In a previous post I called out Reverend Gregory Neal, a Methodist minister, for his pernicious views about premarital sex. He responded in the comments, and I asked him a few clarifying questions about his position. His answers did not sit well with me. Here is my response.
Dear Reverend Neal,
Thank you for responding to my follow-up questions regarding your views on premarital sex. Unfortunately, I cannot say that I found your position any more reasonable or commendable after reading your answers. Overall, I see you advocating a view that is false and demeaning towards a great number of people. Let me start at the beginning.
When the girl/woman named Jennifer asks you in your Q&A if premarital sex is wrong, you prepare her for the answer she doesn’t want to hear. “Since you have asked this question I must assume that you are willing to receive an honest answer, even if it differs somewhat from what your question indicates you wish to receive.” You avoid ever using the word “wrong” or “immoral” in your answer, but nonetheless you make your meaning quite clear. Premarital sex is harmful, you claim. To oppose it is the “correct and appropriate” stance. At the end of your answer you push marriage on Jennifer, as if you were a salesperson. Why not get married, if you and your boyfriend are truly married? Well? It is as if you cannot accept people having sex if they are not married.
In my blog entry discussing your Q&A, I point out that humans do not need a contract to be good to each other, to have sex that is wonderful and valid and not deserving of your disapproval. It is at this point that you attempt to modify your response. You stress your point about premarital sex being less than “ideal,” as if this somehow made your response more reasonable, when really what it says is, “premarital sex is okay; marital sex is just better.” You deny your attempt to sell Jennifer on marriage by explaining that you simply “couldn’t understand” why she would not seek marriage with her boyfriend. This explanation provides all the reassurance of statements such as, “I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with homosexual sex, I just don’t understand why a man wouldn’t want to have sex with a woman”, or “I think women should be free to join the workforce if they want to, I just don’t understand why they wouldn’t rather stay at home.” This is an insidious way to undermine someone’s position while claiming to support it.
You say that casual, uncommitted sex is bad because in it, a person is “used as a thing, a toy, an object, and not known, experienced, or appreciated as the whole person they are.” No, a person (let’s say she is female) who has a conversation with her partner about what type of sex to have and what it will mean, and engages in something that she and her partner find enjoyable is not “being used.” She is having sex because she wants to. To further insist that someone who is completely aware of what they are doing is “being used” is to show a lack of respect for their freedom and ability to make their own choices.
In a comment so incredible that I find it hard to know what to make of it, you state that sex outside of a marriage-like covenant is frequently rape. As an example of the possible harm of premarital sex, you cite “instances of date-rape that have occurred among youth I know.” Let me be very clear, Reverend Neal: Sex is consensual. Rape is not. Rape is a vile, disgusting attack in which you force yourself on someone – it has nothing to do with consensual sex. How dare you conflate the two in an attempt to villainize sex outside of marriage.
Lastly, in your argument that you and the UMC do not condemn premarital sex, you provide the exact evidence which shows that you do – you compare your stance on sex to the UMC’s stance on homosexuality. I agree that they are quite comparable, as the UMC’s position on homosexuality is bigoted and dehumanizing. The UMC denies marriage to homosexuals, prohibits the use of UMC funds to promote their acceptance, and defrocks homosexual ministers in their ranks. They proclaim that being gay is “incompatible with Christian teaching,” a statement that has only one meaning – being gay is wrong.
Similar, Reverend Neal, is your attitude toward premarital sex. You do condemn it. You admit that premarital sex is not intrinsically harmful, and yet at every step you act like it is. You constantly put people down who have sex outside of marriage by saying that what they are doing is less than “ideal.” You push marriage on people who have sex without it, saying that this is the “proper course” for them. You make ludicrous characterizations of premarital sex as rape. These are not the actions of a person who approves of premarital sex; they are the actions of a person who disapproves but refuses to admit it.
You’re wrong to find fault with sex without a contract, instead of finding fault with the specific mistakes, attitudes, and interactional styles that comprise the real danger to good relationships. One sentence you wrote to me comes close to a view that I would respect:
[In circumstances where two people are unable to enter into marriage,] I recognize that the marriage-like quality of their relationship is what is important… not a legal document or even a religious ceremony.
It is the quality of the relationship that is important in all circumstances. People’s freedom, health, and happiness are what matters. Adherence to an ancient code does not, and if that code restricts the extent to which people can be healthy, free, and happy, it should be thrown away without a second look.
1. “[The General Council on Finance and Administration] shall be responsible for ensuring that no board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The United Methodist Church “not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends ” (¶ 161.F).” The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church – Administrative Order ¶806.9.