Tag Archives: sexuality

Another testament to the “earthiness” of medieval culture


Now this is fascinating.

Medieval image for women-in-drag piece“Knighton may confirm some of our Game of Thrones-esque expectations about the European Middle Ages, one marked by God’s wrath and a conservative religiosity. But, despite his intentions, Knighton also undermines our expectations by showing us a vibrant Middle Ages filled with color, pageantry, laughter, and performance – one in which people don’t act like we think they’re “supposed to.” In other words, Knighton almost by accident shows us a slice of the real Middle Ages, populated by living, breathing human beings.”

Any thoughts on this out there in Friends-of-Grateful to the Dead-Land?

“Sexy devotion” – C S Lewis, Margery Kempe, and the mystics’ erotic language of intimacy with Christ


Bernini's "Ecstasy of Saint Teresa"

Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa”

The following is from the “affective devotion” chapter draft from Getting Medieval with C S Lewis:

Margery Kempe (c. 1373 – after 1438)[1]

Margery was a middle-class laywoman (mother and business owner) who lived in the late 14th and early 15th century and provided us with the first biography of a woman written in English. This, by the way, was probably dictated to a clergyman, since she was almost certainly either illiterate or barely literate.

Margery is a great example of a layperson with a deep, even mystical piety who became an influence on the clergy and monastics of her day—although plenty of people simply wrote her off as a crazy lady because of the depth of her emotion during church services. But in that very trait, she was a reflection (if extreme) of the late medieval tradition of affective devotion: “Her spiritual life was centered, from the beginning and throughout her life, on the human Christ, the object of her prayers and her love. She identified very closely with the Virgin as woman and mother, and her participation in the Passion was enlarged and inspired by sharing Mary’s grief. Her enthusiasm, her ‘boisterous’ emotion, and her conspicuous humility were borrowed from the Franciscans and legitimated by their authority. And her method of meditation—that is, her personal involvement in the biblical story, placing herself among the holy figures—was exactly the method prescribed by writers of affective devotion.” (ATK, 155)

Margery’s book is earthy at points – even bawdy. She tells a particular story about an episode of sexual temptation in her life that is R-rated. And her language of intimacy with Christ is also direct and frank. When he sees a “comely [handsome] man” in the streets, it sets her to meditating on Jesus. And when she talks about her times of inner dialogue with her Lord, she uses a term usually reserved in her time for the kissing and cooing of young lovers: “dalliance.” We have not moved far from Bernard here! Continue reading

C. S. Lewis and medieval Christians knew our bodies (and sex!) matter theologically – how ’bout us?


Christ ennobled and raised up all of humanity by becoming one of us. The truest things about ourselves are all areas where we reflect the image of our Creator.

Our embodiedness is important to our life with God both here on earth and at the resurrection (of the body): we receive all we know about God through our bodies, our senses, our experiences. Analogy is more than analogy: it is sacrament; to use a word Lewis used to title a key essay, it is “Transposition.”

To try to abstract mind from body, spirit from matter is to commit the gnostic error and destroy (be false to) what we truly are as human beings.

To speak in quasi-scientific sociological generalities and remove traditional understandings of what human beings are (including our embodied experience), and thereby to destroy traditional morality, is to, in fact, “abolish humanity”–to unmake us as creatures of God, and thus prevent us from reaching God as well (Abolition of Man). Continue reading

Fundamentalism since the 1970s: An in-depth article


The following is a narrative and analysis of fundamentalism since the 1970s. I wrote it for Charles Lippy and Peter Williams’s Encyclopedia of Religion in America, just published last month.

The basic argument of what follows is this: Fundamentalism in America changed after the 1970s–perhaps so much that the word “fundamentalism” is no longer appropriate for what it became. In that decade, the movement began a tectonic shift from protecting theological truths in infra-denominational fights to guarding “Christian morality” in a nation specially chosen by God.

To be sure, “correct” views of the person of Christ and his atoning work, along with vividly detailed end-time scenarios, have continued to occupy an important place in the movement, but these things are not what the “new fundamentalists” are most centrally about. No, they have seen America locked in a battle with a secularizing juggernaut, and they have rushed to take up the “arms” of pragmatic political measures and boundary-breaking religious alliances in order to gain the upper hand.

From the year 1980 on, the majority of those who took upon themselves the mantle of historic fundamentalism have sought to shore up family values, sexual mores, and biblical views of creation rather than orthodox doctrines and denominational power. And although this may look like a completely new direction compared with the emphases of fundamentalism’s formative decades (the 1920s – 1950s), I argue that it is, rather, a natural development from the earlier movement’s characteristic concerns.

These are not your mom and dad’s fundamentalists.

