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May 07, 2009

Teen sex: The roots of our confusion

Palin and Prejean At On Faith, the Washington Post/Newsweek religion blog, David Waters asks some pertinent questions about teen sex:

Unwed, single, teenage mom Bristol Palin was being lauded on talk shows Wednesday -- National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy -- for encouraging other teenagers to abstain from sex. Meanwhile, Carrie Prejean (Miss California) was defending her title -- and her advocacy of "traditional marriage" -- because of sensual and revealing photographs taken of her when she was a teenage model.

I'm confused. Are we in favor of teenage sexuality or not? Are we OK using teenagers to model lingerie until they become public figures? Are we not OK with unwed teenage moms until they admit their mistakes on national TV?

These questions have prompted me to ask a question of my own, one that I've been thinking about for some time:

To what extent are we Christians to blame for the problem by hesitating to come straight out and call premarital sex a sin, even as we keep pushing to try to reduce its rates? That is, have we as a group been guilty of softpedaling the subject, of treating it as a social ill instead of a matter of disobedience, guilt, and repentance, because we're afraid of marginalizing ourselves and thus becoming ineffective?


(Image courtesy of the Washington Post)

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You are already marginalized, Gina. May as well go for it, if you believe in it.

Dan Gill

What the snippets of the article fails to say is that Bristol Palin has admitted her fault, her sin if you will. Carrie Prejean has not.

Extra-marital sex is wrong. Period. Posing in lingerie is tittilating and therefore wrong. Period. Frankly, the swimsuit that Carrie Prejean wore in the pageant was wrong. Leading someone into sin is sin. Period.

No Christians of my acquaintance are soft-pedaling premarital sex. I'm sure there are some who do, but they're wrong. Still, it does no good to point fingers and say, "Naughty, naughty!" Extramarital pregnancies happen and always have. It's sin, but we must help those in need regardless of sin.


@Dan Gill

I think you want to check out this story about the "Miss Beautiful Morals" pageant:



To what extent are we Christians to blame for the problem by hesitating to come straight out and call premarital sex a sin, even as we keep pushing to try to reduce its rates?

We keep treating pre-marital sex as an exclusively adolescent sin.

Teens will be more inclined to be chaste if adults are chaste.


You're absolutely right, Suzanne. In fact, that's what I was thinking of when I mentioned "premarital sex" in my question. I guess I could have made that a little clearer, but I wanted to keep things concise.

Dan Gill

Fred, you're being silly. There is a huge range of wardrobe choices between a burkha and a bikini. I'm sure you know that.

Jason Taylor

We have never been shy about calling fornication(not "premarital sex")a sin. Nor should we be. We simply have not been particularly hard on the sinners.

Nor should we have been in this particular case. While enforcment by social stigma was approved of once in the Bible for a particularly egreigious case of incestuous-adultery, the ban was removed once there was repentance. Ms Palin never gave the impression of someone in obstinate sin and therefore needs help not condemnation.


We weren't shy about it once, Jason. Looking around at the church and the culture, I'm not so sure about that anymore. Sometimes it seems to me that there's been a shift in our attitude, that we're not quite so willing to see it as an actual offense against God. We're more focused on the visible consequences than the effect on one's relationship with God.

Not that I'm calling for harsh punishments -- more like a different heart attitude.

Ben W

I don't think there is a lack of calling premarital sex sin, I think that people are just ignoring the Church on this.

Perhaps in addition, it's been tougher for churches that do preach about premarital sex to draw younger crowds, so what the church teaches shifts as a result of a sort of natural selection.

Jason Taylor

I suppose the attitude sometimes may be that it is venial because it is common.

Ben W

I guess it could seem like I contradicted myself. But as I have almost always attended churches that preached against extramarital sex, I just wanted to raise the possibility that it is not the teaching that is changing, but the followers. And as followers change, eventually so will the teachers.

It's harder than ever to convince kids to avoid premarital sex, since there are much fewer consequences than there were 50 years ago.. and as more women get educations and have careers, they also get married later, which makes it even tougher to resist natural urges.

