January 25, 2018

Can Sex Bring Us Closer to God?

Inside This Episode

The Maybe God team flew to L.A. to speak with Debra Hirsch, author of Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations about Sexuality and Spirituality. Deb addresses the overwhelming need in our society (and churches) to have deeper conversations about sex. She laments the way most cultural conversations about sex are reduced to mere intercourse, and she challenges all people (married, single, LGBTQ+, straight, Christian and non-religious) to think more broadly about the breathtaking, rapturous gift of human sexuality.


Also on this episode, Eric opens up about his past porn addiction, and Deb tells the unbelievable story of finding her way to Jesus through her imprisoned drug dealer in Australia.

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Redeeming Sex: Naked Conversations about Sexuality and Spirituality, Debra Hirsch



Eric Huffman: On this episode of Maybe God-

Debra Hirsch: I think people get a really warped sense of who God is, you know. They see him as Puritan laying down the law, and I'm just like, Oh my gosh, I don't see God like that at all. What does it say about God that He created the orgasm? Think about that. This is a God of pleasure.

Eric Huffman: She's on a mission to change the way we think about sexuality as it relates to spirituality. What do you wish LGBT people and communities knew about God that maybe they're not hearing from churches?

Debra Hirsch: God's table is open to all. God has a big table and everyone is invited. You know, Jesus goes the extra mile to make sure people are included.

Eric Huffman: It's my no holds barred conversation with Deborah Hirsch, author of Redeeming Sex. I remember coming out of porn, there was a season where I genuinely had to retrain my brain how to think about sex with my wife. It's all coming up on Episode 3 of Maybe God.

[00:00:59] <music>

Eric Huffman: We can find millions of reasons why we're all different. But there's one question that every human ponders at some point in their lives: how did we get here? No one knows. Maybe we're a cosmic accident, or Maybe God did it. I'm Eric Huffman. This is Maybe God.

[00:01:22] <music>

Eric Huffman: What if sex isn't just about sex? What if the reason we're so fixated on sex is because we're really looking for something else? Transcendence, immortality, or just to not feel so alone. These are the questions that keep today's guest up at night.

Deb Hirsch is a pastor who counsels people struggling with issues related to sex and sexuality. The first time I heard Deb speak, she said two things that really struck a chord with me. First, she said we should expect heaven to be like one endless, earth-shattering orgasm. Before that, I thought of heaven being more like an endless church service. So an eternal orgasm sounded like an upgrade.

Second, she told a roomful of evangelicals to stop singling out gay sex as the sin of sins. And I can't imagine a more important conversation to have in our culture right now than one about the intersection between our sexuality and our spirituality. And I found Deb's story so compelling that I flew to Los Angeles to hear it in person.

Debra Hirsch: So I really grew up in a household where my mother was, you know, nominal Catholic and dad nominal Protestant, in a sense. And I knew that because they didn't know what church to get married in. But my dad didn't believe in God and I grew up thinking Protestants didn't believe in God. That probably goes to my lack of education as well.

But, you know, as a young girl, I remember having a lot of terror and fear one night as I contemplated life and reality. And I've come to realize that that was actually God's first calling. I was facing my existence, I guess, was that sense of existential angst and horror.

Eric Huffman: What were you scared of?

Debra Hirsch: Oh, well, I guess nonbeing. Like, if you don't know what life is all about or what the meaning of life is, I mean, it can lead you to horror carnage. So I had a sense of that there must be something beyond, but not really what that was until I was in my early twenties. And at that time I was living and, you know, identifying as a gay woman and committed to spending the rest of my life with another woman.

Eric Huffman: Had you always, in your adulthood identified, to that point, as a lesbian woman?

Debra Hirsch: No. When I went through puberty as a young girl, in a sense, I had a boyfriend. I had several boyfriends, actually. It was when I was around 16 that I felt this kind of drawing towards women. I think now as I look back, I didn't really emotionally bond with my mom. My mum even says today, "I didn't know how to love you, girls." So I think there was a strong yearning in my heart for female affirmation and love. So that was always there.

And it wasn't until I was, you know, as I said, 16, that I just had this sense that I actually probably could be with a woman or a man. But what I think really solidified that for me was I was 18 and I got pregnant and had an abortion. And I remember very clearly at that point washing my hands of men and thinking, "I don't need this." He didn't want to know about anything, and it was just a very complex, messy season. And I'd already had a relationship with a woman on and off for a couple of years.

So probably people would maybe define me as bisexual at that point. It was a choice for me then, "No, this is the path I want to go down." And in the midst of that, I was living in a community house with a whole bunch of other people. It was a big, crazy house in the inner city of Melbourne.

You know, many people were, you know, gay or transgender. You know, one of our friends was working at a local parlor, she was a prostitute. So there was a whole lot of involvement in sexuality in various diverse ways, if you like. And Jesus just came in to that community. It was quite remarkable, quite miraculous, really.

