The Church is Partially to Blame for Efforts to Redefine Marriage
Abigail Rine is a professor of English at George Fox University. Each year she hands out a reading assignment to her gender theory students designed to provoke them. She recently decided to assign the book “What Is Marriage” by noted Princeton professor Robert P. George, Ryan T. Anderson, and Sherif Girgis. The book is a simple explanation of the conjugal view of traditional marriage.
Rine reports that the book, which is a manual of sorts on the traditional view of marriage as it relates to procreation, was offensive to her evangelical students at her evangelical university. Let that sink in for a moment.
But Rine said something that needs to be admitted: the church helped create the effort to redefine marriage.
I don’t mean that the church altered biblical teaching or even advocated marriage redefinition. Certainly some churches have done this but the vast majority of churches today continue to adhere to traditional biblical teaching of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. What I mean is that how the church handled the issue of marriage and sexuality in past decades aided the rise of marriage redefinition efforts.
“As I consider my own upbringing and the various “sex talks” I encountered in evangelical church settings over the past twenty years, I realize that the view of marital sex presented there was primarily revisionist. While the ideal of raising a family is ever-present in evangelical culture, discussions about sex itself focused almost exclusively on purity, as well as the intense spiritual bond that sexual intimacy brings to a married couple. Pregnancy was mentioned only in passing and often in negative terms, paraded alongside sexually transmitted diseases as a possible punishment for those who succumb to temptation. But for those who wait, ah! Pleasures abound!”
There is so much truth in her statement. There is so much wrong with the truth in her statement.
I can count fairly quickly the number of times the issue of sex and marriage were brought up in the churches I was part of over the years. Looking back I can see now that it was mostly a reminder of the “do’s and don’ts” surrounding sex. We were reminded that sex before marriage was wrong, pregnancy as a teen outside of wedlock was bad, and that waiting until marriage to have sex would bring immense blessing.
A quick analysis of those statements makes it clear that our teaching was shallow and fear based. Yes, sex outside of traditional marriage is wrong, it’s sin. But so is lusting. We never really heard much about that. And while it is not ideal for any young woman to be pregnant, we never talked about the blessing of children, and how every life – even the one inside a teen mom – is sacred and deserving of protection. And while we heard about how awesome sex was if we just waited until we were married, we never got around to discussing what that meant, how it would look, and the ongoing temptations and struggles married people face.
The message we were left with is: if you can wait until marriage, everything will be fine.
Well, everything is not fine. Gender role confusion has created a disparity in marriage that has stifled sexual fulfillment; pornography has created unrealistic expectations of bodies and sexual activity; emotional immaturity has created conflict that sex can’t resolve; technology has taken temptation to a new level; and the purpose and design of sex and marriage have been lost to the culture wars.
Many of us had “the fear of God” put into us regarding sex outside of marriage. We were so terrified (and yet intrigued) by sex that it consumed us. But we were not instructed on how to manage the intense feelings and temptations. We didn’t discuss lust and the biblical teaching surrounding our hearts, eyes, and mouths. So we grew up committing gross acts of sin that never manifested themselves physically because as long as we didn’t have physical sex we were okay; or so we thought.
And, unfortunately, many of us heard more from schools and friends regarding sex than we ever did from our parents or pastors. Somehow pastors never seem to get around to preaching on those passages that deal with sex in the Bible. Have you ever run across a sermon series from The Song of Solomon? (The need for expository preaching cannot be overstated here.)
And what about at home? How many evangelicals can recall in-depth biblical teaching regarding sex and sexuality from their parents? I bet the number is low. Most evangelical parents relied on the schools to teach their kids – a challenge the school happily accepted. But of course, those teachings were not biblically based, they were humanist in nature. Still, many evangelicals could not understand when their daughters got pregnant or their sons were fathers before senior year of high school.
In the end the church must raise its collective hand to take responsibility for where we are as a culture regarding our understanding of marriage and sexuality. The lack of effort and the misguided efforts of the church have contributed to our position. Instead of teaching a well-rounded theology of sex and marriage the church gave a half-hearted pep talk that ended with a warning.
The church has opportunity to serve younger generations – if it is willing. The church can make a difference in this particular culture war through robust teaching from the pulpit that – hopefully – subsidizes the robust teaching happening at home. Specifically, the church should focus on:
A biblical theology of sex and sexuality that explains the inherent differences in male and female; why they are good; how they are equal in dignity and worth; and to emotionally and mentally mature in your sexuality as a male or female.
The biblical teaching regarding lust, and sinning with our hearts and eyes. Specifically, how these apply to our daily life as developing men and women in relation to our sexuality – and how to guard ourselves.
The biblical purpose of marriage: procreation. Marriage, along with procreation is not primarily designed to make us happy, but to make us holy. In making us holy marriage will make us both happy and fulfilled.
The blessing of pregnancy and children. Rather than list pregnancy as a punishment for illicit sex, teach of its blessing and how children are a gift from God. Explain biblically that only God can create (or take) life and that every life should be defended. While we’re at it, we should also explain the science of contraception so our kids understand the evil of abortion.
These are just a few points that I believe are critical for helping the next generation to understand the biblical teaching regarding sex, sexuality, marriage, and pregnancy. Anyone who says this is not a priority for the church or its youth program is…absurdly wrong. We can see in our culture just how critical this issue is and the importance it must be given in our churches.
I hope more pastors will make it a priority to systematically teach through the biblical doctrines and theology of sex, sexuality, and marriage. We should be celebrating the gifts God gave and explaining the biblical parameters for using those gifts for His glory. This includes both sex and procreation.
The church has made mistakes in the past by not addressing these topics comprehensively and we see how that ended. Let’s do better in the future by giving proper priority to these critical issues that are central to each and every person.