Posts tagged ‘Commitment’

When Not Practicing What You Preach About Sex Is a Good Thing

Holding Hands

It’s no secret that we live in a sexually infatuated society.  In an article for The Federalist, Shane Morris cites research showing that 92 percent of the 174 songs that made it into the Billboard Top 10 during 2009 included references to sex.  What’s more, in another study, researchers found that from the 1960s to the 2000s, songs with sexual subject matter sung by male artists went from 7 percent in the decade known for its “make love, not war” attitude to a whopping 40 percent in the 2000s.   In another compelling factoid, Morris mentions that out of Billboard’s top 50 love songs of all time, only six are from the year 2000 or later.  Why?  Because artists just don’t sing about love like they used to.  Instead, they boast about sex.

And yet…

For all our boasting about sex, it turns out that actual sexual intimacy between real human beings is down.  In a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers found that “American adults had sex about nine fewer times per year in the early 2010s compared to the late 1990s” due primarily to “an increasing number of individuals without a steady or marital partner.”  Even those who are married reported “a decline in sexual frequency among those partners.”  Interestingly enough, these same researchers found that, out of all the recent generations, it was the generation born in the 1930s that enjoyed intimacy most often.

As Christians, we know that part of our culture’s quandary over what we say and what we actually do about sex comes because sex has become largely decoupled from its biblical context – that of marriage.  Our culture’s vaulted sexual revolution has not led to more or better sex.  It’s just led to the enshrinement of sex as an idol.  And anything that is idolized inevitably becomes counted on for too much, which, in turn, makes it deliver less than it could if it was kept in its proper place in the first place.  Thus, it is no surprise that our near-worship of sex has not led to an increase in sex.

There are some hopeful signs that we, as a society, know, even if only intuitively, that we have taken a wrong turn when it comes to sex.  In a post for National Review, Max Bloom notes that for all of the avant-garde attitudes Millennials might have about sex, in their actual intimate lives, they are trending toward the traditional:

Millennials are more than twice as likely to have had no sexual partners in their early 20s than those born in the 1960s. In general, Millennials have about as many sexual partners as Baby Boomers and considerably less than Generation X-ers – those born in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s.

It turns out that, when it comes to sexual partners and practices, what is old is new again.  There is still plenty of room for monogamy and abstinence.  Bloom notes that Millennials are trending traditional in other ways, too: “They are less likely to drink, smoke marijuana, or use cocaine than previous generations.”  But for all their traditional habits, one non-traditional trend continues:  Millennials continue to increasingly drift from traditional religious practices such as worship and prayer.

So, what does all this tell us?  First, it tells us that even as our culture drifts from any understanding of or appreciation for Christian orthodoxy, natural law, à la Romans 2:14-15, seems to still hold some sway over our concrete propriety.  Second, our trending sexual traditionalism also tells us that our God really does have, even for a society that can be as misguided as ours can be, what the Calvinists call “common grace.”  Regardless of whether or not our culture believes in traditional sexual mores, the very fact that so many of us live by a more traditional code of ethics that protects us from the pain, fear, and heartbreak that sexual egalitarianism inevitably brings is a testament to God’s broad, gracious protection of society.  To those who have walked down the road of sexual anarchy and have had their hearts and bodies broken in the process, Christians must be prepared to offer love, understanding, guidance, and grace.

Hopefully, the materializing rupture between what we as a culture believe and what we as a culture do when it comes to sex will lead us to try to reconcile our curious pockets of orthopraxy with a much-needed orthodoxy.  Our culture will be better for it.  And who knows?  We might just be able to stop boasting about sex in songs because we’ll actually be enjoying more love in life.

July 24, 2017 at 5:15 am 1 comment

A Rape At Stanford: Recovering Our Humanity In A Culture Of Perverse Sexuality

Stanford University.jpg

The names have changed, but the situation is far too familiar.

Three weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about a sex scandal at Baylor University that featured violated girls, entitled football players, and a campus administration who looked the other way.  Now, another sex scandal has captured headlines – this one at Stanford University – that involves a violated girl, an entitled party goer, and a judge that many are saying looked the other way by sentencing a rapist to an embarrassingly paltry prison term.

The entitled party goer in question is Brock Turner.  He is convicted of violating a 23-year-old girl who, though not a student at Stanford, was attending a fraternity party where she had too much to drink, passed out, and was found behind a dumpster with Turner “lying on top of her unconscious, partly clothed body…Witnesses intervened and held the attacker for the police.”[1]

The judge could have sentenced Turner to 14 years in prison.  Instead, he got six months.

