“Sex after Christianity” by Rod Dreher at TAC

If you haven’t seen Dreher’s story from the recent issue of The American Conservative, “Sex after Christianity,” you can now read the whole thing online.

Same-sex marriage strikes the decisive blow against the old order. The Nation’s triumphalist rhetoric from two decades ago is not overripe; the radicals appreciated what was at stake far better than did many—especially bourgeois apologists for same-sex marriage as a conservative phenomenon. Gay marriage will indeed change America forever, in ways that are only now becoming visible. For better or for worse, it will make ours a far less Christian culture. It already is doing exactly that.


In a dinner conversation not long after the publication of American Grace, Putnam told me that Christian churches would have to liberalize on sexual teaching if they hoped to retain the loyalty of younger generations. This seems at first like a reasonable conclusion, but the experience of America’s liberal denominations belies that prescription. Mainline Protestant churches, which have been far more accepting of homosexuality and sexual liberation in general, have continued their stark membership decline.

It seems that when people decide that historically normative Christianity is wrong about sex, they typically don’t find a church that endorses their liberal views. They quit going to church altogether.

This raises a critically important question: is sex the linchpin of Christian cultural order? Is it really the case that to cast off Christian teaching on sex and sexuality is to remove the factor that gives—or gave—Christianity its power as a social force?

You really should read the whole thing.

Two brief thoughts in response:

a) I think Dreher does very well to describe Christian sexual ethics as a linchpin for Christian culture, which is a huge part of why I think the contemporary apathy many younger evangelicals have toward same-sex marriage is so dangerous. What many people fail to recognize (due to a combination of widely-available birth control, disintegrating social conventions, and the ubiquity of seemingly strings-free sex) with this issue is that we’re not dealing with an issue strictly concerned with civil rights. That question fits in there somewhere, I think, but that’s not the preeminent question. The first question we’re dealing with is what we will make of the smallest, most basic unit of human community as a society. That’s ultimately what we’re dealing with in talking about sexual ethics. For a variety of reasons it’s easy for us to lose sight of that fact (not least of which is the unhelpful way some Christians obsess over sex), but as a foundational stone of a cultural and social order, it’s really impossible to overstate the importance of sexual behavior and sex ethics. So Dreher does very well to make that point.

b) That said, I do wonder if this isn’t a bit pessimistic in outlook. I recall the response Benedict XVI gave when asked by a reporter about the health of the church. “The church is strong,” Benedict said. “But it is smaller than most people realize.” Rather than seeing a modern sexual ethic as being a prerequisite for Christianity’s continued viability, I think we would do well to see this point as a place where the Christian church can obviously present itself as a genuine counter-culture. True, that will be a hard pill to swallow for many, but provided that this isn’t the only place we take a stand, I think we can have some measure of success if we embrace the calling to articulate with our language and our lives a genuine Christian counter-culture that stands against the tide of modernity, industrialization, and technocracy. (I’d suggest that the often-warm reaction the press has had to Pope Francis makes this point quite well. The man said some positively inflammatory–and necessary–things as a bishop in Argentina, and they got a lot of attention in the first two days of his papacy. But then when he started talking about not forgetting the poor, resisting a spirit of warfare, and washing the feet of Muslim women… well, the press kinda forgot about those controversial comments.)

The important thing to recognize, I think, is that what we’re really entering into now is a time where we can have the right conversations. If I’m speaking about Christianity with a non-Christian friend who is saying things like “I could never be a Christian because I could never be a Republican,” that means I have to have a bunch of conversations with him about setting aside unnecessary objections before I can get to the meat of the Gospel. And those are important conversations, but in a sense they’re frustrating as well because the subject isn’t getting us any closer to actually addressing the real offenses created by the Gospel. But when I hear someone say, “I could never be a Christian because I can’t expect the church’s teaching on sexuality,” then we can have a more substantive conversation that gets more to the heart of the Christian gospel. 

