Jesus, Sex, and Anarchy

August 9, 2011Luke Kammrath

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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.

  • Kathleen Quiring

    Thanks for this, Luke. The relationship between Christian anarchism and sex is something I’ve been thinking about lately, as I blog about marriage but am becoming more and more drawn to Christian anarchist ideology. I haven’t been able to shake the idea that the way we handle sex is extremely important to Jesus, though it seems like the issue isn’t often addressed or given proper attention in circles that concern themselves with the politics of Jesus. I especially appreciate, then, your suggestion that sex may be one the most politically charged acts in this world. And I enthusiastically agree with your conclusion that lifelong commitments of love are 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.” There’s still lots to think about here, though.

    • Luke Kammrath

      Kathleen, thanks for your thoughts. It was indeed an “ah ha!” moment for me when the idea for this article came to mind. I too had sensed a “void” and an almost “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality about sex from those concerned with the politics of Jesus. And yet, that didn’t seem to fit with the Jesus I read in the gospels. I think we have often just blindly assumed the Enlightenment-based idea that sex is “private,” “personal,” and therefore not “political” (since we think of political as “public”). And certainly sex is personal and often “private” in ways, but I think we error if we fail to see how political and even public it is (Jesus in fact makes it public by speaking openly about it and opening up the conversation, thereby bringing it “out of the bedroom”).

      If you don’t mind I would love to have a link to your blog and see what kind of questions you are wrestling with there on this issue.

  • Guest

    I think this is an important topic to think about, but if we’re looking at sex from the view of power dynamics, how is it different than many non-sexual relationships?

    “…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…”

    That statement can describe many non-sexual relationships as well (maybe not the physical pleasure).

    And another thing that concerns me is that lifelong commitments can just as easily be fraught with domination and an imbalance of power. Which then leads to the question of divorce – if one finds oneself in such a situation. Of course then the possibility of divorce means that it wasn’t actually a lifelong commitment after all.

    I’m afraid that we, in the West at least, can’t detach from so many centuries of emotional baggage around the topic of sex to be very objective about it.

    • Luke Kammrath

      That would be part of my implicit point: sexual relationships are not so different than non-sexual relationships, in fact they are non-sexual relationships that are heightened and intensified by the often exponentially increased level of intimacy. So my point would be: if we are concerned about the politics and power dynamics of non-sexual relationships, then we must be especially concerned and wary of the politics and power dynamics of sexual relationships. I think too often sexual relationships have been compartmentalized into their own area that we are afraid to touch.

      Great point about lifelong commitments being fraught with domination. Absolutely true. I don’t think a “lifelong commitment” is a “silver bullet” by any means, I simply believe that Jesus’ argument would be that you cannot achieve proper domination-free sexual relations unless you are at least in that arena (though being in it doesn’t guarantee anything, since you always need to add love, day after day after day).

      And that definitely raises the sticky divorce issue. I think Jesus counsels against it because he wants our sexual relationships to be domination-free and divorce is a sure fire admittance that they are not. Does that mean divorce can “never” happen? Of course not. But if our goal is domination-free sexual relations then we need to realize that divorce is not an option. And if we find ourselves in the midst of a divorce or having done it in the past, we simply recognize the brokenness of it and move forward with forgiveness, recognizing that Jesus is calling us this day forward to live in domination-free sexual relationships.

      Note: it is also important to recognize that huge part of Jesus’ teachings on divorce is an attempt to restore domination-free relationships between the sexes. Jesus’ teaching on divorce is partially about calling out the males of his day and challenging them to relate to females in a domination-free way.

    • Maxpercy

      A key traditional aspect of relationships that I do not see here, or really in hardly any discussion of sexuality that might be helpful is askesis and mistrust of self. It seems to be the presumption that if I desire it, it is good, or at least tends towards good. Why, when acknowledge the fall, are so willing to trust our desires?

  • T. Brandon Lane

    I was reading someone’s hermeneutic work on the text in Leviticus where it’s commanded “you shall not lie with a man as with a woman”. The author was trying to get deeper into the “as with a woman” part.

    The author claimed that it was necessary to tag on “as with a woman” (while saying “you shall not lie with a man” would have gotten across the point of no gay sex) because the way a man lies with a woman is dominating and forcing the woman into subordinate role, and of course you can’t do that to a man, because man is made in the image of God.

    The author was trying to show why the passage shouldn’t be used to discriminate against homosexual relations, but I just couldn’t get past how disgusting the whole idea of relationships was. And how disgusting the idea of men being created a certain way, but women not.

    I don’t know if this is relevant to your discussion, but i was very upset by it. Those cultural understandings in biblical times makes it hard to trust much scripture for advice on the topic. Except perhaps Jesus and Paul’s suggestions that everyone remain single/celebate/like a eunuch; if the only opportunity to be in an intimate relationship with someone else is this disgusting domination, celibacy sounds pretty good.

    • Luke Kammrath

      Brandon, I really appreciate your thoughts on this. I could easily see your kind of rational being the basis for some of the disgust and rejection of sex in the early church and monastic movements (though some has to probably be attributed to anti-materialist, gnostic, or platonic influences that were disgusted at all bodily life). I think we would be wise to heed the balance that I think your concern points to. Too often since the Reformation it seems like sex has gotten a sort of “free pass” and the dynamics of the act itself has not gotten much consideration amongst followers of Jesus.

      I think the question you pose ultimately is this: Even if sex is conducted within a domination-free relationship, how does one grapple with the dynamic of the act itself in regard to domination? Is sex an inherently dominant act (we certainly see glimpses of this in the animal kingdom)?

      Tough questions indeed. Makes one appreciate the notion of celibacy in a whole new way. Though I would hesitate very strongly before considering celibacy as the only tenable anarchist position.

    • paul munn

      First, I’d suggest we hold our judgments of ancient cultures lightly, since our understanding of them can only come through a very long telescope.

      Second, Jesus doesn’t seem to show disgust at the marriage relationship. Rather he affirms God’s work of creating “one flesh” of two people (right before he delivers his “eunuchs” line). This is a very good thing when it happens, a miracle which produces a deep unity between people that is the exact opposite of domination over one another.

      And, Brandon, if you’d like to understand what the marriage relationship can be, why not talk to some of your married friends (like me and Heather) instead of trying to glean it from books discussing homosexuality? I don’t think domination is intrinsic to such a relationship; quite the opposite. Even sex itself (at least good sex) seems to me to be better described as a gift, as mutual giving, rather than any kind of domination.

      • T. Brandon Lane

        My disgust wasn’t so much with the act of sex, or the act of marriage, but instead with the description of it as completely dominating. Or, what the article was describing was that the levitican view of sex was this dominating act, and that’s why we (men) can’t have sex with other men, because we can’t be dominating of someone who’s made in the image of God.

        That doesn’t seem to be what Jesus thinks sex/marriage is. Though he does seem to talk a lot about marriage going bad; most of his statements about sex/marriage are about not getting divorced, or dealing with unfaithfulness.

        I wasn’t, paul, trying to discuss the nature of marriage/sex. But rather the way it seems to be treated in scripture. I don’t yet know how to reconcile (or if I even should be reconciling) my experience of the world with scripture. Personally, it feels like we’re in such an alienated culture that we should cling to any shreds of love we can find, and if occasionally marriage can provide “mutual giving”, as you described it, to people, then it seems good to me. My issue is with it only if it’s as is described in the levitican law.

