Chapter 5: Pornography: Rehearsing Being a Lousy Lover

This is post six in a twelve-part series reviewing and critiquing Dan Boone's book, Human Sexuality. Read more: Intro / Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 

This chapter gets one major thing right: Objectification is a problem.

In fact, I would be so bold to say that objectification is the problem. Remember back to the discussion of chapter 2, when Dr. Boone delineates the various kinds of hurts that unhealthy sexual relationships can cause. At the core of all of these issues is not sex, but objectification—disrespect, selfishness, un-love. All these things are caused by an underlying denial of another person’s personhood. A “warped desire,” as Boone puts it, that doesn’t seek the good of the other but rather only cares about what that other can do for me.

As Christians, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves, and, as Boone points out, “If we refuse to take destructive liberties with our own body, why not extend the same regard to other bodies?” (66) So then, maybe it’s not the kind of sex we have that renders it problematic, but how we relate to the person we’re having sex with—whether we’re approaching them with respect and selflessness and love, and whether they are experiencing the relationship in that same way. This will come in to play next chapter, when we’ll discuss how the problem of objectification isn’t escaped simply by only engaging in heterosexual, married sex. This leads me to conclude then, that if different kinds of sex can be sinful—because they are demonstrating un-love—then perhaps different kinds of sex can also be sanctified. Sanctification is not a new legalism, but a perfect love of God and neighbor.

Loving our neighbor means respecting their personhood and subjectivity, regardless of whether they are a potential sexual partner. However, Boone’s warning against objectification of the other takes its point of departure from a binary that firmly establishes women as objects and men as subjects.

Boone says that the first woman is given to the man—she is a “gift.” A gift is necessarily an object. Only an object can be given. Men are set up as the subjects: they are the ones acting and using women. Women are only seen as subjects, it seems, when they decide to “dress seductively,” and in doing so, women “trade their dignity” (65). This is a typical hetero-Christian understanding, but problematic nonetheless. A woman enacting her agency by choosing how to dress herself is not necessarily self-debasing. In fact, it’s the opposite: it’s expecting, indeed demanding, to be treated as a subject, because she is making choices based on her subjectivity, not based on how she will be received or used by men. In her decision to dress how she wants regardless of male perceptions, a woman celebrates her subjectivity and her body by denying men leverage to dictate her life in an area as mundane as what she pulls out of her closet. Further, if we truly view our neighbor as a person, it shouldn’t matter what they’re wearing anyway. Another person’s actions never warrant our objectification of them.

This chapter makes some good points, but I would challenge Boone and his readers to explore other nuances of objectification like the one mentioned above. There are many ways that we can make people objects. But there are just as many ways to preserve people’s subjectivity. Keeping this at the forefront of our minds will prove most valuable in our consideration of what might constitute a healthy understanding of human sexuality

Chapter 4: If Dating is Dead, What’s Next?

This is post five in a twelve-part series reviewing and critiquing Dan Boone's book, Human Sexuality. Read more: Intro / Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3

This chapter is pure conservatism. The main thrust is this: Dating rituals are changing, and good relationships simply cannot be formed within these new norms.

Of course, this assertion is just not true.

For one thing, the “hookup culture” that Boone is so concerned about, is a myth that’s been debunked over and over and over and over again.

And while we’re debunking myths, it’s also been shown that cohabitating couples are not “statistically less likely to succeed in marriage” as Boone claims.

Jordan Weissman, who offers commentary on a 2012 study of births “out of wedlock,” explains that “among high school graduates… 28 percent of children were born to cohabiting couples. Combine that with the 41 percent of children born to married couples, then most babies were born into two-parent households.” Weissman then goes on to say that “The problem is that cohabiting couples don’t always last.” While this is true, of course, it fails to take into account that neither do married couples. And further, the simple fact of a child’s parents being married does not necessarily mean that the child is in a loving, affluent home. This is the same error Boone makes: Married parents do not make an idyllic home. Marriage is not the answer to society’s ills. Single parents can raise children excellently and married parents can raise children poorly. To fail to address this is to oversimplify the issue in order to push the evangelical agenda.