[00:05:33] <music>

Eric Huffman: Deb's drug dealer at the time, was a man named George. One day, George got picked up by the police for a stack of unpaid parking tickets and was taken to the local jail. The only book he had with him was a Bible. By the time George was released two weeks later, he was a born-again Christian and wanted to tell everyone about his newfound faith, starting with the people he'd sold drugs to.

Deb and her friends were on his evangelical hit list, and it worked. That's how God entered Deb's life, and that's when everything began to change.

I loved this passage from Deb's book, where she describes the first time she and her friends walked into a small church looking for answers.

Debra Hirsch: We were a ragtag bunch of ex-prostitutes, drug dealers, gays, [pants and goths?]. They were a fundamentalist church filled with conservative-looking, old folk. These older folk had no idea what to do with us, but they did know how to love and how to pray. They somehow managed to reach across the cultural divide to love and embrace us and include us in the bigger church family.

Eric Huffman: A few months later, the pastor of that church baptized Deb and her friends in a river. When you started to pursue your spirituality with Jesus, what were the immediate changes?

Debra Hirsch: Gosh, we were doing drugs and, all sorts of crazy things.

Eric Huffman: After?

Debra Hirsch: Well, at the time, yes. Well, drugs don't automatically just drop off. I like to say those early years, we were kind of more led by the spirit than Christian saying, "You shouldn't do this. You shouldn't do that." So we just innately, within us felt, you know, we probably should stop taking drugs.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Debra Hirsch: You know, just things that just started peeling away. And even after my baptism, I remember lighting up a cigarette and drawing the smoke down into my lungs and thinking, What am I doing? Like, it just felt like I just cleansed myself with my baptism, and then I'm drawing in this terrible smoke.

So I remember I just screwed up that packet of cigarettes, throw it out and didn't smoke. So we were responding, I think, to God at work in our lives without having people telling us this is right and this is wrong. Which was lovely actually, because then when you get into the context, the church, you sure do get a lot of rights and wrongs.

Eric Huffman: Right. Church don't really leave it up to individuals to figure it out with Jesus. Right? We kind of draw the line in the sand and say, are you in or out?

Debra Hirsch: Yes. And I think in doing that, it actually imposes a lot of regulations on people that are not owned from the inside out. You know, it's just these external things that we put on and adhere to. But yet our heart hasn't really changed.

Eric Huffman: Right? It's the law. It's like imposing an Old Testament law on New Testament people.

Debra Hirsch: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Eric Huffman: It doesn't work.

Debra Hirsch: It doesn't work. That's exactly right. And I think we are fearful to let people walk it through with Jesus.

Eric Huffman: Right.

Debra Hirsch: We have to control the discipleship process.

Eric Huffman: We think we're better at it than Jesus.

Debra Hirsch: Yes, I know. It's weird, isn't it?

Eric Huffman: But I think we should trust Him more.

Debra Hirsch: I think we should. But it gets messy when we trust Jesus and we don't like the messy doing.

Eric Huffman: That's right. Do you remember a moment when you said to yourself, I'm not a lesbian anymore?

Debra Hirsch: I don't know if it was as clear as that. I think I just started moving away from that just naturally. I've always said that I felt the spirit lead me away. I have people now who say, well, they feel the spirit has led them to their gay relationship. So it gets a bit complex, doesn't it, with all of that stuff?

Eric Huffman: It does. 

Debra Hirsch: But certainly for me, I would say that that was not the path God wanted.

Eric Huffman: And you met your now husband, Alan, and immediately started dating.

Debra Hirsch: Do you know what? It was a New Year's Eve party and I opened my front door to him and he'd been invited by his brother who knew George. And when I opened the door and met him, I knew. It was one of the oddest things that's ever happened to me. Something in my spirit reacted.

I've been a pastor for years, and when women come up to me and say, "I think God's told me I'm going to marry this man," I go, "Sit down, love. Maybe not." That doesn't happen that often. But I knew. I didn't know what it meant. I just knew somehow our destinies were tied in together.

Eric Huffman: Did he know?

Debra Hirsch: Not immediately. He was also a young believer. He'd only known Jesus a couple of years. His journey is a particular journey because he's from a Jewish family. So that was a big deal for his family when he found Jesus. But he was really committed to a life of celibacy.

Eric Huffman: Wow.

Debra Hirsch: Yes. He felt like he was going to be him and the Lord.

Eric Huffman: God's sense of humor, man. That's great.

Debra Hirsch: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: You talk about, in your book, the concept of our past and how Jesus can redeem our past. And that's His business, right?

Debra Hirsch: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: But He doesn't erase it.

Debra Hirsch: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: What's the difference?

