I’m coming a bit late to this piece, but the October 2011 issue of Relevant magazine contains a must-read article for those who see the need for a rather profound cultural course correction. It turns out that 80 percent of unmarried evangelicals (18 to 29) are sexually active. Yes, 80 percent. For all unmarried young adults the total is 88 percent. Oh, and even as 80 percent of young unmarried evangelicals are sexually active, 76 percent of evangelicals still believe sex outside of marriage is wrong. Even worse, 65 percent of women who abort their children identify as Catholic or Protestant Christian — that’s 650,000 Christian abortions per year.
The article discusses the common causes. Of course our pop culture celebrates sex and porn is ubiquitous. Additionally, there’s the obligatory shot at the church being squeamish in talking about sex (literally every church I’ve ever attended talked frankly about sex while chiding Christians for being reluctant to talk about it). Most insightful, however, is the observation that even as the evangelical church has held theologically – though not morally — to biblical sexual standards, it has fallen in lockstep behind the larger cultural trend of delayed marriage. It’s one kind of challenge to wait until you’re 18. It’s another challenge entirely to wait until you’re 28.
This is of a piece with the larger American evangelical culture, which — despite the “Jesusland” stigma of the secular Left — is only slightly countercultural. Christians have long understood a basic truth that they are to be “in, but not of” the world, but what does it mean to remain “in” a world that lurches ever-further from core biblical standards? If the practical result is a church that forever remains only slightly countercultural, then the church’s standards will simply act as trailing-edge indicators of cultural change.
Once you travel outside the ranks of the hard-core activists (a tiny segment of the Christian public), you will find a community possessed with an overwhelming desire to be liked: people who are very, very tired of negative perceptions of Christians and eager to change minds. But there’s certainly ground between the grim defiance of the few and the puppy-dog eagerness of the many.
In a previous post I talked about reframing our marriage debate as a “marriage restoration” movement, but we can’t talk about marriage without linking it to the larger sexual/moral ethic of Christendom. Otherwise we will fast approach a point where the distinction between Christian and non-Christian conduct will be so vanishingly small that one could wonder if we maintained any distinct witness to our neighbors and our nation.