MonthApril 2015

Mom Crashes Sex Ed Class

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On my way home from a haircut after work last Friday, I heard a brief interview with a woman who had gone to her son’s grade 9 sex ed class. This was in a public school in Michigan. She got angry enough about the perspective being presented that she hollered obscenities at those leading the class.

I agreed with some of her objections to what was being presented to the children.  The view of sex that was being promulgated by the speakers was faulty.  She does not seem to be aware that her position begins with the same faulty premise.

Both the presenters and the angry mom believe there is a profound separation between the spirit and the body.

The Presentation

One of the speakers told his story. He had a challenging past involving an alcoholic father and getting a girl pregnant. He ended up dating and then marrying a different woman who had practiced abstinence.

According to Dreger, the man concluded his talk telling the boys that they should look to marry a girl who says no. Dreger’s was very angry about presenting these conclusions to young people because it shames those girls who say yes–girls that she describes as those who “enjoy sex.”

When we talk about sex with young people we must be careful. The message of abstinence must be delivered without shaming those who are sexually active. It is important to let children know that abstinence is a state to which one can return. I do object to the implication that people who say no to sex, do so because they don’t, or wouldn’t enjoy it–those practicing abstinence have a pretty good idea that sex is enjoyable.

It’s the whole shaming thing that made Dreger lose it. Here too, I agree with Dreger. But she seems to link between advocating abstinence and being ashamed of sex. Of course, these can be linked, but one doesn’t necessarily follow the other.

As a side note, both the interviewer and Dreger seemed to be under the impression, perhaps they are right, that the main (or only) purpose of sex education is to prevent unwanted pregnancy. This strikes me as a very narrow purpose.

Faulty Premise

Ironically, Dreger’s view and that of the presenters which so angered her (at least the way she characterized it), both have similar roots going all the way back to the ancient Greeks–the belief that there is a profound separation of body and spirit.

One view has a negative idea of the spirit and the other has a negative view of the body.

For some, the separation results in the belief that the transcendent is essentially non-existent, thus sex is a solely physical event.

It seems as if Dreger fits into this category, and the presenters in her son’s sex ed class (as she characterizes them) fit into the other–where the separation results in the belief that the body is inferior to the spiritual and therefore a corruption of the spirit. Dreger quite correctly objects to the denial of the inherent goodness of sex which comes with this view, but to view sex as simply physical is also, in my opinion, a degradation of sex.

The Integrity of Body and Soul

There is a third view avoids this degradation, and celebrates both sex and abstinence, by understanding the integrity of body and spirit. It’s the view of sex found in the Bible, and there it’s described using the term “one flesh.”

One flesh is built the understanding that body and soul are one, and it refers to a new entity created by two individuals in the marriage relationship.  Sex is only one piece of the “one flesh” paradigm. It’s much more than a physical–the marriage partners become one in every other way as well.

Once married, all relationships change–with mother and father, with friends, and particularly with every member of the opposite sex. There are changes in the food I eat, the movies I watch and how I spend my time. My money becomes our money. My big TV becomes our big TV. The physical act of sex is representative of this new entity created by marriage.

You can see why many Christians believe in abstinence before marriage, not because sex is something bad, but that it is a part of a much bigger picture. In the Christian mind, you can’t separate the sex from all the rest without degrading the sex. Just as it would be foolish to share all your banking information with someone with whom you have no commitment, it would also be crazy to share a bed with them.

This idea seems strange to our culture. How can my body–the site of the self–not be mine and mine alone? It’s an alien idea because we are so committed to the autonomy of the individual, that we are repulsed by the idea of belonging to another in such a significant way.

If we are nothing more than animals, we might as well enjoy the pleasures of sex when it feels right–it’s only natural. But if are something more than animal, and that everything we do with our body is linked to every other aspect of our being–including a spiritual reality–then we might look at sex a little differently.

This is a Biblical view and those who follow its truth believe that sex is a wonderful thing that is best enjoyed when it is shared along with one’s whole life. Placing sex in this context elevates it from the level of a shameful act, but it also lifts it way beyond the level of a pleasurable, animal act. If you are going to be pro-sex, it seems to me the Biblical approach is the best.

I agree we with Dreger that we should be honest with children about sex. But honesty about sex looks different from different perspectives. For me this means we tell children how good it is and also that it’s a part of giving one’s whole life to another.

