Friday, December 23, 2016

How Gifts to God Heal Divides




"Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 

When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 

When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?"

How is it possible to give God a gift?

In his lesson (Matthew 25: 31-46) Jesus answers:

"Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."

I was with a group of students visiting an orphanage. At the end of the day we stopped for a meal. That's when I noticed one of our young men had no shoes. During the day, he noticed a young man's shoes were falling apart. In response, he took off his shoes and gave them away.

The poverty in this world can be overwhelming. In Western nations many have their needs met in abundance. We can take the Matthew verses literally to give food, water, and clothes to the needy. We can visit the marginalized.

We can also respond to those who needs aren't so literal but nontheless need assistance to cope with illness, loneliness and so on.

How Does Giving Heal?

I have written and spoken about the problems in Christian Cultures, which often appear as A House Divided.

The lesson in Matthew 25 reminds us of God's commandment to love others. Acts of love build relationships even as needs are met. Building relationships is one antidote to creating divisions.

Christians caring for others are busy people. Their work will never end. The poor will always be with us. Human needs are everywhere. I suspect those busily doing what they can have little time to invest in dividng the church by arguing about different interpretations of Scripture.



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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Masturbation and Christianity Part 2




I didn't know what to say. Most of us got quiet... embarassed in fact. We met weekly for devotions. It was normally a time to share some inspiration and pray. Mostly a rowdy bunch, these guys were Christians. The unusual event was the time when Rob (not his real name) apparently felt considerable anguish. With head down, he was crying real tears. He seemed to feel so unworthy. He confessed to all of us that he masturbated. He felt called to become a pastor. It wasn't long before he left our group. And I never knew what happened to him.

John Piper's comment about masturbation and men in ministry is likely the trigger that reminded me of this story. In any event, Christian leaders have given young men different advice for years. In this post I look at a sample of comments and offer some thoughts on the subject.

PART 2

“Christians need a theology of masturbation.” Really?

In the previous post, I considered what Christian thinkers wrote about female masturbation. In this post, I look at comments focused on men. And I look at how they use the Bible and reasoning to reach conclusions.

What the Bible says about male masturbation:
(The Bible does not address male masturbation unless Judges 3:24 is an indirect reference.)

What do Christian leaders say about masturbation?

They say a lot of things about sex. And some have opinions about masturbation.

John Piper (8 April, 2008) “votes no” in a simple and straightforward commentary. My understanding of Piper’s reasoning is that male masturbation involves imagery of a woman, which treats her as a sex object. Masturbation creates guilt that interferes with obeying God’s will. He acknowledges that most people masturbate but encourages men not to let this sin keep them from their calling.

Jesse Eubanks and Josh Hatcher of Relevant Magazine (2 July 2009) combine the issue of masturbation with lust and sexual immorality. Amidst the back and forth comments on concerns about lust and addiction, Jesse wrote: “Masturbation has the potential to be healthy and even a continuation of worship in our lives. It also has the potential to destroy life and fellowship with God.” Josh responds with several concerns such as the effects of masturbation on a married couple’s relationship. In the next to the last paragraph he writes: “Ultimately, the decision must be made between the individual and God.”

Driscoll and Driscoll say a lot. I searched the digital version of their book, Real Marriage, and found 100 matches to the term (several are to the reference section). They provide statistics consistent with what you will read most places -- most men masturbate—especially young single men. You will read about the neurological and biochemical components of the sexual pleasure involved in the motoric act of masturbation usually coupled with pornographic imagery. They address the issue of pornography, which is likened to prostitution.

Finally, they consider the Bible and affirm what was said above: “The Bible does not forbid masturbation (p. 182).” There is a reference to possible masturbation in the Song of Songs but again-- no forbidden act. Additional consideration is given to questions about the helpfulness of masturbation and deciding if it is enslaving. My take is that the bottom line advice is masturbation become sin when it interferes with God’s design for sex between a married man and woman. (Read the book for a full context.)

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (24 May 2016). In response to a question “…is masturbation a sin?” The BGEA advised abstaining from masturbation as follows (see the link for details):

Masturbation is not specifically referred to in the Bible. However, several scriptural principles indicate that it is a practice from which a Christian should abstain. First, it is usually accompanied by the sin of willfully entertaining lustful thoughts and desires which are clearly forbidden by the Lord (Matthew 5:28). The more one dwells on such fantasy, the more likely it is to become a reality in behavior (James 1:14-15). Second, masturbation easily becomes a habit that people become dependent on (Romans 6:12-14). Third, self-directed sex violates God’s creation design for the right use of His good gift of sexuality (Genesis 1:24, 1 Corinthians 7:3-4, 9). Persistent, compulsive masturbation can also be the symptom of deeper psychological or spiritual problems, such as destructive feelings of inadequacy, rejection and loneliness.

