Earlier this year I spent a weekend at a conference in which testimonies were told by people who had left a gay or lesbian life or detransitioned. I had never before spent time with a former drag queen, but after hearing stories for approximately twelve hours, not only from the stage but directly across the table over meals and afternoon snack time, and after gazing into the faces of pained persons whose sexuality has been confused, and after listening to their longings for positive attention from their father, and after hearing the rejection they endured, I came home convinced that the church is way too sexualized and not well taught to function as a family.
How many sermons have any of us heard about relating to each other as brother and sister in Christ? How many conferences have any of us attended that were themed to help us practice understanding ourselves as siblings in the Lord? May I ask you to reflect? Do you think of yourself as a brother? Do you think of yourself as a sister? Does it consciously occur to you that every other believer is your family member in Christ?
Conservatives tend to be good about conserving the authority of Scripture. That core value is vital, and we need to continue upholding it. As we do, it also behooves us to take more seriously what the Bible says about kinship in the Body of Christ. “For the body is not one member, but many” (I Corinthians 12:14). “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it” (I Corinthians 12:26). Both types of regard describe relational dynamics of love lived out within a healthy family.
If we were to internalize the fact that in Christ Jesus, we become blood family by virtue of Jesus’ blood, we might begin to realize that sex is out of the question in nearly every interaction between anyone and anyone in the church. But the way that we relate with all our separations and protective boundary setting that causes us to think of each other as potential sexual partners has backfired in the sense that it has also resulted in barriers that keep us from listening to each other like family.
So many people who have turned to other forms of sexual intimacy rather than to biblical marriage might have been more nurtured and, therefore, far less tempted had we not been so quick to draw a thick line between being struggle-free and struggle-full with regard to sex.
If we were a bit more family-like, more of us could be like my mentor, the esteemed theologian, Carl F.H. Henry who told me that he rounded up his family and explained to his kids that they were very special, so important to him as family, that they were not to pass around their body sexually as if they had no dignity or identity.
I cried when Dr. Henry told me that. As his T.A. at school, as his theologian-mentee, I felt more dignified myself just by knowing that he said that as a father. Carl Henry called me up to a higher sense of self by relating to me personally as a father and a brother in the Lord.
When church authority figures treat people with suspicion as if men and women are nothing more than “the opposite sex,” we sexualize relationships and also inadvertently tend to marginalize those who don’t feel “opposite” at all.
My new friend who is a former drag queen is just as much of a guy as other guys I know. But inside he didn’t feel masculine because he didn’t even feel human given the violence and abuse going on in his family. He felt so put down because his father put him down. His father had no sense of fatherhood. There was no sense at all of brotherly love in the family, only power dynamics, only the alpha male overpowering the others by physically taking advantage of his superior strength.
In local churches, there is often no real sense of people truly bearing each other’s burdens. Certain small groups, yes, really do support each other lovingly, and for sure many women’s groups successfully connect women who become dear, sisterly friends. But rare is the church
that fosters conversations between both brothers and sisters, such that both feel invited to work out their family pain within the context of the family of Christ.
Most of the time, the men and women are separate. Granted, it is unwise for husbands to be paired as prayer partners with women who aren’t their wives, but wisdom does not separate
brothers and sisters. To do so is to sexualize family relationships.
I have much more to say because I’m writing a book on headship, on precisely what it means for the husband to be “head” of the wife (Ephesians 5:23), and Christ to be “Head” of the
Church (Colossians 1:18), and for us to be Christ’s Body as a group of brothers and sisters in the Lord.
For now, I’ll close these musings by asking you to consider how your life might look different if you were to embrace the believers in your life as brothers and sisters. I think it’s going to be critical for us to start teaching on this more openly because sexualizing relationships is not the way to heal from sexual sin.