Tobias Klein, a German Catholic friend, has been keeping up with the Nashville Statement discussion here, and wrote the following on his blog, in German. He translated it into English; I publish it here with his permission:
Last week I talked to a close female friend of mine who has been single for some months now. I mention the latter because it’s a fairly uncommon experience to her: The most recent case of her not being in a relationship was something like eight years ago. And since then, she informed me, dating culture has changed significantly.
“I don’t get it”, she said. “I’m the kind of person who’ll go sit in a bar and say hi to people. But that’s not the way it works anymore. Nowadays there’s Tinder, and people will send you penis pics out of the blue.”
“But,”I replied, frowning, “does one really want that kind of thing?”
“That’s beside the point”, she told me. “The point is, that kind of thing is a reality, and one that has totally eluded people like you or me so far.”
This conversation came to my mind when I stumbled upon a supposedly Christian blog called “Auf’n Kaffee mit Rolf Krueger” (which translates to “Meet Rolf Krueger for a Cup of Coffee”) – or to be more precise, a blog post titled “Nashville or Denver – What do you believe in?” I’ll confess right away that on first glance at the articles’ introduction, I thought that “What do you get high on?” might be a more fitting title. But well. For those who, as I would, associate “Nashville” primarily with country music and “Denver” with a 1980s TV epic (“Dynasty”, called “Denver Clan” on German TV), I must inform you that the “Nashville Statement,” drawing intense attention especially among Evangelicals, is a paper that basically reinforces Christian ethics on sexuality, while the “Denver Statement” is a reply to it, penned by the theologian Nadia Bolz-Weber who is currently held in high esteem among our ecumenical neighbors. Nadia Bolz-Weber is “the one with the tattoos”, but let’s get to that later.
Anyway, being a Catholic, I really shouldn’t need to pay much attention to this whole debate. I mean, who needs a “Nashville Statement” when there’s the “Theology of the Body”? Thus, I didn’t much go into Rolf Krueger’s un-authorized working translations of both the Nashville and Denver statements. Krueger’s own introduction was sufficient to me, as I found it highly significant for a notion I had had before: namely, that there is hardly anything more philistine and boring on the face of God’s wonderful creation than liberal Protestants. To be honest, liberal Catholics might still be worse, but then again, by definition there shouldn’t even be such a thing as liberal Catholics, and if they do exist, they’re actually Protestant.
Now what brings me to this harsh judgment of Rolf Krueger’s blog post? First of all, my die-hard inclination towards polemics. Second, Krueger’s fussy, primary-school-instructor-like cravings for audience participation that go like “Which way of looking at the world suits you?” (I mean, really.) Mostly, though, it’s lines like this one: “Nashville turns against all those among us who (want to) enjoy sexuality outside the bounds of conventional, monogamous, heterosexual marriage”. He really, actually says that! Boy, can I imagine these good Christians craving to “enjoy sexuality,” but those evil Nashville folks just won’t let ’em. Ain’t life a drag.
What this might have to do with the above-mentioned “Tinder and penis pics”-related talk becomes obvious when Krueger casually mentions “one-night stands, Tinder contacts or open relationships”, which he deems not to be “acute topics for most Christians for the time being”. Please note the threefold reservation: “acute topics”, “for most Christians”, “for the time being”. This means, apparently: At least for some Christians these are important topics already, and for the rest of them they might become important in, I don’t know, twenty to thirty years when they will have caught up with the mainstream society’s degree of sexual liberation.
Seriously, though: This aside remark unintentionally reveals how out of touch the whole debate is. While conservative and liberal Christians spend their time reenacting forty-(or rather fifty-)year-old Sexual Revolution battles in the sandbox, reality has passed them by – by a long shot. Physicians notice a rapidly increasing number of teenage or even younger girls suffering from rectal incontinence due to excessive anal penetration while Rolf Krueger worries about “Nashville condemning even sex within non-marital relationships which has become totally normal among young Christians”.
What is “normal” and what is not is, by the way, a big issue for Krueger – which leads to the conclusion that to him, the question of what is (or should be) permissible is more or less a matter of social norms and customs. Interestingly, he presupposes that conservatives think along the same lines (which makes their conservatism boil down to just being slower on the uptake) when he states that they “oppose practically everything that hasn’t been ‘normal’ until recently”. To me, this brings to mind a famous quote by Tertullian: “Christ said, I am the Truth; He did not say: I am the Custom.” But that is just an aside remark.