Jason Taylor

Of course drawing younger crowds-or any crowds really isn't the point of it. If that was the goal the church should just show movies.

Be that as it may there is at least some reason to believe that it is the most lax that draw the least members. For much the same reason as "The few, the proud, the marines" often works better then "We'll pay for your college".

John C

Bristol Palin has come out and said her behavior was wrong - although she has said that it's 'unrealistic' to expect teenagers to adhere to a lifestyle of abstinence.

Carrie Prejean defended her photographs as typical fare for models in the profession, although she indicated she 'wasn't perfect' - and, I believe, still a virgin. We don't know enough about Ms. Prejean (at least, I don't) to know if her conversion to Christ was relatively recent or years ago before the photos were taken.

The photos are not what one would expect from a dedicated young follower of Christ - yet all of us know their public release is simply an attempt to smear someone who has publically come out in support of traditional marriage.

It's ironic, and galling, that NBC in their discussion of this issue felt a 'moral obligation' not to show them in their story (of course, they're of the same mild titillation level as the Sports Illustrated Annual Swimsuit Issue)...I wish they adhered to a similar standard the remaining hours of the day (!)


Dan Gill wrote

"Fred, you're being silly. There is a huge range of wardrobe choices between a burkha and a bikini. I'm sure you know that."

I think you missed a major point of the commentary, which is how beauty in Western pageants is equated with showing more and more skin. That echoes your concerns if a Christian in a swimsuit (e.g., Carrie Prejean) could be sending mixed signals about the holiness of the God she represents.

Sure, pageant contestants don't need to wear burqas, which would be really extreme. However, Christian contestants may want to rethink appearing in the swimsuit segment.


Maybe I'm crazy, but I'd like to see Christians become more focused on modeling healthy marriages and promoting the positive things about sexual expression within the sacramental boundaries set by God.

(Of course, secular marriage is not the same thing as holy matrimony, the covenant between man, woman, and God.)

I think that young people are hungry for honesty on these issues, and it is to the church's discredit that some have tried to make Christianity fit the culture.

All we can do is be true to God's standards. Beyond that, each person is responsible for his/her own choices and their consequences.


Gina wrote: "We're more focused on the visible consequences than the effect on one's relationship with God."

This is excellent, G, but I think there's a problem in referring only to these sins. Remember how the guys dragged a woman caught in the act of adultery before the teacher? He said they needed a lesson more than she did.

That said, I'll stand in for labrialumn (and if I've driven him away, I'm very sorry) and say that our attitude toward sin in general is far too lax and the Church needs to tell it like it is. Then I'll become tender like Rolley (or at least as close as *anyone* else could approach to his wonderful example) and say that reviling someone without offering them support is completely the opposite of our founder's example. Miss Prejean is being shown no mercy by her attackers; we shouldn't join them. And as I recall, Gina, you've stated it even more stridently: http://thepoint.breakpoint.org/2008/09/this-is-whats-k.html

As to your major point, I think the OT prophets would today be saying "When you sin - no matter *what* kind of sin - God feels like Elizabeth Edwards." On the other hand, we have no right to cast any of ourselves into the kind of outer darkness that the press and others have tossed John Edwards.

(Aside to Andy: "if you believe in it"? I was going to chide you for this, but it's a good point. To an outsider who doesn't necessarily realize that we believe in other things also, and are required to hold them all in dynamic tension, it may well appear that we pay this belief lip service. But we reject both the choices of unwed motherhood and absent fatherhood for all on the one hand, and public stoning - as was practiced in the Middle East 2,000 years ago, and still is today - on the other. Gina is simply saying that the dynamic tension has relaxed too much in one area. You are now free to rant that tightening it up a la James Dobson will cause all kinds of havoc. Rock on, dude, but be prepared to defend your position.)

Dan Gill

My bad, Fred. I missed the point of your link. Mea Culpa.


