NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • Raw, intimate, and timely—a no-holds-barred celebration of our bodies that flies in the face of antiquated ideas about sex and gender.
“A triumph.”—Glennon Doyle • “One of the most important, life-changing books I’ve ever read.”—Rachel Held Evans, author of Searching for Sunday and Inspired
Negative messages about sex come from all corners of society: from the church, from the media, from our own families. As a result, countless people have suffered pain, guilt, and judgment. In this instant bestseller, Nadia Bolz-Weber unleashes her critical eye and her vulnerable yet hopeful soul on the harmful conversations about sex that have fed our shame.
Bolz-Weber offers no simple amendments or polite compromises. Instead, this modern-day reverend calls for an inclusivity that empowers us to be loyal to people and, perhaps most important, ourselves. “Christianity is not a program for avoiding mistakes,” she writes. “It is a faith of the guilty.” With an alternative understanding of Scripture passages that have been weaponized against Christians for decades, Bolz-Weber reminds us that sexual flourishing can and should be for all genders, all bodies, and all humans. She shares stories, poetry, and Scripture that wage war on perpetual anxiety around sex by celebrating sexuality in all its forms and recognizing it for the gift that it is.
If you’ve been mistreated, confused, angered, and/or wounded by shaming sexual messages, this one is for you.
Shameless is a triumph. Nadia Bolz-Weber returns to readers the gift toxic religion and consumer culture stole: the gift of sexuality. Her wisdom is unparalleled, her vulnerability touching, her storytelling masterful, and her perspective both ancient and fresh.
Shameless will give its readers their joy, relationships, and freedom back.”
—Glennon Doyle, author of #1 New York Times Bestseller LOVE WARRIOR, founder and president of Together Rising
Shameless is one of the most important, life-changing books I’ve ever read. Expertly-crafted and lovingly delivered, it serves as both a bomb and a balm—blowing up the lies religion teaches about sex and tenderly healing the wounds those messages have inflicted. Pastoral and prophetic,
Shameless weaves together history, theology, biblical studies, personal narrative, and sex ed, without ever losing sight of its most important aim—honoring the dignity of actual human beings living actual, messy and beautiful lives. It’s Nadia Bolz-Weber’s best book yet. And that’s saying something.”
—Rachel Held Evans, author of Searching for Sunday and Inspired
“If the conversation around sex in the Church has felt like a small, cramped room to you, brace yourself: Nadia Bolz-Weber is about to kick in the door, hustle you outside, and burn down the room as you march out into the fresh air. This irreverent, bold, and authentic book is deeply centered in love and the transforming goodness of God. If ever there was a time for the Church to disrupt the world''s broken notions around sex, gender, masculinity, and power with this sort of a shameless reformation, it is now. And Nadia is the loving, hopeful, wise, take-no-prisoners disruptor we''ve been waiting for.”
—Sarah Bessey, author of Jesus Feminist and Out of Sorts
“Nadia has an amazingly faith-filled way to say good things in a hard way and hard things in a good way. She does it again with one of our most wounding, dangerous, and needed subjects—Christian gender and sexual teaching! This will heal many.”
—Fr. Richard Rohr, O.F.M., Center for Action and Contemplation, author of Falling Upward
"Nadia Bolz Weber returns with her page-turning, vulnerable storytelling, this time with her sights set squarely on purity culture. She unravels the problematic, toxic frameworks around sexuality – the burden of which many of us still carry today – and offers us the freedom we need to say no to shame. If you know Nadia''s work, you know that she is fearless. In
Shameless, we all benefit from her bravery."
—Austin Channing Brown, author of I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
Nadia Bolz-Weber first hit the
New York Times list with her 2013 memoir—the bitingly honest and inspiring
Pastrix—followed by the critically acclaimed
New York Times bestseller
Accidental Saints in 2015. A former stand-up comic and a recovering alcoholic, Bolz-Weber is the founder and former pastor of a Lutheran congregation in Denver, House for All Sinners and Saints. She speaks at colleges and conferences around the globe.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
And also with you.
The week Prince died, I was flying to Charlotte, North Carolina, to speak to a group of Methodists. That same week, the state legislature of North Carolina voted in the so-called bathroom bill, which stated that people must use the bathroom that corresponds to the gender on their driver’s license. As I stuffed my carry-on bag beneath the seat in front of me, I thought of this hideous bill and the little plan I had concocted to protest it. My bag contained a roll of Scotch tape and half a dozen sheets of paper, all which bore—in huge purple print—the androgynous symbol for Prince’s name.
The plane took off, and I looked out the window. We were traveling over the dry plains of eastern Colorado, thirty thousand feet above a dot matrix of green and brown circles that revealed the geometry of industrial agriculture. As a city girl who doesn’t know a thing about farming, I’ve always found those green circles puzzling. Why would farmers plant circles of crops in lots that are square?
When I looked into it later, I discovered that in 1940, just twenty-nine miles from the spot where my plane made its way into the crisp Colorado sky, a man named Frank Zybach invented the center-pivot irrigation system, essentially revolutionizing farming in America. In his system, the watering equipment turns on a pivot, allowing sprinklers to water crops in a circular pattern. The crops aren’t planted in circles; they’re just watered that way. The water never gets to the crops in the corners.
When I arrived at the Charlotte airport, I went about my project of taping the purple Prince symbols over bathroom signs that read “Men” and “Women.” Then I went to church.
The day after I returned home, I sat on the edge of the stage at House for All Sinners and Saints (HFASS), the Denver church I pastor. My parishioner Meghan and I were watching the church’s monthly community meal take place. Groups of mismatched people of differing ages and sexual and gender orientations were situated at twelve circular tables throughout the room, eating chili out of Styrofoam bowls.