James Dobson answered questions about masturbation and many other issues during his career. In an old letter, he observed that Bible scholars disagreed on the subject. He asserted that from a medical perspective, the act is not harmful. He focused on four problematic issues: Guilt, obsession with masturbation, addiction to pornography, and a habit that can continue into and affect marriage. Read the short letter to get the details and context.

Some thoughts…(See also my previous post)

1. As in the previous post, Christians won’t find biblical rules specifically addressing the sex act of masturbation. I suspect this would pose a problem for those who usually take a biblical rule and apply that rule in a literal fashion.

2. As with many matters, Christians must use reason if they wish to create a life principle form biblical texts. As we can see, Christian thinkers in a position to influence large numbers of people, offer different opinions about masturbation.

 3. I continue to think that analyzing the morality of masturbation and other topics requires some sort of rubric. That’s why I still recommend the six-factor approach (harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, liberty, purity) based on the work of Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues. This approach promotes understanding of an issue. It does not answer the question as to whether it is right or wrong. Most of my comments on masturbation can be found in chapter 7 of A House Divided.

4. Dobson’s comment about obsession indicates a better term for a problem with sexual behavior that interferes with life functioning than the term addiction.

5. Concerns about guilt are not uncommon. Guilt can interfere with well-being thus it must be removed. Those who feel convicted of sin will find God forgives. Those who feel guilty of violating personal standards may benefit from self-forgiveness. Those who continue to struggle with guilt and other distress related to any form of sexuality will be best served by seeking counseling.

6. The conservative Christian sources I read focus mostly on boys or men and the problem with pornography. That’s an important concern but Christians will need to realize that the human sexual response varies from person to person. Movies considered acceptable by contemporary Christians would be considered pornographic by Christians a few decades ago. Advertisements for women’s wear can stimulate a sexual response in men yet not violate any laws of decency in some countries.


I’ve seen posters about porn designed to scare young Christian men. An intelligent approach to the pervasiveness of porn requires setting principled standards of decency. Treating people as sex objects, exploitation of vulnerable persons, and depictions of rape and harm are common starting points for setting limits. The problem of deciding what is porn and what is not porn should not hinder efforts to set moral boundaries.

8. I still think every church and Christian school needs a sex education program with age-appropriate details. Sex education needs to be a life-long process. Masturbation is just one topic to include. I cannot imagine how pastors and psychotherapists can do their job if they haven't studied human sexuality.

9. I still don’t see any writers offering opinions about masturbation and sexual minorities. I wonder if those who identify both as a Christian and as a sexual minority and feel committed to a single life find masturbation to be an alternative to marriage?

CONCLUSION: Christian Theology, Sex, Masturbation

After considering what others have written, I think a theology of masturbation and even sex might not make sense because there is insufficient context to provide a meaningful framework. I have given some thought to the NEA booklet, Theology of Sex, which I still recommend as a basis for considering your own views about sex from a Christian perspective.

 Although the NEA referred to love in the booklet they do not establish sexuality on a foundation of love, which I consider vital to an integrated Christian-Faith perspective.

When Jesus summed up the law he gave two commandments pointing us to love of God and others (Matthew 22: 36-40). We know Christians are to be marked by love (John 13:35). Love is the foundation for a theology of sex, more appropriately viewed as a Theology of Human Relationships.

Healthy relationships are characterized by love with attributes of caring and sacrifice. Marital relationships include the gift of sex. And sex is one aspect of love that helps bind couples together. Strong healthy relationships provide a supportive setting for those couples whose sex produces children. 

This love-sex connection that brings couples together in a strong relationship ideal for raising children provides not only a basis for a theology of healthy relationships inclusive of sex but it also provides a basis for integrating theology with biopsychology.

As several have pointed out, the Bible does not address the sex act of masturbation. Clearly masturbation does not fit into heterosexual love-based relationships.

Unfortunately for sincere young Christians, when Christian leaders offer reasons to consider masturbation as an acceptable or unacceptable alternative to marital sex they disagree. And several writers want to make a point about pornograhpy, which is understandably denounced. No one supports pornography; though no one provided specific guidelines as to what should be off-limits. 