The victim recounted her experience of waking up from her assault in terrifying detail in a letter she read aloud in the courtroom to her rapist:

The next thing I remember I was in a gurney in a hallway. I had dried blood and bandages on the backs of my hands and elbow. I thought maybe I had fallen and was in an admin office on campus. I was very calm and wondering where my sister was. A deputy explained I had been assaulted. I still remained calm, assured he was speaking to the wrong person. I knew no one at this party. When I was finally allowed to use the restroom, I pulled down the hospital pants they had given me, went to pull down my underwear, and felt nothing. I still remember the feeling of my hands touching my skin and grabbing nothing. I looked down and there was nothing.[2]

It was at this moment that she realized what the officer had said was true:  she had been raped.

The victim’s letter is gut-wrenching.  But the response of Brock Turner’s father Dan to this crime is stupefying.  He defended his son, saying:

As it stands now, Brock’s life has been deeply altered forever by the events of Jan. 17th and 18th. He will never be his happy-go-lucky self with that easygoing personality and welcoming smile. His every waking minute is consumed with worry, anxiety, fear and depression…His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20-plus years of life.[3]

Yes, that’s what this was:  “20 minutes of action.”  Just the phrase makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

This tragedy is nauseating. It is disgusting.  But I am afraid we may not learn much from it.

We now live in a world where it is acceptable for college students to hook up using an app where they can register their legal consent for sex unless, of course, one of the consenters indicates they are intoxicated.  Did I mention that this app was created by a group of parents of college-aged children?

We also live in a world where a self-declared “feminist father” can sport a shirt that reads:

RULES FOR DATING MY DAUGHTER 1. I DON’T MAKE THE RULES 2. YOU DON’T MAKE THE RULES 3. SHE MAKES THE RULES 4. HER BODY, HER RULES

Just so I am not misunderstood, I am in complete agreement that no one should ever be forced to engage in any sort of sexual encounter against their wishes.  Period.  To violate a woman’s rules for her body is, by definition, rape.  And it is abhorrent.

But something is missing.

When sex is reduced to concepts like “consent” and highly individualized “rules,” the bar for sex has been set way too low.  It has been set a place that is sure to leave a trail of broken hearts, broken relationships, and broken lives.  Sex is about consent.  But it’s not only about consent.  It’s also about commitment.  Sex is about rules.  But it’s not only about rules. It’s also about trust.  And I can’t stop there.  Sex is also about love.  It is also about marriage.  And yes, as a Christian, I cannot help but note that it is ultimately about God because it is, in its very origin, a gift from God.

Something tells me that God is not pleased when His good gift is drug into the dumpster.  Literally.

Brock Turner took a dumpster dive to the bottom of the moral barrel when he raped this young lady.  But let us not forget that this moral barrel comes with a staircase to the bottom.  And when we, as a culture, are willing to walk down step after step of sexual compromise, sexual selfishness, and sexual confusion – when we, as a culture, reduce sex to consent and strip it of nearly everything with which Scripture imbues it – what makes us think we won’t trip and land at the bottom like Brock?

Jesus reminds us that the first step to sexual disaster happens long before our clothes come off with the wrong person in the wrong circumstance for the wrong reasons.  The first step to sexual disaster happens when hearts go wrong: “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).  Sexual disaster doesn’t start with a rape case that captures headlines.  It starts with a lust that perverts a person’s heart.

The problem with lust is that it sacrifices a person’s humanity on the altar of personal twisted desire.  A meeting that is quite literally designed to give life as it often results in the blessing of children actually takes life as one person uses another person to satisfy himself.  This is why Dan Turner can write about his son’s “20 minutes of action.”  Because for Brock’s dad, that’s all sex is – action with no affiance, amusement with no affection.  It is certainly not the meeting of two people and the mingling of two souls.

The paragraph I appreciate the most in this young lady’s statement to her attacker is her last one.  She says to girls everywhere:

You are important, unquestionably, you are untouchable, you are beautiful, you are to be valued, respected, undeniably, every minute of every day, you are powerful and nobody can take that away from you.

From a woman who was treated as far less than human comes a reminder that her – and our – humanity nevertheless endures.

May our sexuality rise to the occasion of our humanity.

________________________

[1] Liam Stack, “Light Sentence for Brock Turner in Stanford Rape Case Draws Outrage,” The New York Times (6.6.2016).

