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Today’s post is part two in a three-part series on Millennials and sexuality. Here are the other two posts for your reference:
Last Friday, I published a blog post called “Sex, God, and a Generation That Can’t Tell the Difference,” which outlined some recent data from the Public Religion Research Institute on the ways Millennials view sexuality. Today, we’re going to look at a few of the steps that I think may be helpful for Christians to take when working through less-than-biblical sexual ethics with Millennials who aren’t Christians.
Perhaps you have a child who grew up in the church but is sliding a bit in this area. Or maybe you’re a youth pastor and you see some of your high school students becoming more accepting of unbiblical sexual ethics. Whatever your situation, my hope is that this post helps you reform your strategy for tough conversations with unbelievers around the matter of sexuality.
I talk with a few non-Christian friends on a regular basis, and while the steps I outline below aren’t the end-all-be-all ways to have constructive conversations about sexual ethics with unbelievers, I can speak from experience that these have worked well for me.
Pastors, church leaders, Christians in general, you have to understand: unbelieving Millennials don’t share your sexual ethic, and you’re not going to have much luck changing their thoughts on the spot through firm conversations or Facebook posts.
It’s going to take time. It’s going to take patience. It’s going to take some kindness. So here we go three (of many possible) steps to addressing Millennials’ lack of sexual morality:
Really the first step is to understand where whomever you’re talking to is coming from, and usually, they’re defending their particular sexual ethic on one of two, or both, of these bases: 1) identity and/or 2) freedom.
The matter of identity is more pertinent when it comes to discussions around the matter of homosexuality or transgenderism. Throughout this whole RFRA conversation, Christians (myself included) have used examples like, “Well I wouldn’t expect a Jewish butcher to serve me pork, so Christians shouldn’t have to serve same-sex weddings.” I get it—like I said, I’ve used that analogy.
The problem with that analogy is this: eating pork is not central to the identity of the Christian (except for maybe a few of my Southern Baptist friends), and for the gay and lesbian community, marriage is central to their identity. Think about it for a minute, and it makes sense. If you found your identity in the fact that you’re a heterosexual, and you were refused something because you wanted to get married to someone of the opposite sex, it would be upsetting! Much more upsetting than not being served pork, to be sure, and I love BBQ.
To the Christian, same-sex marriage is promotion of sinful behavior. To the gay and lesbian community, same-sex marriage is the ability to freely express their identity. And, Christian friends, even if we think the gay and lesbian community is wrong and in sin, that’s fine, but we have to at least understand the root of the hurt when we want to deny them service. Understanding them is, I think, one step toward loving them and calling them to an identity found in Someone greater than themselves.
So, when it comes to expression of one’s sexual ethic, identity and freedom are intertwined much of the time (see the same-sex marriage example above). But sometimes, sexual freedom is a much bigger driver of one’s sexual ethic than one’s identity. For example, for the college sophomore that maintains a sexual ethic that he’s allowed to sleep around all the time: he’s not maintaining that because he think he would be less human if he didn’t. He maintains such an ethic simply because he wants the freedom to feed his passions.
If you’re talking with a young person who maintains their sexual ethic more because they want the freedom to do what they want than because they find their identity in expressing their sexuality, it’s good to know that, even if it’s wrong. One of the best ways I have found to talk with people like this is to affirm the goodness of sexuality as God has created it and point them to a sexual freedom that frees them from the bondage of their passions. I’ve written on this blog before, “Free yourself from sexual freedom by finding joy in Jesus and contentment in commitment.”
Take a deep breath. It’s OK. I promise it’ll be fine. I’m not jumping the shark on you here.
Christian friends, look, you and I both know that sexual immorality is sinful and an act of defiant rebellion against the good creation and order of God. Whether it be homosexual acts, adultery, or some other form of πορνεία, God calls it “sin” or even “abomination.”
Asking an unbeliever to reconsider their rogue sexuality is no small task.
Here’s the thing about the concept of “sin,” Christian friends: non-Christians don’t really care what you and I call “sin.” Unless the Holy Spirit is working in their hearts, pushing on their consciences, giving them that first tinge of “Something isn’t right here,” non-Christians really couldn’t care less if a particular sexual preference is an abomination to an ancient deity.
How much do you care when Muslims say that calling Jesus “God” is blasphemy? Yeah, that’s about how much non-Christians care that you call certain sexual activity sinful…at least at first.
I have found it most helpful in conversations with unbelieving friends to lead with where we agree. Figuring out where our sexual ethics intersect is one of the first steps to a healthy conversation about sexual ethics (or any matter of ethics, really). This sort of strategy is no secret though, really. I’m not the first one who discovered that finding common ground is the key to constructive conversation about a controversial issue.
After finding some common ground, invite your unbelieving friend to share how and why they believe what they do, and then kindly ask (if you aren’t invited to) if you can share your point of view. Then, when you enter into your point of view, explain your sexual ethic, what you believe is appropriate, what you think is inappropriate, and why it matters that inappropriate sexuality is “sinful.”
Those who don’t believe in our God aren’t going to care what our God does not like. When you’re talking with unbelievers about sexual ethics, or anything for that matter, start with the gospel—the center of the Christian faith—and then move to matters of sin and righteousness. People aren’t going to care if they’re sinning if they don’t even know the One they’re sinning against.
When you’re talking with unbelievers about sexual morality, talk about sin, just don’t start there.
Because Millennial sexual ethics are deeply rooted in either 1) identity or 2) freedom, convincing someone to align their sexual ethics with the Scriptures is going to take time. I mean think about it: Christians can’t even get their sexual ethics right sometimes.
Sexual freedom is a fraud of the freedom we find in Christ.
Asking an unbeliever to reconsider their rogue sexuality is no small task. When an idol wins the ever-ongoing King of the Hill war in the human heart, it doesn’t give it up easily. When sexuality, like any idol, has burrowed its way into the heart so deep that it has wrapped its poisonous tentacles around the human identity, the imago dei is strangled nearly to its death, and only the gospel can cut it free.
Jesus loved the woman at the well when no one else would, but he didn’t leave her in her sin either. He told her to go and sin no more. Notice he didn’t start there, but he did get there.
You must pray. You must love. You must be patient.
Sexual freedom is a fraud of the freedom we find in Christ. Expose it for the lie it is, but don’t hate the one who’s been conned. We’ve all believed that lie before, and we believe it all too often still. Find the foundation, talk about sin when the time is right, and be patient. Be like Jesus.