Debra Hirsch: Well, I look at it like this. I mean, when I first became a believer, I remember meeting people that had known Jesus their whole lives. And it was something so appealing about that to me. And I remember in my early years thinking, "Jesus, why couldn't I have known you my whole life? Why did I have to go through all of the stuff that I went through?"

And it took me a while to kind of wrestle through some of that because you feel the taint of some of the stuff you've been involved with. So I had to wrestle through that with God. But I've realized that He's totally forgiven me. I was washed as wide as snow in that sense. But that there was a purpose for all that I went through. I mean, I wouldn't have been able to write the book that I wrote if I hadn't have journeyed the way that I didn't.

Eric Huffman: And speak to the people-

Debra Hirsch: And speak to the people.

Eric Huffman: ...that have walked similar paths.

Debra Hirsch: Yes, that's right. So I feel I understand the purpose for my background now.

Eric Huffman: You've spoken to me like very few Christian voices have been able to, especially on the issue of sexuality and sensuality, because of what a taboo subject it is. My own journey is not that exciting. I've been with one person and-

Debra Hirsch: That's pretty exciting.

Eric Huffman: Well, it is exciting. But, you know, the darker side of that is that growing up in the Bible Belt, in Christian circles, nobody talks about sex in real ways that address any potential issues that may be stewing in the mind or the heart of a 16-year-old Christian boy.

You know, I discovered pornography at an early age and it became a habit and one that I couldn't take to Christian leaders. There was too much to lose. My dad's a pastor, you know. And there's too much at stake. So that just takes you further and further into the shadows, into the darkness. And then you get married and, you know, Christian kids always think, Well, you get married and you don't need porn anymore or the past will be erased and we'll start over. It's not quite how it works either.

Debra Hirsch: No.

Eric Huffman: So I would just say your willingness to speak so freely, even at conservative Christian gatherings, speak so freely and comfortably about human sexuality, I think is crucial for people like me, but also for people that have just left Christianity to hear that it's okay to be someone who believes in God, someone who leads the church, and to bust up these taboos and to speak freely about human sexual experience and pleasure and vices and, you know, fill the questions with a lot of honesty and sincerity. So thank you for that. I know it's not a question, but I know you've helped a ton of people.

You talk about bringing sex back to the fore of our conversation in the church. I think that sounds really good to me on the surface because I know what we're doing now as Christians sucks. We shouldn't keep doing what we're doing. But I don't know what the alternative looks like. What do you mean when you say bringing the sexy back to the church?

Debra Hirsch: I think in many ways what we've done is we've reduced the whole conversation around sexuality down to about sex, if you like.

Eric Huffman: You mean like intercourse?

Debra Hirsch: Like intercourse, the bits and bobs, as I call it in the book. So everything's about our behaviors and what we do or don't do with our bits and bobs. So in wanting to redeem sex in that sense, I want to kind of push it back out of just the narrow conversation, put it into the bigger conversation of human sexuality.

Because I find that not do we not only not talk about it, we don't understand our sexuality. And if our whole education is solely in and around telling younger people what they can and can't do and what is and isn't appropriate, different stages of relationships and all of that kind of stuff, we're not giving them the bigger picture, we're not addressing other things that I think are really important and fundamental to the conversation.

You know, what is human sexuality? What is it to have a body? What is it to be in relationship with God? What does our sexuality teach us about our spirituality and vice versa? What is it to talk about some of the longings that we have deep down?

Eric Huffman: From a theological perspective, right? That's what I see you wanting to do, is take down that dividing wall between God and sex. We think of it as two different things, right? We experience God over here and then we kind of do sex over here, you know, outside of God's presence or something. And you want to bring that together. So I just ask you to explain what you think God has to do with two people or more having sex together.

Debra Hirsch: Well, I think if you remove it from just the two people having sex together, what does that represent? What is the oneness, the intimacy, the union there? What does that represent? I wrote in the book, you know, imagine if heaven was like one endless orgasm. I'm being provocative there obviously. But it's like, what does an orgasm represent? What's the eternal purpose for an orgasm?

Eric Huffman: And why do we desire it?

Debra Hirsch: And why do we desire it? And what does it represent? I started reflecting on that and I thought... And for many years I worked as a counselor with sex addicts, and I would hear the same thing coming up again and again of, first of all, just what you were talking about before, about feeling like God's over here and sexuality is over here.

So they would compartmentalize spirituality in their sexuality and they would say their sexuality is actually in competition to spirituality. It's like, oh, my sexual is competing with my spiritual life. If I just get my sexuality fixed up, I'll be the most spiritual person. And I began to realize, we can't compartmentalize the two of them. They need to be integrated somehow, some way.

And that actually our sexuality completes our spirituality because it actually points us towards our spirituality. Like all those longings we have for intimacy and connection and community. I mean, God created us as profoundly relational. We only find ourselves in relationship to others. I only become who I'm meant to become in relationship to other people. That's just that's how you become a human in a sense. And our longing for that sense of intimacy and connection, which can be expressed in a sexual union or in deep friendships that don't even have to have the genital part in it.

