asked me this had been a missionary for 25 years and was not considering a change in his marital status. He was not contemplating cheating on his wife or taking another bride. He was simply curious.
He was curious because during the previous year, three separate people had asked him these kind of questions. All who asked these questions were committed Christians with a good grasp of the Bible and the church’s teachings on sexuality.
“Mike, the Bible doesn’t make it clear where it falls on any of those issues. Though we make excuses for the Bible, there are examples in the Sacred Writings of people who lived with multiple wives, who had sanctioned girlfriends, and who lived this way openly. And from what we can see in the Bible, God never condemns this practice.”
I couldn’t argue with him. The only restriction in the Bible regarding any form of Open Marriage is the 1 Timothy 3 admonition that an Overseer should not be a polygamist. It never expands on this concept by forbidding others to have multiple wives. In short, the biblical ethic regarding Open Marriage was non-existent.
Everyone has ethics; but not everyone has an ethical system. An “ethic” is a belief in how one should act. You can have an ethic that allows you to tell the truth one day and then not tell the truth the next day. But because this is not a consistent ethic, we would say it is not an “ethical system”. I define an ethical system as a series of beliefs regarding a particular behavior that are consistent with themselves. Therefore, if you have an ethical system about telling the truth, that system should apply to all situations. Let me give an example of the difference between an ethic and and Ethical System.
I might believe that it is wrong to kill. That is an ethic. I would not (and do not) kill anyone. But how widely do I apply that ethic? I might believe it is wrong to kill others unless they are trying to kill me. I might also believe it is wrong to kill others even if they are trying to kill me. In addition, I might define killing mosquitoes as killing, killing cows as killing, killing fetuses as killing, killing prisoners on death row as killing. I might believe killing all those beings is considered killing. That is an ethical system.
However, if for some reason I feel that killing enemy combatants on the battlefield is not killing, but killing someone invading my home is killing, then my ethical system is more complex, and perhaps inconsistent.
That is the problem with most ethical systems. Most systems of behavior are internally inconsistent, at least from a logical/philosophical viewpoint. Why is it wrong to kill some people but not others? Why is it wrong to deceive some people, but not other people? Why is it wrong to have sex one day, and then it is not wrong a day later (in the case of someone who may be single and then gets married)? Most people will seek to justify the complexity and variations of their ethical systems by explaining the exceptions.
We will never be free of doing this. Not even those who believe in a so-called “Biblical Sexual Ethic” can get away with it. Let me show how this happens.
In the first paragraph, I noted the question about polyamory. The idea that all sex should be between one husband (male) and one wife (female) is the standard teaching of much of the Church for much of the Church’s existence. But is it a consistent ethical system?
Not really. There are many examples of prominent men in the Bible who married more than one woman. Jacob, Esau, David, Solomon all lived this way. In addition, several Bible characters had sex with sanctioned sex slaves–Jacob, Abraham, David, Solomon, Absalom, Judah and others. God does not condemn any of these men for polyamory. In many cases, God even approves of it. When David raped Bathsheba and had her husband killed, God did send the prophet Nathan to confront David. And in that confrontation, this is what Nathan says:
Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.
2 Samuel 12:7-8
According to these verses, Nathan is speaking for God and claiming that God gave King Saul’s WIVES to David after Saul died! And God says that he would have given him more women if he wanted. If we accept this as God’s inerrant word, then God not only passively accepts polyamory, but actively endorses it and supports it.
The biblical sexual ethic gets more complicated than that. The concept of virginity (the absence of sexual intercourse in a person’s experience) is touted as a virtue in the Bible. But it only applies to women! Nowhere are men told they must also be virgins. Even the Hebrew word for “virgin” is a word that only refers to females. There is no Hebrew word for a male virgin. There is no place in the Old Testament where men were even expected or ordered to be virgins.
What can we say about all of this? Simply that the Bible does not present a consistent or relevant ethical system regarding sexuality. There are many more examples of this to give, but I want to move on to the solution, not just note the problem.
