Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:18-20
I heard a lot about this growing up Southern Baptist. This was one of the big clobber passages against sexually active girls. The older I get the more I think that we’re reading it backwards. There are serious and disturbing ethical issues with the idea that all bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Every child killed in Syria or Yemen is a temple of God razed to the ground. Every person we are short tempered or impatient with is infested with the Spirit of God. Every woman raped or abused is a temple of God.
And I keep having this nagging thought that temples tend to be busy places with a lot of visitors. Every temple, sanctuary, shrine, synagogue, church, or mosque, every Holy or Sacred place I’ve ever heard of or seen has dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands or millions of visitors. And the constant traffic of bodies in and out and around them doesn’t pollute or defile them. Is the Western Wall any less sacred because it’s been touched by millions and millions of human hands? No, what defiles a temple is not the number of visitors but a lack of respect and care.
This quote from First Corinthians in it’s whole context is pretty clearly aimed at men. He’s not telling young girls they’ll be dirty “used goods” forever if they’ve been raped, he’s telling men not to rape, not to use their bodies to do anything harmful or disrespectful. And this applies to all of us. It is not only that my body is God’s temple but that every human body is God’s temple. And that has serious implications for how I treat other people.
I know have a college degree in religion. Part of getting that degree was getting to visit a lot of religious services. And part of visiting houses of prayer or worship is being respectful and considerate. You dress appropriately, speak appropriately, walk softly, mind your manners, and respect the boundaries and rules of the place. And it is an honor to be invited into a Holy Place. Modern America seems to have little concept of Sacred Space so it is no wonder we have this passage upside down. We use it to shame sexuality or smoking or tattoos or anything else we don’t like. But it is our act of shaming that really desecrates a temple. Trust me, God can, and does, clean his own temples. It’s our job to show respect with our thoughts, words, and actions all the places God resides.
Jesus, too, spoke of the body as a temple. A temple he could destroy and rebuild in three days. The gospels tie this with the resurrection narrative. What man can destroy and desecrate God can rebuild and resurrect. This is what God does. God can take a dead temple and bring it back to life. Weather he smokes of drinks or she’s had sex or has piercings doesn’t matter. God’s in the business of decorating and decluttering his own temples. Obviously God doesn’t want them all the same or God would have made them all the same.
The ethical implications of the human body as a temple of God go far, far beyond sexuality or lifestyle choices or exercise habits. If my children are God’s temples then I better treat their bodies as sacred space entrusted to my care. I wouldn’t go to church and punch the walls so I’d better not spank my kids. If the homeless man in the alley behind the pharmacy is a temple of God then I had best remember that and look at him with kindness.
I don’t think God’s too concerned with my eating four M&M cookies last night. Or with my having once been in a consensual and respectful sexual relationship as a curious teenager. Or with all the drugs I once ingested. Actually, too the contrary, my direct experience of God is that God was the only power in the universe capable of getting me to quit using drugs. I made a mess of the temple and God came along and helped me clean it up. But I do think that if I treat other people in a way that doesn’t glorify God with my body then that’s a serious issue. I can use my hands to help and spread happiness and love or to hurt and spread pain and hate.
The culture I live in is based on rape and sexual control as a way of maintaining power and empire. That’s how rape culture works, it’s about normalizing white men’s abuse of women. And it loves to tell women they’ve been ruined by sex based on the above passage. The AmeriChristian™ Industrial Complex plays right into the rape culture of domination and exploitation in turning these verses inside out to become a tool of slut-shaming purity culture. And that, my friends, is sin. Instead of reading this as a call to glorify God with his body the powerful white man has turned it into an excuse to rape and maim and dominate.
Once upon a time I screamed at a man to STOP. And he did not stop. (There’s plenty of poetry about that floating around here). The thing is that according to these verses it wasn’t me who was defiled by his actions. It was him. Yes, it hurt me and at times it still haunts me, but God’s in the business of healing wounds and resurrecting broken spirits and bodies. And even more yes, it was his actions, with his body, that did not glorify God. He came to one of God’s temples and did not behave with respect and care. But that in no way means that I am somehow broken and used and dirty. It does mean that God was there with me and witnessed what happened and knows who it was who used his body to harm and hurt.