We talk a lot about the God-shaped whole that every human has that is in need of God, that wants to worship, and needs to connect with God. We have a people-shaped whole as well. And I talk about this in my book. You know, the whole two commandments: loving God and loving others. Jesus says, "If you do this, you will live well. There will be flourishing in your life." And I think that, in a sense, is bringing our spirituality and our sexuality back together, because in the broader sense, our sexuality is not just about having sex.

Eric Huffman: I love all the quotes that you pull out for your book. But the Chesterton quote about every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is in search of God, I love that because I think it's so true. And I think every man who watches porn or every person that watches porn or that pursues these empty fulfillments of our sexual desires and cravings is really searching for something much more than that. Right?

Well, our podcast is called Maybe God because we try to compare different ways of looking at the world. And with this episode, we're comparing different ways of looking at sexuality. So orgasm is either it appears to me, I'm a simple-minded person, but it's either one of two things. So it is what you say it is, which is this eternal, transcendent search for God, this longing for God that in a moment here on earth finds some foretaste of eternal glory in a moment of ecstasy and embrace, right?

Debra Hirsch: Yeah.

Debra Hirsch: Or it's purely a driver of our mechanistic Darwinian, you know, let's propagate the species. I sense that you want to say it really is a longing for God. And the way you start your first chapter is hilarious. The very notion that all of us in every language just about it seems we cry out to God in that moment of ecstasy.

Debra Hirsch: It's interesting, isn't it?

Eric Huffman: It's interesting. I'm not sure it's any kind of proof of anything, but it's interesting to think about like why do we all cry out, "Oh, God," in that moment? So I just think that's a very important thing for Christians to think about, sexuality and our desire as God-given.

Debra Hirsch: As God-given. That's right. Well, and it is God-given, isn't it?

Eric Huffman: Yeah, it's God-given. It's something that actually leads us closer to God and not farther away.

[00:19:44] <music>

Eric Huffman: So you wrote this book and you said some fairly, I guess, controversial things, although I didn't find myself thinking as I was reading it that anything you said was highly controversial. But I know that any time Christians say anything about sex, they're going to get backlash and friendly fire oftentimes from within Christianity. Have you experienced that at all with reviews of your book or anything like that?

Debra Hirsch: Overall, people have received it really well. But one of the strongest criticisms was that because I did a chapter on Jesus and sexuality, somebody said that I made Jesus too real. And I thought-

Eric Huffman: Like, how dare you?

Debra Hirsch: Yeah, how dare you? And I go, "Hallelujah, I'll own that." I think it's because, for me, Jesus is always missing from the sex conversation.

Eric Huffman: Well, say more about what you think about His sexual personhood.

Debra Hirsch: Well, I think He was a man. Again, we forget that. I think sometimes in certain conversations, it's convenient for Him to be a man and in other conversations, same as God. But He really was. Grew up in a normal family, was a normal boy with all the urges, gone through puberty and all of that kind of stuff. So, you know, we have to factor that in, you know, because He's the model that we are to shape.

And particularly, you know, you think of it when we're dealing with celibacy in the context of the church. He is, in a sense, the prime model for the celibate person walking that path. I talk to singles all the time and it's like if they're not going to get married, they're missing out on something. I say, no, there are ways that you can have deep, profound relationships and friendships with people without having to have sex.

And I think Jesus, again, is somebody who wasn't called to walk the path of marriage because He had the cross before Him. So He needed friendships, you know, and intimate friendships to sustain, if you like, His humanity.

Eric Huffman: Both men and women.

Debra Hirsch: Both men and women. And that's another thing. That's a whole other conversation, isn't it? He didn't seem to have the same hang-ups about hanging out with women that some Christian men do today.

Eric Huffman: Yeah. The Pence rule. Our vice president who has the rule about not meeting one-on-one with a woman ever comes to mind.

Debra Hirsch: Yes, that's right.

Eric Huffman: And in this MeToo moment that we're in as a culture, I think that's on everyone's minds. Jesus didn't seem to have that hang-up. I think you're absolutely right about that. Why is it so weird or hard for Christians, do you think, to think about Jesus as a sexual person? Is it because we've been conditioned to equate the urge or the desire with sin?

Debra Hirsch: Yes, I think that's definitely part of it, which is so sad in a sense, isn't it?

Eric Huffman: Yeah, it is. It's a weird contradiction because we're saying God gives us these desires, and when you feel them it's a sin. It doesn't add up. But I think on a gut level, we've gotten that message.

Debra Hirsch: Yeah, we certainly have. It's like the quote in the book, the Butch Hancock quote.

Eric Huffman: Right. I've got it. So my time in Lubbock, Texas.

