Christian Future on Sexual Matters Moves Toward Acquiescence

University of Texas at Austin Sociologist Mark Regnerus draws on a survey of over 15,000 adult Americans’ opinions of sex and relationships to discern differences among Christians regarding their views of same-sex marriage, and general attitudes towards sexual and sex-related behavior.  Rod Dreher at the American Conservative has analyzed this study and written a piece on it entitled “Sex, Christianity, & The Slippery Slope.” The entire article is accessible here at http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/sex-christianity-gay-same-sex-marriage-homosexuality-slippery-slope/ , but a bit of the research is set forth in this chart below.

 Dreher writes, “His analysis observes that the more you agree with SSM, the more likely you are to accept a wide variety of sexual practices that are antithetical to normative Christianity. Significantly, the numbers above reflect the views of churchgoing Christians, not cultural Christians. Excerpt [from Regnerus]:

Churchgoing Christians who support same-sex marriage look very much like the country as a whole—the population average (visible in the third column). That answers my original question. What would a pro-SSM Christian sexual morality look like? The national average—the norm—that’s what.

While the divisions here are notable, we should maintain some perspective. No more than four in ten Christians who support same-sex marriage agreed with any of the statements above (except the question about children and divorce). The same cannot be said for American Christians who self-identify as gay or lesbian, as the fourth column demonstrates. And that group is clearly distinct from those gay and lesbian Americans who do not affiliate with a Christian tradition (e.g., nonreligious, Jews, spiritual-but-not-religious, Buddhists, etc.).

I’m not suggesting any “slippery slope” sort of argument here, implying that a shift in one attitude will prompt lock-step adjustments in others. In reality, our moral systems concerning sex and sexuality tend rather to resemble personalized “tool kits” reflecting distinctive visions of the purpose of sex and significant relationships (and their proper timing), the meaning of things like marriage and gender roles, and basic ideas about rights, goods, and privacy. Americans construct them in quite distinct combinations, often cafeteria-style. Instead, the results might be better interpreted as a simple story of social learning from quite different reference groups—those sets of people we use as a standard of comparison for ourselves, regardless of whether we identify as a member of that group. Indeed, attitude shifts in this domain are probably far more about reference groups than about any sort of individual “evolution” or rational construction of personal values. And it’s because of reference groups that both sets of Christians tend to perceive themselves as rather embattled, which is an inherently social sensation.

These numbers startled me. I would not have guessed that so many LGBT Christians supported polygamous sexual relationships and no-strings-attached sex — nor that the numbers among pro-SSM Christians would be so high. I think Regnerus is correct here:

I’m not so naïve as to think that affirming same-sex marriage is the first significant change to take hold in their sexual and relational norms. More likely, the sexual morality of many churchgoing Christians shifted years ago, and the acceptance of same-sex marriage as licit Christian action follows significant change rather than prompts it.

Still, it seems pretty clear that if you or your congregation has accepted SSM as normative, you have jettisoned basic Christian teaching about the meaning of sex and sexuality. And within one or two generations, I believe, your descendants will jettison Christianity. The Christian future will be orthodox on sexual matters, or it won’t be at all.

Dreher uses Regnerus’ study to make a compelling argument that Christians may not understand the implications of acquiescent love and acceptance, and do not know how to apply unconditional love to a sexual matter.  Rather than simple acceptance, unconditional love does not include acquiescence, but a firmness of love and stability that rescues and restores both individuals and families.  Some of this effect may be due to the notion that media coverage is valid and equitable on this matter.  Professor and Dr. Mark Yarhouse and I have published on this phenomenon in our work entitled “Fairness, Accuracy and Honesty in Discussing Homosexuality and Marriage,” which is available for free download at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=317699.  

The Christian future on sexual matters appears to be moving toward social acquiescence, rather than toward salt and light in a world of need. The former will not necessarily win individuals to the love of Jesus Christ, and the latter is absolutely necessary to family restoration.

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