Parental Warning: Today we are talking about sex and freedom…

The interwebs have been awash in comments, criticisms, and support of Mark Driscoll‘s[1] new book on sex, Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together. Truthfully I have not read this title yet, so I will refrain from a critique. Instead I want to gab a bit about a recent publicity bit for the piece. The Driscolls appeared on Dr. Drew’s show, here is the entire interview as linked on Pagea Blog. I’m not a fan of Drew or the type of show he runs with a panel of mostly uninformed people asking a “guest” a series of unconnected, poorly constructed questions which are then glossed over without actually allowing either the “guest” or the “panelists” to actually deal with the topic at hand. What this type of show usually boils down to is a group of people competing for the glibbest commentary (though it should be noted glib here is never synonymous with wit).

What struck me with this interview, perhaps because of the absolute dearth of intelligent comments, was the repeated mantra of

“You can’t call this sin because I want to do it.”

I really do think that if we Christians were at all on our game theologically, this line of thinking would do no damage to us whatsoever. Were I on this panel, I would say “kill me now,” but after the desires to off myself, I would perhaps say, “our point exactly.” Paul put it this way:

“What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

But I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! 18I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.”

Sin is not a choice. It is not something freely chosen from a list of equally viable actions. No one sits down and says,

“You know what I have this list of things I can do, and from this list I am going to choose the sinful action.”

I really prefer the songwriter Charlie Peacock’s take on sin:

“Sin is a cancer / Not just some thing you do / It’s in you minister / It’s in me too”

There is nothing free about sin, either in the doing or the consequences of having done it.  We in the church know this, but we still get these blank looks as the world talks about being “born this way.” I listen to the world, and think you understand sin better than anyone in my church. Perhaps a large part of our current stupidity comes from the Republican captivity of the Evangelical church. It has been decided that rhetoric about “a war on the family” will get people to the polls to vote (in record numbers); but any discussion about the actual sins that are damaging our families will lose votes so this is not actually done.[2]

Here is how we are applied this faulty and perhaps cynically-calculated language. Sin is a choice we make, and homosexuality is a sin; therefore homosexuality is a choice people make. Of course we want homosexuality to be a choice; because if it is not a choice, then what kind of bastards are we to say, “I know you can’t stop doing this, but you have to stop.” This would not keep people coming to the polls or the pews. This would just make your audience and friends that much more mad.

But this is the essential hermeneutical problem of believing the Bible. Rarely if ever does the Bible give into cheap, easy sentimentality. On face value the statement that sin is ingrained deeply in our psyches seems like a hard word, a nasty, brutal truth. In fact this reality leads the apostle Paul, as quoted above, to lament:

“Oh, wretched man that I am who can save me from myself.”

To be part of this world is to be in bondage, bound to commit the same wrong actions again, again, again, and again. It would seem that the current Michael Fassbender movie Shame stands as a dramatic statement of this pernicious side to sex.[3] Or if one prefers music I much enjoy Frightened Rabbit’s Keep Yourself Warm or EMA’s California. Each of these works in their own ways point to the inherent emptiness of modern sexual expression. As EMA says “they tried to tell me sex was free.” But the sad truth of modern times is that nothing, not even sex, is truly free or even truly something we do because of choice. All of our lives seem bound to a host of intendent issues and problems. Yesterday I watched (Ok, listened) to two people argue. It started simple, but the issues at hand in both persons showed themselves and the situation got real quickly. This is the reality that none of us seems able to comment to audible statement.

Yet this is the point at which I love Christianity, it is why I keep coming back day after day. Christ came to set us free. He came to set us free from this SSDD[4] syndrome. As scripture tells us,

“For freedom Christ has set us free.”

It is only in Christ that humanity truly finds freedom, the freedom to be who we really and truly are. In Christ we find the safe space to deal with ourselves. In Christ we find the ability to be the best persons we can be. As we allow ourselves to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ, we become the best versions of ourselves, ones that are truly free to act as we really desire. This is the paradoxically liberating good news of the Gospel. To be really free, we must lay down our illusions of freedom and selfhood to gain true freedom and selfdom. Even as Driscoll does seem to argue, the freedom to express ourselves as sexual beings delighting in the beauty of sex.

[1] Ok so his wife is listed as an author as well, and I as a good egalitarian would usually be all for putting her name out there; but I am not entirely sure that having her name on the book is anything more than a publicity stunt. This hierarchical complementatorian couple when seen in public usually has Mark doing all the talking and Grace sitting there like a bump on a log. Besides this was not a true mention just a name check and his is the more recognizable name.

[2] This analysis works for megachurch culture as well. We can get people really excited and coming to our church, by using “us versus them” tactics. We can encourage attendance and fill seats by pumping up the rehetoric; but we lose people when accusing them of being sinful; so we avoid those topics except in the most generic, bland descriptions (or by attacking sins with which people in the seats are not professing trouble).

[3] I say “seem” because here I am going on the critical journalism about said movie. The strong sexual content of the film means that I will not be viewing it, no matter how much Fassbender’s performance is praised. I can handle sexual humor, but have no desire to watch other humans engage in the act (even in playacting). Call me a prude if you must.

[4] Same Shit, Different Day.


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