A few weeks ago Tina called after a difficult week at church. Her pastor was preaching a series about marriage, and he was all about “getting real.”
From her perspective, “getting real” meant that he was about to talk about sex.
Now, I am all about sex positive messages. The Church has been timid about sex for far too long, and we need to stop that. So you’ll get little argument from me about the need for the Church to get real about sex.
But I don’t believe that a hetero-normative, men-love-sex-more-than-women, everybody-gets-married-one-time, all-couples-are-both-Christian message is all that real.
The percentage of married households is under half at this point. Around 80% of singles in the church have had or are having sex outside of marriage. The LGBT population is right around 3-4%. At least a quarter of all households are interfaith. About a third of people in the church have been divorced.
Unfortunately, getting real rarely covers any of these topics, other than a cursory, “Don’t do that.”
How can we be real when we ignore the single people who have questions about masturbation? How can we be real when we pretend that there aren’t any gay people in our churches? How can we be real when we talk about the man wanting sex more when there is a refused wife dealing with the pain of being rebuffed again the previous night? How can we real when there’s a man attending alone because of his recent divorce?
I fear that often in our attempts to be real, we become more alienating because our definition of “real” misses so many people.
And ultimately, I’m not sure if the pulpit is the place where we can get real.
In order to get real with someone, you need to know the real them. You need to know their stories. You need to have spent time with them. You need listen. You can’t have that kind of relationship while speaking at people.
In lieu of a genuine relationship, we can only speak in generalities. There may be truths contained within those generalities, but for the most part, it’s simply going to be real-ish.
If we want to get real, our best bet is love. When we preach the genuine, deep love of Jesus, it allows people space to be more honest about their pain and struggles. It allows people space to have authentic friendships. It allows people to find ask questions that don’t have easy answers.
Love allows space for people to move from real-ish to real.