Many a brand has been built on purity culture. Books like I Kissed Dating Goodbye, which the author has now renounced, peppered the shelves of Christian men and women. Women flock to movements like True Love Waits or Pinky Promise with the thought that if they stay pure and save themselves for marriage, if they portray themselves as feminine and worthy of being a good helpmate/helpmeet, if they go to church and serve faithfully, God will give them the good Christian man that they desire. But what happens when the man doesn’t come? What happens when one is raped or sexually assaulted? What happens when the good Christian man that you wanted doesn’t turn out to be compatible or turns out to be abusive? What happens when the shame and fear you have around sex and sexuality doesn’t go away once you’re married? These are just a few of the questions that purity culture fails to answer and why we need a different Christian sexual ethic.
As a scholar and minister who has a certificate in Baptist Studies, Baptist values have greatly shaped and defined how I have come to understand Christian sexual ethics. For my Baptist Polity and Praxis final paper, I discussed how women’s ministries in the Black Baptist Church can address relationships, sex, and sexuality, and I want to share some of what I concluded here. As I continue to further my work in the Church around Black women, relationships, sex, and sexuality, it will continue to be informed by my Baptist values.
The Baptist values that inform my Christian sexual ethic are the authority of scripture, freedom of conscience and soul freedom, and the priesthood of believers. In developing a Christian sexual ethic, it is important to begin with the Bible. We must get to a place where we can interpret the Bible responsibly and in context. Jennifer Wright Knust’s book Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire does a great job of doing this. For example, she discusses Ruth and Boaz, this couple whose marriage is based on the fact that Boaz is a next of kin and where the woman not only seeks out the man but likely initiated premarital sexual contact in “uncovering” his feet. Or we can think about Paul and his comments on submission, which are actually cultural and that he suggested so that the Christians wouldn’t be deemed too radical and persecuted by the communities around them. As such, developing a healthy Christian sexual ethic begins with unlearning and relearning everything we’ve been taught that the Bible says about gender, relationships, sex, and sexuality.
As it relates to freedom of conscience and soul freedom and the priesthood of believers, we have to allow people to make choices for themselves in conversation with God, their partner(s), and their doctor. God gives us freedom. God gives us choice, and God recognizes our bodily autonomy. We must no longer simply accept as truth what we are told but seek truth for ourselves through reading and studying and spending time with God. Also, we must recognize that how God moves in our lives will vary. As believers, we are all able to talk with God and to seek God’s guidance around how God would have us to live and move and be and engage in relationship with others; we have sexual agency. As a minister, I hope to provide people with the resources they need to be in healthy relationships and make healthy sexual choices, whatever they may look like and be. For some, that may be supporting them as they work to maintain abstinence or celibacy. For some, that may be providing them with resources to find the birth control that’s right for them. For others, it may be connecting them with a sex therapist or sex counselor that can help them overcome shame and experience a new level of pleasure in their relationship, married or unmarried.
To develop a healthy Christian sexual ethic is to find values that one wants to maintain in their relationship, such as care, respect, mutuality, consent, and pleasure. It is to come to a decision about what boundaries one may want in their relationship. It is to be honest with oneself about what one can and cannot handle. It is teaching women that their pleasure is important, their body is beautiful and holy, their sexuality is sacred, and that they don’t have to settle. And in doing so, moving beyond fear and shame around bodies and sexuality. While I will keep this short, Dr. Monique Moutrie details a beautiful womanist sexual ethic in Passionate and Pious: Religious Media and Black Women’s Sexuality. This is the work that I hope to be able to do as a sex and faith educator and as a minister and maybe one day, as a pastor.