“The question in general”, according to Krueger, “is how do we want to live as Christians? Narrowly or widely? [I may ask forbearance for pointing out that, with the above-mentioned facts about anal penetration and incontinence in mind, the wording strikes me as kind of awkward.] Filled with dissociation or filled with curiosity?”
It may not be altogether obvious why I should deem the attitude behind this kind of rhetoric philistine and uptight. So let me put it simply: It is easily imagineable that the longing for Wide Open Spaces is particularly vivid among those who have experienced Narrowness. I don’t necessarily refer to Rolf Krueger personally; after all, I don’t even know the guy. Still, I think it quite significant that the theologian Nadia Bolz-Weber is introduced in Krueger’s text as “the pastor known (not only) for her tattoos”. Whoa, a pastor with tattoos! That’s kind of like back in the 80s when Joschka Fischer of the Green Party became Secretary for the Environment in the German state of Hesse: Whoa, a State Secretary wearing sneakers and no tie! An outrage to some, a sign of hope to others, but either way, it mainly serves as a distraction from actual issues. I can easily imagine, though, how a tattooed Nadia Bolz-Weber must appeal to the kind of Christians who have been brought up in an environment where the question of how one could and should live agreeably to God included matters of clothing and haircuts; that is, in an environment where being a Christian was inextricably intertwined with a petty-bourgeois lifestyle. To escape this kind of narrowness, one is likely inclined to choose the exact opposite – without realizing, in most cases, that things are no less narrow on the Other Side.
Generally speaking, it is an interesting phenomenon that especially within Evangelicalism, there have been forced attempts lately to propagate a more “liberal” approach to sexual morality and to somehow justify it theologically, if at all possible. Now I’d say, even in the 60s there were adolescents or young adults from Evangelical backgrounds who opposed the puritanical morals of their elders. Back then, they would leave their childhood homes, move to Milwaukee and pick up some hot girl at the roller-skate disco, or whatever. To be sure, these young folks never quite got rid of the morals they had been taught, even though they no longer lived by them; this kind of conflict is all over Rock song lyrics, as can be seen (or heard), to name just one example, on Meat Loaf’s classic 1977 album “Bat Out Of Hell”.
The difference to today is that back then, moving out was a real rebellion. Nowadays, people want to change the rules so they don’t have to break them. Which is, I mean, c’mon.
I find it striking in this context that the mere thought that the – let’s say – traditional Christian teachings about sexuality might have other purposes than just to stifle and oppress people never seems to occur to those who by all means want to “reform” these teachings. Could it be that the Church’s instructions and restraints that aim at setting certain boundaries to the acting out of one’s sexual desires are actually designed to protect people from all kinds of bad things? After all, cases of sexual abuse like the ones that I have hinted at are no mere accidents or “collateral damages” of the Sexual Revolution; on the contrary, they are absolutely consequential. The fact that as soon as the organic connection between love, sex and parenting – which, according to Christian tradition, has its place within the bounds of marriage – is dissolved, sex turns into a commodity is an observation that can be extrapolated, for example, from the Blessed Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae (1968!), not to mention St. John Paul II’s teachings on the “Theology of the Body”. And by sex turning into a commodity, I don’t just refer to professional prostitution or pornography; after all, these are nothing new. But today, the processes of commercialization, depersonalization and rejection of responsibility affect every level of sexual relationships that you can (or even can’t) think of.
To be sure, there have always been – and probably always will be on this side of Heaven – people, and thoroughly orthodox Christians among them, that have struggled with things like marital fidelity and premarital abstinence and have failed to practise them. You know what? That’s a common thing; it’s called sin. Sin is, literally from Adam’s and Eve’s days on, a reality of the human condition that has to be dealt with, and if it doesn’t affect your sexuality, it will probably affect other aspects of your life. The problem with the uptight liberals, though, is that they want to create a version of Christianity that gives them permission to sin. Which, by definition, cannot work, since as soon as something is permitted, it can’t be a sin at the same time. Which makes it… you know… kind of boring.