Two weeks ago, younger evangelical leaders gathered in Washington D.C. to reflect about the shape Christianity should take in the world. Q, the conference hosted by Gabe Lyons, is one of the more interesting spots in the evangelical landscape. Self-conscious in its cultural (which is to say, not political) orientation, conference attendees are an interesting cross-section of the evangelical world. Some might be emergent, others might be Reformed, but no one talks much about all that. It's concern about social issues, rather than distinctive theological ones, that attendees seem to gather around.
In a breathtaking moment of unity, however, conference attendees affirmed that churches should advocate for contraceptives for the single people in their midst. After a panel discussion on the best ways to reduce abortions in the church (tacit answer: contraception), an instant poll put the question to attendees: "Do you believe churches should advocate contraception for their single twentysomethings?" The question is ambiguously worded (Advocate how? From the pulpit? Which twentysomethings? All of them?). But even so, 70 percent of respondents understood enough to say "yes."
To suggest that abortion within our churches is a problem is to put it too mildly: it is a scandal, a travesty, a matter for repentance and mourning. And the same goes for the frequency of pre-marital sex among evangelical singles. They are both, as panel participant Jenell Williams Paris aptly pointed out in her opening remarks, symptoms of a stunted theological understanding of human sexuality. (Which raises the question, of course, of why the panel was devoted to addressing these symptoms rather than eliminating the disease).
The problem exists on (at least) two levels. For one, it is easy for evangelicals to proclaim God's intentions for sexuality without remembering that our tone should not shift away from offering the "good news." Regardless of how loudly we shout from the rooftops that God made sex and it is good (a refrain that is sung more often than any other), until we are willing to live inside the goodness and examine it from within, our proclamation of its goodness will invariably ring hollow. It is not enough to name human sexuality as a good before moving on to our list of rules. We must allow ourselves to linger there, to reflect upon its unique texture and explore its inner recesses. If we will do that, our proclamation will ring with the sort of poetry that will convince people that we can genuinely say with God that he has made it very good indeed.
Yet even if our moral exhortation weren't tinged with fear and legalism, we would also need to overcome the failure of our communal life and our subsequent inability to welcome those into our midst who fail to live up to our ideals. The refrain among the panelists is a trustworthy statement deserving of full acceptance: those who do get pregnant before wedlock don't exactly feel at home in our churches. The fear, shame, and isolation that unexpectant mothers feel suggests that our churches rarely exude the warmth and grace of those who live under the mercy of Christ. Their report is reason for repentance, and for serious self-examination.
There may be no easy answers to these problems. And the most convenient—advocating for contraception for sexually active single people in our churches—may temporarily reduce abortions. Yet whatever good consequences it might have do not mitigate the fact that such advocacy will inevitably further engrain into our communities the broken understanding of sex and community that is at the heart of our predicament.