Archive for the ‘ Religion ’ Category

My Opinion on Christian Premarital Sex

A few years ago, I posted a question in an online discussion group that my friend and I created which was exclusive to our Christian undergraduate peers. The question was whether or not premarital sex as a Christian is really a sin and against the Christian lifestyle. Knowing what I had been taught all my life (that sex before marriage is wrong) I had asked for specific Scriptural references. Several friends/members of the group jumped into the discussion to all point out the value of purity, sexual morality, and the special union two people share when they enter into a sexual relationship. Yet no one cited Scripture. I was no dummy–I knew what Christians thought of the subject, but I had wanted to know where they had gotten that idea! In my own studies, I had found nothing that explicitly said where it was absolutely wrong and forbidden.

My inquiry was ignited by a friend, who after spending time in Korea she learned that the Christians there (young and old) do not  have an issue with sex before marriage if the adult couple are in a committed relationship. This gave her (and me) a whole new perspective. I had never considered the possibility that it is even OK in Christian principle. I had just never questioned what had been told of me my whole life. This made me want to think more deeply on the issue rather than dismissing it as heretical. What basis do they have to believe that it’s OK? What basis do I have to believe that it’s not?

Supporting Arguments for Premarital Sex

I asked a family member what she thought. I just don’t know what to think! I said. She very wisely stated an answer that didn’t give an opinion one way or another, but guided me by pointing out that a lot of the Bible, as we know, was written to a culture in a specific era. She pointed out that where we see a lot of verbiage on the subject is in Paul’s letters to the churches, who usually writes concerning a specific issue among church people, not necessarily meant to be taken literally for all readers*. It seems that the issue concerning premarital sex is not mentioned in the Bible directly so that it could be left interpreted and appropriately applied among cultures, time, and individuals.

Not Commandments But Good Advice

When doing a more in-depth study (hermeneutical?) of the Biblical culture, it’s easy to understand why sex before marriage would be a very bad idea. Women were often stoned or outcasted for adultery and promiscuity. A woman was not considered pure unless she were a virgin and was utterly unfit to be a bride if she were not. In fact, to prove the bride’s stature and worth, part of the traditional marriage ceremony was to consummate the marriage in a tent and then show the guests the blood on the sheets to affirm that she is in fact not an adulteress nor promiscuous. Yet this is in lieu of a patriarchal, male-dominating, female subordinating culture in an era that offered no contraceptives–and Paul is merely adding good advice by instating to both men and women to not give in to these desires before marriage.

It’s Meant to Be Interpretable

So does this translate directly into our 21st century Western/globalized world? To answer that question we need to find out what exactly is meant when the Scripture speaks of (or implies) sex, just as we have to for everything else. Does Paul say in 1 Corinthians that we shouldn’t eat meat if it is a weakness for others? Not exactly. The message here is actually that we don’t want to turn others away from the faith with offensive behavior. So then, what is really meant in Scripture regarding sex?

I’ve read the Scriptures which talk about sexual immorality many times but no where is it explicitly said that premarital sex is wrong or that we should only have one sexual partner in our entire lives. Even monogamy is a question with some parts of the Old Testament. Yes, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians that it is better not to marry, but that marriage is better than burning with passion yet I am not convinced that not following Paul’s advice is a sin. He only says it is better. But again, we must look at the context. Is it better because of the culture they were living in at the time? Is it better for me? In fact, this passage seems to suggest that it is a choice made by the individual and perhaps it is a case-by-case decision. It can be better for some, not for all.

Define, define, define. That was drilled into my brain as a communication student in college in every single class. Everything I said, every term I used, needed to be defined or have an appositive. I learned to critique rhetoric by analyzing their terminology and definitions. Without a definition, even for a word that we may all know, it may not be received the same way it was meant. What does the Bible mean by “sexual immorality”, “purity”, “passion”, and “marriage”? Because these terms are not fully defined it leaves the reader with no option but to look at context and infer. Was this deliberate or just because the authors of these Scriptures assumed everyone would know what they meant? If it was the latter, then what about the translators who toil over every word to be sure that it is best translated into the most equivalent word that conveys the meaning closest to the original intent? Wouldn’t they have done a better job at making it more clear? It seems as though the authors left some of these things without explicit definitions with wisdom knowing that it’s better to leave it with more interpretability so that it could cross over to future believers of other worlds.

