Leslie Basham: According to Dr. Juli Slattery, the solution to tough sexual struggles needs to go deeper than surface Band-Aid fixes.
Juli Slattery: Modern-day approaches to sexuality within the church have been shifting more toward a problem-solving mentality which is, “How do we get rid of porn use? How do we keep our singles from sleeping around? How do we address the problem issues?” It’s behavior control. Discipleship trains you how to think about all sexual issues. It gives you a framework so you’re walking out, “How do I follow Jesus related to my sexuality?”
Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of Adorned, for April 2, 2019.
If you have a younger listener with you, know that we’ll hear about some mature themes today. Nancy’s in a conversation with Dr. Juli Slattery and Dannah Gresh about sexual discipleship. If you missed yesterday’s program, go to ReviveOurHearts.com to hear the first part of this interview.
Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, we’re taking several days this week to talk about a subject we don’t talk about enough in the church or on this program. I’m so thankful for the two guests the Lord has brought to us today who are long-time friends, colleagues in ministry. We’ve prayed for each other. We’ve encouraged each other.
And now we get to sit down and talk about a tough subject but a really important one. It relates, Juli Slattery, to your book, Rethinking Sexuality: God’s Design and Why It Matters.
Did you ever think you would be the author of books on this subject or the one to be?
Juli: No. Neither did my three sons. They don’t like . . .
Dannah Gresh: They probably love it. “Oh, Mom wrote another book on sex!”
Juli: Oh, no, they don’t. When their friends come up to them, they’re like, “My mom said that your mom talks about sex all the time.” Poor kids.
Nancy: But you’ve found that it’s really important, and God’s using you, Juli, in a significant way through your writing, through your speaking, through your ministry, Authentic Intimacy, (I love that!) to help bring healing and biblical understanding to wounded hearts. You’re helping people deal with shame and pain and confusion and chaos that surrounds us in the culture.
We’re going to talk more today about why we need to be addressing this in a really straightforward way, not apologizing, but saying, “This is God’s heart.” He has a heart for this message. Many times in Scripture, far more than most people realize, the whole matter of our sex and our sexuality is being addressed.
Before we get into that, let me just introduce Dannah. You heard from her a moment ago. But Dannah Gresh, we’ve partnered together in a lot of ministry over the year at True Woman events. Dannah, we had the joy of co-authoring, Lies Young Women Believe. And now we’re embarking on a new partnership.
You’ve had events for tween girls. What are tween girls, for those who aren’t sure?
Dannah: Tweens, technically, are girls age eight–twelve. They’re just prior to their teen years.
Nancy: You’ve had such a burden to press down the message we talk about every day on Revive Our Hearts, but to say, “It’s not just women who need this. It’s not just teenage girls who need this. It’s girls who need this.”
Dannah: Yes. They’re spiritual formation years. I love those years. I love those girls.
Nancy: You’ve pressed me and pressed me over the years, “We’ve got to reach the girls! We’ve got to reach the girls!”
Nancy: Because a lot of the things we’re talking about in this series this week on sexuality, by the time women are women, the seeds have already been planted that are wrong ways of thinking.
Nancy: You’ve just released a new book called Lies Girls Believe, and a mom’s guide to go with that, so moms can walk their daughters through the process of thinking God’s way.
Dannah: Yes. That’s right. I love this age group. They are developing their theology. And if we aren’t feeding it, the world will be feeding. So that’s why I love ministering to them.
Nancy: The world started a lot earlier than age eight feeding this into their lives.
Nancy: So we’re trying to plant seeds of truth in their hearts.
Nancy: Coming this fall in many of the cities that air Revive Our Hearts, will be an event called True Girl. I’m very excited about that. Revive Our Hearts is partnering with you and your ministry on this. We’ll be talking lots more about it.
Dannah: Yes. It will be appearing in about forty-five – fifty cities this fall—True Girl.
Nancy: So get to one near you. You’ll be hearing about it, and you’ll be able to find a schedule for those events here at ReviveOurHearts.com.
So now when we talk about rethinking sexuality, Juli and Dannah, and God’s design and why it matters, I can hear some people thinking or maybe even saying, first of all, “This isn’t something you talk about in public. This isn’t something you talk about on a podcast or a broadcast.”
