Sex and Religion- Clark Ford, Guest Speaker

Midweek Faith Lift

May 8, 2024

Sex and Religion

Clark Ford, Guest Speaker


“Tra la, it's May, the lusty month of May
That lovely month when everyone goes blissfully astray” 

You might recognize those lyrics from a song sung on Mayday in the musical “Camelot” – and then you might think to yourself – hey wait a minute, that is NOT Christian music!

 And of course, you would be right.  The King Arthur legends are all about the Christianization of the British Isles – the Roman Catholic culture, represented by Guinevere, encountering the Pagan culture of the British Isles, represented by Arthur.  And each culture had a very different outlook when it came to sex.

Traditional Maypole dances were originally fertility dances.  The earth has warmed after winter, life has come back to the trees and flowers and all living things.  The birds are doing it, the bees are doing it, even educated fleas are doing it.  You might almost think this is what God intended for humans too.  But are good Christians doing it, or are they repressing it?

Fast forward to 2024, and society is still grappling with sex and religion, and many subjects related to that: gender identity, abortion, gay marriage, and women’s rights.

On the one hand, there is tradition. Tradition!  In this country, that tradition is Judeo Christianity, and traditional interpretations of the Bible including a patriarchal God. 

On the other hand, there is New Thought, liberal Christianity, Feminism, the LGBTQ, concepts of Mother Father God, equality between the sexes, and a sincere questioning of “What Would Jesus Do?”  Many of us in Unity are in this second group.

Let’s go back to the patriarchal God of Judeo Christianity.  Where did that God come from?

What we know from cultural anthropology is that religions arise out of, and support, the economic system of peoples. Three economic factors favored men over women in ancient societies due to men’s physical strength: Hunting large game, large animal agriculture, and warfare.  All of these are ultimately economic activities – warfare especially, since it produced conquered lands and people to exploit.

The middle east was a nexus for the domestication of agricultural animals – the cow, pig, sheep, goat were all domesticated there, and the horse nearby.  Large agricultural societies thus grew up in the middle east and were covetous of their neighbors’ lands and resources, necessary to feed a large population.  Competition for resources lead to near constant war for millennia.  Men traditionally dominated war and weapons, and therefore men dominated women.

Religions are human made, as are concepts of the divine.  In middle eastern and mediterranean cultures, male gods of war, of mountains, and the sky were often found. Many of these cultures also had goddess figures, who inspired and protected women. 

The Hebrew culture had a male god of Mountains and war, Yaweh, but no goddess figure. This was a male-dominated, patriarchal culture with a patriarchal God.  With few exceptions, women were second class citizens who did not share equal rights with men, nor equal opportunities.  The same has been largely true of Christian culture.

Thus, by the advent of modern Judeo-Christian cultures, men have come to traditionally dominate in all facets of society: education, religion, industry, the arts, and politics.  St. Paul points out that women must obey their husbands, who are appointed by God as the head of the household.

Male dominance in many cultures around the world is often revealed by double standards where men can get away with infidelity, whereas women may be punished, in some cases severely, for infidelity.


Or male dominance can be seen when cultures legally discriminate against women. The vast majority of those accused of witchcraft in Salem were women.  It was thought that women were inherently sinful and more susceptible to damnation than men.

But wait a minute, you say!  Are these rules really God’s intent?  If we believe in a God of love, a God who asks us to exercise our free will, how can such an oppressive system be of divine intent?  If God created everyone, and loves everyone, doesn’t God equally love men and women, and all the expressions of gender in the LGBTQ?  Is one of those supposed to be favored, “more equal” than another?

And then we might ask, “If men are not favored, what kind of a world would it be?”  Would all people of all genders be respected?  Equally free to express themselves?  Equally free to give and receive love?  Would their boundaries be respected? And what about sexual pleasure?

Yes, what about that?  If God created sexual pleasure, why are our culture’s rules so torturous and shaming about that?  We know that some cultures are much less so.  Are we so arrogant as to think we have a monopoly on Divine wisdom and understanding of Divine intent?

