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The Song of Songs is a delightfully erotic, sensual dance between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman, who, given what we know about marriage at the time the Bible was written, are probably in their early teen years. Their desire for each other is mutual; their passion is mutual; their fulfillment is mutual. The emphasis is on passion and intimacy; there is no discussion of marriage or fertility. And, it is only one of the places in Scripture where physical beauty is affirmed; where pleasure is good, where there are many forms of blessed relationships, and where sexuality is a source of pleasure and pain in our lives.
I love the Bible, but I am relatively new to its teachings. In Sunday school growing up Jewish but not having a bat mitzvah, I never got past Genesis and Exodus.
I was taught Sex dating in Samson an early age by my grandmother, who was a Holocaust survivor, that the New Testament was a book that had been used to kill my relatives, and so I never read the New Testament until during my first semester at divinity school. My first semester in seminary was as a research fellow at the Yale Divinity School during a sabbatical from my position as the president of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.
I was surprised during this first semester to realize as I studied the Hebrew Bible that it was replete with sexual references: I chronicled more than thirty-five sexually themed stories in the book of Genesis alone.
In it, Paul addressed seventeen of the thirty-seven topics that should be addressed in a comprehensive sexuality curriculum. Many people think they know what the Bible teaches about sexuality. They believe that the Bible teaches that sex is only for procreation and that masturbation, abortion, and contraception are wrong, when actually the Bible is silent on each of these issues.
On the other hand, some assume that it is hopelessly patriarchal and should be disregarded completely, when there are actually texts that emphasize mutuality and equality. It is surprising how infrequently ministers, rabbis, and priests talk about the messages of sexuality in Scripture, when they seem ever present in its books.
No one would ever tell me. I wondered, was it so God could have spares, like a spare giraffe, in case one giraffe got hurt or sick? There are many stories, even core stories such as the story of creation and the birth of Jesus, where sexuality is central but often ignored. In fact, the Bible actually begins with an affirmation of humans as sexual beings. God brings each of the animals forward to Adam and suggests each of them as a companion.
Adam rejects them all.
It is only then that God puts Adam to sleep to create woman. Side by side, the two first texts of the Bible emphasize the equality of men and women, recognize that we need companions and helpers in life, affirm sexuality as both procreative and recreative, and underscore that God is pleased to offer humans this gift. The Bible teaches that bodies are good. The Bible speaks openly and honestly about the genitals and bodily functions. It is remarkably upfront about menstruation and seminal emissions. There is also the story of the woman who touches Jesus and is healed, despite her being unclean from dysfunctional menstrual bleeding for more than twelve years Matthew The Bible also has a strong message that pleasure is good.
Sexual desire occurs many times in Genesis and other stories. Celibacy is not desirable according to the Hebrew Bible, and, at best, it is an option for the few in the New Testament. There are many types of blessed relationships in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, not only heterosexual monogamous marriage.
Isaac is the only patriarch in the Bible who is monogamous. Solomon is said to have had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines 1 Kings ; David, his father, has a paltry twenty-one wives; in fact, the texts tell us that when David is depressed in his old age, a young woman is presented to him as the cure, although he is too depressed to take advantage of her l Kings —4!
For example, in the Gospel of John, Jesus shocks his disciples by revealing himself to the Samitaran woman—who has had five husbands and is currently cohabitating with another man. The Bible is full of rich and rewarding relationships between people who do not live a heterosexual monogamous lifestyle, such as: Abraham and Sarah and Rachel and Jacob, who are married but the men have other partners with whom they have children; Martha and Mary, who share their homes together as sisters; Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz, who parent the same child; the bands of disciples who leave their families to travel and work together.
The question that I am asked most frequently about sexuality and Scripture concerns whether the Bible condemns homosexuality. We heard many times during recent denomination debates about sexual orientation that the Bible condemns homosexuality, and this statement is often presented without comment or challenge. I believe that it is at best inaccurate to use Scripture to condemn committed, consensual, same sex-adult sexual relationships.
These type of relationships did not exist when Scripture was written. There are only four passages in the Bible that explicitly address same-sex activities: two in Leviticus and two in Romans. That there are only four passages show that this subject was of relatively little importance. Sex dating in Samson contrast, there are ten prohibitions in Leviticus alone on having sex with a menstruating woman and seventeen on how to make a grain offering. There are passages in Scripture that describe love between people of the same sex.
What about Sodom and Gomorrah? Later books in the Bible clarify that this is a story about inhospitality. Scripture recognizes the existence of sexual variation and sexual minorities in its passages about eunuchs.
During the time that the Bible was written, eunuchs were men who either were born with missing or incomplete genitals such men were once called hermaphrodites but now are called intersexuals or lost them in battle. Let anyone accept this who can.
More important than any specific passage is the overall theme of Scripture: love and inclusion. My personal theology is that we express divine intention on earth by how we treat each other, how we understand our own sexuality, and how we express it with others, not simply through acts but through our very relationships. It is the fulfillment and triumph of love that is able to reunite the most radically separated beings, individual persons. Scripture is less concerned with an ethic of sexuality than it is with an ethic of love. The foundation of my ministry about sexuality and religion is fundamentally about teaching people to love each other.
It is also the foundation of most religions and most sexology. Both ministers and sexologists, and indeed the authors of Scripture, knew that each of us wants to be loved—just the way we are.
The ultimate challenge of Scripture, and also of life, is to love generously, courageously, and with integrity our neighbors as well as ourselves. The Reverend Debra W. Haffner is the director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing and is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister serving as the endorsed community minister with the Unitarian Church in Westport, Connecticut.
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