I can hear some people thinking, I don’t know that we really need that in the church. Yes, the world is messed up out there, but in the church, it’s not quite the same. I don’t know if anybody thinks that, but I think they do.
I will admit, Juli, as I read Rethinking Sexuality this past week, I found myself getting an education, not realizing the extent to which the confusion, the wrong thinking, and the chaos and brokenness was true among believers. I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did.
As I read, I thought about how in our events we always ask women to fill out a prayer card, “How can we pray for you?” We have a team that spends the whole time of that event praying over these, sometimes thousands, of prayer cards. I want to just read snippets from a handful of prayer cards received from a recent conference.
Here’s a woman who says, “I’m in a relationship that my Christian family and friends don’t approve of. I believe Jesus died on the cross for my sins, and I still really like the same gender as myself. I know the truth, but I still don’t walk away. I don’t want to walk away. I hurt those I love most because of my sexuality.”
Now, who would have thought that that young woman, I’m assuming, would have been coming to a Revive Our Hearts conference? But she was there, and she was honest enough to say, “I need prayer for this.”
Here’s a woman who said, “I need to be able to forgive my spouse for a lengthy affair with a church member. I also need to forgive the church members who knew and shunned me during the affair, never speaking the truth in love.” So that deals with sexuality and a lot of wounds there.
Here’s a woman who says, “I’m a believer in Christ since I was a young girl. I struggle with sexual immorality every day in my mind, also masturbation and pornography. I know I’m redeemed, but I’m desperate for victory over this sin and for someone to talk to for accountability. I’m shameful, so it prevents me from telling a trusted sister in Christ.”
Here’s a woman saying, “I pray that God would reconcile what sin has separated through sexual assault. My family is in shambles, and I know all we want to do is love like Jesus.” I don’t know the details, but there’s clearly a story there with lots of people impacted.
Here’s another one, “Please pray for me to be set free from oppression. I was mentally, emotionally, and sexually abused by my husband for nearly thirty years.” There’s a whole story there, lives impacted.
“My husband has been lying to me and our church for years about porn use.”
Here’s another one: “I poured into my children the Word of God, yet one son suffers depression, questions God, even hurting himself, and another son struggles with same-sex attraction and wants to find a way God will accept it by twisting truth.”
I’ve got a whole pile of these in my hand! I’m thinking, I don’t know these women. I don’t know their names. I don’t know the details, but the Lord knows it all.
He knows the things they couldn’t even bring themselves to write on the card, or the thousands of women at an event who couldn’t put anything about that in a card, but, truth be known, God sees it all. He knows it all. There is pain. There is confusion. We’ve been sinned against. We have sinned. And a lot of this relates to our sexuality.
And, Juli, I think you helped me to see in this book, Rethinking Sexuality, that this is a tidal wave of confusion, wrong thinking, pain.
Nancy: And it’s not going away, and it’s not getting better.
Juli: No. Unfortunately, I think we can say with some confidence, it’s just going to get worse because of our culture, as a whole. As a result of that, a lot of the Christian church walks away from a God-fearing understanding of sexuality, of what sin is, of what healing and wholeness look like.
As we let go of those foundations, we know that we’re sowing seeds that will result in more and more pain. We’ve got to recognize that this is where we are today. Nancy, what you read is what we receive at our ministry on a daily basis. But this is going to get even multiplied.
Nancy: Paint a picture for those of us who may have had our heads in the sand a little bit, of this tsunami. What is the church . . . What does the world look like when sexual sins, sexual wrong thinking escalates and accelerates? What does that world look like?
Juli: Well, I think we’re beginning to see it where there’s no sense of how we even define brokenness. One of the big shifts that’s happened even in the last, say, five or ten years, is we used to identify certain desires, behaviors, symptoms. Even in the psychological world, we’d say, “That’s a problem. How are we going to address that?” Today we’re not even allowed to say that’s a problem anymore.
Dannah: Or a disorder. It would be labeled as a disordered emotion or disordered desires. And now those are normalized—some of them.
Juli: Right. And so, if we can’t even agree on what health looks like, and we’re redefining health and wholeness, not only are we going to see more symptoms of brokenness, but we’re also . . . Where’s the light of truth? Where do we walk to?
