Culture Opinion

COMMENTARY: Sex and the never-ending Christian adolescence

Teenage couple kissing outdoors at the park.

(RNS) I don’t know about young girls, but I know from experience that young boys obsess about sex.

Teenage couple kissing outdoors at the park.

Photo courtesy of michaeljung via Shutterstock

Teenage couple kissing outdoors at the park.

They crave it, fantasize about it, do everything in their meager power to obtain it, worry about their adequacy, get confused by their longings, and for the duration of adolescence — and often beyond — see people in terms of “getting laid.”

I suppose this obsession is natural, and that it serves some fundamental purpose, such as perpetuating the species or giving us something to think about besides our gangly bodies, weird thoughts, and being young and insecure.

I don’t know any adult who would willingly repeat adolescence. Yet here we are — we Christians seeking hope, grace, mercy and purpose, we believers in a God of justice — treating our faith as an endless adolescence centered around sex.

We obsess about sex, a topic that Jesus himself ignored. Our public presence has narrowed to questions around abortion and homosexuality. The “Christian” political agenda has become nothing more than electing candidates who will deal correctly with abortion and homosexuality.

Never mind war and peace, never mind wealth and power, never mind caring for the “least of these,” never mind human suffering. If it doesn’t concern sex, forget about it.

We claim to care about life, but our views on abortion aren’t about life; they are about women’s freedom to have sex or to be independent. Proof: We ignore other assaults on life, such as warfare, profit-seeking obesity, addictions and destroying our planet.

We claim to care about Scripture, but our cherry-picking of a few Bible verses about, say, homosexuality, isn’t reverence for Scripture. Proof: We feel free to ignore the rest of what the Bible says.

Instead of challenging each other to grow in faith, we use our sex obsession as a cover for being unfaithful in what God actually values.

We dismiss as “Marxism” the actual Christian life described in the New Testament’s Book of Acts: owning property in common, giving to all as they have need, being profoundly oriented to communal living.

Instead of doing what Jesus did — caring for victims and outcasts, and speaking truth to power — we create victims and outcasts, cozy up to wealth and power, and bury Jesus in lavish and gaudy show.

We allow greed to run rampant because any constraint on wealth — such as the constraints Jesus himself voiced — would upset the powerful and dim our hopes of joining their lavish feast.

We hide behind sex and sexuality as if life were an endless adolescence, as if living responsible, adult lives grounded in the faith Jesus actually commended was unnecessary.

God will be pleased, we say, if we legislate the bullying of gays or take women’s side in gender wars. There’s no need to live generous, self-sacrificial lives; no need to temper our lust for wealth and power; no need to love God, neighbor, or enemy.

Entire denominations have reduced their public message to regulations on sex. It’s as if the four Gospels weren’t enough. They’ve had to write another book for God, in which humanity’s ultimate purpose lies in genitals and gender.

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. Photo courtesy Tom Ehrich

Maybe we are hypocrites, using the other person’s sexuality as a cover for our own greed and self-serving ways. Or maybe we are like the adolescent boy who lies in bed dreaming of sex because the rest of life seems so terrifying.

(Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is Follow Tom on Twitter @tomehrich.)


About the author

Tom Ehrich

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the author of “Just Wondering, Jesus” and founder of the Church Wellness Project. His website is


Click here to post a comment

  • Thank you Rev. Erich for your always thoughtful, accurate and clearly written articles.
    Sadly few Christians, especially Dominionists, will read RNS. If they do, they always have to counter with something else “the Bible says” and few even understand the original goal of Marx & Engels. As the now aging widow of a minister and life long student of theology, I used to appreciate sharing the search for truth with others. Today I avoid the subject and am a NONE. It has lost a few friends. Writers like you keep me uplifted.

  • Thank you, Rev. Erich. Your article was truly encouraging. I wish more Christians would follow the teachings of Jesus instead of looking for the insult or policing their neighbors. If you had been my preacher, I might have a different opinion of the church.