  • Starting reading, and poking around, and I’m convinced that you’re too thoughtful to be America. Fess up, who are the Britons among you? :)

    • isaaccrabtree

      Americans are the last true Englishmen, according to Burke. Don’t believe all the stereotypes.

  • Keep up the good work, guys! But, please stop using the word ‘creedally’! It stuck in my ear the first time I heard it and we Christians seem to like using it. I’m ninety five percent certain that no such word exists in spite of it’s popularity. ‘Credos’ or ‘creedal’ are the correct words, I believe, in the contexts I see here on the ‘What we’re about’ page.

  • eve

    Have Orthodox Christians gotten mad at this blog name? Or are you guys part of the Orthodox tradition yourselves.

    • They are using the term “Orthodoxy” in the theological sense, not as the name of a church. The literal meaning is “correct doctrine/worship”

      • I mean no disrespect or anger. But the Orthodox Church is “orthodox” in Christian regards, maintaining the Christian faith through two millennia. We are “pre-denominational.” God bless you in your life journey.

        • Benjamin, in some ways the Orthodox Church has held to “orthodox” theology. Unfortunately they have also added to that theology with tradition. Thus the Orthodox Church can not be called “orthodox” in the theological sense. You can check out a book I wrote for more detailed discussion. http://amzn.com/B00A6F032O

          • Caleb, what is the basis for claiming they have added to Christian theology? As history shows, Rome has a tendancy to add theology, Protestants a disposition to subtract biblical teachings. Well, and now we witness the Episcopalians and mainline churches adding substantial new theology with support for abortion, same-sex marriage, and so forth. God bless. journeytoorthodoxy.com

          • isaaccrabtree

            Hold fast to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2 Thess. 2:15)

            Not all “tradition” is bad, Caleb, and btw which book of the Bible lists the canon– or was that determined by Apostolic Tradition? I’m a former Evangelical turned Orthodox, some 9 years ago.

          • You’re right, a lot of tradition is helpful and every church has their own tradition, but it’s not inspired. There is no one book of the Bible that lists all the other books of the Bible, if that’s what you mean. The canon was determined by early church fathers and I have no problem with that because the canon is not inspired either.

          • isaaccrabtree

            Caleb, the canon is not inspired? How do we know what books are inspired at all? Does the Gospel of Matthew say, “This is the inspired word of God”? Does it give us a test to perform to verify its authenticity like the false Book of Mormon? Here’s my point: we only know the inspired books by relying upon apostolic tradition (paradosis in Greek– that which has been handed down). The Church of Jerusalem had an epistle written by its first bishop, the half-brother of God, James, Iakovos. The Church of Rome had one Pauline Epistle, the Corinthians had two, as did the Church of Thessalonica. For all of these we rely upon a tradition to tell us their authors, and a tradition to tell us whether that particular book taught Christ’s Gospel or another gospel.

            The Apostolic Church doesn’t just have their writings, it has their biographies, their spoken teachings, accounts of their miracles. These Churches even have their bones! To accept the authority of those works we consider to by the inspired canon is to implicitly accept the authority of the 4th Century Church which kept them, interpreted them, copied them, transmitted them– and excluded others. It would behoove us all to examine what else those Christians taught and believed, things that they also claimed to be Apostolic in origin: Liturgical worship (following the liturgical worship God had revealed to Moses), the Sign of the Cross, veneration of martyrs, etc.

            One of the first people to list the New Testament canon in complete form is from the Alexandrian Church, which was founded by the Apostle (one of the Seventy, whose names the Apostolic Church has always known) Mark, at the behest of the Apostle (one of the 12) Peter: St. Athanasius the Great. This man of God not only knew which books were accepted by the Church as inspired, but he knew most of them by heart. He defended the divinity of Christ at the council of Nicea when he was only a deacon. Later he became the Bishop of Alexandria. He wrote a lot of things that he claimed were handed down by the Apostles– the Church he describes is the Orthodox Church.

