My friend Marge, as fine a Lutheran as you could ask for, has a beef with the apostle Paul. According to her, he’s a sexist. I agree. According to 1 Corinthians 14:33-35, women should not speak but ask their husbands to speak for them. I doubt many women would submit to this today, and it would come as a surprise to the Protestant and Jewish women who speak for wisdom in the assemblies. (In another passage, however, Paul says women should be allowed to prophesy. So he is a sexist and inconsistent.)
There is a trap in this kind of thinking―the assumption that specific instructions to specific churches should be held up as universal commands for all time.
Many biblical scholars agree with this position, taking into account the vast differences between first century Palestine and 21st century America. However, inconsistency persists in the application of this reasonable principal.
Most Christians admit to a looser interpretation of Paul’s anti-female views… but cling to them in regard to that most loaded of topics:
Here is where some folks will go into a tizzy. The word “fornication” (admittedly a delicious word for fooling around outside of marriage) can be translated as “sexual immorality.”
This puts the argument on a quantumly different plane. Rather than define sexual expression by its congruence with the institution of marriage, sexual immorality opens the discussion to all-too-frequent instances sexual exploitation, either to maintain power over another individual, obtain instant gratification for oneself, or too participate in a relationship that is too weak to withstand the raw passions associated with sex.
Therefore, I propose the following as examples of sexual immorality: yes, adultery (since it hurts innocent children and spouses), but also promiscuity, bondage and submission, partner-swapping (since it violates the essential privacy of sex), and spousal rape (horrific to contemplate, but it happens).
Allow me to weave my situation into this. I am in my sixties and never married. I am not stranger to sex, and I really, really like it. In its proper place, it’s life-giving, healing, and fun. (My friend Jane says sex is a sacrament. This may be going a little too far, but it contains more than a kernel of truth.)
The doctrine of intra-marital exclusivity (an later addition to the sayings of Jesus) was devised in an age where the average lifespan topped out at anywhere from 30 to t0. Agricultural societies and the need to bear many children encouraged marriage within only a few years of puberty.
Today people go decades between or without marriage(s). Some decide never to marry.
Look: God made us sexual beings. It is hard-wired into our nervous systems. The body, in particular the female body, has an extraordinary capacity for pleasure. Science is discovering that regular has many health benefits.
God also gave us the capacity to create art, build culture, feed the hungry, nurture future generations, plumb the depths of the universe―in short, to co-create what Martin Luther called the good order of creation. No one is seriously proposing we set up artificial limits on these activities.
He also gave us the powers of reason and conscience. As the maker of the gift of sexuality, he expects us to use it well.
So let the Church move into the modern world. If she shed a few inhibitions, she might just attract more believers.