Boone’s predictions about “where this is headed” in regard to changing dating rituals sound a lot like his “10 Concerns About the Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Ruling.” That is, they’re unfounded and arise entirely out of misguided fear.

Basically, Boone holds up his own experience of dating his wife, and their subsequent happy marriage, as the ideal, indeed the only, viable method of developing a healthy, lasting relationship. While I’m very happy for him (truly—he and his wife are adorable), and respect his experience, I also respect the experience of several others I know, who followed all the same rules he did and yet ended up divorced. Additionally, I respect the experience of several others who had “unconventional” dating experiences and have celebrated decades of fidelity. There is no silver bullet when it comes to dating. There is no formula for success. Partly because “success” means different things to different people. And also because each relationship is as unique as the individuals that comprise it. To promise a fairy-tale ending if people follow a specified path is foolish, and leads to the kind of disillusionment and frustration that’s not uncommon to young married evangelicals.

Chapter 3: It Starts Quite Young

This is post four in a twelve-part series reviewing and critiquing Dan Boone's book, Human Sexuality. Read more: Intro / Chapter 1 / Chapter 2

This was my favorite chapter of the whole book. Unfortunately, it’s also the shortest. Boone demonstrates how our understanding of sexuality is closely linked to our understanding of the body. “You cannot achieve healthy human sexuality,” he says, “without a biblical theology of the human body” (42). He goes on to explain how important it is to start engendering a healthy understanding of the body at a young age, that we give children confidence in their embodied nature because “when we are uncertain we revert to moralism and ‘because the Bible says so’ rather than making a compelling case for God’s creation of these majestic bodies of ours” (43).

This is the Dan Boone I’ve been waiting to hear from.

He talks about the body as “a marvelous creation of God,” and how important it is to consider that God dwelled among us as a human body. He talks about making this foundational in our talks with children in order to help them respect their own bodies and therefore the bodies of others. All of this could have opened up a conversation of the holiness of transgender and nonbinary bodies, and the empowering of children—especially girls—to speak up about and resist abuse. It could have been a great place to talk about consent and self-posession. The text itself does not go that far, but these conversations could easily flow out of it.

What doesn’t naturally flow out of it, however, is that which Liuan Huska asserts does in the closing quote. She says that “When we teach young people to be at home in their bodies and to view them with wonder and appreciation, an ethic of sexual abstinence before marriage follows” (45). This is patently untrue. Research shows that comprehensive sexual education (which includes a healthy understanding of the body and how it works) results in less risky sexual activity and fewer negative sexual health outcomes.[1] While this may indeed include abstinence before marriage, it certainly is not exclusively that. It is also absolutely possible—and indeed, common—that people with a healthy understanding of their body will engage in sex outside of marriage. And they will do so carefully, responsibly, and without harmful results.


[1] "Comprehensive Sex Education: Research and Results," Advocates for Youth, 2009. http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/publications/1487
For a humorous, but very informative, take on the importance of sex ed, you might want to watch this recent segment of "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver."

Chapter 2: Competing Stories of Human Sexuality

This is post three in a twelve-part series reviewing and critiquing Dan Boone's book, Human Sexuality. Read more: Intro / Chapter 1

Also, this post got a bit long. I promise the rest of them are shorter!

In this chapter, Boone presents a pair of oversimplified narratives of sexuality—one “bad,” one “good.” He then goes on to challenge what he finds to be the four main assumptions of the “bad” or “worldly” narrative: that “sex is good”; that “sex is a private matter between two persons”; that “sex is just sex and nothing more”; and that “nobody is getting hurt.”

