“Digital Minimalism: A philosophy of technology use in which you focus your online time on a small number of carefully selected and optimized activities that strongly support things you value, and then happily miss out on everything else.”
Our family has been experimenting with a no-social-media-life. Aaron left social media a year ago and I’ve been taking more frequent and longer breaks from Facebook and Instagram in the past few months. Almost as long as we’ve been married, we’ve deactivated or signed off of Twitter and Snapchat, and haven’t downloaded TikTok or any of the other more recent apps.
Even in the midst of COVID-19, social distancing, and remote work, we’re not itching to see what everyone else is doing. It probably looks similar to what we’re doing: staying home. We catch the news from our state’s website our local NPR station, and one or two other online newspapers or non-profits. It certainly cuts down on the amount of irrelevant clutter or distractions.
(I’ll take this moment and say that while narrowing our intake of information, we have not simply cut out opposing views in favor of sources that are likely to “agree” with us. Selective media exposure, according to research, has consequences. In limiting our intake of digital media we have been conscious of this. Well-rounded media consumption can still happen in thoughtful, small portions.)
When I was initially debating a minimalist approach, I wasn’t sure if I would be successful. I gave myself a few questions to consider.
What causes me to pick up my phone and check these apps?
How are these posts edifying my life or the community I live in?
How does scrolling through my feed make me feel afterwards?
My answers to these questions will probably look different than yours. Maybe you enjoy a 24 hour break. Or maybe you’re looking for a long-term change. I know that my online presence can directly influence how I handle anxiety and how I interact with others in real life. But this isn’t a universal experience.
“We all need empty hours in our lives or we will have no time to create or dream.”
— Robert Coles
Observations I’ve made in my own life since signing off:
In the past two months neither of us have had access to the “normal” feed of photos, articles, and memes and have not felt FOMO (fear of missing out) or uninformed.
Social media is a place to share your life but you are not obligated to friend/follow the lives of anyone and everyone around you. I’ve “unfollowed” most of my “friends” on Facebook so my feed is now very brief. (Don’t worry, we’re still friends. I just don’t see everything you post.) If I were to sign on, I now only see the posts from a few family members and close friends.
Sourcing news from social media is not the only way to stay updated on important events and changes in your community. By taking news related media (and many of the well-intentioned opinions of Facebook) off of my feeds, I’d say I feel better informed by going straight to the sources. (Take this chance to strengthen your media literacy!)
My digital presence feels different based on if I’m using my phone or laptop. My laptop does not follow me into the bedroom, but my phone usually does since it’s my alarm clock. My laptop is more often used for writing and more professional endeavors, while my phone is seen as more casual.
Simply deleting the apps from my phone and signing off made me less likely to jump back in. Making it harder to access my feeds, makes it easier to find something else to do.
Things I’ve done instead of scroll: take longer walks, spend time cooking & baking new recipes, reading, several projects around our apartment, complete a sewing project or two, weekly counseling sessions, painting, sort and organize for our upcoming move, and of course, enjoy moments of boredom.
“All television is educational television. The question is: what is it teaching?”
— Nicholas Johnson
All that to say, I’m definitely not anti-social media or digital consumption. It’s a wonderful tool for connection and creativity, and sharing pieces of our lives. I look forward continue to use it thoughtfully, especially as it has become vital for so many during COVID19. I love having the instant access to inspiration, new and old friends, and sharing what interests me.
Have you considered jumping off social media or taking a different approach to your digital life?
In the words of Carolyn Custis James, is God good for women? How would you answer that question?
In your personal experience and study of scripture or history, has the church been a reflection of God’s loving kindness and faithfulness to women? Where would you like to see the church improve? Is there a difference between equality and power?
For many evangelical Christians there is fear associated with the concept of feminism. It can be perceived to be a threat to masculinity or an attempt to overturn the “biblical” design. Many people do not speak kindly about it or those who support it and there are plenty of polarizing, misinformed nicknames and phrases as evidence of this.
There is such a broad, beautiful spectrum of feminists. Feminism supports the idea women can freely make their own choices and raise their voices on issues that matter to them. The goal isn’t to be a monolithic movement, but to give women the same opportunity to think and choose for themselves as men have had. Women have a right to choose what to believe and how to worship, how to love those around them, care for their bodies, and how to shape their career.
