Sex & The Single Pastor
“Pastors’ kids fall on either end of the spectrum, and we don’t,” Harper said. Growing up in their mother’s church, they found Lutheranism roomy enough for them. Judah is gay, and, as a child, he often wanted to experiment with his presentation of gender and sexuality, which the church welcomed. (Bolz-Weber says that she often has a harder time welcoming straitlaced older members to her flock than younger, more open-minded ones.) Two years ago, when he was sixteen, he told his mother for the first time that he was in a relationship, and that it happened to be with a boy. The next day, she left a tin of condoms on his bed.
That’s from a New Yorker profile of the popular pastor, who recently discovered that the Christian church got sex completely wrong for 2,000 years (In [her new book] “Shameless,” she takes aim at everything from Augustine of Hippo, the fourth-century theologian, who taught that Christians should deny the urges of the flesh—“he basically took a dump and the Church encased it in amber,” she writes).
Here’s the clip from the book:
St. This had nothing to do, I’m sure, with the fact that in 2016, she “got up the courage” to end her sexually unsatisfying marriage to Harper’s and Judah’s dad, and is having super-hot sex with her boyfriend:
She had married a Lutheran pastor in 1996; in 2016, after two decades of trying at a marriage without much physical intimacy, she got up the courage to get a divorce. Six months later, she reconnected with an old boyfriend named Eric, and, from the start, the sex was amazing. “It was like an exfoliation,” she told me. Through better sex, her spirit softened, and she found herself closer to God, which led her to rethink the relationship between sex and religion.
Read the whole thing — especially if you’re under the illusion that progressive Christianity has a future. You may be drawn to Bolz-Weber’s Didache for decadents. She certainly is making a name for herself as the chaplain to Weimar America. Still, Scripture and 2,000 years of tradition are a more solid basis upon which to construct one’s Christian sexual morality than the juvenile enthusiasm of a potty-mouthed pulpit-pounder who is staring at menopause bearing down on her like a freight train.
I read Bolz-Weber’s first book back in 2013, and ended up liking her a lot, despite strongly disagreeing with her on many points. I wrote about it here. There is something raw and real about her voice, and she sounds really likable. It’s easy to see why people like her. But in the years since that first book, The Pastrix, came out, I’ve really soured on Bolz-Weber’s radicalism. I never liked it, of course, but I found her likable in spite of the bizarre theological positions she takes. When she came out last year in favor of “ethically sourced porn,” and said that she was planning to make a fertility idol, I lost any respect I had for her. This is not Christianity, not remotely.
The thing is, the failures of the orthodox Christian churches make room for someone like Bolz-Weber. She told NPR last month:
What kind of flourishing people are experiencing in their life as sexual people is something that the church doesn’t seem to care about — the church just cares that they’re not doing the naughty things. Nobody seems to really care, hey, are people flourishing in that part of their lives? And so I just started interviewing my parishioners with three questions, just saying, what messages did you receive from the church about sex and the body and gender? And how did that message affect you? And then how have you navigated your adult life? And I took what I learned in those interviews, and what I was sort of exploring in my own life and my own spirit, and ended up offering this book.
I am certain that she is on to something. We small-o orthodox Christians don’t know how to talk about sex. Too often, we either ignore it, or only seem to care about “not doing the naughty things.” This is really, really bad, especially given that we live in such a pornified culture. Traditional Christian sexual ethics are genuinely liberating — read classicist Sarah Ruden’s great 2010 book Paul Among The People — to understand why St. Paul’s teaching on sexuality was received as freedom for people, especially women, in decadent Greco-Roman society. This is what the Christian faith has to offer to men and women in decadent contemporary society. We are failing to do so. So our silence opens the door for false prophets like Bolz-Weber.
I read socialist Christian journalist Chris Hedges’s recent book over the weekend, and though I disagreed with a lot of it, I found myself standing up and cheering for his left-wing condemnation of pornography. I strongly recommend that you watch the new Amazon documentary Generation Wealth, which is what got me interested in Hedges, who appears in it as a commentator. The porn industry is part of the story that director Lauren Greenfield tells (if you don’t want to see nudity, don’t watch the doc); she frames it in the context of a culture that is obsessed over status and money, even to the point of shamelessly commodifying the human body in ways that violate human dignity. Chris Hedges is a radical left-wing Christian — and he gets that. I would love to see him interview Bolz-Weber about her new book.
The thing that strikes me most about Bolz-Weber’s theology is how utterly trite it is, and how perfectly suited it is to our therapeutic culture. Wow, the pro-abortion lady pastor who divorced her children’s father and started having robustly hydraulic sex with a man not her husband is telling Christians that chastity isn’t cool, and that God wants them to indulge in guilt-free getting-off. That’s just about the least radical thing that a pastor could say to American culture in 2019, isn’t it? She’s the left-wing version of a prosperity gospel preacher, peddling the sanctifying power of lust as surely as her right-wing counterparts peddle the sanctifying power of greed.
UPDATE: One of you readers said that my bringing up menopause was too mean. I don’t agree, but I will explain this. Bolz-Weber is reaching that stage in life — in the lives of men and women both — in which one’s sexual drive is beginning to wane, because of natural hormonal changes. It’s a cliche to observe that when it happens to men, they go through a mid-life crisis. The mid-life crisis is generally about a reappraisal of one’s life as the limitations that everyone faces become harder to deny, as old age approaches.
For men, that can take the form of panic over the fact that one’s sexual appetite is waning. It is normal, alas, for men to associate their sexual potency with their personal identity and sense of agency. This is why some men leave their wives and take up with more sexually vigorous younger women.
I find men who do that to be appalling. A man who did that, and then told a reporter for the New Yorker that his wife of 20 years couldn’t satisfy him sexually, not like his new girlfriend can — well, that man would be a contemptible cad.
Same deal with Nadia Bolz-Weber. Marriages, even long marriages, fall apart. Sexual incompatibility can be part of that. We should be very careful judging others about what goes on inside their marriages. But Bolz-Weber has humiliated her ex-husband, the father of their two children, in front of the world. There was no need for her to do that. From what we know, Matthew Bolz-Weber’s only crime was that he was not good in bed.
If you think there’s nothing wrong with what Nadia Bolz-Weber did to her husband here, then you’d best keep your mouth shut when a man runs off with a younger woman and brags that the old gal couldn’t satisfy him like the new girlfriend can.