Shi Jing (China) Benson Kamary (Kenya) Agus Susanto (Indonesia)
[developed as a part of an MA Christian Worldview unit, with Dr R. Edlin; Semester I, 2009]
How do we address the issue of relationships and sexuality among single Christian university students in a multicultural environment such as Kosin University? Are there biblical norms that we can lay hold of which can guide us in celebrating God’s good gift of relationships and sexuality on the one hand without succumbing to media and cultural pressures on the other? Why is it that in this area of vital interest and concern to young people that our usual guides (parents, church, teachers) seem to maintain a “sacred silence” as if sex wasn’t an issue for us? We want to address these issues head-on, looking at singleness, premarital sex and premarital cohabitation for Christian young people in full recognition of the pressures and forces of the 21st century media that tempt us to just treat relationships and sex with the casual abandon of a choosing cup of coffee or a portion of kimchee. We want to identify current trends, critique them from biblical point of view, and point to a Christian response based on biblical insights.
Defining relationships and sexuality in terms of actions (for example, personal contact such as holding of hands or hugging between people of the same gender) can be very confusing in culturally diverse settings. For some cultures on campus for example, same sex people holding hands is OK, but for other cultures it is not. For some Kosin cultures, there is such a thing as a social kiss, whilst for Koreans on campus there is no such thing. Therefore, because of the multicultural nature of an institution like Kosin University, we have chosen to define sexuality as a state of mind and heart rather than a specific action or set of actions.
Relationship is a state of affairs existing between those having relations or dealings; an emotional attachment between individuals (Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary, © 2002 Merriam-Webster, Inc.). Intimate relationships play a significant role in the entirety of human experience (Miller, Perlman & Brehm, 2007). Human beings have a general need that is fulfilled when intimate relationships are created. Intimate relationships consist of the people to whom we are attracted, those that we like and love, those with whom we share romantic relationships, and those who we marry and share reciprocating affectionate and personal support (Miller et al., 2007).
Human Sexuality: “Human sexuality includes all that we are as human beings... To be a person is to be a sexual being” (Grenz, 1997, p. 21).
According to Webster (2002), sexuality is the condition of having sex; sexual activity; expression of sexual receptivity or interest especially when excessive (Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary, © 2002 Merriam-Webster, Inc.) Sexuality can also be defined as the quality or state of being sexual. Quite often it is an aspect of one's need for intimacy and love.
Theologian George Tavard analyzed human sexuality as follows:
Whether it remains latent or becomes active, sexuality pertains to the deepest levels of personality…from earliest infancy humans are sexuality oriented (Grenz, 1997, p. 16).
God created human beings as relational beings, and He pronounced the good. Human beings are relational beings; they basically cannot not relate! God also made human beings as exual beings and pronounced them good. Sexuality therefore, is a gift in God’s perfect design. However, as a part of our fallen nature, sexuality has been abused by cultures of the world and it suffers the consequences of original sin just as every element of life does. Human beings are created unique among other living creatures given their ability to communicate rationally and capacity to assign meaning to human behavior and activities. The motive and purpose of being relational and sexual beings is to draw female and male beings into a meaningful and gratifying connection with each other. The God-ordained relational longing for emotional bonding gives purpose to human life (Balswick & Balswick, 2008).
Relationships and Sexuality in the 21st Century
As cultures undergo change, so too does the view of sexuality. How society view matters of relationships and sexuality have been changing with time, and context. The 21st century offers a more complex stage for varying views reflecting the diversity of religious persuasions in an increasingly globalized world. We agree with Rae and Wong (2004) that the 21st century society is a sex saturated society. Young people have found themselves wallowing in the imprisoning miasma of distorted sexual freedom. Tragically, as Cozzens (2002) observes in his book Sacred Silent, the church is ‘sacredly’ silent. Little solution is forthcoming from those who are supposedly responsible to guide them - ie the church, parents and educators. Many adult Christians, and most notably the clergy, seem to have been overwhelmed by the distorted 21st century world view of sexuality and appear unable to authoritatively provide solutions.
From a Christian worldview perspective, as we shall see, there are normative principles and practices with regard to relationships and sexuality, but it’s unfortunate that most of the 21st century views on relationships and sexuality are distorted and destructive to humanity. Instead of drawing young people into a celebration of God’s gift under the lordship of Jesus Christ, contemporary worldviews continue to lead young people into an abuse of their sexuality as seen in the repudiation of the legitimacy of singleness, in promiscuous premarital sex, and sexually active premarital cohabitation.