For practices neither mentioned in Scripture nor clearly violating general moral principles prohibiting harm, infidelity, and so forth, Christians are left with the commonly quoted "law of liberty" offerred by St. Paul in regard to disagreements over the Sabbath (See Romans 14: 5-6). For those feeling distressed over masturbation or related issues of lust and porn, several writers wisely remind readers about forgiveness.

There are some weak points in the various arguments but I did not consider the critiques worth pursuing in providing any more definitive guidance for Christians. So much has been said. 

Previous posts



Theology of Masturbation (Women)
    http://dividedchristians.blogspot.com/2016/12/theology-of-masturbation.html




Resources

Of course, I want you to buy my book, A House Divided available from the publisher, Pickwick, and inexpensively as a Kindle ebook on Amazon. I refer to the scriptures on masturbation and many other sex topics.

I wrote the book to promote discussions about healthy sexuality and Christian morality.
I will send you a free copy of the study guide for A House Divided by sending me an email and giving me your name. I will attach the pdf file to the email you send. This is a 50+ page book to accompany the A House Divided book.

I hope it helps with personal study, book study groups, and related courses at Christian schools and colleges. Send an email with your full name to this address: Suttongphd@gmail.com I do not ask for your phone number, age, or any other information.

There’s also a free website with more information about sexuality and morality in Christian cultures. https://sites.google.com/site/dividedchristians/

Book ad: Read more about Sexuality and Morality in
 A House Divided



Friday, December 2, 2016

Masturbation & Christian Women




Recently, various Christian sources included articles on masturbation. And in the last year, I was struck by a comment from a clergyman who opined, Christians need a “theology of masturbation.”

“Christians need a theology of masturbation.” Really?


Is a theology of masturbation possible? I had examined the opinions of various scholars and Christian speakers when writing, A House Divided. Christians are divided over the morality of masturbation but not in the emotionally charged way they disagree about same-sex marriage.

In this post I look at data and opinions concerning women. In Part 2, I look at information for men.

I like data so here’s a link to some stats from a U S Survey conducted by Indiana University (Huffington). Bottom line: 20 to 25% of young to middle age women masturbate monthly or weekly. And much more than half masturbated in the past year- so about half the women in church- if the women in your church are like other American women.

Who needs a theology of masturbation?

Since I’m not a theologian and often find myself wondering what could possibly be new about a faith that’s 2,000 years old, I wondered why the clergyman would ask such a question.

Then I remembered a scene from Fiddler on the Roof—the one where the tailor, Motel, asks the Rabbi to bless his new sewing machine. I think a theology of masturbation must be something like a blessing. Some way of saying, if something is not clearly in the Bible can we at least get an “official” blessing.

I actually found a small handout by the National Association of Evangelicals called the Theology of Sex. It’s a free download but there’s no theology of masturbation there.

What the Bible says about female masturbation:

Teresa J. Hornsby (Sex Texts from the Bible) identifies passages in Song of Songs (5: 2-6) and Ezekiel 16:17; 23:7) that may be related to female masturbation. By the way, there is no prohibition against masturbation in the Bible.

What do Christian leaders say about female masturbation?

They say a lot of things about sex. And some have opinions about masturbation.

Popular Christian author, Rachel Held Evans (3 June, 2013) began her article on masturbation with a reader’s question: “…could you look at masturbation from a theological perspective?”

Evans contacted Christians with expertise.

 Here’s my abbreviated take on what they wrote. Do see her post before critiquing what these people wrote because my summary may be inadequate in terms of details.

Abigail Rine of George Fox University, did not see a biblical problem and opined, “I think masturbation can absolutely be a healthy part of both married and unmarried sexuality.” Rine’s first point deals with the expectation of a long sexual abstinence for teens, which she calls unrealistic. She also noted the contribution of masturbation to achieving orgasm often not possible for women via vaginal intercourse. In contrast, Anna Broadway reasons that biblical sex is relational, which rules out masturbation.

Richard Beck, Psychology Professor at Abilene Christian University, began his response with a focus on the widespread problem of pornography. So porn provided the context. After also noting the years of delay until young singles marry, he opines “masturbation may be a critical part in how single persons cultivate and achieve sexual chastity.” But he again turns back to the problem of lust (Matthew 5: 27-28) and suggests the importance of a shift away from thinking about masturbation to a “theology of lust.” By asking a question about the meaning of lust, he directs readers to think about the nonerotic features of lust (e.g., greediness, passiveness). If this nonsexualized meaning of lust is true then he raises the notion that “masturbation might be a great tool to combat lust.”

