Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Decolonize Lutheran Sex

As a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, and by Christ’s authority, I hereby declare to you that I want you to have good sex,   and only good sex1, whatever that means to you.
As a Lutheran pastor, I want you to have good sex, and only good sex, not only because I am a compassionate person and want your life to be good, but also, as a pastor, because I want your spiritual life to be good.

I’m not going to get myself too involved in the particulars of how you do that, because, as a pastor, that’s not something I have any authority over.  I don’t know what good sex is for you any more than the next person does. Good sex, to you, might even mean the way you enjoy your body in celibacy. But I do have the authority to say this: being connected to your own, created sexuality is intimately connected to the health of your relationship with God.

And I claim the authority to say that because I learned it from St Paul himself, in the first chapter of Romans.

The first chapter of Romans is one that has been most used, after Leviticus, to shame and exclude and colonize and oppress Queer people like me. Verses 26-27 are one of those “texts of terror,” and I’m going to quote them, so prepare yourself:

For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

As a Queer woman2, I’m especially fascinated by this passage, because it’s the only one in all of Scripture that arguably forbids girl on girl action.  Every other passage that is used against Queer people is explicitly addressed to men.  It appears that God is far more interested in what men do with each other than what women do.  Isn’t that odd?

What most LGBTQ theologians will tell you, and it’s true, is that this passage shouldn’t be used for constructing a sexual ethic, because the sex stuff just isn’t the point of the passage.  St Paul is setting up a bigger argument towards the famous Lutheran idea in chapter 3: “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” In order to get there, he has to convince his audience that all people have sinned, and that’s no easy task, since most of us secretly believe we’re pretty righteous, and that *other* people are the big sinners.  So in Chapter 1, where we find our sex verses, Paul is helping us connect to the idea that *other* people, like those crazy sex-having people are sinners, and in the first verse of Chapter 2 he tells us we’re sinning *right this instant* for judging them, and spends the rest of chapter 2 about how *we* are all sinners, so that he can get to his famous verses in chapter 3.

Now, if this is all a big trap to get us sinning by judging other people for sinning, we really shouldn’t use it as a way to call other people sinners, right?  That’s the traditional way of addressing chapter 1 in an LGBTQ affirming manner, and I agree with it 100%.  Everyone on earth messes up, and everyone on earth receives God’s grace, which is the center of our faith.

AND I still come back to chapter 1, those dirty sex verses, over and over and over again, as the center of my sex-positive Christian ethics.  Because there’s a hidden assumption in them that I just love.
Remember how those verses start out “for this reason God gave them up to degrading passions”?  What reason?  St Paul says “Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him3.” 

It was because the people didn’t recognize the invisible nature of God in the things God made that their sexuality, St Paul says, is mixed up.  Paul thinks that having a mixed up relationship with God results in a mixed up relationship with our sexuality.

St. Paul assumes that our knowing the divine mystery of God’s nature is somehow connected with knowing our own sexuality.

St. Paul assumes that knowledge of our Creator is connected to knowing how God created our own sexualities.

Do you see it? A healthy relationship with God is connected to a healthy relationship with our own sexuality!

Now, St Paul is *not* an expert on who God created me to be, as a woman much less as a Queer person.  But St Paul *is* authoritative about what the human/Divine relationship is like, and I believe him here.  St Paul knows what he is talking about.

And this experience is affirmed over and over and over again in the lives of Queer people: when we try to stay in the closet, when we try to alienate ourselves from who God created us to be, we end up alienated from the Creator Godself.  And it is only in beginning to accept and love our own sexual selves that we are able to again love and trust God.

I think if you ask some straight people who’ve done as much thinking about sexuality as Queer people are forced to do, you’ll find similar stories.

So, as your pastor, I want you to connect to what *you* know your God-given, healthy sexuality is.  Because I honestly believe that it is connected to your healthy relationship to God.

Now, that relationship has been robbed from us, colonized, like so many other things. There are forces in this world that want to keep you alienated from God, and they’ll use all the tools they have.  And the tragic thing is, they’ll even use the church.  They especially like to use the church to colonize us.

To colonize something is to claim ownership of something that isn’t yours, to exert your power over it, to claim its resources as your own, and to not allow it to exist in its given state.  And the church is usually right on the front line of colonizing things: land, people, cultures…..your sexuality.

The church tells you it gets to decide what is natural for you, who God has created you, and your sexuality, to be.  But when it does that, it *harms* your relationship with God, and that is a grave sin.  The church is sinning against you when it tells you you can’t be yourself, that the sexuality God has created holy is somehow wrong.

So we need to reclaim it. We need to decolonize our beautiful, loving, healthy sexualities, in order to have whole and healthy relationships with Divine mystery.  And *you* are the only one who knows who God created you to be.  You are the authority on this.

There may be some guidelines the church, and Bible, have the authority to give: when we are our best created selves, we, and all the people around us, thrive together.  Sexuality that harms other people isn’t God-given.  Promises are sacred.  People who are weaker need protection from people who are stronger.  But there aren’t very many of these rules.  And it is a sacred task to figure out how they apply to your created self.  It will be a lifelong process, but the better your relationship is with God and the more you grow in love for other people, the more you’ll grow into knowing who you have been created to be. And it is a good and a holy thing to do, to grow in your relationships with God, yourself, and others.  In fact, it’s the center of our calling as Christians, and as Lutherans.

So, dear people of God, decolonize your sex. Claim what God has given to *you* to use in loving the world.  Grow into what your healthy sexuality is, who God created you to be.   Figure out what good sex is and isn’t for you, and have that, and only that. Because loving God, and loving the world, and loving your sexuality, are intimately connected.

As a called an ordained pastor in the Lutheran church, and by Christ authority, I say to you: have good sex.  Because your relationship with God depends upon it. 

1. Good sex, for you, may be sex by yourself. In fact, I hope the sex you have by yourself is really good! There are also people for whom, for a time or for a lifetime, a healthy connection with their sexuality has more to do with feeling good and yummy in the body in a celibate way, and I hope if that’s you, you get that too. I never want anyone to feel like they’re “supposed to” have sex they don’t want to have!
 2. Mostly woman. I’m a little GenderQueerish, but for the purposes of this post….let’s go ahead and say woman. GenderQueer stuff can be another post.
 3. Those are verses 20 and 21. Yes, I’m aware I skipped a few. I promise they don’t change my point, but go ahead and look them up if you want to. I’ll wait. Ok, ready to go on?


  1. This is really thoughtful and such a great read. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

  2. Sent this to my (Lutheran) nephew in college who is scoffed at whenever he identifies as asexual.
    Wish I had had these words when I was young.