In challenging the first assumption, Boone agrees that sex is good, “wholeheartedly without reservation.” But, he points out, “it is not the end goal of life” (27). He then talks about the difference between sex and intimacy, saying that the latter is more what we should consider as a “need” than the former. It’s a good point, one that I’d hoped would set us up for a good discussion of singleness and celibacy. Alas, I’m still waiting for such a discussion.

In challenging the second assumption, Boone asserts that “the distinction between a private life and a public life does not exist” (29). Again, I think he’s onto something here, but I’m not so sure of the conclusion he draws. He suggests that “our private lives have public consequences,” and argues is that somehow this belief should convince us not to have sex outside of marriage. I fail to see how this result necessarily follows. In my mind, affirming that our personal choices, including sexual ones, have rippling consequences in our relationships and communities does not lead to a simple desire to follow the rules, but rather it makes us think critically about our actions and consider how they affect those around us and react accordingly. And because people and relationships are unique, real consideration and engagement with them will have unique results. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s never truly as easy as simply following the rules.

Boone challenges the third assumption by arguing for an aggrandization of sex, saying that sex isn’t “just sex,” but is something singular and profound in which “each [person] gives something that cannot be taken back” and “leaves an indelible imprint on the soul” of the other (33). Weighty words so few pages after he argues against the primacy of sex in human life! Additionally, these words smack of the typically harmful purity culture talk of a person’s (usually a girl’s) sexual experience as a wad of gum chewed by multiple people, or a strip of duct tape stuck to too many people’s shirts. This view of sex as some kind of scarce commodity to be guarded assumes and fosters immature relationships and idealizes the impossible—or at least very rare—occurrence of a person finding a lifelong partner on their first try. All people experience comings and goings of relationships in their lives, be they romantic or otherwise, and learning how to deal with such transitions is a mark of maturity. I’ll talk about this more below. Finally, Boone’s anecdote of his coworker Jerry who was sleeping with hotel guests every night presented the problem to be that Jerry was unhappy because he had no real connection or commitment to these women. However, the real problem is that he was treating these women as objects—as prizes to be conquered. He had no conception of these women as fully human and didn’t respect theme enough to treat them as such. To overlook this objectification—despite the fact that Boone identifies the women as “conquests”—and to make the issue about the amount of sex or the number of partners is an irresponsible oversimplification and misses something that is hugely problematic, even among monogamous people.

Boone addresses the fourth assumption by discussing various kinds of hurts caused by what he calls “bonding and breaking” (35). The implication of his poorly constructed argument is that people who wait until marriage to have sex don’t get hurt or don’t hurt others. However, all the hurts he lists are caused not by sex itself but by objectification and disrespect. Things like unplanned pregnancies, abortions, disease, and rape, are all problems that can absolutely occur within the bonds of marriage, which he holds up as the solution to these things. The problem is not sex, but a misunderstanding of personhood and intimacy. The fact that a person can’t talk to their partner about their previous sexual encounters is a bigger red flag about their communication skills and honesty than their sexual conduct. The privatization of people’s sex lives—that privatization that Boone is supposedly working against—may actually be caused and bolstered by the shame-inducing culture of evangelicalism that turns a deaf ear to any experience that does not conform to its sanitized, whitewashed, hegemonic narrative of sexuality.

One quick additional point: Boone says that he’s never heard someone say they regretted waiting until marriage to have sex (35-36).  A quick Google search might enlighten him on this point. Many good Christian people have expressed exactly that regret. Here’s one such story.

