- The Washington Times - Monday, June 4, 2001

His shirt sleeves rolled up, his image projected onto five video screens framing a church auditorium filled with 2,000 people, the Rev. Tommy Nelson read from one of the most sensuous books he knows: the Bible.
The yarn-spinning, joke-telling Texan travels the country using the Bibles "Song of Solomon" as Gods definitive message on dating, marriage and sexual intimacy. He led a recent two-day conference in Westlake Village, Calif., taking hand-holding couples and singles seeking relationships through the Old Testament book verse by juicy verse.
He explained words like pomegranate, vineyard and garden are layered in sexual imagery. Raisin cakes represent aphrodisiacs. And the phrase "let his left hand be under my head and his right hand embrace me" means begetting has begun.
He says the eight-chapter book depicts sexual intercourse between a husband and wife.
The "Song of Solomon" is a collection of poetry that follows a man, described as both shepherd and king, romancing a woman as they court and marry. Though some dismiss it as idle erotica not befitting the rest of the Old Testament, the book is interpreted by many Jews as an allegory representing Gods love for Israel, and by Christians as a symbol of Christs relationship to his followers.
"It shows Christs love for the Church. We are the bride of Christ," said the Rev. Ed Owens, a theologian at St. Johns Seminary in Camarillo, Calif.
Father Owens acknowledged the Song of Solomon is sexually charged and implies intimacy between a husband and a wife can be passionate and loving, though he suggested the use of the text as a sex manual is going too far.
"This is not Dr. Ruth," he said. "When we proclaim it in church, were not offering information on being a good spouse. Were reminding one another of Gods love for us and that should be how we love one another with devotion and care. Thats the point."
Mr. Nelson is a one-time college quarterback who speaks in a drawl, has been married for 27 years and tells his conferees that the intimate joy of his wedding night convinced him of Gods love for romance. That he sees the Song of Solomon differently from many clergy screams out from the press releases promoting the conferences that attract average crowds of about 2,000 people. He further explains his views on a Web site (www.songofsolomon.com).
"Pastor Tommy Nelson teaches Southern California residents how to have great sex," read an advance for the two-day conference at Calvary Community Church in Westlake Village.
He contends that as God created sexual urges, He provided the "Song of Solomon" as a literal guide of instruction. It covers courting, communication between husbands and wives, conflict management and, of course, passion. Its theme is that a healthy marital relationship can be built only on a bedrock of faith.
"No man can properly love a woman if he doesnt understand his relationship to God," Mr. Nelson said. "Whats going to make you an exciting lover is holiness."
Mr. Nelson, who has been teaching the "Song of Solomon" for about seven years, said church communities often are embarrassed or otherwise reluctant to address the book head-on because of verses laden with phrases such as "your two breasts are like twin fawns" and "your lips, my bride, drip honey."
He said anything overtly sexual is either skirted by faith leaders or camouflaged as symbolism.
But sexuality is a potentially overwhelming force, he said. "Its just like a fireplace when you lose the grating," he said, noting flames can threaten to burn everything in their path. "If you dont have a standard, its like this great drive becomes perverse."
The only standard that works, Mr. Nelson suggested, is the Bible.
He said the love depicted in the "Song of Solomon" shows how a husband should treat his wife, exuding a sensitivity that understands her needs and respects any boundaries.
"The most sensitive organ on a womans body is her mind," he said.
He argued at length against premarital sex: "Its like building a fire with lighter fluid. Theres no foundation. It burns out."
But he encouraged married couples to embrace sex as a gift built for not only procreation but pleasure. He advised women to buy provocative lingerie and suggested spontaneous husband-wife trysts at the nearest Sheraton.
"I know what youre thinking: 'Were Christians. We cant do that," he said, holding up a leather-encased Bible. "Its OK. Ive read the book. Its OK."

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