Wednesday, 7 October 2015

When pastoral gets tricky: the 'M' word

The issue of masturbation is one of the rarely occurring challenges for the pastoral role, but when it turns up it is never a simple issue. The main reason is that this is surely one of those things done out of the public gaze; and if it isn't then the solution is made simple for whenever I have encountered this (about seven or eight times) mental health issues or cranial trauma were the more pressing pastoral need.

It is, generally not an issue that we tend to talk about other than the attributing of a more colloquial term for the act addressed at someone who has acted foolishly - as many Referees will surely attest.

This is an issue which may have first been addressed in the (boy's) school assembly when warnings about inducing  'weaknesses' were made. Staying in school and moving to the playground where folk warnings about hirsute palms, weakened eyesight and many other curses were passed on from one to another. Of course, supported by the Onan 'spilling seed' context this is often limited in people's thinking as a male only issue - but of course it isn't. During my time as a counsellor I have met almost as many women as men who have engaged in the act as something compulsive and/or damaging and a problem.

It is an area which so many of those 'pastors' on the Internet seem to be obsessed with as they condemn the reader who transgresses to eternal separation from God and  an eternity of hellfire and damnation.

The very reason I have started along this current thread of 'pastoral getting tricky' is that people have turned up before me and brought me a Jesus who is a curse as He comes into their reality with the sole purpose of condemning them - and the focus of this condemnation, for some is masturbation!

But I have a Jesus who comes not to condemn the world but to save those in it by reconciling them to God and bringing the promise that, believing in Him, they will not perish! (Jn 3.16)

I have a God who tells me that nothing separates me from His love: Not height, not depth, nor power or principality; nothing future, present, or past, separates me from the love of God. (Ro 8.38)

And today, in my morning office (see the post before this) I found the words: '
But if the wicked turn away from all their sins that they have committed and keep all my statutes and do what is lawful and right, they shall surely live; they shall not die.'

Which are great, but when I check my Bible, nowhere do I find and reference to the word. It isn't just that there is no commandment about this issue, but there is no mention of the word.

The focus of the much vaunted hellfire despatching and condemnation-supporting passage that many like to use, Matthew 5.27, is about lust, double standards and the key requisites of those who claim to have a faith: humility, justice and mercy. The problem is that one person I discussed this with, when asked what they thought about during the act responded with the answer, 'Nothing really - I just do it!' 

How on earth do you follow that? 

There's no sexual sin broken - because there isn't one!

There's no lustful thoughts - so Matthew 5 is tossed away!

This was, for them, no different to scratching and itch, until they became a Christian and then it became something so very big and damaging because of the way the person who had asked the question, when truthfully answered, responded!

How can we respond to that other than to ascertain whether the act has the a detrimental effect on the person because it is:

Compulsive - you won't need glasses or a razor, but you might need some support because of any underlying roots for the behaviour. Always good to gently check this.

Causing marital stress - I have met people of both sexes who by engaging in solo sex acts (I'm not keen on the labels 'self-abuse' or 'pleasuring oneself') have reduced the sexual activity (or even in one case caused it to cease completely) with their partner. 

Dependence on pornography: This is where our problems (and sinful action) really start to bite as Matthew 5 comes back into the equation. If the spur or promoting action is pornography then you are on a very slippery road for, in my experience, the thought life is not only affected but the physical life is affected too. Many of those caught up in the pornography trap that I have met end up engaged in some sexual transgression involving a third party if married or another single person (followed by another and another and ...) if single.

The problem is, like alcohol, the level of indulgence and the brand of choice and the images before you have within it it an escalation and the journey from bare breasts to something much less savoury is but a slippery step into damnation and worse! Worse because some of those I have met who have dabbled with 'soft' porn have found themselves in a hard cell as they sought to act out their fantasies!

No, not everyone who engages in porn will end up a sex offender, but the mind of those who do is changed as the level of pornography and the images and the levels of exposure to it to satisfy escalate. Better not to walk in to lion's cage rather than enter and wonder what the fuss was about, 'Well I'm in the cage and I can't see a Li...!'