  • Tom, I agree with almost everything you say so eloquently here. I would demur only insofar as you seem to dismiss sex as an adolescent obsession. A healthy sexuality, in my view, is a force, or perhaps better THE force, that powers our life and imagination throughout life. It is the emotional energy that gives meaning to life. If we are lucky, it will grace our life until we die.

    The problem of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam is not that they pay too much attention to sex but that they do NOT pay attention to it at all. That is, they do not honor it. They sermonize endlessly about it. They fear it, they demonize it, and they try to control it. Occasionally, as among Mormons, they will give it lip service while actually denigrating it. (“These people worship me with their mouths and honor me with their lips while their hearts are far from me”). Your own words betray the long, dismissive history of sex in the church. And so sex exacts its terrible revenge. What should be life-affirming becomes life-destroying.

    Speaking as a one-time believer turned agnostic, I’m reminded of something Yahweh says to Aaron after the latter’s sons have been killed for offering “strange fire”: “I will be treated as holy by those close to me, and honored before all the people” (Lev 10:3). In my modern midrashic interpretation, this becomes “we either HONOR sex, or we are consumed by it like Nadav and Avihu.”

  • Rev. Erich, I sympathize with your statements concerning the hypocrisy present in the Church, and as a Catholic I am very sensitive to the distinct lack of likeness to Christ that Christians (including myself) often display. That being said, I think there are some significant problems with the core implications of your commentary.

    You assert that Christians who oppose abortion don’t really have concern for life, and you provide a really poor list of “proofs”. These statements are generalizations that likely say more about your personal viewpoints than they do about the Christians you are criticizing. I know a number of Christians who are adamant that abortion in any form is wrong, and still hold viewpoints that likely are similar to yours on some the issues you raise. Some of these same Christians walked step by step with our family as my spouse and I both struggled with addictions, and have helped support us for years in our sobriety. Among these Christians some are also adamantly against the death penalty, and some have loving but passionate debates about the justifiability of warfare (I witnessed one of these two nights ago). Christian’s holding the views you are criticizing are more diverse than you would like to acknowledge, and I’m sure my experience is not unique.

    You also seem to be implicitly arguing that these Christians are hypocrites and therefore the views they hold on abortion and homosexuality should be dismissed as patently false and obvious bullying. I would suggest that even if your points about the hypocrisy of these Christians are granted that such a conclusion does not logically follow. Surely you have met people that are upset and angry about genocide in one part of the world, but perhaps support one of America’s military interventions (I have certainly met such people). You might suggest to them that you feel their views are inconsistent, but surely you wouldn’t imply that they are wrong to oppose genocide. Taking it one step further, lets say a group of people publicly opposed a genocidal war but only because it interrupted trade to America and raised the cost of common commodities. Obviously their view on this war wouldn’t have life as one of its concerns, but their shamefully placed priorities wouldn’t invalidate the fact that genocide is an issue concerning human life and that it is an evil.

    I certainly agree with your points concerning the lack of charity and love present in many Christians. As American Christians we possess a truly vast wealth, and we often use it frivolously and selfishly. It would be a truly insulated life for someone to not personally know many people who are suffering in a variety of ways, and yet we often show cursory or no concern for those individuals. Jesus explicitly binds our salvation to our love for God and for others, so without a doubt our lack of charity and forgiveness will just as readily destroy our own souls. I was struck recently by this quote from St. John Chrysostom, a beloved father of the Church:

    “The superfluities of the rich are the necessities of the poor. They who possess superfluities, possess the goods of others.”

    This quote has prompted my wife and I to begin re-evaluating how we are using what we have been given, because we are surely using the goods of others. I would appreciate your prayers that we will come out of that process being more faithful to the imperatives of God, and I appreciate your heart and zeal for those who are suffering. I can learn much from you there I am sure.

    I surely don’t agree with you in your views on abortion, and likely we have fairly substantial differences in our views on the validity of homosexual marriages as well. I would encourage you to step back and divorce the issues from the hypocrisies (which we all possess) of others, and deal with the issues themselves. There are strong arguments that abortion is indeed an issue of human life, and the fact that many of us are inconsistent, struggling with sin, and still learning how to love properly doesn’t invalidate that.

