In the introduction to their paper,1 authors Stuart Dauermann and Ellen Goldsmith (hereafter called authors) state their tasks. These are to present a general, not comprehensive, examination of intimacy as intended by God and how sexuality is integrated into this intimacy. They further intend to propose ethical guidelines for both and to frame them within a more mature Messianic Judaism as advocated by Hashivenu. My task is to respond to this paper and the immediate struggle is whether to address the forest or the trees.
The authors have delivered an overview that provides many points to consider, discuss, and debate. I cannot cover all of the worthy points they have made or documented through all the sources cited in their paper. Instead, I wish to underscore and unpack some of the issues that are found throughout their paper. These include:
- Intimacy as a function of relationships based on mankind being created in the Image of God.
- Covenant as the primary dynamic of relationships, particularly Biblical marriage.
- The focus of sexuality as companionship, procreation and education.
The authors make the statement that intimacy is, at its core, a mutual vulnerability. This is certainly true. This vulnerability is, in fact, the risk of knowing and being known. The appeal to this capacity as integral to being, resulting from being made b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, is critical to understanding intimacy. To know someone or to be known by someone is not intimacy. That knowledge, however, puts the one known at risk. If I use my knowledge of you for my advantage or to injure you, trust is violated. The dynamic of intimacy is that as two people learn about each other, the risk of betrayal or manipulation is increased. Greater knowledge creates greater potential risk. Respect for the other, and love acted on behalf of the other creates awareness that the person who knows me will keep and protect this knowledge of me at the same approximate level that I protect myself. This creates trust and this trust produces the sense and feelings of closeness associated with intimacy. The need to trust and the ability to trust is directly related to one’s ability to experience intimacy. This is true of all relationships but is particularly true in sexual relationships. This is reinforced in the scriptures by the use of the word (yada) “to know” as the term to express sexual intercourse. Elsewhere, the scriptures use different words to express non-relational sexual activity. For example, Leviticus 18 addresses forbidden sexual activities and connections including incest, bestiality, same sex activity and intercourse during menstruation. None of these is described as knowing. The words used describe behavior only, such as approach, lie, or uncovering nakedness. Sex without intimacy is possible, but it is not holy and it does not function as intended by God. In the apostolic writings Paul refers to fornication, which is the general term for many of these activities, and claims that the Gentiles engage in these things because they do not know God (I Thess 4:5).
The point is that there is inherent in human beings, as a result of being in the image of God, a capacity for relational intimacy (both sexual and nonsexual) which is based on knowledge of the other and a mutual trust. A trust based on knowing the other and being known by the other whom is trusted, results in a sense of closeness which we call intimacy. It is imperative, then, that we teach our children to know how to trust. Trust is a relational skill and, as such, must be learned. It is common in the present American culture to teach children to trust with no conditions until trust is violated. This is foolish and will result in trust being abused.
At a recent new student orientation at the university where I teach, a panel of professors was formed to engage in a Q and A with the incoming freshmen. I am a regular on such panels. On this occasion, a young female student asked the panel, “Do you trust us?” A female professor on the panel immediately took the microphone and stated that “we not only trust you, we love you.” This resulted in an outbreak of applause from the several hundred students in attention. I stood and went to the microphone. I looked directly at the student and said:
I don’t trust you because I don’t know you. I am open to trusting you as you prove trustworthy. But to trust you without knowing you would be an assumption based on a belief that human nature is basically good. I don’t believe this. I believe that humans are a mixture of good and evil tendencies and until I know your character, I will be cautious. As to love, I am committed to love others. That means I will do good for them at my cost. And I also will demonstrate to you, that you can trust me so that I may earn your trust.
This approach is based on John 2:23-25 where people came to Yeshua, but He did not entrust himself to them because he knew what was in man. My response began a number of conversations about male and female differences regarding perceptions of trust and love. I will address that below.
My point is that Messianic Jews and Judeo-Christians like myself, must teach our children how to trust and how to recognize those worthy of trust. Ultimately, those who can be trusted are those who maintain faith in covenant.
