Sexy sexy (married) Christianity seems to be something of a trend in recent weeks. First, the Christian media become embroiled in a controversy over pastor Mark Driscoll's Real Marriage, not because of its sexual content, but because it may have plagiarized another Christian book about sex. Then, the Southern Baptist Convention announced it would host a conference on a variety of sex topics in April. And now, apparently, Beyoncé and Jay Z exemplify Christian marriage, as a Buzzfeed piece proclaimed after the couple's charged performance of "Drunk in Love."
The Buzzfeed piece, by writer Laura (Ortberg) Turner, makes her point by noting that there is, in fact, at least one sexy part of the Bible (The Song of Solomon), and that "Drunk in Love" is also sexy. Therefore, the Beyoncé/Jay Z empire is the exemplar of Christian marriage. Turner has previously compared "Drunk in Love" to that book, which has lines like "Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies." It is a hot book, and it is presumably about a married couple. Just like Jay Z and Beyoncé. "One thing we as Christians often fail to communicate in the conversation about marriage is how important it is to have a robust understanding of desire and sex in their right places," Turner adds. From a Christian perspective, she's not wrong. But the claim of a secret meaning behind the marriage/performance — and the claim that Beyoncé and Jay Z somehow belong to Christianity as a cultural phenomenon — is an overreach.
Perhaps due to a sense that a younger generation of evangelicals aren't quite as in to the shame thing, or perhaps because it's generally more acceptable to discuss sex openly, this is something some Christian organizations have contended with in recent years, both nationally and locally. It's not unheard of for (married) Christian couples to seek out sex counseling, for instance, nor is it for pastors to recommend it. Where before there was nothing, now even more conservative Christians can easily find resources for discussing pornography, safer sex education, and the like. When the Southern Baptists meet in April, they'll take on a series of topics orbiting human sexuality. Conference goers will learn how the "gospel shapes our sexual identities, redeems sexual desire, and sets free those who are held captive to sin’s bondage." And yes, there are Christian sex shops.
All that Christian sex-positivity is a good thing, to be sure. But this topic has trouble reading as positive beyond its core Christian audience — indeed, Turner's piece is very clearly aimed at a Christian reader, and only a Christian reader, despite its placement at a general audience publication. The "in their right places" of her argument here is key to why: a discussion of Christian sexual intimacy is almost always limited to relationships — with each other and with God — that are already deemed "correct." The problem is that Christianity, and the Bible, also has plenty to do with how the relationships of non-believers — those outside of Christian-approved marriages — are policed. And how those who don't fit the mold are marginalized.
Here are some other edicts about sex and marriage found in the Bible, most of which have very obvious influences on how we talk about and legislate sex today:
- Leviticus 18:22: "‘Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable."
- Genesis 38:8-10: "Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also." [This passage is where we get the term "onanism," or masturbation. Many early writers focused on the whole "spilling seed" thing, forming the basis of a series of beliefs against non-procreative sex]
- Leviticus 15:19: "'When a woman has her regular flow of blood, the impurity of her monthly period will last seven days, and anyone who touches her will be unclean till evening."
- Leviticus 19:29 "Do not defile your daughter by making her a prostitute, or the land will be filled with prostitution and wickedness."
- Luke 16:18: "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery"
- Deuteronomy 22:28-29: "If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days."
- 1 Corinthians 6:9–11 "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
- Deuteronomy 22:13–21 "Suppose a man marries a woman, but after sleeping with her, he turns against her and publicly accuses her of shameful conduct, saying, 'When I married this woman, I discovered she was not a virgin.' Then the woman's father and mother must bring the proof of her virginity to the elders as they hold court at the town gate."
This is not to refute Turner's point as it's intended for Christians — that Christians shouldn't be afraid of hot married sex — but to demonstrate why that point will likely read as absurd to quite a lot of other people. Beyoncé, in a way, might be a good model for Christians, but she also supports marriage equality, a right that is being denied to many American couples in the name of the Bible. Some fundamentalist Christians are doing much, much worse to LGBT individuals abroad, also in the name of a Bible-based morality. It's good to remind Christians that the Bible isn't all doom and gloom on what happens in their bedrooms, and it's good to remind everyone that not every Christian is the stereotype. The challenge, however, is contending with those who still retain control over what's happening between their neighbor's sheets.