Premarital Sex “Healthy,” Chastity “Unreasonable” say Progressive Pastors

on November 29, 2018

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)

  1. Comment by Richard on November 29, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    Good article, and in particular the last three paragraphs not only apply to this article’s topic, but broadly apply to many areas where the UMC has decided to redefine scripture from previous teachings.

  2. Comment by William on November 29, 2018 at 8:02 pm

    Robertson might be a rising star, but certainly not for Christianity. Many like him have invented their own “religions” over these last 2,000 years only to disappear into the annals of time never to be heard from or about again. But, the real tragedy were (are) those who came under their spells as they were (are) led into the darkness.

  3. Comment by April User on November 29, 2018 at 8:21 pm

    Rule of thumb: level of intimacy commensurate with the level of commitment. Avoids lots of issues currently and in the future.

  4. Comment by MainPain on November 30, 2018 at 7:08 am

    Thank you for addressing this. 2 Timothy 3 Worldwide English (New Testament) (WE)
    3 Be sure of this. In the last days hard times will come.

    2 People will love themselves. They will love money. They will talk about themselves and be proud. They will say wrong things about people. They will not obey their parents. They will not be thankful. They will not keep anything holy.

    3 They will have no love. They will not agree with anybody. They will tell lies about people. They will have no self-control. They will beat people. They will not love anything that is good.

    4 They cannot be trusted. They will act quickly, without thinking. They are proud of themselves. They love to have fun more than they love God.

    5 They act as if they worshipped God, yet they do not let God’s power work in their lives. Keep away from people like that.

    6 They are the kind who go quietly into people’s houses. There they get foolish women to believe them. These women know that they have done many wrong things. And they want to do many kinds of wrong things.

    7 They are always trying to learn, but never able to find out what is really true.

  5. Comment by David on November 30, 2018 at 10:31 am

    Good article, however I do disagree with you the purity ring, I went to a ceremony at my church where we were given purity rings and I still wear mine today as I am single and abstinent at 29, this was a very memorable event in my teenage years and built a foundation for me and my friends to fight against sexual impurity and commit to our relationship with Jesus. Unfortunately our culture even in the Christian church is getting further and further from what the bible teaches, we are certainly in a lukewarm generalization.

  6. Comment by George on November 30, 2018 at 10:51 am

    Sad story that these pastors lead congregations and yet condone sexual immorality. Worship of sex is idolatry, plain and simple. The Bible clearly, time and time again, reiterates how displeasing that is to the LORD.

  7. Comment by Vic on November 30, 2018 at 10:51 am

    What does God’s Word have to say? This guy should NOT be in the pulpit!!!

  8. Comment by kim on November 30, 2018 at 11:18 am

    Matthew 7:22

    Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’…

  9. Comment by kim on November 30, 2018 at 11:20 am

    I also want to say, we can’t define God to make Him comfy cozy for US, to make a lounge chair God, a God who overlooks sin, a God who goes against His word and a God lets everyone do as they please. Nope, doesn’t work that way.

  10. Comment by Lynne Kelley on November 30, 2018 at 3:32 pm

    I once told a gay friend that the current moral decline began with straight people- with the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s, with premarital sex, and an increasing acceptance of adultery. The rise in homosexuality was only one piece of this moral decline. Rather than being offended, he was instead surprised. Surprised that someone would initially
    blame straight people, instead of separating gays out as “what was wrong with society.” This current acceptance of premarital sex (as well as same sex marriage) by some churches is evidence of a society further falling into moral decay. When I was engaged 28 yrs ago, I was one of about 6-7 other engaged women working in nursing and social work in an Oklahoma hospital. Some of these women were Christians. I was the only one who was engaged and not pregnant; in fact, at almost 30 years old and a virgin, (not shared widely) I was seen as quite a curiosity. If we want to make statements to the world about the Bible and morality, we also need to live up to the same Biblical standards. The world can’t stand hypocrites, and they won’t listen to the truth of the Bible if they don’t see us living genuine and loving lives.