        Perhaps my statement should have been “if this is an accurate description of the biblical view of sex, then it’s easy to see why jesus and paul suggest considering celibacy”. Does that make sense?

        • Chelsea

          You bring up an important point about Hebrew and early Christian condemnations of homosexual acts being specifically about being penetrated, but I think you are missing something important. In the Ancient world in this geographical area, it was considered horrible for a man to act like a woman by being penetrated, or to make another man like a woman by penetrating him. What you are missing is that this is totally based in patriarchy, about men’s horror of women and being like a woman. So when you today express horror of this, be careful because to me it still sounds like hatred and fear of women. I know a number of heterosexual men who enjoy receiving anal pleasure and penetration from their female partners during strap-on sex, and they can do this because they believe that women are equal to them and their masculinity doesn’t depend on being penetrators or being different from women.

  • Anonymous

    Can someone explain to me why Jesus is an anarchist?

    • Anonymous

      Christ’s Kingdom – and hence ours – is not of this world. See verses such as John 18:36, Matthew 23:8-12, etc. He came not to assume any sort of earthly Kingdom (Matthew 4:8-10), but to bring into being the Kingdom of God on earth. Hence, if we view as an anarchist as one who ‘excited revolt against any established rule, law, or custom’, then Jesus certainly fits into this criteria.

      Ultimately, our faith (i.e. allegiance) is to the Kingdom of God, and hence we strive to follow the teachings of Jesus above the teachings / laws of empire.

    • Luke Kammrath

      To add some thoughts:

      When James and John were clamoring for positions in Jesus’ kingdom he responded to them with his most comprehensive teaching on politics…

      “Those who are considered rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.”

      Jesus challenged the very notion of “ruling” that the nations participated in. He then established that his community would not conduct themselves in similar manner, but would be “slaves of all”–”masters of none.” Jesus envisions the reign of God at hand and that means that everyone who would claim to be ruler or would attempt to rule must step down from their thrones, for God alone is king (and even the way in which God is king is totally different than Caesar).

      Therefore Jesus rejects any person ruling over another, for God alone rules. This is “anarchy” because that very name means “no firsts.” Amongst people there is to be none who is more powerful or who controls another (we answer to God alone). This is the vision of the reign of God that Jesus broke into this world and then called his followers to participate in.

      This “anarchy” is not chaos, but a domination-free way of perfect order, mutuality, freedom, submission, and love.

  • kissmith

    I wish there were a bit more depth to this article. I also wish there were more biblical backing for what is being asserted as Jesus’ beliefs about sex. Personally, I agree that what Jesus’ few teachings on marriage/sex/relationships were primarily concerned with was force and hierarchy in sexual relationships. However, it seems rather oversimplified to imply that the only way we can be free from domination, hierarchy and sexual abuse of power is to put ourselves in life-long, monogamous relationships (or else remain celibate).

    We all have different journeys and are called to different forms of resistance. For some, celibacy is a wonderful for way to resist a culture that often tells us (especially women) that we are only worth what our bodies can provide for others. For others, monogamy is a powerful way to resist a culture that tells us that commitment to any other person may only get in the way of our own, holy self-interest (I put myself in this category). For others still, polyamory, open-relationships or some non-traditional way of engaging in romantic and/or sexual relationships is a personally challenging way to resist a culture that tells us that we have a right to own, control and manipulate other people.

    Our ways of resisting systematic oppression may change as we change, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are any less valid. It is easy to feel that something that feels so right for ourselves, must be right for everyone, but that just doesn’t seem to be true, especially when it comes to sex. I encourage you (and everyone, really) to seek out others who are living well, working on recognizing and dismantling hierarchy and abuse in their lives, relationships and communities and who are living outside of life-long monogamous partnerships. This is especially important if one’s own life experience has brought about the belief that only one particular form of sexual relation can ever be holy.

    • Luke Kammrath

      Thanks for your thoughts. A couple reactions:

      Is violence “ok” for some people? Is domination “ok” for some people? Is using another person “ok” for some people? If so, then I think your argument holds a lot of substance.

      But if violence, domination, and using another person are never “ok” then that means there is a particular way in this world that is “with the grain of the universe.” It doesn’t mean everyone “has to” refuse violence, but it does mean that the only way to true peace is to forsake it.

      The reason I say this is because I believe for Jesus and Tolstoy the question of sex is not one of freedom of expression, it is an issue of violence, it is an issue of real freedom. And there happens to be one way (the way of Jesus) to practice that way of freedom (it isn’t just a “free for all”). That doesn’t mean anyone “has to” do it, but it does mean there is something such as truth that is congruent with how things are “meant to be.”

      I believe the beauty of the anarchist position is that it is able to maintain the tension between certainty and freedom for others. It can assert the truth strongly, but because it refuses to control or dominate it will allow others the freedom to explore and journey themselves towards truth.

      So really the question is: is there truth? Is there a way of life in the world that is true, thereby showing other ways of life to be lacking or untrue?

      Does that make sense?

      • Anonymous

        I just wanted to affirm this response because I think this is where I struggle quite a bit with discussions on sexuality. Personally speaking, I tend not to see the sexuality discussion in a vacuum but instead relate it to the issue of pacifism/nonviolence.

        As a Christian who is pacifist, I hear a lot of arguments critiquing my position from other Christians. And lots of times those arguments that justify war or violent self-defense or other things in those categories, sound quite similar in structure to the ones made in favor for what is often described as a more open sexuality. I am told that Jesus lived in a different culture back then, so he really didn’t mean what he said about turning the other cheek. I am told that we live in a different world now and that it is necessary to fight in a way that Jesus just wouldn’t have understood. People pick verses from another section of the Bible to say that we don’t have to follow Jesus’ teaching on this. And people tell me that while pacifism may be right for me it doesn’t have to be right for all Christ-followers regardless of what Jesus said or exemplified. I raise this, not because I think sexuality and violence are “the same” but only to say that for me personally, I feel like if I give way on some of the sexuality stuff based on some of these similar kinds of arguments that I will also have to concede that violence is acceptable Christian practice, based on similar argumentation. Since that is a concession I don’t intend to make, it feels important to get at the issue another way.

        When I enter into these discussions, it feels to me like there is more at stake than simply how you or I choose to use our bodies. It is also about how we read and interpret scripture and read and understand the life of Jesus and the move of the Spirit. So if one mode of reasoning applies to one issue, what is to say it shouldn’t apply to all the other issues like not dominating one another through the use of violent and destructive force? As an anarchist, I agree that I’m not going to force anyone to think the way I do or act the way I act (and for complete transparency, many in these circles would find some of my thinking on this issue to be too conservative, even though I don’t think it is as conservative as it could be). But as a Christian, I’m not terribly satisfied with the “This works for me, that works for you, let’s call the whole thing off” kind of attitude either. From my standpoint there is too much of the risk of self-delusion (ie: why is it that most of the people I know who are intrigued by polyamory are well educated solidly middle class background folks, usually white, who have access to technology like birth control and who understand parlance like “cisgendered” while the people I know who are teaching their children about monogamy and waiting until marriage are not doing so because they aren’t “wild” but because as young adults in low class/working poor contexts, the risk of becoming pregnant because of increased/early sexual activity is another strike against them.) Plus I’m not sure individuals deciding what’s best for him or her to do in private based on individual experience is really the kind of community Jesus was calling into being anyway.