            Ok, sorry. I could ramble all day. I’m sorry, brother! I don’t want to win an argument– I just want you to look beyond the stereotypes that Evangelicals can have, owing to their revulsion toward Roman Catholicism and what they claim to be tradition.

          • Matthew Anderson

            Dear people,

            These sorts of very important discussions are not, of course, our main focus around here. Please feel free to send each other an email and carry on that way. : )

            All the best,


          • isaaccrabtree

            Apologies, Mr. Anderson.

          • david

            Please. Don’t discourage this type of orderly, respectful discussion. Some of us out here need and want to read along and think.

          • Turbulance

            This is an excellent well argued, factual, defense of the Orthodox faith. As a convert to Orthodoxy, I laughed out loud when I read: ‘I could ramble all day’. I am not alone!!!!
            There is just so much to share with any willing listener. My poor listeners don’t ever receive such an eloquent and structured explanation as yours though.
            The enormous body of (freely) available resources and evidence at our disposal in this day and age or stated differently, the enormous body of (readily accessible) documented Tradition (including history) at our disposal today is invaluable in this regard. Only those willing to commit the most extreme level of intellectual dishonesty remain unconvinced by when presented with evidence of the Truth.

          • MarcAlcan

            The canon was determined by early church fathers and I have no problem with that because the canon is not inspired either.

            Ergo, we don’t really know whether the books in the Bible is inspired or not.
            If God did not protect the canon from error:
            1) We have books in the Bible that should not be there (and they could be heretical)
            2) We have books that are not in the Bible that should have been there.
            Ergo, we don’t really know which book is Inspired if the canon is not inspired.
            For all we know, maybe half of the Bible is inspired and the other half is not.
            Do you see the problem in your statement?

          • mjb881

            i am in wonder at the thought ” we don’t know what book in bible’ are inspired or ither books outside the ( say Catholic) bible
            are inspired. the church belongs to Jesus n he has given authority to apostles. period.
            this is not true then there is no
            authority n all is human nature.

            Why be a cow ruminating on old
            questions, long resolved, and instead be in flight with the grace given to the faithful?

            the bible and the
            living church ( tradition such as encyclicals ) are full body stuff full of received truth.

            if Jesus is God, then why question old assertions that have resolved poor thinking
            ( which we seem to repeat presently, like the gnostic
            ‘ mystery’ stuff) ( whats real isn’t)
            thru history

          • Richard Mohr

            Bravo! I am also a convert.

        • HLK

          Denomination is not “pre-denominational.”

    • Note that the blog’s name is take from a combination of C. S. Lewis’ (an Anglican) book title “Mere Christianity” and G. W. Chesterton’s (a Catholic) title “Orthodoxy”.

      As Caleb notes in his comment, the term “orthodox” is commonly used in religious circles to mean orthodox, ie., correct, doctrine and doesn’t always refer to a branch of the Orthodox Churches. This has been very long the case, indeed for centuries, so the use is common, and unlikely to upset at least Orthodox clergy. While I suppose there may be examples, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Chesterton’s book title criticized for being named “Orthodoxy”.

  • keep up the good work, article in latest Christianity Today helped me find this most refreshing of sites, i.e. I am not alone after all.I refer to the THE NEW RADICALS article on Platt, Chan et al. What those fellows preach is exactly why I refused to be a Christian for many years….it’s all about me, what I do, what I believe, how radical I am, my stage, my band, my book….well you get it what about the Cross? What about families, i.e. read the application chapters in Colossians and Ephesians and it’s about the family, why we have so much social need in our culture? the annihilation of the family willingly aided by the U S Govt. My point: rich guys get on planes to fly to India to feed the poor and write a book about it and we feel guilty for living in a house in the suburbs. ?! Thank you, What about radical grace and radical work of the Holy Spirit for that see Jonathan Edwards and the RELIGIOUS AFFECTIONS.

