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A Theology of Sexuality and its Abuse: Creation, Evil, and the Relational Ecosystem, Part 1

Various cultural forces have exacerbated this fracturing of sexuality, including: “The modern ‘turn to the subject,’ the inordinate preoccupation with ‘I,’”23 the ever-destructive religious hypocrisies, and various social movements defined by *power structures have, for example, called into question the foundational claims of biblical sexuality.24 In many ways, the church has blunted its own authority on sexual ethics. Too much preaching on “little sins” has shrunk our hearts. What imagination do people have left for epic waves of human violation sweeping our globe?25 Abuse victims are further diminished when fellow humans repackage others’ pain, rather than sitting with the broken. Unfortunately, as Walter Brueggemann has observed:

The practical outcome of this compartmentalization in the contemporary church is that so-called conservatives tend to take careful account of the most rigorous claims of the Bible concerning sexuality, and are indifferent to what the Bible says about economics. Mutatis mutandis, so-called liberals relish what the Bible says in demanding ways about economics, but tread lightly around what the Bible says about sexuality.26

Clearly, a representative policy on sexual abuse is desperately needed, one that can transcend our differences, and I believe a collective voice may yet be found to address this issue.

Serious fracture is also evident when entire populations use stock phrases like: “my sex life”—an ethical *oxymoron—they betray a lack of interpersonal understanding, steeped instead in ideologies of autonomy and hyperindividualism. Rather, as Christian Gostecnik reminds us, “[S]exuality is and remains the arena where the most important relational configurations play out, and with all their power point to a transcendence and sacredness of interpersonal and *family system relationships.”27 Yet without an adequate perspective of the relational web comes a tragic minimizing of a deeply relational form of trauma. What has withered outside Eden is the very foundation for an interconnectedness that is also accountable.

Learning from Eden’s Loss: Reclaiming a Collective Conscience

Persons are parts of relationships. Addressing SA requires a more theologically integrative anthropology—including the contextualizing nature of lived-experience. Also needed is a more respectful appraisal of cultural assumptions that define personhood, assumptions operating in and outside the church.28 Historically, theology has assumed a rather Western and “fixed” anthropology: essentially *dualistic, excessively individualized, culturally “flat,” and an experientially minimalist view of personhood.29 However, through creation, Scripture offers a vision of moral community that also defines personal morality.30 Creation theology mediates the two extremes of collective *fatalism and hyperindividualism.31 In creation theology, both individual and collective realities are anchored and affirmed.

Understandably, personal violence and relational loss can foster a sharp distaste for the finitude and contingency of creation as part of its goodness.32 “In creation is a recognition of the worth of limitation … that which is limited and finite constitutes the very place in which God’s being is exhibited.”33 But such creaturely (inter-)dependence can appear like reckless vulnerability. Sexually violated people naturally tend to “wall-up” and “close in”; post-violation, relational vulnerability can simply seem too costly. Yet there is hope. Creation teaches an exalted anthropology; humankind is dignified through the *image of God (discussed below). Outside Eden, people still retain their ability to choose and the dignity of agency, enabling a journey of healing within community. Collective conscience—whether celebrating or restoring it—means that personal morality is operating within moral community.

Buried in the profound damage of sexual abuse lay the vestiges of a Creator’s intended design for sexual personhood. John MacMurray rightly claims that “personal existence is constituted by the relation of persons”—the personal self has “its being in relationships.”34 This reality of “situatedness” in biblical anthropology highlights ethical elements functioning within the “I–Thou” and “We” of personhood. It is this relational dynamic that highlights the devastation factor of human-induced trauma and the enduring consequences of sexual violation.35 Neither sexuality nor its abuse can be adequately grasped outside of Creation’s view of being-in-relation. These implications run deep, both for violation and healing. For example, “All memories are communal,” argues theologian Miroslav Volf. “Individuals do not remember alone but as members of a group.”36 Acknowledging these realities of personhood, we turn to Genesis 1.

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Category: Ministry, Pneuma Review, Summer 2013

About the Author: Andrew J. Schmutzer, Ph.D., is a Professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, IL). He regularly writes and speaks about sexual abuse from a theological perspective, to help equip churches to care for the abused in their midst. Andrew is the editor of the collaborative book, The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused (Wipf & Stock, 2011), a contributor to numerous books including Finding Our Way Through the Traffick: Exploring the Complexities of a Christian Response to Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking (Regnum Books, 2017), The Moody Handbook of Preaching (Moody, 2008), Naming Our Abuse: God's Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel, 2016), Between Pain and Grace: A Biblical Theology of Suffering (Moody, 2016), and Genesis: See Our Story Begin (NLT Study Series). He is one of the editors of The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul (Moody, 2013), and author of Be Fruitful and Multiply: A Crux of Thematic Repetition in Genesis 1-11 (Wipf & Stock, 2009). He can be reached at aschmutz@moody.edu.

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