Dannah: So porn is normalized. Erotica is normalized. Gender—be anything you want, whatever you feel like, you are. That’s normal.
Dannah: All the things that maybe used to be considered problematic sexual behaviors are now maybe even spoken of as healthy.
Dannah: If your marriage bed needs spiced up, plug in a little porn. Right?
Juli: Yes. It is no longer viewed as healthy in our culture, for example, for you to be twenty years old and to have no sexual experiences.
Dannah: Right. People would tell you something’s wrong.
Juli: You’re immature.
Dannah: You’re repressing something.
Dannah: I know a young man who was a virgin in his secular university and had several friends sit him down for a serious conversation about how he was repressing his homosexuality. He had chosen to control sexual desire because he wanted one day to have a godly marriage bed. And there was just lots of concerns surrounding what is, really, by at least medical standards, a really healthy choice.
Dannah: This young man wasn’t going to acquire a sexually transmitted disease, wasn’t going to experience an untimely pregnancy with a woman. And yet, his friends were worried about him.
Nancy: Let’s remember that this is not just outside the church, this way of thinking.
Nancy: The statistics about the change of thinking about sexuality within the church are staggering.
Juli: Yes. Over 50% of young Christians believe that there is absolutely nothing wrong with sleeping with somebody outside of marriage, yet they still hold to a biblical view on so many other things.
I heard one author, Kenny Luck, refer to that as a sexual atheist. I like that term because I think at some level a lot of us can fall into that category of, “God does not speak authoritatively into my sexuality. I get to decide that for myself, even if I follow Him with the rest of my life.”
And, Nancy, you’re saying, “Hey, I’m just realizing this in reading Rethinking Sexuality. I realized this along the journey of doing ministry on this topic.
The first years when I would go into a Christian church, a solid Christian church, and do a conference for women on the topic of sexuality, one of the things that I always do is to have a whole session that’s just live Q and A.
So women can text in any question they want, and I would say at those first few events—and I still feel this way now—my first response when I read those text messages—hundreds of them—is, “There is so much pain in this room.”
Nancy: So what are the kinds of texts and questions that you would receive?
Juli: They are very similar to what people have written on these prayer cards. It’s abuse that has never been addressed or acknowledged. We’re seeing that happen in the Me Too movement of people feeling like they could never speak that out loud or they’re ashamed if they did.
It’s struggles with sexual sin and temptation that they just don’t know how to stop, and they feel like, “Where is God? I’m following Him. I must be doing something wrong.”
It’s women sleeping with somebody other than their husband.
It’s same-sex attraction, trying to make sense of that gender confusion.
You name it. Everything that’s in the world is in the church.
Dannah: And I think that’s really the key because we tend to believe the lie that inside the church, the sexual pain and problems and sin is not as widespread. But a few years ago when Fifty Shades of Grey became just . . .
Nancy: . . . the rage.
Dannah: Viral—the rage. I couldn’t believe the number of Christian women who were proudly saying they were reading it. A Barna survey revealed that the percentage of churched versus unchurched women who were reading the book was no different—head-to-head.
I began to look at other statistics. Very rarely could I find a statistical difference in the church. Juli, do you . . .?
Juli: Yes, absolutely. When you look at all the research, the church is really tracking with the world—maybe a few percentage points behind, but not many. They are changing views on things like gender, on marriage.
It’s not just these big cultural issues that tend to get our attention. It’s even our view of the sanctity of marriage, that when you enter into marriage, you’re entering into a covenant that reflects God’s covenant with us. We don’t break that covenant lightly and say, “My husband’s not making me happy anymore. I want to find somebody who is.” That’s worldly thinking, again, based on the belief that God exists to serve me, not that I exist to worship Him.
So this is throughout the whole church. It’s just wrong thinking about sexuality and a lot of brokenness as a result.
Dannah: I would say that there is even some statistical evidence that, in the churches that are talking about it the least, that there may be more sexual sin in that environment.
There is one survey that I’m thinking of: Men who were attending churches that you might describe as legalistic.
Nancy: Very, very conservative.
Dannah: Very, very, very conservative. The percentage of men in those churches who were using porn was significantly higher than unchurched public numbers.