Meghan, a large transwoman with long, thin hair and a face and figure that she admits do not allow her to “pass,” has enough social anxiety to make sitting at a communal table a non-starter, so she usually makes her own place on the edge of the stage. Some Sundays, rather than join the fray, I hang with her and talk comic books.
That day, as our legs hung off the stage, I brought up something that had been on my mind lately. “Hey, Meghan, I read my old Christian sex-ed book this morning for the first time in maybe forty years.” She laughed, and I went on. “It taught me that God’s plan is for everyone to be a hetero-sexual, cis-gender Christian who never has sex with anyone until they marry their one true love and make babies.”*
We both laughed. Then I shook my head. “I mean, I do think there are genuinely those kinds of people out there.”
Meghan held up her hand and touched her thumb to the rest of her purple nail-polished fingers. “Sure there are. And this is how small that circle is.”
If you were to draw a circle that represents all the people on the planet, and then inside it draw another small circle to represent the people who live according to “God’s plan,” then, well, very few people on the planet fit in
that circle. Meghan doesn’t fit in that circle. I don’t fit in that circle. Also not included in the circle are divorced people, people in unhappy marriages, people who have sex before marriage, people who masturbate, asexuals, gay people, bisexuals, people who are not Christian, people who are gender non-binary . . .
If that’s “God’s plan,” then God planned poorly.
Maybe you don’t fit into that circle, either. God planted so many of us in the corners, yet the center-pivot irrigation of the church’s teachings about sex and sexuality tends to exclude us. Many of us were taught that if you do not fit inside the circle of the church’s behavioral codes, God is not pleased with you, so we whittled ourselves down to a shape that could fit those teachings, or we denied those parts of ourselves entirely. The lusty parts. The kinky parts. The gay parts. The unwanted-pregnancy parts. The unfulfilled parts.
But our sexual and gender expressions are as integral to who we are as our religious upbringings are. To separate these aspects of ourselves—to separate life as a sexual being from a life with God—is to bifurcate our psyche, like a musical progression that never comes to resolution.
In the ten years I’ve been pastor at HFASS, I’ve known young married couples who did what the church told them and “waited,” only to discover that they could not, on the day of their wedding, flip a switch in their brains and in their bodies and suddenly go from relating to sex as sinful and dirty and dangerous to relating to sex as joyful and natural and God-given. I’ve known single women who didn’t have sex until they were forty and now have absolutely no idea how to manage the emotional aspect of a sexual relationship. I’ve heard middle-aged women admit that they still can’t make themselves wear a V-neck because as teenagers they were told female modesty was the best protection from unwanted male sexual advances. I’ve seen gay men who never reported the sexual abuse they experienced in the church because the church told them being gay was a sin. I’ve heard stories from women who experienced marital rape after getting married at twenty years old (because if you have to wait until marriage to have sex, then you hurry that shit up) but got the message from their church that because there is a verse in the Bible that says women should be subject to their husbands, it was not actually rape.
It doesn’t feel very difficult to draw a direct line between the messages many of us received from the church and the harm we’ve experienced in our bodies and spirits as a result. So my argument in this book is this: we should not be more loyal to an idea, a doctrine, or an interpretation of a Bible verse than we are to
people. If the teachings of the church are harming the bodies and spirits of people, we should rethink those teachings.
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther took a hard look at the harm in his own parishioners’ spiritual lives, specifically their torment from trying to fulfill the sacramental obligations that the church determined would appease an angry God. Seeing this, Luther dared to think that the Gospel—the story of God coming to humanity in Jesus of Nazareth, and speaking to us the words of life—could free his parishioners from the harm their own church had done them. Luther was less loyal to the teachings of the church than he was to
people, and this helped spark what is now known as the Protestant Reformation.
I know that there will be those who do not wish to rethink their ideas about sexual ethics, gender, orientation, extramarital sex, and the inherent goodness of the human body. Maybe some people reading this will look at their own lives and in their own churches and see only happy, straight couples who have fulfilling monogamous sex and who glow with the satisfaction of “living in God’s special plan for humanity.” I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t go to your church and I do not live your life. So if the traditional teachings of the church around sex and the body have caused no harm in the lives of the people around you, and have even provided them a plan for true human flourishing, then this book probably is not for you. (Good news, though: the Christian publishing world is your oyster. There you’ll find no lack of books to uphold and even help you double down on your beliefs.)
This book is for everyone else. It is water, I hope, for those planted in the corners. It is for anyone who has had to keep their love life secret. It is for all those who have been good and done everything right in the eyes of the church, and yet still have a sex life minus the fireworks and magic that were promised them if they just “waited.” It is for the parents of the gay son, parents who love and support him because they know he is neither a mistake nor an aberrant sinner, and as a result of that support have become outsiders in their own church. This book is for everyone who ever felt ashamed of their sexual nature because of what someone told them in God’s name. This book is for anyone who has walked away from Christianity and yet still is secretly into Jesus and always will be. This book is for anyone who has passed the traditional teachings of the church on sex to their own kids and now regrets it. This book is for the newly divorced man or woman who desires to be a caring and thoughtful lover, yet wonders:
Do the rules I learned in youth group still apply to me now? This book is for the young Evangelical who silently disagrees with their church’s stance on sex and sexual orientation, yet feels alone in that silence. This book is for anyone who wonders, even subconsciously:
Has the church obsessed over this too much? Do we really think we’ve gotten it right?
I believe strongly that the church, in general, has absolutely
not gotten it right.