Showing posts with label Sex and morality. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sex and morality. Show all posts

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Spotlight- Movie Review



  Tom McCarthy


  Tom McCarthy

  Josh Singer

US Release

6 November 2015

My wife and I saw the award-winning film, Spotlight. We both came away shocked and disturbed. The actors did a superb job at evoking a strong emotional response to the outrageous behavior of church and community leaders who covered-up child sexual abuse in Boston. The damage to human lives is horrendous.

For me, the timing of the film is ironic. Two days before seeing the film, I reviewed proofs on my book A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. The book represents two years of work examining sexuality in the church from the perspective of moral psychology. I aim to promote open discussions of healthy Christian sexuality. But I also wrote about sexual abuse because it would be irresponsible to ignore it. As Spotlight illustrates, sex abuse happens in the church and a lot of people get seriously hurt.

Spotlight is the name of the investigative unit at the Boston Globe Newspaper. The movie, Spotlight, is a dramatic film of the investigation into the cases of child sex abuse by Roman Catholic priests in the area of Boston Massachusetts. 

The investigation begins in 2001 when the new managing editor, Marty Baron, meets Walter "Robby" Robinson of the spotlight team. Baron read an article alleging a cover up of a priest's child molestation by Cardinal Bernard Law and encourages the team to investigate. The investigation leads to more discoveries of abuse by many more priests.

Spotlight Lessons

There’s so much that could be said about sex-abuse scandals in churches. Here’s a look at six lessons using a moral framework of six dimensions derived from the work of Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind ) and his colleagues.

1. Care vs. Harm

We expect churches to be in the business of caring about people—not just souls but wholes—as H. Norman Wright says. In Spotlight we find a common practice of caring more about one’s colleagues than about the damage done to the victims and survivors. The message of the Christian gospels directs attention to the social outcasts during the time of Jesus’ ministry.

Our moral impulse is to care for the young and vulnerable. Children do not survive without parental care. Righteous anger naturally rises when we see harm done to children. It’s a perversion of morality to turn the care-harm focus on an organization rather than the people an organization ought to serve.

Estimated percentages of child sexual abuse in the U.S. are
27% for girls and 16% of boys. 
See “Nature and Scope…”

2. Equality and Justice

The film shows the lack of justice accorded those who suffered deeply from child sex-abuse. A friend of mine, psychologist Ev Worthington, often speaks about the problem of the “justice gap.” We all have an innate sense of injustice. We are motivated to close the gap—to seek justice. Anger fueled vengeance seeks to right the wrongs in society. And sometimes it’s personal as seen in the film. I felt angry. Anger is a good thing when destructive people and their unjust systems are dismantled or reformed.

3. Oppression and the need for freedom

Following the publication of the sex abuse scandal, the Boston Globe was inundated with phone calls from area victims. The breaking of the sex-scandal was like blowing up a dam. People in chains to memories of sexual violence came forward. The silence of churches and organizations is oppressive. Silence can prevent victims from becoming survivors. Christian attitudes toward ethnic minorities and women are two other examples of religiously justified oppression. Faith ought to set people free. Too often leaders of faith keep people in chains.

Silence can prevent victims from becoming survivors.

4. Respect for Authority

A society cannot survive if the participants do not respect legitimate authority. Religious and political leaders are human beings who often act out of self-interest. Sadly, religious leaders often hide behind a cloak of godly authority. At times religious leaders have acted as if an attack on the clergy or the church is an attack on God.

It’s always been that way. Christians fret about the deteriorating morals of society. Unfortunately, many religions have lost their historic claim to moral authority. The scandal revealed in Spotlight is one massive example of the importance of holding leaders accountable in any organization that wants to have a moral voice.

5. Loyalty vs. Betrayal

In Spotlight we see efforts to encourage people to be loyal to the home team. Loyalty to Boston and the Catholic church is a virtue. Don’t destroy the works of good people because of a few “bad apples.” It’s interesting that the film focuses on numbers as if a quantifiable critical mass of bad priests is needed before one feels justified to “betray” the church.