Culture Changes Meaning

Also, I just find it strange that the language that is used to describe women whenever the topic is about sex or marriage the Bible always refers to women as virgins yet when it talks about men, it uses the words “husband” or “man”. Could there be a double standard? Could it just so indicate the heavy cultural boundaries of that era, as I such described earlier? In this same chapter, Paul writes that if the man’s passions are too strong then he should just marry the virgin. Oh if only it were that easy these days! The modern world is so full of options and alternative lifestyles that women and men are in no rush to marry.

If I were living in the Biblical times, I would hope to get married so that I would have property and basically someone to take care of me, and basically so that I wouldn’t be outcasted or homeless. That of course isn’t the way things are these days (and we certainly don’t consider our independence a sin). There wasn’t any dating in the Bible (arranged marriages, usually) but if there were, they would be very short and public courtships, not as drawn-out and intimate as they are today. I read an article about a writer, a Mormon woman, who in had lived most of her adult life a virgin, yet at age 35 she was considered “un-datable”. She wrote, “I’m unwilling to believe that’s what God wants for anyone”, and I agree.

Culture, like time, is not static. It must change. Not everything is universal or timeless. Premarital sex, I think, is an example of standards and how things may vary. It may vary among time, culture, community, individual, or lifetime. My support for premarital sex is not to say that we should to do away with all and any standards regarding sex; simply, just in regards to the inference that Western Christians gleam from strict, antediluvian, patriarchal, and culturally relevant advice from an apostle.

Anyway, if I am completely wrong in my opinion of premarital sex, then this wouldn’t be the only thing I’ve gotten wrong in theology (after all, I only got a B in Intro to Theology!). Thankfully Christianity isn’t about being perfect but about grace.

*i.e. women instructed not to speak in church does not equal all women everywhere cannot utter a word in church, only that those who do not understand the teachings should not interrupt with stupid questions or disrupt with chatter. (Women in those days were not educated and were illiterate, so could not understand the teachings in the temples as well as the men who also probably spoke in a different vernacular that was probably used in the church).

Today in the lunchroom, a co-worker of mine that I’ve never talked to prior came in and we greeted each other. Quickly after some small-talk she asks “Are you a Taurus or Capricorn?” A bit surprised at her out-of-the-blue question, I responded that no, I am Aeries. Apparently she’s an astrologist in training and is always trying to guess people’s sign. Still wanting to practice, she offered to look up my natal chart–and I agreed.

I think most Christians (least the ones I am mostly familiar with) would have said no thanks to the natal chart reading. I was curious about what it might say–and why not? She’s having fun with it, I didn’t mind, and I was kind of making a friend (or as many Christians would put it “building relationships”). So, she read my natal chart to me. A lot of it was pretty accurate (I’d say there were a few things that were majorly off) but vague. I figure any person has those traits in them to some degree and so naturally nod their heads in agreement when a description of their Zodiac is read. Then there was actually a moment when it got kind of eerily accurate–like no one’s business.

Coincidence? Probably. Yet, I’m just now wondering (sort of thinking out loud) if perhaps there is true science in it (sorry astrologers for the insult). From the traditional Christian perspective, astrology and psychic readings are “not from God”, but as I’m just thinking out loud here….I wonder if the Bible really does condemn it. Weren’t the three wise men astronomers? I’m sure there was some astrology mixed in there–after all, they were from the Orient, where we know astrology has it’s roots. I know it’s a weak link–there is no indication that their practices were ungodly–or Godly.

