Christian Fundamentalism & Sexuality
Evangelicals (middle-class fundamentalists) say they face three enemies: the world, the devil, and the flesh.The world: other people who do not meet evangelical criteria (non-believers, social Christians, progressive Christians, and the non-Christian religious).
The devil: primary antagonist of God and leader of demons, with whom the devil calls to engage in warfare with God's angels and evangelicals, typically temptation into sexual behavior.
The flesh: the physical bodies of evangelicals, and as the immaterial soul is the 'true man,' the body merely exists to carry it around. As it is part of this earth, the body is not trustworthy and is constantly at war with the soul, leading into vice, usually sexual behavior, but also gluttony and pride.
SO WE HAVE at the outset three enemies: everyone outside of the evangelical in-group, a supernatural horde, and the human body. This is a very isolating viewpoint but one that offers reprieve with co-combatants through a type of Stockholm Syndrome. The metaphors here are enlightening. Life is a battle to endure. The reward for endurance (suffering) is eternal life with God. Life is thus also a race that can be won. But some people, the world, do not understand it as such. The devil does understand it but is ever working to cause the runners to stumble or to keep the world from not running in the first place. The world often runs in races, but they are on the wrong track. The evangelical track is the only way, the way of Christ. The flesh acts as extra weight on the runner which makes the race more difficult, but it also serves the runner in making him stronger and more disciplined.
The metaphor of Life as a Race or Battle with Enemies creates a dynamic, competition-oriented understanding of the human condition.
Masturbation as an illegitimate practice, weakening the evangelical's sexual integrity.Evangelicals regard sexual behavior as healthy only within a marriage between a man and a woman. Masturbation is thus wasted energy, wasted feelings that could have been better employed to one's wife. Masturbation is seen as giving into the flesh, not so much self-abuse as soul-abuse. Some other religious groups have even more stringent attitudes towards sex, but with evangelicals, "sex-as-an-enjoyable-recreation" has been given affirmation for married straight couples. Hence the legitimacy metaphor: all other behaviors are illegitimate if only one mode of sexuality is legitimate.
Masturbation is a fight with the flesh, but same-sex marriage is a fight with the world. Masturbation is an internal battle, but same-sex marriage up-ends our standards for what is legitimate according to God. This is what evangelicals mean when they say homosexual marriage harms heterosexual marriage. It is not only that homosexual behavior itself is sinful, it is that giving legitimacy to homosexual marriage (making two into one) weakens the legitimacy claims of heterosexual marriage. To evangelicals, ultimate questions of legitimacy are answered in scripture, not the law of the land.
Integrity is another important virtue for humankind all over the globe, but here evangelicals use the term in connection with legitimized, sanctioned sexuality. Integrity is to be faithful, loyal, and consistent. The word comes from the Latin integer (like the math term), meaning whole, complete. In this sense, integrity means a wholeness or completeness of character which is consistent, the antithesis of hypocrisy (duality). Thus masturbation weakens our integrity by causing a rift between our legitimate sexual behavior in marriage and the illegitimate behavior acted out in front of the computer. It causes evangelicals to lie to cover up the shame, thus adding one sin on another. It takes away sexual energy and feelings which are owed to the wife.
What is interesting here is the complete lack of regard for female sexuality. The assumptions found in this sort of evangelical boot-camp are as follows:
1. Only men lust by nature of their flesh.
2. Women are the receptacles for man's sexual needs. They only allow themselves to be given over to the flesh when their husband is the one acting out onto her.
3. A woman who acts out with or daydreams sexually about any man (or woman) that is not her husband is a whore and unworthy of an evangelical man.
Suicidal thoughts and feelings arise from self-hatred and fear of abandonment.Due to the gratification of sexual feelings by the flesh, the punishment is guilt and shame, not just for the acts but for not living up to the sexual standard of integrity mentioned above. Compounding this shame is the fear of abandonment by a wife who expects the husband to maintain this integrity (because she, without question, does so) and by the evangelical in-group which acts to maintain standards of integrity as a collective (in light of individual weakness).
The knowledge that the world does not respect evangelically-sanctioned sexuality serves to further isolate the evangelical who does not live up to his duty as a Godly man of integrity.
The only option is to surrender sexual weakness to God. This externalizes some of the responsibility, giving the evangelical brief respite during post-masturbation prayer when his weakness gets the better of him again and also when he enters back into the evangelical in-group of men who are honest enough to admit of their similar problem with maintaining sexual integrity. Sharing these struggles is extremely important for in-group cohesion.
Thus the circle is complete. The problem is supposed (inability to maintain sexual integrity), the reaction takes place (suicidal ideation), and the solution is elicited (from the evangelical in-group to maintain legitimacy).