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The Next Frontier at the Intersection of Sex and Politics: My Viewpoint

The cultural wars to limit women’s sexual freedom and the rhetoric to divide us into ‘us versus them’ categories are evidence that in the frontier ahead there is a fork in the road. As a culture we have to decide if we will continue with a rule-based sexual moral system or if we will turn towards a justice-centered morality. That is the choice before us.

A rule based moral system requires we obey rules about sex (For example, we have rules about when we can “legitimately” have sex, with whom, under what conditions, and for what purpose.) The foundational premise is that some bodies are more important than other bodies (straight, white, male, high status, able-bodied, first world all get priority). Since power is obviously unevenly distributed a rule-based system is a model based upon domination -- after all, somebody has to make up the rules and enforce them. This is where we are now in the US on sexuality.

Parenthetically, it is worth noting that those who enforce the rules are never bound by the rules they impose. The wealthy can always get an abortion and access to contraception. Those with power have always had multiple sex partners and lived by their own lenient moral code whether this has been in the Vatican or the military. The rules are simply a means of social control and serve to keep those people with less value in their place.

But a justice-centered morality is egalitarian-all bodies are important and are all valued. It rejects a one-size-fits all rule system and replaces it instead with personal freedom and is guided by justice,  that is, what is fair and what is good for the individual as well as the good of the whole?  If justice guides our morality then sexual diversity is a given, sexual freedom is valued, and there is a wide flexibility of behavior that is determined, not by rules, but by individual discernment of their own conscience. Personal sexual freedom is only limited by a prohibition to trample on the rights and well-being of other people.

You may ask how, as a Christian minister, I approach this topic? Two ways: Jesus was not tied to a rule-based moral system. In fact, he was often a rule breaker and life and teachings reflect a radical egalitarianism. He never taught that some bodies are of more value than others. So, instead of two thousand years of Christian misogyny and erotophobia, I choose Jesus.

Secondly, the Judeo-Christian scriptures tell us that God says, “I have set before you life or death. Choose life.”(Deut. 30:19) Any sexual moral code grounded in inequality and imposed on others as compulsory can never be life-giving.

That, in simple terms, is the sexual frontier before us and what we choose will actually determine whether or not we survive as a species. If we are to solve the problems before our planet then everyone must be equally empowered. The domination model has to go. It must be replaced with an egalitarian landscape that frees all of us and embraces mutual joy, sensual pleasure, and sexual freedom. I, for one, say “Let us take the road that says ‘choose life.’”

(These were my prepared remarks at Netroots Nation Conference July 2014 in a workshop called "Opening the Bedroom Door: A Conversation with Sexperts sponsored by URGE - Unite for Reproductive and Justice Equity.)

The idea of a rule-based versus justice-centered ethic is fully elaborated by Christian theologian, Marvin Ellison in his book "Making Love Just."

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