By Loretta Fulton
Never talk religion and politics at a polite dinner party–everyone knows that adage–but what about discussing sex in church?
The thought of that is enough to make most people squirm, but Tom Copeland, a professor of psychology and counseling at Hardin-Simmons University, proved recently that it’s not only OK, but a good thing.
Granted, it wasn’t a Sunday morning discussion, but it WAS a Wednesday night discussion, the second most religious night on the calendar after Sunday.
Copeland was guest speaker Oct. 4 for the Wednesday night forums at First Central Presbyterian Church. Jacob Snowden, director of Christian Education at FCPC and a former student of Copeland’s, introduced the speaker and the topic.
“These are things the church might be able to say about sex, but isn’t,” he said.
And he was right. Copeland not only holds a doctorate in educational psychology, he also earned a master of arts degree in religious education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1984.
“I really like bringing all those things together,” Copeland said.
As a professor at a Baptist university, Copeland knows how the topic of sex is handled in many churches. He has heard stories from his students about how some youth pastors handle the topic with students, and it is concerning.
Copeland believes the church can, and should, do better. Church is the very place where an honest and straightforward discussion about sexualty should take place. Copeland suggested five points to consider when trying to talk about sex in church.
1. Good sexuality is very biblical.
Copeland used the word “sexuality” instead of “sex” for a reason.
“When you say ‘sexuality,’ it’s harder to make jokes about it,” he joked.
As if the audience weren’t already a little squirmy, Copeland read explicit passages from Song of Songs, holding up a Bible as he did so.
“I’m reading this out of the Bible, so don’t get upset,” he said. “That’s really sexual and sensual and it’s right in the middle of the Bible.”
In the Old Testament, the euphemism for having sex is “knew,” as in “Adam “knew” his wife, Copeland noted. The Hebrew word is “yada,” which has a deeper meaning than “had sexual relations with,” Copeland said. It means to know deeply or to be in a deep relationship with.
“You can’t ‘yada’ someone you pick up at a party,” he said.
2. The New Testament doesn’t have a lot of good things to say about sexuality, Copeland said, blaming it on writings by St. Paul and later emphasized by Saint Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430, and was bishop of Hippo in North Africa. Augustine did a “180” in his life, Copeland said, going from a playboy to a bishop with strict ideas about sexuality.
“We need to get over Paul and Augustine,” Copeland advised.
3. We need to work hard to rethink our concept of of purity, Copeland said. “Purity” has become an idol. The lives of many young people have been ruined by Christians who have idolized purity, he said. Too often, they are told by church leaders that losing their sexual purity is the worst thing they can do.
“We’re hurting lots of kids the way we do it,” he said.
4. Sexual diversity may be the most difficult issue facing the church, Copeland said.
“We have to figure out how Jesus would respond to those people,” he said.
5. The church needs to teach that good sexuality is not just good and holy but can be more.
“Good sexuality within a relationship can be transcendent,” Copeland said. “We have a chance to get over ourselves.”
By the time Copeland finished his prepared remarks and answered several questions from the audience, nobody was squirming. Instead, they were reflecting on what Copeland had said and perhaps agreeing with the closing comments from Cliff Stewart, pastor of First Central Presbyterian Church.
“I think I heard the gospel here tonight,” Stewart said.