With the provocative statement, “Imagine if heaven was like one endless orgasm,” Debra Hirsch opened her morning presentation to the National Gathering of The Fellowship Community, held Aug. 18-20 at the First Presbyterian Church, San Diego. A church leader, author, and trained counselor, who has worked in the field of sexuality for over 25 years, Hirsch also uses the line to open her new book, Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations about Sexuality and Spirituality.
Speaking for her second time to an annual meeting of The Fellowship Community, Hirsch holds that the church has a fear of sexuality, and that fear, left unchecked, will give birth to judgment.
“The thing we judge most in the context of our church is sexuality,” she said. “Ask a couple of adulterers or people from the LGBT community whether they feel understood or feel judged. I think the church has a sex problem, do you?”
Having asked that question, Hirsch did not leave her listeners without solutions.
“We need to begin with a ‘macro conversation,’” she said. “LGBT is micro—it’s not unimportant, you know how important it is—but we need to take a step back and put it into the macro conversation about human sexuality. If we put it into the bigger conversation of human sexuality, we put ourselves into the story. You and I are also profoundly sexual. We are also profoundly broken in our sexuality.”
Hirsch maintains that every orientation is disoriented. “My orientation is probably more polygamous than monogamous,” she said.
For that reason, she called upon the church to develop “a robust theology of sexuality” and to either create a new language “or inject new meaning into the concepts we already have.”
“Why are we afraid to speak them out,” she asked. “These are things that God created.”
To support her thesis that there are deep connections between sexuality and spirituality—which she characterized as “not quite identical twins, but kissing cousins”—Hirsch cited first the theologian, G.K. Chesterton, who said, “A man knocking at the door of a brothel is actually looking for God,” and then Freud, who, “being Freud,” said, “A man going to church is looking for sex.”
If, as Hirsch suggests, humanity’s explicit search for sex comprises an implicit search for God, she challenged her listeners to imagine how such an acknowledgment would change the way the church does mission.
“How would that change how we view some of the sexually-free behaviors that go on in our modern society,” she asked. “What if one is a reflection of and a hunger for the other? What if there really are deep connections there? The question we have to ask ourselves is that if there are connections between sexuality and spirituality, then why don’t we in the church seem to know about it? What is wrong with us? What is wrong with our witness that we find it hard to bring them together?”
In a personal interview the previous day, Hirsch said writing her new book came out of her own personal story of having found Jesus when she was living as a lesbian woman. Later, when she went looking for a church community in her native Melbourne, Australia, she found a “little, fundamentalist church” where she said no one understood her context.
“We needed to understand sexuality and no one talked about it,” she said. “If he’s our lord and our savior, what does he have to say about our sexuality? All we got often was the negative, the boundary stuff—some positive stuff about children, yes—but it was all the fear-based stuff. Not that God created us as sexual beings.”
Because Hirsch maintains that most Christians experience a profound disconnect between sexuality and spirituality, she said in her interview that “every Christian needs to come out” as a sexual being.
“Sexuality doesn’t compete with our discipleship, it completes it,” she told the gathering. “We need to bring sexuality back to where it belongs—back home to the context of a community of faith. I’m not just talking about what we do—or in the case of the church, what we don’t do—with our genitals. Sex is way more holistic than an act of our bodies.”
To further illustrate her point that sexuality and spirituality should be brought back together, Hirsch told her listeners about the wedding of a Christian couple at which her husband Alan, a mission strategist and church leader, officiated, where many non-Christians were also present.
“Halfway through the sermon, Alan asked [those gathered], ‘Wouldn’t you like to meet the God who created the orgasm?’” she said. “While so many of the Christians were so offended that he would use the word orgasm in a wedding, he had a line of non-Christian people waiting to talk to him. They had never heard a minister talk like this before.”
Hirsch said that because people are hungry, “in our lack of communicating, we have missed out.”
“Our response is ‘to clutch our pearls’ and get all offended,” she said. “We’ve got to do better, people. We’ve got to do better.”
When Hirsch looks at Jesus—when she reads the gospel—she says that she is looking for the posture of Jesus when he encounters “the other” and what his priorities are.
“I see a very different posture and a different set of priorities when he encounters the sexually broken,” she said. “He cares about what we do with our money but he [also] cares about what we do with our genitals. Let’s get our totem pole of sin correct because we’re messing it up. Let’s not be ashamed about this. There’s too much shame.”
Hirsch also called upon the church to do its homework regarding the shifting shape of gender, and not respond with a “fear-based ‘oh my gosh.’”
“We have to be careful with understanding gender,” she said. “It’s not the same as biological sex.”
In conclusion, Hirsch again charged the church to bring sexuality and spirituality back together.
“Our spirituality is a longing and a hunger that every human being has to know what is beyond us,” she said. “We name that person as God, as Jesus. Our sexuality is everything about our longing to know and be known—our longing to love and to be loved by the other.”
“Jesus sums this up for us perfectly when he sums up the Ten Commandments into two,” she concluded. “Feed your spirituality and love others—that’s your sexuality.”