She turned away and my eyes refused to leave her pants.
They weren’t the type of legwear she slipped into in the morning, but the kind that were painted on with a thin lacquer that accentuated her calves and the gentle swells of her thighs. Nothing was left to the imagination as she paced and turned.
I could tell that each of the guys I was sitting with was thinking the same thing: Those pants are wonderful. Then, as a follow-up, I thought: Is it weird that one of our pastors is wearing them?
We were sitting in the young adult service at the hippest church in Denver, receiving a sermon from this female pastor wearing jeans so tight they made yoga pants look like parachutes. It made me wonder about the entire modesty conversation within the church, but at a much higher level.
I wondered about the influence our sex-saturated culture has had on the church in general.
Here’s a brief (and overly simplified) history lesson to help us understand. The church was born in Jerusalem in the middle of the first century.
From there, it essentially traveled in all four directions—to the east, Christianity took on a lot of forms of eastern culture. It became mystical and drenched in experiential theology. Even today, the Eastern Orthodox church is less concerned with doctrine than they are with the living Presence of Christ. Their services are disorienting and beautiful.
The Word went south, first to Ethiopia, which claims to be the oldest Christian church in the world, saying the Eunuch in Acts 8 planted it himself upon returning home. The African church takes on a lot of spiritual elements and is consistently more supernatural than ours in the west.
The Northern Orthodox church reflects many of Russia’s traditions, and most of us are familiar with the church in the west, which is reflective of our culture which is focused on philosophy, science, and logic.
The point is, wherever the church goes, it becomes indigenous to the culture in which it exists.
The struggle, then, is to step outside of our own culture enough to get a more accurate picture of how our culture influences our view of our church. We in America have a highly sexualized culture.
I wonder how many Christians from around the world would have come to that young adult church service and been utterly repulsed by the pastor’s outfit. For many Christians worldwide, it wouldn’t even be a conversation—it would simply be wrong, along the same lines of lying and stealing (For men too, of course. We are just as guilty of getting a pre-sermon pump at the gym or wearing too tight of shirts…or pants).
Because of desensitization in the American culture, we may not even notice how sexualized the church has become.
I’ve also noticed how Christians are obsessed with talking about sex. Growing up, I always heard the phrase, “Why is no one talking about sex and relationships in the church?” I don’t know what churches they’re going to, because that’s basically all I hear about in church.
Men need to grow in purity; women need to do x,y, and z…and so on.
I feel like every other sermon series is about dating, porn, sex, or marriage.
Could it possibly be that the American church allowed her interests to be formed by the surrounding culture, rather than being the shaping force in our culture? After all, that was the case up until about the time of the Enlightenment.
Nearly all of the most famous pieces of art were created for or by the church. Handel’s Messiah elevated the praises of God to otherworldly choruses, while Michelangelo’s Pieta conveyed through marble the despair of Mary holding her executed Son.
Since the 1700s though, with the rise of humanism and the Scientific Revolution, the roles have reversed and the Church has become follower more than leader. Culture talks about sex, so we hold a conference in response.
Instead, let’s think about two monks standing on the sidewalk in New York City:
A hooker walks by them in skimpy shorts and a bra. One monk jerks his vision away from her and looks the other way. A moment later he looks at his friend, who is still staring at the woman, and rebukes him.
“Brother! Why are you looking at something so unclean!?”
He sees a tear in his friend’s eye as he continues staring at the prostitute.
Which monk was purer? Perhaps both responded appropriately, but the monk with the more Godly vision was the one who could look at the woman, see through the sexy attire, and see a little, wounded girl instead. He could see someone hurting, looking for love, and in need of grace.
The church typically falls into two camps: embrace the cultural flow and adapt (attractive pastors in skinny jeans jumping around in fog machines), or plug our ears and avert our eyes. We can bury our heads in the sand and effectively bury our witness to the world.
As long as we dwell in either of these camps, we are playing by the rules of the world. We are conceding that they have the arena and we’ll play within their bounds.
What if we could look at the Sports Illustrated cover and see a woman made in the image of God, rather than a sexy object…or a BAD person? This would be a truly revolutionary approach to the sexual conversation—humanizing people.
The world, for all its talk of sexual liberation, still treats that model more like a sexual object than a person. And if we simply bounce our vision away from her, we do too.
So there must be a third option.
What if we learned how to baptize our vision, treating all humans with dignity, not being distracted by the big, flashy, sexy labels slapped all over our culture?
What if, instead of ‘bouncing our eyes,’ we were able to instead ‘baptize our eyes’? What if we could be like Jesus, who did spend ample time with prostitutes, but never saw them as sex objects, but humans?
This, in my opinion, is one of the most revolutionary aspects of Jesus’ teaching: not that certain people are bad and others are good, but that we are all broken and in need of love and acceptance.
I believe the church can take after its leader, who re-humanized those who had their humanity stripped from them. Whether it was a demon-possessed man slicing his skin in the tombs or a woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus seems to take great pleasure in seeing them as they are—as bearers of the imago Dei—and restoring their dignity to them.
Let’s baptize our vision and attempt to see humanity as God does: not as overly-sexual, nor as asexual, but as fellow struggling, tempted, wounded humans who matter a whole lot to God. This is a truly revolutionary approach to sex that the church can pioneer, if only we try.
As we’ve mentioned before, we want to hear from you about these difficult topics. If you have questions about any of the things we covered here, be sure to check out Office Hours and submit your question so we can answer it in an upcoming session.