[2] Katie J.M. Baker, “Here Is The Powerful Letter The Stanford Victim Read Aloud To Her Attacker,” Buzzfeed (6.3.2016).

[3] Morgan Winsor, “Scathing Letter to Father of Stanford Sex Offender Brock Turner Goes Viral,” ABC News (6.9.2016).

June 20, 2016 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Why Fifty Shades of Grey is Black and White

Movie TheatreComing to a theatre near you this Friday, just in time for Valentine’s Day: 110 minutes of expectation and titillation wrapped in the package of a movie based on a best-selling novel. E.L. James’ Fifty Shades of Grey has been widely panned by literary critics. Jesse Kornbluth, writing for the Huffington Post, admits, “As a reading experience, Fifty Shades of Grey is a sad joke, puny of plot, padded with conversations that are repeated five or six times and email exchanges that are neither romantic nor witty.”[1] A quick tour through a few of the novel’s more infamous lines quickly reveals just how bad the writing really is:

  • His voice is warm and husky like dark melted chocolate fudge caramel…or something.
  • My subconscious is furious, medusa-like in her anger, hair flying, her hands clenched around her face like Edvard Munch’s Scream.
  • Finally, my medulla oblongata recalls its purpose. I breathe.[2]

If you think the line, “Finally, my medulla oblongata recalls its purpose, I breathe” makes for a good novel, in the timeless words of the professor from Waterboy, “There’s something wrong with your medulla oblongata.” I’ve never read either of these authors, but something tells me E.L. James makes Danielle Steele look downright Shakespearean. Something also tells me that when James was writing her novel, clicks on Thesaurus.com went through the roof. Yet, over 10 million copies of this stilted, silly prose have been sold worldwide.

In all honesty, though the awful writing really does bother me, there is a much more sinister side to Fifty Shades of Grey – something that deserves serious theological reflection. This novel unashamedly, unabashedly revels in its sexual depravity. It is a sick foray into all sorts of sexual sin. Some reviewers have gone so far as to call it “mommy porn.”[3] The overarching plot line explores the sexually abusive relationship between a wealthy 27-year old entrepreneur named Christian Grey and a 21-year old college senior named Ana Steele. Christian warns Ana that he is not “a hearts and flowers kind of guy” and introduces her to his room full of BDSM toys. It is their masochistic sexual encounters that form the meat of the novel. Indeed, reports indicate that in the 110-minute movie version, over 20 minutes are devoted to sex scenes.[4] And people have worked themselves into a flurry of anxious anticipation to see them.

Let me cut through the grey and be black and white for a moment: You should not go see this movie. You should not read the book. That’s the bottom line of this blog. You don’t need to encounter the explicit contents of this book and movie firsthand to know its implications are evil.  Allow me to give you three reasons why I believe this.

1. Fifty Shades of Grey robs people – and especially women – of their dignity.

I myself do not know all the illicit details of the sexual encounters between Christian and Ana, nor do I care to. But I do know that BDSM – whether it be in a novel, in a movie, or in real life – is an affront to basic human dignity. Tying up another person and calling them all sorts of nasty names, as is common in these types of sexual encounters, cannot be anywhere near what God had in mind when He designed sex so “two [could] become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). In fact, the description of the righteous woman in Proverbs 31 haunts me as I think about the relationship peddled by this book: “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come” (Proverbs 31:25). Ana is robbed of both her strength and dignity in this story. May what is fiction never become what is reality.

One additional note on this topic: even if you are married and trust each other implicitly, BDSM still degrades the divine design for human sexuality. It simply does not square with what Paul writes concerning the marital relationship: “Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them” (Colossians 3:19). Sex and marriage need tenderness.

2. Fifty Shades of Grey portrays people as little more than the sum of their desires.

Somehow, we have bought into this myth that if we do not indulge whatever sexual desires, fantasies, dreams, or fetishes we might have, we are not being true to ourselves. We are repressing ourselves. First, allow me to say a word about our feckless use of the word “repression.” Repression is when a person pushes something – usually a memory – out of their conscious awareness as a defense mechanism against the pain it causes. Repression often requires psychological help. Suppression, on the other hand, is when a person consciously chooses not to indulge a particular appetite. Repression is almost always dangerous. Suppression, on the other hand, can often be good. For example, I have often desired to try to take out the 72-ounce steak at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, but I have suppressed myself. Why? Because there is no way that would be good for me. I also sometimes desire to sleep in rather than to get up early to work out. But I suppress my sleep and get up. Why? Because I know working out is good for me.

