Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Sex and Ministry

I had a conversation recently with someone who had received advice about sex at a ministry-wives type event several years ago. As her husband was in ministry, she was advised to make it a priority to have sex with him frequently in order to increase the effectiveness of his ministry. This disturbed me.

I think this is ill-advised for three reasons.

First, it cuts against the self-giving we find in 1 Corinthians 7. One gives oneself to one's husband (or oneself to one's wife), for the other person. Not for their ministry or any other reason. Adding a reason, like bolstering one's husband's ministry makes it less a self-giving and more a transaction. The ministry of the husband (or the wife for that matter), will be best built up because of the strength of the marriage relationship. Engaging in sex and thereby releasing happy chemicals, or adding to a person's sense of significance is all well and good, but for some people this will happen more when they undertake intense physical activity or play a super-charged computer game or some such. I am not certain that the people who pedal this advice would be happy to advise people who aren't invigorated by sex to give it up and go do whatever it is that does make their brains work well. If they did, it would be very disturbing indeed and I would not expect that any Christian would advise other Christians against having sex within a marriage relationship under normal circumstances. It simply cuts against Scripture. Sex isn't for ministry. Sex is for marriage. (And that means marriage isn't for ministry either. Should be obvious, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to make sure.)

Second, the passage in 1 Corinthians specifically allows for the prayer to be the one exception which interrupts a married couple's sex life. But I am reasonably certain that the people who give the advice about sex for ministry would not say that a couple's sex life should be interrupted; indeed, what would logically follow from their argument is that if things are getting rocky in ministry, then more sex is in order. But surely, at least from time to time, prayer might be considered to be beneficial to one's ministry. If the argument is to run consistently, then the advice must also include times where prayer supersedes sex in the relationship. Otherwise it is hard to see how this advice has any relationship with Scripture. But that would seem to cut right against the overweighting of sex that is implied in this advice.

Third, it isn't hard to think of individuals who have not had sex either ever in their entire lives or have ceased to have sex, and who have had what would normally be considered successful ministries. Paul the Apostle springs to mind. He doesn't even see fit to include deprivation of this kind in his list of sufferings in 2 Corinthians (though he does include the anxiety he bears for the churches he knew). Indeed, he argues that singleness (an aspect of which is an absence of sex) benefits ministry in 1 Corinthians 7. We can observe that through church history those without opportunity for sex can have successful ministries, under God. So, Calvin's ministry didn't seriously decline after his wife died. The long list of missionaries in the 19th century who never married, yet faithfully proclaimed the gospel, and saw the impact on many lives. And so on. Sex just isn't necessary for a good ministry.

I don't object to sex. I object to advice about sex that sends women whirling away in despair, trying to figure out how to jump through yet another hoop in order to live the godly Christian life they genuinely want to live. And advice that seems to send them away from their husbands in an area such as sex seems even less palatable.

The Reformers blazed loud and angrily against rules about sex within marriage. Their statement that 'nothing is immoral within marriage' was designed to fend off the interference of the priests who, in the Roman Catholic system, had a huge list of rules about what was right and wrong about marital sex. This would come out in the confessional, where the husband or wife would have to answer quite specific questions about when they had engaged in sex, how they had had sex, for what purpose, and what they had been thinking about at the time. Ultimately there was a third person in every marriage, which helped no-one and was, as the Reformers rightly pointed out, contrary to Scripture.

No, this advice is not going that far down this line, but it is precariously close to drawing up prescriptives which determine when and how sex is part of a marriage and that begins to sound as though it is in the same kind of category in which sat the situation to which the Reformers objected. Sex is something for husbands and wives to talk about together. The wife shouldn't have to feel obligated to fill a particular quota imposed upon her by an external source.

