Music, Media & Movies: The Quest for the Minds of America
St. Stephen’s Church, Louisville KY
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Part II. Sex and The City of God: Pop Culture & Biblical Sexual Ethics
I. INTRODUCTION – Review of Last Week
Last week we began our survey of Music, Media, and Movies with a survey of “The War of Worldviews: The Cultural Battle for the American Mind”. I proposed that we can all become critically engaged participants in popular culture by asking four reflective questions. (1) How does this affect me? my walk with God? (2) What standards of behavior are promoted or normalized? (3) What worldview/philosophy is promoted or normalized? (4) How does this reflect God’s truth? God’s kingdom?
Over the coming three Wednesday nights, we will ask these questions of one another with regards to various popular culture expressions. Next week, we will focus in on the presentation of Jesus Christ in popular culture. Our final Wednesday together we will look at the supernatural in movies and other media.
II. SEX AND THE CITY OF GOD
Tonight, however, we are going consider popular culture and biblical sexual ethics.
Sex and the City was a long-running and extremely popular television program which focused on four urban women and their sexual pursuits and conquests. The show promoted unrestrained sexual promiscuity. The City of God, in contrast, is the majestic composition of St. Augustine of Hippo, the 4th-century African bishop who was, by most accounts, the towering theological mind and influence of the early church. St. Augustine lived a fairly wild life prior to his conversion; after becoming a Christian, Augustine repented of his sexual immorality, and lived a life of celibacy. Two portrayals; two very different conceptions of sexual ethics.
The thesis I desire to pursue tonight is that popular culture has been waging a subtle long-term war against biblical sexual ethics. There are pleasant exceptions, but as a rule, mainstream media has sought to undermine Christian morality in favor of liberated sexuality. Furthermore, popular culture has, in this instance, been winning the quest for the hearts and minds of America. The sexual ethics of the American Church have to a large extent changed to reflect the sexual morality promoted and normalized in books, movies, television shows, and music.
Before we begin looking at specific instances of sexual morality, let’s consider the centrality of sexual ethics in Christianity. Why are we talking about sexual ethics? One of the really difficult things in planning out the lessons that we are working through together is deciding what issues and topics we will address. After all, virtually everything is up for discussion in popular culture. We could talk about the existence (or lack thereof) of aliens – going over movies like Men in Black, the new Indiana Jones, Race to Witch Mountain. We could talk about issues like crime and justice, capital punishment – going over books like Dead Man Walking, or movies like the Shawshank Redemption. We could spend a night talking just about Harry Potter and all of the associated issues that come up from those books and movies. We could talk about jazz and blues music, and how it shapes and reflects cultural trends. So why are we talking about sexual ethics? There are two reasons.
First, sexual ethics is one of the areas where popular culture and contemporary ethical trends strongly counter or oppose biblical ethics and the Christian worldview. That is, the sexual morality promoted or normalized by popular culture is in tension or contrast with the sexual morality exhorted in God’s Word. That in itself makes sex an important topic of discussion.
Second, sexuality is one of the core aspects of personal morality and discipleship. 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 reads:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are against his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
I am not going to engage in the questionable practice of designating sexual sin as the “most grievous” or “unredeemable” type of sin. There is no biblical justification for that. Sin is sin, and carries the same consequences in terms of our relationship with God. Sin separates us from God, and can have eternal consequences—regardless of the class or type of sin it is. One of the differences with sexual sin is that it affects the very core of our being and identity. The closest analogy to sexual sin is spiritual idolatry—which, incidentally, is called adultery throughout the Old Testament. Spiritual idolatry affects the very core of our being, and the center of our relationship with the living God. Sexual sin is of the same general character. It affects the core of our being.
Three years ago I was in a class with a well-known Christian philosopher who maintains several close friendships with skeptics and atheists around the world. He shared a very perceptive insight about the relationship between skepticism, atheism, and sexual immorality. He mentioned several of his friends who are now philosophical atheists, who at one time were evangelical Christians, even pastors of Baptist churches. He said that with only one exception, each of these men departed the Christian faith after (or amid) sexual sin. Their involvement with sexual sin came first; only afterward came “rational objections” to Christianity, or skepticism regarding the truth of the faith. That is to say, sexual immorality is very often the pathway to abandoning Christianity.
