Dr. Carol Peters-Tanksley is an expert on the integration of body, mind, and soul. She’s a speaker, author, physician, and an ordained doctor of ministry. She recently spoke with our podcast team about wholeness and sexuality and answered five questions that are absolutely vital for every pastor and ministry leader.
Why Is Sexuality About More Than Behavior?
Dr. Carol says that in the church, often the biggest difference from the world is in external behaviors. But we fail to understand that sex is about more than sex. Sexuality says something about who God is as a relationship being and who we are. Dr. Carol says,
“In our culture, the common message is ‘anything goes,’ ‘do whatever feels good’—whether that’s porn or hookups or serial affairs or whatever it is. In the Christian church, often the biggest difference is just what behaviors are okay. But it’s still focused externally.”
Dr. Carol explains that our sexuality is meant to say something about who God is as a relational being. The behaviors are important but they aren’t the main thing. God created us as relational beings he created us with the need desire and capacity for intimacy.
What Is Sexual Wholeness?
God wants you to experience the wholeness of what he designed—not just sexual abstinence. Dr. Carol explains what she means.
“God not only wants you not to watch porn or do other bad sexual stuff! He wants you to experience the wholeness of what he designed you to have as a sexual person. Whether you’re married or not married whether you’re young or old, I think anyone who has struggled with porn understands that there are drives deep inside. If you only try and cover that up without dealing with the thirst, it’s just not going to get very far.”
In other words, sexual wholeness is something positive, not something negative. It’s about learning to affirm God’s design in our bodies, not just deny our desires. Too many people only focus on denying their desires, and they end up in a white-knuckle battle against temptation rather than experiencing the fullness of what God intended. She continues:
“God designed sexuality to be this connection of body soul and spirit. [It is] not just taking the clothes off your body for a solo experience. He designed it to be an authentic connection.”
Sexual wholeness, then, is about experiencing the fullness of who God created you to be.
What Difference Does It Make to Address Sexual Wholeness?
We asked Dr. Carol why it’s so important to talk about sexual wholeness, rather than just sexual behavior. She explained:
“I think this is what Jesus was doing regularly when he dealt with people. I think of Jesus coming to the woman at the well in John 4… Jesus wasn’t [just] pointing out sin. He was saying, ‘I see you, I see your story let’s deal with your story let’s deal with what brought you here, there is.'”
Nobody wakes up one morning and decides they want to be addicted to pornography. Addiction to porn and other destructive sexual behaviors stem from deep-rooted emotions and beliefs. When we address sexual wholeness, it reveals the brokenness and hurt that led to wrong decisions.
Dr. Carol says:
“You were harmed by other people, you may have ended up harming other people yourself. All that goes into who you became and who you are now. Without dealing with those aspects of your sexual story it can’t get to the matters of the heart.”
What’s the Difference Between Sex and Intimacy?
Sex is only part of intimacy, even though we often confuse the two. Dr. Carol points out the difference:
“You can’t experience intimacy by taking the clothes off your body. Your clothes have to come off your mind your heart your soul as well, if you are really going to experience what you are desiring to experience God created us with that need desire and capacity for intimacy.”
So intimacy goes beyond the physical, and it’s a key part of what it means to be human. It’s also a key part of the image of God in humans. Dr. Carol goes on:
“God himself is experiencing intimacy [in] three persons that we speak of as the godhead… He is so intimate that the three of them are one. Our desire to be intimate our capacity for intimacy is part of how we are made in the image of God. He is relational he is experiencing intimacy so he created us with that need and capacity ourselves.”
The Enemy loves to disrupt our intimacy with God. Dr. Carol adds, “When we get past the behavior deal with these matters of the heart find healing from the wounds bring these parts of ourselves to God for wholeness.”
What Can Ministry Leaders Do to Promote Sexual Wholeness?
Pastors and ministry leaders in the 21st century can’t ignore the topic of sexuality. Whether it’s pornography or other issues related to sex, we know this is a tremendous challenge.
Dr. Carol offers her wisdom, first addressing the uncomfortable fact that many leaders are themselves struggling with pornography. If you’re a pastor or in some other position of Christian leadership and you struggle with porn, then you feel the weight and burden of this sin. But you also have a tremendous opportunity to use your own growth, brokenness, and redemption, to teach and instruct others.
“The Bible is very open about these things… we don’t, as Christians, need to need to hold back if God can talk about this in the Bible, we can talk about it so that that’s that’s part of it.”
Aside from just talking about sexual problems in the church, like porn, Dr. Carol advises instructing churches on healthy replacement activities as well.
“Finding healthy ways to fill up the empty places in your soul is an incredibly important spiritual principle for learning to feed ourselves. Our bodies need food every day, our souls need food. Porn is a way to try and fill that emptiness. How do you fill that emptiness up in good ways?”
Lastly, not only should ministry leaders address the topic of sexuality and teach healthy alternatives to filling up the emptiness of our souls, but we need to talk about what to do when we do fail. God’s grace covers our failures, even when we should know better. We need to put forward hope for Christians who fall back into sexual sin.
For more insight on sexual wholeness, check out our podcast with Dr. Carol Peters-Tanksley and our other great podcasts.