Mass media on the other hand has been the most influential tool in shaping contemporary worldview on relationships and sexuality. The whole world is driven by deep-seated and dominant forces relating to human sexuality - the media, news, entertainment, TV commercials, internet and we can say everything else that we come across in our increasingly globalized lifestyles is related to relationships and sexuality. Some of the characteristics of contemporary worldviews include the view that there is lots of love and fun in a relationship and young people must be in intimate relationships to experience the love and fun. There is little or no discussion about negative effects of premarital sex and premarital cohabitation. There also exists a view that singleness equals loneliness and that there is a pressing need for every young person to “fall in love” to feel satisfied and have fun – this is a case of distorted view of love as seen from a Christian worldview.
Sexuality and Singleness
Along with their peers, we suspect that many students at Kosin perceive celibacy as unpopular, ridiculous and downright impracticable in their youthful lives. Singleness has little legitimacy as an honorable state, being viewed often merely as a transitional stage on the way to marriage, Thus a definition of singleness as “not yet married” denies singleness as a valid and God-honoring state for those that God calls to live this way (Balswick & Balswick, 2008). It seems to us that some male students as well as female students are misguidedly deciding to become involved in a sexually active relationship in order to experience ‘love’ as a way of avoiding loneliness. They view singleness as a shameful isolation. They believe that one must have a partner (boyfriend or girlfriend) to be seen as “cool” in the society. This is one of the most outstanding characteristics of relationships in colleges and universities currently. Peer pressure, mass media and the internet have been the fuel of this perception. Love, as portrayed by Hollywood (and other entertainment media), is something instant, based on magical human feelings.
From a Christian worldview, young people should celebrate sexuality as God’s gift. “…male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). With an understanding that sexuality is God’s gift, young people will be made to appreciate their sexual feelings and desires. Nevertheless they must know the importance of containing their sexual feelings in a godly self control. Hollywood and the media counter this message by teaching students that if they have sexual feelings, then they should act on them instantaneously. What they seem to be unaware of is the exploitation by mass media with its extremely profit-centered programming. Mass media and the internet are sexually titillating and erotically feeding sexual messages to young people at the age when their hormones are raging. Carefully examined, the economic eroticism of the mass media is what makes young people the most exploited groups in the society today. Their physical bodies, sexuality and innocence have been commoditized to fit into mass media’s profit-making strategies (Balswick & Balswick, 2008). This is a case of moral destruction masquerading as fashionable and ‘sexy’ media trends.
Sexuality and singleness is important part of young people’s lives. Understanding how to live it out is similarly important. Christianly viewed, being single is a privilege and engaging in right activities and friendships as a single person can be fulfilling. There is biblically faithful way of responding to the aspect of relationships and sexuality either as a single or married person.
From the Scripture, there are two key passages on singleness: Matthew 19:3-12 and 1Corinthians 7. Singleness is a gift from God. C. Stephen Board gives an important statement in his book Guide to Sex, Singleness & Marriage based on 1 Corinthians 7:17-24:
…a man should stay in the state in which he was called by God. I took this to mean, at least in part, that a single person should not be earnestly seeking marriage…. Some people …do nothing with their lives in the hope that life will begin in when… they get married (Board, 1975, p. 76).
Our lives should be lived in ways that honor God (Romans 12). This means that our lives are no longer belongs to us but to our Creator. In order to experience a fulfilling relationship either in singleness or in marriage, God must be the center of the relationship because only God gives us satisfaction in our lives (Board, 1975).
In conclusion then, being single or getting married is not really the main issue in a Christian’s life because either of the two can be God’s calling. Both have a gift to offer as members of the body of Christ in reflecting the divine nature (Jersild & Johnson, 1983). What is important is to live faithfully in celebrating the life God has given to glorify him.
Premarital sex can be defined as sexual intercourse involving unmarried persons who do not share a reciprocated covenant obligation. God views premarital sexual intercourse as sin, it being referred to in the Bible as “fornication” or “sexual immorality” ( Act 15:20, 1 Cor. 5:1, 6.13, 18, 7:2; 2 Cor. 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5; 1 Thess. 4:3). Throughout the Scriptures, sexual intercourse is placed squarely within the context of marriage. Unmarried persons who engage in intercourse are regarded as entering into one-flesh unification similar to that in marriage. In 1 Cor. 6:7:15-17 apostle Paul states that when two become one flesh, it is like bonding oneself with Christ. Paul suggests that sexual oneness established between two people is corresponding to the union we should experience with Christ as believers (Balswick & Balswick, 2006).
