Saturday, November 15, 2008

SEX! SEX! SEX!

(I figure with that kind of headline, I might get more hits on this blog…)

So, here is the story. Ed Young, pastor of FellowshipChurch.com, is instructing married couples in his church to have sex every day this week. FellowshipChurch.com is a non-denominational/Baptist church located in suburban Dallas. It has over 20,000 members and is one of the ten largest congregations in the United States. If you read all the way to the end of this piece, I will tell you about visiting his church in May of 2002.

[By the way, I do recognize that this story appeals to the worst of sensationalism in the media and that ignoring it is probably the best thing I could do. But it is such a wacky story that I felt I would share my thoughts.]

In a crazy and creepy video, you can watch Ed Young get interviewed about his “Seven Days of Sex” initiative by a reporter from CNN. This video has so much going on that I barely know where to start. So, let’s start at the beginning. At the beginning, Ed Young explains, “I’m suggesting that the married couples… in my church… have sex for seven straight days.” But listen to it carefully. Even though we only see Pastor Ed from the shoulders up, listen and you can hear him pound his fist into his palm to accentuate the words “sex”, “seven,” “straight,” and “days.” The guy is really excited. Not only is he smacking his hand but he delivers the whole interview with a weird smirking grin. He then adds, “My wife and I are really looking forward to it.” Too much information.

From here, the video only gets more and more bizarre. Clips of Ed Young preaching the previous Sunday show him walking around on the great big stage at his church with a toilet as a prop in the center of the stage. He also adds that he is asking his parishioners to email the church and tell the church about their “seven days of sex.” That is creepy!

But that is not all. What makes this video even weirder is the way the CNN reporter goes after him. She begins by warning him that he may be inviting men in his congregation to rape their wives. Then she asks him if he has even gone to seminary. Finally, towards the end of the clip, she lectures him on sexuality and intimacy.

Where do I even begin? Six reactions:

First, who is included and who is left out? Ed Young teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman and that only married couples should have sex. So, my first question is how he is going to spin this whole thing in a congregation that certainly includes unmarried people. Surely, his congregation includes unmarried couples and singles that range from teenagers to people who are hoping to partner to recently divorced persons who are going through a period of grief and reflection to the newly widowed who are in mourning. How will his message include these people instead of excluding them?

Second, one size does not fit all. (Ok, I probably could have said that better. I don’t mean it that way.) The idea of having sex every day might be appealing for some people but not for others. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist (or a sexologist) to tell you that some people desire physical intimacy more often than others. When a couple consists of a person who wants sex a lot more often than the other person this can be a source of conflict. But quality is a lot more important than quantity and couples probably should be more focused on fulfillment rather than frequency. To completely misquote William Ellery Channing, “The great end of sexual instruction is not to counsel them to have a definite amount of sex, but to inspire a fervent love of intimacy.” (The original quote, by the way, is “The great end in religious instruction is… not to give them a definite amount of knowledge, but to inspire a fervent love of truth.”)

Third, is the CNN reporter serious about rape? It is hard to tell if she is actually concerned about this or if she is just throwing out an extreme example to try to get a rise out of Ed Young. But, what she is talking about may not be all that farfetched. I do see a place for some very uncomfortable grey areas. I can certainly imagine someone deciding to consent to have sex even though they might rather not. Pressure and feeling obligated are things that are certainly destructive of intimacy and pleasure. This week may leave some people feeling a deep resentment towards their partner or their pastor.

Fourth, is this all one big publicity stunt? I was emailing back and forth with a colleague about this and we were suggesting possible sermon titles. My colleague suggested, “Our church is cool. Please attend this church, please.” Ed Young is certainly a showman.

Fifth, I wonder what Debra Haffner would have to say. My colleague Debra Haffner is a UU minister and the Director of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing. She has a really great blog.

Sixth, what is the line between inspiring people to live well and micromanaging their lives? About a year ago, I proposed that those in the church that I serve participate in a month of gratitude. I came up with a gratitude exercise for each day of the month. A lot of them were very open-ended. I invited people to be in discussion with me and with each other about these gratitude exercises. Even though many people didn’t leave comments on my blog, I got lots of email from people who were exploring gratitude during this month. There are some members of the church I serve who want the leaders of the church to say exactly how much people should pledge. There are some members who do not want the leaders of the church to tell people what they should give. Knowing that I will never please everybody, I need to pick my places about offering general instruction and specific instruction. I can offer invitations and even offer challenges (such as my challenge last week for those in the congregation I serve to grow more aware of white privilege.) Regardless of whether having sex every day for a week is good advice or not, I definitely feel that this falls on the side of micromanaging lives, not inspiring people to live well.

Agree? Disagree? Comments? Email me at minister [at] smuuchurch [dot] org

And, here is the story I promised: I did my internship at a UU church in suburban Dallas in 2001-2002. While living in Texas, I dated a woman for several months. She had been raised un-churched and had never been to a church service. One Sunday, I invited her to come listen to me preach and she did. Afterwards, she told me that she enjoyed it and it made her curious about how a UU church was different from another type of church. We decided to go to an evening service at Ed Young’s FellowshipChurch.com. We walked into the gigantic auditorium and sat among the thousands of worshippers. During the sermon, Ed Young began talking about marriage and at one point he said that the only legitimate marriages are between believing Christians (or something similar.) My date had been seething for much of the service and, when Ed Young said this, she shouted, “Bullsh*t!” I kid you not. Even though we were well out of the minister’s hearing range, hundred of heads turned our way. I leaned over and told her, “We need to get out of here.”

On the way out to the parking lot, I decided to take issue with her decision to shout her disagreement. She told me, “I was only speaking the truth.” I responded by saying, “As guests we are supposed to be respectful and not disrupt their worship experience.” It was at this point that she got in the last word, “You should just be glad that I agreed with what you said when you preached.”