By Jonathan Menezes
Our world (specifically the “Christian world”) is still permeated by the pretentious assumption that dating Christian couples that attend church services (or not) are not necessarily sexually active. Yes, chastity is still the ideal thought when it comes to Christian dating nowadays. There are no problems with that legitimate option, so to speak; the problem is to claim it not as an option, that is influenced by the awareness and maturity level of each person or each couple, but as a universal rule, a categorical imperative (using here Kant’s term), as if purity and holiness of a dating relationship could only be evaluated (although I think it cannot be assessed) by the absence of the erotic dimension. It is preferred, therefore, to ignore that most of the dating couples today do not live according to this imperative, consciously and healthily, or secretly and culpably.
The requirements of the church regarding sexuality have been, for a long time, hypocritical, presumptuous and loyalist, all in the name of a “Biblicist idolatry” under the guise of fidelity to the Bible. It is ignored, as said Robinson Cavalcanti, the fact that “the Bible is not an encyclopedia of prescriptions for every detail of human life”. What it offers us, in many cases, such as premarital sex, for example, are either guidelines to very specific cases, historically and culturally situated, or more general relational principles grounded in loving God, loving our lives and our neighbors.
The worst thing is that this imperative, as you may have noticed, is exclusive, that is, anyone, being Christian, in any way could have a kind of dating where sex is present, with sanity and sanctity. And there has not been enough opening for anyone who wants to discuss it nor for those who think differently. What is the reason for this? The reason is always: because sex outside of marriage is a sin and it is "pretty much clear" in the Bible. As happened to me, perhaps you have already intricately stopped before and reflected about such certainty, and thought: I have either read the bible very little or have I read it very badly, because where in the Bible is it spoken so clearly on this issue and so categorically that many Christians – especially the evangelical ones – have propagated that as absolute truth, for so long, for all people, regardless of what is the case? Now which possible “textual buzzword” critical thinkers will be mooting at this point? Fornication? That our body is the temple of the Spirit? The story of marriage (“becoming one flesh”) according to the Genesis? Holiness and purity? Texts about lust, lubricity, impure desires, prostitution? Well, the list can be large and I will not try here to give exhaustive references; I think you understood my point, so I will go straight to it.
I am not saying that these precepts do not exist or are not valid, however there is a lack of insight and intellectual honesty when we apply them, several times (if not most of the time) outside a proper context. Common sense and creativity seem to be elements that have been increasingly left out of our Bible reading. At the end of the day, the impression that remains is that what evangelicals have always said to be their “strength”, that is, their zeal in relation to the Scripture, can also be their weakness. Especially when they do not realize that the most childish idolatry is the one in which we hold others to one thing and lose our sense of independence and the power to criticize our relationship with our independence. And that is the way that many of those who boast themselves of being biblical evangelicals treat the Bible: as an object of veneration, which ends up canceling reverence to God's Word, impoverishing and enclosing it into their human precepts (all too human?).
I will mention the most common case, just as an illustration, of one of the practices not recommended in the Bible; fornication. When one thinks of “sex outside marriage”, for example, this is the first principle that appears in many forms of argument against the “practice” – as if its applicability was universal in this case. The biblical meaning of the word “fornication”, according to Robinson Cavalcanti, is “fortuitous relationship, uncompromised without emotional involvement”. It is the typical sex for sex, casual, without connection, without much regard for the person with whom you have sex. It does not mean that all sexual relationships outside the context of marriage are fornication, nor that all those who practice it fit into the category of “fornicators”. But they are all included in the same group because it is much easier to consider the Bible a manual of good conduct, with specific rules for everything we regard as misconduct, than to consider it the Word of God, which in itself is an invitation to obedience with discernment and good conscience before each experienced situation.
One of the most honest interpretations I have read about sexual relationship in the context of dating, engagement and commitment, coming from a Christian, was written by Robinson Cavalcanti, if I am not mistaken, in 1985. According to him:
It is assumed that the intimacy grows as: a) feelings b) mutual knowledge c) commitment d) the approach of the marriage, formal or informal, grow. Being the good sexual relationship a condition for marital success, some indicator should be inferred even in the preparatory period. If the virginity of both is a Christian ethical target, sexual socialization of costs (everybody assuming the burden) is lesser evil than the dichotomy of some virginity vs. prostitution of others, with one “paying the bill” of the other. (...) What cannot be required of people who are really committed and who love each other, under awkward sexual tension, is for them to simply "push it back", when they are grown-ups, graduated, with a good job, a nice apartment, a car etc. Meanwhile...
