It’s been just over a week since the United Methodist General Conference voted on whether or not same sex marriage and LGBT clergy will be allowed in the UMC.
The fact that this issue has so captivated mainstream thought and life, and has been the key issue of debate every quadrennium in the UMC is quite impressive. Why? Because according to a Gallup poll in 2018, only 4.5% of Americans self-identify as gay, lesbian or bi-sexual. In this study, 95.5% of Americans identified themselves as straight. What is so impressive is how the sex lives of 4 out of every 100 people has so captivated our consciousness, both within and without the Christian community.
It got me thinking: What about the other 95% of us? It can feel as though we have been forgotten. It can feel as though our struggles and our sins are of little consequence. With the spotlight so intensely focused on what 5% of the population is doing behind closed doors it’s easy to minimize or even justify our own struggles.
With 95% of Americans uninterested in marrying someone of the same sex it seems strange that nearly 100% of our conversations about sex have little to do with what all of us, gay or straight, are struggling with, such as….
I wish we discussed this in the church more than we discuss homosexuality. I wish this were seen for what it is – the epidemic destroying our lives – and our church leadership took it every bit as seriously if not more than homosexuality. While we obsess over the 5%, consider these statistics regarding pornography…
The porn industry generates 13 billion dollars in revenue in the US alone.
1 in 5 mobile searches are for pornography
69% of the internet pay-per-view market is pornography
51% of pastors say pornography is a real temptation
64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month
71% of teens hide online behavior from their parents
9 out of 10 boys and 6 out of 10 girls are exposed to pornography before age 18
Average age of first exposure: 12
68% of young adult men and 18% of young adult women use porn weekly.
This sin, legal to view and purchase everywhere, affects every one of us. The struggle is real, and it is destroying more families and lives than gay marriage ever will. Our nation’s legalization of gay marriage pales in comparison to the overwhelming acceptance of pornography in our culture and our failure to address it.
Even before pornography began to flourish with the advent of the Internet, virtually everyone was having sex outside of marriage. A study published by the USA Today in 2006 showed that 9 in 10 women born in the 1940’s had premarital sex. The median age in 2003 of those having sex for the first time was 17. Of those interviewed in 2002, 95% said they had sex before marriage.
According to one study, 61 percent of Christians said they would have sex before marriage. Fifty-six percent said that it’s appropriate to move in with someone after dating for a time between six months and two years.
While everyone is talking about who 5% of our population is now allowed to marry, the church has often failed to offer to the struggling rest of us a healthy, positive view of sex and why God intends it to be reserved for marriage. We have failed to offer a positive, affirming, theologically rooted understanding of singleness and celibacy. We do not teach well what it means to have a body created in God’s image to be used for God’s purposes in unique ways as a single person or as a married couple. (Read my review of the excellent book, Faithful: A Theology of Sex. Better yet, get the book!).
While our Church directs her focus on who can and cannot get married or be ordained, our youth are floundering as we turn blind eyes and hearts to their struggle. Sexting, which is sending sexually explicit material through mobile devices, is a growing phenomenon among both youth and adults. 40% of all teenagers have sent and received sexual material through their phones. You can read more stats here, and this CNN article suggests that over 60% of youth are using apps on their phones to send sexually suggestive material. It’s worth checking out, parents, to learn ways to safeguard your kid’s online behavior.
I know firsthand the reality of these struggles, and know all too well the pain they bring to bear on all of one’s relationships. Even more, I know the guilt and shame surrounding these behaviors and I know how easy it is to minimize and justify these things because they are done in secret. Because so few will admit they struggle in these areas, and because the church spends so much time talking about the 5% rather than the other 95%, it’s no wonder there is so much confusion in our churches regarding sex ( and given our negligence here, it’s no wonder we struggle to speak the truth in love when it comes to the important matter of homosexuality, gender confusion, and more).
The church, when operating as she ought, is a hospital for the broken. She is to be the place where sinners like you and I, the 100% of us, can be real about our struggles without fear of being shamed or judged so that we might discover the transforming power of grace at work in each of our lives, healing our brokenness and restoring our communion with God and each other. And yes, that includes our sexual brokenness.
This is not to say the church has nothing to say about marriage, or shouldn’t address the 5% of our population, but it is to say that as we look at the landscape of sexuality around us, we must admit we are deeply broken and in desperate need of healing. As I read Scripture, it says that judgment begins in the church, not upon those outside (1 Cor. 5:12). Perhaps the most faithful and God-honoring thing we can do at such a time as this is to look within ourselves and bring to the cross our own struggles and sexual brokenness. Perhaps the best thing we can do as a church, particularly this day as we enter into the penitent season of Lent, is to beat our chests and cry out, “Have mercy on me, Oh Lord, a sinner” (Luke 18:13).
My hope and prayer for the church is that we are offering places of healing for all people, no matter what their struggle. I don’t want to see us become so fixated on one sin that we forget that we are all sexually broken. We all need healing. We all need to have our minds renewed. We all need to lay our sexual selves down at the altar and offer our bodies to God as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1-2). We all must remember that our bodies our not our own, but have been bought with a price, and we are to therefore honor God with how we use them.
The one way in which “all means all,” (a refrain often used by those fighting for affirmation and acceptance), is truly accurate is in the sense that we are all broken and are all in need of a Savior who not only can forgive us, but can transform our desires into holy affections, pleasing to God and for the glory of His name.
So, to the 95% of us out there who are struggling, please know you are not forgotten amid the cacophony of voices, both gleeful and despairing, over the results of General Conference. And you are far from being alone. I hope you’ll seek out a church this Lent to offer up your own struggle to the lover of your soul, and find a brother or sister to walk alongside you as you both recommit to surrendering your bodies, and what you do with them, to the God who made you.