How to Teach Sex
Last year, a National Association of Evangelicals Generation Forum held at Wheaton College addressed the goal of reducing the abortion rate both inside and outside the church as it also released its helpful study document Theology of Sex. Wheaton College provost Stanton L. Jones spoke about how churches could deepen and refocus their message about sexuality. The following is a portion of his address.
There have been over 45 million legal abortions in the U.S. since elective abortion was legalized in 1973. This loss of human life is roughly equivalent to the numbers exterminated in the Soviet gulags during the Stalinist repressions or the Communist purges in China under Mao—statistics I have used in other contexts to epitomize the depths of human depravity.
What can Christians really do to help reduce abortion? The church's response must be multifaceted:
- We must educate and shape our young people, indeed all of our people in a deeper and truer understanding of sex. Evangelical Christians need to learn to celebrate and embrace their sexuality and to live out their sexuality in holiness, and thus to have no occasion for abortion.
- We must shape the consciences of our congregants and of our communities, especially on the value of human life.
- We must create communities that support sexual restraint and responsibility for the unmarried adults in our midst who often are lost in a "meat-market" culture.
- We must empower church members to be articulate citizens who understand the moral bedrock on which civic law and liberty is ultimately grounded, articulate citizens who exercise their democratic rights to shape the law of the land.
- We need to support those who articulate a thoughtful and effective prophetic witness against killing unwanted human beings.
- We need to extend works of compassion toward children in need of foster care and adoption so that there are viable alternatives for a good life for children spared from abortion.
- We must work to create ways for people to escape poverty and the sense of hopelessness and despair that is too common for many in our culture and from which decisions to perform abortions too often issue.
- We need to contribute mightily to the strengthening of marriage, and strengthen also the support our church communities give to single-parent and broken families in a time when the bulk of abortions are performed not on pregnant teens but on unmarried adult women, many of whom already have one or more children.
- And we must pray without ceasing.
This is a daunting to-do list. I will focus on the first of these calls to action, because a positive, profoundly biblical understanding of sexuality is desperately needed in evangelical churches today.
For a community that prides itself on being "biblical," it is shocking how out of focus our views of sexuality can be. A biblical view of sexuality is a profoundly positive, profoundly appealing, and profoundly life-affirming foundation from which to address the abortion problem. Evangelicals are fundamentally not anti-abortion—at the most basic level, we are defined by what we are for rather than what we are against. We are fundamentally life-affirming and sexuality-affirming because we celebrate the truths that are ours in Jesus Christ.
Unfortunately, we start the formation of our young people's understandings of sexuality tardily, anemically, ambiguously, and ineffectively. We are stuck in avoidant, negative, sub-biblical paradigms for thinking about sexuality. Our pastors avoid the topic except for the safest messages, which too often are shame-oriented, "just say no" litanies. We engage easily in negative culture-war rhetoric. Sadly, too many evangelical leaders fail to live up to the standards they proclaim and become very public examples of hypocrisy. Competing views about sexuality take advantage of these failures and seduce our youth.