When I was around 20 years old, I hit rock bottom. I was losing touch with reality, I was in a mutually abusive relationship, and I sought comfort in the arms of men over and over again. My best friend and room mate suggested innocently that I speak to her youth pastor from high school. I was desperate and willing to try anything.
I sat on our stoop in the fading sunlight pressing through the trees, listening to the man on the other end of the line tell me who I was according to my experiences and according to scripture...
God's Unfaithful Bride.
He asked me to open up a bible and read with him through chapter 16 of the book of Ezekiel. He told me that from birth I was wretched, sinful, and unwanted. Then God came, found me, and took care of me as his own daughter. He washed me, made me beautiful, and made me his. But I played the harlot. I was unfaithful. I slept around and sought out other men. And because of my sinful behavior, God let me become worse than a prostitute. He let me become a whore. And in his rage, I am now being punished by God. He will take all of my lovers and gather them around me, expose my nakedness, and let them do to me as they wish. And only after that will his fury subside, he will calm toward me.
Yeah, so, that youth pastor pretty much told me God was going to let my lovers gang rape me.
Oh, and that I deserved it.
What that youth pastor didn't know was that when you talk about sex with a survivor of sexual trauma, it's a whole different ball game. You can't just let it be some cute metaphor or convenient allegory. It's not a thing that I can hold at arms length and understand objectively. When you're a survivor of sexual trauma, depending on where you are in your healing journey, that shit is real. Ezekiel 16 isn't figurative language for me. It's reality. When Amnon rapes Tamar, that's real. When the men demand that the adulteress be stoned in public in front of Jesus, that's real.
It's even harder to listen to pastors - male pastors - talk about it at church.
I grew up in a church culture that turned Sunday morning sermons into self-help talks. I think some pastors love talking about sex because it's "cool" and "fun" and you can get away with saying mildly crude things in the name of the Father. Out of the handful of sex series I've sat through, not a single one of them talked about sexual trauma. According to them, the only way to talk about sex on Sunday was to talk about it being a gift from God, how it should look in a marriage, and how good it should be if you're a Christian.
Well, guess what? I'm a Christian and it took a long time for sex to be any of those things.
Before I even open up the can of worms regarding women being able to preach, I want to address a prerequisite...
Pastors, I think you should hear the survivors talk about sex.
I think you should hear about the women who have endured sexual harassment at the hands of their spiritual leaders.
I think you should hear about the men who have been sexually abused by their fathers, grandfathers, and their pastors.
I think you should hear about why women are cringing on the inside when you touch them without permission, when you assume it's okay to hug, when you offer a brotherly kiss...but they don't show it because they're scared and they're trained not to embarrass you.
I think you should always preface every discussion of sex from your pulpit with a trigger warning because what sex is to you is not what it is for the survivors.
And this last one is more of a personal preference, but...I just don't think you should talk about sex on Sunday. It shouldn't be the focus of your sermon. It shouldn't be a series for a month. It shouldn't be leverage for you to shape and control the intimate dynamics of your flock. Not unless you're going to talk about all of it. Not unless you're going to say it's not always a gift from God. Not unless you're going to address rape, molestation, and harassment.
Not unless you're going to teach your flock to be sensitive to us.
And not unless you give us a chance to teach you in return.