Reclaiming Sexual Wholeness
EDITORS NOTE: Dr. Todd Bowman will be leading a free, one-hour webinar for ministry leaders designed to enhance ministry to those struggling with sexually addictive behavior on September 10 at 12:00 p.m. (EDT) (click here) and September 17 at 8:00 p.m. (EDT) (click here).
A brief survey all that is going on in our culture suggests that our fundamental understanding of sexual health has been shattered by the lies propagated by in the aftermath of the sexual revolution. Millions of men and women were recently implicated in membership with a company that would guarantee them an extramarital affair, the Supreme Court of the United States single-handedly redefined marriage, and a celebrity was caught engaged in possession of child pornography. Unfortunately, this is just the news from August 2015. The brokenness evidenced in this narrative of American culture is of such a nature that even the secular world must take note. However, there is nothing inherent in the moral relativism offered by culture that can help restore wholeness to this fragmented reality. We, the church, have the only solution for the underlying disturbance that fuels these problematic sexual behaviors, but all too often we short circuit the process of redeeming sexual brokenness before we even get started.
In considering a Christian response to the overt sexualization we find in American culture, we can look to the first part of John chapter 8. In this passage of scripture we see Jesus engaging the woman brought before him by the Pharisees to be stoned for her act of adultery. While the focus of this interaction has historically been between Christ and the woman, there are lessons that we as the church can draw from panning out and examining the larger social processes at work in this exchange.
If we look at the crowd of people gathered around this scene, greedily clutching their stones in their hands and eagerly anticipating the moment when they will exact justice for her sin, we would likely find three types of people. The first group is the largest and comprised of folks who just heard the ruckus and decided to see what it was all about. While they are a part of the throng who wants to see the woman stoned, they likely do not know her story or the details of what has brought her to this point. They are largely unaware, but swept along in the frenzy and turmoil of the moment.
The second and somewhat smaller group is comprised of individuals who perceive the reality of the moment unfolding before them, but are impotent to intervene in any significant way. Perhaps the woman had parents or siblings who had crept along the back fringes of the crowd, praying for a change of heart from the blood thirsty mob. Perhaps some of the Pharisees perceived that this moment was a trap for Jesus and the woman did not deserve to be stoned. They lacked the courage or conviction to speak on her behalf and risk the wrath of those who were stirring the frenzy. Regardless of who they were, it is likely what there were those in the throng of observers who desired to facilitate a different outcome for the woman, but were simply unequipped to do so.
The third and final group is the smallest of the three, yet where the most power exists. In this group of influential voices, the proclamation of death has been pronounced and the masses gathered are expectant of their word becoming reality. As Christ stoops and draws in the sand, what becomes clear is that this group becomes undone by his words. Wether he wrote the names of their sins on the ground or some other words is unclear; what we see clearly evidenced is a powerful process of collective conviction. It is not a far stretch to believe that their desire to kill this woman off because of her sexual sin was in large measure a desire to kill off the imperfect and sinful dynamics that they themselves possessed. When Christ speaks the words, "Let him who is without sin cast he first stone", they become undone by the recognition of what has driven them to this place of murderous intent in an effort to cleanse their own hearts and minds of their personal sin.
In many ways, I see these same three groups reflected in mainstream evangelical churches as I travel and speak, as I consult with pastors and lay leaders, and as I attend Sunday morning worship. The vast majority of the American church is unaware of the reality of sexual brokenness that is not only on the door-step, but is already quietly unweaving the tapestry of community that comprises the church. It is seen as an issue for "those people out there", rather than "we people in here". Reclaiming sexual wholeness in the church and in culture must begin with a greater sense of ownership of our sexual brokenness in the church. We cannot persist in a state of unawareness any longer if we expect the stay relevant in a culture that is careening toward disaster at breakneck speed.
Secondly, I see a smaller group of lay leaders and pastors who have their finger on the pulse of the current sexual environment in American culture, but they feel unequipped to intervene in ways that are truly redemptive. Some of the pastors I have talked to even avoid talking about problematic sexual behavior for two reasons: 1) if they talk about it then they will have to acknowledge that their flock is contaminated with sexual impurity, and 2) they feel like they do not have the necessary skills to help folks make substantive changes beyond providing spiritual counsel. The good news is that there is now training available to help pastors maximize their ability to assist their parishioners, while also equipping pastors to know when and how to refer to a qualified Christian counselor who can provide the psychological assistance necessary in reclaiming sexual wholeness.
The last group, and most troubling, is pastors in the church who are currently dealing with some type of problematic sexual behavior in their lives as they are actively ministering to others. As Christ states, a house divided cannot stand, and the hearts and minds of pastors are no different. The power of the siren's call of sexual sin can echo even more powerfully for those who have committed their lives to sacrificial service in the church. Providing a process of healing and reconciliation for those situations where it still possible is essential within the church. We will be largely incapable of facilitating growth in grace for those who come into the church until we root out the presence of sexual sin in those who currently comprise it, both at the pastoral and laity level.
This eighth chapter of John ends with a powerful reminder for us about the nature and possibility of change. Christ's word are "Has no one condemned you? Then neither do I condemn you. Go now, and leave your life of sin." We must realize that these two elements are inextricably linked to one another. Some portions of Christiandom emphasize the absence of condemnation, and the inclusion of lifestyles that are explicitly unbiblical. This stopping short of the fullness of Christ's words leaves us prone to a significant deficit in our capacity to reclaim sexual wholeness. When we include the second portion of Christ's statement as an extension of the first, we see that Christ is suggesting that our ability to go and live above condemnation and the influence of sin is dependent on our ability to stay rooted in him. As the church, we are called to help facilitate the reconciliation of the world back to Christ. Our ability to go and accomplish this responsibility exists in direct proportion to our willingness to stay rooted in Him. As we bring the unaware into a place of understanding, as we provide training for those who are unequipped, and as we help to restore those who have been undone by the shame of sexual brokenness, we participate in the highest of callings: serving as the hands and feet of Jesus. Go, and sin no more.
Dr. Todd Bowman is an Associate Professor of Counseling at Indiana Wesleyan University and the director of the Sexual Addiction Treatment Provider Institute, LLC.