Loyalty is indeed a virtue. But where one’s loyalty lies is important. Christians, and all moral people, are continually tested to determine whether their loyalty lies with their church/religion, pastor, political party, nuclear family, extended family, school, and so forth. At times, the ties that bind us to others must be broken. Spotlight shows what can happen when misplaced loyalty reinforces destructive church practices.

6. Purity vs. Degradation

The church has often portrayed sex as dirty and unclean. Shining the Spotlight on the filthy frocks in the church reveals dirt instead of the moral purity expected of its leaders. Sexual purity remains a focus of many Christian groups who periodically rail against premarital sex and pornography.

The film, Spotlight, evokes disgust. Disgust over sexuality provokes the desire to be clean. We find the behavior of the priests and the church disgusting. Disgust moves us to protection. Disgust can be a good thing. But we must protect those who have been hurt not an organization that perpetuates harm.

As long as churches are led by people, problems of uncontrolled sexual behavior will persist. The people who govern any organization ought always to be disgusted enough to “clean up” their organization. But churches must focus on those who have been hurt by the actions of their leaders. People who have been sexually abused often report feeling dirty. I once heard a woman say of the Christian leader who abused her, “I felt like trash-- a piece of paper that he wadded up and tossed in the trash.”

Read more about Sex and Christian morality, in  A House Divided

For related works, see my book list and reviews about Sex and Religion 



To learn more about the problem of child sexual abuse, see the Catholic Church report on the abuse of minors for the period 1950 to 2002. It is available from the USCCB.

Link to a 2002 Spotlight team report at the Boston Globe.

The story behind the movie, Spotlight at the Boston Globe.

Clergy Sexual abuse is not just a Catholic issue. Newsweek story 7 April 2010.

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Saturday, November 7, 2020

Authentic Human Sexuality - A Book Review

 Authentic Human Sexuality            

An Integrated Christian Approach



   Judith K. Balswick

   Jack O. Balswick

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

The Balswicks provide a primer on human sexuality for evangelical readers. They draw on scientific research and integrate those findings with a Christian worldview. In contrast to authentic sexuality in the context of relationships, they illustrate inauthentic sexuality in terms of harassment, pornography, and rape. I read their book in the context of writing A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures (2016).

The book is divided into four parts. The first part reviews human sexuality. They opine that “all human beings struggle with their sexual nature and come short of the sexual wholeness that God intended (p. 14).” They advocate readers approach the subject with “humility and compassion.” They present authentic sexuality as that which is ‘real, genuine, believable, and trustworthy.” Part one continues with information on sexuality and child development. Their theological discussion refers to being created in the image of God and they affirm sexuality as a part of God’s created work. At the end of this part, the authors write about “homosexuality*.” They review related terms and the history of same-sex attraction. In their concluding chapter, they refer to biblical references to “homosexual behavior.” They review research on sexual orientation and lead readers to the conclusion that “homosexual orientation…is not a simple matter of choice (p. 134).” Their chapter and part one concludes with the following statement.

Even though we hold to the model of a heterosexual, lifelong, monogamous union, our compassion brings us to support all Christians who pursue God’s direction for their lives. (p. 136).

In Part two, the authors present their view of authentic sexuality. They discuss singlehood and sexuality and offer some principles to respect dating partners. The issue of virginity arises in this dating context: “While one can never erase the  past, single persons can always reaffirm their virginity and recommit themselves to celibacy again. (p. 159). Following a discussion of cohabitation, they write about marital sexuality—the chapter subtitle is explanatory, “Maximizing Sexual Fulfillment.” Problems arise for couples thus, the examine the “causes and consequences” of extramarital sex. This chapter includes the possibility of healing a relationship and guidelines to prevent an affair.

Inauthentic sexuality is the focus of Part three. The topic of sexual harassment is presented from the perspective of balancing motives and actions. They do not condone sexual harassment but encourage concern for victims and perpetrators. The next chapter focuses on sexual abuse, the harmful impact on victims, and the importance of ministry. Problems of rape and sexual violence are identified in a separate chapter. The last two chapters deal with porn and sexual addiction.


Authentic Human Sexuality offers a segment of evangelical Christians a way to embrace their sexuality within a context that blends Christian teaching and behavioral science findings. They avoid the views of more conservative evangelicals who take a stronger stance favoring sexual purity outside of marriage and preach against same-sex relationships. They also avoid the wider embrace of diversity presented by progressive Christians. Some of the older language in this text may be off-putting to the generation of 2020, but this may be remedied in their 2019 edition.

