This post comes from G. Reid Doster, LPC, LMFT. He serves as coordinator of CBF Louisiana, maintains a private practice in clinical pastoral counseling and serves as Coordinator of Behavioral Healthcare Services for EXCELth Primary Care Network, New Orleans.
Sometimes, a local Christian fellowship is the only place in town where people, no matter what their histories, can find unconditional love, acceptance and honest dialogue, without fear of being shamed or judged. The ground at the foot of the Cross is level, and the Lord’s Table is open to all who accept His invitation, without them being viewed as second class.
I commend the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Resource Center for its courage and wisdom in co-sponsoring, this spring, a conference titled, “A [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant,” and am encouraging congregations to send at least one representative who will appreciate the spirit and intent of this conference and bring home its essential message – that the gospel offers a healing of wounds inflicted by our sex-negative culture.
The intent of this particular conference is to provide tools with which 21st Century Christian minds will be more equipped for “rightly dividing the Word of Truth” relative to biblical models of covenant relationships.
Human sexuality can be a positive, creative force for good, with potential to strengthen intimate bonds, enhance lives and open up spiritual awareness. Yet, centuries of censorship and suppression have left the 21st Century church with very little adequate language with which transparently and realistically to discuss human sexuality.
Our personal beliefs are deeply-rooted, but often unexamined, and a tremendous number of Christians carry great shame, even for their own perfectly normal sexual desires. In other words, many are carrying around a lot of garbage in their minds about sex, journeying without a map and relying solely on their own internal landscape for personal decision making.
Isn’t it time for the Church to open her windows, let in some fresh air on this topic and model healthy ways for congregations at least to discuss the real issues?
For 30 years, I have served as a licensed counselor, in both private and institutional settings, while also laboring for 20 of those years as a pastor, with significant counseling caseloads. My role has been that of listening, literally for thousands of hours, to Christians as they describe intimate personal struggles. Often they wrestle with reconciling, on the one hand, what various people have represented as “the Biblical perspective” on sexual behavior and, on the other hand, struggle with sexual feelings, urges and needs that are inconsistent with their view of a Biblical ideal.
I am thinking now of a 33 year-old pastor who had remained sexually abstinent before his marriage and faithful during his marriage, as he tearfully described seven years of “bliss” to a young woman who, as it turned out, never wanted anything to do with sex. She left him for another man, whom she married and divorced two years later. Bewildered, the young pastor asked: “I followed the rules, and where did it get me?”
His congregation allowed him to remain as their pastor, so long as he never married again. That’s what I would consider to be a classic double-bind.
Then there was the young adoptive mother whose financially successful but alcoholic husband had an affair. After two years of putting heart and soul into healing her Christian marriage, he was still abusing alcohol, and endless business trips with practically unlimited expense accounts continued to feed her distrust and sense of being “less than.” She sought comfort and strength through prayer, but after two years admitted that, for the first time, she was “starting to notice other men, in a way that scares me.”
And there was the deacon who had several extra-marital affairs, confessed his violation of their marital covenant, engaged in serious couples counseling and who realized how his narcissistic, pathological lying and addiction to female attention was a deeply engrained maladaptive pattern which could destroy everything he claimed to value. Yet, this Christian couple was determined to understand what might be at the root of his acting out behavior, to develop a relapse prevention plan and validate the fact that something precious had kept them together all those years. They now believe their best years are ahead of them and are ignoring so-called “Biblical grounds for divorce.”
I also recall active church members who had lost spouses to cancer, had remained single-again for several years and then found one another in the church, with an obvious love that inspired all of us. Not rushing their courtship, they were forced to ask searching questions about how to manage sublimated sexual desires and remain faithful to their understanding of scriptural teachings.
According to the latest U.S. census, there are now more single adult heads of household than married adults. People are waiting longer to get married, and many Christians are practically and functionally living together, while maintaining a public façade of separate living arrangements. My impression is that the majority of Christian singles don’t think twice about becoming sexually involved.
Some Christian couples live with limitations imposed upon them by physical illness, disability, hormonal imbalance or the effects of medications. These conditions can generate, in one spouse, a sense of inadequacy and insecurity and, in the other spouse, frustration or resentment. The occurrence of sexual dysfunction in Christian marriage is common, with complaints of low libido, boredom, lack of fulfillment, fear, guilt and shame, often resulting in frigidity, infidelity or addiction to pornography which, by the way, is becoming epidemic.
I feel quite sure there is at least one active church member in every congregation in America who struggles with same sex attraction and wonders how Christians are expected to manage a lifetime of such inner struggle.
The CBF family conversation ,”A [Baptist] Conference on Sexuality and Covenant,” is schedule for April 19-21. I encourage you to appoint representatives from your congregation who will attend this conference, listen carefully and come home with suggestions on how to open up this timely topic for honest, scripture-based inquiry. We need the presence of level-headed, mature people who respond sanely to tough issues, and not simply react. It is a great opportunity, and a serious responsibility.
Given human nature, there is always the risk of self-appointed zealots, clinging passionately to emotionally-charged fixed beliefs, who might attempt to hijack and de-rail what is prayerfully intended to be a balanced discourse.
For more information, see: https://www.thefellowship.info/conference.