The Rev. Bromleigh McCleneghan, the married mother of three and associate pastor for ministry with families at Union Church of Hinsdale in Illinois, who argues that single Christians can have sex as long as it's "mutually pleasurable and affirming," says she doesn't interpret the Bible as God's infallible Word.
"I profess Jesus as the Word of God, and the Bible as a witness to His life, ministry, death and resurrection. Which is to say that I take it seriously as a living witness, but also as a historic document written in a particular time and place," McCleneghan said in a Q&A via email with The Christian Post on Tuesday.
McCleneghan, who is advocating that single Christians can have sex in moderation in her new book, Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn't the Only Option — And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex, also responded to criticism from CP readers about the subject of her book.
The following is an edited transcript of CP's Q&A with McCleneghan:
CP: Readers are concerned that you might not believe in the Bible as the infallible Word of God. What in a nutshell is your understanding of the Bible in this context? Do you think the Bible is the infallible Word of God?
McCleneghan: Different Christian churches read and interpret the Bible differently. I profess Jesus as the Word of God, and the Bible as a witness to His life, ministry, death and resurrection. Which is to say that I take it seriously as a living witness, but also as a historic document written in a particular time and place.
CP: The Bible advises against fornication in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4. What is your interpretation of this Scripture? Isn't what your book is recommending to unmarried Christians fornication?
McCleneghan: I think that there have to be additional norms for what makes sex moral or immoral, just or unjust; the question of marriage is insufficient.
Because, of course, there can be harmful or non-consensual (abusive) sex in marriage. So we need to reflect on, with the biblical authors and other theologians, what sex is about: what makes it moral or immoral? What makes something loving, holy, and good? On page 144 of my book, I reflect a bit on the word "fornication:"
If sex is for the appropriate practice and experience of vulnerability, then repeated behaviors that mask that purpose are unethical. I've always wondered what to do with the Apostle Paul's condemnation of "fornication" in that letter to the church at Corinth (6:18 in particular). In the Greek, it's "porneia." In the new Common English Bible, it's "sexual immorality." Fornication is traditionally seen as extramarital sex. But that seems both overly broad and overly narrow. Porneia includes just about every naughty thing you can think of, including sex with relatives and animals, but also some that seem categorically "not like the others" to our modern ears (i.e., sex with someone who has been divorced). "Sexual immorality" is similarly all-inclusive, and unhelpfully vague. What makes something immoral?
My book is really an invitation for people to reflect on Scripture and their experiences in the light of their faith. It is not an "anything goes" approach to sexuality, but it does ask readers to consider what is at stake in the ways they order their sexual relationships.
CP: One of our readers had this response to your views on single Christians having sex: "2 Timothy 4:3, for a time is coming when people will no longer listen to sound and wholesome teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever their itching ears want to hear." How do you respond?
McCleneghan: There is always a danger that people will hear what they want to hear, and will believe things that are convenient for them to believe. Witness all sorts of lies from political leaders about how the problem of our economy is "lazy poor people." There's a false, unbiblical, teaching for you.
CP: Another reader had this to say: "How empty does she think people will feel after giving away sex to partners who didn't stay?" How would you respond to this?
McCleneghan: I take very seriously my responsibilities as pastor and writer; it is part of my vocation to walk with people when they are hurting, and to be as wise as I possibly can in offering counsel. I don't think I'm encouraging people to "give away sex."
I have received feedback from countless folks who were taught that if they reserved sex for marriage, they would avoid hurt, and their relationships would be immediately holy and wonderful and satisfying. And that has not proven true. I also know many who had sexual relationships outside of marriage that did not leave them hurting or empty, but were loving and supportive.
CP: How do you respond to 1 Corinthians 7 and Christians who think you should step down from your position as pastor for writing your book?
McCleneghan: There is a process for removing clergy from their positions in both the denomination in which I was ordained and the one in which I serve. But my book, which has been widely praised by lay and clergy leaders as wise and faithful, doesn¹t meet the criteria for being removed or otherwise censured.
CP: Another CP reader, Christina Kinzer, said: "I know from experience that having sex before marriage, and with more than one partner, only brings heartache and physical consequences. It'll be a part of you for the rest of your life. This is part of what is prophecy. False prophets. She needs to self-evaluate." How do you respond?
McCleneghan: I think it's interesting the way that readers such as Ms. Kinzer share their experiences of heartache following unmarried sex, and cite their experiences as authoritative, because, indeed, one of the things the book does is take the experiences of a number of people (350!) who completed a survey I sent out, as well as friends and my own, and offer them as sources of reflection.
But not all people have had the same experience as Ms. Kinzer. One of the things Christians are called to do is to reflect on Scripture, the wisdom of the Church, and the urging of the Holy Spirit, alongside their experiences, to make a faithful life. But suggesting that one person's experience will be true, or authoritative, for all people seems problematic.
You can read an excerpt from McCleneghan's book by clicking here.