“A major source of hostility to sex is religion.” –A.C. Grayling

YBOR CITY, Fla. – A southwest Florida church issued a challenge for its married members this past Sunday: Hanky-panky every day. Relevant Church head pastor Paul Wirth says the 50 percent divorce rate was the catalyst for The 30-Day Sex Challenge.

“And that’s no different for people who attend church,” Wirth said. “Sometimes life gets in the way. Our jobs get in the way.” Oh, and the flip side of the challenge? No rolling in the sheets for the unwed.

A mandate for sex from the pulpit? These people are genius! I like sex (memo to my wife who I know reads this). I am pro-sex. I have no discomfort in talking about it (I talk about it in Friday Night Date Place fairly often). As parents, we try to navigate those seemingly treacherous waters early with our boys, 5 and 6, so the conversations go easier later (the 5 year old recently revealed having a thing for Summer Glau, the female Terminator so we might as well start having these conversations).

Except, the mandate for being pro-sex isn’t the relevant idea from a too cool pastor. It is an idea true to the story of the Bible. Church/religion has screwed up a lot of ideas about how we think about and deal with sex. We act as if the book Song of Songs isn’t in the Bible. We make our kids leave the sanctuary if we mention it. Why? They need to hear about it as much as anyone else. Where best can they learn what it means and how best to love one another?

(And I’m not talking about showing videos with a voiceover saying “here’s how pastor likes it.”)

Take “Christian love songs” for a example. Within the confines of the Christian ghetto, there is a need for Christian pop music, but much of it is bereft of the idea of how romantic love should work or how it should look. Christians singing love songs face hostility from within and without the Christian market, because they are expected to only talk about God, as if all areas of our lives aren’t under God’s dominion. As artists, we should be truthful (and true to our art) about the entire spectrum of the human condition. The whole of lives: being in love, being depressed, the beauty and passion of sex. It’s like there are some aspects of life we aren’t supposed to talk about from our pulpits or in our art.

In the ideal we were meant to be sensual, seeking pleasure in one another, being passionate. Tales of how we love each other should be something to write and sing about as part of enjoying creation includes each other’s bodies. Unfortunately, every relationship is touched by sin and pain. We’re a broken people doing our best to muddle through broken relationships as best we can.

We need a better, a bigger, view of romance and sex, both within the church and without. There is beauty to be found and had; the power and heat of attraction; the meaning of sex and the need to be known; the sensuality of being appreciated and of building up one another and putting the other’s needs ahead of your own. Conversations had without shame, all building on a sacred trust and commitment. Sex is the divine connection, we need to know more about it and not abuse it.

Dating is the process of two stories coming together in light of a greater Story. There is a public as well as private dimension to the process. I commend this church for having this dialogue on sex. Things ought to be discussed in community. Friends can see the disparity between the ideal (how folks in love see each other) and the real (how their friends truly are). Love gains confidence when affirmed by others, especially those who know them. In community, we need to model how to love one another and how to nurture relationship. In private, we need to pace ourselves and the relationship. If nothing else, remember the wisdom of Song of Songs 2:7: “Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”

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