As I prepare to speak at an upcoming men’s retreat, I’ve been encountering some befuddling conversations surrounding my proposed topic. The original working title for the retreat was “Holy Sexuality: Serving God with our Gender”. The questions I began receiving revealed that I obviously had not communicated well in the titling process!
“I’m a single guy, will there be anything for me?”
“Didn’t we just hear a ‘sex-talk’ a few years ago?”
(Adopting a suave demeanor and intonation) “Ooooooooo, what’s your topic?”
And the embarrassing questions and awkward teasing goes on.
All humor aside, though, I believe such a response betrays how the American church (and Americans in general) tend to understand sexuality—as though it is effectively reduced to sex. It is as if the full breadth and depth of God-created sexuality can be boiled down to sexual activity. But this was honestly far from my mind in putting together the retreat content and is actually an anemic understanding of the type of sexuality the Scriptures would have us embrace.
Perhaps a bit more convincing of the problem is in order. When a man and a woman walk into a coffee shop together, unless they’re wearing business suits and carrying laptops, we tend to jump to the conclusion they are on a date—whether husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend. The very simple notion of siblings (either biological or spiritual) hardly even crosses our minds as a possibility. Why is that? In a hyper-sexualized culture or context, our minds have been trained to see things in a more intimate fashion than may often be the case. There is an entire range of legitimate friendship that doesn’t have anything to do with hookup culture—and we have a tendency to exempt such interactions from our mental equation.
The excluded middle in our thinking is that of biblical friendship, or the brother and sister relationship in the Lord. And this notion, how men and women typically interact with one another, is the primary governing way the genders relate. If we remove this notion from biblical sexuality, or if we reduce sexuality to little more than sex, we have lost something precious and normal.
Allow me to put what I’m saying in visual form. If sexuality is the way the genders relate to one another, and sexual intimacy is just a small a part, then the umbrella concept would look like this:
But if sexual intimacy balloons out to consume nearly the whole idea of how the two genders interact, then what place is there for Paul’s words to Timothy when he says: “Appeal to an older man as to a father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, in all purity.” (1 Tim. 5:1-2)
The primary relationship between the two genders, far more than the husband-wife dynamic, is that of siblings in the Lord. If the Lord should bless, we have but one spouse—but how many brothers in Christ do we have? And how many sisters? After all, even in a marriage between two believers, the interactions between one another far more involves being brother and sister in the Lord than discrete times of intimacy.
Needless to say, I've had to retitle my retreat topic to “Holy Masculinity: Serving God in our Gender” in order to cause less confusion. But I believe the church would do well in seeing the world’s attempts of boiling down most relationships to a sexual element, and would benefit greatly by reclaiming a full concept of biblical sexuality—that of chaste friendship between brothers and sisters in the Lord.