Is the Church Failing Young People? Pt V

Bringing Sexy Back? Not Hardlyse


Today, we’re talking about sex. Yay! No, not like that. What I mean is, according to the Barna study young people’s religious experiences relating to sex seem simplistic and judgmental to them. I can understand that, as I think the church’s view on sexuality is simplistic and judgmental. I don’t limit that to evangelicals, either.  Catholics get a special shout out, with a sizable portion of respondents (40%) saying their “teachings on sexuality and birth control are out of date.” Just last year, the United Methodist Church, the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the country, reaffirmed its commitment to discrimination by voting down articles that would have allowed LGBT clergy and recognized same-sex marriage. To the best of my knowledge, all mainline denominations condemn pre-marital sex and hold up a ridiculous idea of virginity that marginalizes women. They also violate the Constitution on a regular basis , acting as agents of the government by performing marriages and signing government documents (that whole church and state thing, you know). And, of course, many of them will only do this for straight couples; same-sex couples need not apply. In this instance at least, progressives can’t point the finger at evangelicals and say “Bad dog! Don’t mess on the carpet”.

Ideas about sex and sexuality are changing rapidly and, like any entrenched bureaucracy, organized religion is not reacting well to the change. Research shows that young Christians are, for all practical purposes, as sexually active as their non-Christian peers (80% vs 88%) and 44% of young evangelicals support same-sex marriage as opposed to 12% of those 65 and older. How does the church respond? One of two ways, they either stick their head in the sand and hope it goes away or they ratchet the rhetoric up another notch. While either one may make you feel better momentarily, they’re not solving the problem. What will solve it? As Tony Jones said, Christians need a new sexual ethic.

I have my own ideas about what that ethic should be (go here to see them), but who knows what things will look like 10 years from now? Like it or not, sex and sexuality are issues that must be dealt with if organized religion is going remain relevant in people’s lives. Christians in general have quite a bit of baggage about sex and American Christians seem to have more than others. Europeans tend to regard the Christian sexual ethic with a wink and a nod and get on with the business of living life to the fullest. Americans, on the other hand, get all tied up in knots with guilt and shame. Because of that, our attitudes about sex are so screwed up that we spend inordinate amounts of time trying to justify our desire to knock boots with wild abandon. Meanwhile, we demonize those who slip up and let’s anyone find out they’ve actually done it. That’s hypocrisy in action and, as I said in Part I of this series, young people despise a hypocrite.