The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: Is companionship enough without sex?

This is more of a Dear Abby type of question than the kind we normally handle, but it came in response to a recent column on a similar topic so I sent it along to the panel. Betty (pseudonym) asks:

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

“I was married for 40 wonderful years. My husband died six and a half years ago. I met a Church of Christ Christian. He is a widower after 48 years of marriage. I am very religious and prayed about having sex and read the Bible. I thought I had found peace with God that sex at 69 is not a sin. We had 2 months of the most wonderful sex.

“He decided he had given in to temptation and that our having sex was wrong. I re-read the Bible and decided he is right and that I was influenced by the devil to feel that having sex was OK. We both have repented. We have spent time together – dinner out, playing cards, and dancing to music in his sun room. But no sex and no kissing. Only a hug at the end of an evening.

“I love him but he does not have the strong feelings for me that I have for him. He will not consider marriage because my 45 year old disabled daughter lives with me. I so want him to love me and marry me (daughter and all), but he seems to think that my daughter makes marriage out of consideration.

“Should I break up with him and set him free? My heart is breaking. What should I do?”

The Rev. Sandra Nikkel, head pastor of Conklin Reformed Church, responds:

“Dear lady, I could give you my biblical view on sexuality but I don’t think that’s what you need right now. So, I will simply speak to you as a woman who respects herself. Dump the guy! A man who considers your precious child a burden or a nuisance does not love you. He may love your body; he may love your company, he may love dancing with you, but he does not love you. May God wrap his arms around you with his amazing love and give you the grace you need to love yourself enough to end this one-sided relationship!”

Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

“This dear woman brings up several issues here, but whatever advice we might render is useless until we resolve the most important line in her letter: ‘I love him but he does not have the strong feelings for me that I have for him.’ Quite honestly, the rest of this very sad letter is superfluous. If one person’s level of affection does not match the other’s then resolution is challenging. Yes, breaking ties completely is an option. But she sounds like she still enjoys his companionship. I’d be curious to know if just maintaining the status quo is an option. If they both enjoy each other’s company and have similar interests, why should they stop? If it was only a matter of more mundane logistics keeping them from marriage I might counsel them to wed and keep separate residences. Legal documents could be drawn up to solidify agreements having to do with estate issues, care for the daughter, etc. But that would only work if he was as much in love as she.

“In addition, I applaud his honesty in acknowledging his concern over the added responsibility of the daughter being a factor. But would she really want to marry a man who did not embrace her life situation fully?”

Father Kevin Niehoff, O.P., a Dominican priest who serves as Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Diocese of Grand Rapids, responds:

“The Roman Catholic Church fundamentally believes in marriage and that the sexual expression of the man and woman is holy because of the sacramental bond they entered. This is the reason sexual relations outside of marriage are judged to be sinful.

“You (the woman) had a wonderful first marriage and, from this portrayal, are seeking a marital relationship that includes the holiness associated with sexual intercourse. The problem is you have a man who does not want the same. Yes, he is a man of faith, but he is not seeking marriage with you.

“You are both seeking different things. Could you change his mind? Possibly, but you may wish to find someone who fulfills all of what you are seeking. This way you are not focusing your energies on someone who plainly wants something entirely different.”

My response:

"If sex is important to you in the relationship, then you should break up with him. If non-sexual companionship is enough for you, then continue the relationship, with one caveat: Your primary responsibility is to protect your daughter. If his feelings about your daughter, compromise her well-being in any way, you need to break up with him."

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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