Category Archives: sexuality

Committing adultery in the heart

This Sunday’s Gospel (Matthew 5: 17-37) is a challenge – even here in Honduras.

Jesus is warning us that it’s not only a sin to kill but we must recognize the ways we sin with our tongues and with our hearts.

That’s tough. There is so much polarization in our society that we despise those who think different from us and denigrate them.

But I think it is even more challenging to speak about another part of the Gospel, especially in the United States.

Jesus is also warning us that adultery, infidelity, is sinful, but even more “anyone who looks on a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery.” (Matthew 5: 28)

In light of the sex abuse crisis in the church and the blatant denigrating references to women by political leaders, these words are a challenge – and are likely to arouse strong emotions.

But, if I were to preach I would cite the example of a former president, Jimmy Carter. Though I think his foreign policy in relation to Iran and El Salvador were thoroughly flawed, he was a man of integrity.

During his presidential campaign in 1976 Jimmy Carter gave an interview to Playboy, the notorious light porn magazine. Maybe it was imprudent to do this but responding to one query, he said, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”

Some were scandalized and predicted it would affect his chances of being elected.

But looking back – especially in light of the sexual exploits of some religious and political leaders, his candor is refreshing.

But even more, it calls us to examine how we men relate to women and to all others. Do we lust after them? Or do we treat them as our sisters and brothers?

In our highly-sexualized society, we could imitate former President Carter and examine our conscience – not just in regard to our attitude and actions with women but with our attitudes to violence and to those perceived as enemies.

It is so easy to hide behind legalisms – I never killed anyone; I never raped anyone; I never committed adultery.

But have we sought to have a pure heart, a heart filled with love and respect, filled with the love of a God who called us to love even our enemies?

That’s a challenge.



Agnes, the countercultural virgin

St. Agnes was martyred at the age of 12 or 13 for having refused to sacrifice to idols as well as for rejecting offers of marriage.

Having consecrated herself to Christ as a virgin at a young age, she was handed over to civil authorities. When she refused to sacrifice to the idols or to marry one of her suitors, she was placed first with the pagan Vestal Virgins and then in a brothel. It is said that when she was stripped naked, her hair grew to cover her.

In any case, the authorities tried unsuccessfully to burn her and finally killed her by the sword.

For some this is a story about sex and idolatry, but Robert Ellsberg in All Saints puts her life in a different context:

In the story of Agnes, however, the opposition is not between sex and virginity. The conflict is between a young woman’s power in Christ to determine her own identity versus a patriarchal culture’s claim to identify her in terms of her sexuality. According to the view of her “suitors” and the state, if she would not be one man’s wife, she might as well be every man’s whore. Failing these options, she might as well be dead.

Virginity is a way not only to consecrate her to Christ but a way to resist the powers of this world that reduce women to sexual objects to be conquered by men. The virgin is a woman who has obtained freedom to be who she is, made in the image and likeness of God.

Married women also partake of this freedom, as they live as true partners with their spouses, not defining themselves by their “man,” but living with their spouse as people united in love, respecting the dignity of each other. Faithful spouses resist the powers that identify people as merely genital or use sex as a form of power and conquest.

Ellsberg notes that in regard to St. Agnes,

“Virgin” in this case is another way to say Free Woman.

I would say that all women who recognize their dignity and live their lives in contrast to the sexualized culture of power and inequality can be Free Women.