[I’m inserting links to the meaning of “biblical lust” IVP commentary; Biblehub commentaries and the Greek texts.]

Dianne Anderson begins with an affirmation of masturbation as part of healthy sexuality and soon raises the specter of pornography. She opines that masturbation may be sinful for some and not others.

Matthew Lee Anderson invites us to consider a Christian ethical stance in view of the cross and resurrection of Jesus as a pattern for love of others rather than self-pleasure. For Matthew Anderson, masturbation falls short of Christian love.

Jenell Williams Paris, professor of anthropology at Messiah College (Grantham, PA) believes there is a problem in the way Christians ask about the morality of masturbation. She suggests a different question, which gets us back to the theology issue: “Given that most people masturbate, how can we see even this area of life in the light of faith?” Paris wanders through positive and negative aspects of human sexuality. Her biblical context is the call to find rest from being weary and burdened (Matthew 11: 28-30). She gently invites readers to move from judgment and shame toward an unburdened faith. And she skirts the issue –leaving the decision about masturbation to the reader.

Tara Owens suggests Christians have lived by a false dichotomy when it comes to sex—In my words she’s talking about “marry or burn” theology. She argues for a broad view of sexuality in the context of relationships. Then she gets to the question of masturbation and healthy sexuality: “The answer will be different for different people in different contexts…”

***
Here's some other comments.

Eve Tushnet (February 2016), writing for Christianity Today, asked: “What Could Possibly Be Wrong with Christian Masturbation?” She provides a review of common ethical concerns focusing on harm-- she finds no negative impact. She contextualizes masturbation by framing Christianity as an erotic faith with images of a divine bridegroom and a human bride.

Ed Mazza (11 April, 2016) of The Huffington Post reported a warning from Christian writer, Mack Major: “too many Christian women are losing their salvation because they masturbate.” He reportedly warned about sex toys-- items used in “demonic sex rituals.”

I figured Focus on the Family would have something. I was not disappointed. There’s guidance from Geremy Keeton but the focus is on “kids.” At first you will see a common interest among conservative Christians to provide a context for sex—married persons. And kind advice to avoid shame. There’s also helpful advice to introduce the topic before puberty.

Keeton offers a list of things that can “pose danger.” It is the common list of items such as compulsivity or an “addictive habit” and pornography. There’s a suggestion about getting involved in alternate activities. They even offer an 800 number to call for more help.

So what about Catholics? Boorstein (8 June 2009) reported an eye-catching title in The Washington Post, “Catholic theologians are divided into camps on masturbation, marriage and other church teachings.” According to the article, masturbation is banned by the church but a feminist theologian believes the practice is neither good nor bad. The reason for the ban is that masturbation does not meet the criteria for good sex. Good sex (in an ethical sense of good) is between a married man and a woman focused on procreation.
******
Related Notes

Martha Rosenthal (25 Jan 2012) reminds readers that the sinfulness associated with masturbation can be traced back to St. Thomas Aquinas. According to her reading, Aquinas believed masturbation was worse than rape and adultery because the biblical aim of sex is procreation. She also reminds readers of the multiple harms previously thought to occur because of masturbation-- things like depression and blindness.

Joy Wilson made news (NPR) a few years ago when she started a Christian sex toy business (Book22.com; named for the Bible’s sexy love poem, Song of Solomon). A variety of sex products (e.g., vibrators, lubricants) are available at Evangelical store websites, which promote the use of love toys within marriage and advertise as being free from pornography. The Evangelical stores provide a Christian context via biblical references about sex.

Why focus on female masturbation?

I focused on female masturbation first because women are often excluded from the opinions of Christian writers about sex. And the comments about male masturbation may not apply to women. See the next post about Christians views on male masturbation.

Reflections on a Theology of Masturbation

1. Masturbation is a sex act so a place to begin a discussion is with a Theology of Sex. I suggest getting the free booklet but you will need more than that short document so consider A House Divided. Create a framework for sex according to your faith tradition.

2. Begin with moral principles when thinking about practical theology. Unfortunately, the principles referred to by different writers can be used to support or condemn masturbation. A great deal of morality deals with factors improving or destroying relationships. 

