[Content warning: discussions of sex, rape, and purity culture]
On which side of the “sloppy wet” vs. “unforeseen” kiss debate do you find yourself?
Back around 2005, John Mark McMillan released a little-known song, “How He Loves.” David Crowder Band did a cover (apologies for his facial hair and vocals) a few years later. Evangelicals grew obsessed with Crowder’s version.
John Mark McMillan’s original lyrics say, “Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss.” David Crowder changed them to “Heaven meets Earth like an unforeseen kiss,” digging a humorous divide between evangelicals over which lyrics should be sung during worship.
Though this divide doesn’t always correlate with how a Christian community views premarital sex, it makes an interesting parallel. The original “sloppy wet kiss” is sensual, emotional, and evocative – not exactly in line with a conservative outlook on sexuality. And to many, the preferable David Crowder “unforeseen kiss” is hygienic – even innocent – just the way conservatives prefer their congregants to be when it comes to sex. (Let’s be real though, at face value an unforeseen kiss is creepy and non-consensual (#ChurchToo) and a weak metaphor for God’s rich relationship with Earth.)
If you’re from a conservative Christian background and trying to navigate the ethics of sex, this one’s for you, whether or not you are blessed to be LGBTQ. Like most of our posts, it’s not a theological treatise but rather a glimpse into our experiences. And if you’re not a Christian, then this one might seem… weird.
Where We Came From
Neither Ada nor I grew up in the roiling center of purity culture, but we spent our fair share of time in its splash zone. Our Christian community emphasized that everyone should preserve their virginity until (a heterosexual) marriage. This was an easy enough ethic for me to live by for awhile. I bought into the notion that sex was special, and that meshed well with who I was and still am – loyal, purposeful, and measured.
But it wasn’t so easy once I fell in love with Ada. After years of best friendship, our personal discernment process, and all of the fallout from being affirmingly queer in a non-affirming Christian community, we had tested and solidified our commitment to one another. Our relationship was special. And like most romantic, non-asexual partners, we wanted to have sex.
So we did, and here’s why.
If you’ve been reading along with us, you might’ve picked up on how contextualizing the Bible changed our perspective on many conservative Christian tenets. We’ve written about how contextualization helped us become LGBTQ-affirming Christians. It’s also helped us define our sexual ethic.
Hulu’s series The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, features a challenging, gruesome, and highly biblical scene. When a wealthy and powerful couple is unable to conceive, they purchase a fertile woman to forcibly bear their child. In a disturbing reenactment of Genesis 30:1-5, the family’s patriarch rapes this slave (“handmaiden”) while she lies in the lap of the matriarch.
“[After being unable to conceive children with Jacob], Rachel said, ‘Here is Bilhah, my servant. Sleep with (rape) her so that she can bear children for me and I too can build a family through her.’ So she gave him her servant Bilhah as a wife. Jacob slept with (raped) the servant, and she became pregnant and bore him a son.”
Unfortunately, terrifying tales like this – of women being traded and raped and devalued – are common in the Bible. Yet conservative Christians have treated the text like a sex education manual, often interjecting their own cultural standards informed by and perpetuating fear, control, and misogyny along the way. Overlooking context is a dangerous thing; as we’ve already explored, ignorance of context creates grounds for homophobia and misogyny, among other ills.
From our perspective, the Bible doesn’t have much to say about sexual ethics that are relevant or ethical in the context of how we understand romantic and sexual love today. The Bible implies that sex should be restricted to marriage, but now that developments in human agency like contraception, single-parenthood, and women’s liberation are embedding themselves into our society (despite efforts to stop them), that notion is growing more and more futile. Some biblical authors proudly assert that women and their virginity are men’s property, but we reject that belief. The cultural and economic purposes of a “biblical” sexual ethic do not serve to build a just world today.
Let’s Talk About –
When we embrace contextualization, we can hear God’s voice both through and beyond the Bible. Ada and I attended a United Church of Christ congregation for a bit, and we still love the denomination’s motto, “God is still speaking,” (emphasis on the comma).
When it comes to sexual ethics, God is still speaking. Women are liberating themselves from centuries of oppression. Men are freeing one another from the toxicity of a culture that defines them by their adherence to “traditional masculinity.” LGBTQ people are slowly but surely winning the battle against suffocating cisheteronormativity.
And Christians are shedding the chains of purity culture and replacing them with God’s inclusive cloak. Sex should no longer be about ownership, jealousy, power, or perpetuating the family name. It should, like all that we do, be about building God’s kin-dom on Earth. That’s going to look different to different people in different circumstances, of course. Safe, consensual sex is a healthy and joyful part of exercising our humanity. Safe, consensual sex strengthens relationships. Safe, consensual sex says in the face of purity culture: you are holding me back from the full life Jesus has given me.
A New Sexual Ethic
Ada and I decided to have sex before we were married because we realized that in our relationship, the fruits of sexual intimacy outweighed the fruits of waiting. Rather than waiting for a marital moment of consummation in which we would be mythically made “complete,” we could work instead on building our relationship into one worthy of marriage. Sex was just one way for us to do that. Plus, by relieving ourselves from the church-constructed burden of sexual temptation, we could be free to focus on other, more important aspects of our faith.
Christians, especially conservative ones, have grown obsessed with controlling sexual ethics. Consider the fruits of being free from that control. Instead of a four-week sermon series on chastity, imagine a month of congregational education and action to buffer food insecurity in your community. Instead of sweating out a confession about a “struggle with masturbation” – which, by the way, I have heard way too many times and never want to hear about again – imagine repenting for the ways in which you have contributed to systemic racism. Instead of constantly wondering where the purity line should be drawn and deliberating what you deem appropriate censure and punishment, imagine working together to ensure a safe, communicable, and inclusive sexual ethic.
On Queering the Kindom
I don’t have this all figured out, and I genuinely hope that Christians will establish a new sexual ethic to replace the crumbling, toxic one the church is holding on to. (Thank you to the many folks already working to do just this.) If or when Ada and I have kids, I don’t know what we’ll tell them about sex, though I’ve got some ideas.
This is a good time to throw out a reminder and disclaimer that the goal of Queering the Kindom is to share our story so that queer Christians – especially those who are in or rebounding from conservatism – can have one vision of what a fulfilling and affirming life can look like. By telling our story, we are not saying that every person’s journey should look like ours. We want our readers to see an example of a queer and partnered life that is full of ordinary and extraordinary challenges and joys.
Photo from vanityfair.com