In a previous article I argued that to see a significant reduction in the number of abortions in America we need to repeal the Sexual Revolution of the 60’s and 70’s, because popular acceptance of divorce, abortion and extra-marital sex form a unified cultural pattern. The three sins became socially acceptable in one cultural transition and tend to support each other. I also argued that Christian love requires that we try to break the cultural authority of this sinful triad that has become as American as apple pie. We all know that Christians should try to help people suffering from natural disasters, but the social acceptance of these sins hurts far more people than all the natural disasters in North America.
Unfortunately what we have actually seen over the last generation is exactly the opposite. Rather than contesting the Sexual Revolution, Christians have often followed or even led the path into sin. Recently I saw a claim from a sociologist that Christians are more tolerant of extra-marital sex than non-Christians. (The research data would be very interesting to see.) I remember as a teenager in the early 70’s that it was in a church youth group where I first encountered the “new morality” which said that only a feeling of love, not specific rules, was needed for morality. Of the 10 rules, it was of course, the seventh that was seen as least important. And even when we Christians have not followed the Sexual Revolution, we have often felt a certain social pressure to keep quiet about Christian sexual ethics. I suspect this pressure we feel comes from a sense that sexual matters are very close to the center of the way our culture refuses to accept the public discussion of religiously based moral rules. The public discussion of religious rules against murder or stealing will not get you much criticism, even if it is in a newspaper or on the floor of the Congress, but tension mounts if you mention Christian sexual ethics in public discussion!
This situation is not something we should passively accept. A lot of things can be changed, and maybe this is one of them. If we are to see the triad of abortion, divorce, and extra-marital sex become socially unacceptable again, there are two things we must do. The first is that in the churches we need to reaffirm and effectively teach Biblical sexual ethics. This means not only good sermons and classes; it also requires effective pastoral care and counseling to help get the message internalized. If this were done in every Bible believing church, the impact would be substantial. But we should not be content with this as our goal. Instead of Christians following the world into sin, Christians should be leading the world in a healthy direction. Jesus called us the “salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13).
Secondly, we must help the unbelieving world see the wrongness of divorce, extra-marital sex and abortion. It goes without saying that this not easy.
A few of our unbelieving neighbors will be convinced of the wrongness of the Sexual Revolution by a direct appeal to the Bible, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” However this line of reasoning will not do a lot for people who are not only unaware of the content of the Bible but also unaware of the existence of the Bible.
We might try a different direction. With a few people we may be able to use classical moral arguments that appeal to duty or virtue, and if they are used correctly, these arguments tend to show the wrongness of many sinful acts. But with the widespread onset of Postmodern skepticism, many people are unable to see the point of traditional moral reasoning, and widespread cultural illiteracy tends to make terms like duty and virtue sound like a foreign language.
What does seem to effectively show the wrongness of an action to our Postmodern neighbors is a rather statistical argument showing that an action does not lead to the accepted goals of life, health and happiness. Forty years ago, almost no one thought smoking was wrong. Today most educated Americans are strongly convinced that smoking is wrong, even if they do not believe that right and wrong exist. (What irony!) This has come about because of an extended publicity campaign to show the harmful effects of smoking. The same sort of long term, scientifically based campaign needs to be launched against the results of the Sexual Revolution. If divorce and extra-marital sex were again seen as socially unacceptable, the unacceptability of abortion might follow.
As a first step in this direction, every intelligent Christian should be equipped with a little reliable information that shows that the Sexual Revolution has not worked, and we should all try to publicize this information every chance we get. A careful distinction is in order here. In the church and in evangelism, Biblical sexual teaching has to be affirmed simply on the basis of the authority of God in His Word. Christians should obey God’s commands simply because they come from God. But when we are seeking to influence a cultural pattern outside the church, the only thing our secular, Postmodern neighbors may be able to understand is that the Sexual Revolution has not worked; and there is a lot of careful research that shows that it has not worked. That the Sexual Revolution has not worked will be no surprise to Christians because we know that God’s law is written into the very blueprint of creation.
There are numerous good sources of information on the effects of the Sexual Revolution. Two that I have especially appreciated are The Pursuit of Happiness by Hope College professor, David G. Myers (New York: Avon Books, 1992) and Marriage Savers by newspaper columnist, Michael J. McManus (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1993). I will simply summarize, apply, and reflect on information they have collected, without further footnotes. My summary may be enough to begin equipping you to say a word or two on the topic.
