Shameless: A Sexual Reformation

Nadia Bolz-Weber

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-60142-758-8

Page count: 224pp

Publisher: Convergent/Crown

Nadia Bolz-Weber is a seminary graduate and  an ordained Lutheran minister.  Until mid-2018 she was the pastor of a Luther congregation called the House for All Sinners and Saints, an unconventional name for a Christian church.  The  name alone should give the reader some indication of how unconventional this book and the author are. Having resigned from being the pastor of her congregation, Rev. Bolz-Weber is now concentrating on promoting the ideas contained in her various books. She writes in an airy and almost breezy style.  Her writing is magnetic and strikes home with all of us. The book is hard to put down once you start reading it.

A main thesis of Shameless: A Sexual Reformation is the Christian sexual ethic has done more damage than good over the years.  She takes particular aim at purity codes as a savage repression of human freedom.  Bolz-Weber sees them and certain other Christian sexual practices as perversion of human sexuality.  Simplistically put, God made man, woman and sex.  All were pronounced good by God in the book of Genesis.[1] The connection of original sin with sex seems to be the first material error in Christian thinking according to the author.  Early in the book Rev. Bolz-Weber discusses the Augustinian view of original sin, and points to this as the beginning of Christianity travelling a long winding road in the wrong direction.

While this resonates to the modern ear, it does shortchange the reader.  Rev, Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran minister, but there is very little discussion of Christian Scripture in her text.  The author’s arguments could have profited from more scriptural analysis. I was waiting for her discussion of the Samaritan Woman at the Well.  Jesus asks the woman where her husband is.  The Samaritan woman replies I have no husband.  Jesus remarks that is correct because you have had five husbands and are living with a man who is not your husband. One can catch a hint of disapproval from Jesus but he doesn’t condemn the woman.  Instead, Jesus has a very fruitful discussion with her and the Samaritan Woman ends up understanding more about Jesus than his disciples. [2]  Rev. Bolz-Weber also doesn’t discuss the Woman Accused of Adultery as recounted in the Gospel of John.  As the crowd of accusers drifts away, Jesus asks the woman who is left to condemn her. There is no one and Jesus says he doesn’t condemn her either but tells her to go and not do this again. [3] In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his audience what they must do to earn salvation.  They must feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, visit the prisoners, etc. [4] Jesus is silent on the issue of sexuality as a major condition of salvation. Perhaps a little less condemnation in our society would go a long way and alleviate some of the author’s concerns.  

Christianity holds up certain standards of conduct as the ideal.  We are all victims of our own passions and we do transgress our moral beliefs on occasion.   Jesus explicitly says we should stop condemning people in the Gospels. [5] We see the mote in someone else’s eye but not the beam on ours.  Perhaps Rev. Bolz-Weber’s book would have been more powerful if it took on the idea of condemnation in a more straightforward manner.  Sadly, it is our own self-condemnation that can often be the most stinging and the deepest cutting.  A properly balanced Christianity should be comforting but encourage us to strive for the ideal, as impossible as that seems at times. 

I do agree with her view of original sin.  I find the Eastern Christian view of original sin much more uplifting and certainly less dreary.  I do not believe, and the author certainly does not believe we are these wretched totally depraved  Augustinian creatures predestined to our fate.  Rev. Bolz-Weber is to be applauded for that.

As an interesting side note, the author laments the lack of a liturgical calendar in the Western Church detrimental.    I also agree with her analysis here.  Even the Roman Catholic Church has minimized its liturgical calendar since Vatican II Eastern Christianity has an intricate cycle of fasting and feasting Those who live the Eastern Christian calendar certainly understand the fasting and feasting cycle, and how it is a great enabler of their faith.  

Rev. Bolz-Weber challenges our views of Western Christianity by positing it has many unresolved problems.  The book contains many examples of parishioners the author has counseled and helped. It also seems she is working out her own personal issues in this book.  Rev. Bolz-Weber points out many problems and opportunities for improvement in Christian thinking and ministry, but doesn’t quite make explicit recommendations for how to deal with the problems.  I would be interested to see what her detailed ideas are on the subject, but the book doesn’t contain them.  This is not a criticism of the author.  Pointing out and discussing issues without resolution is still a great service to organized religion. 

Saying mainstream denominations have no problems and have satisfactorily dealt with sexual issues is simply turning our heads away from a problem on the minds of many today.  It is something any church needs to hit head on or risk becoming irrelevant to its membership.  The dwindling numbers of people attending mainstream congregations is an indication people are voting with their feet. Whether you agree with the author or not, Rev. Bolz-Weber engages sexuality head on.  She is to be commended for her work.  This is a book certainly well worth reading.

[1] Genesis 1

[2]  John 4

[3]  John 8.

[4] Matthew 25

[5] Matthew 7