Lastly, Boone’s suggestion that we not attach ourselves “to someone to whom we do not intend to stay bound” (33) goes against the entire premise of love. Love is always risky. Love is making yourself open and vulnerable to someone despite the possible letdown. With sex or with any relational intimacy, to avoid attachment because of a fear of abandonment is to avoid love altogether. We very rarely “stay bound” to people we are close to. Life has its seasons of relationships. And that’s OK. Better to learn to navigate departures with grace and love than to pretend like they will never or should never happen. Boone’s thinking here is the same kind of thinking that leads people to stay in unhealthy relationships for the sole reason that they’ve had sex, because sex is this idolized, irrevocable action that holds so much meaning. He is correct that sex attaches us to another person. All manner of interaction and intimacy does. A smile or an intimate conversation can have the same binding effect. To get personal, there are dozens of people who have been imprinted on my life in intimate, though non-sexual, ways, and they are still a part of me even though our paths have diverged. It is the way of life. And processing these kinds of transitions is part of being human. 

Chapter 1: Our Narrative of Human Sexuality

This is post two in a twelve-part series reviewing and critiquing Dan Boone's book, Human Sexuality. Read the intro post HERE.

Boone is clear about what he wants for the Church: “a theology of human sexuality that is biblical, cohesive, and Wesleyan” (11). He points out the necessity of a contextual framework for talking about and constructing such a theology, and offers such a framework that is sufficiently Nazarene—simultaneously biblical, cohesive, and Wesleyan. Almost. The chief issue I take with this chapter can be summarized as an objection to this quote: “Our gender marks us as incomplete. The male or female body makes no sense by itself” (18).

There are many issues with this way of thinking (which one might call the “Not Adam and Steve” argument), not least of which is that it is not actually consistent with Wesleyan theology and tradition. In fact, it’s the exact argument used by neo-Calvinist complementarians such as John Piper and others of the Counsel on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.[1] Viewing men or women as “incomplete” without the other promotes an understanding of personhood, relationships, and families that discounts single parents, celibate individuals, and transgender people as well as fosters relational hierarchies and stunted individual growth. Thinking that a person can’t be whole without someone of the opposite sex might even imply that we don’t ultimately find our completeness in Christ or that we may only experience wholeness in Christ within a heterosexual relationship. This is simply not true. And further, it is not Wesleyan. Wesley’s idea of wholeness is the exercising of humanity’s image of God—particularly the moral image of God, that is “the continuing openness to welcome life from the creative source, to receive love, justice, mercy, and truth from God, and, as the image of God, to exercise and communicate further what we have received.”[2] This exercising must happen in relationship, yes, but not necessarily a sexual one, and certainly not only or primarily a heterosexual one. Further, Boone designates the ability to bear children as one way men and women—complete in each other—“sign to the world about the God in whose image and likeness we are made.”[3] To limit humanity’s creativity as part of its image of God to the creation of babies is problematic because not only do people actually have “the capacity for new creations”[4] in myriad manifestations, people can also exercise their creative image of God when they are childless, by choice or by circumstance.

One thing I loved about this chapter was the bit about incarnation and the emphasis that “bodies are where the life of God is experienced. Human flesh is sanctified.”[5] This, to me, encourages us to see the image of God completing all people—all bodies—in their various states of sex and gender and ways of life, and to explore all the many and varied ways God works and is revealed therein—without limitation.


[1] See the “Danvers Statement” Affirmation number 2: “Distinctions in masculine and feminine roles are ordained by God as part of the created order, and should find an echo in every human heart (Gen 2:18, 21-24; 1 Cor 11:7-9; 1 Tim 2:12-14).” http://cbmw.org/core-beliefs/

[2] Runyon, Theodore, The New Creation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 18.

[3] Human Sexuality 19.

[4] Ibid. 18.

[5] Ibid.

Human Sexuality: A Primer for Christians

 

I was optimistic about this book. Dr. Boone is a well-known, well-respected presence in the Church of the Nazarene, and I had faith that he would tackle the topic of sexuality in a balanced, researched, and charitable manner. I hoped he would open avenues for conversation and wrestling with the many and varied complexities of sexuality that are deeply personal and deeply formative. I hoped he would challenge the status quo and encourage us toward exploration of what sexuality can look like in a Christian context.

I was disappointed.