THE CURRENT MARITAL/SEXUAL SITUATION
The current marital/sexual situation in most western countries is not encouraging. The numbers Myers and McManus report are mostly from the US. In Europe the overall picture is roughly the same, though a few details are different. In 1988, 51.5% of females age 15–19 had premarital sex, up from 29% in 1970. In the US during the 90’s we average about 1 million teen pregnancies per year, of which about 40% end in abortion. About 3 million teenagers alone have some type of sexually transmitted disease. About 100,000 women become infertile each year due to STDs. 31 % of American children have parents who were never married. (That number is shocking!)
Over 50% of couples cohabit, live together before marriage. 60% of marriages fail, 50% ending in divorce, 10% in separation. Before age 18, 3/5 of children of married parents will see their parents separate or divorce.
Those who have sex before marriage average about a 60% higher divorce rate than those who do not. The more sex partners a person has before marriage, the less likely they will be to have ahappy marriage. And cohabiting, contrary to myths about needing a trial-marriage, does not lead to happy marriages. On average: of 100 cohabitations, 40 lead to separation before marriage, 45 lead to separation or divorce after marriage, and 15 lead to a life-time marriage. This means 75% of marriages preceded by cohabiting end in divorce. (The majority of marriages not preceded by cohabiting are successful.) Those couples who did not cohabit before marriage report happier marriages and enjoy sex more than couples that did cohabit. And cohabiting women are 76 times (!) more likely to get beat up by their partner than married women.
The effects of our marital/sexual chaos are massive, disturbing many dimensions of the lives of adults, children and our entire society. Contrary to the modern myth, divorce leaves emotional scars that are readily documented 5 or 10 years later, that are far greater than the scars of losing a spouse to death. Divorced people tend to feel angry, rejected and humiliated.
The medical effects of divorce are almost as serious as those of smoking. Divorced men are twice as likely to die from heart disease, stroke, hypertension or cancer in any given year. They are 4 times more likely to die from auto accidents or suicide, 7 times more likely to die of pneumonia or cirrhosis of the liver, 8 times more likely to be murdered, and 10 times more likely to have psychiatric problems. The medical effects of divorce on women seem to be comparable in severity to the effects on men, though they were not reported as extensively in these sources. Just one example of the similar pattern: divorced women have 2 to 3 times the normal death rate for cancer of the mouth, breasts, lungs and digestive tract.
The economic effects of divorce or having children outside of marriage are becoming well known. 44% of single parent families live below the official poverty line, while only 6 or 7% of two-parent families fall below the poverty line. That makes one think that our marital! sexual chaos is not only the leading, but also the predominant cause of poverty in America.
The emotional scars on children of divorced parents are now known in greater detail than the general loss of structure and sense of rejection. Girls tend to develop a fear of abandonment by a husband or lover 5 to 15 years after their parents’ divorce. About 1 in 10 girls will fall into a delinquent pattern that will include things like assault, burglary, arson, drugs, theft and drunk driving. Boys from divorced families, 10 years after the divorce, tend to be lonely, happy, and have few lasting relation~ ships with girls. About 1 in 3 falls into a delinquent pattern for a time. All children from single parent homes are twice as likely to have behavior problems, divorced kids tending more toward suicide, illegitimate kids more toward violent crime.
The educational effects will be no surprise. Whereas only 12% of children from two-parent families repeat a grade in school. 22% of divorced children need to repeat a grade, and 38% of illegitimate children need to repeat a grade The effects of following the ideology of the Sexual Revolution can be seen in emotional, medical. social and educational problems. The Sexual Revolution probably ranks close to the Holocaust as a modern, tragic event that is closely tied to a secular ideology. And our culture urgently needs someone to speak up and say, “This is foolish!” I wish every Christian would memorize some of the information I have summarized and talk about it every chance we get. This would not repeal sin, but it might bring us back to making sexual sin socially unacceptable.
We must be careful that all this bad news does not give us a mostly negative message or a negative approach to life. The good news of forgiveness and healing in Christ should always shape what we say about the bad news. The research on the effects of the Sexual Revolution can increase our gratitude to God for the wisdom given in the Scriptures; and I find that this research strengthens my confidence in the overall Biblical message, much like the evidence for the resurrection of Christ does.
We must also be careful not to think that sexual chaos is a necessary part of postmodern life. The evidence shows that when the churches train people for successful marriages it really bears extensive fruit, whether this training is before or after the wedding. Successful lifetime marriages are possible, and they playa huge role in making people contented with life. Contented Christians in turn make the gospel attractive.
The future is an unwritten book from our perspective. Destructive sins that are entrenched in our culture do not need to stay that way. We need to regain confidence in God’s Word to us in Scripture and regain our understanding of how His law is built into creation. Both need to be proclaimed by every Christian, in the church and in the world.
Dr. Johnson is a PCA minister serving as a professor with the International Institute for Christian Studies in Prague, Czech Republic.