And what about the LGBTQ?  Conservative interpretations of the Bible suggest that homosexuality is sinful.  Likewise, that gender identification opposite of one’s biology is a sinful turning away from God’s plan for you.

Other religious beliefs command that we should be fruitful and multiply, and that birth control is thus sinful.  Or that life begins at conception. Thus, to destroy a fertilized egg or a young fetus is to commit murder.  This one is interesting since the Hebrews did not believe that a fetus was fully alive until birth.

And so, we arrive in 2024 with many of us questioning the traditional patriarchal understanding of God and the unequal, unhealthy, even toxic rules of morality that have been derived from that. The driving force for much of that questioning is love.  Love of women family members struggling under male domination.  Love of an offspring or relative who has struggled with patriarchal morality in their own expression of gender or sexual preference.  Empathy for those that do not easily fit into the slots available to traditional Christianity.

Meanwhile, some who express conservative views are so threatened by behavior of those that questions their views that they become haters.  Hating in the name of religion?

So what does God really want?  Or should we instead say mother-father God?  Certainly, a mother-father God would be more empathetic to women than a patriarchal God.  Can we read the patriarchal injunctions in the Bible and somehow extract a morality that treats everyone with love and respect, putting everyone on an equal basis as a human being?  Or is that cherry picking?

What would Jesus do?  For me personally, I depart from certain patriarchal texts ascribed to Jesus that seem superimposed by the writers of the New Testament, and instead focus on the Jesus that inspires me.  Call it cherry picking if you will.  I call it separating the wheat from the chaff. 

I believe in a Jesus who loves everyone - men, women, and all the other genders and non-genders.  A Jesus who looks beyond gender to spirit, who treats each person’s spirit as a glorious gift from God.  A Jesus not focused on sin, but on spiritual growth, which can be summed up by three words: love, love, and love.  A Jesus who values body, mind, and spirit as the gifts of the Divine.

Our body is a temple for our soul.  It was not designed, or given to us, to be ignored, feared, abused, exploited, or shut down.  Sexual expression is part of our body and is a beautiful, God-given thing.  In patriarchal cultures, male sexual expression is acceptable - boys will be boys.  But women’s sexual expression is often feared.  It is unknown to men, untamed, wild – and as such, may not serve men.  Best to keep that suppressed!

If you are feeling uncomfortable, perhaps it is because we are not used to talking about sexual expression and religion in the same sentence.  That is because of our patriarchal culture and religion.  Other cultures are much freer.  They may have Goddess traditions where the Goddess embodies or even enjoys sex.  Imagine that!  Shame, shame, shame! 

Of course, we remember that it’s ok for men to enjoy sex in patriarchal cultures, but women enjoying sex?  Is that moral?  And it’s ok for men to choose what is right for their body, but can a woman do that?  Some people expressing patriarchal values may even think that rape of a woman is ok, maybe even part of God’s plan.  But I don’t.  I don’t believe that God has double standards. I believe that God created us equally, to have free will, to have autonomy over our bodies, and not to be subjected against our will to another person.  

My God loves us all and wishes for each of us a fulfilled life of opportunity, love, and peace, with healthy personal boundaries and relationships, free from repression, shame, exploitation, or double standards.  I wish I found more messages like that in the Bible.  But because I don’t, I do cherry-pick. 

The Bible to me is the record of a culture seeking to understand the Divine, but seeing the Divine through the lens of the culture itself.  Since the Judeo Christian culture itself was patriarchal, their depiction of God was patriarchal, which was very convenient.  Religion now reinforced the very patriarchal values that created it. But that does not make those values true, or divinely inspired.

So, is there an authority for Divine truth?  In Unity, many of us believe that we must seek that which divinely inspires us. This is not easy, involving a lot of separating wheat from chaff.  I wish you well in that quest. Would that it was as easy as belonging to a religion or reading a Holy book!