Thursday, August 27, 2009

Sex, Ordination, and Covenants

Over at The Huffington Post, regular columnist Rev. Debra Haffner is writing about the commitment to celibacy and chastity for ordained clergypersons. I encourage you to read the entire article. The most interesting statement is where Rev. Haffner asserts that
it does not make sense to ask [ordained, single clergy] to give up adult sexual lives outside of the congregation.
Once again, I'd like to make the distinction between being a grownup and being an adult. Adult means that you are old enough to do whatever you want; being grownup means you have the wisdom and self-discipline to exercise that ability appropriately. As Paul says,
‘All things are lawful for me’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me’, but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Cor 6:12, NRSV)
But there's more to it than that. I'd like to quote extensively a passage from Rowan Williams' Where God Happens (reviewed by Josh here), because I feel like it addressses this more substantially than I could.
A church that is simply recognizing different preferences is stuck at the level of individualism; the real work has not yet been done, the work that is the discovery of God's call beyond the simplistic "listening to the heart" that we all too readily settle for. This is a work that takes protracted, committed time, which is why the church is so much involved in blessing lifelong commitments--marriage, ordination, monastic life--not as a way of saying that everyone has to be involved in one or more of these but to remind all baptized believers that, because of their baptism, they are bound to the patient, long-term discovery of what grace will do to them. And it is a work that requires the kind of vulnerability to each other that can only come with the building up of trust over time, and the kind of silence that brings our fantasy identities to judgment. (p 67)
I understand the rub. But you can't separate your sexuality from your spirituality; you can't take one covenant seriously and neglect the formation of another.

1 comment:

HeresyWatch said...

Well said.

You're right to suggest that sexuality and spirituality cannot be divorced. But is that really what is going on here?

I read this article the other day when you posted it to Twitter. As with all areas of our lives, I believe we must discipline ourselves in our sexual behavior. I think Rev. Haffner is suggesting a restructuring of sexual mores, not a release from inherited strictures. And I believe that her assertions are theological, or spiritual, rooted in her beliefs about who we are as human beings, who God is (or, the source of that which is spiritual since UU persons do not necessarily believe in a god or gods), and how then we should live.

I disagree with Haffner's account, not because it divorces the sexual from the spiritual, but because it relates the sexual to the spiritual in a way that I think is idolatrous. Whereas the ancients made it clear that certain acts of sexual gratification were done in devotion to false gods, we do not. We would rather deceive ourselves, saying that if we do not satisfy our desires, then we will ultimately live unhappy lives, or, at worst, act on those desires in shameful or disgraceful ways.

If you reread Haffner's article, you will find that the Religious Institute's proposed sexual ethic places human gratification in sexual relationships as the highest value. As long as we are consensual, non-exploitive, honest, etc., there is no problem. This sounds like a spirituality of centered on the self, rather than on a transcendent Other.

I disagree with Haffner, but in terms different than those you have chosen. The God Christians confess has taken a bit more of an interest in our sexual lives, and whether the fulfillment of our sexual desires should or should not be in covenanted relationships. My sexual choices are derived from my relationship with my Creator, not simply with what makes me happy. And guidelines for those choices have been given in Scripture and taught by the Church, and amount to much more than my personal gratification, which, ultimately, is to God's glory.