By Janine Warrington
Sex can be a touchy subject, and when it comes to church, people often feel that they are being judged or shamed for their behavior in their private lives. In fact, Christianity Today lists teachings on sex as one of the primary reasons young people are leaving the church:
“The church is perceived as simplistic and judgmental. For a fifth or more, a ‘just say no’ philosophy is insufficient in a techno-porno world. Young Christian singles are as sexually active as their non-churched friends, and many say they feel judged.”
Sex is an important and ever-relevant subject both in our society and in the Bible. As such, it is important for pastors to address this subject and, because it is such an important topic, it is especially important that they are smart about their approach to it. Unfortunately, conservative Christian circles tend to lean on a lot of shame-based teaching strategies, and this does not allow for congregants to develop a healthy understanding of sex. However, it is equally as dangerous for church leadership to avoid talking about sex and sexual relationships. When we are left with society and culture as our only sex ed teachers, we will still derive an unhealthy understanding of sex.
In April of this year, Alek Minassian drove a rental van into pedestrians in Toronto, Canada. Moments before the fatal incident, Minassian posted to Facebook, “The Incel Rebellion has already begun! We will overthrow all the Chads and Stacys! All hail the Supreme Gentleman Elliot Rodger!”
“Incel” refers to an internet chat group that began in 1997 as “Alana’s Involuntary Celibacy Project, for those who were struggling to form loving relationships.” The founder, Alana, had intended for this to be a sort of support group where single people could discuss feelings of loneliness. Over time, Involuntary Celibacy (“Incel” for short) evolved into a less loving and angrier forum. The users became predominantly men who were sexually frustrated and blamed women for their continued virginity. Terms like “Chad” and “Stacy,” referring to attractive men and women who have no problem finding sexual partners and are out of reach of Incels, came into common derogatory use.
In his Facebook post, Minassian refers to Elliot Rodger, another Incel user who committed several murders before killing himself in 2014. Before committing these crimes, Rodger “had left a trail of YouTube videos and a 140-page manifesto ranting against women and couples and lamenting his lack of a sex life.”
Psychologists have proposed possible reasons for why men like Rodger and Minassian feel the need to act out violently, but one thing is clear: sexual relationships were of such high importance to these young men that a lack of such relationships caused them to act out violently.
Clearly, these stories are extreme examples of how pent-up sexual frustration can manifest itself. But the feelings of loneliness and frustration that these men were dealing with are universal. To desire a romantic or sexual partner is not wrong – it is completely natural. The point when these desires become problematic is when they become someone’s top and only priority. Having sex and feeling attractive was so important to Rodger that the absence of these things in his life made him feel his life was not worth living.
This is why it is important for church leadership to provide perspective on sex. Sex is a gift from God. Sex is good if we are responsible with it. But sex is a gift from God, it is not itself god. Sex is not our master, nor does it deserve our worship. As Spokane pastor Grant Bruscoe taught at this year’s Collide Conference, “Sex is not the apex of human experience. Only the love of Jesus can satisfy our souls.” If this understanding of sex was more widely held, perhaps less people would derive their self-worth from their sexual activity, feel worthless and angry, and even take out their frustrations on unsuspecting passers-by. These feelings are too real and present in our society to avoid talking about. Pastors, parents, and leaders of every kind, let’s talk about sex, and let’s talk about it well.