For example, as a Christian feminist, I support women working hard to advance their career, whether in the marketplace or at home with her children. I support a woman’s right to choose where and how she works, even if I choose differently.
You might think women have these freedoms already. And yes, many women have these privileges. Feminist movements in the Western world have given us the right to vote, the ability to work outside the home (if you want!) and be paid (theoretically) equal for the same job, and equal access to education and healthcare. The results aren’t perfect but they have made significant progress we can celebrate. Yet, on a global level, many countries still have not adopted these practices and girls and women are not able to access education, financial independence, or bodily autonomy (female genital mutilation, child marriage, legal marital rape, etc.), among other things.
Let’s say you’re still unsure but you’re open. My purpose in this post isn’t to get down to the Greek and convince you of anything, nor is this the most elaborate explanation of how to be feminist Christian. I’m still learning, too. I offer my perspective as an invitation to discover how the Christian faith and feminism can actually work together for the mutual flourishing of women and men.
A quick skim of the scripture reveals a text full of male imagery and pronouns for God. Names or metaphors like Lord, King, or Father are used in both Old and New Testaments. Without a background in languages it may seem silly to ask if God is male or female, when the text is so “clear.”
But is the Bible clear? We use male pronouns in sermons, songs, and in our prayers. The Hebrew Bible also uses the third person singular pronoun in reference to God, which we’ve translated as male. And of course, the person of Jesus Christ is male but does this mean the Holy Spirit and God “the Father” are also male? Taking a closer look we find:
God is not a created, gendered being like humans are and cannot be accurately reflected in an image or seen outside Jesus Christ. Language about God always requires an analogy since God is beyond being.
God “the Father” is a metaphor used by Jesus Christ in Matthew 6 and 28 is not a literal relationship. God did not contribute any biological matter to create the Son. The Son is a person of the Trinity, which has no beginning. Father-language is used to reflect a personal relationship and can be appropriate to use, although not exclusively.
Deuteronomy 4:15-19 prohibits images of God and idols, both male and female. Creating either a male image or female image for God is idolatrous.
It might be grammatically awkward to withhold gendered pronouns while talking about God but it offers a more precise foundation from which to worship, communicate, and cultivate healing. What we believe about God impacts our understanding of gender, personhood, and power. Other gender-neutral names for God include I Am, Creator, Divine, Light, Vine, Redeemer, Potter, Sustainer, and Word.
This is just one example of why a feminist lens in theology can be helpful. Feminist theology, in general, wants to read sacred texts from the experience of women, which is notably different than men. Mind you, there’s many different theories and beliefs surrounding feminist theology, some more orthodox than others.
“The uniqueness of feminist theology lies not in its use of the criterion of experience but rather in its use for women’s experience which has been almost entirely shut out of theological reflection in the past. The use of women’s experience in feminist theology, therefore, explodes as a critical force, exposing classical theology…as based on male experience rather than on universal human experience.”
In the scriptures God reached out to a people shaped by patriarchy, and certainly as Christians we have relied on the faith of patriarchs like Abraham, Jacob, Isaac, and David, to shape our own faith. Yet, just because patriarchy was the longest running social norm does not mean it will continue to be the superior means to a thriving society or the only channel through which God communicates. Just ask the women at the empty tomb.
Similar to patriarchy, masculinity is not inherently bad. However, because we live in a fallen world, our understanding of masculinity and how society enforces its expectations can be misguided. Research has helped us understand that many rigid expectations(Men should be this; Men should be like that; Men should not do this) we have placed on boys and men are not healthy for the larger community as they contribute to increased rates of mental illness and violence.
This study in Australia evaluated the impact of beliefs that men are “to be tough; not to show any emotions; to be the breadwinner, to always be in control, use violence to solve problems; and to have many sexual partners.” The report details the differences between men who hold these beliefs and those who do not. Men who believe this about themselves are more likely to consider suicide, initiate verbal bullying in person or online, or make sexual/sexist comments towards women, among other responses. Read the rest here.
This study in the UK found “61% of 18-24 year olds feel UK society expects a man to “man up” when faced with a challenge and over half (55%) said that crying in front of others would make a man feel less masculine.”
As people of hope, can we observe a healthy spectrum of masculinity in the scriptures? The Bible is full of wisdom on what Christian life and practice can look like for all people, regardless of gender. The following people are a few specific examples of what masculinity can look like, as an alternative to the toxic/rigid expectations we commonly see today:
Expressed a full range of emotions including joy, sadness, anger, tiredness, and playfulness.