When I was an undergraduate at the Christian university I attended, my professors and classmates would always discuss the importance of contextualism* for cross-cultural ministry. Everybody pretty much assumed this meant to cultures that were really different from our own and that for some reason it was OK to “tweak” the Bible to make sense on their terms but not OK to do that in the American culture (possibly because we were all egotistic and believed we had the correct Biblical practices already down). Now that the U.S. is where I live indefinitely, I’m seeing the need to contextualize in sub-cultures here just as much as elsewhere.

So, I’m willing to be flexible when it comes to getting my natal chart read. I’ll listen with respect and interest–heck, I’ll even take some of its advice! I mean, why not–it’s useful.

Still, I’m not easily convinced that astrology is really a tool to unlocking the human personality. It may be useful, but accuracy is important, too. Just like those 10 question personality tests, the description is too vague–could be anybody.

*In missiology, contextualism goes beyond the Wikipedia definition and is further described as a way to make Biblical concepts understandable and practiced in cross-cultures. For example, prayer in other cultures doesn’t have to be done the same way American churches pray–other cultures prefer communal prayer (everyone prays aloud at once) and the more extreme contextualization regarding prayer includes Muslims praying (and performing all the Islam prayer rituals) to “Issa” (Jesus) in spirit.

Expectations on Christians

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by people.” ~ Matthew 5:13

One common assumption among evangelical or protestant Christians is the regular attendance of church on Sundays and the “bonus points” one gets if they attend additionally during the week , such as small groups. In one small group I was attending during Lent this year, it was expected that I attend every week. Since other things have come up and I was unable to go, I started receiving emails from members of the group asking about how I was and why I missed last week’s Bible study. There is already an expectation that I attend every Thursday night for Bible study. It is as if Bible study should be first on my list of priorities and the lack of attendance means that something is wrong with the absent “member”. Since when has God expected this of me? Since when has it been OK for others to assume something is wrong when I don’t attend or that it is every good Christian’s responsibility to attend extracurricular events with the church?

The small groups at this particular church advertises themselves as “open to Christians and seekers” yet in every Bible study they begin with an awkward a cappella worship that would embarrass any “seeker” as it already made me feel embarrassed among my fellow brothers and sisters. I do not understand how this style of worship has become so unquestionably accepted as if it is a real requirement made by God that all Christians must open up every Christian event with singing.

Church is very similar to small groups except that their expectations are often more rigid. Church begins with worship—everyone standing and singing. Then there is the uncomfortable pause in the middle where people “turn to greet their neighbor” which is always too long and too short at the same time. After worship is over, there is often the release of children to Sunday School, announcements, a prayer, a scripture reading, another prayer, the sermon, another prayer, the worship team plays a song, the offering, communion, and benediction. Altogether it is about an hour and a half. Everything is so well timed and ordered. This makes me wonder what the purpose of it all is and why it is vital for every Christian to attend every single week and then some, and shameful if they don’t.

I believe in the importance of having a community of faith to share struggles and encouragement, yet not everyone should be expected to express or share or worship the way others do. Just as we are beginning to understand now that children learn in all different ways in school and that a standard teaching method will not work for every child, so it is with our spiritual growth. Church attendance should not be mandatory—although no one dare says it is, the expectation to attend is just as much there as it is for students to go to school.

I personally enjoy a more traditional liturgy style in churches as I like attending lectures and hearing lessons. The formality of more traditional services entices me because I know what to expect. I prefer order and structure, and I occasionally will attend church to have it. This may be true of many people as well. Yet repetition bores me and I purposefully do not attend weekly for the sake that I will not become complacent. The modern U.S. protestant church makes it easy to feel like one is a Christian if they do XYZ but nowhere in the Bible does it require Christians to have this rubric.

In a way, I feel that this can scrutinize a spiritual life. If one is in the mindset that God favors them if they do ABC, such as following a rigid church program, or subscribing to certain social/political assumptions, then what room is there for real growth? There becomes too much church involvement that there is little real world application. We are to be the salt of the earth, but if we retreat to church in all our free time, we are only making ourselves exclusive to the world and tasteless. Non-Christians start seeing believers as boring, unadventurous, and following a list of rules. Is this really the liberation God has given us through Christ? Did he suffer so that we feel guilty if we do not do not get involved in church ministries or raise our hands in church worship? The standards the Church upholds on its congregation can be burdensome as well as mundane. People begin to lose their appetite for Scripture. Outsiders notice this and have no interest having a taste of bland culture.

