The Corner

Everything But Sex; Everything But Divorce

I’ve written before about Evangelicals’ collapsing sexual mores, and now I see now that the Religion News Service is on the case and repeating many of the same statistics: Eighty percent of young Evangelicals have premarital sex, and almost a third of pregnancies end in abortion. This is a grave cultural problem within the church (along, of course, with the Evangelical divorce rate).  

Having lived my entire life within the Evangelical church (growing up Church of Christ but now PCA Presbyterian) I laugh at the MSM’s explanations of these trends. “Evangelicals have trouble talking about sex.” Every church I’ve ever attended talked about sex while somehow believing they were the only ones really fearless enough to tackle the topic. “Evangelicals are too judgmental and cause young people to rebel.” In my experience, if the modern Evangelical church were any less judgmental, it could start running church-sponsored self-esteem public service announcements. The language of sin and repentance has often been replaced by the more therapeutic language of “struggles” and “recovery.” You see, people rarely sin anymore; they “struggle” with various afflictions.  

I have my own explanation for these trends, but first let me clearly state that I know there is no such thing as a utopian church. We are still fallen people living in a fallen world, and there will always be premarital sex and unplanned pregnancies. But with that caveat, I think it’s fairly clear that not only can we do better, we’ve done better before.

But why are we doing so much worse now? I tend to think it’s a logical result of the “everything but” culture that’s overrun much of the church. In other words, “We Christians live just like you, but without the sin.” Our dating relationships are the same. Our goals for marriage are the same. Our cultural habits are the same. Everything thing is same . . . except (hopefully) for the sin. Let’s take dating. The Christian church has bought hook, line, and sinker the notion that we should wait to marry until either our education is complete or we’ve attained a certain amount of subjective financial stability (whatever comes later). This results of course in a demand for an incredibly extended commitment to chastity — a “15-year gap between the average onset of puberty and the average age of marriage.” Similarly, within the world of Christian marriage, it’s impossible to overstate the extent to which healthy marriage is discussed within secular frameworks of happiness and fulfillment, with scripture providing the holy means for gaining secular ends.  

In short, Christians lost the culture but kept adapting to its demands. In the aftermath of the sexual revolution, the culture was bound to postpone marriage, and Christians postponed marriage. In the age of no-fault divorce, the culture was bound to view marriage as more contract than covenant, and Christians viewed marriage as more contract than covenant. But clawing back will require us to do something most of us haven’t been willing to do — give up our cultural “relevance,” give up our one degree of deviation from the mean, and rethink our relationships from inception to conception — and beyond.

David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

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