Lust: And here we have the big issue. Lust can come out of the pornography but it can also be the root that leads people into pornography too.

Over the years I have counselled couples to, 'Get on with it and get married rather than engage in sexual activity before they married.' The sexual desire for each other was such that they were on fire inwardly with their passions and because they were heading to marriage anyway, they thought, 'What's the problem, we're going to get married, let's get it on!' The problem is that in some cases, the inability to get the whole relationship right before they married made the marriage a real battlefield. Better to square away the potential problem areas and enter a relationship with some degree of balance and control. Sometimes the sexual desire in one party pushed the other to agree with sex, and this is an even worse situation in my book.

If the desire to possess someone sexually causes you to engage in any activity, then there is something wrong and regardless of the act, there is something that needs to be dealt with. If we cannot control our thought life to the extent that we are controlled by it then we are heading for an existence of sexual sin and potentially societal correction (or exclusion).

If lust is present in the equation then you need to be honest with yourself, those who might be affected by it, and get yourself some help. Talk to someone and set about getting your thought-life sorted and squared away. Self-awareness and a proper response are always more desirable than those who will point the finger at you and simply condemn .

When doing a psycho sexual counselling course, a lecturer made the observation that as Christians we should be glorifying God in everything that we do (1 Cor 10.31) and that a healthy, balanced and fulfilling sex life was part of that desired state. If our sexual encounters do not glorify God, if our thoughts do not glorify God, then we need to stop and sort it out.

Talking of her daughter's upcoming marriage, a woman who was well known for her opposition to nakedness and sex in the media shocked me when she said: 'Everything and anything goes in marriage, there is no wrong other than this: That you never abuse, misuse or demean yourself or your partner.'

Whether the issue is that of sex on your own or with another person, the guiding rules are that what we do is a right act (and there's often that niggle which confirm the fact that it isn't) done the right way (again, you know) with the right mindset (lust or love? Giving or getting or taking?)

So - right or wrong?

I'm not going to become one of those who will label you as saint or sinner but will pass the question back to you and then  be willing, should you say 'Sin' to simply help to 'restore you gently' - because that is what Christians are called to do, not offer condemnation.

A tough issue today - I hope the contents of this blog post are of some help and encouragement.



Anonymous said...

A brave and excellent pastoral post.

Thank you,


Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Thanks: A difficult series of posts because there are too many who just lump it all into one and rather than offer a balanced approach (I hope mine is) offer something that removes Grace, reconciliation and a gentle restoring love from the equation.

I just hope the people I have written this for get to draw the right conclusions from it all.

Being there and caring: What more can we do for those we pastor?



Terry Lawton said...

Well done Vic,you've faced a common anxiety for many of us. I remember a 92 year old saint who told me that he too has to be 'careful'. I remember well the advice of cold baths...never worked..exercise, never worked .liked the advice from scripture of fleeing from temptation, that didn't work much either, cos we have a choice. Then there was the advice from a movie star...Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra or someone from South Pacific who said that women of a certain age are protected by their age!

You'vw faced the issues of guilt, sin, temptation forgiveness...glad to see there is, no condemnation for those in Christ, I'm aware that Paul struggled with some sins himself. Me, well certain age and certain medication seems to work anyway! Thrilled to know that when that which is perfect is come (Jesus). such temptation or the misuse of it will be finally dealt with.

Anonymous said...

The greatest merely human being ever to grace the earth said: "When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad; that is my religion."

There is no attempt to dominate others here, no insatiable will to power, no burning lust for sex or money at the expense of others' destruction.

Remember such pastors as Rev. Chris Brain (who could forget), Rt. Rev. Peter Ball (jailed yesterday for sexual abuse of boys and young men, one of whom killed himself) and Rev. Roy Catchpole, jailed today for sexual abuse of a vulnerable pensioner).

Then remember A. Lincoln, who laid down his life in the "struggle for a vast future", in which all tyrants, spiritual and material, would ultimately be laid low. He may have been approaching Christ by the end, having been driven away from Him by the lunatic antics of the Hardshell Baptist Church in his youth.

Christ in Scripture, yes; self-appointed and self-motivated spiritual tyrants abusing His Name , no.