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Bodies of Breath and Mud: A Comprehensive Christian Sexual Ethic (A Series)

Part One: The Very Beginning

Then the Lord God formed Ha’Adam from the dust of the ground, and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life; and Ha’Adam became a living being

Genesis 2:7

The person across from me reaches into their chest removing glob after glob after glob of mud. They place each into a sieve resting in my hands and wait. Gently and purposefully I run clean water over the mud. Larger particles are trapped in the mesh. I take them out and turn them over and over. We discuss each bit and some we decide to polish, some to smelt, or some to throw away. There are hundreds. We do this for a little while, then the washed silt is put back in. There will always be more work, always new bits accumulating, the mud in front of me is alive, it moves through this world picking up new detritus every day, for good or ill.

In pastoral care I am often presented with questions of ethics by people who expect me to have solid answers. People come to me for consolation or absolution or just to vent when life gets overwhelming or confusing. To a substantial portion of people I am viewed as the person who is supposed to be able to sort things neatly into boxes. Whereas I view myself as another mud person holding a sieve.

When I say we are made of mud, that is as much a reference to Genesis as it is a simple concession that our lives are never easily divided into good and bad. Clean and Unclean. Water and Dirt. Humans, I remind my parishioners, are muddy. Our ethics are muddy. Our morals are muddy. Our lives are muddy. And this is the price of doing business in a world beset with dubious moral positions.

Do I buy this burger for my unhoused friend, knowing it will give him joy, even though it contributes to morally repugnant factory farming practices and exploitation of workers? Do I expect a young mother to avoid buying the only clothes she can afford for her children while other children are making them as a means to survive the systems of oppression our country helped put in place? Do I spend time with my own children or spend time trying to make the world they live in better?

The very nature of existence in our society is increasingly morally ambiguous simply because the social systems we exist under are exploitative and sinful. Our virtues are built upon our vices. Our Christian heroes of the faith are praised for standing against the principalities and powers, but if the camera pans downward all of them are standing on the backs of the oppressed of some other place or time. Indeed, that is how we can see them. That is not a condemnation, it is a lamentation. In my darker moments it often feels like Newton’s third law has translated to morality. For every action, an equal and opposite reaction. A maudlin, and in my opinion, false dichotomy but a real worry worth keeping sight of.

It is from this point. This understanding that human interaction is necessarily colored by the social institutions and power imbalances that plague us. This understanding that there is no perfect moral system within the empires of our world. It is from this point, that we talk about the fact that we are the breath of God.

We are not mere lumps of mud, we are children of the divine, and we contain within us the ability to love, to purify, to illuminate, and to breathe life back out into the world. We have the ability to reimagine, and recreate in the image of heaven. This is the other half of the equation when we delve into such a muddy topic as sexual ethics. We have to ask not only about how muddy each encounter is getting, how to limit ties to systems of power and exploitation but, as Christians, we must ask is this encounter life giving? Is this encounter illuminating? Is this encounter an image of heaven?

A Christian sexual ethic is concerned not just with the mundane but with the sacred and the relationship between the two. I believe that there are answers to some of our questions, and I also believe that there is nuance and humanity in each question that should not be ignored. So as we delve into the progressive christian sexual ethics, please carry these two concepts in tension.

We are human and divine.

We must accept the fullness of each if we are to enter into a fulfilling relationship with our own sexual nature.

May the Spirit walk with us and inform us on this journey together. Amen.  

Following the Wild Goose

“How do you like being on the Leadership Council of an international faith community?” This question, posed by a fellow PCA ordinand, now UCC pastor, made me chuckle. “It feels like some kind of huge cosmic joke,” I replied. Here I am, a 64-year-old Nana, highly introverted, pretty much invisible woman and yet somehow that pesky Wild Goose (Celtic image for the Holy Spirit) has led me to this place. And now I was with over 4,000 people at a campground in the mountains outside of Asheville, NC celebrating how rich life can be when we let go of our plans and allow oneself to live into possibility.

For much of my life, I was a good evangelical. Daughter of a UMC Elder, I always felt most at home when in a church. I followed all of the rules. I believed the creeds. I trusted the denomination to teach me all I needed to know about God. And then, at age 50, a brochure for a Masters in Holistic Spirituality crossed the desk where I was Health Ministries Coordinator for a major local hospital. Shortly after, I had a dream. In it, God asked, “Do you want to go along for the Wild Ride?” And with some fear but also excitement, I said “YES!”

The next 5 years were eye opening for me. I was the student who declared, “If calling God
“Father” was good enough for Jesus, it is good enough for me. (God bless Sister Cathy, she didn’t argue which I now know took a huge amount of restraint on her part.) Over time I read about so many ways that people understand the Jesus message, that I felt real anger at the UMC. When I tried to discuss this with my father he said, “That isn’t anything new.” That upset me even more. I am an intelligent person. Why should the denomination choose for me what I should or shouldn’t believe? And so, I listened to the Still, Small Voice, urging me to let go and fly.