The authors correctly focus on covenant as implicit and explicit. All human relationships involve relational roles and rules. For much of our behavior, the culture informs us as to our specific and contextual role and what rules (do this, do not do this) apply. For the most part, these “systems of interaction” contained in culture are implicit covenants. They are learned as part of our socialization and enculturation. We learn the role of the teacher and the student. We learn the roles of the policeman and the driver. We learn games which have roles and rules. This cultural content is behind most of our behavior and it informs our worldview. As a result, we function in almost autonomic ways and our cultural covenants are unrecognized unless a violation occurs and then we focus on the wrong done. I am not sure if this is natural revelation as claimed by the authors. The Biblical account of the “Tower of Babel” explains how God fractured the unity of mankind into cultural and ethnic variations. Our patterns of behavior and interaction built into us by God at creation would be expected to continue through the variations now found in human populations though divided by kinship, language, historical narrative, way of life and environment (homeland). But these are not a manifestation of general revelation. They are part of a divine sanction leaving the nations in darkness as described by Paul in Romans. The only culture that is directly created by God is Israel. From Abraham, God created a People (kinship), a language (Hebrew), a historical narrative (history of Israel), a way of life (Torah based Judaism) and an environmental context (the Promised Land). And this people (Israel), was explicitly covenanted to God to be a light to the nations which had been scattered at Babel. I find myself very cautious when claims of general revelation are made. This is related to the epistemology developed by myself and Dr. Nathan Lewis in “The Integration of Behavioral Sciences and Theology.”2
Biblical marriage, as an explicit covenant, is the second institution of the Torah. The first chapter of Genesis contains the establishment of Shabbat, the sign of the Identity of God as creator and redeemer. The second chapter establishes marriage as the place of God’s image in humanity. Biblical Marriage is a covenantal relationship involving God, a man, and a woman. As a covenant, Biblical marriage is defined with roles and rules. These are not negotiated. They are commanded, and, under Lordship resulting from our being created and redeemed by the God of Shabbat, Messianic Jews and Judeo-Christians must manifest this covenant in our sexuality and parenting. Biblical marriage is a Holy covenant. This draws a line between religious marriages and the marriages of the culture. Historically, Judaism and Christianity have maintained a Holy matrimony distinct from the cultural marriages of the nations. This is because Torah holiness commandments are only obligatory to God’s people (native Jews and those who dwell with Israel). For example, Israel was to remove all idols from the Promised Land, but only to stay away from idols in the lands of the Gentiles. In Western culture, the lines between religious marriage and cultural marriage have been blurred. This has resulted in religious people fighting for “traditional marriage,” a very difficult concept to define, by which they try to enforce some aspects of religious marriage onto the culture politically (one man and one woman) when they hardly acknowledge other aspects of religious marriage within their own communities and congregations (marital roles and divorce). It appears that the cultural battle has been lost. Cultural marriage has changed significantly. Civil marriage now is expanded to include marriages that are not consistent with the Biblical covenant. But to the present, our religious marriages (Jewish and Christian) have not been threatened. We may still engage in religious covenantal marriages without persecution. The question is whether we will teach this and live it before our children so that they will recognize it. This teaching of our children is the priority, before we suggest it to those outside of the boundaries of faith. Here I echo the authors concerns regarding Dorff’s guidelines for non-marital sexuality being encouraged to mirror the Biblical model. This approach by Dorff reduces ethics to functionalism which is considered of equal or near equal value for believer and unbeliever alike. I find this problematic and a sure way to lose the next generation. If our children believe that what is functional is truth, then truth becomes divorced from God and faith. In this radically individualized post-modern world, they will take what feels right and assimilate into an ethical secularism. Those who would persecute religious people already believe that ethics are not related to the existence of God and trust in him. Why would we validate this for our children? I agree with the authors that we must be compassionate with those who cannot meet certain goals of the pro-marriage and family aspects of the Biblical covenant, but compassion and compromise can easily become coterminous in a functional setting. The difficulty of Messianic Jewish and Judeo-Christian intermarriage is a part of this struggle and I agree with the authors that this must be addressed though it is not a part of this year’s topic.
