The New Yorker’s Take on Evangelicals and Abstinence Education

The New Yorker’s Take on Evangelicals and Abstinence Education November 5, 2008

Found this in the New Yorker and thought that this outsider’s take on evangelicalism and its approach to sex was quite worth reading, if over-heated and wrong-headed in places:

“The “pro-family” efforts of social conservatives—the campaigns against gay marriage and abortion—do nothing to instill the emotional discipline or the psychological smarts that forsaking all others often involves. Evangelicals are very good at articulating their sexual ideals, but they have little practical advice for their young followers. Social liberals, meanwhile, are not very good at articulating values on marriage and teen sexuality—indeed, they may feel that it’s unseemly or judgmental to do so. But in fact the new middle-class morality is squarely pro-family. Maybe these choices weren’t originally about values—maybe they were about maximizing education and careers—yet the result is a more stable family teens1system. Not only do couples who marry later stay married longer; children born to older couples fare better on a variety of measures, including educational attainment, regardless of their parents’ economic circumstances. The new middle-class culture of intensive parenting has ridiculous aspects, but it’s pretty successful at turning out productive, emotionally resilient young adults. And its intensity may be one reason that teen-agers from close families see child-rearing as a project for which they’re not yet ready. For too long, the conventional wisdom has been that social conservatives are the upholders of family values, whereas liberals are the proponents of a polymorphous selfishness. This isn’t true, and, every once in a while, liberals might point that out.”

–From “Red Sex, Blue Sex” by Margaret Talbot.

There are several matters with which to (strongly) quibble here.  The idea that children born to working parents who had children later in life are better off than children from more traditional evangelical families is shaky at best, for example.  By what standard–stats?  That’s not enough for me.

The article generally tries to make the point that despite strenuous sex education efforts, evangelicals turn out children who are more sexually promiscuous than the children of non-evangelicals.  It follows the line of a recent book entitled Forbidden Fruit: Sex and Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers by Mark Regnerus.  Though one would certainly cite some different factors than do either Talbot or Regnerus for this phenomenon, it seems that they are onto something.  Evangelicals as a culture do seem to be failing at sex education.  Talbot’s words in the above paragraph heap shame on us, for even a writer for the New Yorker realizes that we do a poor job of practical instruction of our children when it comes to sex.

This is a travesty, a recipe for disaster, because we live in a sex-drenched society.

What is the solution?  Local churches that train parents not simply to answer tricky questions about sex, but to provide a personally enveloping and spiritually captivating worldview that approaches sex from a deeply theological point of view.  Children need to learn that sex, like all things, was created for the glory of God, that it is not dirty or unmentionable but is inherently good, and must not be enthroned as the chief good of life.  Instead, sex, like all good gifts, must be carefully stewarded in service to Christ.

Boys and girls and men and women who preserve themselves sexually do not merely check off the right boxes, but do something far greater than merely gratifying their pleasures.  They reflect glory back to God and stand with Christ in the great story of the ages, preserving their souls and bodies for the realm of heaven.  To sinfully gratify, then, is to offend God and to coarsen our existences, to choose something lesser for ourselves.  To preserve ourselves is to honor the Lord and participate with Him in the great and glorious fight against darkness.

Once a worldview is in place, then parents need, under the headship and accountability of the local church, to involve themselves very carefully in the lives of their children, helping them choose good friends, participate in helpful social circles, discern good and bad in culture, and learn to love what is beautiful and good and true.  Biblical education of an ongoing, world-encompassing sort, the kind advocated in Deuteronomy 6 and taught in the van, at the dinner table, on walks, and after church, will do far, far more to train children in righteousness than pawning one’s kids off on the local youth minister, which many parents today seem to do.  You cannot franchise out your child’s spiritual development; we who are parents have to take up the continual work and stay close to our children if we would see them become holy in an unholy world.

When the New Yorker is lecturing us on parenting, it’s time to take it with deadly seriousness.  For generations, we’ve let others–coaches, teachers, youth ministers–train up our children, and we’ve acquiesced to a wealth culture that harms the traditional family by removing Mom and preoccupying Dad.  The results are disastrous.  Perhaps we will see a return in the church to the simple but powerful way of raising children: close to the hip, saturated in the gospel, practical and honest to the end.

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