by David R. Weiss S ooner or later churches that genuinely welcome GLBTQ persons of faith will need to talk about sexual ethics. We're hardly ready for this, but we stand before a rare moment, with an opportunity to reconsider the nature and place of sexuality in the whole of our lives--both gay and straight. That makes this moment both daunting and exciting. How might we frame a conversation for GLBTQA persons of faith that is expansive enough to weigh openly and honestly the range of sexual behaviors and relationships before us but also principled enough to remain recognizably rooted in a posture of faith? I suspect this conversation needs to happen in a whole bunch of places, but as a church-going Ally, I am most invested in helping it happen well in churches. Also, because this conversation isn't likely to go far at the generic level, the best I can do is offer principles that will resonate with other church-going folks. I surely don't mean to suggest that the only "ethical" sex happens among Christians! I'm simply being honest to say I think these principles can help progressive Christians have thoughtful and respectful conversations about sexual ethics. Other communities may find other principles more helpful ... and that's okay. When it comes to ethical principles, less is more. A well chosen few will carry us further than a whole bunch that function more and more like rules. I'll name just five. I begin with three mentioned famously by the Hebrew prophet Micah (Micah 6:8) some 2500 years ago: do justice, show mercy, and walk humbly. Micah is talking about how to live a Godpleasing life in general, but his wisdom is pretty far-reaching. Justice suggests that healthy, whole sex is not exploitive of power differences, whether based Discussing sexual ethics ... or trading recipes for hot dish in money, age, race, gender, or social role. It raises real doubts about sex that eroticizes the dynamic of domination. But because this is a principle, not a rule, it doesn't absolutely forbid anything. It simply says, "make the case that this (or any) particular sexual expression doesn't transgress justice." Mercy is not pity but compassion. Healthy, whole sex involves mutuality, a genuine care for the other's joy, comfort, and pleasure. It invites trust in moments of deep vulnerability. Part of the power of sexual intimacy is its capacity--its alchemy--whereby vulnerability becomes transcendence. Absent either justice or mercy, such vulnerability is neither wise nor safe. This implies fidelity as a corollary of mercy. But, listen carefully: fidelity is about promised faithfulness that is honest and clear. It may not always be life-long. It may not always be exclusive. But it ought to be honest and clear in its terms. Fidelity is not a single cookiecutter; I suspect it is a tin full of different patterns. Humility offers two words of wisdom. First, to be patient with ourselves and others. Sexual intimacy is an unfolding mystery better paced by our own deepest intuitions than by the messages of the marketplace. Second, that as we encounter persons--whether in our intimate relations or in our public communities--whose sexual practices and preferences differ markedly from our own, we begin by listening for the truth of their experience. We need not affirm everything we hear, but we are fools when we think we have nothing new to learn. To these three I add two others: whole and healthy sex should be procreative and joyful. Procreative does not mean relationships in which physical reproduction is not a biological option (or desire) are somehow deficient. But because this term is so often wielded against GLBTQ persons, it seems worthwhile to reclaim it in a broader--and truer--meaning. To be procreative is to care for this world, from natural eco-systems to familial and civic communities. This is a human vocation, quite independent of sexual activity. But given that sex is one powerful way we generate and share energy, it seems fair to ask that energy so deliciously brought forth between lovers also spill outward into the world around us. Joyful. Well, good sex ought to be fun. And if it's clouded by shame, disgust, obligation, fear, etc., that's pretty good evidence that the sex in question is somehow less than healthy and whole. For Christians this will be a real challenge because most of us have been taught either that sex is the primal temptation that turns us from God or at least that it is ETHICS continued on page 14 | Q View Northwest - Spokane Edition | May 2009 |