Sex within marriage is not for ministry. Sex within marriage is for the husband and wife of that marriage. Just as I do not listen to my husband for the benefit of his ministry but for his benefit, and as I do not teach our child how to pray for the benefit of my husband's ministry but for the child's benefit - though both activities may well benefit my husband's ministry - so I do not have sex for my husband's ministry, but for and with my husband. I expect it will benefit his ministry because it is a good gift from God and if all is well it should help rather than hinder. But that's true of a very, very large number of things.

Marriage is made for men and women, not for ministry. Ministry is what men and women do, and they do it out of the relational capital in their lives, to which their marriage relationships contribute. It is disappointing to find such a theory, which reflects the concerns of our 21st century sex-addicted society rather than the richer, more substantial relationship concerns of Scripture. Thankfully, Scripture does not have such a mercenary, mechanical and withered view of sex and nor for that matter, of women.


Gordon Cheng said...

Hey Jen,

Top argument, but isn't one of the purposes of sex to produce children?

And if this is so, it leads us into other discussions about why you would have children, that are going to bring us back to Gen 2, Mal 3, Ps 127 1 Sam 1, and all sorts of things.

Simone R. said...

Yay! Well said.

rd said...

I can see Jennie, why someone like you would be against this.

I also went to a conference where this was talked about. But it was talked about amongst a whole bunch of 'how to help your husband in ministry' ideas. It wasn't the main point. Actually in my recollection it was a minor point. But from your post - it seems you take exception to this particular point. And knowing you and your husband I can see why.

The problem with your post is you write on one point that was made from about 35 others that were also made. (At least that's what was entailed on the day I went to) And it seems that you were not there, you actually heard it from a friend. If this is all your friend took away from a ministry wives day, than maybe that says more about your friend than the day - or rather what was actually said during the course of the day.

Creating a straw man, to then destroy him isn't really good writing.

Adminbandit said...

Love your work Jen.
Why men in "ministry" require special treatment when it comes to sex, is a mystery? How could they justify it from the Bible? The benefits of a mutually enjoyable sexual relationship in marriage applies equally no matter what career they've chosen.

Baddelim said...

Dear Gordon,

Yes, you are quite right. I didn't engage with marriage (and sex) being for children because I didn't see that as being under attack in this issue. I dealt mostly with I Cor 7 because that is where the relationship between the two marriage partners is highlighted and is the aspect of the relationship I was concerned about.

In your blog you suggest that producing children is a purpose for sex that is extrinsic to the couple. I don't think I'd say that, because producing children is intrinsic to marriage, and natural - you have to take steps, or things need to not work properly for children not to be produced.

That seems quite different than ministry which hardly seems to be a natural and intrinsic aspect of marriage. Ministry is something that only exists in the last days, marriage is part of creation. Ministry will end (1 Cor 13) but marriage will be fulfilled in the eschaton.

As you said in your blog, there is more we could say about this, but I was particularly concerned to try and show that marriage isn't primarily about ministry.

Thanks for your comment.

Baddelim said...

Dear Rachel,

Thank you for your comment, sorry for the misunderstanding.

It was probably easy to miss the bit in my post where I comment that this was advice given to my friend some years ago. So it is likely that my friend did not attend the conference of which you speak. It's possible of course, but given the large number of such conferences run over the last number of years, it's unlikely.

The idea that this advice was given as one issue among many, and so therefore I'm caricaturing things to interact with it, concerns me a bit.

If I used the information as part of a post on my blog to attack that conference, or conferences on wives of guys in ministry in general then I'd agree that would be a caricature. But I don't think that's really what my post was doing. I mentioned where I heard the idea as I have readers not from Sydney who might wonder why I'm challenging what (to them) would be such an outrageous idea that no-one would ever seriously suggest it.

It's possible, I suppose, that someone could then imagine that there was a conference where the whole time was given over to talking about having more sex with one's husband for his ministry's sake. But I'm trusting a certain level of common sense in the readers at this point, that they'd get that it was just one thing that was said.

What I want to stand strong for is that if anything that was said was contrary to Scripture, even if it was just one point out of thirty-five, then it is worth exploring that and discussing that. I don't know of any evangelical conference organisers who want the people to attend to go and away and not think Biblically about what they have heard. Even if it was a minor point in the conference.

