I got quite a bit of feedback on the last Federalist article (on Abstinence vs. Chastity), so I wanted to take a moment to address some of the criticisms that actually addressed my arguments.
Objection: Jesus never taught anything about sex!
Only if you start off assuming that the Apostles’ teachings and the Prophets’ teachings aren’t Jesus’ teachings. But no one who actually tries to learn from Jesus is going to make that mistake for very long. Anyone who actually believes the red letters is going to know the black letters are Jesus’ teachings too.
Objection: The delay in marriage isn’t purity culture’s fault; Christians just picked that up from the wider culture.
I’m not sure how familiar the people making this criticism are with Christian teaching, but one of the things the Bible repeatedly warns us against is worldliness–adopting the world’s standards and judgments over and against Christian teaching. Sometimes worldliness is deliberate, more often it’s absent-minded, but it’s always something we are to avoid rather than embrace.
So while I agree that Evangelicals mostly picked up delaying marriage from the wider culture rather than inventing it, that makes it no less of an indictment.
Objection: These priorities aren’t entirely due to feminism; many households need two incomes to survive because wages are depressed over the past few generations.
First, it may not be entirely due to feminism, but even on the economic side, it’s a hefty contributor. When woman entered the workforce en masse, they drastically increased the supply of labor without increasing demand for labor in any substantial way. (Many women have always worked, but as I recall, the proportion of women working outside the home roughly doubled during the 20th century.) Basic economics says that the price of labor (i.e. wages) has to substantially drop as a result. So bad economic policies and circumstances aren’t our only reason for depressed wages.
Second, I did not say that women should never work outside the home. What I said was that marriage and family need to be higher priorities than career for anyone who wants marriage. Circumstances may dictate that a woman needs to work for her family’s sake, but that’s always got to be balanced against the invaluable service she can provide by being with them at home–particularly when they’re very young. Full-time work is something mothers do so their children are fed and clothed, not so they can go on family vacations every year or “earn feminist merit badges” as Dalrock puts it.
Third, some (not all) people who think they need two incomes do so because they’re excessive consumers. If you’re going to Starbucks every day and own all the latest video game consoles, there’s a lot of discretionary spending going on that you really don’t need. When you tally up the cost of daycare, taxes, and so forth that come with having a 2nd income, a lot of people aren’t as far ahead as they think. And sometimes, that smaller amount of additional income may be able to be offset by adjusting discretionary spending.
Objection: But what about gays? Is it realistic to demand indefinite celibacy from them by teaching against gay marriage?
This is a fair question. But in order to be able to accept the answer, we first need to be frank about the moral reality. Two people of the same sex cannot be married to one another; it’s a contradiction in terms. They can have a ceremony, say the words, and call themselves married, but that’s not going to actually make two men or two women married to each other anymore than ceremonies and words can make a circle a square. So even if every Christian in the world immediately and permanently stopped repeating Christian teaching on the subject, same-sex “marriage” would not and could not relieve anybody from a life of fornication. It would only give them a false pretense of peace. This option was never on the table no matter how many people might want it to be or think they’ve achieved it through legal change.
Once people stop grasping at that particular straw, the various ways of handling same-sex attraction fall into two broad categories.
The first is to pursue real marriage. My understanding (and it was an unrepentant gay man who explained this to me) is that homosexual desire runs on a spectrum. For instance, some men are actively repulsed by women while others simply prefer men to women. So for some homosexuals on the shallow end of that spectrum, it might be possible to make marriage a viable option through repentance and therapy. I know that programs designed to bring people out of the gay lifestyle have a high failure rate, but the fact that they have any success at all suggests that sexual desire is more plastic than we are led to believe. It’s something they’d need to be honest about with a prospective spouse, and it may take a whole lot of extra work, but it’s not always unmanageable.
Note that I’m not saying that anyone should marry a person they don’t want to have sex with. Neither am I saying whether this could work for 50%, 10%, 1% or .1% of homosexuals–I really don’t know. I’m not even describing the different ways this might look in practice. All I’m saying is that homosexuals shouldn’t let people put them into an identity bucket that prevents them from thinking critically about the idea for themselves.
But even if it isn’t always unmanageable, it is sometimes unmanageable–and that gives us the second category: Work to be indefinitely celibate and live a life of repentant struggle.
I’m not going to dress it up; this option sucks. But sometimes God gives us some really heavy crosses–terrible circumstances that we can’t fix and that He won’t take away. In those cases, our only real option is to bear that cross and follow him–trusting that his grace will be sufficient for all our failures. And by the way, given the wide scope of human tragedy, this isn’t only true when it comes to sex, but to all sorts of exceptional circumstances.
And even when it comes to sex, this isn’t true only for homosexuals, for there are many exceptional circumstances that force heterosexuals to live in indefinite celibacy. There can be injuries, illnesses, and deformities that make marriage a practical impossibility for some people. Even within marriage, there can be circumstances where one spouse is suddenly no longer physically capable of fulfilling their marital responsibilities. These are exceptional cases, but remember that despite their over-representation in media, homosexuals only make up 2-3% of the population. Unrelentingly dominant same-sex attraction is itself an exceptional circumstance.
There have been countless Christians whose only faithful option has been to pick up their cross–and more likely than not, most of these Christians were not gay. This unquestioningly involves a great deal of suffering and temptation. And there will be times when temptation wins and you fall into sin. The only way through is to trust the Gospel and stay connected to a church where you hear it all the time. Christ paid for every time you collapse on that road and redeems every last ounce of suffering you endure as you struggle to move another inch forward.