Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Sunday Morning Sexual Healing
Was surfing tonight after a late evening of grocery shopping, when I saw this little ditty about a pastor in Florida who is challenging married members of his congregation to have sex every day for 30 days, and unmarried members of his congregation to NOT have sex for 30 days. The pastor is Paul Wirth, who according to his bio on the church website, likes U2, Anberlin, 80's Big Hair, the book "Blue Like Jazz", golf, and power hiking, and has also decided that the reason that the divorce rate in the country is 50% is that people don't have enough sex. Well, at least married people don't have enough sex. Single people have too much, thus the call for them to be abstinent for the next month. In the meantime, the church's pastor and it's (ahem) "visual arts" staff person are going to be keeping a blog about this experience so you can follow along regarding how this event is effecting the church, and people in it.
And why do all of this. Well, the rationale given on the web site is:
For far too long the church has remained silent on the subject, leading many people to believe that God is against sex, which is completely counter to what the Bible teaches.
In a world where news channels and internet portholes need to fill information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, churches who have been addressing the issue of sex have been making news. I caught Mark Beeson, senior pastor of Granger (IN) Community Church, on Fox News months ago when his church rented billboards with this image on it
to promote their sermon series on "Pure Sex".
Rob Bell Jr., senior pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan just wrote this book
"Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality". While not only preaching on the content at his church, he's been on a nationwide book promotional tour, speaking with (at times) huge crowds of people curious as to what the poster boy for the post-emergent Christian movement has to say on this most delicate subject.
Saw another "news story" on Life Community Church (Allen, Texas) that bought the internet domain name "www.mysexlifestinks.tv"
The story was about a mother outraged when the church sent a post card with the above image on it on a day that her child brought in the mail. The lead pastor is Ronnie Gibson, who has his own website, just in case you wanted to learn more about him. In this series, the church wants couples to open up about what they really want (in and out of bed), while also, they believe, give some hope to singles who are looking for that "right person" by making sure they have proper priorities as they rotate through the dating scene.
Also, here's another link to one of the sermon series (there have been four) that have been done at Life Church (based out of Oklahoma City, but with sites all over the country) called...
Could have been a name for one of those bad 80's movies.... oh, what do you know - IT WAS. Craig Groeschel as a part of this series (or maybe it was one of the other four) produced this video:
In a presentation I heard him give five or so years ago just after this video and his sermon were completed, he relayed to all of us in attendance that after the service it was pure chaos as cohabitating couples there that morning were either angry or ashamed. The church's staff was still dealing with the conversation the video sparked for months after it first aired.
So, what in the world is going on here? Why have these pastors, and many, many others writing books and sermon series entitled with some double entendre that makes the casual observer wonder if we'll be preaching, or teaching classes on all matters of... well, you get the picture. Here a few factors contributing to the (s)explosion of these kinds of sermon series:
- Lots of People Are Living Together: If you don't think this is a huge conundrum for the church, you'd be sadly mistaken. As statistically more people wait longer before they get married, and kind of try things out first by living together, the church right now isn't sure how to respond. You see, for a number of generations now, our lifeblood has been young families with children, Take a look at any of the church links above, and you'll discover they have killer children's ministries. Granger Community Church, for example, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars creating a state-of-the-art children's ministry area complete with all kinds of technology, indoor playlands, and every eye-catching graphic to brighten the place up you can imagine.
But as the social taboos around living together continue to diminish, all of these churches, which work really hard to look hip and now and with it and open and non-judgmental are finding themselves attracting unmarried couples with kids. Nothing creates more tension in an evangelical congregation (no matter how "hip" it purports itself to be) than the presence of unmarried couples with kids. Pastors then really have no choice.. somehow they have to address the issue to re-affirm the traditional Christian positions of monogamy, marriage for life, and celibacy for singles. Strangely enough though, in my own experience, these unmarried couples are at church because they don't want to make the same mistakes they made previously in failed relationships. They are often looking for frank talk about expectations, personal standards, and more traditional kinds of family values as means of generating stability in a family system that might not have had one in a while. Thus, particularly in churches that are successfully reaching people in their 20's and early 30's, the demand for this kind of message is high. The result is that this makes megachurch congregations, which are filled with both conservatives who want to hear conservative principles re-emphasized from the pulpit and seekers looking for a better way to live, ripe for this kind of message.