If you think my concerns aren't biblical but simply reflect the idiosyncracies of me and my husband, that your knowledge of us gives you, then I'd be keen to hear you defend, from Scripture, the view that sex exists partly for the enhancement of the husband's ministry. If my thinking is unbiblical at this point, I'd like a chance to repent.

In Christ,

rd said...

Jennie said: "But I'm trusting a certain level of common sense in the readers at this point, that they'd get that it was just one thing that was said."

But the problem is you don't say this in your original post. You write in such an 'all-knowing' way, you ably coerce the readers into thinking that this was the main point of the day. You pen a blog post full 'something that was said', at a conference you weren't even at!

Your dangerous self assurance in being the moral compass here is breath taking.

Baddelim said...

Dear Rachel,

We seem now to be rehashing things that have already been said, except that you've now gone a bit further and explicitly attacked my character with your accusations about my 'all-knowing style' and my 'dangerous self assurance in being the moral compass'.

You claim my post implies that an entire conference was about one idea. I disagree, and have stated my reasons why I think my post doesn't say that.

I agree that I did not explicitly deny that it was the main point of the conference. But there is almost an infinite number of things I could deny was said at the conference, to eliminate any possibility of misunderstanding. But I find it hard to communicate that way. I have to trust people to some degree.

At the risk of repeating myself, the post wasn't about conferences, any conferences. Yes it was written after a conference just occurred, but I didn't, and still don't, have any idea what was said at that conference. The recent conference wasn't even in my mind when I wrote the post - Sydney seems very far away over here in the UK, and I'm not always conscious of what's happening over there.

The post was about an idea that was stated at a conference, that you've indicated that was stated at another conference, and that Gordon, on his blog, has called a very common idea (or words to that effect). As such the idea, not the conference, is a valid topic of discussion. And I think it was the idea, not the conference, that I discussed.

However, if you are right, and there is a danger of people thinking that there was a conference on "Have more sex with your husband for ministry's sake" then I think this little interchange should well and truly have cleared matters up.

No such conference has ever existed to the best of my knowledge. If anyone got a different impression from what I have written I hereby apologise and would like to add my voice to Rachel's to say that such a thing has not taken place, to the best of our knowledge.

Rachel, I'm sorry you got that impression, it wasn't intended, and I hope we can put that issue behind us now.

in Christ,

Laetitia :-) said...

I had the impression that this advice was given in a one-on-one situation i.e. one woman talking to another (that other potentially being a guest speaker, since it was at a conference, but not necessarily so) rather than being given to a group at large.

Laetitia :-)

bec said...

I get the idea behind the advice, but it's a dangerous line to push. In the wrong hands that kind of "but it's for my ministry's sake" could be so easily misused and abused (and smacks of excuses used by teenage boys really). As others have said, isn't the point that you should be striving towards a godly, joyful and mutually beneficial one flesh marriage relationship no matter what your profession? ("oh it's okay, he's a merchant banker, I don't have to have sex with him tonight.")

Gordon Cheng said...

Hey Jen,

Re the idea of children being intrinsic to the idea of sex, yes of course, whereas the link between sex and preaching a cracker of a sermon on Sunday ( for example) is, as you rightly point out, somewhat more tenuous. If it even exists.

My point is more that once you allow that sex is not just for enjoyment but also for the purposes of producing children, who then go on to themselves 'fill the earth and subdue it', you are into a whole 'nother area of thinking that is ultimately unavoidable if we are going to think about sex in biblical terms. One of the intentions of having sex is—and I think you're heading in the same direction on this—that we would exercise our dominion over the world.

That leads into other questions of what it looks like, post-resurrection, to exercise dominion over the world. Do we still do it by having sex and (therefore) children? I think we do, but there is more to it than this.

If you are following the Sola Panel there is an interesting and not completely unrelated discussion going on here.