Demonstrated compassion, forgiveness, and self-control.
Honored, trusted, listened to, and travelled with women.
Shared space, time, and meals with those considered social outcasts and untouchable.
Washed the feet of his disciples.
Job admits vulnerability and suffering but does not curse God.
Held close friendship with Jonathan.
Repented from his sin.
Expressed emotions through artistic poems and psalms, and dancing in the streets.
Demonstrated courage during his time as a young shepherd or as a leader in battle.
Boaz acted generously and compassionately towards the poor and marginalized, namely Ruth, an immigrant widow.
Known as the “son of encouragement.”
Believed Saul’s controversial conversion and discipled him and John Mark.
Joseph and Daniel lived with integrity even as they were tested physically, spiritually, and relationally.
The authors of scripture also praise and emphasize non-gendered attributes like gentleness, peace, patience, responsibility, and self-control. Where else can you find examples of healthy masculinity in the scriptures?
Language and verses related to submission have been used to oppress various populations, both in secular and religious liturgy. The instructions in scripture surrounding submission are not justification for abuse. If you are a survivor of abuse or sexual violence, it is okay to be uncomfortable with scripture or liturgy that includes this topic. Please, take your time to heal and come back gently as you feel ready. With this in mind, I would rather use different terminology to describe the appropriate course of action for friendships, marriages, and communities.
“He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
As a church we are called to walk in humility, to love others deeply, respecting who they are and their experience, to relinquish any pride, and as the ESV says in Romans 12:10, “outdo one another in showing honor.”
Self-discipline, service, and submission are all highly praised characteristics in the scriptures. These qualities are not limited to or better suited for one gender over another. But if someone believes in the stereotypes built by benevolent sexism, it can be easy to assume men should be superior to women. After all, they are the “natural leaders,” right?
To submit assumes a hierarchy is in place. Is the hierarchy between genders? Or between Creator and the creation?
There’s enough evidence in the scripture and history to make a strong case for women’s leadership. But I don’t believe Jesus’ radical inclusion of women was meant to flip the patriarchy into matriarchy. The life and ministry of Jesus itself was backwards. The Son of God, second person of the Trinity, the Incarnation of the divine enters the world through a humble birth, denies the offer of power, and goes on to touch those who are contagious and outcast, heals chronic illness, shares meals with social outsiders, and washes the muck from his disciples’ ungroomed feet.
The parables of the Good Samaritan, the Lost Sheep, and the Workers in the Vineyard (Mt 20:1-16) among other lessons and stories from the life of Jesus reveal there is no seniority or hierarchy in the Kingdom of God. No one is above another. The hierarchy appears to only exist between God and humans.
This is a very simple summary of a vast collection of thoughts and centuries of academic study. I’ve included some more resources below if this topic is your bread and butter.
Your church may have a formal position on this issue. It may not. If your tradition does not allow women to teach or deliver sermons, this can be especially difficult for women who feel drawn to this type of ministry. Historically many churches have denied women a place at the pulpit but have sent female missionaries to teach and preach doctrine to others. This becomes a challenging situation and calls into question how church leaders view the abilities of women (How are women good enough for global missions but not for local church ministry?) and the personhood of those in “mission fields” (What do you think of the unreached if you send them your “second best”?)
Christianity, and more specifically evangelical Christianity, has not always been resistant towards gender equality. (Read a brief article on the history of Christian feminism here.) I believe this is really hopeful. It’s worth asking your church if they have a formal stance, and if not, asking more about how the church can make space for the voices of women. You could start with reading materials authored by female pastors or theologians, supporting women in seminary, or inviting a guest preacher if there are no immediate possibilities already in the congregation.
If your church has a formal stance opposed to women in leadership, there is still hope. You’ll have to discern for yourself where the Holy Spirit is leading you. If you chose to stay in your church, I suggest finding some type of online or in-person community that supports your exploration. There are still women pioneering the way for others in these traditions who may offer insight and wisdom for your context.
Do I need to call myself a feminist? Isn’t female empowerment enough?
“There’s too much baggage associated with feminism.”
I hear this more than anything else. And guess what. The people who say this are right. But they forget the term “Christian” is another loaded word that many people associate with racism, colonization, sexism, greed, and horrific physical and sexual violence. As far as I know those fearful of labeling themselves as feminists, still self-identify as Christians.
