Last month I wrote a little something about a young progressive minister who called polyamorous and open relationships “holy” and “beautiful.” The minister is Brandan Robertson, a 26-year-old rising star among the Religious Left. This week, Robertson had some rather unusual thoughts to share on premarital sex during an interview with Huffington Post.
You should read the entire article. Three clergy members, including Robertson, are interviewed on various topics including the use of dating apps and dating non-believers. But I specifically want to focus on the question about premarital sex:
Huff Post: What’s your stance on premarital sex?
Robertson: I am pretty open with this question in front of my congregation: I think the evangelical church world that I come from has taught some really unhealthy ideas about sex and sexuality, and I spend a lot of my time trying to deconstruct “purity culture” in favor of a healthier, more holistic view of sexuality. I believe for some people, waiting for marriage before having sex can be a very healthy path. I also believe that for most people, sex before marriage is a healthy expression of the gift of sexuality and is not “sinful” or morally wrong.
In general, I try to push back against “hookup” culture in my own life, just because I don’t find having a lot of random sex very fulfilling (but I don’t judge others who do).
Unbelievable–but sadly not that unbelievable. At least, not for you folks who follow the work of the Institute on Religion and Democracy regularly.
As a refresher, Robertson grew up in an Evangelical church and attended Moody Bible College. He is now an openly gay author, speaker, and the senior pastor of Missiongathering Christian Church, a church plant affiliated with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in San Diego, California. He is also an acquaintance of mine, and I genuinely do not look forward to writing about him. But I also can not pretend to look the other way when a professing Christian leader is misguiding others on serious moral issues.
Another interviewee, Chalice Overy, an associate pastor at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina, offered this unorthodox answer:
Overy: My current view on premarital sex represents a tremendous evolution from my fundamentalist beginnings. I honestly think it’s unreasonable to expect people to wait until they are married to have sex if we expect people to make thoughtful decisions about who they marry.
This will be my first time dating without an intentional commitment to abstinence, so I have to see how it goes. I think a lot of people lead with sex and never do the hard work of intimacy. While sex can create attachment, it doesn’t necessarily create intimacy. I’m certain I won’t be leading with sex, and for some men, that will be a problem. I don’t mind these men going on their way. I want someone who wants to get to know me, not just my body; someone who is willing to invest in me because he recognizes my value beyond sex. But if we are willing to do the spiritual and emotional work of intimacy, should we deny ourselves the joy of physical intimacy? I don’t think so.
I can’t think of anything healthy about sexual immorality. Off the top of my head, I can think of all the unhealthy effects of premarital sex, from a woman’s perspective. Insecurity, a desire for false affirmation through intimacy, attachment, then feelings of rejection, and the cycle continues. All of these unhealthy effects are thwarted by the marriage covenant that should bring security, fidelity, and lifelong commitment.
It is difficult to read Christian clergy call premarital sex “healthy” and chastity “unreasonable.” But Robertson and Overy are not alone in their perspectives. Among young Evangelicals, there is a sort of unspoken green light hanging over premarital sex. A few years ago my colleague Barton Gingrich addressed this very trend in a brilliant article, “The Millennial Generation’s Acceptable Sin.” On premarital sex as acceptable, Gingrich wrote:
Young evangelicals must choose their master. Right now, too many follow their appetites and desires. They are bending God’s own standards to satiate their libido. Perhaps fear and repentance would not be amiss here—numerous portions of sacred Scripture indicate that sexuality expresses God’s character as carried out in his image-bearers. The cost of trespassing providential limits is too high. Beware your acceptable sins—they are the ones that will kill you. When a society caves in to one particular sin and twists the gospel to defend it (e.g. the antebellum South with slavery) that vice will become a canker on the soul and will eventually bring it to ruin.
Hardly anyone talks about young Evangelicals’ passive, if not affirming approach to premarital sex. Robertson mentioned the Evangelical church’s “unhealthy ideas about sex and sexuality.” Now I know that it is en vogue to bash Evangelical purity culture. I personally never encountered a purity ring growing up in a conservative Evangelical denomination. I recognize that others have, and the concept is admittedly silly. That was not my experience at multiple Evangelical churches and ministries I attended.
Personally, it would have been helpful if my youth group leaders, campus ministry leaders, and pastors had discussed what Scripture has to say about seeking chastity and also shared God’s mercy, forgiveness, and sanctification for those struggling with sexual purity.
Young Christians need guidance on these serious moral issues. Clergy, this is where your faithful Christian witness is so desperately needed.
May the Church have the courage to confront those “who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.” (Isaiah 5:20)