Thursday, March 4, 2010

40 day Journey with Martin Luther (Augsburg Books) Day 11: Sexuality and Honor

" are to defend, protect and rescue your neighbors whenever they are in danger or need, and moreover, even aid and assist them so that they may retain their honor...In short all are required both to live chastely themselves and also to help their neighbors do the same." --Martin Luther

Wow. How do I work with Luther and sexuality in a reasonable blog post? Any commandment could be a dissertation-length endeavor, but the Sixth Commandment regarding adultery and Luther's writing addressing sexuality takes on monumental proportions. The history of sexuality and the Church is a mixed bag. Encouraging the view of sexuality as a gift rather than something dirty or demonic is relatively new in Christian thought, though the argument for this outlook in Christian teaching is strong though not pervasive in history. Original Sin has been believed to be transmitted through sex and procreation. Sexuality has been abused through power, deception, manipulation and coercion. The list of abuses linked to sexuality is long. Therefore a definition that Luther advocates for purity and chastity didn't seem particularly helpful in his time (though I didn't live then, so what do I know) and they don't feel particularly helpful now. The teaching of Christians around sexuality has been so intertwined with shame and a misguided understanding of sin that I don't know what to do with some of Luther's writing on this subject.

However, I do appreciate the move Luther makes from addressing adultery with purity and chastity, and toward how we relate to our neighbor by retaining honor. There is honor and esteem in sexuality as a gift from God to be used cautiously and wisely, and that we work with our neighbors so that others do not have their sexuality abused through power, coercion or manipulation. This is a tall order--but the idea of honor is not as shame-based in understanding sexuality as purity or chastity, and gives us a basis for at least working toward giving women and men, boys and girls a sense of responsibility, respect, grace and healing related to sexuality. Chastity and purity are overly connected to shame, and though those words are not necessarily bad in and of themselves--the history with these words is too dark for them to be helpful anymore in understanding God's gift of sexuality.

Luther's writing about honor and implicit sexuality on the Sixth Commandment have powerful implications for how the Church relates to the community regarding sexual violence and the sex trade, and also how it prepares couples for marriage and builds up family relationships. This is indeed a tall order. God, have mercy.

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