After a physical sexual occurrence, the involved parties usually feel that they have given up something from their lives. Repetitive sexual intercourse brings insecurity of character, unwillingness for a lasting intimacy, and unwarranted deliberation on sexual relationships which generate increased urge for sexual stimulation and self-indulgence (Grenz, 1997).
From a Christian worldview perspective, it is untrue, as 21st century worldview purports, to claim that a variety of sexual experience orients people to become connoisseur lovers. The Hollywood view of love and media culture holds that young people require experience in ‘falling in love’ and sexual intercourse. Young people are in the darkness as far as manipulation by the media in product placements for its economic purposes. Media uses the so called young celebrities who send sexual messages from a distorted perspective leaving young people with arousing imagination of how it feels to practice intimate love physically. They have little or sometimes no guidance of taking constructive steps to counter media’s destructive messages (Balswick & Balswick, 2008).
Premarital sex among university students is usually short-lived pleasure. As media always portray, it is based on instant or magical feeling and the urge to fulfill erotic arousal. Premarital sex usually takes place when the involved parties are unlikely to be keyed up for permanent physical union. Very often young people are made to see each other only when on their best behavior. For instance, a dinner or dance once or twice a week then followed by a stolen night for sexual intercourse. This is contrary to an every-day experience of permanent union in marriage advocated in biblical principles. Carelessness often creeps into feelings-based relationships which are usually short lived because it possesses none of the essentials of permanence and stability. Young people are misled to imagine that the physical union works mechanically. Nothing could be farther from the truth. If the purpose and method are wrong, the relationship tragically collapses hurting those involved (Griffith, 1948).
Cohabitation can be described as an act by couples who are not married to each other but are living together as sexual partners and who share a domestic environment (Balswick & Balswick, 2008). In the United States, statistics show that the number of unmarried couples living together has exploded during the past four decades. There were just 439,000 cases in 1960 and by 1984 the number increased to almost two million. According to the 1998 Census Bureau, the number was put at 4,200,000 (Miller et al., 2007).
American culture can be said to be the most influential to the developing countries including Indonesia, Kenya and Korea as well as in China. Many cultures around the world have been influenced greatly by Western worldview and indeed, American culture. Living together, otherwise known as cohabitation or “come we stay” in the Kenyan context, is becoming increasingly common among many cultures. There seems to be a common "wisdom" out there claiming that living together in a "trial marriage" is good - that it is a way of determining the compatibility of couples before marriage. Usually, cohabitation is practiced behind the parents and campus administrators’ back. More so, relationships involving cohabitation have been known to end soon after the studies i.e. campus life (Miller et al., 2007).
Marriage researcher and Christian therapist Scott Stanley (2005) describes cohabiting as “relationship inertia,” in which cohabitators are “sliding” rather than deciding on a marital partner. He found out that men who lived with women they ultimately get married to are not as dedicated to the marriage as those who did not engage in premarital cohabitation (Balswick & Balswick, 2008).
Cohabitation conveniently allows for the fulfillment of passion and intimacy, but commitment is often a low priority. Young people who live together before marriage lack social permanence and dedication. Their relationship lacks the public, covenantal bond that characterizes Christian marriage. Rather than leading to stable relationships, it usually (70% of cases) leads to heartbreak and disruption as cohabiting couples split up at a much higher rate than married couples who have not cohabited prior to marriage. (Balswick & Balswick, 2008).
On the other hand, a covenant concept for marriage was designed by God, and blessed by Christ at the marriage feast of Canaan. The very foundation of covenant love is permanence, upon which sexual and emotional intimacy are built. James Olthuis (1975) argues that Scripture calls for a relationship based upon a mutually shared covenantal commitment that is consummated through sexual intercourse. Although the decision to marry is primarily upon the involved couples, a biblical view also recognizes family, community and civil structures that marriage-supporting societal structures.
Christians are called to uphold biblical standard which states clearly that sexual intercourse is mean to be part of a permanent covenant commitment in marriage. The church can lovingly and firmly respond to cohabiting, unmarried couples with the biblical concept of covenant commitment between two people before God. When a couple is engaged in sexual intercourse without sharing a mutual covenant commitment, the church needs to lovingly help them understand how the biblical concept of covenant commitment can enhance and bring profundity and steadfastness to their bond. Agape love expressed through the Christian community shows the best representation of God (Balswick & Balswick, 2008).
