(By John Lomperis, Juicy Ecumenism). It is hard to overstate the degree to which American culture has gone through a very dramatic change in sexual mores in an incredibly short period of time. Around the country, even very evangelical pastors of evangelical congregations have noticed these cultural attitudes seeping in among those they shepherd.
In such a context, it is not enough for the church to simply repeat the Bible’s clear prohibitions of certain sexual thoughts and practices, as indispensable as those are. People in our culture need to hear from the church an overarching “positive, compelling vision of God’s plan for sexuality,” as the Rev. Dr. Jeremy Treat recently put it. Otherwise, we may be engaging in an impossible task of seeking to defend specific details of Christian teaching while unknowingly accepting and arguing within the bounds of a fundamentally non-Christian framework.
Treat was speaking in a recent conference in suburban Chicago called “Beauty, Order, and Mystery: The Christian Vision of Sexuality,” organized by the Center for Pastor Theologians (CPT). As CPT board member Dr. John Yates III explained, this center was founded to reclaim the practice of “ecclesial theology,” done by pastors within the communal context of the church, as much of the great theological writing of the past was done.
Yates noted that these rapid cultural changes are provoking church people to ask questions “about sexuality and sexual identity we wouldn’t have thought of a decade ago.” But he quickly added that being forced to ask such questions was actually “not a bad thing for the church,” as it “forces us to look at underlying questions,” such as “what it means to be human,” as we face “an age of anthropological heresy.”
Rev. Dr. Todd Wilson, a CPT co-founder, shared that when he began pastoring the suburban Chicago congregation hosting this conference, its neighbors referred to it as “the gay-hating church” in town, which “made it very hard for folk in the community to hear the gospel” from them. And then within the congregation, he saw younger members who were leading Bible studies and seemed like good candidates to be elders, except that they had an “affirming position” on homosexuality. He admitted that while he came into ministry thinking a priority was “needing to move people past the hard-edged fundamentalism,” Millennial churchgoers do not need too much pushing to feel compassionate—“they’re all about that already!”
This cultural “sea change” is of course not limited to homosexuality. The conference noted “alarmingly high rates” of premarital sex, adultery, pornography use, sexual abuse, and sexual dysfunction within marriage. “Millennials are awash in porn,” Wilson observed.