Families and churches relinquished control over sex ed to public schools in the early 1970s. Now families and churches are reaping the whirlwind.
Initially, at least, public schools assumed control over sex ed to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and halt teenage pregnancy. Parents were not doing a good enough job—and public health was at stake. Or so we were told. Public school mandates have expanded, however, to recommending non-vaginal sex, then to tolerance for same-sex sex, active affirming of same-sex relations as virtually normal, and finally to the affirmation of transgender identities.
David Ayers’s After the Revolution: Sex and the Single Evangelical catalogues the loss of authority over sexual matters among Christian churches. Ayers, a sociologist at Grove City College, slices survey data to show that most evangelicals—and all varieties of Christians—have increasingly adopted “worldly attitudes and practices” on issues related to sex and sexuality.
White evangelicals and black Protestants are more likely than other groups to think sex before marriage is always wrong or almost always wrong, but that number (now 40%) has declined for each age cohort. Unmarried and divorced evangelicals tend to think sex out of wedlock cannot be wrong. Christians of all varieties think cohabitation before marriage is acceptable, though black Protestants (47%) and white evangelicals (35%) are least likely to. Again, younger Christians of all varieties are much more open to shacking up than older ones.
As attitudes change, so do behaviors. Nearly 60% of evangelicals aged 23-32 now have had more than three sexual partners, numbers still lower than other religious traditions but still very high.
White evangelicals are more likely, over time, to embrace same-sex marriage and to bless same-sex sex and relationship than in the past. Ayers also shows evangelicals engage in more oral sex and over 50% have cohabited with a member of the opposite sex by age 28. 52% of evangelical females have cohabited by age 28, while 64% of those without religion have. That evangelicals are 12% better than atheists is not an encouraging development
Attitude changes and corresponding changes in behavior are especially prevalent among females, as Ayers has also shown in a series of essays at the website American Reformer. Female evangelicals have seen an “alarming rise in lesbian and bisexual relationships” over time, just as evangelical attitudes toward same-sex relationships and marriage have also liberalized. Acceptance of transgender identities will, no doubt, follow in turn.
While evangelicals who attend church regularly are less likely to adopt worldly attitudes and behaviors, the power of the sexual revolution vis-à-vis Christian faith is apparent in everything Ayers finds.
Changes in evangelical beliefs and practice will have a profound effect on American culture, since they are the largest religious grouping if not the most influential. But it speaks also to the endurance of the Church. Paul exhorted Christians of Corinth to separate themselves from pagan perversity and pursue paths of purity and chastity in 1 Corinthians, but today’s Christians are siding with the pagans.
Churches face crises of authority in this face of the sexual revolution, in addition to the personal wreckage suffered by victims of the sexual revolution. Blood is thicker than doctrine. When pastors refuse to marry cohabiting children these days, parents get upset and go to a different church.
In the face of this onslaught, Ayers recommends a broad reassertion of traditional sexual ethics and the teaching of a Christian worldview, led by upright leaders and pastors and supported by grounded congregations. Guarding against worldly influences can only be accomplished through churches willing to take back their authority to educate children in the whole counsel of God.
At its deepest level, guarding against worldly influences means wrestling back from public schools the authority to educate children in all the deepest questions of human life. This means also in the smallest questions. American public schools are based on the assumption that the public raises children—and only after parents and churches deferred to the public schools generally did they cede the duty of sex ed to schools. Now that the full radicalism of that sex ed is apparent, Christians must act accordingly and walk away from the schools that have usurped parental duties. Church communities must commit themselves to providing opportunities for genuinely Christian education–either in the form of financial help or in assisting homeschoolers or in helping to build counter-cultural Christian schools.
Only when parents and churches take back the whole duty of education can we expect future marriageable young people to arise to lead the future Church. The Christian sexual ethics crisis is the opportunity to leave an enduring mark on our decadent age.