Chastity & Fidelity

Books often surprise us. The cover tells us what the book is about, yet often we encounter things we did not expect. Sometimes the surprise disorients or disappoints and other times the surprise reorients or positively reinforces a thought we already had. I experienced this reading Tim Otto’s Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships. I read the book seeking a “third way” in the debate over same-sex relationships. The book delivered; it also surprised. Well into the book I read these lines: “[D]ivorce and changing sexual ethics are symptoms rather than causes of the struggle. Put more concretely, conservative, evangelical, ‘pro-family’ organizations have been fighting the wrong enemy. The family was never under attack by homosexuals, but by consumer capitalism” (26). He then spends a few chapters displaying how Mammon, heightened consumerism and individualism have eroded the value of fidelity in relationships and are destroying families. Not what I expected to encounter in this book. The unexpectedness of it added to its power. It reaffirmed and energized the approach I have taken in the Discipleship and Ethics class session on chastity and sexual fidelity.

If we are to have alternative Christian communities characterized by chastity and fidelity in marriage we must not simply make pronouncements about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, but work to lessen the influence of individualism, consumerism and technique in the lives of people in the church.

I begin that class with the following comments:

Whereas a number of the themes we have discussed, such as technique or television, would not have likely shown up in a discussion of Christian ethics fifty years ago, the themes of chastity and fidelity in marriage certainly would have. I have included them in the course for a number of reasons.

1. To communicate that traditional ethical stances like chastity and fidelity in marriage, are important aspects of what it means for us to be an alternative culture today.

2. We cannot assume that issues that are stated in the Bible and have been championed in Christian tradition do not need exhortation and discussion today like other issues we have focused on.

3. It provides an opportunity to work at something from a centered approach that is often communicated from a bounded-group approach, and to do further reflection on how centered differs from a fuzzy boundary approach.

4. Fundamentally for the same reason as other issues to live more like the people God has created us to be. Many attitudes and practices about sex are forces of alienation today.

5. It is very important to think of “traditional” Christian ethics in relation to the other themes we have focused on this semester, not in isolation from them. Chastity and fidelity offer a prime example.

In relation to this last point, like Otto did in his book, I work at making connections to other themes. For instance in class we discuss selections from Colossians Remixed by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat (160-62). In reference to Colossians 3:5 they write: “We need to be clear that sexual practices are always of a piece with broader socio-economic and cultural practices. It is precisely an ideology of unlimited economic growth that engenders an insatiable sexual practice of unlimited partners. This is why Paul connects sexual sin with covetousness. . . If the empire is all about economic growth driven by a lifestyle of consumption, then all of life becomes a matter of consumption—including our sexual life” (162).

Therefore if we are to have alternative Christian communities characterized by chastity and fidelity in marriage we must not simply make pronouncements about appropriate and inappropriate behavior, but work to lessen the influence of individualism, consumerism and technique in the lives of people in the church. And, in relation to this topic, we must reflect and respond to the changing dynamics created by the Internet.

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Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationship Beyond an Age of Individualism

by Dale S. Kuehne

A pastor who is also a politics professor examines current issues pertaining to sexuality and society and asks, What kind of world are we creating? And is it the world we want to live in? With no finger-pointing, and a cordial openness to responses from all points of view, Dale Kuehne contrasts the "tWorld," in which traditional morality reigned and recent innovations would have been inconceivable, with the postEnlightenment "iWorld," in which these innovations are promoted because the perceived immediate needs of the individual are paramount. Both, he finds, fall short of the "rWorld," the larger web of healthy and nourishing social relationships that provides the context for a biblical understanding of individual sexuality.

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Sexual Character: Beyond Technique to Intimacy

by Marva J. Dawn

Marva Dawn weaves together astute theological and sociological insights. Her experiences as well as her study of Jacques Ellul and Stanley Hauerwas are evident throughout as she emphasizes themes of technique and character. It is perhaps the book most often chosen for the required book review in Discipleship and Ethics. Students universally express appreciation for the distinction she makes between social and genital sexuality, and her observation that society has confused and blended the two.

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Freedom from Porn

Pornography and the Internet-- a problematic combination sowing alienation in many lives, including in the Church. Forrest Benedict, a former student in the Discipleship and Ethics class, MFT grad from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary, and specialist in treating sexual addiction has written a number of helpful blogs full of practical resources on this topic. And written about his own journey: “My Path Out of Porn Addiction: A Therapist’s Journey” and “12 Porn Free Years: The Secrets of My Success.”


Hookup Culture

In an interview, Donna Freitas, reported, “One student admitted out loud that she hated hookup culture—that she was participating in it but that it didn't make her happy. Suddenly the whole class shifted: they were all shocked to realize that they were all unhappy; they were acting a certain way because they felt like that's what they were supposed to do. I was interested in that dissonance between what they thought everyone wanted to do versus what they really wanted for themselves” (Christianity Today, August, 2008, p. 40).

For more of her reflections and results of her research on hookup culture read this Washington Post column.


Life After Lust: Stories & Strategies for Sex & Pornography Addiction Recovery

Recovery from sexual addiction is difficult, possible, and worth the effort. Forest Benedict (FPUBS MFT grad, 2010) knows. He’s been there. Once shackled by shame and secrecy, sex addiction therapist Forest Benedict writes candidly about his personal recovery journey, sharing many science-based strategies for successful recovery. Life After Lust provides a clear recovery roadmap for men and women ready to embark on the heroic path from pain to purpose. All who seek a renewed vision for recovery will find help and hope within the pages of this book.