Tuesday, February 19, 2008

UPDATED WITH RESPONSE: '30 Day Sex Challenge' church gets The Thrill

A worship community in Florida with the self-conscious name Relevant Church is making international news with its "30 Day Sex Challenge," a program in which participating couples commit to having sex every day for 30 days while singles commit to abstaining for the same duration.

The guide for the challenge, available for download from the church's blog, recommends two books to singles participating in the challenge, one about marriage and one about chastity. And so it was with some surprise that I learned today from a friend who downloaded the guide that The Thrill of the Chaste is the official chastity guide for singles doing the 30 days.

I am thrilled and honored that my book is being recommended. At the same time, I find it a bit baffling, because the "30 Day Sex Challenge" guide itself doesn't seem to stress chastity so much as the idea that sexually active singles should stop to clear their heads.

While I do believe it is important to stop and reassess one's behavior, especially if that behavior is not bringing what one wants most in life and love, my book is not just about examining priorities. It is about transcending the superficialities that surround dating in the modern age and learning how to bring divine love not only into a romantic relationship, but every relationship.

Perhaps Relevant Church covers those topics in its Sunday sermons. I hope so, because I don't see that in its challenge's guide.

I also have serious problems with what I perceive as the challenge's subtext that chastity is a sort of punishment for being single or, conversely, that sex is a reward for being married. Again, I would like to think that Relevant does not wish to put forth that subtext, but that is my gut reaction to their campaign as an unmarried woman.

Lauren Winner has pointed out the conflict in some churches that preach abstinence 'til marriage while saying that, after marriage, anything goes. The implication is that the sexual instinct is a kind of demon that can be temporarily bound but never tamed.

Chastity is about the proper integration of sexuality within the person, which includes recognizing the marital relationship as the proper context for sexual intercourse. That context, however, is damaged if sex is brought into it as something to be "had."

Sex can never be separated from an individual. For a married person to commoditize the sexual act as something deserved or not deserved on a given day leads to viewing his or her spouse not as an individual, but as an object.

Married sex, like every aspect of married love, should always be an act of the spouses' free will. The decision when to engage in it should be made between husband and wife — not husband, wife, and pastor.

* * *

As it happens, I'll be practically in Relevant's back yard come Sadie Hawkins Day — Friday, February 29, when I speak at St. Frances Cabrini Parish's young-adult dinner in Spring Hill, Fla. Details are in the current issue of the Florida Catholic, which includes an interview with me by Arleen Spencely (who I think did a great job). Here's a sample:

"Rebellion has always been built around the idea that there's something you aren't being told that's really the most important thing to know," she said. In chastity, she says, she found it.

"The chaste life is far more fulfilling than the unchaste life," she said. "I'm living from a sense of having something rather than a sense of lacking something."

And so far, it's been a liberating experience.

"You see just how much there is to appreciate in other people, in your environment and in everything you've been given," she said. "You're living as you were designed to live."
Read the whole thing.

UPDATE, 4:25 p.m.: Jason Sowell, a pastor at Relevant Church responds —
I am actually a 29-year-old single guy who is doing the teaching for this series from the single perspective. I also work for an abstinence education program here in Tampa that references/recommends your book. I read your book a few months ago and want you to know that I am a big fan of your book and your perspective and descriptions of living singular and the chaste lifestyle. I was very inspired by much of what you had to say, which is why I wanted to reference your book as a source for further study.

Please know, that as a church, we are in total agreement that chastity should be a lifestyle and go beyond a 30-day challenge to a commitment of abstaining from sex until marriage. We are certainly encouraging and teaching that. I also wholeheartedly agree that, as single adults, we should be "transcending the superficialities that surround dating in the modern age and learning how to bring divine love not only into a romantic relationship, but every relationship."

This series is about strengthening intimacy within relationships. As you will see in the guide, for married couples, it is about learning each others deepest emotional needs and working to meet them for each other. Sex is one of the most intimate expressions of love couples can have with each other, when it is in the right context and driven by the right motives. For single adults, it is about learning what your own deepest emotional needs are (I do believe that it is difficult to have healthy relationships and meet other peoples emotional needs in the right way when you don't understand your own). The challenge to abstain for at least 30 days is to hopefully help many single adults recognize that sex in the wrong context may be what is complicating their relationships and continually driving them to unhealthy relationships. ...

... I would also like to hear specifically what in our guide as lead you to some of your thoughts/concerns. I would encourage you to take some time to go on our web site www.relevantchurch.com and listen to/watch our podcast from this past Sunday as we introduced the challenge. I believe that may also clear up some concerns for you.

Thank you so much for writing your book and taking on such a challenging topic in our culture. I'm sure you, better than most, understand how people can misconstrue your message, so thank you for expressing your thoughts in a balanced way. Honestly, this is a series we wanted to do for our congregation and people in our community that may need to better their relationships. We definitely did not expect all of the media attention we are getting and I only hope that what recognition we get leads people to your book, as well as others that are teaching truth, to help them better their relationships with each other and ultimately with God.