by Dr. Harry W. Schaumburg
The definition of human sexuality is being redefined right before our very eyes. Dr. Al Mohler says, “In the face of the sexual revolution, the Christian church in the West now faces a set of moral challenges that exceeds anything it has experienced in the past.”
The belief that we have sexual freedom is the real moral challenge. That belief is expressed in a number of ways. The headlines primarily focus on two areas:
- It is now acceptable to choose your gender regardless of the legal sex assigned at birth. This has lead to not only gender-neutral bathrooms, but the New York City Commission On Human Rights has officially banned willful misuse of gender pronouns as part of a new update to the city’s 1945 Human Rights Law. It will fine employers, landlords and service providers up to $250,000 for deliberately addressing individuals by the wrong name or gender pronouns.
- It is now more acceptable to be homosexual. The American Psychiatric Association dropped homosexuality as a mental illness in 1974. What’s noteworthy about this is that the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental illnesses was not triggered by some scientific breakthrough. There was no new fact or set of facts that stimulated this major change. Rather, it was the simple reality that gay people started to voice complaint. As a result, legal marriage is available to parties of the same sex.
There is a moral challenge not covered by the media:
- Traditional relationships are either avoided or delayed. Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. More than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and so the newer trend is called “cohabitdating.”
That change presents a serious moral challenge to the church as Christian couples begin to cohabitate before marriage. However, I believe another form of sexual freedom is the most serious moral challenge facing the church.
- It is not only acceptable to have sex outside of marriage, but the new sexual freedom is to have sex without dating.
Notice that the shift in sexual behavior has gone from dating that used to lead to marriage to sex that doesn’t lead to dating. Before our time, dating itself representing a significant historical change in sexual behavior. In the later 19th century boys visited girls, when invited, at their homes under the eye of parents. There was no dating. Out of that, courtship ritual dating evolved. We have evolved from developing relationships “on the front porch to sex in the back seat”(Beth Bailey) with your “steady,” to sex without dating. So now the moral challenge is sex “without any strings attached,” as the norm. This distorted view of liberation is telling us that both men and women are free to say yes to sex with anyone, anytime.
As we fight this challenge, don’t assume that we have an adequate foundation of purity to stand on. For past twenty-five years I have counseled thousands of Christian married couples from across the U.S. Half have been in ministry. Yet less than 10% were virgins on their wedding night. If we have lost the battle for sexual purity before marriage, how do we keep from slipping further into this new sexual freedom?
Sexual freedom is built on the more common belief that we have the freedom to do whatever we want. In thinking we have a right to be free, we increasingly push away control and authority. The culture says we are free to pursue our own experience, pleasure and self-interest. All around us people have been rushing to pornography and uncommitted relationships. Now they are rushing to a sexual experience just for the sake of the experience. We are being told that sex has no other purpose than the experience. Notice that behind that assumption there is the belief (even held by some Christians) that we have the freedom to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The fact is, the right to be “free” has limits! Scripture says we have no such freedom!
Even if one has never seen a pornographic image, pornography is doing more to shape modern sexuality than we realize. While Christians seek to prevent seeing pornography with filters and accountability software, we leave the back door wide open to the moral challenge of sexual freedom when we privatize intimacy. Privatized intimacy can lead to false intimacy. False intimacy leads to isolation and being more and more alone in what we think about sexuality and what we do sexually. We privatize intimacy when we embrace the idea that sexuality is a private matter between consenting adults and that the church has no place in the private bedrooms of believers. First, ask yourself, and then investigate the attitudes of your teenagers: “How much have I embraced the idea that my private life is no one else’s business?”
Also ask the question, “Have I embraced the idea that love and marriage primarily have to do with personal gratification? Are we losing any sense of connection between our personal relationships and the greater purpose of God and the importance of Christian community? With our relationships becoming virtual through social media, chat rooms and online porn, we increasingly control how we meet our personal needs. The basic desire is to be in control of our lives; in control of our relationships. However, the call of God is not to find your life, but to lose your life. To “To present your body as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” After all, marriage is to be the model of self-giving love, demonstrating Christ giving himself for the church, his bride.
The good news is that as creatures made in the image of God we still deeply desire intimacy that should take us beyond ourselves into meaningful connections, to commitments to one another, to self-giving relationships. The model is Christ, pouring himself out for us.
As parents, pastors, and counselors, we must teach and demonstrate a distinct Christian definition of sexuality as an alternative to personal sexual freedom. We are not as sexually free as we think. The truth is, love and marriage are not primarily about personal gratification, but the glory of God for his purpose, and even for the benefit of the church.