  • The Rev. Erich writes: “The “Christian” political agenda has become nothing more than electing candidates who will deal correctly with abortion and homosexuality.” I know he means to attack the “Christian Right” with this line, and he’s absolutely correct. But read it again. The “Christian Left” acts the same way, as well, judging candidates on the “correct” view of those two issues and little else.

    Jesus didn’t speak of these two issues, and only addressed sex indirectly in terms of lust. But he also didn’t sanction rampant, unfettered sexual looseness and immorality with anyone at any time, nor did he sanction repeated abortions. In fact, early Christians wrote against abortion and were in favor of sexual purity and morality.

    It’s best not to generalize too much when the house one lives in has stained glass windows, too.

  • I agree there does seem to be an overwhelming preoccupation with Sex from an adolescent style viewpoint! Mature, loving, consensual, sensual Sex is totally ignored. I think it is interesting that Hinduism wrote a whole book about Sex and it’s many delights, and recognized that the ecstasy of orgasm can bring one close to God, as in a sacramental act! Many Christians, and especially Catholic Bishops seem permanently stuck in Puritanical mode.

  • I understand the point being made in regards to the church’s obsession with homosexuality but am completely lost as to how abortion signifies an obsession with sexuality. The same could be said of the church’s desire to end hunger or provide housing. If abortion signifies an obsession with sex then any human activity does the same because abortion is not about sexual liberation ultimately, it is about choosing death, ignoring humanity and inflicting your will upon another to the point of extinction.

  • Its not like you are going to bother seeing Christian views on abortion and contraception as anything relating to the women who bear the pregnancies. In all of their discussion, no consideration is ever given to the person who has the burden of bearing a child. The whole point of such stances is to minimize the woman, insult her, patronize her and ultimately control how she lives.

    The whole gist of a pro-life argument is that the speaker is on such an allegedly moral high position that they have a god given right to make decisions for other people. No matter how private they are.

  • We are more likely to be behave better
    without religion.

    We all know how to be kind and fair. Religion gives us trivialities to obsess over like sex and death.

    Religion is so sad.

  • I believe Rev. Erich explained the connection between abortion and the obsession with sex thusly: “We claim to care about life, but our views on abortion aren’t about life; they are about women’s freedom to have sex or to be independent.” There’s the misguided belief among some Christians that if you limit women’s access to abortion, or deny it altogether, and they subsequently have to carry all pregnancies to term, they’ll be less likely to engage in pre-marital sex. In this view, pregnancy to term is the punishment, and abortion is like a “get out of jail free” card. Take away the card, and wanton women will be chaste! So goes the theory…

  • There is something deeply unhealthy and adolescent about treating pregnancy as a punishment and claiming that moral authority allows you to interfere with the intimate, private decisions of people.

  • I learned what the abortion debate was really about in my first year out of grad school, teaching the standard general education “applied ethics” course–the abortion-euthanasia-discrimination-yada-yada course.

    During class discussion one student said she wanted to defend a “moderate position”: every woman should be allowed one, and only one, abortion. Why? Because stuff happens and one unplanned pregnancy could be accidental. Contraception isn’t perfect. If a woman got pregnant accidentally more than once it was most likely because she and her boyfriend weren’t “being responsible” i.e. weren’t careful about using appropriate contraception. In such cases they should they should bear the consequences of their irresponsibility in the form of an unwanted child.

    I was appalled. But many students agreed. I’m not even sure that their opposition to abortion, or at least serial abortion, was about controlling women so much as the idea that both men and women should be forced to bear the consequences for being “irresponsible.”

  • The sex teachings are as pointless and just as unrealistic as the economic ones. And Mainline Protestants are privileged, irrelevant and have no real intention beyond writing meaningless resolutions to help anyone but themselves.
    Don’t believe this? Count the times these churches have called for truly separating church and state by getting rid of their tax breaks and housing allowances.
    If you truly think the government is Caesar, stop taking “Caesar’s” money.