- Married People Are Getting Divorced At A Record Pace: And sex has a lot to do with it. That is, a lack of sexual intimacy between married partners, leading too often to infidelity on behalf of one, or both, spouses. Back in the nineties, the way this was addressed was to encourage married couples, particularly those who have been married a long time, to have a "date night", sans kids, so as to avoid "taking one another for granted". This approach, apparently not having made a dent in the rising divorce rate, is now being abandoned by some pastors in exchange for a more frank and explicit discussion at hand: good marriages generally include active sex lives.
Of course this can have a downside. Marc Driscoll, an evangelical reformed pastor in Seattle, has been accused of putting the burden for keeping things "spicy" on the female. This really came to light when in the immediate aftermath of the Ted Haggard scandal, Driscoll, in his blog, seemed to put the blame for Haggard's problem on Haggard's wife not maintaining her "attractiveness". The culture puts enough pressure on women to conform to narrow stereotypes which generally involve "tarting it up". To get on that train is not generally considered wise (hence Driscoll backpedaling in face of opposition in the community to his statements).
But there can be no doubt that the institution of marriage is troubled right now, and considering how prominent a role sex plays in our culture, a number of pastors have decided to focus on this issue and add their voice to the mix.
- The Explosion of the Porn Industry: Ever had a subject you were looking for information on, but the name of that subject in the Google search bar, then hit the button to see what it would turn up, and what it turned up (to your surprise) was a lot of porn sites? Well, you wouldn't be alone. I remember how shocked my wife was when looking for images of "pink kittens". It's almost impossible not to run across some site pushing virtually every different type and kind of fetish you could (or couldn't) imagine. Easy accessibility to such things has created an onslaught of marital issues and sexual addictions not seen since the advent of the printable type. With no brown paper wrapper necessary, porn has become a part of the mainstream, and the fallout (which often falls to pastors in the forms of defeated individuals or feuding couples) has to be addressed.
- The Church Has Decided That If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em: What on the face of this earth is used to sell stuff more than sex? Can you name anything else? Sex sells TV's, Beer, cologne, clothes, shampoo ("an organic experience"), cars, music, movies, food, meds, personal hygene products, electric shavers, computers... just about everything. As the institutional church struggles with its image of not only being judgmental, but also hypocritical, churches have been trying to re-position their image. Showing two feet poking out of the covers, or a woman's leg draped around a man's, is designed to say to the community, "Hey, we're not your grandpappy's church. We're different." I mean all these series, "Pure Sex", "Going All The Way", "My Sex Life Stinks", and the like all pretty much say the same thing again and again:
1) Don't have sex until your married.
2) If you are unmarried and having sex, stop until your married.
3) Married sex is better than unmarried sex cause there's no guilt as it's what God wants.
4) There's a spiritual aspect of the sexual experience.
5) Don't let the pressures of life rob your marriage of sexual intimacy.
6) Pornographic images can warp your mind and make you do pretty disgusting and perverted things... not mention make your spouse feel inadequate.
So why all the hinting around? Why all the teasing? Why all the advertising using images you'd see in an issue of Cosmo or Maxim?
Cause sex sells.... and these churches are trying to capitalize. Some would call it using the culture against itself. Others would call it "selling out". I suppose that you have to decide if the ends justify the means. In either vein, there can be no doubt that when a church undertakes this kind of sermon series, accompanied by a risque' advertising strategy, that attendance goes up, and attention is grabbed in a community.
So, with all respect to Pastor Wirth, I think the church is being anything but silent on the issue right now. The question, rather, is whether or not in attempting to be culturally relevant and engage a serious issue, has the church compromised its ethics in the process? That's the same argument that's been raging ever since guitars started replacing organs in churches in the 70's, video screens were installed in worship facilities, and churches found it necessary to hire graphics and marketing people from the secular world. How much Madison Avenue do we need to boldly proclaim the Gospel.
Until then, expect lots more postcards and billboards using two sets of feet peeking out of blankets to entice you to come to a church in your town.