Although Colon and Field do not describe it in these terms, what they address in their Lust and Avoidance chapter is a certain kind of evangelical sexual fundamentalism that reduces all sexuality and sexual drive to eros and genital fulfillment. Not all evangelicals are sexual "fundamentalists" but many evangelical communities embrace it.
This is something to really ponder:
"If you look at the messages singles receive regarding relationships between men and women, is it any wonder that we have so much trouble connecting, even as friends? When Christian singles are repeatedly warned to avoid all temptation from the opposite sex, how are they supposed to get to know each other, let alone develop a relationship deep enough to lead to marriage?"
Another dangerous message singles receive in the evangelical church:
If you are celibate, you are not sexual.
"When all sexual desire outside of marriage is seen as lust, singles are viewed as either immoral or asexual. The assumptions tend to be that either Christian singles are filled with uncontrollable desires and must marry as soon as possible, or they have been given 'the gift of celibacy' and no longer have any desires at all." They quote Joshua Harris asserting to singles that unless God has removed one's desire for sex, one is supposed to get married.
Colon and Field respond to this. They believe this is problematic at two levels:
1. The first is the belief that God bases his callings on our desires.
" Imagine for a moment a married Christian assuming that God wants him or her to be single because he or she no longer wants to be married. "
2. The second is the belief that we are not sexual beings unless we have sex.
"We are all sexual beings, and to some extent, most of us have sexual desires. Unfortunately, we too often accept the secular world's message that these desires cannot be controlled. In the evangelical community, this often leads to disturbing messages about lust and temptation. Christian singles are told to avoid everything that might make us stumble, to be extremely careful in our interactions with those of the opposite sex, to pursue marriage tenaciously so that we finally have an outlet for our desires, and to deny that we are sexual beings until we are married. Not only does this approach fail to recognize God's power to help single adults resist sexual temptation, but it also fails to acknowledge that sexual temptations do not disappear once you marry."
My response to this kind of sexual "fundamentalism" Colon and Field are addressing reduces all embodied sexuality and sexual desires to eros and genital fulfillment. In this view of sexuality, the "one-flesh" marital bond satisfies our deepest sexual yearnings. For example, (I could pick out hundreds of examples from typical evangelical books on marriage) Lewis Smedes uses the language of the "total experience of love," or how the sexual act is the "complete sexual experience." When evangelicals use the grammar of "complete" and "total" to describe the male-female sexual experience they ironically reduce sexuality and sexual desire to a fundamentalistic parts and plumbing sexuality. As Colon and Field (as well as some other thinkers) observe, this creates tremendous relational problems, challenges, pressures, and frustrations for unmarried men and women who are sexual beings. This also creates huge relational roadblocks and discouragements for married individuals to form and sustain intimate friendships with the opposite sex.
This brand of sexual fundamentalism in our faith communities reduces meaningful, passionate, life-giving communion or union, to just the male-female sex union in a marital relationship in contemporary relationships. For centuries though, Christians believed there was an intentional union or communion-bond between saints outside or beyond marriage. This was true for same-sex or cross-sex friendship. Fourteenth century Franciscan Bernardino of Siena described deep bonds at his friend's funeral:
"He was always so closely united to me and loved me with all his soul. In religion he was an older brother to me; in love he was another self."
This fundamentalism (as has been noted here on faith dance) leads to all kinds of fears of relating too close to the opposite sex, getting too close with our bodies, getting too emotionally close, etc.--for both singles and for married individuals who want to relate to individuals of the opposite sex outside of marriage. Colon and Field point to author Matt Schmucker who counsels a single man should not do anything with a single woman that a married man should not to do with a woman who is not his wife. This includes, "sharing a meal, meeting for a cup of coffee, and having extended conversations about each other's lives."
Colon and Field ask, "Given that so many people find erotic overtones to sharing coffee and conversation, are we surprised that so many singles are faced not only with the confusion of whether to date not but also with loneliness and a lack of Christian community?"
Stanley Grenz among others, gives us a deeper vision of sexuality to move beyond this form of sexual fundamentalism. He states, "Although marriage emerges in the second creation narrative as the primal relationship, it is by no means the only male-female relationship. Their fundamental maleness and femaleness impels persons to come together in the many relationships that characterize the human community."
He furthermore helps us when he suggests that there is an important distinction between sexual desire and desire for sex. "Sexual desire" he writes, " refers to the need we all share to experience wholeness and intimacy through relationships with others. It relates to the dimension often called eros, the human longing to possess or be possessed by the object of one's sexual desire. Understood in this way, eros ought not be limited to genital sexual acts, but encompasses a broad range of human actions and desires, and it participates in the religious dimension of life in the form of desire to know and be known by God. For many people the desire for sex, the longing to express one's sexuality through genital acts (venus), is psychologically inseparable from sexual desire. Nevertheless for the development of true sexual maturity, a person must come to terms with the difference between these two dimensions and learn to separate them both in one's own psychological state and in overt action."
Understanding this distinction opens the door for abundant life, healing, union, communion in the vast area of male-female relationality situated between platonic friendship/acquaintance and marriage. Friendship between men and women--including singles and married--opens "up new spaces for affection, tenderness, fidelity, camaraderie, and companionship and so reveals the emotional emptiness of the tyranny of sexuality." Jeremy Carette in Religion and Culture