Book Review: Shameless
By Dr. Blair Thompson-White
Shameless is a book challenging the traditional teachings in the church about sex and giving us the tools to build a new theology around sexuality that makes sense to our experience...do we need this right now or what?! Thank you, Nadia Bolz-Weber!
Dear United Methodist Church, please read this book.
I have sat with many people who have shared with me how the messages from the church about sex and sexuality have caused harm to them. Women who have had premarital sex wonder if they are condemned to hell; LGBTQ+ wonder if they are loved by God; couples who struggle with intimacy because they grew up hearing from the purity culture that sex was bad. The messages received from the church (who claims to speak for God, making the wound so much more deeper), about sex and sexuality have caused so much harm to so many.
Bolz-Weber writes that "If the teachings of the church are harming the bodies and spirits of people, we should rethink those teachings." This is exactly right. I am committed to help our church to rethink those teachings and this book is an excellent resource in that endeavor.
Here are three takeaways from Shameless:
1) We can reclaim the Bible as a source for inspiration and guidance on the gift of sexuality.
The Bible has been, for lack of a better word, hijacked by the Purity Movement on matters of sexuality and interpreted in a way that causes harm to the bodies and spirits of people. The tendency is to want to throw out the Bible because it has been used as a weapon for so long; Bolz-Weber invites us into it again to show us how to read it better.
2) We must create spaces in our churches where honest conversation about sex and sexuality can happen.
I grew up in the Methodist church, and thankfully was not exposed directly to harmful teachings about sex and sexuality as some of my friends who attended more conservative churches were; some of my friends had purity rings and had to sign purity pledges. Although I wasn't exposed to shameful messages about sex, I also wasn't exposed to any messages about sex. Apart from a weekend in 4th grade in which we learned about the anatomy of bodies, the church was silent on the matter...so the conservative culture I was surrounded in seeped into my way of seeing sexuality. Like so many in my generation, I grew up thinking sex was shameful and not to be discussed.
We need progressive churches especially to equip children and adults with the tools and resources they need to build a theology of sexuality that is life-giving. We are implementing a new holistic curriculum "Wonderfully Made" for our 5th and 6th graders this spring and looking to offer a class for adults this fall so that our church can continue to be a place of help and healing.
3) Let your shame go.
This book may help you discover the fear and shame you've felt about sex that you've been carrying around for so long. If we don't discover the shame, no doubt we will continue to live out of it, not even realizing the power it has over our ways of being and doing. Bringing our shame to the light helps us to examine it and eventually let it go.
At the end of each of her book tour events promoting Shameless, Nadia Bolz-Weber invites people to complete the sentence "I'm ready to be shameless about..." on a card and turn it in. She then invites the audience to respond, "Let that stuff go!" after each card is read aloud. (I've substituted 'stuff' in place of a curse word...note about Nadia: if curse words offend you, maybe don't read this book.)
That is the invitation and the hope of this important work: to move from feeling shameful to being shameless. How freeing to let our shame go!
It is not too much to say that the gift of this book is freedom: through Biblical analysis, personal stories, and beautiful writing, Bolz-Weber constructs a theology about sexuality that ultimately offers a much-needed message. There is healthier way to talk about and teach about sex and it begins with this basic premise: you are beautifully and wonderfully made and celebrated by God for who you are in body and spirit.