    • I disagree. The article was a “mere” compilation of too many C S Lewis wanna-be words without the genius simplicity of his writing. Mathew Lee’s criticism of radical writings (which i believe were a much needed call to think and inspect our fruit) turned out to be based on the weak argument that Platt’s church has a large audience and a podium.

  • SJ

    I think the church is finally getting a taste of what our sloppy lumping of ethics and theology has done. Looking at what secular theorists about sexuality its kind of a joke that the few voices we do have are pastors preaching sermons to laymen. Its no wonder the church isn’t perceived as on par.

    As a painter I can the same to modern and abstract art done by those who can and cannot draw. Think anything you want to of Picasso but what is little known about that artist is that he could easily paint and draw lifelike objects. Even today I can see a Picasso-like painting and tell whether or not the artist knew how to draw real life as well. The “same” product with completely different substance is a massive difference!

    In the same. The church has slacked on true theological and theoretical theory. “Homosexual lifestyle” and “don’t-have-sex-until-marriage,” or “sex-sex-sex-great-awesome-fun-married-sex,” just isn’t going to cut it in a culture systematically working in all spheres, from intellectual to laymen. The 10% of a sermon that the average Evangelical remembers is often a sub-par fraction of an already weak argument. The bones and structure of thought must be strong enough to stand as relevant when broken into the sound bites our culture will remember. We have not done so and thus suffer the consequences.

  • cowboybob

    The western church could learn much from the eastern church. The western church has become so feminized that not many men attend on their own. The Orthodox church has always been a “man’s” church.

    • Why do you suppose that is? By what do you explain it?

  • Trish

    I’m reading GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy for the first time. On the one hand I can’t believe I’ve
    waited so long to get to it. On the other hand, I’m glad I waited until I had
    gotten to everything else first! I love this: “The real trouble with this world of ours is
    not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The
    commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life
    is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians… It is this silent
    swerving from accuracy by an inch that is the uncanny element in everything”

    And it is in this “swerving” that I found Christ.

    • Trish

      Or maybe it is more accurate to say that the Lord’s “swerving” found me… Oh the wonder of it!

      • Claire

        Great point! You have inspired me to start reading Orthodoxy, as I’ve had it on my shelf for a long time. It sounds like a challenging book.

        • karla

          Not one of my favorites…just read most of his Heresies/part of Orthodoxy today. I would recommend a solid classic like JI Packer’s “Knowing God” or Hannah Whital Smith, William Gurnall, or Jeremiah Burroughs for solid classic writers…deep, but not dense and obtuse like some of Chesterton’s writing. Would get the modern updated writing of Gurnall though on “A Christian in Complete Armor” …a book that Charles Spurgeon said every Christian should have in their library after the Bible:)

          • Augustine Thomas

            Who are these authors you mentioned? Are they catholic writers? Ive read some of cs lewis’ books. He was an anglican bt he wrote like a catholic. While im opened to some protestant writers, I’m always drawn to catholic writers such as gk chesterton, hilaire belloc, christopher dawson, frank sheed, johm henry newman, and of course cs lewis who wrote like a catholic ;). I’m a catholic!

  • Chris Schumerth

    Just wanted to say I am super excited to have found this blog! It is a discourse I need and have been looking for.

  • I lke your post about who said “The Soul has a body”.

  • Marcia Clement

    I am not a “young” Christian, but this article is wonderful and gives me great insight into what the teens at my church struggled with in the late 90’s forward. There was definitely something amiss and looking back now, quite a few of the puzzle pieces fit into place after reading this. Many thanks.

  • Hikerdudette

    Is it really possible that Jesus was a Buddhist?


  • Frank_Alexander

    I’m not a theologian but…

    Is not the Catholic Church the original orthodox (right or true; established and approved.) church?

    Then came the schism of Constantinople on the 11th Century, where the [Greek] Orthodox Church which now includes the Slavic ones as well.