My goal with this particular letter, however, is neither to empty the meaning and power of sin in a human being – something impossible – nor to trivialize the sexual act, which is a divine gift, but to think together the implications of an active sex life between dating couples, assuming that this is already your reality or maybe it is in the verge of being your reality. I do believe that there is a possibility, on a dating or engagement during which the couple has sexual intercourses, that sex will not be merely fornication, but it will be love, commitment and emotional involvement, full of meaning and a maturation process towards a lasting married life, that is, marriage. With this letter I have the risk of getting many stones thrown at me, but this is the price of honesty and the price of no longer be willing to play this “pretending” game which exists in our midst, that is: “I pretend I do not know you have sex and you pretend to follow the law of premarital abstinence”. We must stop with this hypocrisy, even with screams that will be heard by few and execrated by many (I am feeling as I was the Salem Witch right now).
Well, let’s focus less on the outside world, and more in our inner world. When you decided to take this important step in your relationship – as long as that has come from a conscious decision and not just from passion (no judgments here) – you might have reflected about the greatness, beauty, and also the responsibility of this act, I imagine. Otherwise, I think it is worth reflecting about it. I mean, even though we are made of flesh, bones and that our body has a specific shape, we do have impulses, desires, and sexual attraction. We are not talking about fleshes in friction, rubbing each other simply for pleasure, but we are referring to two people who have feelings, who suffer, who cry, who get excited, who become fragile when they get disappointed, when they love, when they get hurt. Yes, relationships where the buzz goes beyond sex encompass all those factors. Have you ever thought that during a sexual intercourse it is not simply our bodies that are touching each other, but our whole being? And, as much as we think that through performance, through the plasticity of the act and the ability to give and receive pleasure, we are in control of the situation, it is a great mistake. Because, as I said, whether we accept it or not, there are always more factors involved, nobody has the complete control of themselves, nobody is able to completely control their feelings, nor the other’s feelings. That is why, even in cases where both have an agreement to only use themselves and enjoy each other, there is no guarantee that in the end, no one will get hurt. After all, you could have treated your partner as a mere “object” some time in life, but when you get treated like that it is different, and even the “deal” might not end up as a “great deal”.
But I also imagine that you have decided to have sex because you love each other, because sex is an essential complement to your love, and because you wanted your relationship to be completely perfect – Am I being assertive or far too idealistic? Anyway, when we want something like this, it might be because we want (even if unconsciously) a relationship that lasts a lifetime, although this is relatively long, it takes a lot of work, and it is beyond the reach of our eyes and mind. The future, as it is usually said, belongs to God. The point is, we are able to decide what to do with our present, and this can be a either a gift or a torment, it depends on us most of the time. I believe that God gives us the power to choose with whom and in what way we will direct our relationships, and then He will bless our choices as long as our choices dignify and honor God, our partner, and our lives. Happiness, if it does exist, is a gift that is only enjoyed when shared with intensity.
Do not think, thus, that I am writing to you simply to say that it is all right to do it. I write to say that the will to do it right is in your hands, do it well, do it with love, make your relationship last for a lifetime, because it is also a divine gift. Sex can be very pleasurable when it is just sex, however it is much better when there is commitment, when the feeling is cultivated to last forever, to make sense, and to generate and inspire life. I hope you understand the depth of this, that sex can be an instrument of love and life, but also of power, competitiveness and mere vanity. That is what happens with any type of great power.
In order to guide us, Jesus made an interesting point in one of his parables: "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12.48b, NIV). In another translation (The Message) it says: “Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!”. What does this imply? It implies that God calls us by love, through love He sustains us, and the greatest power of all that He offers us is love, without which the other "powers", including sex, can cause destruction and instead of generating life. This happens for, in essence, love is a subversive power, once it takes over the control of our lives it leaves us vulnerable and sets the other person free – it does not use, does not abuse, nor exploits.
The beauty of God's creation is that the Creator gives us the chance to choose what to do, what we will do with the things He gave us during life, the chance to choose generating good or bad things from what we have been given, even though, in us, “good” gets to mix with “worse” very easily. Nonetheless He said he hopes we opt for life. I wonder, at the current level of knowledge, involvement and mutual responsibility between you as a couple, what does it mean to opt for life? What do you want and expect from your relationship? How much have fought to have a mutual life? Because it is the strength of the alliance between you two that makes sex become divinely blessed and humanly meaningful. Not only a source of pleasure, but a source of abundant life...
[Translation: Vinicius Cavalheri]