Debra Hirsch: Yeah, has taught me two things.

Eric Huffman: Taught me two things. First, God loves me and I'm going to burn in hell forever or something. And the second is that sex is dirty and awful, the most filthy thing you can do, so you should save it for someone you love. That's a great quote.

Debra Hirsch: But there is all this kind of weird contradiction, isn't there, around that? It's just funny. I'm not sure how we got ourselves in that murky mess, but we have.

Eric Huffman: Well, it goes way back to early, early Christianity, where by the first few centuries we've already decided that, you know, Joseph never touched Mary because she could not have sinned. Yes. Or, you know, she must have remained pure, which means she could not have had sex ever, which is not biblical at all.

But we made that up. Christians made that up to cover for whatever sex she might have had. And then by the fifth or sixth century, sex is officially a sin. You've got guys like... I think it's Bishop Jerome who said to the men in his congregation that a man who is too passionate a lover with his own wife is a sinner.

Debra Hirsch: There you go.

Eric Huffman: Then you've got fast-forward millennia, but you've got Victorian-era purity culture where you had to cover the legs of the furniture because that would evoke something in a man's, you know, because men are just defenseless against this lust drive. That kind of, I think, set the table for where we are today.

I think the reason we're confused is on the one hand, we've got the remnants of this purity culture within Christian culture, but it's running up against this just craven idolatry of sex out in the world. Where sex is everywhere and it's the ultimate human experience. So Christians or anyone that's on the faith spectrum. I think is just getting mixed messages. It's very confusing.

Debra Hirsch: Very confusing.

Eric Huffman: So why do you think it is so hard for Christians to talk about sex with young people, especially with single people?

Debra Hirsch: Well, I think we just have a profound discomfort. I mean, often when I'm speaking, you know, when I mention God and orgasm or something in the same sentence, I can literally see people physically squirming in their seats. I guess it's uncommon for us. It's kind of become the realm of sin.

Somehow our sexuality has become more the playground of the devil than of God. I think we've got to just be more honest with one another. And that requires vulnerability. And vulnerability is not something that is necessarily encouraged in the community of faith. But I think the first thing we've got to do is ask ourselves, why is this taboo there? Why is this weird thing, cloud that hangs over all things sexual in the church?

And really, we go to break it. Because I think the devil, I don't want to sound simplistic, but I think this is one area that he's got his grip on and he ought not.

Eric Huffman: Absolutely.

Debra Hirsch: And the fact is, we are called to be the people of light. One of the areas where our light is not shining is this area. We try to regulate people sexually. I mean, I say to people, Is it the church's role to regulate sexuality anyway? Why often when we disciple somebody, that's the first thing we want to get tidied up? It's like, ooh, we're going to stop having sex with your girlfriend or your boyfriend or you've got to, you know, all of that sort of sexual stuff is like all the first stuff on the agenda.

Eric Huffman: And why do you think that is?

Debra Hirsch: Because we feel uncomfortable with that. We will entertain other sins, sins of greed, and all sorts of things in the context of the church. But the sexual ones, ooh, they're a little bit different. They are of a different order. But when Paul talks about sexual sin, it's always listed with a whole bunch of other things that we kind of don't see as overly important, really.

Eric Huffman: Right. Adultery, greed, gluttony.

Debra Hirsch: Oh, yes, totally. Drunkenness. You know, there's a lot that goes on in a church.

[00:27:21] <music>

Eric Huffman: What do you wish nonreligious or agnostic or atheist people knew about the God you believe in in terms of sex and sexuality?

Debra Hirsch: You know, God isn't what people think that He is I think half the time. I think looking in at the church in all of our kind of messed up-ness, I think people get a really warped sense of who God is. You know, they see Him as this Puritan kind of laying down the law and laying down the rules. I'm just like, Oh my gosh, I don't see God like that at all.

When I read the Scriptures and when I grow in my relationship with God, you know... Yes, He's holy. Make no mistake. We don't want to mess around. God is the creator of all things. So there ought to be a sense of whoa, you know. But He created humans, so He's got to have a bit of fun in it cause we're crazy.

Eric Huffman: Yeah.

Debra Hirsch: And I think He's just not as hung up about those sorts of things as we are. I mean, if you look at the text, the Bible, I say to people, this is the holy book. God doesn't mince words when it comes to sexuality. The prime metaphors that God uses for His relationship with these people are sexual metaphors.

The Old Testament, Israel, it was God's wife. And more often than not, if you read the Prophets, she's the adulterous and she gets called a whore. We clean it up in the English translation.

Eric Huffman: Oh, yeah.

Debra Hirsch: In the Hebrew-

Eric Huffman: A lot of that get cleaned.

Debra Hirsch: Up. Oh, they get cleaned up. In the Hebrew, the prophets just say, "Israel, you have committed adultery. You've spread your legs to other gods." I mean, that's graphic kind of imagery.