Thus, sexual ethics are a central concern. We’re going to look together at four broad areas of sexual morality, and discuss biblical ethics (The City of God) and the portrayal in popular culture (Sex and The City) on that issue.
1. The City of God – Romans 1:21-27; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
2. Sex and the City – Brokeback Mountain; The Amazing Race
The Amazing Race is one of my favorite shows on television—it is my form of vicarious world travel. In the Amazing Race, 11 teams of two engage in a race around the world, completing tasks, following clues and directions; the team that arrives at the finish line first wins $1 million. The Amazing Race has always represented a diverse cross-section of American society, but representation is somewhat skewed. For example, statistics generally relate that approximately 4% of the American population is GLBT – gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, or transgendered. However, each of the 16 seasons of the Amazing Race has had at least one actively gay participant. Last year, for the first time, the winning team feature two brothers, one gay, one straight. Throughout, the Amazing Race has sought to present homosexuals as normal, even as admirable.
B. Casual Sex & Promiscuity
1. The City of God – 1 Corinthians 7:1-6
2. Sex and the City – Seinfeld, Friends
Seinfeld and Friends were the most popular sitcoms through the late 90s. Both shows were amusing, well-written, and well-acted. Both shows also presented casual sex as normal and even ideal. Sex on the first date (or even apart from dates at all) was the norm. Sex with friends; sex with housekeepers, sex with strangers; the more sex with the more different people the better.
A question naturally arises. Does popular culture (like Friends, Seinfeld, Sex and the City) drive societal sexual ethics, or simply reflect societal sexual ethics? That is, does popular culture affect our sexual ethics, or do our sexual ethics affect popular culture? There is undoubtedly a mutual relationship between popular culture and societal ethics; but it is hard to doubt the impact of popular culture upon the way that people, particularly youth, think about sexual morality.
C. Romance, Love, Sexuality, and God
1. What is love? Commitment vs. Carnality. 1 Corinthians 13
Young people fall in love pretty easily and quickly. Actually, I think what really happens is that young people fall in lust, and call it love. Indeed, our culture has become exceedingly confused about the relationship between sexual attraction and love, often simply equating the two. Are you sexually attracted to someone? It must be love! What if that person is not your spouse? Well then, you must have ‘fallen in love’ with someone new, and ‘fallen out of love’ with your spouse.
I can recall having crushes on many different girls when I was in junior high and high school. If someone asked me why I liked that particular girl, guess what the answer almost inevitably was: “She’s hot.” Is that love? No – that’s lust. In 2 Samuel, we hear a lot about the tragic consequences of chasing down lust. David and Bathsheba. Amnon and Tamar. Is lust equal to love? No. Which brings us to a central question which must be answered, both by biblical ethics and pop culture.
2. What is romantic love? Sacred vs. Sensual
I remember when I fell in love with my wife, Vanessa. I was a senior in high school, she a junior. I had a huge crush on her—mostly, yes, because she was stunningly beautiful. I can remember the first time I kissed her; it was heavenly! Anybody see the movie Hitch? Great little show about romance, love, and the difficulty of finding a partner in modern society. There’s a little clip where Hitch (the title character, played by Wil Smith) says: “Most women know everything they need to about a man from the first kiss. The first kiss seals or breaks the relationship.” Well, in our case the first kiss sealed the relationship. There were sparks, there was chemistry, it was just right.
The question is: is that love? That feeling of romance, physical and sexual attraction which borders so closely on lust; is that what love is? Well, yes and no. Biblically speaking, we have to acknowledge that physical attraction and sexual chemistry is a part of biblical love—after all, we’ve got the entire Song of Solomon dedicated to very graphic romantic and sexual love. However, we also must insist that romantic (sexual) love is not all that there is to biblical love. After all, we’ve got the entire chapter of 1 Corinthians 13 dedicated to a very non-sexual description of love. Furthermore, we’ve got Ephesians 5:22-33 which talk about marital love between husband and wife.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .