Subversive Sexuality: Why Sexual Sin is a Social Justice Issue

“Recently, the younger generation in the Church has been so focused on issues of social justice – poverty, inequality, oppression  – that it has forgotten the dangers and damages of sexual sin.” –  Iain Provan, Old Testament prof, Regent College

At first this statement offended me. I was sitting in a lunch-time open lecture on Old Testament ethics, and I remember thinking that the wider Church, as I have witnessed it, has NOT been focusing on issues of social justice as much as it should. And how could such a personal, behind-the-doors choice like ‘sexual sin’ – whatever that entails – possibly be as dangerous and damaging as forgetting the poor?

I was raised in a church whose youth group stressed the dangers of ‘sex, alcohol, and partying’ and totally neglected teaching me that being a follower of Christ was more about living a radically alternative lifestyle to that of our dominant culture – a life of community, simplicity, compassion for the weak and marginalized, and fighting against the injustice in our world.

But I’ve learned since my youth group days that there are WAY more Scriptures that talk about poverty and injustice than sex and alcohol. Jesus himself said that he would separate the true followers from the false ones by how they treat “the least of these” (Matthew 25).

So if  “nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor” (as James Forbes said, a pastor from New York City), this is the area that the Church needs to focus on, right?

Well, yes. But not to the exclusion of other things that can equally drain us  of our intended whole, healthy, shalom-infused selves.

According to Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat in their book Colossians Remixed, the empire of globalized consumerist capitalism has led us to believe that the commodification of everything – including sex – is normal. They argue that sexual sin is much like  consumerism in that it “fundamentally a matter of covetousness, an insatiable, self-gratifying greed that has the control and consumption of the other person as its ultimate desire.

They continue, “Sexual sin is sin not because it is sexual but because it is invariably covetous. It replaces the pleasure and sexual enjoyment of two people in a loving relationship with a self-centered gratification of sexual longings than can never be fulfilled apart from commitment. Such sin breaks the back of trust that is at the heart of community, and it is a community that Paul is striving to build here.”

They go on to quote Wendell Berry (theologian, poet, farmer), who believes that sexual love is at the heart of community: “Both marriage and community require trust, patience, respect, mutual help, forgiveness- in other words, the practice of love, as opposed to the mere feeling of love.” Then they compare this kind of love with ‘industrial sexuality’ which is “exploitative of nature regardless of the consequences.” There are SO many great quote from these folks, I wanted to write them all out but I’d just be typing out the whole section! You can read the whole part, called Seceding from Imperial Sexuality (about 2 pages – pg. 160-162), here.

Bottom line: sexual sin IS a social justice issue. It is unjust that the empire of consumerist capitalism has turned the good gift of human sexuality, which is meant as something to be enjoyed between two people who love and have committed to each other, into something that is a cheap commodity, something to be marketed, packaged, and sold, something that degrades women (*amendment – my friend Hannah just reminded me that this occurs ESPECIALLY in human trafficking, prostitution, and sexual abuse – the consequences of a society that encourages exploration and ‘doing what feels good’) and turns us all into consumers who will be perpetually dissatisfied as long as it is self-gratification we are seeking.

To live justly in this area is to subvert the empire by refusing to treat other people as commodities to be controlled and consumed, but instead as brothers and sisters to love and serve. And then go a step further, and speak out against the exploitation of women and children who are everyday being trafficked, sold, and abused so that men can have their way with them.

Lord, have mercy. And may we all be subversive, even behind closed doors.


5 Responses to “Subversive Sexuality: Why Sexual Sin is a Social Justice Issue”

  1. 1 paul lubberts August 22, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    Good job Jen! I think that is a really good point you are making here. At Redeemer I had a prof., Theo Plantigna, who discussed sexuality at length and (as was his habit of being an edgy philosopher type) in uncomfortable detail. One thing that has stuck with me was when he explained that “fuck” was no more than a common farm term for animal mating (at least it was in his native Friesland) he point he emphasized was that this term has crept out of the farm and into the bedroom, or wherever. This slang term is so incredibly subversive to creation. Human sexuality has no parallel in the farm yard. Anyhow, very interesting idea here Jen, I think it may just take fear out of social justice for many an evangelical. Who knows, maybe sex will end up feeding the poor, no longer through prostitution but through renewal in the “inner chambers” of the saints.

    • 2 joyforaweek August 22, 2010 at 9:29 pm

      thanks Paul! Interesting about that F-word. Very true that it’s degrading to compare the beauty of human sexuality to pigs mating. And how great would it be if through simplicity and a refusal to be slaves to consumption, whether it be of clothing or gadgets or people, we’d have more resources and energy to share with those in need!


  2. 3 Dan September 4, 2010 at 8:37 am

    Hey Jen,

    Thanks for sharing the insight… Good old Iain Provan! I too received many “encouragements” from parents, pastors and youth workers while growing up to avoid the pitfalls of sexual sin… but with very few good reasons as to why. Good thoughts.

  3. 5 simondingly April 14, 2012 at 8:53 am

    Jenn darling! I just came across this when I was searching for you piece on cruise ships…long story, I just needed the right words to use to explain to someone why I didn’t want to go on a cruise vacation with them! Anyways, thanks for this, it’s also giving me the right words to explain the commodification of sexuality, which, unsurprisingly, is often a debated topic amongst Wycliffians!

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