The AP had a very interesting article this morning about a small-town Alabama preacher (with big-city megachurch preacher dreams) who's talking about sex for a whole month's worth of sermons and the controversy it's raising in that town.
What's interesting about that is that we on the left often assume that the right's anti-sex positions haven't changed much over time, that they're still toeing the same line with the same arguments.
But this story shows what happens when the more modern, media-savvy Religious Right rhetoric on sex (that is, talking about it repeatedly, in detail, and telling people to follow their stringent rules) appears in another conservative context with different set of rules (where sex simply isn't talked about).
Daystar Church, whose congregation has grown dramatically under pastor Jerry Lawson, has run up against the sensibilities of a conservative north Alabama community with a monthlong focus on sex.
Sex just isn't an appropriate topic for church, some say, and others are upset over the church's signs, which advertise the sermon series and accompanying Web site.
"It's really stirred up the people here," said Good Hope town clerk Joann Jones.
Evangelist Roland Belew, a self-described fundamentalist and former trucker who now preaches at a truck stop, said the whole idea goes against the teaching of New Testament apostles.
"Paul said preach the Gospel," said Belew. "Talking about sex ain't gonna get nobody to heaven."
The controversy is a bit ironic considering the church's overall point is about as straight-laced as they come: That God intends for sex to be enjoyed solely within a heterosexual marriage, and that anything else - adultery, pornography, homosexuality, even "sexual arousal" outside of marriage - is sin.
Daystar is a megachurch with a "campus" instead of a regular-old building. And Jeff Lawson, the guy who runs it, isn't a po-dunk evangelical; he's obviously a man with a big business plan.
But here's how the town's mayor reacted to his billboards advertising his sermons on sex:
Even the 22-year-old mayor, Corey Harbison, worries that the "great sex" message will force parents to talk about the birds and the bees with inquisitive young children before either is ready.
"I understand what they're trying to do. I get it," said Harbison. "(But) some people just aren't ready for that. Good Hope is just a good old, country town."
Compare that to Lawson's explanation of his "Great Sex" sermon series:
Lawson said his sermons are more than marketing at Daystar, which dreams of opening satellite churches in big cities. The church needs to be out front on the topic of sex when even kids' TV shows depict illicit relationships and homosexuality, he said.
"It comes down to God saying the most healthy place for sex and the only right place for sex is within a marriage - one man, one woman, and one marriage," Lawson said.
There was a fundamental shift over the last several decades in how some of the biggest players of the Religious Right movement push their version of Christianity. It's well-organized, goal-oriented, and assumes a desensitized population who needs moral arbiters to lead them away from this culture that turned to shit since the 50's.
And all this talk about sex as a subject is designed, as Foucault would say, to alienate people from "bodies and pleasures." The "this is exactly when and how to have sex" message seems more sex-negative than the "we'll just never talk about it" message, although I'd always appreciate a sex-positive message (as if that has anything to do with our liberation).