Technotopia, Social Horror Stories, And The Holiness Of Sex: A Response To Christy Thomas
The idea that sexual activity may legitimately take place only within the context of heterosexual marriage is pretty well ignored and/or laughed at now by the vast majority of people. Will this cultural change just push the church over the complete edge of irrelevancy?
OR . . . could such a scenario help us again to focus our attention on the real points of what it means to be a holy people? Could it help us get our eyes and attention off the genitalia of others and onto the core of the matter, that is, the practices involved with loving God in heart, mind, soul and body and loving our neighbors as ourselves? Could losing this culture war force us into the understanding of the Incarnation that says, “Our bodies are holy creations, means of grace to those around us. Let us use them in such a way that brings no harm, does good, and helps us to stay in love with God” and then trust people to figure out how to do this? – Christy Thomas, “The Separation Of Sex And Procreation: What Can Separate Us From The Love Of God?”, United Methodist Insight, November 12, 2014
The Rev. Christy Thomas considers a vision of the near future, offered by Carl Djerassi, the so-called “Father Of The Pill”, in which procreation is completely separated from the sexual act. Due to what Djerassi insists will be the mass affordability of egg and sperm harvesting, followed by voluntary sterilization, human society will not only make marriage and the morality of sexuality irrelevant; it will eliminate abortions, because all births will be planned. It will also reduce the risk of certain birth defects because eggs and sperm will be harvested at such an early stage, therefore will be healthier, resulting in healthier babies. Rev. Thomas considers this as a backdrop against which the church makes a decision about its ministry, its teachings, and even its identity. She sees in this sexual technotopia an opportunity for the church to refocus on matters central to its mission and ministry.
When I read the scenario offered by Djerassi, on the other hand, I did not see some bright future in which the sexual act is separated from procreation. Rather, what I saw was the intensification of an already existing social horror story, a world in which the wealthy, the white, the powerful, and the privileged live much as they always have – outside the bounds of conventional morality, celebrating their separation from the mass of people for whom the dream of completely planned childbirths and the medical and scientific protection of fertilized ovum will offer personal freedoms is not only out of reach; it is purposely restricted through laws and regulations that parrot the language of morality even as the practice is flouted by the wealthy. Consider the way abortion is regulated; the language of pro-life arguments pounded in to the heads of the mass of the people; restrictions on access creating de facto inaccessibility to what should be a normal medical procedure for the mass of people even while the wealthy are able to access safe, clean, medical abortions at will. With the continuation of the Hyde Amendment barring any federal funding to help the poor obtain abortions as part of their overall healthcare, we are already in a position where the kind of sexual freedom – without the added benefit of such technical gimmicks like egg harvesting and whatnot – is already enjoyed by the privileged, leaving the poor, people of color, even whole nations continuing to live much as they always have: at the mercy of nature and sexual procreation.
Djerassi’s vision would only heighten the already existing racial and class divides between those for whom sexual freedom has become a given and those for whom sex is what it has always been: the possibility of having a child, whether planned or not, whether wanted or not. We do not teach our children in public school what sex is; what conception control is; how to act responsibly sexually; we do all this in the name of a morality that already resembles Djerassi’s vision. We deny women access to the birth control pill and abortion in the name of a Christian morality that is flouted by those who push it upon us. The notion that Djerassi’s vision is something to come in the future ignores the reality that it already exists . . . for the privileged.
The church continues to be divided, and therefore powerless, in the face of this reality. On the one hand is the racial and class divides that create what are, for all intents and purposes, antithetical ethical and social practices. On the other is the refusal to consider the reality of human sexuality, that it isn’t just a personal moral matter, but also has social implications, including how sexual acts are and are not regulated depending upon one’s social status. Under the cover of personal embarrassment when discussing sex, and the imposed fear that teaching youth about their sexuality will only make sex more attractive as a human possibility for them, we deny the poor and people of color access to the information they need to make informed, moral, choices about their lives, choices that impact all of us.
Human sexual ethics is as important a part of the teaching and life of the church as our work with and advocacy for the poor; it cannot be separated from it! Human sexual ethics is as important a part of the mission of the church as making disciples of Jesus Christ; it cannot be separated from it! To argue, as the Rev. Thomas seems to be arguing here, that some technical fix to the matter of human procreation will, through some kind of ripple effects, offer an opportunity for the church to focus on the two Great Commandments and the Three Rules of John Wesley, ignores the reality that human sexuality and sexual morality is bound up together will the Great Commandments. It also ignores the reality that what some see as a future filled with possibilities for liberation is only the attachment of more chains, of more rules and regulations, of more impossible social possibilities. It becomes not a sexual and religious utopia. It is a deepening of the sexual and social nightmare with which far too many people already live. The church is not up to the task of addressing the current situation; ignoring human sexuality completely because of technological advancement ignores the reality we already, for all practical purposes, ignore teaching most people about human sexuality and human sexual ethics in the name of a social morality that, Rev. Thomas rightly notes, is ignored and even laughed at.
I have nothing but respect for Rev. Thomas. It is for that reason that I must not only disagree strongly with her notion that we as the people of God can, as she writes, “get our eyes and attention off the genitalia of others and onto the core of the matter”, as if human sexuality did not exist at that same core. That we as a church cannot come to grips with how we talk with one another about sex; that we cannot agree on what constitutes a Christian, i.e., an incarnational, loving, sexual ethic; that we all already exist within a socio-economic system that already creates conditions for the powerful and the privileged to flaunt the very traditional sexual morality they force on others; these are all matters which the Church needs to address in a comprehensive manner now. We are in the midst of this nightmare scenario, and not helping people by our inability to confront these interwoven, structural issues within which matters of human sexual freedom and choice occur. If we do not, then a future in which people shop for babies like Gucci handbags will mean just that. The wealthy and powerful will have access to yet another commodity the poor are denied, yet this time that commodity is a human being.