More importantly, what should I call someone who seeks the equal respect of all genders? In this moment in history we call them feminists, just like we call those who serve the church ministers. Not all ministers agree on all issues and some certainly give others a bad name. Does this diminish the role or purpose of the minister? Or feminist? If you have ideas for a new term, by all means, let’s hear it!
At its core, feminism seeks to remove all boundaries that do not allow women the same rights and privileges as men. Women, like men, deserve to make their own choices and have their voices heard.
There are different theories, perspectives, and methodologies within feminism — just like diversity of denominations or traditions of Christianity. Christian feminism reminds us of the mystery of a sovereign God, the fallenness and beauty in our interpretations of gender, and the practical instruction to honor each member of our community as we love ourselves. Using the strengths of our unique contexts we can embrace the core goal of feminism to nourish communities and glorify God.
Ask 10 people what feminism means and you may get 10 different answers. Feminism can be loaded subject and sometimes it pushes people further into their respective corners. When I think of my work within purity culture, the concept of feminism is easily intertwined. It made sense to bring light to it here. My hope is to dispel a few misconceptions and bridge a few gaps for my audience.
Think of it this way, feminism is a garden with a variety of theories, perspectives, and methodologies. It’s ok to not understand or agree with everything you see; simply enter the garden with curiosity.
(By no means is this an exhaustive explanation or resource on feminism. This is simply a launching pad for better dialogue and exploration.)
Defining the Terms
It’s hard to learn if there is not a shared language. Here are some definitions that might be old news to you, but I’ll include just in case. Some are more contested than others. I’ve also included a few extra resources that I found interesting.
“the belief in social, economic, and political equality of the sexes”
“Feminism is a gamut of socio political movements and ideologies that share a common goal to delineate, establish, and achieve political, economic, personal, and social equality of sexes. Feminist movements over decades have campaigned for rights of women, including the right to vote, to hold public office, to work, to earn fair wages or equal pay, to own property, to receive education, to enter contracts, to have equal rights within marriage, and to have maternity leave. Feminists have also worked to promote bodily autonomy and integrity and to protect women and girls from brutal crimes such as rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.”
“The one historical strategy of feminism that is also a philosophical imperative is the cultivation of an independent mind. Independent thinking, acquired through rigorous education, is the bastion of liberalism and specifically underscores the tenet of freedom.”
“Patriarchy is a social structure, not a conspiracy among men. It is not always intentional; men need not intend to oppress women. Men too are subject to the enormous pressures of a social system that creates paths of least resistance consistent with patriarchy, such as going along with the locker room chatter about babes. Men as well as women are damaged by patriarchy. For example, masculine men are hurt when they learn to repress emotions and to deny their needs for connection and intimacy in order to avoid being punished as sissies and to maintain the control necessary to protect themselves from other men.”
“Gender refers to the roles, behaviours, activities, attributes and opportunities that any society considers appropriate for girls and boys, and women and men. Gender interacts with, but is different from, the binary categories of biological sex.”
Feminism, as a movement, is a relatively recent one. But the hope (ache) for equality is not new.
“…women have always found ways to resist the oppressions of patriarchal forms, systems, and values. These currents in feminist theory are important for reminding us that women, though oppressed, need not be rendered essentially as victims; indeed, that many have found ways to make vital contributions in, around, and in spite of myriad forms of sexist oppression.”
I don’t intend to be the spokesperson for the history of feminism, so I’ll summarize the Western movements here with different voices and hope it inspires you to learn more about global movements.
The First Wave of Feminism (Late nineteenth to early twentieth century) advocated for women, not as their father’s or husband’s property, but as equal members of society.
The Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 was a formal (imperfect) spark that motivated over 200 (mostly white) women to demand equal rights, including the right to vote. Remember Fredrick Douglas, Elizabeth Cady Staton, and Lucreia Mott? They, along with other suffragists and abolitionists fought for the rights of women during this time.
Sojourner Truth delivered the speech“Ain’t I Woman?” in 1883 during the Women’s Rights Convention in Ohio.
In 1919-1920, the 19th Amendment of the US Constitution was passed allowing women the right to vote. (Chances are your grandmother or great-grandmother lived to see this happen.)
“The Personal is Political” was a popular phrase and describes the fight to address systemic sexism. (Marital rape and domestic violence were not illegal.)
Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title IX, and Roe v. Wade, among other cases supporting women’s access to birth control were passed during this time as women sought equal access to finances, education, and healthcare.
The Third Wave of Feminism (1990s–), a response to the Second Wave, seeks to be more inclusive of non-white, middle class, heterosexual women. Its timeline is challenging to pin point and contested by many.
New theories emerged in the 1980s-1990s.Intersectionality, a term coined by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, describes the different forms of oppression and how they often overlap; Judith Butler brought awareness to the differences between “sex” and “gender”
In 1991, Anita Hill, a law professor, brought case of sexual harassment to the Supreme Court. It was one of the first public testimonies of workplace harassment, although not the first case of workplace harassment.
Feminism, like other systems of belief or thought, is a spectrum. There are all different combinations of motivations, fears, and convictions under the larger umbrella. Many feminists disagree with other feminists.
Feminism cannot be defined by a single wave or a single figure. It is a living and breathing body of work and people who have general commonalities and specific differences.
The Relationship Between Feminism & Racial Justice
This is just one example. Too easily, feminism can bypass the unique obstacles women of color face. Racial justice/reconciliation is too often seen as a secondary issue; it should be prioritized if feminism means what it says. White supremacy and white privilege are still active systems in today’s world. How many of these privileges do you benefit from?
True feminism must recognize and support not only white women, but all women.
Thanks to COVID19 you may be cooped up at home for a little while. I found this post buried in my drafts and thought it was the perfect time to post for anyone looking for some inspiration to organize.
I don’t have the wildest style when it comes to clothes but I do have some wild ethical dilemmas when I happen to browse a shopping mall. Since learning about how many clothes are produced and more recently learning about textile waste and water pollution, I’ve been increasingly aware that clothes communicate. They often form first impressions and they help define our roles, from uniforms to our faith. The money we spend communicates our priorities. What we wear and how we wear it is never neutral.
(If you have Netflix, you can watch a handful of documentaries on clothing production. Personally, I loved this episode of Patriot Act.)
What are you communicating?
My body is created as an imago dei. Clothing in scripture is used to express mourning, worship, and celebration as well as status and inheritance. God clothes Adam and Eve as they leave the garden. Exodus takes time to describe the intricate details of the priests’ clothes. In Luke, the prodigal son was immediately given the best robes and a ring upon his return. I don’t think this is an excuse to break the bank on the “best robes,” instead it means my clothing can be a reflection of a larger story.
My personal style is not formed in a vacuum. There are real people behind the jeans I pull on to my body and the shirts I reach my arms through. The patterns, fabrics, and details are designed and constructed by fellow image bearers. What I choose to purchase and wear either supports or exploits them. Ads or influencers will try to tell me what I need, but am I aware of the impact these fads have on the individuals and families working to produce these items?
When possible, I want to enjoy the clothes I wear, from the feel of the fabric, to fit, and to the ease of movement. Simply because something is on sale or in everyone else’s closet does not require me to go after it. Historically, impulse purchases have not been my friend. And quite honestly, those items wear out or get thrown out pretty quickly. Part of the fun in building a closet is the hunt! (Or the creativity to find new combinations of what you already own!) This requires some confidence and self-control to survive the waves of trendy styles. Did I mention patience?
What makes the cut?
Will I be able to wear this piece with other items I already own? Does the quality and style of this item allow me to wear it over time?For example, I’ve looked at the quality of shoes – sustainable materials, well-crafted design, and classic looks help avoid high turnover.
For what purpose does this item serve? Perhaps I need slacks for my job or a coat for the cold weather. You might even say that the accessory inspires beauty or flatters your shape in a unique way. There’s no immediate harm in a large wardrobe, but you might be surprised how satisfied you could be with a selective wardrobe. (Less to wash, less to fold?)
Am I willing and able to care properly for this item? Does this item require tailoring? Cashmere, wool, leather and other fabrics or other details may require special care that will impact your use and your budget.
Does this fit in my budget? Some pieces are investments. Some pieces are steals. (Just because the item is expensive does not mean its quality.)
What does my purchase mean for those who made this piece? Is my purchase complicit in exploitation? Or am I supporting a legitimate, ethical business or artisan? In an effort to reduce textile waste and support local businesses or charities, purchasing brand new clothes may come as plan b, if possible. If you do decide to shop brand new, look for an ethics/sourcing policy on the brand’s website. (Often located in the fine print at the bottom of the home page.) Beware of fast fashion.
