An upcoming article in Relevant magazine is making the blogosphere rounds already (e.g., CNN & First Thoughts). It would seem that multiple studies are indicating that despite all efforts by the Church, most young Christians simply are not waiting until marriage. This should be saddening, but it should not be particularly surprising.
The middle-class American coupling system has two basic imperatives: 1) Do not get married until you are established in a career (which itself must follow receipt of both a high school diploma and bachelor’s degree). 2) In the meantime, one should date–spend copious amounts of time alone with members of the opposite sex selected primarily on the basis of physical attraction for the purposes of enjoying romantic feelings and having fun together. Gee, I wonder what kind of fun they’ll have? Christians should not be surprised that adding a third imperative, “don’t have sex until you’re married,” makes little difference in the outcome. No matter how well it’s put or how many purity rings it’s accompanied by, it’s still like saying “run straight at that concrete wall without stopping” and then adding “but don’t hurt yourself.” If it actually works, it’s a fluke. In the same way, sheer willpower is simply no match for the entirety of one’s biology and culture when resisting sexual temptation.
Though this reality has lead the secular world to suggest that Biblical rules about sexuality are obsolete and should be discarded in the face of modern sexual culture, faithful Christians need to embrace the opposite conclusion: modern sexual culture is obsolete and should be discarded in the face of Biblical rules about sexuality.
I’m not suggesting Christians spend more time complaining about sex on TV or condom distribution in school (not that these aren’t legitimate complaints). I’m making the more radical suggestion that Christians need to start questioning the two basic coupling rules of American culture instead of teaching them to their children. With respect to the first rule, the typical rite of K-12->college->career->
Rethinking our customs must go deeper than the typical practice of accepting our culture wholesale and then trying to slap a “no ding-ding before the wedding ring” sticker on the side of it. The evidence is in; this approach has failed. There is therefore no excuse for harming the next generation by perpetuating it. This is no small task, but it is nevertheless the task given to us. The solution Paul provides to sexual temptation is marriage (1 Cor 7:2), so we ought to work to make marriage available to the tempted.
Here the objections begin to fly among those protestants who misunderstand Sola Scriptura: “The Bible doesn’t tell us how to get married–only that premarital sex is wrong! It’s legalistic to tell young men and women that they shouldn’t date or that they should get married sooner!” It is true enough that the Bible doesn’t provide a flowchart for coupling. Nevertheless, that doesn’t preclude us using our Biblically-informed brains to provide assistance for navigating this part of life. Such navigation is what culture and tradition are for in the first place–they are tools to help us live life well. Christians know (or at least should know) that living well entails living chastely and decently. If our customs have become a hindrance to this end, then parents are morally obligated to reject them and attempt to provide better customs for their children. Stubborn insistence on disproven methodology is pure foolishness–something that is explicitly condemned in Scripture (see, for example, pretty much the entire book of Proverbs).
There are any number of ways to appropriately couple. Nevertheless, an infinitude of appropriate ways does not imply that no inappropriate ways exist. Identifying and rejecting such ways is not legalism; it is wisdom–something I encourage Christian parents to both pray for and practice.