≡ Menu

The “New” Sexual Revolution, Coming to a Church Near You!

In his most recent book Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, Ross Douthat traces the roots of America’s current spiritual and political decline. In a chapter entitled The Locust Years, Douthat identifies five trends that developed in the 60s and 70s, which permanently, radically undercut American Christianity and have led to orthodox decline.

  • Religious alignment with political causes (spearheaded by the Vietnam war and Civil Rights Movement)
  • The sexual revolution
  • Globalization
  • Growing economic prosperity
  • The delineation of “classes”
  • Each of these trends, and how they’ve shaped our lens upon the world, are worthy of individual study.

    Recently, the topic of sexuality, primarily surrounding promiscuity and virginity, has been discussed rather rigorously among Christian bloggers. The conversation seems to perfectly illustrate where we find ourselves in the cultural “progression” of American Christianity.

    First was a series of posts, probably best characterized by Rachel Held Evans’ “Do Christians Idolize Virginity?” in which she suggested just that, and took evangelicals to task for their “purity movement,” and the potential shame it wields on others. Bart Gingerich (among others) over at The Gospel Coalition responded with a piece describing extramarital sex as The Millennial Generation’s Acceptable Sin in which he said “many young evangelicals are trying to loosen the standards of moral law to fit their desire to become sexually active before marriage.” Then you have a fascinating Q & A with pastor Tim Keller, ‘Who Are You Sleeping With?’ My Conversation with Tim Keller, which seems to corroborate concern for the loosening of said standards. When Keller was asked about obstacles to revival, the pastor frankly pointed to “fornication.” The author concludes:

    If the Evangelical church, and really the Church in general, is going to see serious spiritual renewal, especially among the younger generations like the Millennial, Keller says we need to be ready to speak to the issue of sex — not in a shaming fashion, but confidently calling people to repentance.

    As you might guess, Keller’s perspective elicited pushback (notebly from Evans in her post Is Doubt an STD).

    And the debate continues.

    What strikes me by all this is how Christian perspectives on sex seem less shaped by biblical standards than cultural norms, as if we’ve long ago surrendered biblical sexual ethics to 60s era Free Love and are still sifting the wreckage. Which is where Douthat comes in. The author suggests that our current cultural and religious climate can indeed be traced back to the sexual revolution. It started with the pill. (bold is mine)

    “At first, the development of a safe, reliable birth control pill seemed like a moral and theological problem only for the Catholic Church, since most Protestant bodies already approved of contraceptive use by married couples. This assumption proved to be naive: while Catholics spent the 1960s publicly debating their church’s teaching on contraception, the pill’s promise was inspiring a far more sweeping private revolution, one that extended well beyond the narrow issue of birth control to encompass the entirety of sexual ethics. Over the course of a decade or so, a large swath of America decided that two millennia of Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality were simply out of date.” (pg. 70)

    Sexual ethics, especially those framed by long-embedded notions of fidelity and sexual purity, were suddenly hocked in favor of the counter-cultural mantra: If it feels good, do it. The consequences were rather immediate.

    “Before the sexual revolution, Americans waited longer to have sex, had fewer sexual partners along the course of a lifetime (less than half as many, by some estimates), and were much more likely to see premarital lovemaking as a way station on the road to wedlock rather than an end unto itself. …For the first time in human history, it was possible for the poor and middle class as well as the rich to imagine being safely promiscuous.” (pg. 71)

    Perhaps it’s just me, but the debates about evangelical sex culture appear to be an outgrowth of this decades old “sweeping private revolution,” and the collision of two very different ethics. Of course, deifying virginity is nonsense, and the potential shaming that follows is equally destructive. However, the suggestion that it’s possible to be “safely promiscuous” is flat out not biblical. The apostle Paul wrote:

    Flee sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. — I Cor. 6:18 NIV

    In other words, there’s no such thing as “free love.” The sin of fornication is not erased by “mutual consent.” Of course, those who critique evangelical purity culture are not necessarily condoning pre-marital sex. Nor are they suggesting promiscuity is “safe.” However, their lack of simply “calling people to repentance” seems woefully absent, as if to do so would itself constitute “shaming.” (Note: Evans’ rebuttal of the article on Keller did not address his main point, that promiscuity is an obstacle to revival.) No doubt, Millennials face sexual temptation in ways their parents haven’t. But at what point do we stop telling our children, students, and fellow Christians to “Flee sexual immorality”?

    Apparently, the sexual revolution is alive and well. As are a “large swath of America [who have] decided that two millennia of Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality [are] simply out of date.”

