I recently read Shameless: A Sexual Reformation by Nadia Bolz-Weber, and it was brilliant. I was impressed by her no-nonsense attitude, her ability to speak truth against the grain, and her incredible wit. I learned later that she was a stand-up comedian at one point in her life which made a lot of sense in retrospect. There were so many moments that I literally laughed aloud, which I rarely do when reading a book, that I thought I’d share some highlights.
Taking A Stand
“But I will not indulge in the sin of false equivalency. To admit that both the church and our culture can cause harm is not the same as saying the harm from both is equivalent. It is not. Because as harmful as the messages from society are, what society does not do is say that these messages from society are from God. Our culture does not say to me that the creator of the universe is disgusted by cellulite.”–from “Invocation”.
“I propose a sexual reformation for those who have been hurt. I also propose it for those who have done the hurting, for those who doubt my authority and those who are certain they know all there is to know about what God thinks of sex. It is time for us to grab some matches and haul our antiquated and harmful ideas about sex and bodies and gender into the yard. It’s time to pay attention to what is happening to the people around us, and to our loved ones, and it’s time for us to be concerned. And I’m not suggesting we make a few simple amendments; new in old skins ain’t gonna cut it. I’m saying let’s burn it the fuck down and start over. Because it’s time.”–from “Invocation”
Calling Out Augustine
“It is important to know, as we consider the origin of the church’s beliefs about sex and bodies and gender, that Augustine’s theology and interpretation of Bible stories were rooted in his own shame. Augustine felt shame about his own sexual proclivities and regret about his licentious behaviour before converting to Christianity.
Augustine’s shame reportedly took root when, as an adolescent, he got an erection while at a Roman bath. Embarrassing, yes. But Augustine was so consumed with the shame of not being able to control his erections that he spent a decade writing a theological treatise. In the treatise, he set out to prove that the main condition of the paradise before the fall was that Adam could control his erections with his own will. Then Eve messed everything up.
I feel for him. Augustine, like all of us, had issues. And it was more than fine for him to take his own concerns into the creative project of biblical interpretation. He is allowed, just like we all are.
But we must stop confusing his baggage and our baggage and our pastors’ baggage and our parents’ baggage with God’s will. Because while many of Augustine’s teachings have been revered for generations, when it came to his ideas about sex and gender, he basically took a dump and the church encased it in amber. But instead of realizing this was one guy’s personal shit, we assumed it was straight from God. We ignored the harmful impact these teachings have on actual people, and the way they’ve contributed to the sexual misconduct that we are becoming increasingly aware of. Because when it comes down to it, the issue behind most sexual harassment and misconduct is one of male dominance, the kind that religion often tells us is “God’s will””–from Chapter 2: Build-A-Bear
Looking at You Trump And Ford
“This weeks’ text was from Exodus, one of only six books in the Bible that pass the Bechdel test, which requires that at some point in a piece of film or literature, two female characters must have a conversation with each other about something other than a man. That’s it. A low bar, certainly, yet it’s seldom met.
The Exodus reading was a story of holy resistance. A story of how five defiant young women led the way to freedom for the Hebrew people. It goes like this: For several generations, the Israelites had lived peaceably in Egypt as resident aliens, but there was a new pharaoh, and he was a piece of work. He was, how shall I put this….an insecure, tyrannical racist who was lacking in wisdom. It happens.
Throughout history, recent and ancient, insecure leaders like to cast those with less power as “dangerous”. Like when immigrants (such as my parishioner Winnie) are held responsible for a decline in the job market, or gay people (such as Cody) are deemed responsible for the divorce rate (having weakened the institution of marriage–as if straight people didn’t take care of that already), and how it goes without saying that trans people (like my parishioner Emery, a lieutenant in the Army Signal Corps) are the reason the U.S. military costs so much money.”–from Chapter 5: Holy Resistance
Calling Out Shaming Bodies“In my pastoral work I’ve started to suspect that the more someone was exposed to religious messages about controlling their desires, avoiding sexual thoughts, and not lusting in their hearts, the less likely they are to be integrated physically, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually. I’ve also noticed that the les integrated physically, emotionally, sexually, and spiritually someone is, the more pornography they tend to consume. This is anecdotal evidence and not a scientific study. Nonetheless, I’d like to congratulate conservative Christians on their success in bolstering an industry that they claim to despise”–from Chapter 8: I Smell Sex and Candy
That’s just a taste of what’s in there. There’s a lot of deeper stuff and a lot of personal stories and reflections that will tear your heart strings. So give it a read asap, because Nadia Bolz-Weber is right–it’s past time for the church to undergo a sexual reformation.