Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. - Psalm 119:105 (NRSV)
I do whatever I can to avoid talking about sex in church. It’s messy; it tends to invite follow-up conversations I don't want to have. My avoidance, however, comes at the expense of people who so often need help creating a faithful, Christ-centered, unoppressive sexual ethic.
Fortunately, good ethicists have already done this work. Professor Margaret Farley, a Roman Catholic Sister of Mercy, published an academic text called Just Love that is the manifesto through which I’ve constructed my own pastoral sexual ethic.
She boils all relationship, including sexual, down to this core teaching of Jesus: love God and neighbor. Does the relationship reflect love?
Here’s how we might know the answer:
• Does the relationship cause harm?
• Is each person in a position to fully consent? Do they?
• Is the relationship mutual, or are the benefits (and risks) one-sided?
• Are the people in the relationship equals? Do they have equal access to power and vulnerability?
• Is there an equal understanding of commitment?
• Does the relationship bear fruit beyond individual pursuits?
• Are the people in the relationship in a position to take on the consequences of their union?
Knowing how to recognize love is one of the most difficult lessons our faith can teach. Avoidance and control issues in church have clouded the lenses through which we might perceive love. So many of us want to know the will of God in the choices we make. We want the light for our path so that we can step rightly.
In sex and love, in faith and justice, God’s word shines true: just love.
God of love, judgment, bodies, and will: may your word ever be light upon our paths so that we may follow you closely. Amen.
Kaji Douša is the Senior Pastor of The Park Avenue Christian Church, a congregation of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, in New York City.