Delight and the Song of Songs

To celebrate Easter, we’ve been looking at the Song of Songs in our studies on Monday evenings. It’s a book that celebrates delight and human bodies, which is especially helpful in this time of a pandemic when life feels a little less delightful and moving our lives on to zoom has made us feel a little less embodied.

Song of Songs is a bit of a confusing book, at least partially because it’s an unusual genre in the Bible (e.g., a love poem) and Christianity has not always been very good at talking about sexuality. The following two reflections have helped us appreciate the text more fully.

Laura de Jong, who is a pastor, speaks passionately about how this Song awakens delight and longing in all of us, irrelevant of our marital status:

“Because this greatest of songs is about many things, but not just about human sexuality. And its not just an allegory of God’s relationship with his people. It’s also about longing, and excitement, and living deeply, and sucking the marrow out of life, and whimsy, and delight, and beauty, and language, and community. And it’s about God. What he has done, what he is doing, what he will do. The Song of Songs is an invitation to life.”

Laura de Jong, “The Greatest of Songs.”

Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury wrote a theologically profound article about sexuality and desire:

“Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted. The whole story of creation, incarnation and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ’s body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God’s giving that God’s self makes in the life of the trinity. We are created so that we may be caught up in this; so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God.”

Rowan Williams, “The Body’s Grace.”

As the article is quite theologically dense, if you’d like some help understanding it, Debra Rienstra, a writer and professor, has summarized his work: Rowan William for dummies on sexuality.

Why have the hard conversations?

At the recent Christian Reformed Campus ministry association conference we talked about a lot of hard things: racism, abuse of power, and sexuality (and all in one day!). It hadn’t really occurred to me that people might perceive this as strange until one person asked me why we were focusing on all these things and another wondered if we’d planned in a drink at the end of the day (pub locations were indeed made public).

The hard conversations were framed by worship and by sharing with each other about how we [campus ministers and students] were doing. That, I hope, helped place the conversations in the right perspective, even as I believe that the conversations were still hard and could potentially have caused people distress and anxiety. I hope and pray that people are still positively working through what we talked about. After all, we have these conversations together because we all need to see how faith relates to all areas of our lives, including and especially the hard things.

Furthermore, I believe these are areas “where a lot of pain and distress has happened and continues to happen,” and so “I’d like to do all I can to be equipped to know best how to bring the hope of Christ to those [who] are hurting.”

Pub Theology: Analyzing statements on sexuality

In light of the recent uproar in the Netherlands about the Nashville statement, we spent the last two pub theologies looking at the Nashville Statement, including comparing it to the Denver Statement.

After looking at the Denver and Nashville statement, we had the sense that the Nashville statement discouraged dialogue. Numerous Christians in the Netherlands agreed with that, as can be seen by the following statement by Gert Jan Segers, leader of a Christian Socialist party that would be considered to be amicable to fairly traditional understandings of marriage and how to read the Bible:

I didn’t sign the Nashville Statement because I was worried that the conversation about belief and homosexuality would not be helped by it. The conversation about this is important, touches people deeply and must therefore – no matter what you believe – be held in a respectful and open manner.  . . Jesus primary message to the world is not a list of dos and don’ts but instead an invitation that makes it clear that everyone is welcome by/to Him.

translated by Brenda; original Dutch post can be found on his Facebook page

The Nashville Statement did, however, do a good job of describing how sexuality has boundaries (even if some of us disagreed with those boundaries). The Denver statement, however, didn’t seem to give (m)any boundaries. Furthermore the Nashville statement seemed to be overly negative about sexuality and society; however, the Denver statement was overly positive, neglecting to critique the direction of sexuality in society today (e.g., pornography). While we disagreed with how much we appreciated (or disliked each statement), we did mostly agree that we’d like to see something that was a bit more nuanced (and somewhere in the middle of both statements). Perhaps we’ll have to return to the conversation sometime and look at the Catechism of Sexuality produced in connection with the Reformed Church of America.

Why talking about religion and LGBTQ matters

A recent study highlights a strong link between “religion and suicide for queer youth.”

While religion decreases the likelihood of attempted suicide amount youth who do not identify as LGBTQ, the exact opposite is true of those who identify as LGBTQ+. The article in the Huffington post notes the following:

The study authors found that religion may have acted as a protective factor against suicide attempts among heterosexual youth. Each increase in the level of importance of religion among straight youth was associated with a 17 percent reduction in recent suicide attempts.

On the other hand, for lesbian and gay youth, increasing levels of religious importance were associated with increased odds of recent suicidal ideation. In fact, lesbian and gay youth who said that religion was important to them were 38 percent more likely to have had recent suicidal thoughts, compared to lesbian and gay youth who reported religion was less important. Religiosity among lesbians alone was linked to a 52 percent increased chance of recent suicidal ideation.

We, as churches and campus ministries, need to talk about sexuality – not only because it is a huge part of our lives and our relationship with God – but also because talking about sexuality well saves lives.

Can one be non-Affirming and Loving?

A recent NPR article talks about the challenges that Christian colleges face with welcoming LGBT+ students while also having the official policy that the Bible does not affirm same-sex relationships.

Mary Hulst, chaplain at Calvin College, explains the tension well.

“It’s a place where you need to be wise,” Hulst says. “I tell them I want to honor Scripture, but I also honor my LGBT brothers and sisters.”

It doesn’t always work out.

“Someone from the LGBT community will say, ‘If you will not honor the choices I make with my life, if I choose a partner and get married, then you’re not actually honoring me.’ I can understand that,” Hulst says, grimacing. “I can see how they might come to that conclusion. . . .”

Hulst says the struggle to find an appropriate response to her LGBT students is among the most difficult challenges she has faced as a college chaplain.

“The suicidality of this particular population is much higher,” she notes. “The chances that they will leave the church are much higher. These [realities] weigh very heavily on me.”

Us versus Us by Andrew Marin (2016)

In the book Us Versus Us by Andrew Marin, Marin gives a detailed discussion about how the LGBTQ+ movement is not simply a movement outside of the church, but how members of our churches right now are wrestling with this issue in their own lives, particularly high school students in youth groups.

The book is based upon a research study done by the Marin Foundation, and the book is broken up into six chapters, each one based on a striking statistic found from the survey. Two chapters include statistics like: “86% of LGBTQ+s were raised in a faith community from ages 0-18,” and “76% of LGBTQ+ people are open to returning to their religious communities and its practices.” The 2006 study was done with over 1,712 usable surveys of people all across the United States, and it contains multiple open-ended questions to allow for full responses. Most important to this survey, the responses were all anonymous, allowing for honesty without reprimand. Marin discusses each of the six main chapter statistics in great detail, including which particular denominations have the largest number of LGBTQ+ members and how 96% of LGBTQ+ have prayed to God to stop their homosexual desires.

Due to the many thoughtful responses collected from the survey, I conclude that this book should be required reading for high school students and anyone older who is truly interested in listening to their LGBTQ+ peers and wanting to influence others in a way that reflects Christ’s love. This topic will not go away any time soon in our culture, and this book fills an important void in the church about how to better love those who battle homosexuality.

– Andrew D, CEF Emerging Leader 2017-18

Generous Spaciousness (2014)

Wendy VanderWal-Gritter’s book Generous Spaciousness (Brazos Press, 2014) is focused on making space for gay Christians within the church. The author has experience within ex-gay ministries, and the beginning focuses on how these have often been hurtful to those struggling with their religious and sexual identity.

What I’ve read of it makes it sound like it’d be a very helpful book, although she has become a bit of a controversial figure within the Christian Reformed Church.


A list of all the book reviews related to Campus Edge