The Vindication of Christian Sexual Ethics

by David French

Over at The Weekly Standard, Heather Mac Donald has penned an outstanding cover story chronicling the ongoing collapse of sexual-revolution values on college campuses. It turns out that sexual “liberation” has not led to sexual fulfillment, but instead to a landscape littered with broken hearts, long-lasting psychic pain, and a consequent desperate effort to create and enforce a bizarre “neo-Victorian” sexual ethic grounded not in any real morality, but instead in an effort to use institutional power to shift the emotional, psychological, and legal consequences of sexual regret and ambiguity to men and — as much as possible — men alone.

It won’t work. Sure, there will be a chill that settles across some campuses (depending on enforcement), and there will be cases where the burden-shifting “works” (at least in the way that feminists want it to work) by ruining a man’s life in highly ambiguous circumstances. But the end result won’t be a net increase in healthy relationships but instead an increase in fear, confusion, and recriminations as neo-Victorianism butts up against the crazed ”sex week” culture that still infects campuses from the top to the bottom of the academic food chain. It’s decadence versus contractual morality that utterly defies human nature, and neither model is viable.

This is exactly the time when Christians should step forward with a different ideal, the holistic, healthy, and proven model of sobriety always, chastity before marriage, and fidelity afterwards — all because marriage is sacred, our bodies are a temple to God, and we love our spouses more than we love our own lives. 

Yet, sadly, many Christians have treated Christian sexual morality as something to be embarrassed about — to be shoved at the end of the conversation or minimized by reference to “other” good works. As if the formation of lifelong, loving relationships is somehow secondary to good deeds in soup kitchens or medical mission trips. 

I mention sobriety in this context (note, I’m not arguing for teetotaling; I enjoy a good Bourbon — preferably Woodford Reserve) because it is the loss of control connected with binge-drinking and drunkenness that launches many millions of kids into sexual encounters they deeply regret and that haunt them for life. Drunkenness is not a prerequisite for friendships or fun. I somehow made it through all of high school, college, and law school without a single drunken night, and I look back on those years with fondness. They were among the best years of my life.

As for chastity before marriage, I recall my father (he was a math professor at a Baptist College) giving a chapel talk where he told the students, “The person you’re dating right now is somebody’s future wife or husband. Maybe yours, but probably not. How would you like someone to be treating your future spouse right now?” Students shifted visibly in their seats. 

I can’t help but think — as marriage rates plunge once again to all-time lows – that part of the problem is that the total disconnect between sex and marriage causes each relationship to be more baggage-laden than the next. Because there’s been someone before, there’s the conscious realization that there’s always someone next, and as relationships form and break and form again, kids leave a part of themselves behind each time. Yes, some people sow their wild oats and grow up, but it’s self-evident that many millions do not. They just break — and as they break, so do their children and their families.

I’m in my mid-40s, blessed with a loving marriage and three kids who have faith in Jesus. Yet even in my mid-40s, I’m constantly encountering peers who still struggle with the decisions they made in their “carefree” teens and twenties, decisions that turned out not to be carefree at all. 

As the sexual revolution implodes, Heather Mac Donald makes a great point regarding the conservative response: As stupid and destructive as new “affirmative consent” laws are, as unfair and immoral as it is to strip the accused of due-process rights, and as much as feminists now ironically treat women as the weaker sex, attacking the flailing sexual revolutionaries shouldn’t constitute the core of the conservative critique. In the culture as in foreign policy, “Don’t do stupid stuff” isn’t exactly a strategy. We must propose to replace the current mess with something – not just point our fingers and shake our heads at other people’s desperate foolishness.

And that something isn’t a new law, nor is it exactly a new culture. It’s an old culture, an old morality, one that we can never live perfectly but will be better for trying. And it’s one that has the benefit of pointing us to the oldest story, the story of our Creator and Redeemer.

So, Christians on campus — to the extent you’re still allowed to meet and speak – now is your time to step into the breach with a sexual ethics that is actually viable, sustainable, and life-affirming, a sexual ethics that is grounded in eternal values. It will likely be the best message you will ever share.

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