Eric Huffman: It is. And then there is the Songs of Songs.

Debra Hirsch: Song of songs. I don't even know what to do with Song of Songs. It's kind of a crazy book, right? They're in the middle of the holy book, you know?

Eric Huffman: And it's never taken out. It could have been taken out. Could have been whitewashed.

Debra Hirsch: Could have been.

Eric Huffman: And it's not a metaphor for something just purely religious. It is hypersexual.

Debra Hirsch: It is hypersexual. So for me, I think, I just want people to know God doesn't have the same hang-ups that Christians do. What does it say about God that He created the orgasm? Think about that. This is a God of pleasure. And I think in the church we find that hard to embrace that God is a God of pleasure.

We elevate fasting on the one hand, the denial side of things, but we don't elevate feasting. Yes, there's seasons for fasting, but there's seasons for feasting. I'm writing at the moment on the senses and I've been thinking about taste buds. God didn't have to give us taste buds, but He wants us to feel the pleasure, to feel the delight of the different flavors that we have. So what do our taste buds say about God?

These are the things I wish people that don't believe in God knew about God. This is not some bound-up crazy kind of moralistic sort of being. This is a God that can have a lot of fun. I think the church we've misrepresented, haven't we, throughout history, misrepresented our God?

Eric Huffman: In this, I mean, this particular moment of the church's history, the LGBT community seems to be on the forefront of everyone's minds. And church is like, "Who are we going to be to our LGBT communities?" I would just kind of pose the same question to you. What do you wish LGBT people and communities knew about God that maybe they're not hearing from churches?

Debra Hirsch: Oh, dear, that's a big one, isn't it? First of all, I mean, the obvious thing for me to say and I don't just say it, but I believe it. God is a God of all. He created humans in all different shapes and sizes and colors and expressions. And God's table is open to all. I mean, that's really important to me. God has a big table and everyone is invited. Not everyone responds-

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Debra Hirsch: ...but everyone is invited. And I think what would I like them to know is, first of all, sorry for the way the church has misunderstood and judged. We don't do well with people that are different, not just sexual minorities, just generally people who are different. I mean, that breaks my heart. Because again, I think the scriptures, when we read them, God is always going for those on the margins or those that have been excluded or pushed aside. That's our God, which is what I love about God.

Jesus goes the extra mile to make sure people are included. And the ones that often that he kind of excludes, if you like, are the ones that are the religious in many ways, which is kind of fascinating.

Eric Huffman: Jesus says prostitutes will get into heaven before the most religious dudes will.

Debra Hirsch: There you guys.

Eric Huffman: Profound, right?

Debra Hirsch: That is profound.

Eric Huffman: It's lost on us oftentimes.

Debra Hirsch: It's totally lost on this. Yeah. I guess for me, you know, the people that we've excluded, we always need to start with an apology and just say, sorry, we messed up, and try to do better.

Eric Huffman: So what should churches do with people who are earnestly seeking Jesus who may be in the LGBT communities? I know in most churches probably it's something of a deal breaker to come out or to be out. So what would your advice to two well-meaning, well-intentioned churches be?

Debra Hirsch: Okay. When are you getting into complicated kind of territory with all of this? Because, you know, when you're starting to deal with some of the theological issues there around whether, you know, God wants people, is it outside of his protective boundary, you know, gay relationships, all that kind of stuff.

I say my first thing with any person that is gay or transgender, whatever it is, is help build the relationship with Jesus. That's the most important thing we can do. That's what we're called to do. Help people fall deeper and deeper in love with Jesus Christ.

And in the context of that, they grow and they kind of learn about Him. The decisions that they make, therefore, beyond that, that's where it becomes complex because maybe decisions they're making in terms of whether they're going to have a partner or not, whether they're going to walk the celibate path or whether they're going to pursue gay relationships, that's the tricky bit because we don't agree on all of these things.

Eric Huffman: Right. That's where it all tends to fall apart. And people use those things as major litmus tests for, you know, are you liberal or are you conservative and all that stuff. It kind of drives me crazy because it gets us out of the most important question, which is, are we introducing as many people as possible to Jesus? That should be more important to us than the other side issues.

The other part that drives me crazy, as you pointed out in your book at times, is how we treat some people as sexually broken and we act like we're not sometimes.

Debra Hirsch: Yeah.

Eric Huffman: So as a straight, heterosexual, married man who's been faithful to his wife, I'm using air quotes for those of you listening. Faithful because, you know, the porn thing wasn't-

Debra Hirsch: Of course.

Eric Huffman: ...in my own imagination gets away from me sometimes. And your line in the book that stuck with me is that it's not just some orientations that are disoriented. We're all disoriented.

Debra Hirsch: Absolutely.

Eric Huffman: Because of your understanding of the fall and how sin works. Could you say more about what you meant with that?

