[Updated to include videos]
Today's topic is again, premarital sex. But it won't be a Biblical or theological argument (I'm already going to assume that Christians think sex should be saved for marriage). Rather, it will be an argument for Christians to change how we approach sexual sin in our communities.
However, before we begin, in response to the tremendous outpouring of readers and commenters on my "Romeo and Juliet" post, I just wanted to say two things:
1) Thank you to everyone who read the post, regardless of whether or not you liked it or agreed with it. I am grateful for every single reader I get.
2) The comments on my blog are truly amazing. People have commented and e-mailed me, pouring out their hearts about their views on the subject and in some cases, genuinely trying to engage in an informed dialogue with other commenters. I was deeply moved by all this and utterly grateful that I was able to be a part of it. I only hope that my post was able to inform, entertain, and maybe stimulate some thinking on the subject. One of my ultimate goals (in life and in this blog) is to just create some dialogue, some discourse about things that I don't think we talk enough about.
Which brings us to today's topic.
As I've already mentioned in an update, many have accused me of being anti-Christian, of propagating anti-Christian viewpoints, etc. Obviously I disagree. I think there is a way to uphold your Christian integrity while still taking into account things about this world that we know to be true.
I'm going to make some points about what I think the church is doing wrong. I speak only from the perspective of one Christian, who has been to about 3-4 different churches during his lifetime. But in that time, I've found that there are things that many (NOT all) churches have in common. It should be noted that when I say "The Christian church," I mean both a) What I think to be Evangelical Christian churches in general, to a degree, and also b) What people see on the news or hear on the radio of the Christian church (e.g. political figures, James Dobson, etc.). MANY churches are doing a fantastic job on these fronts and they should be praised for it. But there's a reason why many Americans have a largely negative impression of the Christian church.
So, given that I'm no expert on the subject, here's where I think the Christian church gets it wrong on premarital sex:
1) The Christian church needs to pull its proverbial head out from under the ground and take a look around. It is important for Christians not to forsake their own values and to continue to advocate that yes, sex is best reserved for marriage for a number of reasons (e.g. emotional and physical health). But the point is, Christian teens are having sex whether or not the church will acknowledge it. And when it doesn't acknowledge it, when it closes its eyes, covers its ears, and says "Laa laa laa, nobody's having sex before marriage!", it does a disservice to its constituents in several ways (Some of which I'll go into below).
2) The Christian church will never be able to reach the people that need to be reached unless it embraces and assimilates itself into this country's thriving scientific community. AIDS is spread by tears. Condoms don't effectively prevent the spread of STDs. These are scientifically demonstrably false, and yet many people (notably Senator Bill Frist from a few year's back) have advocated these views, or at least refused to deny them. Refusing to acknowledge basic scientific principles and choosing to spread half-truths in the name of foisting abstinence upon this country's youth renders Christianity a joke to everyone that's not a Christian (and maybe even some that are).
Here's Penn & Teller's take on the matter of abstinence-only education:
(From Youtube user mightybroke)
3) There needs to be much more Christian discourse and accountability about this. I've been to a few churches in my lifetime, and as a general matter, there's not been that much talk about sex. There needs to be frank talk with and amongst high school and college students about sex and dating...at least, amongst those that need it. I think back to my church youth group (again, a Christian conservative church), where dating relationships were heavily regulated. Many people left that youth group completely unable to handle the relationship challenges that would confront them in college. Many brothers and sisters and friends of mine (many of them from youth group) confided to me that they have fallen into sexual sin, more times than I would have ever thought possible (which is not to say that I'm totally innocent myself). I ask what's being done about this and I don't have much of an answer. The church needs to do more to prepare those that will date, spiritually and emotionally. And those that will date need to take responsibility to maintain accountability and keep their relationships on the right track towards God. But this must be coupled with my 4th point....
4) How many people suffer through sin in silence, hiding their sins because they are too ashamed to seek help and too afraid of the condemnation that will come as a result? There needs to be loving, caring, and acceptance, the kind that God expects of all Christians and the kind that Jesus showed to people while he was here on earth. But frequently, Christian sinners have been cowed into silence by oppressive church environments which appear to demand perfection and look down upon sin, especially sexual sin.
If you're a Christian, when you find out that a brother or sister has sinned sexually, how do you react, both outwardly and inwardly? Do you judge them? Do you put them on a level below you? Or do you say to them, "I too am a sinner, but Jesus loves the both of us and has forgiven our sins."
I recently watched the movie "Jesus Camp," which I found incredibly powerful and yet it left me at a loss for how exactly to respond. I fully understand that the film doesn't accurately represent the majority of Evangelical Christians in America (although I would argue that it DOES accurately represent the Christians portrayed in the film). I'll have more to say about the film later (possibly next week), but I wanted to direct you to this poignant clip, which is 10-year old girl, Tory, sharing about her fear of the sins of the flesh:
(Youtube user cassandracox)
Many Christians might say that this girl is really on the right track, and that her desire to avoid the dangers of sin is admirable. And while I completely understand the reasoning behind that sentiment, a part of me can't help but feel that the fear that lives inside this girl may eventually become something very psychologically damaging later in life, as it has for so many countless others...
I think there is Biblical evidence to suggest that Jesus wouldn't be too happy with the way we Christians collectively treat sexual sin these days. When the adulterous woman was thrown on the ground in front of him, and judgment was demanded, how did Jesus react? There are two parts to his reaction: a) He told the woman that he did not condemn her, and b) He told the woman to leave her life of sin. Notice: No condemnation, followed by a prescription to not sin anymore. A simple formula, but how many times do Christians fall short? How many times have you fallen short? And how many times have I fallen short....
As I've said before, Jesus didn't spend his time on earth condemning thieves and prostitutes. He spent his time condemning those who condemn thieves and prostitutes. How many Christians would he find today that fit into that latter category....
Ultimately, what I feel about the whole matter is this (and I don't think this is uncontroversial): Yes, Christians should continue to advocate abstinence as God's design for marriage. But should it ignore the fact that many Christians will have sex anyway? Should it say "Sex before marriage is bad. Condoms are also bad, since they help you to have sex before marriage. Don't use them. Going to have sex anyway, in spite of all my warnings? THEN SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES OF STDS AND UNWANTED PREGNANCY"? Is that what God would want? Is that what Jesus would have told his disciples to do? I'm not sure, but I would dare say no.
However, at the same time, I can't imagine Jesus saying "Don't sin, but well if you're going to, you might as well protect yourself from bad consequences." The Jesus of the Bible demands unequivocal obedience. This is the same Jesus that said "No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God," the same Jesus that said "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."
So what would Jesus do/say if he were Denny Pattyn or Bill Frist or James Dobson (i.e. if he were in their positions?) I can't say I'm certain. But I think that God would agree that the way we're going about it now is not quite right, both in spirit and in its empirical results.
Our decisions are our own, and our responsibility. The church, as a human institution, shouldn't receive blame for people's sins. That's not what I'm advocating. What I'm trying to say is that there are ways the church can help to improve the situation. And this needs pointing out because I don't think it's doing a very good job right now, at least, not yet....
Thanks for reading.