The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex Is Too Important to Define Who We Are

Overview

Sexual identity has become an idol in both the culture at large and in the Christian subculture. And yet concepts like "gay" or "straight" are relatively recent developments in human history. We let ourselves be defined by socially constructed notions of sexual identity and sexual orientation—even though these may not be the only or best ways to think about sexuality.

Anthropologist Jenell Williams Paris offers a Christian framework for sexual holiness that accounts for complex ...

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The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex Is Too Important to Define Who We Are

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Overview

Sexual identity has become an idol in both the culture at large and in the Christian subculture. And yet concepts like "gay" or "straight" are relatively recent developments in human history. We let ourselves be defined by socially constructed notions of sexual identity and sexual orientation—even though these may not be the only or best ways to think about sexuality.

Anthropologist Jenell Williams Paris offers a Christian framework for sexual holiness that accounts for complex postmodern realities. She assesses problems with popular cultural and Christian understandings of heterosexuality and homosexuality alike. The End of Sexual Identity moves beyond culture-war impasses to open up new space for conversations in diverse communities both inside and outside the church.

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Editorial Reviews

Miriam Adeney
"God gave us genitals, but he didn't stop there. He made us human. What does that mean? And what is love of neighbor? What is a welcoming church? What are strengths of celibacy when supported by Christian community? Not just scholarly but also painfully and hilariously personal, this book shatters stereotypes for the sake of the kingdom."
Jamie Gates
"Jenell Paris has produced a provocative and astute diagnosis of our situation in the US: living in 'an oversexualized culture with an undersexualized spirituality.' She refuses to argue in broad generalizations and to remain content with the polarized categories that Christian reflections on sex and sexuality so often produce. As a Christian cultural anthropologist she digs below the surface and brings a sophisticated interpretation of the cultural complexity of our sexual lives. Her most piercing contribution is in challenging the 'sexual identity framework' itself that traps both Christian and non-Christian reflection on sexuality. She exposes just how paralyzed Christians become by the categories borrowed from the cultural waters we swim in, particularly the socially constructed and historically recent categories of 'heterosexual' and 'homosexual.' As someone who describes herself as a 'sex only within marriage between a man and a woman' kind of Christian, Dr. Paris's insights will surprise and challenge readers from seemingly incompatible perspectives on these issues. She is consistently gracious, but definitely not nice."
Jason Byassee
"I love Jenell Williams Paris's suggestion that we not stuff anyone into any identity box other than the one for those Jesus calls beloved. It's exceedingly hard to say a fresh word on these matters. Paris has done so with wisdom and gentleness."
Greg Boyd
"The End of Sexual Identity is a brilliant, bold, personal and biblically grounded work that is destined to become a classic in its field. By exposing the culturally conditioned nature of our modern Western 'sexual identity framework,' Paris completely reframes Christian debates about sexual ethics and thereby helps us (finally!) move effectively in our understanding of what it means to pursue sexual holiness. As a pastor, I have to confess that this is the most helpful, paradigm-changing and stimulating book on this topic I've ever read. I couldn't recommend it more strongly!"
Andy Crouch
"This is a singularly important book, about sexuality but also about culture, and it is a model of charity, clarity and creativity. While this is certainly not the last word on Christian sexual ethics, it could be the first word of a better and more honest conversation about holiness and faithfulness amidst our age's sexual confusion."
Mark D. Regnerus
"Jenell Paris does us a great favor by reminding us that God didn't create heterosexuals or homosexuals. People did, and fairly recently, in fact. Paris reveals the church's cultural captivity to Western ideas of sexual identity and orientation—that what we want, sexually speaking, is who we are. Humbug. Paris challenges the church with the words of Paul: don't be captive to the patterns of this world. Both heterosexuality and homosexuality—and the panoply of other possible identities and acronyms—are social constructions that pose problems for a people whose identity is to be found in Christ. Instead, Paris reminds us that God has redeemed us, called us by name and claimed us as his own. That is an identity worth affirming. Paris challenges us to live beyond sexual identity, even as we pursue sexual holiness, and provides us with a vision for what a post-sexual-identity church might look like. This is a rich book, one that is long overdue. It is theologically sound, has deep ramifications for the church and will rattle some quarters. Good."
Lisa Graham McMinn
"Jenell Williams Paris brings a fresh perspective to the subject of sexual identity as she reminds us that we are all just people and far from perfect, 'each of whom is lover and loved.' She invites us to extend and receive grace even as she boldly encourages us to think a bit differently than we might about sexuality. I highly recommend it."
Doug Pagitt
"Honest. Smart. Provocative. Helpful. Important. Pitch-perfect. These are only a few of the words that came to mind when I read Jenell Williams Paris's book The End of Sexual Identity. This book is a must-read for engaging the issue of sexuality in our world today. Not only does Jenell call us to a better way to engage with sexuality, she casts a beautiful vision of what sexual wholeness and a post-sexual identity church can be."
Mark A. Yarhouse
"It is exciting to me to read Christian scholars who take their faith and their discipline seriously. As a Christian and an anthropologist, Jenell Williams Paris does just that and applies her understanding to the challenging topic of sexual identity, drawing conclusions that, while controversial, warrant our attention and may lead the way to a more constructive conversation."
Mark D. Regnerus
"Jenell Paris does us a great favor by reminding us that God didn't create heterosexuals or homosexuals. People did, and fairly recently, in fact. Paris reveals the church's cultural captivity to Western ideas of sexual identity and orientation--that what we want, sexually speaking, is who we are. Humbug. Paris challenges the church with the words of Paul: don't be captive to the patterns of this world. Both heterosexuality and homosexuality--and the panoply of other possible identities and acronyms--are social constructions that pose problems for a people whose identity is to be found in Christ. Instead, Paris reminds us that God has redeemed us, called us by name and claimed us as his own. That is an identity worth affirming. Paris challenges us to live beyond sexual identity, even as we pursue sexual holiness, and provides us with a vision for what a post-sexual-identity church might look like. This is a rich book, one that is long overdue. It is theologically sound, has deep ramifications for the church and will rattle some quarters. Good."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780830838363
  • Publisher: InterVarsity Press
  • Publication date: 2/22/2011
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 952,282
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Jenell Williams Paris (Ph.D., American University) is professor of anthropology at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. She has written for such publications as Christianity Today, Books & Culture and Christian Scholar's Review. Her books include Birth Control for Christians, Urban Disciples and Introducing Cultural Anthropology: A Christian Perspective.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Introduction: A Word About Sex
1 What Is Defined as Real
2 The Trouble with Heterosexuality
3 The Trouble with Homosexuality
4 The Promise of Sexual Holiness
5 Sexual Desire Is (Not) a Big Deal
6 Having Sex Is (Not) a Big Deal
7 Celibacy Is (Not) a Big Deal
Epilogue: The End Is Near
Discussion Questions
Notes
Acknowledgments
Name and Subject Index
Scripture Index

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