  11. Comment by William on December 2, 2018 at 9:59 am

    My wife and I lived this “sexual revolution” that befell our culture in the late 60s right after we were married and were shocked and dismayed. We had to discontinue certain friendships, relationships, and acquaintances due to them getting caught up in this phenomenon. We were considered snobs by some. We turned to our church for sanctuary, but even there this evil reached in and destroyed marriages and lives. In hindsight, this sexual revolution was much more radical than initially perceived. All these years later, it is more obvious that the church failed to really address this. Now, in 2018, the widespread practice of sexual immorality is shaking the Christian Church to its very foundation. Another great awakening is so desperately needed across all Christian churches offering repentance and salvation to those caught up in this evil, those who have been destroyed and devastated by this evil. Pray God come and turn this evil around and get us back on the right course.

  12. Comment by Ellen on December 2, 2018 at 12:05 pm

    The only thing that could afford premarital sex was effective, modern contraception. It makes people reckless. Unfortunately, few in the Christian community have gone deep enough to consider all the implications of sterilizing the sex act. Certainly, it fueled the last 50 years of promiscuity. Also, if you sterilize the sex act, what is wrong with gay “sex?” It’s all sterile and boils down to feelings without order or sacrifice. What is the difference? Keep going downstream, and we now have the assertion that gender isn’t a biologically connected thing.

    Good Christians accepting contraception in their marriages should think more deeply about the rotten fruit on this tree, and perhaps it will lead them to see that, even within marriage, it creates entitlement, lack of meaning, loss of self-mastery, over-using sex at the expense of a deeper development of in emotional work, connection to p*rnography, etc.

    The marriage bond is a total gift of self. Contraception contradicts the “I give you everything” on the altar and withholds the very thing that would create sacrifice. No sacrifice, no love- just putting down the cross for some nice emotional and physical feelings.

    Indeed, it was men and women who started the normalization of sexual distortion and spread their errors. I think we’re still doing it in Christian marriage.

  13. Comment by Ron on November 30, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    As sad as these pastors are, I find it even more disheartening that they are accepted within their denomination. What ever happened to church discipline?

  14. Comment by Valerie on November 30, 2018 at 5:58 pm

    A mans morality will determine his theology.

  15. Comment by Steve on November 30, 2018 at 7:32 pm

    ‘Progressive’ is now regressive. Going back to the free for all sexual ethos of ancient paganism…good article.

  16. Comment by John Silvius on November 30, 2018 at 9:07 pm

    Many great points in “Comments” and I am encouraged by those who stand firm on the authority of Scripture. I wonder how Brandan Robertson would interpret the Apostle Paul’s opening discourse in his Epistle to the Romans, verses 18-32, and also his letter to Christians in pagan Corinth (1 Corinthians 6: 9-11): “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
    Praise to our Creator who made us to live with maximum blessing and fulfillment when we live by His Word.

  17. Comment by Kevin on November 30, 2018 at 10:35 pm

    I often get angry with “the church” body for singling out certain sins committed by non-believers (I.e. homosexuality) while turning a blind eye to the rampant sexual immorality and the many other sins within the church. We are not called to purify the world except throug Christ’s redemption. We are called, however, to keep ourselves and our fellow believers pure. How can we remove the spec from a brother’s (much less a non brother’s) eye until we remove the beam from our own eyes first.

  18. Comment by Meg on December 1, 2018 at 6:08 am

    I was raised in a “Christian” denomination that taught basically “anything that makes you happy and does not hurt someone else, is fine.” After coming to know “the Woed that became flesh and dwelt among us,” I can not refer to any man or woman who has basically thrown the Word out to let their own moral proclivity in, Christian. That is what goes on here.

  19. Comment by Willy J on December 1, 2018 at 10:39 am

    We have eleven Millennial grandchildren, three of whom have already failed the Biblical test. Have these three Pastors ever read, or understood Luke 17.1-2?