So I think, again, our silence on this subject is not serving us in moving toward purity and holiness that God outlines for us in the Scriptures.
Nancy: Well, the truth is that we’ve been discipled by the world and its thinking and its narrative. And, Juli, you’ve introduced a term that I think is brilliant. I hope it becomes really widespread as a vision and a goal for our lives and our churches—the whole term of sexual discipleship. When have you ever heard those two words put together? Sexual, that’s one thing. Discipleship, that’s another thing.
But you’re saying, “No. The world has discipled us about sexuality and wrong ways of thinking.”
Nancy: God’s Word says your mind needs to be renewed that you may know and approve the will of God which is good and perfect. But that requires discipleship. We talk about discipleship in terms of Bible reading, prayer, evangelism, acts of compassion.
But you’re reminding us that we need to be discipled about a biblical perspective of sexuality. And not just kids, college kids who are having boyfriends and girlfriends or people who are in affairs, but all of us need biblical thinking and discipleship about sexuality.
Juli: Yes. I think modern-day approaches to sexuality within the church have been . . . We’ve talked about the silence. I think that’s starting to go away. But now we’re shifting more toward a problem-solving mentality which is, “How do we get rid of porn use? How do we keep our singles from sleeping around? How do we address the problem issues?”
Nancy: We’re really tackling the fruit.
Nancy: But not getting to the root.
Juli: It’s behavior control. And we’re never going to regain the ground just by talking about problems or an education approach, “Let’s do a series on one aspect of sexuality.” That teaches you what to think about a particular sexual issue.
Discipleship trains you how to think about all sexual issues. It gives you a framework. Discipleship is very relational. It’s very personal. You’re walking out, “How do I follow Jesus related to my sexuality? What does it look like, whether I’m an eighteen-year-old young man or a forty-five-year-old married woman, someone struggling with same-sex desires, someone addicted to pornography, someone who has had sexual abuse in your past?”
Where does Jesus intersect with the sexual questions and struggles that we have? Because if the gospel is true, if Jesus is who He claimed to be, He is Lord of all, not just certain parts of our lives.
Nancy: We’re not just talking about changing people’s behaviors. The goal isn’t to keep the kids from cohabitating, sleeping with their boyfriend. The goal is the Great Commission. Jesus said, “Make disciples, teaching them to observe everything I’ve commanded you.”
And so discipling people about every area of life, bringing it under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That’s the goal. Right?
Juli: Absolutely. It’s maturity in all areas.
I think of Ephesians chapter 4. Paul talks about the purpose of the spiritual gifts in the church. He says that the purpose is that you are so rooted in truth and in who Christ is that you’re not going to be swayed by the culture.
And what we see today, unfortunately, is we see Christians that are very swayed by cultural thinking on sexuality because we’re not rooted, we’re not discipled in our sexuality.
Dannah: So, Juli, let’s define sexual discipleship. You say there’s three elements involved in it.
Juli: Yes, absolutely. I think this is true of all discipleship. And when you want an example of this, just look at what the culture has done.
The first ingredient is really knowing what we believe. I think the average Christian, even if you’re in the Word of God, you don’t really know what we believe about sexuality beyond a list of do’s and don’ts. You can’t answer the question: Why does God care about our sexuality? Why did He create us as sexual people?
So going very deep into our theology of sexuality, we need to be grounded in that.
Nancy: Let me just interrupt, and then let you get back to the next two. I think this was something that was, to a large measure, missing from a lot of the purity movement we saw with young people in the 80s, 90s. I don’t want to dis that or say that it shouldn’t have happened, but we saw a lot of young people who said, “I’ll put on this purity ring. True love waits.” Some really noble objectives, but we saw a lot of kids go through that movement, take the steps, sign the pledge card, or whatever, but didn’t make it to the finish line.
Dannah: Well, the steps showed that they tended to wait to have sex about eighteen months longer than the rest of the world.
Nancy: Or they waited even until marriage, but didn’t know in marriage how to enjoy what God made as a good gift for marriage, because we weren’t teaching adequately. Again, I don’t want to criticize what I think was a really . . .