I can see how this book would be useful in evangelical colleges and universities. What might make the book better would be a more in-depth look at the emotional components of sexuality, a greater appreciation of neuroscience, concerns about birth control and abortion, and an appreciation of psychopathology.


* Homosexuality. I placed the term in quotes because it is the term used by the authors for what we might now refer to as people who identify as LGBTQ+; however, their use is not exactly the same as the diverse gender identity found in LGBTQ+.


The Authors

Judith K. Balswick (EdD, University of Chicago) is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She has taught in the marriage and family program at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Jack O. Balswick (PhD, University of Iowa) is a senior professor of sociology and family development at Fuller Theological Seminary.


Balswick, J, K. & Balswick, J.O. (2008). Authentic human sexuality: An integrated Christian approach, Second Edition. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity. (Link to 3rd Edition)

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A House Divided: Sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick.


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Checkout My Page


My Books  AMAZON          and             GOOGLE STORE


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Sunday, November 1, 2020

A House Divided - Sex and Morality - A Textbook

 A House Divided

Sexuality, Morality, and  

Christian Cultures


Geoffrey W. Sutton

Reviewed by

  Various Reviewers

Several authors read A House Divided and provided reviews. This post quotes from some of the reviews and provides links to those published in journals.


"As we march ominously toward the November 2020 elections, this book, A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures, becomes increasingly relevant. It really is about how we might be more intellectually humble—but it deals specifically with religious humility as it touches on and intertwines with political humility. Churches split. Denominations break apart. Families disintegrate. Christians have divided into (at least) two camps that at times seem hostile to each other. People do not seem to be listening to each other anymore. A generation of young people are leaving the church or never seriously considering it. A House Divided asks, What, if anything, can be done to mend the rending of the Christian garment?"

     Geoffrey W. Sutton’s book, A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures, is a great book for seminaries, for college classes, for churches that want to encourage their parishioners to understand the contemporary issues in Christianity that are related to sex, and for thoughtful individual readers interested in the various controversies around sex-related ideas. It will stretch your understanding. It is a work that must have taken Sutton thousands of hours of research and thinking to be able to identify and explain the issues so clearly, coherently, and comprehensively. And I believe A House Divided will have some positive effect in increasing the reader’s political humility (Worthington, 2017). I think it will move readers toward finding a common ground, or at a minimum will help inform their own thinking about these important issues in churches and how those issues are dealt with within society. For the practitioner, it is an invaluable resource for informing one about sticky issues that Christian patients bring to counseling regularly. For this reason (and for others I’ve mentioned), I highly recommend the book.

-- Ev Worthington, Commonwealth Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, Virginia Commonwealth University reviewed in Journal of Psychology and Theology (2020).



"For a Church that serves one Master, Christians seem to be divided over a surprisingly large number of issues. Several of these divisive issues fall within the domain of sexuality. This book is an attempt to help two sides of the Christian family tree (“conservative” and “progressive”) appreciate that the opposing side is coming from a reasoned and faithful position. Sutton does this through a careful consideration of scripture, moral foundation theory, and Christian cultures and individuality in the context of several divisive sexual issues. It is a job well done."

--Rod Bassett, Professor of Psychology, Roberts Weslyan College, review published in Journal of Psychology and Christianity (2017)



"Dr. Sutton examines morality and sexuality with a scholarly but accessible book. It will keep your students thinking and pondering their framework and philosophy for morality and sexuality as they face complex issues in current events"

     —Jennifer Ripley, PhD, Professor of Psychology, Regent University


“A blend of hermeneutics, research, and moral psychology to survey social challenges facing Christians today. Sutton’s book provides a thoughtful exploration of how various faith groups approach issues of sexuality based on views of morality. This volume highlights how emotion, thought, and tradition impacts six dimensions of morality; illustrating what divides us. The text shows divergent views but also points to commonalities, illuminating a shared desire to live a moral life.”
     —Kelly Reiner, PsyD, LCP

Purchasing Information

  Publisher: Pickwick Books - A WipfandStock print

 Instructor Desk Copies available from the Publisher: WIPFandSTOCK

Also available from

Christian Morality and Moral Psychology
  Perspectives on ...