        Anyway, I am rambling. I just wanted to say that I resonate with you and that I am also hoping to be challenged by what others think.

        • Luke Kammrath

          Nekeisha, beautifully stated. We are definitely in similar places as far as processing these issues. Because I believe in the coherence of the teachings of Jesus presented in the gospels I think to pick and choose is to ultimately bring the whole framework down. I think it is important for us to sit with the uncomfortable, confusing, and ambiguous teachings of Jesus and pray that the Spirit, through conversation and meditation, will open our eyes to how those teachings fit into the reign of God that is breaking forth into our world.

          Thanks again for your thoughts, they were very helpful for articulating some things I had been unable to.

        • Chelsea

          “Why is it that most of the people I know who are intrigued by polyamory are usually well-educated, solidly middle class and/or white folks who have access to technologies like birth control, can navigate social systems and understand obtuse verbage like “cisgendered” while the people I know who are committed to monogamy and marriage are usually low class/working poor, people of color, and/or folks who are socially on the margins for whom the risk of pregnancy/disease because of increased/early sexual activity is a threat?”

          This is a very, very important question and one I am grappling with. I do believe that Jesus radical folk have an important critique to offer liberal/individual sexual politics, by taking race and class more into account.

          • Anonymous

            Thanks a lot Chelsea. I struggle with this issue as someone who is a woman of color who did not start out solidly middle class and who never saw my mother’s advice/expectation to be monogamous and abstinent as being “dominated” or “domesticated,” but rather as counsel meant to help me navigate a society that has different rules for certain people around sex (race and class in addition to the obvious sexual orientation). I also struggle with this question as someone who is part of these conversations and who is developing an increased (but still bounded) openness to alternative forms of sexual expression who would, without hesitation (at least at this point), advocate the same for the young women I come into contact with. As I stated in my initial post, I don’t try and force anyone to accept that and I don’t judge those who don’t live out the same value. But I do share my own story with the hope that these young women who already face various systemic attempts to undermine their very being will take note. Anyway, all that is to say that there is a specific set of people who are having this discussion–and even if are oppressed in some ways, we hold great privilege in others. I think part of an honest conversation about sexuality is at least noticing that. In any case, I would welcome off-thread connection with you in trying to sort some of this stuff out (and am sorry we didn’t get much time to talk during the conference). I don’t really feel like I can ask or say what I’d like to here.

        • kissmith

          I really wish we could stop equating the issue of sex to the issue of pacifism.
          I am with you on your desire to look more into scripture- I wish there were safe places that we could look at scripture as a community to discern how we are being told to live. This is not possible for me, as a queer woman, in this community. It is possible, for those living in hetero-normative relationships or living celibate lives, but that leaves a whole lot of us out of that conversation.

          I’m frustrated by the implication my argument (that different people can be called to different forms of resistance from dominant culture) has now been twisted into a watered-down, liberal whine that we should all just do whatever feels good and if we love each other we’ll make it through.
          That is not what I am saying.
          For sure, we all need to be accountable to each other (that’s the only way we can expect to have fully honest and healthy relationships). Christ called us to that- but I don’t think that means we all have to follow the exact same path of resistance.
          The body of Christ has many different parts- all those parts work together but they have different jobs. It seems we can concede that some may be called to celibacy and some may be called to monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Can we stretch a bit further than that?
          Why is it implausible for us to have different experiences, different callings and also be accountable to each other- even to others who live their lives differently.
          Is it ridiculous for me to expect that my celibate friends hold me accountable to my relationship with my partner, with whom I am sexually active? Is it absurd to expect my polyamorous friends to hold me accountable to the monogamous path I have chosen in life? Is it impossible for my friends who are living in “heterosexual” monogamy to counsel me on my “queer” monogamous relationship?
          I really don’t think so.

          On a final, and rather personal note, I would like to argue that hetero-normativity IS being forced on those living outside of it in this greater community of radical Christians, despite the fact that many of those living in it would consider themselves anarchists. As someone who has been seeking to live faithfully as a disciple of Christ, I have found it nearly impossible to find communities that are affirming and supportive of me and my partner.

          • Anonymous

            Telling me you wish that the issue of sex and pacifism would not be equated in and of itself in no way shape or form helps me as a person who is actually struggling to be more open as far as this issue goes. Especially when you don’t make any real effort to tell me what I am to do instead. But it is fine. I have real life persons who actually value my concerns and value my wrestling enough with whom I can discuss these things with further.

      • Chelsea

        It makes sense but I think you’ve misunderstood the comment. This person is not saying that it’s okay for some people to dominate, but rather that you can’t always tell domination is occurring simply by the form or structure of the relationship. Domination is part of the content of a relationship, not its form. I know this is contradictory to your initial argument, but I think it’s a valid critique this person is making. Even if you disagree with it, do you get it?

        • Luke Kammrath

          Thanks for the clarifying help, though I do believe I did understand mostly the first time (but your explanation was helpful).

          And I do ultimately disagree insofar as I would not consider a “lifetime commitment” to be a “structure” but the actual content of a relationship. You fundamentally relate to someone differently when the content is a lifelong, faithful bond. The content is itself the exclusive, unending nature.

        • Luke Kammrath

          Thanks for the clarifying help, though I do believe I did understand mostly the first time (but your explanation was helpful).

          And I do ultimately disagree insofar as I would not consider a “lifetime commitment” to be a “structure” but the actual content of a relationship. You fundamentally relate to someone differently when the content is a lifelong, faithful bond. The content is itself the exclusive, unending nature.

        • kissmith

          thank you for this clarification, Chelsea, it is indeed part of the basis to my argument.

      • kissmith

        It just seems a more than a bit ridiculous to equate sex with violence and domination. I have a hard time understanding why we can so rarely seem to delve deeper into this issue in this (greater) community. Relationships can be emotionally or physically abusive without sex being a part of them- does that mean we should never form relationships with people?
        Yes, that is ridiculously over-simplified, but that is exactly my point. Violence, coercion and manipulation are NEVER okay, but the fact that we can’t seem to separate those things from sex is really very troubling to me. Why is it so hard to consider that one person’s sexual expression can be completely different from another’s and still be healthy and safe.

        • Luke Kammrath

          Thanks again for your thoughts and your patience with me.

          I 100% agree with you that relationships can be very abusive without sex being part of it (most of our relationships in this world are non-sexual and they are often full of abuse and domination). And I think as Christian anarchists it is important for us to address all our relationships and ask where and how we might be participating in domination.

          I then see it as critical that we then address the most intimate and delicate of all relationships (the sexual one). I think it is imperative that we recognize the ways in which sex is an act of domination and then also the contexts in which it is dominating. I do NOT think that sex is inherently dominating, but I do think that outside of a lifelong commitment it does become an act of domination. So I don’t see this as an issue of “sexual expression” but an issue of context and relationship. This isn’t about heterosexual v. homosexual whatsoever. This is about how the sexual act is extremely powerful and therefore must be handled very carefully and delicately. This is about how we as creatures need/deserve the true safety of unconditional love and commitment.

          Am I making sense?