Debra Hirsch: Yeah. Well, also, when I'm leading sessions, when we're discussing the whole LGBT conversation, we start with what I call that the micro conversation. And we get stuck there because it's all that the rights and wrongs and what we do and all that sort of stuff.

Eric Huffman: Are they born that way or not?

Debra Hirsch: All of the questions that go along with that. So I say, let's not get stuck in the micro conversation. Not that it's not important. It's profoundly important. It's one of the conversations for our time. But let's take it always to the macro conversation, which is a conversation of human sexuality, which actually incorporates all of us.

So when we're talking about broken parts of our sexuality, we're not just talking about sexual minorities, which tends to be the way, "oh, those broken people over there," which is a highly offensive word to use. And they feel that. It's like, "Well, don't call me broken? I'm not broken."

So I say to people, hang on a minute, we're all broken. You know, like you said, all of our orientations are disoriented. All of us are profoundly messed up when it comes to our sexuality. It's too easy for those of us who think we've got it together to point to those people over there or to the woman caught in adultery.

I mean, that's a great story in John 8 there. You know, what Jesus does, the first thing he does is He levels everybody. You know, here are these righteous, religious people with their stones. And God's word gave them every authority to kill this woman now. "And here they are righteous, you know, standing there with their chests puffed out. And He looks at them and says, "Okay, whoever is without sin, you get to go first." I can imagine this kind of corporate oooh. They put their stones down.

And what He's doing there is He's actually pushing them down. He's lowering them in their righteousness. And then He looks at the woman and He lifts her up, and He brings them to this level place. And I think we must stop there. None of us are above anybody else in that sense.

So we're all messed up. Let's just own that and then let's try to move forward, all of us together to wholeness and to healthy expression of our sexuality and all of that. So the macro conversation says we're all in it together. And it's a bigger conversation. Again, because if you really had to narrow down the LGBT conversation, as I see it in the church at the moment, it's all about really whether gay people can have sex or not.

Eric Huffman: Right.

Debra Hirsch: Well, how narrow was that? And we're stuck there arguing over the ethics of whether that's right or wrong.

Eric Huffman: And we're losing people because of this micro conversation. They're just flocking out of the churches because we're stuck in this micro conversation and they know it. And they see how limited and immature really we're being with that a lot of the time, instead of really being who we say we are, which is first and foremost about Jesus and the love of Jesus and making sure everyone knows Jesus and what His life, death, and resurrection means for them. We get caught up in these side conversations. It gets pretty ugly.

[00:38:02] <music>

Eric Huffman: What mistakes do you see American parents making when talking to their teenagers about sex?

Debra Hirsch: Well, again, don't just start with the sex stuff. Get the bigger picture again. Again, we're getting into micro conversations about whether you should or shouldn't have sex.

Eric Huffman: It's almost a default.

Debra Hirsch: Right. We talk to them about their bodies, about sensuality, about becoming people that are more in tune with who they are, slowing things down, developing their social sexual relationships.

Eric Huffman: Wait, what does that mean?

Debra Hirsch: Most of the relationships we have, I would say, are in the category of social sexuality, which is our need for intimacy and love, separate from the genital needs that we have. Most of their relationships are non-genital. Aren't they?

Eric Huffman: I think so, yes.

Debra Hirsch: Well, there's only certain people that will turn us on if you like. And I always say that you have to be thankful for that because if everybody turned us on, we wouldn't get around to doing much else. We'd be focused on one area. But help them to understand the gift of true friendship. You know, the whole concept.

Paul talks about of what it is to be brother and sister in Christ. There's so much room within that to feel deeply and passionately for one another. I think what we do is we reserve all that passion and that feeling for the person we're meant to marry, but we can't feel deeply for other people. I don't think that works.

Eric Huffman: It serves to build the taboo up more with our young people is what you're saying?

Debra Hirsch: Yes.

Eric Huffman: If we just trump up this one big issue over here and separate from every other facet of our lives, it's almost like the kid that's told that alcohol is the worst thing and then they go to college and completely lose their minds.

Debra Hirsch: That's right. It's exactly right. Broaden it out. All of us need to be taught about boundaries around our sexuality because if it's boundaryless, my goodness me, we can end up in very, very dark places. So boundaries are okay. But don't just teach boundaries, give big picture stuff, and just have this sense, Whoa. So much bigger.

There is so much capacity in us to grow in depth and wonder and love and come alive to the world around us, into each other. Those things are deeply satisfying. I remember when I worked with sex addicts, they were mainly gay men who were addicted to usually anonymous sexual encounters.

And what we found was when they began to build relationships with others, particularly with other men, non-erotic relationships, they realized that their longing was actually deeper. It wasn't just about having an orgasm. They needed friendship. I'll never forget one story. I remember a client of mine coming into my office and he looked at me and he... I knew something fundamental had happened to him.