  20. Comment by Palamas on December 1, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    Ron, with regard to church discipline: 1) this is the Disciples of Christ, so Robertson is perfectly mainstream; and 2) there is no discipline, except possibly for clergy who stand for the faith once delivered to the saints.

  21. Comment by John on December 1, 2018 at 9:03 pm

    There are so many things I would like to address but I will keep it brief,
    1) There has been a great decline in adherence to what the scripture says. It is very direct and to the point on this matter.

    2) People have changed the image of God into what they want to mold him to be, as it says in Romans 1.

    3) There is no more reverence and fear of God anymore. He plainly states that all sin is wrong and he will judge those that commit it.

    4) This article puts me in the mind of my Greek studies in college. They are following after the Greek goddess Aphrodite. In the old Greek culture sexual immorality was widely accepted. History is repeating itself.

    Finally we need to be the leaders and examples that God called us to be…and walk as Christ walked. Don’t be on the left or the right but follow the straight path that was laid out before us by Christ’s example and his word.

  22. Comment by Allen Fuller on December 3, 2018 at 1:10 pm

    Sexual sin is a huge problem.

    I dealt with a lot of brokenness in that area in my own life. God, through the power of His love (which sounds cliche but is actually the most powerful force in the universe), gave me victory in a startling way that I never was able to achieve on my own. Yet I still have to be vigilant to walk in victory, primarily by sticking close to the God that satisfies my true longing for love and makes all fake imitations feel as shallow as they really are.

    Now I am dealing with trying to guide my son through similar brokenness, and I am praying hard that he experiences the same victory.

    However, it’s only possible if we pursue God hard, and hold Him above our sexual satisfaction. In fact, sex is an idol in every culture and certainly is today. “You shall have no other gods before Me” applies! I only experienced victory after 1) I experienced God’s love as a true, tangible and concrete thing in my own life (that is, that God really loves ME) and 2) I was willing to trust God enough to lay my entire sexuality on the altar (give it up completely to Him).

    This is the hard and yet surprisingly easy road of the Good News! “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is here!” God is here, and He wants to be with us (Immanuel). He loves us! And because of His love, we can trust that His ways are better for us, even if it requires lifelong chastity or even celibacy on our behalf. We should see this not as a deprivation but as a blessing, a protection from a false, shallow, and substitute source of satisfaction that will ultimately sidetrack us from experiencing true satisfaction in Him.

  23. Comment by Robert on December 10, 2018 at 4:26 pm

    Once again, it’s articles like this that affirms to me how lost the Christian community has become and how rabidly anti-sexual it still is
    Did you notice that not once did this article condemn Brandan Robertson’s openly sinful homosexual lifestyle, it instead focused on his beliefs on pre marital sex

    You see, in the minds of the rabidly, evangelical, conservatives self righteousness, there is nothing more evil than “sex” especially sex between consenting straight people
    How they can do this, whilst turning a blind eye to the sin of homosexuality, even when it’s straight in front of them, is beyond me

    It looks like the Christian’s war on healthy sexuality is still amongst us in 2018
    By the way, I’m not promoting promiscuity, even though others who read my comment in here will accuse me of that, I’m merely pinpointing the Church’s blatant hypocrisy on sexual issues
    Knowing what I know about how censorious and judgmental Christians are, especially if you don’t agree with what they say, I highly doubt my comment will be published in here
    That’s ok, it says more about their vicious hatred of sex, than it says anything about me

  24. Comment by Gentleman on June 28, 2019 at 4:20 pm

    Christian’s and their religion are such a double-standard. Almost every christians I know has had sex before marriage, masturbates, has cheated on their spouse(s), and about half of them have divorced, remarried and divorced, again. And they still have the nerve to rail against homosexuality.
    One thing christians are “pure” on being is “pure hypocrites!” The rest of us think you’re a joke!

The work of IRD is made possible by your generous contributions.

Receive expert analysis in your inbox.