The good depends on thinking of sex as God’s gift and the pleasure it brings. The bad depends on how people deal with associated issues like defining pornography and measuring harm to self or others—as in damaging a relationship.

3. I think when it comes to masturbation and other topics you need a rubric to examine morality. That’s why I use the six-factor approach (harm, fairness, loyalty, authority, liberty, purity) based on the work of Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues. Most of my comments on masturbation can be found in chapter 7 of A House Divided. The comments I quoted above suggest a limited perspective on the breadth of morality.

4. Beck's idea about a "theology of lust" and his challenge to understand lust seems like a helpful contribution. Lust is not just about sexual activity.

5. You don’t find a lot about sexual addiction in the opinions about female masturbation compared to the content in opinions about male masturbation. But there is some evidence that at least some women feel distress about masturbation. In my experience as a psychologist, it is difficult to think oneself out of emotional distress so it’s probably best to see a Christian Psychotherapist.

6. Some writers offer opinions about “mutual masturbation.” Frankly, I think that confuses the issue. Enjoying sexuality with someone else is not the same activity as the usual understanding of masturbation as solo sex.

7. The conservative Christian sources I read focus mostly on boys or men and the problem with pornography. It is true that most people who masturbate are heterosexual teen boys and young men. The advice given does not always apply to girls or women. Women deserve their own post. Also, the advice does not address the sexuality of sexual minorities. 

A theology of sex does need to address poornography. But what's art to some is porn to others. Modesty is in the eye of the beholder. See previous posts about porn in the links below.


8. Every church, Christian school, and Christian College, University, and Seminary needs a sex education program. Those in higher education need to offer a course. Sex education needs to be a life-long process. Christian sex education needs a multidisciplinary focus. Christian sex education inlcudes Theology, Biology, Psychology, Sociology that is, theobiopsychosocial. Masturbation is just one topic to include in the context.

Take a look at the limited thinking in extant online comments about masturbation and other topics by widely followed Christian writers. They are likely sincere folks and great communicators but the lack of substance suggests the need for Christian education about sexuality.

9. I don’t see any writers offering opinions about masturbation and sexual minorities. I wonder if those who identify as a minority and feel their faith requires a single life would find masturbation to be a viable alternative for sex when their convictions imply that same-sex marriage is not a viable option.

10. Several write about guilt. Guilt and masturbation have a long history. And health care folks have worked to normalize masturbation and strip the practice of guilt. I wonder if the guilt, and sometimes shame, along with the history of negative religious views about nonmarital sex, are consistent with evolution. If so, the guilt-shame-religious connection may be tied to biopsychosocial dimensions of human sexuality.

11. To expand on thought nine, none of the Christian authors focus much on biology or deal with the biological theories addressing sexuality (e.g., Modern Synthesis).  In my limited understanding of biology, the traditional stance of the church concerning sex is aligned with what needs to happen for a species to survive until they can reproduce and raise their young. In conservative Christian settings, young heterosexuals come together in a supportive family-like culture, mate for life, and are encouraged to raise their offspring as a team. That conservative stance seems to provide a culturally supportive environment for the best way for the species to survive.

12. When it comes to masturbation, like other sex linked moral issues, Christians are A House Divided. Peace comes with a focus on loving God and others. Peace requires respect. Understanding the issues is a necessary but insufficient basis for constructing a theology of sex, masturbation, or anything. At first I found Paris’ response to be a puzzlement, but on reflection she has wisely guided us toward Jesus who offers to lovingly share life’s burdens.

Resources

Of course, I want you to buy my book, A House Divided available from the publisher, Pickwick, and inexpensively as a Kindle ebook on Amazon. I refer to the scriptures on masturbation and many other sex topics. I wrote the book to promote discussions about healthy sexuality and Christian morality.

I will send you a free copy of the study guide for A House Divided if you send me an email with your name. I will attach the pdf file to the email you send. This is a 50+ page book to accompany A House Divided.

I hope the A House Divided and the study guide helps with personal study, book study groups, and related courses at Christian schools and colleges. Send an email with your full name to this address: Suttongphd@gmail.com I do not ask for your phone number, age, or any other information.

If you want a talk or workshop based on the chapters / topics in A House Divided, contact me via email: suttongphd@gmail.com

There’s also a free website with more information about sexuality and morality in Christian cultures. https://sites.google.com/site/dividedchristians/

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