The contemporary world is sex saturated. There is no neutrality. What young people do is a reflection of how they look at the world; that is, their worldview. How people relate also reflect their worldview. Our societal culture and media culture continue to shape young people’s perception on relationship and human sexuality. Today, our culture places ultimate value of human relationships and sexuality on feelings and pleasure-based experiences. Personal pleasure has been the centre on which sexuality is developed and experienced. From a Christian worldview perspective, this is a distorted way of looking at relationships and sexuality. This fuzzy view of sexuality has made human beings relate to others selfishly without regard for God’s intended design for intimacy, enjoyment and celebration. The false view of sexuality and intimacy basically represents a devilish counterfeit of God’s desire and design. It has replaced the truth that we are God’s creatures designed for his glory.
A biblical worldview begins from and is centered on God. Relationship and sexuality therefore is a design of God and His intention for human beings to use it to glorify their maker. Unfortunately, over the years parents, educators and the Church have often been silent or ambivalent about sex. While there is a degree of acknowledgement in the church and Christian colleges that sex is God’s good gift, the silence by which discussions about it are avoided suggest that it is either a ‘shameful’ subject or too hot a topic to handle. The silence about human sexuality in the society is disturbing at the era when all cultural institutions (education, government, commerce, media and entertainment) trumpets a distorted view of the subject. A hazy view of singleness, premarital sex and premarital cohabitation among young people has had great negative consequences in the 21st century. Though there are some aspects of sexuality (kissing, hugging, masturbation) about which the Scriptures are unclear and concerning which varied patterns are acceptable in different Christian communities, when college students attempt to seek short-term pleasure and fun in a relationship without knowing biblical worldview principles, relationship and sexuality is then reduced to sex, pleasure, fun, and a way of rehearsal before marriage. It fails to appreciate sexuality as a God-intended foundation of covenant love in permanent intimacy reflecting the mystery of one flesh in husband and a wife in marriage.
Sexuality is a part of God’s good gift to humankind. He intends it for our good and for pleasure when practiced in a faithful, covenant relationship. Sadly, relationships and sexuality have today been perverted as part of the fallen nature and individualistic realativism of the 21st century. The starting point of relationship and sexuality is in the story of Creation. After each day of God’s creation, he said, “it was good”. “…male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). After he created Adam, God said it is not good for the man to be alone. So he created Eve to be a helper and as both relational and sexual partner for him.
God’s desire, therefore, was to create another human being who would deliver Adam from his solitude by being suitable bounding partner for him, not merely sexually, but in all dimensions of existence. He bursts forth in joyous declaration: she is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh (Grenz, 1997, p. 32).
Young people must therefore approach sexuality like every other facet of Christian living and seek to redeem it in the light of the Gospel of grace. Human beings, both single and married, are sexual creatures. Despite what the media proclaims, the state of singleness and the state of marriedness both are honorable and fulfilling before the Lord. Both bring with them privileges and responsibilities. It is believers’ responsibility to look at sexuality through the eyes of its Creator—the true and living God!
The influence of mass media in shaping young people’s worldview on sexuality needs to be recognised. Awareness of negative impact of media on youths as well as exploitative ‘commodification’ of the youth by the media would help them guard their minds and hearts (Proverbs 4:23) against distorted views of sexuality advanced by the media. Christian colleges and universities need to develop media awareness programs to train young people to recognize how they, their lifestyles, clothing, ambitions and expectations are being manipulated by mass media and how they can respond biblically and take constructive steps to counter destructive views.
Relationships and sexuality among college students should be discussed engagingly, sensitively, and openly from a Christian worldview perspective. Young people need to know and understand, through the help of wise peers counselors, educators, parents and spiritual mentors, the fundamental joys and challenges associated with relationships and human sexuality. They can then respond to their own feelings adequately and overcome sexual temptations by resisting the devil (James 4:7), and flee from the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness…” (2 Tim. 22:22).
Relationships and sexuality is a profound gift designed and given by God to human beings. God created male and female in his image… “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). He created human beings according to his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans12: 2). But, we are living in a fallen world saturated with distorted views of relationships and sexuality. As Christians we are called to live in a way not to the pattern of this world any longer, but to be transformed by the renewing of our mind in the light of the Scripture. We should ready ourselves always as Christ’s ambassadors by the equipping of God’s word to redeem the current unbiblical worldviews on sexuality. Only a redeemed view and practice of relationships and human sexuality in its godly design and practice can compel us into joyous celebration of God’s great gift!
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