catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 4, Num 15 :: 2005.07.29 — 2005.09.08


A vision for sexuality

In a cultural milieu where technology has eclipsed relationships, overt yet often vacuous expression of sexuality pervades culture, and sexual pleasure is perceived not only as a right but as the quintessential experience from which to derive meaning, an alternative vision of human sexuality is badly needed. This conviction drives Marva Dawn?s exploration of sexual ethics. Although she is certainly aware that the topic does not lack for attention among contemporary Christian ethicists, Dawn adds her book to the fray convinced that much of the analysis put forth has been reactionary or inadequate.

For Dawn, sexuality, if it is to be properly appreciated, must be situated within an understanding of human beings as coherent creatures. Along these lines, one?s sexual ethics, rather than being a list of prohibitions and formulations, should be a manifestation of his/her character?which is formed in a dialogue with Scripture and Christian community. Based on this formulation, Dawn contends that much of the perversion of healthy sexual expression in our culture results from the confusion of social and genital sexuality. Whereas genital sexuality should be reserved as an expression of covenantal fidelity in marriage, one?s sexuality is also appropriately expressed through multi-dimensional non-genital relationships. Sexuality is a gift that should be celebrated and affirmed, but when it is worshipped or abstracted from its proper place, it becomes poisonous.

These ideas underlie Dawn?s far-reaching treatment of sexual ethics and guide her exploration of friendship, homosexuality, marriage, divorce, abortion, child-rearing, and sexual education. Unabashedly, Dawn roots her treatment of sexual ethics in her conviction that orthodox Christianity offers the best foundation for authentic living. Relying primarily on exegesis of Scripture and the Christian theological tradition to inform her treatment of sexual ethics, Dawn also draws from her own experience both as a single and married person as well as from her observations of youth as a teacher and speaker. She occasionally borrows from the work of other theologians, but her use of these sources does not detract from the freshness of her work.

Dawn?s rendering of the complex and often convoluted arena of sexual ethics is accessible to a wide audience, yet nuanced and thoughtful. Though it is suitable for an introductory academic audience, its value would likely be most appreciated in an ecclesiastical setting?especially among Protestant pastors and youth workers. Although Dawn?s book offers little innovation, it provides a helpful synthesis of sexual ethics from a Christian perspective. Of particular value is Dawn?s distinction between social and genital sexuality?though her meager amount of discussion on this distinction is regrettable. Dawn?s attempt to enrich a Christian understanding of sexuality by drawing attention to its communal and covenantal implications is also admirable. However, at times her perspective seems overly idealistic; as she unpacks her vision for normative sexuality, the reader is left questioning the viability of her vision in a fallen world. Nonetheless, Dawn?s book offers a hard-hitting critique of the impoverished ways in which sexuality is currently appropriated and offers a solid and appealing alternative.

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