Sunday, October 28, 2007

Authentic Expressions of Love


One of the biggest fears I had when I was in the closet was that if I entertained the notion of being gay, then that meant compromising the fundamental beliefs that I held so dear. When I realized that it was okay for me to journey through my questions and fears and beliefs and things that seemed to define me, it was important to me that I remained solid in my faith.

But when we talk about sex, sometimes the assumption seems to be that engaging in it is crossing a spiritual line that reveals a faltering of faith. I see it differently.

A couple weeks ago, I talked about sex and how I didn't use the lens of sexual morality anymore. I was just unpacking what I had been thinking and processing about at the time and I've continued chewing on these things. I appreciate the comments from friends in that post and have considered those things as well - particularly the concepts of sexual integrity and relativistic morality.

Is the act of sex a compromise of sexual integrity? Is having sex an indication of having loose morals? Is saying that I think it's okay to have sex a demonstration of relativism?

In context to my post about discovering that balance of consistent intimacy, to those questions I'd answer both yes and no . . . .

Yes, I believe in sexual integrity. No, I do not believe that having sex in the context of genuine love is immoral.

I may say that I don't look through the lens of sexual morality but that doesn't mean I lack it. Rather, it means I own it differently.

When it comes to sex, the issue i'm concerned about is expressing genuine love authentically. I think scripture that talks about sex is raising this very issue. I'm realizing that before all this, I defined my sexual morality based solely on the "letter of the law" - which pretty much said (not in these words), 'Don't have sex with anyone who is not your spouse'. The emphasis there seemed to be the 'Don't have sex' part. The translation here for me used to be that if I did have sex, then I was being immoral. But what i'm realizing now is that my sexual morality needs to go deeper than that. I think the "spirit of the law" always has as a foundation authentic expressions of love. On the subject of romantic love, there is a context for sexual physical activity that is moral.

That being said, I'm not using the lens of "sexual morality" because to me the phrase is too closely attached to the "letter of the law". That lens is not useful for me because there doesn't seem to be an answer to the question of when it's moral to have sex. I prefer to use the lens of "love" because that requires me to be authentically honest with myself about whether or not it's actually love that i'm experiencing or if it's a lesser form of love (lust) or a premature form of love (genuine romantic care and interest) or an immature form of love (infatuation or crush). The question for me is what kind of physical expressions of intimacy match each of those forms? As Peterson alluded to in his comment in the other sex post, perhaps there are appropriate expressions of physical intimacy or even sexuality that are not sexual acts.

This is what I meant in my previous post about sex. I said that emotional intimacy should be consistent with physical intimacy - both growing at the same pace. If we're using that old baseball diamond illustration describing phases of sexual accomplishment - "getting to" first base, second base, third base, and home plate, (holding hands, kissing/making out, feeling each other up, having sex) then I would include the emotional elements of the relationship to match each base. As the relationship develops (not necessarily marked by time or events but rather by genuine love and trust), each physical milestone (base) matches up with each emotional realization of love in the relationship. So hitting a "home run" on the first or second date is no longer a trophy nor worthy of significant applause.

At the height of a developing relationship, there is marriage - that covenant relationship keeping and maintaining emotional, physical and spiritual intimacy. (For those using that "other" lens, this would describe reserving sex until marriage.)

In my opinion, this new lens of love and consistent expressions of intimacy does describe "sexual integrity".

However, the other issue that I raised was that of finding the balance. It's not so easy. For one, I don't have a whole lot of sexual experience so I'm just honest about the fact that I'm trying to figure out what kinds of physical intimacy parallel certain emotional feelings. The other thing that I'm just honest about is the fact that sometimes I want to have a sexual encounter that is detached from emotional feelings. So yes, there are times that I want to 'hook up'. That doesn't mean that I actually do every time I want it. That just means I've gotta figure out what to do with those desires when they do occur. If I do decide to 'hook up', i'm not excusing it as acceptable and i'm not relativistically shifting my moral compass to accommodate my behavior. Rather, i'm owning up to the fact that it's not an authentic expression of love and it's something that I must have a conversation with my God about.

Secondly, I don't think that sexual activity is a lack of sexual integrity. If i've already lost my virginity, does that mean I forever lack sexual integrity? No. It's not about "having sexual integrity" (or losing it once a certain activity occurs) but rather it's about "learning sexual integrity". This is the difference between fooling myself with a license to have sex versus learning the lessons and consequences of having sex.

So I'm saying that I'm not afraid of having sex simply because it's sex. I'm saying that using the lens of love helps me to balance appropriate expressions of intimacy. I'm also saying that I'm giving myself room to figure it all out so that I can grow and learn.

As I continue my journey, I am thankful for friends who share my desire to be faithful to the desires of God. I don't want to walk the tight rope of relativism. I've always believed that conversations about sex should be had within our spiritual communities so that we can speak into each other - this way, there would be far less Christians turning to unhealthy outlets. This is all a continuous process for me of chewing on thoughts, learning lessons, and figuring out how to live out this lifestyle of faith as a gay Christian.


Bill Rogers said...

I like the idea of not having, but learning. Thanks for these reflections.

Bryan said...

Hooray for follow up posts!

I appreciate your thoughts (as if you didn't already know that), and I think we have similar views on this subject. I've been thinking about this sex thing over the past 24 hours as during a conversation with my mom yesterday, she asked me what I thought about sex before marriage (or a lifelong commitment). I didn't go into much detail, by any stretch, but it was a reminder that there does exist within my own mind a mental gap between what it means to have sex with someone you love, and what it means to have sex with someone you’ve committed your life to. This is due in part to the fact that I do not view the institution of marriage in itself as a holy union, but instead, any holiness that exists I see as being rooted in the union that exists between the two people who have pursued the path of a life long commitment to one another, as opposed to the act of getting married. I do not believe that God is sitting on the throne saying “WAAAIIITTT A MINUTE! Where’s the paperwork!?” when it comes to two people’s desire to spend their lives together.

That being said, the question for me is then, is sex with someone you love but do not yet know that you’ll spend your life with, wrong? If so, why? If you truly believe that you’re in love with someone, then the act of having sex (or making love) is being done out of, and as an expression of, love. Therefore, why is it any less significant (or any more “wrong” given my thoughts on marriage) than sex in a relationship where love exists and where the conscious decision has been made to spend your lives together? By the same token, if love truly does exist, so much so that sex is on the table, then why NOT make the decision to spend your lives together in the first place? If that decision hasn’t been made, then why NOT wait? Perhaps the issue is not sex itself, but the inability to understand sex enough to put it in its proper place.

Obviously this all excludes various other viewpoints on the sex-love equation (i.e. “fun buddy” situations with “good friends”, etc). Those fit into another category in my head.

Sorry for the long comment! :-/

- Bryan