As I have made my journey to understanding Jesus as an anarchist I have been particularly drawn by the realization of the need for an uncompromising adherence to the words and teachings of Jesus. But I have recently been struck by the seeming absence of reference to Jesus’ teachings when anarchists address the issue of sex. If as Christian anarchists we are to root our lives in the teachings of Jesus that are found in the “Sermon on the Mount” and elsewhere, must we not also then root our sexual practices in those same teachings? For instance, Jesus explicitly addresses the topic of sex in Matthew 5:27-32—how then can these words of Jesus be anything other than a key part to his overall vision for the politics of his new community?
In light of this I wanted to open up a conversation on the topic: How do sex and anarchical thought intersect in light of Jesus? How and when does one’s sexual life and practices truly reflect the anarchical teachings of Jesus?
For those of us who clearly recognize that Jesus is a deeply political figure (bringing the reign of God to earth), we have no choice but to face up to this reality: sex is a deeply political act. In fact, if “politics” is nothing more than the dynamic of how we relate and connect to one another as people, then sex may be one the most politically charged acts in this world. You and I owe our very existence to this political act, to the communal interactions of our parents that brought us forth into this world.
In my own readings of anarchical thought the only author who has addressed the political implications of Jesus’ teachings on sex was Leo Tolstoy. In his My Religion: What I Believe he wrote,
Jesus declares that debauchery arises from the disposition of men and women to regard one another as instruments of voluptuousness, and, this being so we ought to guard against every idea that excites to sensual desire, and, once united to a woman, never to abandon her on any pretext, for women thus abandoned are sought by other men, and so debauchery is introduced into the world.
Tolstoy was a rationalist who clung to the teachings of Jesus with the utmost literal interpretation. Though there are deep holes in his rationalism, there is much to learn from his simplistic adherence to the words of Jesus. In Tolstoy’s eyes Jesus is teaching us that sex is nonviolent and domination-free only when found in lifelong commitments of love, for in every other instance the partners ultimately “regard one another as instruments of voluptuousness.” Is Tolstoy’s analysis right? If so, what does this mean exactly for those of us attempting to conform our lives to the politics of Jesus?
I think what Jesus and Tolstoy recognize is exactly what many have identified concerning the extreme case of sexual relations, rape. At its heart rape is about control; it is a power play of the most profound and destructive kind. And certainly we can all agree about the extreme case: rape, forced sexual relations, is clearly a political act of power/domination exerted on one party over another.
But it seems that for Jesus and Tolstoy what is true for rape is true for almost all sexual relations on a lesser level: sexual relations of all kinds manifest themselves as a power play in one way or another. They become about using another human being for one’s own ends, whether that is for an ego boost, physical pleasure, or companionship in the moment—even if that using goes both ways.
So when are sexual relations free from any sort of power play or domination? Is “mutual consent” enough to ensure such a thing? It seems to me that Jesus and Tolstoy push for lifelong commitments of love as the only home for sexual relations because short-term “mutual consent” is not something that can truly protect the least of these in our world. So often the one on the weaker end of the power dynamic will give her/his “consent” due to a resigned belief that “the way things are” is the only option. Because people are taught by the “powers that be” to accept the world as it is, they often will give their “consent” to relationships that are full of power, hierarchy, and abuse. Just think—how often have we ourselves “consented” to being dominated or to dominating others without even knowing what we were doing?
Jesus, however, being the anarchist that he is, is here to free each one of us from those trappings. His message and calling is one of true freedom—freedom from all relationships of domination, including the domination of sexual relations. If we are to follow this Jesus, then we too must wrestle with the question of how our own sexual lives conform to his domination-free way.