This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for March 25 2018.
Lately I’ve been reading a book that carries the ambiguous and suggestive title Divine Sex, written by Aucklander Jonathan Grant. The book has two halves with two aims: 1. To show how changes and ideas in western culture are shaping the way we view sex and relationships. 2. To suggest ways that Christian communities can counter these changes amongst their own people.
One paragraph in particular has stuck with me. Having highlighted the high importance that the secular world places on an individual’s personal success, he notes that:
“even the so-called defenders of the family – religious conservatives – often play by the same rules… it fights to protect the legal definitions and rights for the traditional family while the Christian community fails to address the causes that undermine the health and resilience of families within the church. We focus on the law of the family rather than the life of the family, which is what makes it worth protecting in the first place… family-focused conservatives want to have their cake (no sex before marriage) and eat it too (delayed marriage and family formation – the triumph of free market consumer-oriented individualism). . .
If we in the church are serious about marriage and family, we need to acknowledge that we have encouraged this generation to exist in an untenable space by asking them to remain chaste within a prolonged and, for many, unrealistic time frame… we need to creatively and practically prepare young people for marriage and family, and to resist the formation of the consumerist self within our congregations, to support younger marriages, and to nourish families. But more of that later.” (p.82).
I haven’t got to the author’s ‘later’ yet, but for now the question we are left with is this: What can churches do to adequately meet the changed culture surrounding sex and relationships? As I see it there are two deep-seated difficulties that will not be easily overcome in reaching this goal. One is to do with maturity. In terms of romantic relationships people today mature much, much later socially (if ever) than they do physically. The other is to do with life preparedness. In 21st century New Zealand we both need and want more educational, vocational and financial success and stability today than is helpful for achieving this goal.