          • kissmith

            I think you are conveying your point, but I think you are still missing this really big part. You do not own the power to make that kind of sweeping judgement about the power dynamics in other people’s relationships.This does not mean you do not have a right to hold members of your community accountable for their actions. Accountability is absolutely possible across divisions of lifestyle. Two of my most valued confidants are leading completely different lifestyles than I am in regards to sex and we learn a lot from each other. I greatly value the insight provided by my friend who was celibate until her recent marriage. I have learned my greatest lessons in practicing accountability and honesty with my one partner from my dear friend who is polyamorous. She holds me accountable to the relationship I have established and agreed upon with my partner, and I hold her accountable to the relationship(s) she has established and agreed upon with her partner(s).
            For you, and for many people, I can certainly concede that sex outside of a lifelong commitment may be unhealthy and be bound from the start to have terrible power dynamics. This could be a statement of resistance one is making, it could be an issue of past trauma, it could be a decision or a feeling or a calling. I am not trying to question that.
            What I would like you to see is that you do not have the ability (i’m not saying the ‘right’, but the actual ability) to name the power dynamics in the consentual sexual relationships of other people. I am not arguing that we should get to do whatever we want all the time with whoever we want, regardless of anyone or anything else, just because it feels good, and I want to make that distinction clear.

            I agree that sex is something powerful and delicate, especially when there is so much history of abuse in regards to it. We absolutely need to handle it intentionally, thoughtfully and lovingly. I would like to separate quantity of sex (and relationships) from quality of sex (and relationship). It seems here the assumption is that the more you have of one, the less you have of the other (the more sex/sexual partners you have, the less quality the sex is and vice versa). You have absolutely no way of attesting that to be true of my relationships- or anyone else’s for that matter.

            I wish I could find ways in engaging in conversation about this without drawing so much on my personal life, but I don’t see any other way. Your feelings on this are clearly personal and seem to stem from the belief that in your own life (and perhaps the lives of some of those closest to you), sex outside of lifelong monogamy has had some really bad consequences. I am assuming this because if you had lived or seen examples of loving, healthy, functional sexual relationships outside of lifelong monogamy, you probably would not feel so motivated to be writing whole articles against it. The only way I know to counter your personal experience as not being universally true is to tell you that my own experience has been different. My own experience has told me that I have not always needed lifelong monogamy to have positive, healthy sex (I have needed many other things, but not always monogamy). You do not have the ability to tell me that when I have sex with my partner(with whom I have not always been in a committed monogamous partnership), that we are raping each other.

          • Luke Kammrath

            Thanks for the clarification, I think I can see where the miscommunication has occurred.

            I was not being clear: the reason I am making the “sweeping” determination about sexual relations is because I see Jesus making that in his teachings in the gospels. I am echoing what I believe I read there. So two thoughts:

            1) Some may not think Jesus is worth listening to. I do however and I think he is worth trusting even when it seems like what he is saying doesn’t make sense with one’s own personal experience.

            2) I am attempting to interpret Jesus’ words about sexual relations as accurately as I can. I am definitely open to discussion about ways in which my reading is ethnocentric, misguided, misogynistic, etc.

            So you are very right, I do not have the personal ability to speak to the specifics of your relational dynamics. But if Jesus is Lord and he has declared some truths that truly are universal in scope then as a fellow brother of yours we could have a conversation about it if you desired. That was my point with this article. I think Jesus is saying something very profound and universal here and those of us who call him “Lord” should reflect on it together.

  • Philalethe00

    I really didn’t know that Tolstoy’s views on ‘sexual relations’ were so wise. :D This is exactly what Elder Sergios taught, at the Orthodox diaspora of Paris, I think we would call/translate it sth like “objectification of the persona” and “ignorance of the spiritual dimension of the other person and of oneself” which results from “a lack of love” towards the other person, God and oneself. (Hope I did not confuse you that much… :D )

  • James H.

    Luke, thanks for these reflections. One question I have is about how you interpret the Matthew 5 text that you cite. I can see how Jesus’ stricter stance on the issue of divorce can encourage sexual relationships that are free of domination (particularly since the Matthean texts on divorce focus on men not unilaterally divorcing their wives, an act that could be economically and socially devastating to the woman, the threat of which would give the man the upper hand in the relationship). But I’m less sure about Jesus’ command not to desire a woman/wife.
    My reading of Jesus’ words is that he is bringing together two of the 10 commandments – the command not to commit adultery (a capital crime in the OT) and the command not to covet your neighbor’s stuff – which includes his wife. The word that Matthew uses for ‘desire’ (or ‘lust’) (epithumeo) is the same word that the Septuagint uses to translate ‘covet’ in Exodus 20. The message is that coveting another’s wife is a form of adultery. Jesus is not really offering a new command here, but restating the teaching of the Decalogue in a way that ups the seriousness of the covet commandment and that indicts those who think they are holy because they’ve never committed physical adultery.

    When I read Exodus 20 and some of the other laws about sex and marriage in the Pentateuch, it seems to me that commands against adultery and coveting are based not on any ideals of mutuality, love, and commitment, but rather on the belief that a woman is a man’s property. Because she belongs to a man it is wrong to have sex with her, and it is wrong to desire or covet her.

    My question is this: are Jesus’ words about desiring/coveting a woman/wife really all that radical? Or is he just perpetuating the belief that a man owns his woman and that’s why you shouldn’t look at her? I think his following comments about a man not being able to flippantly divorce his wife, discarding her like a pair of pants he no longer likes provides a good counterbalance, but I still struggle with his words (and the Old Testaments words) about adultery/coveting.

    • Luke Kammrath

      James I appreciate your thoughts and concerns. Let me try to address them briefly (without going into too much detail) and please let me know if I misunderstood you in any way.

      I would indeed argue that Jesus’ words concerning coveting are deeply radical. I find it to be very simple actually (but maybe I am oversimplifying it):

      Jesus says do not desire/covet not because it is “somebody else’s spouse” but because he challenges us to realize we own/control nothing/no one. I would argue that Jesus is challenging us not just to not covet somebody’s else spouse, but to not covet any person period. We own no one. Not even our own spouse. So I believe that Jesus’ words would even be targeted at those who are married, challenging them to not covet their own spouse, realizing that even that person is not theirs to own or use.

      Hence I hear Jesus saying, “Look upon and touch no person as if you own them. (S)he is not yours. (S)he is a child of God whom you are called to humble yourself before and serve.”

      Does that make sense?

      • Chelsea

        I agree with Luke here, that Jesus’s words here really are quite radical, because he is not just quoting his own Jewish law tradition (which is based on women-as-property) but camping it – repeating it with a critical difference. Just lusting after a woman but not taking her would not offend her man’s property rights. The difference in Jesus’s scenario of just lusting in the heart is that it’s about men’s attitude toward women themselves, an attitude of possession which harms women. Because Jesus is explicitly connecting it to the Jewish law system of women-as-property, I believe it is a specific critique about women, not to be extrapolated toward people or partners lusting after each other in general.

        • James H.

