March 26, 2014

Adventist Professor's Devotional Series Urges Appropriate Conversation About Sex


No other denomination
today is “better positioned” to reclaim the “spirituality of sexuality” than
the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a theology professor said at the church’s
sexuality summit in Cape Town last week.

In a series of morning
devotionals, John Nixon, professor of Religion and Spirituality at Southern
Adventist University, said dysfunctional attitudes toward sex among Christians
are the result of “alien influences” that “undermine and distort” the teachings
of Jesus.

“We’ve been lax in
teaching Christian sexuality in our churches, schools and homes. This is the
root of the sexual crisis we are now facing. Even the word ‘sex’ spoken from
the pulpit makes us uncomfortable,” Nixon said.

“The spectrum of
teaching about sex in the church is limited to extremes—love without sex
(abstinence) and sex without love (promiscuity). The Bible rejects them both,”
he told delegates at the church’s “In God’s Image: Scripture. Sexuality.
Society” summit at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in South

A brief historical
overview helped explain how broken attitudes toward sex gained a foothold in
the church. Hellenistic thought, Nixon said, pitted the spiritual world against
the material world; thus a “good” soul was trapped in an “evil” body with
sinful desires. Christian writings and practices of the second and third
centuries A.D. reveal an obsession with asceticism, or severe physical debasement
as a measure of spirituality. Saint Augustine (354-430 A.D.) argued that all
sin was rooted in sexuality and advocated procreation only without recreation.

Asceticism glorified
hardships and taught that because the body was evil, all physical enjoyment
should be eschewed, including sex within marriage. This notion encouraged the
practice of celibacy among Christians, Nixon said.

“The vestiges of this
philosophy still exist in our church,” Nixon said. “For many of us, there is
still something a little suspicious about sexual pleasure, even in marriage.
Engage in it, we think, but don’t have too much fun.”

But God does not forbid
or even “just tolerate” sex, Nixon said. “He celebrates it in the context of
pure, genuine love between husband and wife.”

Indeed, the union of
husband and wife within the “sacred institution of marriage” is a full
expression of the plural image of God,” he said, citing Genesis 1:26 and 27.
“We are relational creatures made to complement each other. Sex is not just an
act; it is part of our beings,” Nixon said.

“We do not teach a
divided human nature—a soul trapped in a body. We teach a holistic nature. Sex,
which is physical, also impacts the spirit and mind,” Nixon said.

Still, challenges
persist in teaching biblical sexuality in homes, schools and churches—especially
in a world that views any act between consenting adults as permissible, he
said. On Adventist college campuses, Nixon said he has observed that students
are increasingly concerned about gender identity and often view sexual choices
through the lens of social justice.

All too often, he said,
the Adventist Church has chosen silence rather than engaging in the
conversation. “Our children learn about sex from the world. They grow up in a
world of alternative sexuality as the ‘new normal.’ Sex [for them] is about
self-gratification, about the happiness I am entitled to,” Nixon said.

He told the story of
Joseph recorded in Genesis to illustrate that chastity and celibacy are indeed attainable
goals. Joseph, he said, demonstrated integrity and faithfulness even in the
face of major temptations.

“Sexual sin lends itself
to secrecy where no one sees, but private moments are the ones that reveal true
character,” Nixon said.

Adventist parents,
teachers and pastors have the responsibility to pass on a healthy view of sex
within the parameters of heterosexual marriage, he said.

“May God help us to
fulfill that responsibility.”