This is their story:

FUNDAMENTALISM: CONTEMPORARY

Chris R. Armstrong

As the decade of the 1980s opened, friends could rejoice, and opponents warn, that in the words of the historian Martin Marty, fundamentalism was now “back with a vengeance.” This time, however, the opponent was not theological liberals within the denominations, but secularizing forces within the nation. Continue reading

Evangelicals and psychiatric services


The following is part of a talk I was invited to give to a group of psychiatric residents (doctors-in-training) here in the Twin Cities a few years ago. The talk was on “the evangelical tradition,” and was intended to give these medical practitioners a sense of the beliefs of evangelicals, possible impediments to serving this constituency, and ideas of how to serve them better.

I have already posted other portions of this talk here under the titles “Basic, basic Christianity” and “Evangelicalism–a basic summary,” part I, part II, and part III. What follows is the final portion of the talk, which outlines issues that may face a professional providing evangelicals with psychiatric services, and ideas on how to serve (some) evangelicals better:

Now I’d like to turn the corner and address more directly some of the challenges that may come up in serving evangelical Christians from within the field of mental health care.

The insights that follow mostly come from my Bethel colleague Steven J. Sandage, Associate Professor of Marriage and Family Studies, Bethel St. Paul. Steve has served as clinician, psychologist, and chaplain in a variety of settings (community mental health, correctional, university) and currently engages in part-time clinical practice. He taught at Virginia Commonwealth University and the Medical College of Virginia as an adjunct faculty prior to coming to Bethel.

As Steve has related it to me, some evangelicals have a tendency to over-spiritualize—they frame problems as spiritual, not being able to think in an integrative way about the interactions of their minds, emotions, spirits, and the material world. They may refuse medication, for example, because they think this would show a lack of faith in spiritual truth or spiritual reality. Continue reading

The Roots of Pentecostal Scandal—Romanticism Gone to Seed


A wave of criticism quickly followed the first publication–in 2004, on Christianity Today’s history website–of the two-parter that begins with the article below. Along with that wave, however, came another, larger wave of responses from those within the Pentecostal and charismatic movements who affirmed my analysis.

Now, six years later, I still stand by the argument I present here, which first dawned on me as I was at Duke in the late 1990s, studying the “emotional culture” of the 19th-century holiness movement. The holiness movement was the precursor of modern Pentecostalism, and its emotional DNA contained the troubling “anti-domestic” gene that I describe in this pair of articles. The first of the two articles, below, sets up the argument. The second, to be posted here soon, offers further evidence.

To be clear, I owe my faith to this movement, and I affirm the tremendous blessings it has brought. For more on that, see this article.

The Roots of Pentecostal Scandal—Romanticism Gone to Seed
The sexual stumblings of prominent ministers point to a hidden flaw in Pentecostal spirituality.
By Chris Armstrong

The sordid 1980s scandals of Pentecostal ministers Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart will incline some to presume that Paul Crouch, president of Pentecostal-linked television network TBN, did engage in the alleged homosexual liaison.

But whether the allegations in this case are eventually substantiated or not [update, Feb. 2010: Crouch has weathered the scandal and is still atop TBN], the question arises again: why does the Pentecostal ministry seem particularly susceptible to sexual scandal?

It may turn out, in fact, that statistically, Pentecostal ministers fall in this way no more often than do other ministers. I’m sure we make this connection at least partly because of the long cultural shadows of Bakker and Swaggart.

But I don’t think the connection is accidental. Continue reading

No Sex (Before Marriage), Please…We’re Christian


When Miss America “came out” for sexual abstinence, pageant organizers got their undies in a bunch.For the Christian History & Biography e-newsletter, it was another opportunity to shed some Christian-historical perspective on an old, old issue. (As usual, caveat lector: the links in the following are old.)

Christian History Corner: No Sex (Before Marriage), Please…We’re Christian
Miss America preaches a 2000-year-old message
Chris Armstrong

Erika Harold, Miss America 2003, has just emerged victorious from a very public struggle over sex. Erika, a professed Christian, announced after winning the title that she would be using her year in the spotlight to promote sexual abstinence for teenagers. For reasons best known to themselves, the Miss America pageant organizers in Atlantic City ordered her not to do so. Then, in the face of controversy, they reversed their decision but made Erika promise that she would couch her message in the more politically correct theme of “teen violence.”

One look at the multi-billion-dollar television industry upon which the Miss America pageant feeds should make clear the pageant promoters’ difficulty. How many premarital and extramarital sex acts are shown or implied each year on American television programs? How many times does a message of abstinence make it onto the airwaves—outside of Christian stations? Hmmm.

Probably the most obvious and counter-cultural ethical position of Christians today—one shared by the other “peoples of the Book,” Jews and Muslims—is the proscription against premarital sex. Continue reading