I find it humorous that evangelical Christians often proclaim that unlike Orthodox or Catholicism, the protestant churches do not have rituals and that salvation does not depend on works.

Think Outside the Box of God

There are many notions out there about God. The versions range from defining God as the Holy Trinity to Brahman, to Allah, to Lord and Savior, to Being, to more than I could ever count. Also, God is generally seen as a supreme patriarchal figure. I have wanted to dismantle these limited interpretations of God at different times of my life, but alas I believe that these are all attributes of God. No, they do not define God but are mere features of God.
I hear often that God is our heavenly Father, one with the Spirit and Son (obviously I have a Protestant background) and I’d like to address that first. I often hear that he is near to us in the Spirit, he is our personal Savior, our loving Father. He is fully God and fully human. All such things I believe are true, but I also find with this perspective too much emphasis on the Fatherly aspect (too jolly), on the Savior (too personal), and on the male dominant verbage of God (too masculine). There is no room for God to be authoritative and angry, to be the Savior of the world, or to be feminine. I am tired of going to Bible studies and church where these aspects of God are forgotten and ignored.
Now, I absolutely hate the phrase “think outside the box” because it is exactly what it isn’t. It is like this oxymoron that we tend to define God in our culture and worldview. We are told by Evangelicals to put away the notions that God is distant, that he is angered and punishing us but to embrace the peaceful, loving-kindness of Jesus. So we think that our understanding of God has evolved through this enlightenment–yet what is it really when we do not consider even the veracity and currency of God’s characteristics in the Old Testament? The irony is that we can never fully know God at all—at least, some impart, not in this life. But does that make our quest to know God suddenly invalid? So it should be with open minds that we consider the truths of other definitions of God. These, such as the Brahman, mere being, or Allah are what I’d like to bring to the table.
Quite honestly, I do not know much about these gods, but I do accept that they have elements of God which are usually excluded in the Western concept of God. I liked the way that Karen Armstrong, author of The Case for God, described the power of Brahman in a recent National Public Radio interview: “The Brahman was not present in the wordy definitions of the divine. It was present in the stunning realization of the absolute powerlessness of language and speech to describe this.” With such a statement, I am attracted to the idea that God is beyond what our words describe, and beyond what our minds can imagine. Sometimes, words get in the way of things. I think what is greater than words is when we can realize that God is present in the awesome silences.
Likewise, the idea of just existence, or being, is a characteristic of God that is largely underestimated. Before there was time, God existed. Then he put the world into existence by his ideas. There is so much beyond us that exists, but little do we acknowledge it. Even the simple (or complicated?) fact that we exist must be a part of God. I think this should be taken into account a little more and the fact that there was a whole history of existence before us and will continue after us. Ecclesiastes is a great book to help self-focused and work-driven individuals see how brief life is, and that the meaning isn’t in ourselves or how busy we can be.
I have already brought up some Hindu and New Age ideas, as some people would label or accredit it, and now I’m bringing up a Muslim aspect of God: Allah. Actually, here I’d just say it’s another name of God, but hardly another aspect. As Juliet said in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” it does not matter what something is called, but what it is. There are a lot of parallels between the Judaism, Islam, and Christianity; the most shared concept is of Yahweh, Allah, or God. In this, I think we should remember that God isn’t Christian, but he can be anyone’s God. This, too, is an aspect largely overlooked, unfortunately. God is often associated with one religion or faith, but he is God of the world and universe!
I can see that for some readers, this may not be a topic of interest especially because it sounds like an attack on monotheism, or a branching out towards pluralism, but let it be clear that I am only suggesting there are more aspects of God that are not regularly taken into account. And I don’t think that we can fully know God—there will always be culture and our finite minds in the way. However, let us not stop to think of the many ways that God is good, the many ways he is present, and of his many qualities.