Notes for the road.
Organize what you have. How you organize and display your clothes will also determine what you use. Use shoeboxes, hangers, shoe racks, and other household items to keep your items visible and ready. You might find something you forgot about or you might realize you have more than you need.
Accessories bring new life. Scarves, jewelry, bags, belts, even sunglasses (in moderation) can be a breath of fresh air for a beloved (old) cotton t-shirt and jeans. Don’t rush out to buy something else, when the solution may be right under your nose.
Try second hand first. I’ve had great experiences shopping for second hand items online on sites like eBay, ThredUp, and Poshmark. Shopping ethically doesn’t mean breaking the bank. Also, know your stores. You might find a better selection outside your normal commute. Consignment doesn’t always mean better, but there’s certainly a good chance you’ll find better quality more easily than your average church thrift store.
Know your measurements. Sizes will vary from brand to brand so don’t stick to a certain size section or rule out smaller/larger sizes simply because you’re a “6”.
Don’t be scared of a little maintenance. Jeans, sweaters, wool socks, oh my! Wear and tear happens and mending is a good skill to have in your back pocket to help you save a little money and avoid throwing out a perfectly good pair of jeans. A good tailor or cobbler can also make your clothes last through the years and fit properly.
I enter this conversation with many questions, very few answers, and a non-traditional (but common) experience of sex and marriage. Over the past few years I have deconstructed my initial understanding of sex and sexuality and just recently started to recreate my sexual ethics. This collection of thoughts is a work in progress and, honestly, will continue to evolve as I learn more.
Human bodies are important.
It’s a common misconception that our souls or spirits are more important than our physical bodies. Flesh is given a bad reputation as something that constantly tempts or deceives. (Have you ever heard the phrase, “…die to the flesh” or something like “that’s just my flesh talking”?) And yes, while we do live this side of the garden in a fallen world, the body does not lose inherent value.
Our bodies are created in the image of the divine and therefore how we use them and share them is important to God. Our physical senses of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste are all means by which we receive revelation from God and may also share God’s love with others.
“In essence, my body is my relationship to the world, to others, it is my life as communion and as mutual relationship… The body is not the darkness of the soul, but rather the body is its freedom, for the body is the soul as love, the soul as communion, the soul as life, the soul as movement. And this is why, when the soul loses the body, when it is separated from the body, it loses life.”
— Alexander Schmemann
The Incarnation also draws our attention to the importance of the body. Jesus came to earth through the body of a woman and he grew from an infant to young man. He experienced all the normal fluids, indigestion, fatigue, hunger, adrenaline, pain, excitement, etc. that we do. He could touch and be touched, savor food, and hear the seagulls. He was fully God and fully human.
Christ came as human and also ascended as a human to demonstrate the body, not only the soul, has eternal value and meaning.
“We cannot fully understand our bodies outside of grace; our bodies meet their true nature only as they are taken up into grace, as they are transformed in relationship to the risen Christ whose body still bears the wounds of crucifixion. The resurrected body, available to us in Jesus Christ, begins even now to make our bodies holy.”
— Beth Felker Jones,
Even now, your body is very good and self-hatred has no place. Christ welcomes you, in your body, to commune with him.
Sex is spiritual, too.
Sex, chastity, and celibacy are spiritual. Throughout church history people have abstained from sex with a goal to become closer to God, and likewise many have understood sex and marriage to also reflect divine intimacy.
And yet we are not only bodies. To believe this would inappropriately objectify humankind. What we think about sex and sexuality ultimately connects to our beliefs about gender, personhood, and God. These areas are intimately intertwined with each other. For example, if we believe women are inherently the weaker party, this will shape how we treat them and what we expect from them. Or if we believe God is male, this will have implications on how we view leadership and power. The list goes on.
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus addresses many things in the Sermon on the Mount. The act of murder and hateful thoughts, as well as adultery and lust are equal in God’s eyes. The invisible things matter just as much as the visible. To disregard our souls, in my opinion, would keep us from a holistic experience of sex or abstinence. I don’t mean to say our salvation is dependent on our sex lives. Far from it, I believe both body and soul, the visible and invisible, are practically inseparable as one learns and discerns how to become closer to God.
Compassionate dialogue over legalism.
