When I saw the title of the book, my interest was piqued. The folks at TLC Book Tours asked if I would be interested in participating in a blog book tour of the recently released Good Christian Sex, by Bromleigh McCleneghan. I’ve never really done such a thing-a review on my blog-but I would get a free copy of the book, and it is a book that I was familiar with and would like to read…so here we go (except you, Mom. Please stop. Now).
First, a bit about the author. From her bio:
Bromleigh McCleneghan is Associate Pastor at Union Church of Hinsdale in suburban Chicago. She is the co-author of Hopes and Fears: Everyday Theology for New Parents and Other Tired, Anxious People, and her essays and articles have been published in The Christian Century, Ministry Matters, Fidelia’s Sisters, Circuit Rider, Criterion, and the website of The United Methodist Church. More at www.bromleighm.com. Connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.
Now, on to the book.
There’s so much about this book to like. It’s accessible, interesting, entertaining even. More importantly, however, the greatest gift McCleneghan offers in these pages is that she takes on the bogeyman without fear. This bogeyman, of course, is sex. Christians have a complicated relationship with sex, and it is bound up in so much guilt, fear, and shame that any frank and honest discussion of it leads to all kinds of awkwardness. In fact, the extent of much of the conversation for so many now-adults-who-grew-up-evangelical in the 1990s, for example, was “Just say no!” Anyone remember the D.C. Talk hit, I Don’t Want IT?
You. are. welcome.
McCleneghan offers a summation of this approach in the Introduction:
Sex is dangerous and shameful and sinful and a tool of the devil until the day you are married, at which point it is awesome and a gift from God. Good luck! (p.11)
The problem with this approach, she points out, is that human beings are sexual beings; that’s part of our makeup, and an important part. The approach she describes above, known as “purity culture,” which was the experience of so many of us, doesn’t honor that, or even acknowledge this reality. Instead it creates a fear of the other, especially of the feminine, and approaches anyone we might have a sexual attraction toward as a threat. And the results produced by purity culture don’t end at “I do.” Many of the young people that lived in such a context, now married, still experience a significant amount of shame around sex. We must have a sexual ethic, she argues, that can acknowledge this truth about us (we are sexual beings), and offer us a way to approach and engage our sexual-ness, without shame.
A few McCleneghan’s ideas will ruffle the feathers of some, maybe a lot. She argues that there’s a difference between chastity and celibacy, for example (see chapter 4, Singleness, Sex, and Waiting). Yet, she also talks about sexual sin. For McCleneghan, good Christian sex is less about acts, and more about how the partners view and care for one another. She writes,
…sexual sin is less about particular acts or the way they’re carried out than the way partners treat each other; sexual sin is about a lack of mutuality, reciprocity, and love. (p.69)
Indeed, she spends an entire chapter (chapter 5) on the need for vulnerability-being truly naked with your partner. Essentially, she argues that the command to love our neighbor as ourselves also applies in the bedroom. She talks about “just sex,” meaning sex that is not simply using someone as a means to an end, for example, but is based in mutual care and a desire for the flourishing of the other (she has a whole chapter on this: Playing Fair, the ethics of good sex).
In sum, Good Christian Sex offers a helpful and healing voice that could be a soothing balm for many who grew up in a Christian culture that didn’t really know how to approach a conversation about s-e-x. McCleneghan approaches the conversation in a relaxed manner. She is clearly comfortable in her own skin, so to speak, and that really allows the reader to relax, and be open to the conversation. There are probably moments when you will blush, laugh out loud, and reflect on your own experiences and journey. You will learn, be challenged, and push back. For all these reasons, Good Christian Sex is an important addition to this needed conversation among Christians of the 21st century who are seeking to understand a faithful Christian sexual ethic.