sexual ethics

Scott Bessenecker 10-24-2016

American evangelicals hold their theological and social views with deep conviction. We tend to add a layer of moral certitude to our positions. This can sometimes be helpful in the struggle for justice. But if every issue becomes the social or theological hill we choose to die on (or to kill on), then there are too many of us killing or dying on too many hills.

In part, this dogmatic tendency stems from the evangelical belief in absolute truth. In a world gone radically relativistic, this belief is a good thing. But when these convictions are challenged, it can feel like an assault against universal truth itself. We may fear that if one of our beliefs needs correction, then our presupposition about any truths that transcend time and culture are at risk.

David Gushee 09-26-2016
Alex Mit / Shutterstock

Alex Mit / Shutterstock

There is no legislative solution to the problem of abortion. There is no president who can end abortion. There is no Supreme Court justice who will solve abortion.

This is not just because we Americans, including we American Christians, have been shouting at each other about abortion for more than 40 years, with no end in sight. It is not just because the conflicting beliefs that people have about abortion are unlikely to change. It is not just because our polarized interest groups and political parties now gain support off of abortion. It is not just because the two “sides” on abortion are roughly balanced and appear likely to remain so.

Abortion is the sad song that never ends. It never ends because at one level it is an intractable human problem, visible in all times and cultures. It goes like this: Fertile heterosexual males and females are needy, passionate, sexual creatures who are drawn to each other and often end up having sex. They do so for all kinds of reasons, some good, some just okay, some terrible. When a fertile male and fertile female are “shooting with live bullets,” sometimes the woman will get pregnant. This is true sometimes when they are using birth control and certainly when they are not using birth control. The God-given power of mammalian reproduction is not easily denied.

Almost every known society has attempted to create systems of social control to limit sexual contact between fertile men and women, in large part because of the procreative power of the mature human body. These have been remarkably comprehensive social systems. They have involved religious, political, legal, moral, communal, and familial efforts to train attitudes, impose constraints, inflame fears, and so on. Always they have involved efforts to limit private contact between sexually mature men and women outside of the socially approved context for procreation—usually, marriage.

Abby Olcese 02-13-2015
Screenshot from 'Fifty Shades of Grey' trailer.

Screenshot from 'Fifty Shades of Grey' trailer.

This Valentine’s Day, two films will battle for the hearts and minds of the American public. One of them is Fifty Shades of Grey, the popular culture juggernaut that has earned millions of dollars worldwide. The other is a Christian-produced independent film, Old Fashioned, which bills itself as the scrubbed-up, evangelical alternative.

Having faith-based responses to secular media (and saying Fifty Shades of Grey is secular is a little like saying the Grand Canyon is big) is more than appropriate. It’s necessary. Otherwise we risk ignoring the vital words of Romans 12:2: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Christians and non-believers alike should be regularly exposed to art that causes them to question the world around them.

Sadly, Old Fashioned is not the movie to fit that bill. Both it and Fifty Shades of Grey present dangerously unrealistic portraits of relationships — one just does it without the sex.

John Bacon 03-28-2013

An effort by Boston College administrators to shut down a student-run program to distribute condoms and provide information on safe sex could end up in court, according to Boston media outlets.


School officials sent a letter this month threatening disciplinary action to students behind “Safe Sites,” the network of dorm rooms serving as outlets for condoms, lubricants and other material.

The students were told the effort conflicts with the “responsibility to protect the values and traditions of Boston College as a Jesuit, Catholic institution.”

Jeanie Groh 10-29-2012
 North-Central India, XI century A.D., Sandstone

North-Central India, XI century A.D., Sandstone

With their “True Love Waits” jewelry, conferences and T-shirts, Christians may be the face of the abstinence movement, but Muslims and Hindus are more likely to abstain from premarital sex.

That's the conclusion of a new study in the American Sociological Review, which also found that Muslims and Hindus -- at least in the developing world -- are more likely than Christians and Jews to refrain from extramarital sex.

“All major world religions discourage sex outside of marriage, but they are not all equally effective in shaping behavior,” said Amy Adamczyk of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who co-authored the study with John Jay doctoral student Brittany E. Hayes.

Drawing on the Demographic and Health Surveys funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the study included data from 31 developing nations collected between 2000 and 2008. The authors focused on individuals' responses to questions on religious affiliation, marital status, and sexual behavior outside of marriage.

Adamczyk said the study evolved from another study she was doing that found countries with large Muslim populations have very low rates of HIV and AIDS. "I was trying to figure out why that would be,” she said. One reason she considered was lower rates of sex outside of marriage.

Frank Schaeffer 08-03-2012

Girl wearing a "purity ring" that says, "It's for you ... not him." Photo by LovelySoulsCollide via Wylio.

"Chastity is getting a makeover. Surrounded by a sex-saturated society, millions of young people are pledging to remain virgins until their wedding night. But how, exactly, are evangelical Christians convincing young people to say no when society says yes?"

So writes Christine J. Gardner in her brilliant new book Making Chastity Sexy: The Rhetoric of Evangelical Abstinence Campaigns.

Making Chastity Sexy is important and perceptive in a profound way that casts light on a large subject — religion in general and evangelicalism in particular when it comes to attitudes toward sex, life, and religion.

Gardner (an evangelical herself who teaches at an evangelical school) takes her readers far beyond the mere investigation of sex education/abstinence campaigns to make the point that individualistic society and the autonomous self have become the sole means of the "wait until marriage" virginity-sanctifying movement.

In other words the evangelicals are using pop culture techniques just to make abstinence "sexy."

Alessandro Speciale 06-04-2012
St. Peter's Basilica, Luciano Mortula /

St. Peter's Basilica, Luciano Mortula /

A long-simmering conflict between the Vatican and American nuns erupted again on June 4 when the Vatican's doctrinal office issued a scathing critique of a popular book on sexual ethics by Sister Margaret A. Farley, one of the first Catholics to teach at Yale Divinity School.

After two years of study, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a “notification” on Farley's “Just Love: A Framework for Christian Sexual Ethics,” saying it contradicts Catholic doctrine on key issues such as gay marriage, homosexuality and divorce.

Coming just days after U.S. nuns rejected the Vatican's reasoning for a wholesale makeover, and a year after U.S. bishops sanctioned another nun theologian, the condemnation of Farley is the latest example of what critics see as a top-down attempt to muzzle women's voices and an obsession on sexual ethics.

Tripp Hudgins 10-02-2011
Part of a university education is learning how to navigate the complicated and often competing value systems of different social groups.