Scripture and Truth

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Does scripture have the final say in truth?

I had never heard of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral until it came up in a few sermons. And the way it was applied concerned me a little and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Although John Wesley never spoke of a quadrilateral, his writings apparently indicate that he drew his theological and doctrinal conclusions from four sources–tradition, experience, reason, and scripture.

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral

I like abstract constructs like the Wesleyan Quadrilateral; it is a useful tool for us to understand that we derive our theological opinions, both individually and collectively, from many sources–namely,

  • tradition,
  • experience,
  • reason
  • and scripture.

This is handy because we have theological disagreements in the church where the participants believe that their position is true because it is derived from scripture alone; it is, as far as they are concerned, the only legitimate position. This allows them to dismiss or even demonize their brothers and sisters in the Lord who hold to a different interpretation.

The problem in these conflicts is we aren’t aware of the other influences that shape our understanding of scripture.

My Problems with the Application of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

Initially, I struggled with the way the Wesleyan Quadrilateral was applied in the sermons when I first learned of it.  Let me paraphrase what I think was said from the pulpit:

Theological truths are derived from tradition, experience, reason and scripture, but the greatest of these is scripture.

In one sense, this is appropriate because of the four, scripture alone is inspired by God. But my concern is that in claiming scriptural supremacy, we end up in the scenario described above, where combatants simply claim their view of what scripture says and the only correct view.

Each element is influenced by the other three. It would be nice if scripture stood alone and could be brought in as the final word, but scripture is mediated by the other components. Rationalists incorrectly believe that reason is uninfluenced by the others, but they too are mistaken.

The Wesleyan Quadrilateral is a useful tool for us to begin to understand that our theological ideas come from different sources, but this tool must be understood as an over-simplification of very complex issues.

So what then is the proper attitude for arriving at doctrinal or theological truth (or any truth, for that matter)?

The Moral Rule

Luigi Giussani applies this moral rule:

Love the truth of an object more than your attachment to the opinions you have already formed about it. More concisely, once could say, “love the truth more than yourself” (31).

The Wesleyan triangle is useful here. By acknowledging that our theological positions come from a complex blend of tradition, experience, reason, and scripture we can begin to understand our attachment to preconceptions and prejudices. We can’t simply pretend these attachments aren’t there, but we can take of a position of detachment relative to them–really, it is a detachment from ourselves before the truth.

Giussani suggests that this imperative is articulated in Matthew 5:3 when Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The poor are those “who have nothing to defend, who are detached from those things that they seem to possess so that their lives are not dedicated to affirming their own possession” (32).

This ethical imperative places the self under the truth–it comes down to loving the truth more than you love yourself. Before we’ve detached ourselves from our preconceptions, we will use scripture to defend ourselves.  Scripture takes up a position with us, often in opposition to the truth.

But if we have done the very hard work of separating our selves from the truth, scripture takes up a new position, not in the defense of self, but in the articulation of truth.

Now those are some good lyrics . . .

I’m a big fan of Josh Garrels and his latest album, Home, was just released.

He’s giving it away! Click here to download. Don’t forget to give a tip.

I often lament that the lyrics of so many of the songs Christians sing are artless.

Not so with Josh Garrels.

Here are a few fragments of Josh’s lyrics from this new album.  This artful poetry combined with his incredible talent as a musician (and his unique voice) make Josh Garrels my favourite singer songwriter, Christian or otherwise.

From “Born Again”:

Instincts are guiding me

Like a beast to some blood

And I can’t get enough

From “Born Again”

Running scared in between what I hate

And what I need

Savior and enemy are both trying

To take my soul

From “Colors”

So let all the creatures sing

Praises over everything

Colors are meant to bring

Glory to the light

From “A Long Way”

There’s a time in our lives

To return, sacrifice

Wild grass has grown high

On the path between our lives

From “The Arrow”

How on earth did it all go down like this? I’ve got no words to make sense of it My shield, my fight for righteousness Could not protect me from myself

From “At the Table”

‘Cause I lost some nameless things

My innocence flew away from me

She had to hide her face from my desire

To embrace forbidden fire

But at night I dream

She’s singing over me

Oh, oh, my child

From “Benediction”

As the days unfold

Hold your breath to see

Life is a mystery

And joy, it is severe

When the way is rough and steep

But love will make your days complete

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