Have you ever asked questions like “where’s the line?” or “how far can I go?” and received all different answers? Me too. Different religious groups have more rules than others, but to my knowledge gray area isn’t popular.
In an attempt to be “clear” and draw a line between “pure” and “impure,” many have defined sex as penetrative sex. Translated, this means as long as the penis has not entered/penetrated the vagina, sex has not occurred. And while this does offer a boundary, it does not consider the range of sexual acts that many experts still consider sex. Simply put, sex is the stimulation of the genitals, either with other genitals or with a hand or mouth, thus you have sexual inter- and outer- course. (Did you know? Sex does not require an orgasm to occur.)
Although not everyone may have sex in their lifetime, everyone has a sexuality. Conversations on sex are not simply a pep talk for engaged or married couples. Guidance that assumes marriage is a reality or goal for everyone is sorely mistaken. Unmarried people, young people, LGBTQ+ people, those who are no longer married, differently-abled people, and those crowned with gray hair, are necessary participants in the conversation on sex and intimacy.
Sex, chastity, and celibacy are individual and communal practices.
Individual or communal? Private choice or public discourse? I struggle with the binary of either/or and would rather say sex, chastity, and celibacy are the business of both the individual and the community. They are deeply personal things, yet a community’s dialogue (or lack thereof) has significant impact on the private activity of individuals and families. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements revealed the imbalance between the individual and community. Many churches neglect(ed) to protect the survivors of abuse and use(d) narratives of fear and condemnation to “educate” their members on sex and gender.
Individually, one’s choices on sex, chastity, and celibacy are incredibly personal. Consent, by nature, must be an individual choice. Whether consent is given or not, it must be a choice freely made by the individual.People are also entitled to privacy in this area and should not feel obligated to share things like how often they have sex or why they choose to abstain from sex. Many other details surrounding sex and sexuality, including personal preferences or healthcare choices, may be kept private as well.
Communally, we have a responsibility to protect our neighbors from sexual assault/rape, child marriage and pornography, domestic abuse, female genital mutilation, sexually transmitted diseases or infections, human trafficking and exploitation, and incest. To do so requires self-restraint or the enforcement of laws created to impose restraint on behaviors considered dangerous to others. Additionally, is it very important for us to support sex in safe contexts and advocate for age-appropriate, comprehensive, sex education for all people. All of this requires prioritizing the subject amongst families, churches, and local/national groups.
In another sense, I believe the marriage relationship is a small community. Spouses commit their bodies to each other and also choose to not have sex with others. There are certain periods where abstinence is appropriate, after childbirth, during illness, perhaps in a bout of grief or traumatic experience. (This is not an exhaustive list.) If the couple choses to have children, their union increases the impact they have on their nuclear community and the broader community they live in.
Was Mary actually a virgin? And other hard questions.
Did the Levite’s concubine sin? Did God actually condemn Esau, Jacob, David, and Solomon for their sex lives? Can we be sure the couple in Song of Solomon were actually married? And does it matter?
Perhaps this deserves another post, but since researching purity culture last year, I get a lot of good questions. Especially on premarital sex. I have so many questions on this term alone. What exactly is marriage? What is marriage when women are considered property? Economic contract or covenant? How have our definitions of sex changed?
Our English translations of the Bible are historically the interpretations of white men, for the most part. Translations are always interpretations. And these interpretations have shaped our theologies and language for God and God’s people.
Food for thought, for now.
FAQ: Is premarital sex wrong?
Before you jump to a yes or no answer, consider these questions instead.
What is this situation teaching me about God?
What about this situation gives life to me? Where do I feel life is being drained from me?
Am I able to see and honor the other person as imago dei? Am I able to see and honor myself as an image bearer? What does this mean to me?
Am I being coerced or attempting to exert my own power over another?
How am I prepared to address the potential emotional and physical outcomes of my choice, whether it’s sex or abstinence?
I am not able to answer these questions for you. I trust you to answer them honestly and make your own decisions. What I can tell you is that you, body, mind, and soul, are created as good. You are loved. You may ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and reveal more of God’s love for you.
Safe sex is, in my opinion, a non-negotiable. Consent between parties, understanding of applicable contraceptive options, and comprehensive sex education are foundational elements. The more specific definition of healthy sex will differ based on who you ask, but it should not exclude the elements of safe sex.
Wherever you find yourself, I’m with you and I’m for you.