Make no mistake, as a left-leaning, queer-ish feminist Nazarene myself, I was under no illusion that this book would be anything radical or new or particularly progressive. I am intimately familiar with the Nazarene mandate to toe the evangelical party line. I’ve long given up on Nazarene leadership being explicitly affirming of any kind of sex besides the straight, married kind. But this was more than trotting out tired and closed-minded clichés about homosexuality (though it was that, too). It constructed a framework of heteronormative sexuality that is ill-informed, one-sided, and, frankly, harmful. It’s the same narrative of white middle-class sexual morality that evangelicals have used for years. And lest I be accused of simply dismissing Dr. Boone as an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy as an unfounded rhetorical device, I’ll point out that he himself opines about the “good old days,” using his personal experience of courting his wife as a righteous foil for the “demise of dating” (51). This wish to go back to the way things used to be is a hallmark of conservatism—one that forgets that the good old days weren’t so good for the majority of people. So while I certainly wasn’t expecting Boone’s work to be a beacon of progressivism, I also wasn’t expecting it to be in line with this brand of backwards conservatism. I was expecting some kind of middle way (something at which the man of “charitable discourse” generally excels) that I could at least work with. That is not what I got.

Additionally, I understand that this book was written “in the language of the pew” (7),  for laypeople and not primarily for academics. However, to assume that therefore it need not be well-researched and have its arguments supported by scholars who have been doing the express work of discussing sexualities in a Christian context is insulting and irresponsible. His main sources are Wheaton graduates psychologist Mark Yarhouse and gay celibacy advocate Wesley Hill. There are no queer—even queer Christian—perspectives considered. In fact, the closest we get to actually hearing a gay person’s story is a narrative that’s entirely centered on the gay person’s straight parents and the difficulty they had with his coming out. Boone thereby completely erases the existence of LGBTQ+ Christians.

Human Sexuality is presented as a book that enters into the conversations about sexualities that are taking place in Church and culture today. But it is tone-deaf and unrepresentative and runs from the multi-faceted reality of Christian sexualities rather than engaging them.


Over the next couple of weeks, I will be posting a chapter-by-chapter critique of Dan Boone’s book. I believe there are many details throughout that deserve more careful consideration and discussion, and I hope to offer questions and comments from a different perspective—one critical of Boone’s position, but still Christian. Wesleyan, even. The book claims to be a “conversation starter,” and I’m hoping to broaden this conversation by offering a diverging viewpoint. I welcome your comments as we critically engage this book.

A Table of Contents for this series can be found HERE.

If you're interested in further reading on this subject, check out the bibliography I've compiled (with the help of my excellent scholar-friend, Brandy Daniels) HERE.

It Spooks: Living in Response to an Unheard Call

My friends made a book, and I got to put some words in it!

From the description: 

It Spooks; Living in response to an unheard call is a book of visual, poetic, and written responses to a paper by John D. Caputo. It is a creative collaboration-including a wide spectrum of contributors from diverse backgrounds and nationalities-which lends itself to the ongoing conversation of radical theology, spectral religion, and (as Caputo himself has described), "our haunting from within".

John D. Caputo writes with pointed insight and a smattering of humor as he dethrones the dry bones of religious academia and deconstructs our Western understanding of God; a god he suggests does not exist, but insists. In one volume Catherine Keller, Brian McLaren, Peter Rollins, Michael Gungor and a host of other (known-and-no-name) academics, artists, writers, photographers, and painters offer a broad perspective of responses to Caputo's contention of a spectral, weak god who has no agent but you (and me) to enact that which is holy. Prepare to try on the "It Spooks" hauntology as you consider the role(s) you play in this world and what it might mean for you to live in response to this unheard call.

My chapter is entitled "Haunted Houses, Spooky Rituals, and Practicing Perhaps," and it's about how participating in the church's liturgies might open us up to the unknown and help us see how the world might be in the Kingdom of God, the year of Jubilee.

Click HERE to purchase on Amazon!