Just because we desire something doesn’t make it good or good for us. This is why the apostle Peter warns: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). You are more than the sum of your desires. And you are most true to yourself not when you’re following every whim and desire, but when you’re following Jesus.

3. Fifty Shades of Grey gives false hope for a happy ending.

Perhaps what disturbs me most about Fifty Shades of Grey is not its graphic descriptions of bizarre sexual encounters, but the arc of the broader plot line over the whole Fifty Shades trilogy. In volume two, Christian and Ana get married. By the end of volume three, the reader learns the couple has two children. Christian, it seems, has been tamed. And even though it’s left unspoken, the emotion of the ending is clear: “And they lived happily ever after.”

Here’s the problem with this ending: if the first part of the story is true, the last part cannot be. The Fifty Shades trilogy tells the story of light being born out of darkness. It tells the story of tender love emerging out of sadomasochism. In real life, however, this does not happen – at least not in the way Fifty Shades presents it. Evil does not wake up one morning and decide, “I’m going to birth something good.” No. Evil begets evil. If you don’t believe me, read up on the doctrine of original sin. The only way for good to emerge from evil is not by evil’s behest, but by evil’s demise. Jesus didn’t come and ask evil to be a little better. He came and nailed it to a cross. There’s where the hope for a “happily ever after” ending is. Not in some accidental stumbling of righteousness out of wickedness.

I hope this is enough – if you were thinking about seeing the movie or reading the book – to stop you. Researching the story and thinking through its repercussions is certainly enough for me.  And I also hope this is enough – if you’re trapped in a real-life abusive relationship – for you to get the help you need to get out. You’re too fearfully and wonderfully made not to.

_______________________________

[1] Jesse Kornbluth, “‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’: Is The Hottest-Selling Book In America Really Just ‘S&M For Dummies?’Huffington Post (3.12.2012)

[2] Brenton Dickieson, “50 Shades of Bad Writing,” A Pilgrim in Narnia (9.21.2012).

[3] Julie Bosman, “Discreetly Digital, Erotic Novel Sets American Women Abuzz,” The New York Times (3.9.2012).

[4] Jess Denham, “Fifty Shades of Grey movie banned in Malaysia for being ‘more like pornography than a film,’The Independent (2.5.2015).

February 9, 2015 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Waning of Marriage

Marriage 1Right now at the church where I serve, we are in a series on marriage called “We Do.” As I see it, this series is important not only because many marriages are in trouble and in need of help, but because many marriages are not even getting started in the first place. The precipitous decline of marriage in this country is well documented. Take, for instance, the recent alarm sounded by Robert J. Samuelson of The Washington Post:

In 1960, only 12 percent of adults ages 25 to 34 had never married; by the time they were 45 to 54, the never-married share had dropped to 5 percent. Now fast forward. In 2010, 47 percent of Americans 25 to 34 had never married.[1]

Marriage rates are in a free-fall. But Samuelson’s explanation as to why marriage rates are tumbling is especially fascinating to me:

The stranglehold that marriage had on middle-class thinking and behavior began to weaken in the 1960s with birth control pills, publication of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique — an assault on women’s traditional housecleaning and child-rearing roles — and the gradual liberalization of divorce laws.

The resulting expansion of personal choice has been breathtaking. Those liberalized divorce laws have freed millions of women and men from unsatisfying or abusive marriages. (From 1960 to 1980, the divorce rate rose nearly 150 percent; it has since reversed about half that gain.) Taboos against premarital sex and cohabitation have virtually vanished. So has the stigma of out-of-wedlock birth or, for married couples, of not having children. With more job opportunities, women flooded the labor market.

Samuelson connects the decline of marriage to the “expansion of personal choice.” In other words, the more choices a person has – from the choice of pre-marital sex to birth control to cohabitation to divorce – the lower the chance a person will choose to marry or, as the case may be, stay married.

Sadly, the “expansion of personal choice” does not insure against the unintended and often painful consequences of personal choice. Samuelson cites Isabell Sawhill, author of Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage:

“New choices for adults,” Sawhill writes, “have not generally been helpful to the well-being of children.” Single-parent families have exploded. In 1950, they were 7 percent of families with children under 18; by 2013, they were 31 percent. Nor was the shift isolated. The share was 27 percent for whites, 34 percent for Hispanics and 62 percent for African Americans. By harming children’s emotional and intellectual development, the expansion of adult choices may have reduced society’s collective welfare.

