“Sloppy Wet” or “Unforeseen”: A Need for a New Sexual Ethic

Zora

[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.

Con-textual Healing

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

6 Comments

  1. “Safe, consensual sex says in the face of purity culture: you are holding me back from the full life Jesus has given me.”

    I am a Christian woman who sees no spiritual issue with pre-marital sex. I did not always feel this way, and I did not start having sex until I was 24. Now I can focus on other things besides being sexually frustrated.

    Something that I would like to see on this blog (please correct me if I have failed to notice it) is how the author and their partner formed their opinions regarding sexuality/sexual ethics. As in, what led you to your current beliefs? Your interpretation of biblical scriptures could be helpful to see, though I realize that might be too personal or laborious to publish. I feel that I am bisexual, but have not fully become comfortable with embracing it. It might be helpful if you would be willing to discuss why you believe queer sexualities are acceptable for Christians.

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    1. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts, R. Glad to hear of how overcoming such constricting teachings has freed you up to focus on other areas of life. We’re with you on that!

      Thanks, too, for asking us about our interpretations of scripture. We’ve definitely been where it sounds like you are now – on the lookout for interpretations of scripture that speak truth about queer sexualities. Have you read our post called, “Seeing the Forest”? In it, we talk about how we grew out of a non-LGBTQ affirming theology and into an affirming one. Feel free to keep the conversation going via comments or our Que(e)ries page if you want to talk further after reading.

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  2. Hi! I really enjoyed your post. I’m really intrigued by the idea of a new sexual ethic. I’m also curious about the theology side of how you came to view sex outside of marriage. How did the bible inform your thinking? I have a great deal of trouble trying to work through what the bible say about relationships outside of marriage, particularly related to sex, given the noms of that time (and the absence of dating altogether). Would love more thoughts or ideas on readings to check out… Thanks!

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    1. Thank you, S!

      I mentioned this in reply to R up above, but have you read our posts: “In the Beginning: Part 1” and “Seeing the Forest”? Those talk more about how the Bible has informed our thinking and theology.

      We’ve chosen not to get into too many of the nitty-gritty details – not because we don’t care about them, but because other authors have expounded on them so well. We haven’t read any books on sexual ethics and the Bible specifically, but we always recommend God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines for accurate, accessible, affirming interpretations of the “clobber” passages that conservative Christians have wrongfully used to condemn LGTBQ folks and/or “behavior.”

      Are there specific passages you’d like to hear our thoughts on? We’d be happy to talk more. It seems that a number of our readers are thirsty for scriptural specifics, and we’d eagerly respond to verses or concepts that you have in mind.

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  3. Appreciate the reply! Yes, I did read those and they were interesting. I’m specifically curious about your thoughts on the sexual immorality scriptures. This website hits on a lot of them – https://corechristianity.com/resource-library/articles/9-bible-verses-that-teach-that-sex-before-marriage-is-a-sin

    How do you think about those scriptures? How do you think about what dating is or isn’t? or should be? And when sex outside of marriage is okay? In particular, I’m just curious how you respond to most of the scriptures that are used to push and support purity culture. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hi S – Ada here. I’m glad you’ve read our previous posts on biblical construction and the importance of context.

      To answer your question, here’s how I respond to biblical passages used to push purity culture. I believe that our dominant interpretations of scripture are guided by – better yet, symptomatic of – the patriarchal evangelical culture in which we live. This culture encourages authoritarian, non-questioning ways of being a Christian (including abiding by verses without considering their context).

      Here are some resources recommended to me from trusted friends. Admittedly, I’ve only read one of these, so I cannot fully endorse all of them wholesale:

      https://books.google.com/books/about/Sex_God_and_the_Conservative_Church.html?id=VCslDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button#v=onepage&q&f=false

      https://www.amazon.com/Love-Does-No-Harm-Sexual/dp/0826411282

      https://churchrelations.blogspot.com/2013/09/sex-happens-even-among-christians.html

      The crux of my point is that the Bible is a historical document, meaning that while Christians (myself and I presume you) interpret it as a divinely inspired text, it is also written in and for the times and places of its authors. The Bible and its authors also have no concept of dating. (How could even white American women in the 1950s conceive of dating the way we understand it today? American women have more agency today than they could dream of then.) To use biblical passages like those highlighted in the Core Christianity site you shared as a prescription for sexual ethics requires us to also subscribe to the biblical framework of marriage, as we talked about in the Con-Textual Healing section of this post.

      At this point, I should probably pause and encourage you to remember that the Bible is not God and the Bible is not Christianity. (I know – it’s obvious but easy to forget.) The Bible is an excellent framework for instigating curiosity about the Divine and for contextualizing the everyday in the realm of the spiritual. It’s a valuable historical document written by an oppressed people, and it gives us a lot of information about theology (how we speak about God).

      I’ve found that the more I learn about the history and context in which the Bible was written, the more I concurrently see how damaging purity culture and toxic conservative evangelicalism are.

      I get the sense that you may be asking about dating and sexual ethics because of particular life circumstances giving you pause. If that’s so, or if there are specific verses you’d like for us to engage, please feel free to shoot us an email through the “Contact Us” page.

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