Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Stumbling Block of Sex

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Last week during my church small group we discussed Romans 14, where Paul discusses maturity, weakness, freedom, and stumbling blocks within the Church.  It was a very honest discussion with our friends, and for that, I am grateful.  Today it came to mind again during my devotional time, especially when I read 1 Corinthians 10, which also brings up the issues of communal protection against sin.  

All of that leads into something about women I stumbled across (no pun intended) in Exodus today.  Exodus 38:8:

" He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting."

Now, this caught my attention.  I quickly turned to the passage in my ESV Study Bible, hoping it would lead me on a great rabbit trail of Scripture.  But, alas, it only said:

"The role of the women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting would have been clear to the initial audience, but is not explained anywhere else in the OT and is referred to elsewhere only in connection with the sin of Eli's sons (see 1 Sam. 2:22)."

Bummer!  Okay, so I turned to 1 Samuel 2:22 to see what was up. Sadly, this is what I found:

"Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting."

And this immediately made me think about the issue of gender, sex, and stumbling blocks, based on what was whirling around in my head already.  All of that preface being said...

When and how often should our concern as women to not "tempt" men come into play with our decisions of how we spend our time, what we do for a living, and how we interact with men?  It saddens me that one of the rare mentions of women taking part in worship at the tabernacle is connected to sexual immorality.  And it saddens my heart that too often, this has happened within God's family.  

I desire to see men and women co-laboring for the Gospel together around the world.  I desire that in important meetings when decisions are made about how church and para-church ministries will serve the world, more women will be present to be heard.  I desire that when a woman has a serious issue that needs counseling, she will have another woman to talk to who is as trained in ministry as the men she knows.  

But, when women and men work together, it is likely that they will become friends.  When women and men become friends, it is likely that their relationship will slowly deepen over time.  And while I am in full support of men having female friends (and vice versa), in all practicality I think there is a threshold of intimacy that should not ordinarily be crossed with someone of the opposite sex.

Now, part of me wants to just ignore this problem and blame it on men's Madonna-Whore complex.  No, this has nothing to do with Madonna, the singer.  This is a simple developmental theory that some men can only relate to women in two ways: as a Madonna (or saintly, motherly figure) or as a Whore (or sexual object).  They are unable to see women as humans, but rather as someone who is defined entirely in relation to them, in one of these two ways.  So I just want to say, "You know what? If men could just grow up and realize that women are people who are sexual, accept it as a good thing that has nothing to do with them, and get to know them as real people, this wouldn't be a big deal."  

But, these passages in Romans and Corinthians do not allow me to do that.  I cannot judge the fact that some men are weak in this area and not take into account how I can help them with their sin.  It is sin; don't get me wrong!  I have worked with many men in ministry, and I feel violated and offended when during a conversation about campus ministry someone is looking at my chest.  It has happened, and I just want to stop the meeting and walk out.  Or what I really want to do is call them out about it. And sometimes that might be appropriate.  But, most of the time, I need to see them as someone who is "weak" spiritually in sexual sin.  To be judgmental is so easy.  

But is the existence of temptation enough to prevent men and women from working together in ministry?  I know this, boiled down, is one of the reasons people think women should not be in ministry: Women are a distraction to men.  And trust me, I get it.  The female form is beautiful.  But I think what this boils down to is a fundamental difference in how different Christians view the presence of temptation in one's life.  

My husband and I are pretty firmly in the school of thought that Christians should not remove temptation from every possible area of sin in their life, at least not long-term.  Perhaps that is appropriate for a while, especially when you realize you are weak in an area or two.  But we believe that spiritual maturity should bring about the ability to refrain from sin when it is around.  It is spiritual immaturity that causes us to live in Christian bubbles, which are free from certain temptations.  (Might I add that the sins of the heart can never really be quarantined away. Envy and worry and hatred are always right there waiting to live in you.)  I know some people believe that ridding major temptations from your life is the holy thing to do, especially in regard to "avoiding even the appearance of evil".  But, I just have to think about Jesus when they say that.  While that might be a good principal, living a life so concerned with how people view you is unhealthy.  Jesus ate meals with tax collectors and the sexually immoral.  We don't realize how seriously un-kosher that was, but it was a huge slap in the face to people who tried to keep themselves clean.  

Let's take the example of Jake.  Jake is a typical 30-something pastor.  He struggles with wanting to watch porn from time to time, after a year or two of serious usage in his late teens.  He is married and has 2 kids.  He strives to not lust after women, so he "bounces his eyes" and makes efforts to maintain healthy boundaries.  Now, perhaps it was appropriate while he was repenting of (turning away from) his sins of porn usage and lust to set up very rigid rules for himself for a year or two: no going to the beach, joining a men's only gym, getting rid of his computer, etc.  And during that time, it would have probably been very hard (although not impossible) for him to have real friendships with women.  But, at some point, hopefully he would have matured to the point that he is able to recognize the pre-sin signs within himself, repent early and often, and ask God to help him see women as sisters instead of sex objects.  Ideally, he will at some point be redeemed enough in the area to go to the beach with his kids, go back to the gym, and learn to use a computer responsibly.  The temptation is around the corner, but he is free from its power.  He learns to have healthy friendships with women, both his wife's friends and his own.

Now, we, as women, want to help Jake.  Of course we want to dress modestly.  What that means is surely up for debate given how modesty has changed dramatically in the past century.  But, we can at least dress in the morning not thinking about drawing attention to our curves.  We don't want to hate our bodies, but we know that they are powerful, right?  So, what else can we do?  The modesty thing is certainly drilled into us, so that comes to mind easily.  What we don't want to do, or should I say what I don't want to do, is not be a whole, real person around men.  The shalom of a person includes the integration of their sexuality, and to deny that around men does a disservice to them and to women.  

So, how do we build relationships between men and women responsibly?  How do we prevent our presence from leading to a situation like I found in 1 Samuel?  
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