A Safe Place to Talk {Book Club}

A Safe Place to Talk {Book Club}

If you had told me a few months ago I would be starting off a discussion about sexuality in Velvet Ashes Book Club, I would have laughed nervously and probably changed the subject.

Yet, here we are! If you are reading these words and joining the conversation too, welcome. Thank you for pushing through the layers of apprehension, awkwardness or even shame to chat honestly with your sisters in this community.

This month we are reading Rethinking Sexuality: God’s Design and Why It Matters by Dr. Juli Slattery. We come with our own opinions, thoughts and experiences related to the topic of sexuality. We represent different life stages and relationship statuses, and so Rachel and I are co-leading this month to bring you both a single and married perspective.

And honestly it might be weird. You and I might not agree with each other, or with where Dr. Slattery lands or what she recommends. That’s okay. The fact that we are thinking about God’s design for sexuality and adding on the layer of specific issues we face regarding sexuality as cross-cultural workers is significant.

Talking about it in a safe place is important too. Dr. Slattery writes in chapter one, “For far too long, Christianity has not represented a safe place for pilgrims to find help related to sexuality. Ironically, everyone seems to be talking about sex but rarely within the context of home and church.”

There’s a good chance that you have experienced pain or confusion related to conversations about sexuality in the context of your church or organization.

You might have suffered abuse. If that’s true of you, I’m so sorry. I wish you didn’t have to deal with that hurt and betrayal.

You might be dealing with sexual struggles or sin. I wish I had easy answers for you, but I don’t.

My hope is that this book and our discussions this month don’t add to your pain, shame or confusion. I hope that by sharing honestly, or even just being willing to read this book together, it will be a source of light and love and not judgment.

I come to this conversation as a 35-year old virgin. I come with questions and longings, and bit of embarrassment that I have to admit all that. I am bringing my feelings of complete inadequacy because I don’t know what I’m talking about, and I don’t have all the answers which is a challenge for this perfectionist. I’ll be totally honest that I’m skeptical the words “sexual” and “discipleship” can be in the same sentence, but I’m curious and open and eager to learn.

What about you? Let’s be respectful and kind in the comments and as we listen to one another.

Why do you think these conversations have been challenging to have in the church? Is the same true of sending organizations?

What are the specific issues regarding sexuality you have seen in your context? Is this different from your passport culture?

How do you come to this conversation?

Here’s the schedule for the rest of the book:

September 14th: Part 2 (Chapters 3-7)

September 21st: Part 3 (Chapters 8-10)

September 28th: Part 4 (Chapters 11-12)

13 Comments

  1. Rachel Kahindi September 7, 2021

    I raised an eyebrow to the term “sexual discipleship” as well, but as Dr Slattery explained it, I realized it is the right term for what the Church needs.

    We lead discipleship training in local churches. The material we use gives us a holistic view of ourselves: body, mind, emotions, will, spirit – and how all of these parts of us are used in following Jesus. But the only thing it has to say about sexuality is in the part about overcoming strongholds of sin. So many Christians have asked (sometimes rhetorically, sometimes really wanting an answer), “If it’s between consenting adults, why does God care?” The Church needs to have a better response than lists of dos and don’ts.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann September 8, 2021

      Rachel, I like your comment about dos and don’ts. I think we have grown a lot in the church in this regard, and also in seeing the whole of who we are and not separating it out into the spiritual or physical or mental. As humans it is all connected, and I don’t often add sexuality in there either.

  2. Michelle September 12, 2021

    I kind of thought that there would be more comments by the time I made it here this week. Fear not Rachel and Sarah, I’m diving into this journey with you! 😆
    I really appreciated her introduction to the book and the topic. I was absolutely raised in the thick of the purity culture. The. thick. of. it. I probably signed four different purity pledges in the course of my Jr. High and High school years. Joshua Harris’ book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” and the whole “courtship” concept were big in my youth and young-adulthood. For a very long time the word purity was a synonym to the word virgin for me. I’ve watched Joshua Harris (yes yes I realize this book club is not about him or his books) over the last five or six years. And if I’m going to be really honest, I agree with some of the things that he has said. I’ve seen some pretty significant damage that the “purity-culture” has done. Both in those who did and those who did not wait for marriage. AND for those who are still waiting and sort of feeling like the were lied to, or the nearly unspeakable thought that God might have let them down.

