Bringing feminism into sexual morality

I stumbled upon the above tweets a few days ago in the timeline of Jonathan Merritt, author of “A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars.” The tweets linked to a video by the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) Generation Forum, an initiative established to “explore the potential for evangelical Christians to be involved in collaborative efforts aimed at reducing the number of abortions in theUnited States.”

My initial reaction to, “80% of unmarried evangelicals btwn 18 – 29 have had sex” (the first tweet on the subject) was, “Gasp! And eye roll,” but I was curious enough to check out the video anyway and to look at NAE Generation Forum’s website. I was hoping they would say something radically different about sex and the single Christian, like that they were going to look at the Christian theology of sex in a cultural, historical and even biological context and move beyond, “God said, ‘Don’t do it,’ and the Holy Spirit gives you self control, so you don’t have to do it. But if you do it, you’re going to hell.”

Their guide, “Theology of Sex,” is available for download, and another video shows a NAE Generation Forum in L.A.’s inner city in which mostly non-white clergy talk about showing love to people who sin, but I was hoping for something more. I want to see churches examining the writings of theologians like Dr. Rosemary Radford Ruether, who, according to a Wikipedia page whose sources I haven’t yet double-checked, said, “that ‘Christianity is riddled by hierarchy and patriarchy.’ This created a social order in which chaste women on their wedding night were ‘in effect, raped by young husbands whose previous sexual experience came from exploitative relationships with servant women and prostitutes. . . . Modern societies have sought to change this situation, allowing women education, legal autonomy, paid employment and personal freedom. But the sexual morality of traditional puritanical patriarchal Christianity has never been adequately rethought.’”

I want to see it rethought. I want to see some feminism in the church’s teachings about sexuality.  Single women (really, single girls) had no rights in the society from which we citizens of theU.S.get most of our concepts of sexual morality today. Although I haven’t studied the theology in its cultural context, I’m willing to believe that God meant for biblical laws about sex to protect women in vulnerable positions. For example, the punishment for raping an unmarried virgin—the rapist buys the girl at a discount from her father and can’t divorce her, ever—is meant to allow the girl to have a husband and be taken care of for the rest her life, instead of being damaged goods that would never attract a man and would therefore have no rights.

If we’re going to assume that every law God created was for the love and protection of his people, to keep something bad from them, not restrict them from something good, then we have to ask: What does sexual morality look like in a society where women have far more rights than the Hebrew women of the old and new testaments did?

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4 thoughts on “Bringing feminism into sexual morality

  1. Miss Mariam,

    Thanks for posting your thoughts here. I’d like to make one point of clarification. The NAE’s generation forum has actually made great strides in this conversation. The video was shown before a panel on abortion reduction at the Q Conference ( The panel was moderated by a woman and featured one man and three women. Not surprisingly, the panel and the NAE forum have garnered national attention (and controversy) because they are opening the door for the church to support increased access to contraception to women. In my opinion, this definitely moves the debate beyond “God said it, don’t do it.”

    Again, thanks for the post!



  2. Jonathan,

    Thanks so much for stopping by! Your book is on my to-read list. Thanks also for sharing the link to the panel discussion. I think I read about it via some essays from people who attended the panel (also links I found through your Twitter feed). I should briefly contextualized my position in this post: Stopping abortion isn’t a cause that drives me. “Taking the shame factor out” of women’s sexuality, period, is the key for me (I address it briefly here:, and I don’t think that can be done without the kind of thorough re-examination I referenced in Ruether’s writings. Otherwise, we default to solutions that don’t work in an industrialized nation and progressing–not necessarily progressive–society, like early marriage (which I have heard advocated in churches/Christian circles I’ve been in).

    But the panel discussion is a good start. I hope people took from it that the question is deeper than, “Do you believe churches should advocate contraception for their single 20 somethings?”

  3. “God said, ‘Don’t do it,’ and the Holy Spirit gives you self control, so you don’t have to do it. But if you do it, you’re going to hell.”

    I really do not mean to be confrontational but i have never received that message and i was practically born in an evangelical church. What i am trying to say is that while i agree with you that the church’s discussions on sex ought to be pushed further, the Bible does not change and if anything warns us about flying aimlessly in the wind with every new philosophy. So what is wrong with teaching our youth (both male and female) that it is VERY possible to be abstinent? What is wrong with teaching that sex is meant for marriage, regardless of the percentage of evangelicals practicing it outside of marriage?
    That being said, i agree that a saved person will not go to Hell simply because he/she had sex. Salavation is forever and repentance is always possible. But i think the Bible’s teaching on sexuality is pretty clear and i wonder why some people in the church seems to want to re-write it.

    1. Hi Lisss,

      Thanks for all your comments today. I don’t think you’re being confrontational at all.

      My problem with abstinence education–at least the way in which it was taught to me is two-and-a-half-fold. 1) It makes you feel dirty and ashamed for natural feelings and breeds secrets, and if you’re having sex, these can be secrets that affect your health. You also can’t build strong, loving friendships with other Christians if you live in fear of their judgment and don’t share. 2) It makes you believe that what is not promised is guaranteed. 2.5) Along those same lines, abstinence only education doesn’t teach you how to live without that which is not guaranteed. Marriage isn’t guaranteed, and life without companionship can be lonely. If you’re not married,you’re expected to just live out your life celibate, like a priest or a nun–a very small sect of people with a very specific calling: a life of asceticism. Except no one teaches you that’s the life you’re volunteering for, because everyone tells you you’ll get married.

      It is VERY possible to be abstinent, and there’s nothing better for disease and pregnancy prevention. But without marriage, there is no option for fully expressing your humanity by understanding and experiencing your sexuality, and I think it’s unfair and perhaps even unbiblical to leave people of any ages without a part of their humanity.

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