There were times when I felt totally adrift. Whenever I tried to talk to other Christians about my questions, I was quickly shut down. No one ever said it out loud, but I’m pretty sure they branded me a heretic. One person even corrected me about what the “minimal standard” is for calling oneself a Christian. And his definition wasn’t “love one another.” It was a set of beliefs that no longer held validity in my own understanding. Thankfully, I had a spiritual director who was there to listen to me and support me. In her office I didn’t feel like I was crazy. She made me understand that this was a moment of transformation for me. I wasn’t a failure as a Christian, I was growing! The Wild Goose had taken flight and I was truly along for the Wild Ride.

Jump ahead to this summer and the Wild Goose Festival. Here I was, surrounded by other “misfits.” We were messy in our spirituality and not afraid to say it because we knew that the others sitting with us were living a similar path. We don’t pretend to have answers any more. Instead, we are learning to be comfortable living with our questions. Always seeking. Always expanding. What a place of freedom!

My favorite T-shirt last year was worn by a ginger haired, teenage boy with a captivating smile. It read, “This is the gay the LORD has made.” This year’s shirt winner was “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” But a new question was on the horizon. What exactly does it mean to be a Progressive Christian? For some, it means being LGBTQ+ affirming. And that’s a good start. But being progressive, for many of us, means much more than that. It means being open and supportive of how the Greater is at work in each of us. No exceptions. And that is hard. At Wild Goose Festival, I’ve been with Shamanic Christians, Wiccan Christians, Presbyterians, Quakers, United Methodists, UCC folk, ELCA folk, Episcopalians, Humanists, Atheists, and even Baptists. And none of us tried to convince the other that they were wrong. We gathered around tables and in workshops and were authentic. And it was like a glimpse of heaven on earth. The Psalmist said it best, “How good it is when people can live in harmony.”

It has been my privilege to serve on the Leadership Council of the Progressive Christian Alliance. Our open FaceBook page has well over 6,000 members. We offer a place where folks on the margin, folks expanding the margins, and folks who feel invisible can be authentic. Can ask questions and know they will be heard. A place like Wild Goose Festival where we can define for ourselves what it means to be a Progressive Christian and no one will shame us. For we’re all on a journey of Spirit. And who knows where that Wild Goose will take us next?

Progressive Christian Alliance Statement on the Immigration Crisis and Plea to All Christians

We, the Progressive Christian Alliance, are appalled by the systemic, amoral, and unethical treatment of immigrants by the current administration. What started with a ban on Muslim immigrants coming in from specific countries has now become full-out incarceration and abuse of People of Color from other countries who came to seek asylum. We are disgusted and appalled that children, babies, and toddlers are not only being abused, but are being ripped from their families and forced to face the grown-up legal system alone and entirely without representation.

We absolutely condemn these actions by this administration. These actions do not in any way fix the so-called problems that the administration claims to be caused by immigrants. They are inhumane and go against the teachings of Jesus and scripture.

In Matthew 25:37-40, Jesus tells us:

“‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”

and Jesus also tells us that the greatest commandment is (Luke 10:27):

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”

For those of us in the Progressive Christian Alliance, there are no exceptions to these rules. We love our Muslim neighbor, our LGBTQIA+ neighbor, our neighbors from Latin America, South America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and any other place and religion on this planet. Radical inclusion dictates that there should be a place for EVERYONE at the table. This doesn’t mean that those who do harm aren’t accountable for their actions, but it does mean that even if someone has committed a crime, they are still treated as a human being.

The Progressive Christian Alliance, its clergy and laity, stand in opposition to these inhumane, racist, and exclusionary policies and will fight against them wherever and however we can.

We also call on all Christians, progressive and otherwise, to reflect on the history and role of Christianity in general, and extremist Christianity in particular, in bringing us to this point. We must work, in all our denominations, churches, and groups to root out racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, and all other extremism. While we, individually, may not have had a hand in creating the policies created by those who have perverted Christianity’s ethos to their own ends,  we each have a responsibility to own up to Christianity’s dark history and be a part of cleaning up our own house. Until we accept that Christianity has been used for evil throughout its history, own up to it, and atone collectively for it, we will never be able to change the future.

We ask, in Jesus’s name, and in the name of the One who is called Goddess, Godde, God, and many other names, that all of God’s people will return to compassion, to love, and to bringing  justice and care to those who are in need. That we will do the reflection necessary as individuals, groups, and organizations in order to bring about the radical inclusion and hospitality that Jesus taught us to create and emulate.

Amen and May It Be So,

Rev. Gina Pond

Leadership Chair