From time to time we hear some telling us that evangelical Christianity must retool our sexual ethic if we’re ever going to reach the next generation. Some say that Millennials, particularly, are leaving the church because of our “obsession” with sexual morality. The next generation needs a more flexible ethic, they say, on premarital sex, homosexuality, and so on. We’ll either adapt, the line goes, or we’ll die.
This argument is hardly new. In the early 20th century, this was precisely the rhetoric used by liberal Protestant Harry Emerson Fosdick and his co-laborers. Fosdick was concerned, he said, for the future of Christianity, and if the church was to have a future we would have to get over our obsession with virginity. By that, Fosdick didn’t mean the virginity of single Christians but the virginity of our Lord’s mother.
The younger generation wanted to be Christian, the progressives told their contemporaries, but they couldn’t accept outmoded ideas of the miraculous, such as the virgin birth of Christ. What the liberals missed is that such miracles didn’t become hard to believe with the onset of the modern age. They always had been hard to believe from the beginning.
Joseph’s reaction to Mary’s announcement of her pregnancy, after all, wasn’t, “Well, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” He assumed that she had been sexually unfaithful. Why? Because he and his contemporaries knew how people get pregnant.