          I believe interpreting Jesus’ words as a warning against an attitude of possession and dominance is a fruitful reading for the people of God, and such an interpretation certainly resonates with me. It certainly seems like a better direction to go with this text than many of the popular readings that use it to suppress and demonize sexual desire. However, I still have some difficulty seeing that as what was originally going on in the text (not that scriptural meaning should be limited to that). I don’t really see a whole lot in Jesus’ teaching on adultery/coveting here that is really all that unique or radical in his context.
          Luke, if Jesus is challenging us not to covet others in general, then why didn’t he just say that? Why does he focus on women alone as the objects of desire, and why is his focus on adultery, which is a transgression specific to a marital context?
          Chelsea, you said that “Just lusting after a woman but not taking her would not offend her man’s property rights.” I disagree. The decalogue’s prohibition on coveting, which I believe Jesus is channeling here, is pretty clear that coveting/desiring/lusting after another man’s wife is an offense against that man’s property rights (along with his house, his servants, his animals, etc.). The idea of coveting in one’s heart is not Jesus’ invention — it already existed in Exodus 20, and in that context the prohibition of such coveting/lust was tied to man’s ownership of his wife. What specifically do we find in the Matthew text that would lead us to believe Jesus is challenging or reinterpreting this tradition?
          The only potential thing I can see is that Jesus does not specify that the object of covet/lust is necessarily another man’s wife, and given the ambiguity of ‘gyne’ (meaning either woman or wife) his words could be read as a broader prohibition against coveting a woman that would include unmarried women.

          • Luke Kammrath

            James, I definitely think the ambiguous “gyne” is a clue in the direction that I am putting forth, but I think the biggest evidence for me is the Spirit of Jesus that pervades the gospel and is enunciated in multiple places. To me the reading that I am suggesting makes the most sense of the Jesus that we see elsewhere in the gospel.

            In regard to why he would focus on women and adultery…

            1) I think Jesus focuses on women because in human relationships they definitely have the largest history of being treated as objects.

            2) I think Jesus focuses on the marital context because it seems his focus here is particularly on the abuse of sexual relations (and for Jesus sexual relations are only loving within a lifelong commitment). Jesus focuses on non-sexual relationships before this when he talks about anger. And then he summarizes them all in his overall command to “love your enemies.”

          • Chelsea

            hi Luke,
            “For Jesus sexual relations are only loving within a lifelong commitment.” Can you do a little more Scriptural elucidation to help me understand where you get this?
            In my own quest to model my life after the commands of Jesus, it’s not helpful to hear a “brother” invite me to do so by his interpretation of Jesus, without providing more background to that interpretation.

          • Luke Kammrath

            You bet!

            We don’t have a whole lot on sex from Jesus. For instance in Matthew he speaks on it only twice really, in Matthew 5 and later in Matthew 19. Both times the center seems to revolve around the assumption of the lifelong commitment of “marriage.” Matthew 19 in particular has Jesus clearly defending marriage as necessarily a lifelong and neverending commitment. The fact that Jesus counsels against divorce and remarriage shows this fact and the reaction of the disciples shows this likewise: the disciples think then that the alternative of “eunuch” (clearly a celibate) is possibly a better option if sexual relations have to be lifelong and there is no “out.”

            Does that make sense? Or do I need to be more thorough?

          • Chelsea

            Thanks, that’s very helpful and clarifying – somehow I missed thinking about the coveting part. So yes, maybe the critical difference is that Jesus’s “woman” is not necessary a married woman.

  • H H Brown

    I find the framing of rape in this article to be very problematic. Rape is not a sexual relationship; it is an act of violence. Rapists don’t claim to lust after their victim. In fact, they often claim to hate the person they rape. Equating rape with healthy non-monogamous sexual relationships is scary and misguided.
    Connecting rape with power-play is also a pretty big leap. It is impossible to eliminate power-play in sexual relationships. Power can be ever-shifting but someone is always holding more power when it comes to sex (position, penetration, climax, etc.) Interestingly, a lot of second wave feminists made the same arguments you are making against power-play. These feminists advocated lesbianism as a way to eliminate unequal power in sexual relationships. Their thought was that men have more physical strength, social capital, and earning power so when women have sex with women they avoid dominant-submissive binary. In actuality, that binary can change but it is never eliminated regardless of the gender of the parties involved.

    • Luke Kammrath

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      I appreciate what I think you are getting at about rape not being a sexual relationship, but I would personally argue that it is important to make the connection in this case. I think it is a shocking connection to make and even offensive – but therein lies the ability of the connection to open our eyes to something that I think is easily glossed over otherwise. I think we often fail to see the harm we do to one another and to ourselves when we are sexually promiscuous. And we might just disagree on this point, but I think its at least talking about.

      I would humbly disagree about sexual relationships being able to be free of power plays – though I think you are spot on to identify that most have them. I believe that in a lifelong commitment where both partners are actively working to humble themselves and serve and exalt the other that there can be true sexual relationship that is power-play-free. Certainly there will be rocky moments in any relationship where this might waver, but I think the context of such a committed relationship where abandonment is “not an option” allows for the tenderness and intimacy to blossom and the power plays to disappear.

      • kissmith

        I think what H was trying to convey was NOT that all sexual relationships have negative power dynamics, but that all relationships have SOME power dynamics- that does not HAVE to be a bad thing, if we are accountable to each other and honest about them.
        In any aspect of any relationship, there is some aspect of power that (should) often shift depending on situation. In a conversation, for instance, one party may be more knowledgeable about any given subject than another party. The person with more knowledge has more power in that moment- is that a bad thing? Well, it can be. If that person uses their knowledge to manipulate or shame the other party. But that power could also be used to have a caring and intentional conversation in which knowledge is exchange, opinions are discussed and each party leaves the conversation with a deeper understanding of something.
        Sex is also something that, by its nature, has power dynamics. These can, and often are, abused, but they do not have to be.

        • Luke Kammrath

          That’s fair. Thanks for helping me understand.

          It is an issue of difference of language for me. In my mind when someone “has power” they are by definition using it. Otherwise I would consider it to be, they “have access to power” but may refuse to use it.

          So I agree that because our world is full of different power dynamics and hierarchies that there will always be an imbalance in regard to who has “access to power” but because I believe the Spirit of Jesus enables us to refuse to use that power the world tempts us with I do believe there can be sexual relationships that are “power-free” (free from the use of the power available). And the argument that I believe Jesus makes in the gospels is that such “power-free” sexual relationships are of necessity connected to lifelong commitments, because it is only in the humility of such a commitment that power is truly refused.

          Does that make sense?

      • H H Brown

        Do you understand that using rape to make your point is not simply shocking or offensive but in actuality very triggering? Unless you are a survivor of rape, it is a misuse of your power to simply redefine what rape is and what it means to you.

  • Chelsea

    Wow, so much to say on this article! First off, I appreciate Luke for writing it because this IS indeed an important political subject, and Jesus’s words on it are very relevant to our Christian anarchist living. Yay Jesus Radicals!

    I’m going to bullet point my comments.

    –Luke, next time you want to post, if you want a gazillion people to comment in just one or two days, make sure you put “queer” in the title. I’m sad so few folks have chosen to engage with your piece so far, and “queer” seems to help turn this community’s brain on (or maybe off? but at least they write)

    –Who selected the picture above? It is a very disturbing picture for survivors of sexual violence to have to look at in order to get to your writing, as it is obviously a man on top of a woman’s back, possibly holding her hand in order to hold her down in a nonconsensual way. This position can elicit happy memories (of a consensual, pleasurable activity) but also very negative ones. If you selected it deliberately to show that the physical act of rape can look like the physical act of lovemaking, this should not be taken as a legitimate piece of evidence for your disturbing argument that rape and lovemaking have anything in common whatsoever.