Birth control, 
   -Plural marriage
  -same-sex marriage
Premarital sex, 
Sexual abuse, 
Sexual development, 
Sex education, 

Psychological perspectives derived from: Moral Foundations Theory

Religious focus: Progressive vs. Conservative Christianity


Bassett, R. L. (2017). A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. Journal of            Psychology and Christianity, 36(1), 83+.

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A House Divided: Sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick. ISBN: 9781498224888

Sutton, G. W., Kelly, H. L., & Huver, M. (2019). Political identities, religious identity, and the pattern of moral foundations among conservative Christians. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 48, pp. 169-187. Online October 16, 2019. Issue published September 1, 2020. ResearchGate Link     Academia Link

Worthington EL. How to Discuss Controversial Sexual Issues with Christians Who Don’t (and Do) Agree with You (2020). Journal of Psychology and Theology, 48(3):229-233. doi:10.1177/0091647120908017

  Read free sample on AMAZON

Book Website

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

God and Sex by Michael Coogan- A Book Review

 God and Sex

What the Bible Really Says  


   Michael Coogan  2010

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

Coogan sets the stage for a biblical view of sex by citing the popularity of the Bible in US society--over 90% of us have "The Book." He challenges readers who believe the Bible is simply "God's Word" rather than a collection of works by multiple authors to consider some obvious inconsistencies easily recognized by anyone who has taken the time to read the text. Coogan want readers to see the unfolding of the biblical message in ways that allows a nuanced approach to modern life. Thus, he will write about women as equals, sexual prohibitions, and the stories of rape.

Chapter 1

We begin with an invitation to see the biblical past as life in a foreign country with a different language, culture and values. He quickly shows readers love and sex through the eyes of the Song of Solomon. Then opens readers' eyes to biblical sex by lifting the veil of euphemisms. Soon, sex is everywhere. And we begin to hear women's voices.

Chapter 2

It is still common in Christianity to find only male leaders in Christian churches and organizations. Coogan provides several examples of the subordinate role of women in the Bible. He even shows us what a woman was worth by age. The highest value was 30 shekels of silver compared to 50 for men in the age group 20 to 60. This is based on the redemption vows. There's more here. We learn about widows, virgins, and the roles of women in public and the home.

Chapter 3

In this chapter, Coogan looks at marriage and divorce. Abortion and polygamy fit here. There are no comments on abortion and birth control in a culture where children are valuable assets. Infant mortality is a horrific 50% based on some estimates. Coogan explains the familiar pro-choice argument about ending pregnancies and shows the problem with the poets recognition of life in the womb. Following comments on polygamy, Coogan looks at the restrictions on divorce explained in the context of Jewish culture and law.

Chapter 4

Here we learn about forbidden relationships like adultery, incest, and rape. An important reminder to moderns is an understanding of women as a man's property. Incest is of course part of the list of forbidden relationships. The value of a virgin daughter to her father is a noteworthy point of ancient culture. Next Coogan offers his take on same-sex sexuality. He offers the cultural context for the disapproval and challenges modern moralists to consider their views about same sex-sex prohibitions in view of culture and their inconsistent stance on other moral matters.

Chapter 5

This essay is about rape and prostitution. The familiar Bible stories are revisited. We learn the oft told stories of righteous prostitutes like Tamar and Rahab, but we also see how they were marginalized.

Chapter 6

Coogan introduces ideas about God and his wives and the problem of polytheism in ancient Israel. We know Israel was warned by the biblical writers of metaphorical adultery in their pursuit of other Gods. Coogan reminds readers that ancient cultures told stories about gods having relations with humans. And he finds evidence for these beliefs in the Scriptures.


I quoted Coogan's work in A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures to help readers appreciate various interpretations of scriptures dealing with contemporary issues like sexual abuse, abortion, and the role of women.