I have addressed sexuality in my contribution to an early volume of Kesher and my textbook on marriage,3 which I will not attempt to repeat here. But I do want to address a concern that I have for both Messianic Jews and Judeo-Christians in regard to the essence of sexuality. Agreeing with the authors and Rabbi Dorff that sexuality has as its God intended purpose companionship, procreation, and education, we must introduce into this conversation the Biblical perspective of gender. This is mostly missing from the author’s discussion.
The modern behavioral sciences have long studied human sexuality. Psychology, sociology and anthropology have contributed to our understanding of the biology, behavior, and affect of the sexual relationship. Over time, the focus of these concerns has moved from the biological stages of physical arousal, plateau, orgasm and refractory periods to the psychological identity or states of desire, attraction and orientation.
Sexual orientation as presently used is particularly alarming. This concept is recent and came from research into attraction and sexual behavior by Kinsey, Margaret Mead and others who, far from being objective observers, were advocates of either biological or cultural determinism. The shift from biology as the basis of gender to psychological identity has now reached general acceptance and political activism. In the space of two generations of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders (DSM II, DSM-V), homosexual attraction has moved from a psychological disorder to normative and at the same time, those who posit arguments that homosexual orientation is not statistically normative or functional have been accused of manifesting symptoms of a psychological phobia called homophobia. With additional advances in medical plastic surgery we have a new path of bio-psychological correction. In the past, when body and mind were in disagreement as to gender identity, clients were engaged by psychotherapy to conform the mind to the body. Today, we resolve that conflict with adaptation of the body to the mind through surgery and hormonal therapy. This betrays an epistemology that is not scientific in the modern material sense of the word. It suggests that the mind is “gendered” independent of biology. But once a psychological gender term and concept is accepted as objectively real, sexual orientation rather than sexual attraction becomes the subject of discussion and research as if it is as certain as that of chemical elements.
The Bible knows nothing of sexual orientation. It certainly knows of male sexuality and female sexuality. It addresses its commands to males and females, not humans with orientations. It certainly knows about sexual desires that target animals, relatives and same gender persons. But it addresses the behavior, not orientation. The error of many Jews and Christians is they moved from a divinely revealed morality, meant for God’s people who know him, to a universal sexual ethic demanded by God on all people; or, they have bought into the concept that “sexual orientation” exists at some deterministic level and is to be accommodated and argue for compassion on those who cannot help themselves because it is how they are wired (created). Sexual trauma and other factors which are part of the complexity of human sexuality as we find it today is not considered. Those who have been victimized by others and those who are persecuted, because of their own perceptions about their own identity and who believe themselves to be other than the norm in their sexual attraction or orientation must be treated humanely, as created in the image of God, but their perceptions of identity must not be read into the Biblical revelation and included as Holy unto the Lord.
The authors make a brief statement comparing sexuality and kashrut. They have made a correct and important parallel. We must return to an idea of religious sexuality that is addressed like kashrut. Only those who know God, and are in covenant relationship to him, are willing to allow him to command them in what they eat and how they engage in sexuality. This is because they understand the inherent capacity for unique and exclusive intimacy found in the two becoming echad (one). This requires that we see sexuality as created for the purpose of companionship, procreation, and education.
Companionship requires all that is found in males and females. Males and females are different in ways that only have meaning in companionship, procreation and education. The complementary strengths and skills make the oneness more than a physical connection. It makes their coming together in Holy matrimony with an increasing knowledge and trust of each other a whole greater than the sum of their parts and the sexual act becomes a “ritual of intimacy.”4
Procreation requires the joining of two people in their biology and their intent to bring children of their likeness and image into the family. This is not to remove the value and benefit of adoption but the focus of God’s plan is that the norm of procreation is to happen within the sacred bond of marriage and marital sexuality.
Education as used by the authors is actually parenting. Children are to have a father and mother. Biblical commands address parenting as mothering and fathering. In some ways, the word parent has become a non-gender inclusive term that loses the benefit of the distinctive meaning of father and mother. This is important. The Scriptures demand that the religious community assist the widow and the fatherless. This is because the role of husband and father is a manifestation of the image of God found in the man. Paul implies this when he states that the man (married) is the image and glory of God; but the woman (married) is the glory of the man. Together, they are not independent of each other in the Lord (I Cor 11:10-12). This underscores the differences in male and female with regard to marriage, procreation, and education of children. Moreover, the teachings of both Peter and Paul regarding the family roles in the household reinforce the idea that the man bears a greater responsibility, not authority, in the household relationships.