Dannah: Hey, I think I’m considered a leader in that movement, so here I am at the table because I was concerned about some of those things, but I don’t know that I totally overrode them. There were lots of girls who even read my book, And the Bride Wore White, and said, “Oh, if I obey God now, I get a man later.” And they’re missing the whole point.
We didn’t adequately teach what we believe, why we are waiting, what we’re waiting for. It wasn’t about the guy. It was always about God.
Juli: Yes. So we’ve got a lot of work to do in terms of really understanding a biblical narrative of sexuality. We have to start there.
I have so many parents come up to me and say, “How do I help my kids really understand God’s design for sexuality?” I sent them to your ministry, Dannah. One of the things I’ll say to them is, “You can’t help them until you, really, in your heart of hearts understand and accept what God says.”
There are a lot of parents walking around with their own brokenness that they’ve never brought before the Lord. They haven’t dug deep into what God believes about sexuality. We can’t progress in discipleship unless we start there.
We looked at the discipleship passage in Deuteronomy chapter 6. It begins with Moses saying, “The Lord our God is one. He is who we worship.” You start with the foundation of what we believe and going deep with that. That’s where you have to start.
Then that second element is equally important, which is living what we believe.
Dannah, you mentioned Barna’s research. One of the things that Barna’s research has shown is that people outside the church look at Christians related to sexual topics as being hypocrites, as being Pharisees, as saying one thing and doing another. That’s because we’re talking about sexual purity or God’s design for sex, but all the stats, as you mentioned, are showing that we’re doing the same thing the world is doing, which is what Paul confronted the early church about.
And we do not have an effective mission or testimony until we let the truth of God confront us, bring healing to us, redeem us. We have nothing to pass on. So we can’t skip that step.
Dannah: How we behave proves what we really believe. Right?
Juli: Yes. And now just how we behave in terms of our morality, but also: Does our life reflect the story of God’s redeeming love in our sexuality? Does my story point to the cross of Jesus Christ? Or is it just about, “Hey, I was a good kid. I did the right things”?
Nancy: Does it point to the beauty of God’s ways and God’s gifts?
Nancy: Can the next generation or those around us look and say, “That’s what I want. That’s something good and beautiful. That’s something worth pursuing”?
Juli: Yes. You think of all the models in our culture that show young people how to live sexually according to the cultural belief and narrative. They’ve got models everywhere. Where are the models that show young people what it is to honor Christ with our sexuality in all circumstances? We need to be those, for those around us—for our children, for our church, for our community.
And our third step is actively passing on what we believe. Again, the culture is so missional about infiltrating your thinking, repeating over and over and over again. We have to be just as missional in the church about passing on a biblical view of sexuality.
Dannah: Sexual discipleship.
Nancy: And we’re going to talk more about that over the next few days, but I want to encourage you to get a copy of Juli’s book, “Rethinking Sexuality: God’s Design [which is good] and Why It Matters.” This will be helpful in your own journey toward sexual healing, toward sexual understanding. It will be helpful whether you’re married or single.
You’ve got people around you that God wants you to be missional in equipping and helping them in their journey. I can think of several people that I know what I’m going to have different kinds of conversations with them that I’ve not known how to have to this point because, Juli, you’ve written this book. I’m so thankful. I’ve got corners turned down and a lot of underlining and highlighting.
I’ve now been through it, most of it, two times, and I want to go through it further because it’s really challenging my thinking about how to give this vision of God’s redeeming covenant love to the Christian women around me, young and old, who somehow have missed that.
We would love to send you a copy of this book as a gift from Revive Our Hearts as our way of saying “thank you.” When you make a donation of any amount to support this ministry, we’ll send you a copy of Juli’s book, Rethinking Sexuality.
Be sure to ask for that when you call us at 1–800–569–5959, or you can go online. Visit us at ReviveOurHearts.com. Let us know you’d like to support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts, and be sure and ask for Juli’s book, Rethinking Sexuality.
I hope you’ll join us tomorrow as we continue this conversation. I’m learning a lot. I’m being challenged in my own thinking. We’re going to get into some more nitty gritty about some of these topics, what sexual wholeness and maturity looks like from God’s perspective, what sexual discipleship looks like, and how to deal with some of those tough topics that confront us or the ones that we love. So be sure and join us tomorrow for Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth wants your life to reflect God’s redeeming love. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.
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