Tuesday, August 25, 2009

James B. Nelson on "Sexual Rules" and "Openness to Life"

Earlier today, while preparing for a sermon I've been invited to give at Spirit of the Lakes United Church of Christ, I was leafing through James B. Nelson’s Embodiment: An Approach to Sexuality and Christian Theology. I must say I resonate with the perspective and insights contained in the following excerpt from this landmark book.


I personally find certain sexual rules important and useful. I do not view them as exceptionless absolutes, but I presume strongly in their favor, and the burden of proof is then on me to justify any exception by its greater faithfulness to the higher loyalty. Rules can protect us at the boundaries of our experience where we encounter our limitations in knowledge and wholeness. But however sexual rules are used, they should nurture our growth into greater maturity and responsible freedom, and not inhibit it.

To love is to be open to life. Nowhere is this more evident than in the directly-sexual forms of our loving. In contemporary Roman Catholic declarations on sexuality (particularly in Humanae Vitae and in the declaration of Vatican II) the phrase “openness to life” is used as an essential mark of each morally legitimate sexual act. Yet those documents give to that phrase a narrow biological exposition. In them it means that there can be no deliberate frustration of sex’s procreative potential through artificial contraception or through non-procreative acts such as masturbation and same-sex intercourse. That biological interpretation is far too narrow. But the phrase itself is a splendid one. Indeed, sexual acts which can be deemed good, right, and lifting will always be those which embody and promote “openness to life.” And the definition of “life” for us is centered in that human wholeness embodied in the One who came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Making Love, Giving Life
Relationship: The Crucial Factor in Sexual Morality
The Non-Negotiables of Human Sex
Robert McClory on Humanae Vitae

Image: Michael J. Bayly.

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