    –One thing I would invite you to consider is that “the least of these in our world” — such as poor women — may want and choose non-married sex, just as much as they sometimes need protection (and always deserve safety).

    –”women thus abandoned are sought by other men, and so debauchery is introduced into the world” – Tolstoy is framing this as a problem of debauchery, or sexually impure conduct, and not about women’s economic rights as Jesus seems to have meant. Tolstoy was not Jesus yo!

    –”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.” I totally agree with this. So, instead of spending your time advocating for people to abandon all other forms of relationship in favor of the one safest option, which is obviously not safe enough (ie marital rape), why don’t you volunteer to write and teach people about meaningful consent? The writings of Marie Fortune and the FaithTrust Institute are a good place to start.

    –It is offensive to say that rape is a greater degree of the “temporary using” within consensual, mutual, non-married/non-permanent relationships. The two have zero to do with one another. You can make a case for loving relationships being the essential container for sexual activity for Christians, but leave rape out of it.

    –Also, consider that love and being loving do not require covenantal/permanent commitments–those are one type of love/loving among several types (or maybe infinite types?). Domination has to do with lack of consent (aka nonmutuality), and/or nonloving using, and/or refusing to recognize and account for the power imbalances that exist in every relationship, in every encounter. The duration of commitment does not fit into this definition once you widen your narrow version of what love is.

    –Fighting domination and sexual violence is too important for it to be used in an apologetics for (heterosexual) marriage that obscures it as an issue. I appreciate you raising these subjects, and I hope you will consider stepping back from the too-easy answers you are proposing here. Living in accordance with Christ’s teachings on sexuality and serving his mission of eradicating domination and violence (sexual and all kinds) requires much more subtlety and effort than what I see here. Not that I’ve got it all figured out either, so we need each other in this. Again, kudos to JR for discussing this stuff.

    • markvans

      I chose the picture because I believed it to be a picture of consensual, loving intimacy. It wasn’t intended to show domination, but I can see how this could seem so. I should have chosen the image more carefully, but I simply did a search for a combination of words like “holding hands” and “intimacy” on google and picked an image rather quickly.

      • markvans

        I’ve changed the image to something that seems, perhaps, a bit more mutual.

        • Chelsea

          Hi Mark, I feel a lot better about the old image now that I know how it was selected, and I’m also grateful that you took the time to find another one. Thanks!

    • markvans

      I’m not sure it is fair to use language like “this community” with commenters. My experience is that commenters and those of all I’d consider part of the larger Jesus Radicals “community” are rarely the same thing. We receive a lot of visitors from web searches. I’d also like to point out, that this post has received 26 comments in five days. The last article that had the word “queer” in the title has received 15 comments total. And part two of “A Holy Queering” received 29 total comments.

      • kissmith

        I think it is totally legitimate to refer to “this community” as such. This is an online community that has many regular posters, many occasional posters and some folks who stop in once, twice or every now and then. Just like most physical (geographically grounded) communities, churches, friends groups etc. You have a core group of folks, you have a periphery and you have the the acquaintances.
        Generalizations can be made about “this community” and what it is centered around. There are, for sure, individuals who do not fit that description, as with any community. There are people who post here who are not Christians, or not anarchists, or not radical, or affirming toward queer people… but as a whole, this community is founded in Christianity and anarchism and is not a safe space for queer people.

        • markvans

          I apologize if this is pushing the point too much; it is important to me to explore a bit more deeply the ways in which a webzine is a “community” and what sorts of ethical imperatives that places upon the editors. When you, or others, state “this community isn’t a safe space for queer people,” is that to suggest that there is a flaw on this site that needs to be addressed? Or is it simply a recognition of the limits of webzines as a place for social engagement? These things matter to me because our goal at Jesus Radicals is to explore, as much as we are able, the liberatory message of Jesus in conversation with political analyses that seek to undo oppressions.

          • kissmith

            No, I wasn’t suggesting this is something the moderators should or even might be able to address. I realize now that it could have easily come across that way. The only way you could potentially do that would be to censor and delete all of the comments to make it appear as though these disagreements did not occur. That would seem to be counterproductive to this space, leave little room for anyone to learn or grow, and present a false image to those trying to learn to maneuver in this greater network of communities.
            I simply meant to provide that as an example as a way “this community” can and should be classified as such.
            Of course, it is infuriating to me to read a lot of these discussions because it is deeply hurtful and threatening to myself and many of my close friends! However, I do not see that censoring this website to be the answer.
            Does that clarify my post and answer your query?

          • markvans

            Yes, thank you for the clarification.

      • Chelsea

        Yes, I’m really glad about this, thanks for counting it up – when I posted two days ago there were only 19 comments or something, so I’m really glad my suspicion was incorrect about the “queer” button and that this has turned out to be such a rich conversation.

    • Luke Kammrath

      Chelsea, thanks for your comments!

      “One thing I would invite you to consider is that “the least of these in our world” — such as poor women — may want and choose non-married sex, just as much as they sometimes need protection (and always deserve safety).”

      I fully recognize this reality, and I (as one showered with privilege in our world) may want and choose non-married sex as well. But just because we may “want” something it may be misguided and full of domination. And I certainly think we must empower and respect the least in our world, but if we believe that Jesus teaches truth concerning non-domination, how can we not encourage the least to desire the true safety of a domination-free relationship? So even if a poor woman may want non-married sex, I would hope that she might come to desire something better for herself, a domination-free relationship where she is an equal that is cared for and respected without condition and without abandonment.

      Totally agree that Tolstoy is not Jesus! :)

      Thanks for the leads on Marie Fortune and the FaithTrust Institute. I definitely think there is a huge place for simply having solidarity with those who are caught in or choosing to be in domination filled relationships, but I also think there is a place to proclaim the true freedom that Jesus desires for us all and challenge people to live into that.

      In regards to my use of rape in my argument please see the comment above and please respond accordingly.

      “Also, consider that love and being loving do not require covenantal/permanent commitments–those are one type of love/loving among several types (or maybe infinite types?). Domination has to do with lack of consent (aka nonmutuality), and/or nonloving using, and/or refusing to recognize and account for the power imbalances that exist in every relationship, in every encounter. The duration of commitment does not fit into this definition once you widen your narrow version of what love is.”

      Fair point. Love definitely has a wide use of ranges in our world. But I would argue that Jesus really has only one usage for what he truly considers love. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 also says “love never ends.” I think true love is by definition infinite in duration. I believe that love never abandons (though it will let someone walk away). This goes for non-sexual relationships as well. We see this enduring nature most often in familial relationships. One’s love for one’s mother is very often an enduring and unconditional loving relationship. And just because one may not live near her, that does not mean that the love ends. I think Jesus challenges us to approach every person (even, maybe especially, the stranger) with this kind of enduring love. Our encounter may only be momentary, but in a sense because we love God we love all his creatures and therefore loved that stranger before we ever met and still love them even after they leave. I think Jesus’ point with sexual relationships is that it needs to manifest this character of endurance and because of the nature of sexual acts it needs to be exclusive in order to be domination-free.