    And YET I absolutely believe that God created sexuality as a beautiful and even holy expression of love. And I 100% believe that it belongs in a monogamous marriage relationship between a man and a woman. That there is SO much more to purity than skating to the alter with purity ring/card in hand and virginity intact. About a decade ago I asked a small group, why don’t we talk about purity in adult Bible studies? Why is a teen issue? Purity is so much more… And there were not many answers. So while I have no idea if I’ll agree with or like more of what Julie has to say, I’m very curious. And thankful that someone is willing to ask questions and open discussion.

    I have dear dear friends who I have witnessed journeying out of their closets. Knowing them in the pre loud-and-proud, hidden, closets allowed me in many ways to actually know these friends as people and human beings. And yeah, it’s made it that much harder to sort through. But also been a gift in helping me understand the realness of their struggles. I watched a friend struggle with feeling a call towards ministry, battling a season of great depression and suicidal ideation, and ultimately “coming out” and moving in with a boyfriend. He sort of dropped off the grid for a season. Later he shared with me that he was asked to leave his church. But that I should not worry, because he found a welcoming church. I didn’t know how to respond.. I’ve found it much easier to have compassion for, walk with, etc. those who have never professed faith. But those who have served with me or professed a faith in Christ and then made a choice to enter an “alternate lifestyle” has been pretty tough to know how to navigate. When i see “welcoming” churches and Christian leaders, I suspect they have walked a journey with someone they love who has likely been influential in their decision to become “affirming”.

    In the culture where I serve homosexuality is a taboo, but extramarital and premarital sexual relationships are pretty much expected. People who live together refer to their significant other has husband or wife whether or not they are even engaged or just shacked up. Many times I’ve thought people were married only to find out later they were not. It’s been a hard one for me, especially because sexuality is something that is somewhat hidden, but also just expected that people will do what feels right to them. I actually pulled out my purity ring for a special ceremony of presenting it to my husband at my wedding in our rural village. Because I felt it was very important for the people I live and serve with to know what my stance was on sex outside of marriage.

    Okay, that got a bit long! Looking forward to seeing where the next section takes us.

    1. Rachel Kahindi September 12, 2021

      Yay! So glad you joined in. 🙂

      I am always hesitant to share on Facebook about our anniversary since we’ve moved to Kenya, without very clearly stating that we got married many years ago. One year a friend commented on Facebook that she wished she had been invited — but we didn’t know her when we got married! She thought we had just gotten married that day because so many people get married after calling someone their spouse for many years. Even Christian pastors. I don’t understand it at all. But I wonder if it comes from equating Christianity with Western culture. Though I’m sure that saving up for the bride price causes couples to move in together before getting married. Both of which, of course, mean that sexual discipleship is sorely needed!

    2. Sarah Hilkemann September 13, 2021

      Michelle, thanks for wrestling through all this with us! 😀 I’m grateful you are here. I actually write a little bit about “purity culture” in my next post for this week. There’s good I want to hold on to, but I’ve seen a lot of people get hurt too. I feel like so often we swing from one extreme to the other, and it’s hard to find a balanced middle ground on a lot of things.
      I don’t know that I have ever been a part of conversations about sexuality as an adult until very recently and only because of conversations here at VA. 🙂 There were maybe a few blushing comments made cryptically in a Sunday school class or mentions of teen sexuality from the pulpit. Those were always awkward for me a single and sometimes even painful since I felt excluded from the conversation. I like that you have asked that question of why we don’t talk about purity as adults.
      Such an interesting note about the culture too!

    3. Julia Pferdehirt September 13, 2021

      Christians assume that Christians who have evolved and changed in their theology related to lgbtq people and their place in the kingdom of God and the church, have done so because they want to please or accommodate someone they love. That is not true. Many many many Christians have changed their theology because they have actually done the work of theology. They have looked at translation, evolution of language, First century Middle Eastern culture, history, and behavioral norms and practices. They have looked at the evolution of meaning from Old testament hebrew, New testament greek, to 21st century English. All of this work has resulted in changed theology. A conclusion that traditional teaching on this subject from scripture is not accurate.
      So please don’t assume that theologically affirming friend or colleague is simply too codependent or people-pleasing to take
      a traditional, Evangelical theological stance.