It is not (as Sawhill repeatedly says) that all single-parent households are bad or that all two-parent families are good. But the advantage lies with the approach that can provide children more financial support and personal attention. Two low-income paychecks, or two good listeners, are better than one. With a colleague, Sawhill simulated the effect today if the marriage rates of 1970 still prevailed. The result: The child poverty rate would drop by about 20 percent — a “huge effect” compared with most government programs.

Our emancipation from marriage comes with a price – a price born by the children of those who have emancipated themselves from marriage. A higher poverty rate is the price most easily measured, but other things, such as the lack of “two listening ears” Sawhill refers to, are also among the prices our children must pay.

I am well aware, of course, that there are certain situations where a person should not get married or cannot stay married. But these situations are far fewer and farther between than our culture makes them out to be.

At the heart of our marriage-phobia is the fact that marriage calls on us to think beyond ourselves, which is not easy when we have all the freedom in the world to make decisions for ourselves. It turns out that when we are given unrestrained freedom to make decisions, we make selfish ones.

But this is where the Church has much to offer. We do, after all, worship a Savior who not only thought beyond Himself, but lived beyond Himself and died by Himself so we could be a family in God.

Ultimately, as followers of Christ, our hope is for a marriage on the Last Day when it will be sung: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready” (Revelation 19:6-7).

If this is what we’re preparing and hoping for, we might as well get a little practice for our marriage on the Last Day by being married in this day. And that’s why marriage is good – even if it isn’t always easy.

____________________

[1] Robert J. Samuelson, “The family deficit,” The Washington Post (10.26.2014).

November 17, 2014 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” Lives!

Marriage 3Apparently, “Don’t ask, don’t tell” didn’t die in our Armed Forces, it just moved to our marriages.    Recently, Redbook published a part-confessional, part-apologetic exposé titled, “How Affairs Make My Marriage Stronger.”  The author, who, not surprisingly, chose to remain anonymous, opens salaciously:

It’s a Wednesday night, and my boyfriend and I are drinking wine and making out in the back booth of a dimly lit bar. It feels like nothing else in the world exists…until my phone vibrates.

“It’s my husband. The kids are in bed,” I say, then put my phone in my purse and pull my boyfriend toward me.  I spend half a second staring at the diamond on my engagement ring before hiding my hand from my sight line.  It’s not a secret that I’m married, but it’s also not something I want to think about right now.

Am I a horrible person?  Without context, I know I sound horrible.  But in my marriage, having affairs worksMy husband and I don’t talk about it.  But I’m certain our don’t-ask-don’t-tell rule is what has allowed our marriage to last as long as it has.

Notice that I didn’t say we’re in an open marriage – we’re not.  An open marriage is transparent, with agreed-upon rules and an understanding of what both parties will and will not do with others.  My marriage is opaque.[1]

What a sham of a marriage – full of affairs and cover-ups.  It should be a soap opera.  Instead, it’s real life.

What I find most striking about this apologetic for adultery is how kitschy it is – even according to the author’s own admission.  In a telling line, she concedes, “The more I think about it, the less okay I am with our lifestyle, so I’ve become pretty good at shutting down that part of my brain.”  If there ever was a line that affirmed the inescapably reality of natural, moral law, this is it!  No matter what she may claim about she and her husband’s affairs, she can’t escape the feeling that something isn’t right.  As the apostle Paul explains: “The requirements of the law are written on [people’s] hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:15).

As much moral ire as this article raises in me, it raises even more sympathetic pain.  It’s hard to listen to this woman divulge her deeply held fears without having my heart broken:

Truth be told, I do worry that Dave might fall in love with someone else. That’s why when I see his secret smiles or notice him spending tons of time texting, I step it up on my end, asking him to be home on a certain night and initiating sex. I remind him how much I love him and how much our marriage means to me.

What’s the title of this article again?  “How Affairs Make My Marriage Stronger”?  What a lie.  So let’s try some truth:

I take you to be my wedded beloved, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, according to God’s holy will; and I pledge to you my faithfulness.

You took the vow.  You made the promise.  So keep it.  You’ll be better for it.  Your heart will be filled with it.  And you’ll please God by it.

_______________________

[1] Anonymous, as told to Anna Davies, “How Affairs Make My Marriage Stronger,” Redbook (5.18.2014).

May 26, 2014 at 5:15 am 1 comment


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