      “–Fighting domination and sexual violence is too important for it to be used in an apologetics for (heterosexual) marriage that obscures it as an issue. I appreciate you raising these subjects, and I hope you will consider stepping back from the too-easy answers you are proposing here. Living in accordance with Christ’s teachings on sexuality and serving his mission of eradicating domination and violence (sexual and all kinds) requires much more subtlety and effort than what I see here. Not that I’ve got it all figured out either, so we need each other in this. Again, kudos to JR for discussing this stuff.”

      I had no desire to obscure the fight against sexual violence whatsoever, but was attempting to point out what I believe Jesus is aiming for as the reign of God breaks forth into our world. I don’t think Jesus’ answer is easy whatsoever, for I believe that he is challenging us (as he always does!) to radically change our lives in order to leave ways of domination behind. I think it is far harder to help people choose and then maintain lifelong commitments of mutuality and humility than it is to try to mitigate sexual violence in non-monogamous (or monogamous) relationships. And it is also harder to call the world to cease all war rather than it is to mitigate some of its violence. So I would argue that we need to do both: we need to help mitigate the sexual violence that goes on in our world, but I think we also need to paint the full radical picture of the world that Jesus envisions for us and help people walk in that direction (and we firstly need to embody it ourselves!). And I certainly do believe the journey for each of us will be filled with all sorts of subtleties and obstacles, but I think we need to keep the simple answers of Jesus in front of our eyes so that the complexities of this world do not overwhelm us.

      Thanks for the conversation!

  • Chelsea

    “I think Jesus challenges us to approach every person (even, maybe especially, the stranger) with this kind of enduring love. Our encounter may only be momentary, but in a sense because we love God we love all his creatures and therefore loved that stranger before we ever met and still love them even after they leave.” Yes, yes, yes! When you qualify the philosophical statements of Paul with the actual commands and example of Jesus, you get a far more subtle, difficult picture, such as the very nuanced statement you just made! Yes, an encounter may be momentary but full of enduring love…. A relationship may be temporary but full of enduring love…. I know this is not where you meant to go with your statement but somehow you did help to “hear me into speech,” so thanks.

    Your focus on unconditional love and absence of hurtful abandonment are very rich food for thought for me. I entered a lifelong, covenantal marital relationship two years ago partly motivated by my own fear of abandonment. This covenant is indeed a rich school of love for me. But to be honest, making this relationship work and treating my partner with love, respect and equality day-to-day is much more influenced by skills and attitudes of love I learned in my previous, non-permanent relationships, than it is influenced by the passion/fear that led me to make that commitment or the security of the commitment. In fact, I know we definitely treat each other worse sometimes because we take each other’s presence in our lives for granted. I’m glad you recognize that the marriage commitment is not a silver bullet, that love is what flows and what you work at keeping flowing, with God’s help.

    • Luke Kammrath

      Thanks for your reflections on your own experience and journey. I love your language of “a rich school of love.” That definitely echoes the thoughts of the best book I have ever read on marriage: “The Mystery of Marriage” by Mike Mason. He reflects on how hard marriage is and how that difficulty makes it so rich and such a great training ground for discipleship.

      I think it is far easier to be polyamorous than it is to force oneself to be committed to one person for life, for in that commitment the depths of one’s own issues and defects will surely surface in an ugly way at times. I think that is part of what Jesus is getting at in his most basic call of discipleship to us all, “deny yourself….”

  • Jocelyn Perry

    Great piece Luke. It strikes at sexually but also systems of domination. Quite frankly, slavery in the United States was not only a system justified by Christianity but also system that use sex as a tool of domination socially, economically and culturally. Rape is a tool that systems use to dominate people. My mind good to the expansion of this idea to Nature. Christianity justifies destroying Nature through Dominionism.


  • markvans

    I agree that it is very problematic to equate all sexual relations with rape. I don’t think that it is helpful to have a spectrum that has rape on one end and healthy on the other. That seems too two-dimensional. And indeed, in talking about this stuff so openly and abstractly, there is a profound risk of triggering those with very real experiences with abuse or rape as well as encouraging flippant comments from the well-intentioned. Nevertheless, I believe that it is important to have some conversation around these ideas in a way that helps us talk about them more accurately and without shaming.

    I’m not entirely convinced that all rape is purely about hatred. I don’t feel comfortable explaining all of my reasons for thinking this, but my experiences and relationships with different people make it hard to draw a clear line between healthy intimate relationships and unhealthy, as well as draw a line between “conventionally” unhealthy sexual relationships and abusive ones. And also between different kinds of relational abuse and rape. I say this to suggest that this is a very complex issue to discuss that defies simple categorization. Just as sex and gender can’t be talked about simply, neither can the ways that abuse enter into human sexuality.

    Right now, I’m concerned that we’re getting into terrain where someone may feel they are being pushed to announce that they’ve been sexually abused or raped in order to establish their credibility in talking about these things. I could be misreading the vibe in the various comments…which is certainly likely given the nature of web communication. But I’m wondering if the comments should be closed. On the one hand, having open conversation can be helpful, but I don’t think this is at all a safe place to take this conversation much deeper. I could be wrong.

    Clearly this isn’t a safe thing to discuss on a website, but at the same time, there needs to be some level of engagement in abstracted spaces like this for us to work on language/ideas in a general way. But perhaps such conversations would be better served with a few authors writing back and forth with closed comments. Any input folks have on the best way to utilize this space for conversations related to the relationship between power and sexuality would be heartily welcomed.

    • H H Brown

      I don’t feel closing the comments is necessary. I didn’t ask for and don’t wish for Luke to share information about his personal life that he is not prepared to share. I don’t, in any way, endorse revictimizing the victim.
      However, I’m not sure why Luke has the authority to speak about a crime committed largely against women. If contributers to Jesus Radicals want to make offensive, controversial, and triggering statements they also need to be able to answer for their word choice. I didn’t feel like silence in response to this language was constructive or even, dare I say, Christian.

      • markvans

        I agree that he should be challenged to clarify or answer for word choice. My intention wasn’t to defend his word choice at all. Rather, I was wanting to raise a question about the larger issue of safety in web conversations.

        I’m not sure that it is entirely fair to suggest that Luke has no authority to speak about rape. I agree that men, in particular, can’t make sweeping claims. However, for children, sexual abuse is unfortunately all too common among boys as well as girls. It is important to recognize that sexual crimes are predominantly committed against women, but men–particularly in childhood–have unfortunately experienced such crimes as well.

        What would a better way for Luke–or other men–to raise questions around the issue of domination within sexual relationships?

        • Chelsea

          In my opinion, a better way would be to listen to women, who have grown up with our society’s rape culture being a non-optional issue to pay attention to and learn about, and take what they say about rape as an impetus for further research. It would also be better to focus on raising questions, as you say, than on “knowing” the answer.

          Yes, childhood sexual abuse is experienced by people of all genders, including men. Many adult men are also raped, forcibly used for sex by non-intimates, which is horrible. However, in this article Luke is talking about sexual violence within relationships–and this is the kind that is mostly experienced by women. It happens either in situations of abuse and domestic violence, motivated by hatred, contempt, and control, or it happens in situations of sexual use in the absence of meaningful consent, which can involve seduction, manipulation, coercion, or force.

          Imagine how you would feel, if as a woman you had worked so hard to avoid/escape situations of domestic violence, and worked so hard to establish successful boundaries, communication, partner-education, agreements, sobriety, and self-defense to avoid date/partner rape and achieve a sexual relationship of mutual consent — and then you hear a man (who has not had to do this) tell you that this relationship/situation you worked so hard for is the same kind of bad, just a lesser degree. If you can’t imagine this, at least be willing to admit that your particular experience has given you a bias and quite possibly some blinders.