And we went in to have an anonymous encounter with somebody. It's always great when they do that. Just before they come in for a counseling session, they say, "What is wrong with me?"

Eric Huffman: They've got to have something to talk to you about.

Debra Hirsch: Well, maybe. But he told me the story that he went into this place and a man came in and offered him his hand. And my client said he took this man's hand and is, you know, thinking it was going to lead on to some sort of sexual encounter. And the man took his hand and he just held it and he squeezed his hand and he looked straight into his eyes.

And my client said to me, "His gaze was like he was peering into me." He said, "I could see love in his eyes." He said, "And it was like this endless kind of moment." He said it probably only lasted for a few moments, but it felt endless. He said and this man just dropped my hand, turned around, and walked out. He said, "And I began to tremble." And he said, "I knew at that moment," he said, "it wasn't sex that I wanted. I just needed a man to hold me."

He then said to me, which I'll never forget it, "You know, I wondered whether that man that came whether it was an angel, Debby." And I said to him, "You know what? It could have been an angel. That sounds exactly like what the God that we follow would do would send an angel in there. And my client turned around at that point.

Now, I'm not saying that's all there is to everybody's addiction. But for him, the revelation that it wasn't the orgasm he needed, he just needed to be loved and held by a man.

Eric Huffman: He had made the switch in his brain at some point that it was the orgasm, it was the sex, and all along it was something else. That's why you can never fill the void, no matter how many encounters.

Debra Hirsch: No, no. And I found that when men started building strong relationships with other men, just blokes that they could feel affirmed by and all that kind of stuff, their need for sexual encounters diminished. Didn't always take it all away.

Eric Huffman: Sure.

Debra Hirsch: But something else was being filled. And I think all addiction is an issue of the heart.

Eric Huffman: I've got to ask you one more question before we're out of time. What would you say to someone who is of a mind that our sexuality is a purely Darwinian drive and all animal species do it and it's just life wanting to go forward and that's why it feels good, is because evolution has made it such that sex feels good, so that we want to do more of it so that we can, you know, drive our species forward into the future? What do you say to that person?

Debra Hirsch: Well, first of all, I'd say, yes, there is that side of it. We are humans. We have bodies. We do function in some ways like the animals. I mean, there's no denying some of that. So I would say, yes, there is that, but we are more than that.

I think we see this in the Bible. We are higher than the animals, lower than the angels. There is something different about humans because we bear the mark of God in who we are. So I would say that I think every human knows in their most vulnerable moment, maybe they're vulnerable in their sense of nakedness, maybe in the act of sex, of giving, of themselves in that you tap into something that is beyond your own self, that is beyond just the animal nature, if you like.

Eric Huffman: It does seem so, right?

Debra Hirsch: I think there's something sacred about sex that takes us beyond ourselves to the greater other.

[00:44:46] <music>

Eric Huffman: What I love most about Deb is how fearless she is. She talks about orgasms and masturbation, the way most of us talk about the weather. And her courage is contagious. As I talk to her, I felt free to share parts of my own past with porn addiction and lust, the kind of stuff pastors like me aren't always safe to talk about. There's something about her that changes the conversation. I felt loved by Deb. I think it's her loving presence that took away my fear of being judged.

Everybody thinks hate is the opposite of love, but really it's not. Fear is. Which got me thinking about why we're not having better conversations about these issues in our culture today. I think it's because most of our conversations about sex, conversations about pleasure, fantasies, boundaries, pornography, conversation about sexual preference, sexual orientation, sexual identity, I think it's all being governed by fear instead of love. And maybe if we started from a place of love instead of fear, maybe we'd be having better conversations about these issues that are ripping our culture apart at the seams.

Now, the good news is we've got more of Deb's wisdom to share with you next week. When we met in L.A., she was kind enough to answer some of our listeners' questions, and we'll share her responses as part of next week's episode. We're leaving the rest of our next episode wide open for your other questions.

So as I was talking with Deb, if other questions came to the surface for you and you want me to address some of those in our next episode, please send them our way to [email protected]. And please don't worry. Of course, all questions will be held in confidence. I'm not going to be using anyone's real names in the Q&A portion of that episode.

So, guys, I really hope you'll send in your questions just as soon as possible. Obviously, I hope you'll tune in next week for more of Deb Hirsch on Maybe God.

[00:46:47] <music>

Brandon Duke: Maybe God is produced by Julie Mirlicourtois, Eric Huffman, and me, Brandon Duke. Our sound engineer is Pat Murray, our editor is Brittany Holland, and our theme music is by Nathan Bonus. If you have questions or doubts that you would like us to address in our upcoming episodes of Maybe God, email us at [email protected] or start a discussion on our Facebook page, Maybe God Podcast. And please don't forget to subscribe now and leave a review on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app.