It seems to me there’s nothing more counter-cultural we can teach our children at the moment than the statement:
“It’s not your body!”.
We’re (rightly) eager to teach our children the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch. We don’t want them to be abused or to abuse others. But how do we arm them intellectually to resist such abuse? Western culture tells them to oppose abuse “because it’s your body”. In other words, what makes “abuse” so terrible is that it’s an invasion of the sovereignty of the self. But the Bible teaches exactly the opposite premise: “Don’t let people abuse you, because it’s not your body”. Your body belongs to God – as your Creator, and as your Redeemer (Gen 1:26; 1 Cor 6:19). “Abuse” is wicked not because it’s an attack on the sovereignty of the self, but on the sovereignty of God. That raises the stakes on abuse considerably – think millstones round the neck, and being thrown into the sea (Matt 18:6).
It’s important to see that these aren’t just two equal and equivalent ways of tackling the same problem; one is untrue and destructive. The other is true and, therefore, wholesome.
Firstly, there’s the problem that the underlying logic of what our children are told is false. For example, you’ll often see the slogan “My Body My Choice” on placards at pro-abortion rallies; Amnesty International also use it. But the slogan simply isn’t true. When someone says: “You can’t tell me what to do with my body!”, the simple answer is: “Yes, we can!”. Every time you put on a seat-belt you’re showing that it’s not your body. Every person who puts on a seat-belt is recognising everyone else’s responsibility for your body. No one seriously believes the body is a strip of sovereign territory over which no politician can rule. The body is still very well policed in the UK. The body is political; it always has been and always will be. There is lots of legislation which says what you can and can’t do with your body. Try walking out of your house with no clothes on and it will quickly prove the point! So, firstly, the mantra that’s “it’s your body” is far too simplistic.
Instead, we need to teach our children that their bodies are inter-connected with the bodies of others; they are born into a complex web of relationships (Rom 5:12; Gen 17:9; Acts 17:6). The gift of the body can be used to bless or curse those around them. I think a lovely way to do this is with our children’s tummy buttons. There’s a lot of theology in the tummy-button! That fascinating mark on their bodies tells them that they belong to something bigger – a family. Their body is not a defensive castle over which the sovereign “self” rules against the incursions of others, but a site owned by God, where he is to be served and glorified – a temple.
…which leads to a second point; these two different starting-points will lead our children to very different visions of the body. When you put them side by side, it’s very striking. Plato taught the body was a prison, but Paul taught the body was a temple (1 Cor 6:19). It seems to me that sums up the two different visions of the body our children are being offered.
Think how a prisoner treats the walls of his prison, and how the high priest treated the gold-lined walls of Solomon’s temple. Which vision more accurately describes how young people are growing up viewing their bodies today? In one vision, the body is “cheap”; it’s a commodity to be used; “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”. Or it’s obstructive, and gets in the way of “self”-expression e.g. the song lyric that says: “My body is a cage, that keeps me from dancing with the one I love”. Whether it’s anorexia, or “I’m in the wrong body”, the body becomes a site of alienation and confinement. But in the other vision, the body has great, everlasting value, and is a holy site where God is served.
For all its emphasis on “bodily autonomy”, secular Britain doesn’t have a glorious vision of the body. I heard about a girl wearing a T-shirt with the slogan: “Your body may be a temple, but mine’s an amusement park”! The secular body is cheapened by pornography. It’s a site of selfishness – a series of pleasure zones, which will eventually wear out. Its future is to be reduced to being kept alive by the NHS until your 90s. And then at death, it’s just “dust”.
In contrast, the Bibles teaches that Jesus took a body (Heb 10:5), and in that body bore our sins (1 Peter 2:24), so that in our bodies we can be set free from sin to live for God (Rom 6:13; 12:1), and in those self-same bodies be raised to everlasting life in fellowship with God (1 Cor 15:43). At John Donne’s death, one of his friends described his corpse as: “that body, which once was a Temple of the Holy Ghost, and is now become a small quantity of Christian dust: –But I shall see it re-animated”. That’s how we should want our children to see their bodies!
Christian parents, I urge you to sit your sons and daughters down, and talk about who their body belongs to. Don’t let spiritual carbon monoxide infiltrate their souls. They need to be able to spot the assumption at school. When the teacher says “it’s your body”, they need to think: “no, that’s not what Jesus says in his word”. We need to catechise them. Repeat after me: “it’s not your body!”. “I am not my own, but belong – body and soul, in life and in death – to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ” (Heidelberg Catechism Q.1).