          I’m not saying this is necessary, or that this makes a (necessary) conversation on a difficult topic somehow safe, but it does make it easier.

          • Luke Kammrath

            You might be right Chelsea. I might be completely incapable of addressing this topic. If that is the case, I am sorry and I am more than willing to back down. I hope that in the least some questions were raised that have allowed women and others on the bottom of our society’s hierarchies to speak with the voice that Jesus has given them.

            Thanks again for your continued patience with me.

          • markvans

            I am tracking with, and affirm, everything you’re saying. I agree that it isn’t helpful for men to jump in and define rape and categorize all sexual relationships as fundamentally the same (but to a lesser degree) as rape. I’m not defending Luke’s point.

            I’m struggling with a tension in this conversation. On the one hand, I think that Luke was too quick to draw a simple spectrum about sexuality. On the other hand, I find it so rare for men to honestly engage the issues around sexual domination than I’m glad that he broached the subject. We live in a world where perhaps more men listen to folks like Mark Driscoll than have even heard of Dorothy Day.

            I think it is vitally important for me (and other men) to listen to women. But it is also important for men to work on their stuff. I was raised with a great deal of shame and secrecy around sexuality. When I became a Christian in my teens, I was taught only to hug women from the side, that my sexual desire was fundamentally wicked, and that really only women are sexual abused.

            It is unfortunate to me that these two impulses–for men to work on their stuff and for women to have a space to speak where men can listen–can create a difficult tension, as with this post.

          • Chelsea

            Thanks, Mark.

        • Luke Kammrath

          Mark and H, thanks for your concerns and I am more than happy to engage with further conversation on my choice of verbage and approach in general.

          I can see how a spectrum from rape to healthy would be too two-dimensional. I understand that there is significant nuance that is involved in all these issues. I don’t desire to discount that one bit.

          My reasoning for using the word “rape” and even making it part of the “argument” or “rhetoric is as following:

          If sexual acts other than “rape” can be dominating and about control/using, etc., then I believe it is very legitimate to include rape on the spectrum of this discussion. Rape truly would be the extreme end because it would a sexual act that is all about control, through and through. And as we all know “rape” is not as clear cut as we would like. There is so much nuance and definition that is involved (I remember the long and exhausting videos the Air Force used to make us watch on sexual harassment and rape, and things are not straightforward one bit) with the definition of rape.

          It is also part of the fear of the term and implications of “rape” that we distance ourselves from the word and pretend that we could never be part and parcel to such an act. We even label people “rapists.” It is safer that way, it keeps them as different beings who are vastly and even ontologically separated from us. It is the same way that we label “murderer” or anything else of the such. I helped test F-16s at Edwards AFB that the Israeli pilots would come test and then take right back to Israel to bomb the Palestinians. It is far more comfortable for me to distance myself from those murders, but the fact is that I am lot closer and more responsible than I would like to think. Did I fly the plane? No. Did I give the orders? No. Am I a “murderer”? Not in the strict sense, but I was definitely part of it.

          I think as uncomfortable as this is, it is very important for us to acknowledge (hopefully though it does not create such a “harsh start up” that people will shut down, and I have tried to mitigate against that as much as possible). Same goes with sex and recognizing that we aren’t “clean” so to speak. Have I ever been part and parcel to using others in a sexual way? Yes. Have I ever been used sexually? Yes. Does this mean I was “raped” or am a “rapist”? No, not in the strict sense (though “rape” is often times very ambiguous in its definition and boundaries), but I think it is deeply important to confess my own participation in sexual acts that had elements of domination or using and to also acknowledge and forgive the opposite in others towards me. It is important for me to realize that I am on the spectrum so to speak and that I need to repent and turn from such ways of domination and also remove myself from being dominated in such ways (when possible).

          So I chose to use the word and make it part of the argument in the hopes that it would help us recognize the depravity of our sexual relations if there are even a hint of control and domination. And I wasn’t sure how to make the point in any other way. Maybe the term “rape” could have been omitted. That is possible, but I thought it would come across as pedantic or as silly semantic games since I would clearly mean what we intend to express with the term “rape.”

          Anyways, this has probably gotten too far abstract and my real point with all this discussion and the original article is simply this:

          I think we too easily blind ourselves to the control, using, and domination that is part of our sexual relations (at least I have blinded myself at times) and it is important that we realize that any such domination has us taking steps toward totally coercive and forced sex (however you want to label that). Because if we keep such coercive and forced sex as a “whole other category” (which is a lot more comfortable) we then are likely to fail to realize the true depths of domination that we are participating in and accepting in our lives.

          Does this make sense? I pray that I have made myself clear without further offending or touching on any sensitive spots for anyone. Thank you guys for your concerns and thoughts.

          • Chelsea

            This makes a lot more sense to me, thanks Luke.

      • markvans

        And to clarify: I wasn’t suggesting that you were asking Luke to share info about his personal life. I think that was some of my own baggage…I was feeling some anxiety that I’d need to establish some sort of credibility to speak into things. I apologize for reacting.

  • Man Child

    “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?”

    My God man; your own warped mind has led you to interpret this scripture in that manner. And how did you get homosexuality and anarchy out of it? Sin can be some you do as well as something you think.

  • Man Child

    “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?”

    My God man; your own warped mind has led you to interpret this scripture in that manner. And how did you get homosexuality and anarchy out of it? Sin can be some you do as well as something you think.

    • Luke Kammrath

      Can you clarify more exactly what your concern or confusion is?

      My argument in that small quote is that the Sermon on the Mount is a political discourse on the way that the new creation community will interact with one another and the world. So my point is that when Jesus addresses “lusting”/”coveting” another and when he addresses divorce these are very political things that fit snugly into his overall picture of “domination-free politics.”

      • markvans

        It is probably wise not to “feed the trolls.” :)

  • Guest

    very interesting topic, and in true luke fashion, resulted in many commenters challenging your point. :) i would have appreciated you including a definition of what you were meaning when using the word “sex” in the article so that people could know exactly what you were really talking about. as you know, many people in the christian world seem to think of sex as only one defining act to avoid (penetration alone), whereas i believe the bible refers to ALL sexual acts of any degree to be within marriage only (what the world calls “foreplay”). it would have been helpful for you to specify what you meant exactly by “sex.” to pull a seinfeld reference, “when exactly does sex begin?” the world is apparently confused on this topic, and christians certainly aren’t void of this confusion. for me, it was hard to read your post without knowing what exactly you were talking about by the word “sex.” it was only in reading your own comment on the post in which you “confessed” your own sexual sins that i had some sort of idea that you were not only talking about one defining act (penetration). it was then that i really began to appreciate the article, because it became clear you were actually saying that jesus was telling us ALL sexual acts (not just penetration) outside of marriage are really acts of violence/domination. that is something i can fully agree with! if you were to instead have been saying that only that “one defining act” of penetration within sex was the only form of violence, i would have argued that it is not limited to just that, but all forms of sexual acts. so now that i understand what you were really saying when using the word “sex,” i can fully appreciate this article and agree with you. :)

  • OpenMinded

    Luke, what’s your view of homosexual relationships?

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