    Email this to someoneShare on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on Reddit
    { 9 comments… add one }
    • Johne Cook April 18, 2013, 11:39 AM

      ‘Fornication’ is such an Old Testament word in this society, and that’s precisely the problem. How can you claim to be Christian and advocate ‘safe promiscuity’? I’m not a fuddy-duddy. I like sex. I’m not afraid of it or ashamed of it. But if sex with our spouse is a physical metaphor for spiritual oneness with God, these extra-Biblical concessions pull people out of union with God instead of framing appropriate, effective ways to lose yourself in union with God, and that’s the real problem. Satan is delighted when we try to rationalize our way out of obedience, out of relationship, out of worship. We push back against unBiblical sexual behavior not because we’re frigid but because we want people to enjoy sex, and oneness with God, as it was intended. It’s about finding the truth and then holding fast to it despite all the lies purring in your ear.

    • Jill April 18, 2013, 1:21 PM

      You can rest assured that these trends are self-limiting since they have contributed to a low birth rate. Revival may take on an added meaning at some point in the future.

    • billgncs April 18, 2013, 1:43 PM

      I’m always amazed at the stigma virginity implies….

      I didn’t love you enough…
      I’m not ready for this emotional complexity…
      I don’t want to be at risk for one the many heinous drug resistant diseases…
      When I sleep with you, it’s really like sleeping with everyone you and your partners shared, ever…
      I don’t want to become pregnant…
      A child is the third person in this relationship…

      I guess that makes me a “prude”, but that’s OK. It seems to me that children are our hope, and when a culture doesn’t embrace them it is dying.

      Thanks for such well thought out commentary.

      • Kim April 18, 2013, 3:48 PM

        That’s ok, Bill, I’m a prude too and very proud of it. And so is Jesus. He’s really proud. 🙂

    • Kim April 18, 2013, 3:45 PM

      It’s simple, very simple. You either do things God’s way or your way. God’s way leads to blessings, God’s favor, and Jesus welcoming you into heaven. Your way = I’m sorry, but I don’t know who you are, period. I’m always amazed by so called ‘christians’, who think it’s ok to do whatever they want, whenever they want and spit in Jesus’ face. When a so called ‘christian’ ignores God’s commands, they spit in His face as He suffers on the cross. It always amazing me. God wants a holy people, not a group of folks who do what they want, when they want, period. Will Jesus return to a Holy church that belongs to Him or to a church that conformed to the world? If christians and so called ‘christians’ don’t get their acts together, then there really won’t be a lot of folks joining Him in the resurrection. They’ll be left behind. And they’ll have no one to blame but themselves.

    • Bob Avey April 19, 2013, 3:39 PM

      You’re right about the loosening of attitudes toward premarital and extramarital sex, and promoting promiscuous sexual activities as being non-biblical. And where along the line did it become wrong to shame someone? Sometimes people need to be corrected, reprimanded, rebuked, and even shamed.

    • J.S. Clark April 20, 2013, 3:47 PM

      I think we are often tricked into dilemmas. We have to talk about heaven so we can’t talk about hell. We have to talk about God’s grace so we neglect his justice. I think anytime an issue naturally comes up, we should try to witness God’s design.

      I think the dilemma goes away when we remember two things: The world will hate us for convicting it of sin the same as it did Yeshua. And, what made Yeshua able to do so while hob-knobing was his compassion. “Yes, I know you’ve had five men, but if you’re thirsty . . . ” We’re looking for a formula. Well in a formula sense should we talk about grace of sexual sin? The question is wrong, stop looking for a formula.

      Love requires getting to know someone. The living out of compassion puts the “hey, you know God wants you to turn from that sin” in context. It’s all we’re called to do. Getting the culture to like us is not part of any command or prophecy. It won’t happen. Chasing the praise of men will only lead to a corruption of the message people need.

    • D.M. Dutcher April 20, 2013, 7:13 PM

      I don’t think we should stop telling them to “flee sexual immorality,” but we can ironically make an idol of purity, and that’s where people like Evans have a point. Like we spiritualize marriage so much that it leads to “kissing dating goodbye,” purity balls, courtship,unrealistic expectations of “soul mates,” and weakening believers rather than strengthening them. I do agree we are shaped too much by cultural norms at times, but I also worry about how the retreat of Christians into sort of a cradle-to-college exile will work.

      It’s rough because it’s always a balancing act between two extremes.

    Leave a Comment