I don’t believe the Bible is helpful or realistic for building a modern ethical system for sexuality. There are many reasons for this, but they can be distilled down to these:
Patriarchy: Everyone who wrote Sacred Scripture believed in patriarchy. They believed that men had privileges and rights which women did not have. This affected everything they wrote, but especially their viewpoints on sexual relations. One classic example: In the story of the woman caught in adultery (John, chapter 8) only the woman is brought before Jesus and not the man. And no one, not even Jesus, openly notes this. It takes modern commentators to sort this one through.
Ancient Near East Focus of Sexuality: Virginity did not focus on sex; it focused on inheritance. A man wanted to know that his wife had not had sex with another man to ensure his offspring were truly his children. No claim could be made by another man on his children. Children and women were considered possessions of a man, even by the writers of the Bible. Even the teachings on “immorality” in the Bible are really focused on discouraging men from visiting prostitutes.
Misogyny: Women were hated in the days the Bible was written. A Jewish man prayed this prayer most mornings: “Thank you God that I am not born a gentile, a dog, or a woman”. How can an ethical system of mutuality with regards to sexuality ever come from that backdrop?
Homophobia: The writers of Scripture not only had a very low opinion of women, they hated anyone in the LGBTQ community–not that there was an established community due to fear. So, any ethic regarding those who are not cis-hetero men is going to be demeaning and incomplete if we rely on the Bible.
So how do we build an ethical system?
Christians have seen the problem with applying the Bible to many of our ethical systems: Money, power, marriage, reproduction, government, criminal justice, human interactions, etc. There have been many proposals through the centuries on how to build an ethical system which keeps some of the good teachings of the Bible but does not lean too heavily on them.
One of the most profound attempts at this was made by John Wesley. He spent years seeking to apply biblical truths to modern-day ethical problems. His view on Holiness required that our faith be lived out ethically and consistently. But he found that many in his day had widely differing views on what the Bible said on just about any topic. So, while keeping the Bible principles central, he added three more sources of revelation in building an ethical system:
By tradition, he meant the traditions of the faith community one finds themselves in. By experience, he meant the experiences a Christian has which line up with the Bible. By logic, he is referring to the mind which has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to grasp deeper truths.
Thus, even with these four sources of input to build an ethic, Wesley still saw all of them revolving around the Bible and biblical truths.
I contend that isn’t going to work with sexual ethics. You can certainly hold to it if you like, but the Church’s history with strange teachings on sexuality and moral purity lead me in a slightly different direction.
I still think we can use four sources of input to build an ethical system, including the Bible. But here is how I fashion it:
The Bible: We can use the Bible as a source for ethics on sexuality if we strip away patriarchy, homophobia, misogyny, and virginity.
Tradition: In the sense that we rely on a trusted community of people whose practices of sexuality are consistent and respectful, we can use certain traditions we trust.
Experience: By this, I mean the collected experience of all humans with regards to sexuality. In our day, we are much more refined as a society on what should and should not be allowed in sexual relationships. The #metoo movement did not start the discussion on sexual assault, consent, and misogyny. It simply sought to apply emerging community standards world-wide…to everyone
Logic/Reason: By this, I mean that ethical standards need to make sense to a faith community and be reasonable to apply. If the faith community one is a part of does not apply logic or reason to sexual ethics, one might have to find a different faith community.
It should be obvious that this opens the door to many different ethical systems regarding sexuality. But if you think about it, that’s where we currently are. This is even true within the church of Jesus Christ. There are elements of acceptance of the LGBTQ community, and other groups which do not accept LGBTQ as valid. Some faith groups allow for premarital sexual expression and some do not.
But there is widespread acceptance of the following:
Consent must be applied to all sexual relationships
Honesty and integrity are vital to healthy sexuality
The practice of safe sex is paramount for everyone
Sexuality with minors is always wrong.
Most of these conclusions do not come directly from the Bible, but rather from experience, logic, and the dialogue of interested communities.
To which I apply my central idea: The Bible itself is only marginally helpful in creating a complete ethical system for sexuality. We should stop trying to make it the cornerpiece of such a system.