Cross Talk: Let’s Talk About Sex (Baby)Columns, Cross Talk, Featured — By Emily Timbol on November 29, 2012 at 12:56 pm
In this column, we’ll discuss important current event topics with two Burnside writers who disagree on the issues. One leans left, the other right. Their faith is what helps them to meet in the middle. Usually.
Emily: Alright, let’s talk about sex.
James: I read your recent HuffPo post and took issue with some of your assertions about the view that many Christians have of premarital sex. My observation is that Christians today have minimized the importance of premarital chastity more than ever before, at least in my lifetime. So imagine my surprise when I read your assertion that pretty much says the opposite.
Emily: James, what assertions, specifically, did you take issue with from my article? To refresh for anyone who didn’t read it, what I wrote for the Huffington Post was why I think the church today is harming young people by expecting them to remain virgins until they’re married, encouraging them to marry young to avoid pre-marital sex, and then acting as if their lives are over if/when they mess up. My point was not that young people shouldn’t wait. It was that the current methods older Christians and the church are using to encourage abstinence are not working. 80% of evangelical Christians admit to having pre-marital sex. That’s a huge number, and one that stand true in my own social circle. My feeling is that older Christians and the church need to be honest about how their words can, and will hurt this large percentage of young people, who the message of abstinence has failed.
James: Emily, as is often the case, your response is a mixed bag. You make a lot of points that I can’t argue with, including the idea that Christians would shame someone for their premarital activities. No reasonable person would argue that, but as you point out, there are plenty of unreasonable people in the world, and sadly, scores of them are in our churches.
But here’s the thing: promoting abstinence is thoroughly in line with what Christians should be doing when engaging with other Christians. The fact that a number of times, they do it in insensitive ways doesn’t change that truth. In fact, presenting the truth about sin–any sin–to another believer is going to save them grief later, not necessarily hurt their feelings now.
You presented a statistic that helps make my point. The fact that so many believers are not following God’s commands is very problematic, not something that we should just shrug our shoulders and accept.
I could help make my point with some bible verses, but you most likely know them anyway, so I’d ask you to simply read this Op-ed. It’s a biased piece, but the statistics contained within are from reputable sources.
“25.3% of sexually active teenage girls experienced depression, compared to 7.7% of sexually abstinent girls. The study found that 14.3% of sexually active girls attempted suicide, compared to 5.1% of their virgin peers.”
Between those facts and your own story of regretting your own experience right after it happened, a solid case is being built that young men and women are much better off following the plan presented by the One who designed us. And if an older Christian can find a way to convey that truth to them in a loving way, wouldn’t they be saving those young people from a lot of heartache?
Emily: I don’t believe I’m “shrugging my shoulders and accepting” the fact that young Christians aren’t choosing to wait to have sex. I think I’m being realistic. Looking at the reality we face today, not the fantasy so many evangelicals have of what it “should be.” If the reality is that teens and young adults aren’t waiting, we need to re-think our approach.
Just to be clear, Biblical wisdom is not something I shrug off. Like I said in my HuffPo piece, I do believe, personally, that sex should only be in a monogamous, marriage like relationship (I say marriage like since I believe this for gay and straight Christians and many gay’s can’t marry – but that’s a whole different argument.)
I agreed with some of what the article you shared with me said. The hook-up culture can be destructive, and it can lead to emotional problems. But there are also plenty of people who’ve had multiple sexual partners, who are now happily married, or coupled, and don’t suffer any of the scary statistical worries the author of that article warned us about. What should be our message to them? When we preach about how horrible it is to have sex outside of marriage, what’s the message that the 80% of Christians who didn’t wait hear? I’m afraid they’re hearing that what’s horrible is them.
This is why I think a more effective message is needed, since “don’t do it,” isn’t working. Trying to scare people off of sex, like that author is, fails. What I believe is best, is not scaring young people, but encouraging them to wait for the incredible sex intimacy brings. The kind that’s body, mind, and soul. You don’t get that from hook-up culture.
At the same time, I also think it’s extremely important we’re offering grace for the people who didn’t wait. Currently, I don’t see much grace in the church’s attitude towards those who’ve engaged in pre-marital sex.
James: We do agree that it’s best for unmarried people to wait? Because honestly, that’s not what I got out of reading what you wrote. My point is that while it’s never OK to shame a person for their sin, it’s equally harmful to act as if it’s perfectly acceptable to have sexual relations outside of the boundaries God set up.
Emily: I do think it’s best for unmarried people to wait. I just think that we, as humans, rarely do what’s best for us. So my point was in trying to keep in mind the reality of how people act, not the ideal. And treat them thusly.
James: Emily, I’m glad to hear we’re not as far apart as I thought, but we are still not on the same page, if I am reading some of your statements correctly. I agree that countless Christians have done more harm than good in talking about sin, especially sexual sin, to other believers. But when we observe extreme behavior, we should always be cautious not to over-react. In this case, the overreaction would be to decide not to say anything, out of fear that we will come across as uncaring, unloving, and judgmental. If we convey the message to young believers, either explicitly or implicitly, that sex outside of the boundaries is acceptable, then that’s the least loving thing we can do.
Emily: I get that. The struggle then is how we merge both goals, of not over-reacting and staying silent on the issue, but not under-reacting and keeping the failing, less than graceful message the same. Which is no easy task. Readers, do you have any ideas?