    I know of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church which insists [rightfully] on being true to Calvinism as opposed to the other presbyterians (USA, PCA, etc…)

    I gather your name seeks to show you remain true to “original” (or basic) principles and to spread the Good Word in the public square without appropriating or usurping anyone’s Christian theology.

    I happen to agree with your aims. The proof is in the pudding: Every Christian denomination which has sought to “update” its theology to accommodate the ‘modern’ times has lost parishioners and believers.

    If one cannot tell the difference between going to church and going golfing, one will pick the latter on Sundays…

    Where do I go wrong?

    • Dionysios

      The great schism of 1054 was actually the Latin (Roman) Church Patriarchate leaving the other 4 Orthodox Patriarchates, not the Greek Church leaving the Roman church. I am newly Orthodox and I have seen the differences, such as in the Nicene Creed where the Roman church has added the filoque (…and the Son) and papal primacy/supremacy as opposed to the former ‘first among equals’ that was agreed on when they were one church with the Eastern Orthodox. The differences are not insignificant. I see that the Orthodox Church has not changed doctrines to appeal to the times, such as Vatican II sought to do and what Pope Francis is continuing. Forgive me.

  • Martin H

    Just listened to the Mere Orthodoxy:Politics. A good exchange forum but I think it would help listeners to engage if they knew what topics were to be covered and help if the format was rather more directed, perhaps an interview or panel discussion rather than coming over (to me) as a randomly progressing conversation. If there were a framework of trajectory then contributors could be better prepared to make useful contributions and to know when in the conversation it was best to introduce any particular points. You could even, and more easily, then have a summary at the end.

  • Object of Contempt

    A few months ago I was sitting in church listening to a sermon based on II Tim. about the need for a church to be careful not to go astray. The elder giving the message mentioned several ways that a church could go astray, and then said that *this* church doesn’t need to worry about that. He went on to explain that the reason our church isn’t susceptible to this problem is because the doctrines of this congregation are all “orthodox”. They are orthodox because the elders approve of them, and they approve because men they trust wrote or spoke about them… and they agreed with them.

    All *your* church congregations are susceptible, but mine isn’t! HA!

    I have, for many years, been painfully aware of how culture continually affects the epistemologies, mores, and customs of Christians. Renewing the mind, acknowledging God in all my ways, walking in a worthy manner… those have always been important in my life. I don’t think I am saved by my works, but what am I being saved from if I don’t leave the sinful ways and perceptions behind to be like the person He wants me to be?

    In the last ten years or so, I have become mre aware of the fact that Christian denomionations and even individual congregations have very strong cultural components. That should be obvious, but I hadn’t realized how strongly they influenced and even coerced members to simply absorb, not only doctrine, but epistemological values without examination. I listened to that sermon and gained a new fear of the word “orthodox”.

    I think Christians are pretty culture-bound as a rule, and that affects our perception so that we often don’t even see what things we need to examine. That’s what culture does to everyone, but Christians I’ve talked to largely think it’s “other churches” that are vulnerable. If we learn a doctrine or stance as part of our church culture, that stance becomes protected in a sense from ever being tested and reconsidered. Now I’m beginning to see that the orthodox label is being used to magnify that effect — at least among the Christians I’ve been around.

    I’m not trying to say anything bad about your blog. I haven’t read those particular books, and only know a small amount about the authors. Actually, I was happy to see a blog that seems willing to dig into issues and examine them. I just found it amusing that a group that wants to do that relies heavily on orthodoxy. That word seems much more squishy to me now than it ever did before.

  • Clark Elder Morrow

    Dear MO: How does one go about submitting articles or book reviews to you? Or do you accept submissions of these items? Thank you. CEM

  • John Kyle

    I’m a fan of Mere Fidelity but I’ve been disappointed by some of the recent episodes which may have been interesting to trained theologians but are rather esoteric to me as someone wanting to apply faith to life and culture.