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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn't the Only Option‑And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex

Rev. Bromleigh McCleneghan (her sisters are named Whitney and Taylor) speaks about the book here (above is a sermon of hers). You can see various shades of reactions, positive, negative and mixed. Think I would provide a positive/mixed review, thinking her overall approach was good, but the book somewhat limited (and at times too rambling).  Overall, it is from a "mainline Protestant" (to quote) perspective, generally a good liberal viewpoint, average middle America style. A bit more bite might be needed at times.

The subtitle is a type of way to catch your attention, one not just about that to be fair. She talks about her own experiences, which does seem embarrassing (the reader is hard-pressed not to see her in a sexual way, I myself having a general tendency to put myself into the place of people in books, get a vision of what is happening -- here it's attraction, sexual etc.). And, this includes masturbation (which gets a chapter; pleasure is part of humanity), desire, sex before marriage and so forth.  But, this is not really a book where all the "good stuff" is checked off (that is, types of sex, porn, etc.).  The core involves relationships with others.

Late in the book, the author notes that though her husband is not a Christian, she "recognized in him a manifestation of the gospel - of trust and hope and forgiveness, of the abundance of love."  This is a somewhat common thing -- people often use "Christian" to in effect mean "good" or some such, which might confuse those who tie it to belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and so forth.  The book too expresses "Christian" in a big picture, the spirit of the enterprise, sort of way.  This is not to say Jesus is not referenced.  "Grace" is also referenced a lot.  

Still, "the Bible says" should be taken in a broad sense here.  The book rarely is particularly "Christian" as in "different from Jewish or Buddhist" about things.  This provides a wide audience but turns off some who view Christianity differently.  In the chapter about "playing fair," she also discusses how her "Protestant tradition" (again, quote, not the recent tendency to use that as snark) approaches the Bible.  It is "divine inspiration" but not "infallible."  Humans wrote it, though it still is in some fashion the "Word of God," and it is not the end of things.  God continues to speak "through the presence and work of the Spirit."  Thus, "reason or knowledge, tradition or collected wisdom, and experience, both personal and of others" are places to look for truth. 

She opposes "proof-text" techniques where biblical verses are picked out and strung along to make your argument, without regard for the greater overall intent.  This is a favored approach of some, verses used like proverbs, which tend to have meaning different for different people. All of this tends to also arise when dealing with constitutional analysis, including some of the same self-righteous tones. This includes trying to apply "original understanding" (or intent or whatever), which is often done without fully understanding what that was.  But, as suggested above, even then, specific guidelines for sexual activity found in the Bible might not be infallible.  Those anti-fornication verses of Paul won't trip her up.

She does cite them but basically in passing. The book is largely about how to have good relationships as a whole. Again, there is nothing uniquely "Christian" about much of this, the most Christian language to me at times the most forced parts of the book.  Then again, I'm more in the camp of her husband when it comes to Christian beliefs.  So, "playing fair" is respecting others, not treating them as things. "Chastity" is really temperance, which can be a good thing without (as seen with alcohol) prohibition; that didn't turn out that well.  Sex involves vulnerability but the ultimate connection can be wonderful.  But, you still need to know when it time to leave.

The book is very personal (though she used a survey to get other perspectives) and that is somewhat of a flaw.  Basically, we get one perspective -- a female leaning, heterosexual, comfortably middle class and probably white one.  For instance, she's clearly uncomfortable about porn from the few remarks referenced.  Homosexuality and the complexities of gender in relationships in that fashion is not really covered. The relationships are a tad too safe and idealized, though one chapter does cover those who were hurt.  She rejects settling, argues for the potential of marriage, the need to continue to find new things there.  But, for some, maybe not someone like her who found someone great young and still is with him, choices very well might be made. 

And, yes, at times, I thought the book rambled. It's a little over 200 pages, and it could have been shorter (or other things added).  I did obtain an "uncorrected proof" version, but gather it is mostly the same as the final copy.  But, overall, I would recommend the book.  It is what it is: a personal account that provides a lot of good things and those who want more probably can still build off what it gives.  Plus, any book where one endnote is "Ha" (in response to a pun) can't be that far off.

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