Essays on Sexuality and Religion

SexualityA review of The Library of Essays on Sexuality and Religion: Christianity

This volume, edited by Stephen Hunt, is part of a series which looks also at Islam, Judaism, Eastern religions, new religions, and indigenous religions, and the range of views they all have on the modern obsession of sexuality. I say modern obsession, because although sex is never out of fashion, this kind of book could never have been produced in previous centuries!

What this volume does so brilliantly is collect together 25 articles and chapters published elsewhere to give an astonishingly broad view of academic thinking in this area. Five chapters on theology and biblical interpretation, including Rowan Williams’, The Body’s Grace and an article called “Our Lady of the Libido: Towards a Marian Theology of Sexual Liberation?” (note the typical, suggestively non-committal question mark), give way to five chapters on celibacy and asceticism (such as “Celibacy and Free Love in Early Christianity” and “Sexual Taboos and Social Boundaries”).

Five chapters on gender and patriarchy (e.g. “Young Women, Sexuality and Protestant Church Community: Oppression or Empowerment?”), are followed by five on worship, ritual, and sacraments (e.g. “Of Gin and Lace: Sexuality, Liturgy and Identity among Anglo-Catholics in the Mid-Twentieth Century” and something on “subliminal eroticism” in charismatic worship).

The final set of essays on “contesting hegemony and orthodoxy” includes an article by David Nixon called “’No More Tea, Vicar’: An Exploration of the Discourses which Inform the Current Debates about Sexualities within the Church of England”, as well as something on “the gay evangelical”, and something on Roman and Eastern Orthodox church views.

This is an incredibly useful, eye opening sort of book, which gives a good sense of where the liberalism of the past century has taken us. It made me want to cry, scream, and despair at the sophistication of our rejection of God’s goodness and revealed pattern for human flourishing. But it may also force you to your knees, and back into the study, to work hard on teaching the truth more clearly and winsomely.

This review was first published in Churchman 128/2 (2014).

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