Q: What does the seventh commandment require?
A: The seventh commandment requires us and everyone else to keep sexually pure in heart, speech, and action.
I think it’s undeniable that evangelical or orthodox Christianity has faced a crisis in the past few decades because of challenges to sexual mores. The pervasiveness of pornography, the fluidity of sexual identity, the shifts in gender politics, and the increasing permissiveness in mainstream cultural expectations have created a fraught environment for Christians and their families.
There’s a lot of things to mull over, but I’d like to post some thoughts on a basic issue: how to promote a Biblical integrity of sexuality amongst the youth in our church that can be effectively sustained.
Everything that I am about to say should be qualified by the fact that I haven’t actually had any practical experience parenting someone into and past puberty; more to the point, sexual purity is something that has frustrated me ever since my own puberty — and continues to frustrate me still. Indeed, what I share is generally based on what I’ve learned in my own Sisyphian struggle with temptation and sin over the years, and I speak not as a victor but as a veteran.
One thing abundantly clear is that some of the old historical tactics do not work: shame, denial, oppression, and suppression. I would argue that often such measures tried to apply pressures and incentives that ultimately promoted a “salvation-by-works” mentality as well as the connotation that sexuality itself is fundamentally problematic.
There is a place for protection and censorship; there is no need to needlessly expose our children to material too mature for their comprehension or concern. On the other hand, I also don’t think there’s a need to be coy or evasive or worse — misleading. I think we’re much more ready, in our faith, to be clear-eyed about the intentional goodness and inevitable depravity in most other areas of reality, but we have a hard time being plainspoken when it comes to sex. We do not yet have the infrastructure and, more importantly, have not yet had the dialogue within NewCity to discuss if and how sex education should be broached with our youth, but that’s a conversation we should begin soon.
We must not preach the gospel but then reduce the struggle in this area to a battle of willpower against desire. This is not a gladiatorial arena that young men and women enter at puberty and emerge defeated or triumphant at the wedding aisle. As the catechism question suggests, this is about an all-encompassing worldview that is shaped from birth and will be contested and subverted throughout one’s life.
I propose that we must teach about sexual purity the way we teach other things: early and often, with our words and with our example, in controlled scenarios and prepared times of independence.
We must teach that the goal of relationships is not acquisition or power but a deep faith and investment in the value and potential of others. We must teach that outward appearances are superficial while the true value of persons are uncovered in magnanimous commitments. We must show that one will find the most profound security, acceptance, and recognition in Christ’s love, and that longing, loneliness, and ennui speak not to an emptiness of sensual pleasure but a deeper hunger for meaning and joy absent in a bankrupt world of surfaces, scores, and slavish pursuits. We must show how loops of temptation and titillation hijacks our brains in delusions of fulfillment that deflect us from the straight and narrow. And we must provide the skills, tools, and inclination to critique the latent messages and assumptions around us.
We can, further, provide and promote paths of service and worship. And we can encourage an environment that celebrates a holistic interaction between genders — one that that does not narrowly define identity mainly through stereotypes of sexual pursuit and conquest, threat and isolation.
Finally, we must prove ourselves to be a harbor of truth, acceptance, forgiveness, and safety. We can be blunt about the dangers and pitfalls, but we must be equally emphatic about the unconditionality and availability of our love to our children. We must be willing and ready to have our transparency and trust tested again and again.
We can, we should, we must do this now, before we think sexuality is an issue. It is already an issue. We are living on Fantasy Island; the solution is not to find a cave and hide but to see it for what it really is.