      Scholarship and theology concerning lgbtq people is, in fact, a disputable matter. Scholars, theologians, leaders, churches, and entire denominations have studied the scriptures and come to different conclusions about the teaching of the word on this subject.
      A very troubling piece of this puzzle is that many evangelicals refuse to acknowledge this. Refuse to acknowledge that sound and credible theology exists which affirms lgbtq people and sexuality. This refusal and clinging to an assumption of Evangelical theology being the only true and acceptable theology on this topic contributes to unnecessary division, exclusion, and brokenness in the body of christ.

      Somehow most evangelicals have managed to navigate other disputable matters like women in leadership, how communion is practiced, divorce and remarriage, ordination and leadership structures, use of birth control etc etc. Practices and theological issues where significant disagreement exists, yet evangelicals have managed to find enough common ground to maintain respect and relationship. But somehow the issue of people being gay and loving Jesus is a line in the sand drawn by evangelicals. While evangelicals are certainly free to and should do the work of theology to understand their own conclusions clearly, their insistence that only one correct perspective exists perpetuates the exclusion, shaming, rejection and bias we see practiced against lgbtq people in Evangelical Christianity today.
      Unfortunately, in spite of all the efforts to be “nice” the perpetuates that line in the Sand refusal to consider this a disputable matter and to find common ground to remain in Christian unity in spite of different theology.

      1. Sarah Hilkemann September 13, 2021

        Julia, thank you for sharing so honestly! We each bring unique perspectives to this discussion and I appreciate you joining in.

      2. Michelle September 14, 2021

        Thank you Julia for sharing your heart, meticulous research, and perspective here.

  3. Abby September 13, 2021

    I am a single and virgin as well, and for me the conversation in the church has always seemed inadequate because it seems to indicate that I don’t have any healthy use for my sexuality currently, which didn’t seem to make sense to me. Now, I 100% agree in the healthy and God-given nature of sex itself being meant to be only within the confines of marriage. What I mean is that I think the problem gets to be when people equate “sexuality” with sex. We are created to be sexual and emotional beings, so we need to know what the fullness of God’s plan for that is both inside and outside of marriage. I have seen the idealized/idolized nature of marriage within the church as well, where people seem to view it as the end goal, instead of one of many ways God shows us his love and ways to grow through other people. I love those beautiful healthy marriages in my life that are a shining reminder of the relationship between Christ and his Church. But I also think we are missing something if we don’t consider the intimacy of a single person with God, that Paul writes about. I think healthy single believers can be a shining reminder too, of what our sufficiency in Christ will look like in heaven, where there is no marriage and he is all we need. I am interested to hear more from Dr. Slatterly about sexuality from a Biblical context, as I’ve mused about this for a while but there are not many avenues to discuss or explore this conversation.

    1. Sarah Hilkemann September 13, 2021

      Abby, thank you for sharing from a single perspective! I honestly had not thought about sexuality outside of sex until more recently. It would be helpful to be having things conversations in the church and in our sending orgs too.

    2. Amanda Hutton September 23, 2021

      Abby, I love love LOVE this! It is so true that marriage is NOT the “end goal.” I think there are many unhealthy marriages out there that do not reflect God’s covenant. Some of the most inspiring and encouraging friends I have are singles who have a beautiful, intimate relationship with God.

  4. Amanda Hutton September 23, 2021

    Sarah, I SO appreciate this quote: “My hope is that this book and our discussions this month don’t add to your pain, shame or confusion. I hope that by sharing honestly, or even just being willing to read this book together, it will be a source of light and love and not judgment.” This is a messy topic. There is no one who is not impacted by sexuality, and the brokenness and division is overwhelming. I am inspired to become more confident and comfortable with this topic in order to “go there” in my conversations with others and offer them hope, redemption, and healing in Christ.

    Like many, my personal journey has consisted of confusion, pain, and abuse. God is redeeming it all in my life, but how can we have complete healing if we remain in the dark??

    1. Sarah Hilkemann September 24, 2021

      Amanda, yes!! I love that healing can happen as we share vulnerably (in the right, safe spaces) and let the light in. I am so grateful that you are finding inspiration to have conversations! I am at a conference this week and was part of a discussion on singleness, marriage and sexuality (particularly for global workers). It was so helpful to have read this book and interacted in the comments going into it! 🙂

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