Coogan's work overlaps with other similar books aimed at helping Christians be careful with their moral proclamations. Frankly, I doubt many Christians will take the time to peruse alternative interpretations of their firm beliefs about biblical marriage and sex as presented by their clergy and in books by evangelicals. Nevertheless, Coogan's work is well documented and offers a cautionary message to modern zealots even as it helps readers appreciate an ancient culture so distant in time from our own.

Sex Topics: adultery, marriage, divorce, homoeroticism, pregnancy and abortion, women, biblical language about sex

Religious focus: The Hebrew Bible / Christian Old Testament


Coogan, M.D. (2010). God and sex: What the bible really says.  New York: Twelve.

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A House Divided: Sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick. ISBN: 9781498224888

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My Page


My Books  AMAZON          and             GOOGLE STORE


FOLLOW   FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton




Articles: Academia   Geoff W Sutton   ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 


Related Posts

 Sex Texts by Hornsby

The Moral Teaching of Paul by Furnish

Sex God by Bell

Friday, August 11, 2017

Moral Tribes by Joshua Greene - A Book Review

“The tribal differences that erupt into public controversy typically concern sex (e.g., gay marriage, gays in the military, the sex lives of public officials) and death at the margins of life (e.g., abortion, physician-assisted suicide, the use of embryonic stem cells in research). That such issues are moral issues is surely not arbitrary. Sex and death are the gas pedals and brakes of tribal growth. ... What’s less clear is why different tribes hold different views about sex, life, and death, and why some tribes are more willing than others to impose their views on outsiders (11).”
—Joshua Greene

MORAL TRIBES: EMOTION, REASON, AND THE GAP BETWEEN US AND THEM by Joshua Greene, New York: Penguin Press, 2013, pp. 422. ISBN: 978-1-101-63867-5 Reviewed by Geoffrey W. Sutton, Springfield, MO


I read Greene’s Moral Tribes in 2014. That book along with Haidt’s The Righteous Mind and moral controversies in politics in religion over same-sex marriage, prompted me to think of ways Christian Spirituality and Science -- especially psychological science--might find common ground. Even within the same movement or affiliated group of churches, Christians appeared to be from different tribes. Subsequently, I wrote A House Divided. Although I drew more upon moral psychology research, I have long valued the thinking of philosophers when it comes to analyzing the ideas of science.

Today, I received my copy of a journal, which published my academic review of Moral Tribes. It turns out, they had first published the review in 2015. Anyway, it is a popular read on and ResearchGate. And I think with good reason—not my review, but Greene’s analysis.
The quote at the top of this post is telling. So much of the sociopolitical debate in the US and other countries that permit open debates has to do with life issues—sex and death—and the relationships related to such issues in between life's ends. In fact, it is appropriate that the moral hedges of religion deal with these issues. And religions, traditional boundary makers of culture, frequently weigh-in when leaders perceive their rights are not carefully considered.

After an organized presentation of many moral psychology experiments revealing the natural separation between groups of people—the Us and Them problem—Greene takes us back to utilitarian philosophy associated with Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. The problem of developing a meta-morality is not addressed by Greene and certainly utilitarianism has been found wanting as a universally guiding theory. But then again, attempts to find universal principles of justice and rights also come up short. And Greene’s analysis of psychological research won’t take him, or us, to the promised land of a universal morality. 

But I appreciate the book. Here’s why.

Outside academic debates, groups of people continue to beat the drums of war. At the national level, it can be scary living as we do in a nuclear age. But at local levels, group conflicts sometimes lead to death and disability and at other times lead to misery marked by broken relationships, suspicion, and distrust. We do well to seek common ground. On the one hand, we might try justice as fairness approaches. And on the other hand, we may revive utilitarian methods to discover that a common good may be weighed as of great importance to both tribes, a common goal worthy of pursuit, or a common positive effect when those in conflict agree that life is more important than forcing the other tribe to change its system of rights, values, or "goods." Righteous minds might hate compromise. But compromise in the form of peace treaties, allow people to live in ways others find do not like, provided no one comes to harm.


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Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion. New York: Pantheon.

Sutton, G. W. (2016). A house divided: Sexuality, morality, and Christian cultures. Eugene, OR: Pickwick. ISBN: 9781498224888

Related books

A House Divided on Amazon and other stores.

Christian Morality on Amazon and other stores.

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