Time will not allow a full description of the differences in male and female sexuality. They are several and profound and must be understood from a Biblical, rather than behavioral science and cultural, perspective. Male and female sexuality are fundamentally different in biology. For example, intercourse requires a man be in a state of arousal. This is not required biologically for the female to mate. Psychologically, the meaning of intercourse is also significantly different between men and women. On the whole, men are more willing to engage in anonymous sex than women and the motivations are significantly different. The meaning of sexual experience appears to be different for men and women. And the spiritual intent of sexuality seems to be different for men and women. Male sexuality must be channeled through Biblical family roles which self-deny for the benefit of the female. Female sexuality is far more responsive to that kind of love and responds by giving back. This parallels the statement “We love Him because he first loved us.” Interestingly, with few exceptions, male homosexuality actually manifests as male sexuality targeting another man and relational lesbianism manifests a female sexuality. That should not be surprising. We are male and female, even when engaging in same sex activity.
Messianic Judaism and Judeo-Christianity must return to gender distinctions which only have meaning within Biblical marriage and family. As stated by the authors, this is ethics from above which is focused all in the family.
Children must be raised with a clear sexual identity that is based in, and consistent with, their religious identity as a Jewish man or a Jewish woman. They must understand that this identity has as a purpose the joining of a Jewish man and Jewish woman in Biblical marriage which establishes companionship as husband and wife first and as parents second. The authors are correct that this is significantly reversed in the present culture and has problematic implications for the future. Religious marriage is permanent by intent. Parenting is temporal by intent.
Messianic Jewish identity is problematic. It must maintain itself against pressures from Judaism to give up its identification with Yeshua. It must maintain itself against pressures from Christianity to give up its covenantal connection with the God of Abraham through Torah. It must also maintain itself against pressures from an increasingly secular and radically individualistic culture to give up its sense of peoplehood and covenant which is handed down from generation to generation in the context of family and synagogue.
Perhaps the greatest difficulty in this is that assimilation, like cultural change, is only noticeable and painful to the elders. They see, because of the age, what is being lost. The younger generation grows up within the changes and views them as normal. They do not see the need to maintain the historical boundaries, so they dismiss them. And as some among the elders fight against this with an angry rigidity that appears to hold tradition for tradition’s sake, they believe they are justified in ignoring them.
Wisdom requires that those who seek a mature Messianic Judaism avoid this rigidity and attempt to maintain tradition by diligently teaching it to the next generation as a valuable heritage which is integral to Jewish identity. The younger generation must be prepared to believe that the concerns of the elders are not simply the nostalgia of being “old school,” but a perspective of wisdom that must be honored and learned even if not fully appreciated at the time. Jewish religion and culture are for the most part historically coterminous and the whole of it must be carefully passed down. This must be done in the homes through marriage and family contexts as men and women, and in synagogues that maintain that male and female are of divine intention for companionship, procreation and education for those who know God, the creator of intimacy, covenant and sexuality.
1 Stuart Dauermann & Ellen Goldsmith, “Messianic Jewish Ethics Concerning Intimacy and Sexuality” (paper presented at the annual meeting for the Hashivenu Forum, Enfield, CT, May 18-19, 2016). See infra, 3-33 (hereafter cited as Dauerman & Goldsmith).
2 H. Bruce Stokes & Nathaniel P. Lewis, Integration of Behavioral Sciences and Theology: A Systematic-Relational Approach (San Jose, CA: Writers Club Press, 1999).
3 H. Bruce Stokes, “Sex and Religion: A Cultural History,” Kesher 9 (Summer 1999): 65-78; H.Bruce Stokes, Toward a Christian Marriage (Anaheim Hills, CA: DiscipleCenter Press, 2003).
4 H. Bruce Stokes, Toward a Christian Marriage.