Lee, all I care about is when you folks quit preachin' an go to meddlin'. And if there ever was a meddler, it's James Dobson.

Jason Taylor

Andy, does that not translate into "All you care about is when you folks have the audacity to take what you preach seriously?"

Jason Taylor

And Andy, some might regard making a fuss about the BSA's right to decide who will be Scoutmaster, and the Army's right to decide it's own regulations to be "meddling".


Andy, the last thing we conservative Christians - including Dr. Dobson - want to do is meddle. We have two problems, though - first, we have to have some laws that specify that your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. Christians have as much right as anyone else to participate in defining law. Second, our view of what constitutes negligence is broader than most because we see value in community. (Atheists generally don't.)

Make sense?

Ben W

Well, it ain't meddling if it's your own affairs, obviously.

Rachel Coleman

So would anti-meddling atheists be willing to keep to themselves and their own affairs, too? That should mean my daughters wouldn't have to worry about being seduced by nonbelieving men who have no problem with extramarital sex?

The notion of "not meddling in the business of others" works, I guess, as long as everyone stays in his/her own yard.


Ben W wrote: "Well, it ain't meddling if it's your own affairs, obviously."

Ah, exactly. So now the question becomes where to draw the line between my own affairs and someone else's. And as I said, Christians have a view of negligence in particular, but also of liability in general, that is extremely broad.

It is with considerable trepidation that I venture to disagree with Gina; I've only read the books of men like Dobson and Colson, while she's had them as *employers*. But I believe the distinction Gina implies between the social realm and its visible consequences versus one's relationship with God is a false one. To explain that disagreement takes me into exposing my own theological closet, akin to what Rolley did a few days back.

I don't believe there's any difference between what is "done in private" and what "happens in public" and what "affects your relationship with God". I believe that on the basis of Chaos Theory. You've no doubt heard of the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can set off tornadoes in Texas. The basic idea is that in extremely complex situations even supposedly inconsequential changes can result in major effects.

Taking that from the theoretical to the practical, consider that Bristol Palin's decision to have sex with her boyfriend has resulted in the birth of a child who will grow up without his father in the household. Per sociological research promoted by (ahem) Dr. Dobson, we know that Tripp Johnston is at greater risk for problems than are children, particularly boys, who are raised with both a mother and father. And those problems could cause Tripp's powerful grandmother to be distracted at a critical time, leading her to make a mistake that affects many people. (And had Bristol had an abortion, then contracted breast cancer and died, what kind of distraction might *that* have been?)

Similarly, Carrie Prejean's decision to allow herself to be photographed partially nude, and the photographer's decision to allow those photos to be put on the Internet, means web statistics are available to determine just how often those photos have been downloaded. (Think of the viewing statistics published on YouTube.) Popularity statistics like that are the evidence that pornography (another realm investigated by Dr. Dobson, when he was on the President's commission) is a potentially *very* profitable business, especially when coupled with celebrity. This can have multiple impacts, including the death of Princess Diana as well as the kidnapping and sexual enslavement of young girls around the world. (Many porn stars are now saying that they were essentially enslaved.) Plus, consider all the men who will by viewing those pictures of Miss Prejean be that much more inclined to view women as sex objects instead of as human beings. Think of the women who are thus objectified, along with the possibly resulting calls for domestic dispute that can get a policeman killed. And so on.

Since I believe in God's omniscience and omnipresence, I believe He's aware of all of this. And in His omnipotence, He changes only those things that have the intended effects throughout time.

For more on this, you might want to read Ray Bradbury's short story "A Sound of Thunder". Skip the movie, though.

So, Ben and Andy, I don't believe Dobson's meddling because I don't believe anyone's affairs are truly private. All behavior has ripple effects. Premarital sex, salacious photography, and prettymuch anything else we do can have horrible results we would never want if we could know them as God does. Forcing Him to not only experience those results but also deal with them is cruel to Him as well as to our fellow human beings.

So it ain't meddling if it's your own affairs - or God's affairs, which kinda covers it all.

But that's enough of a workout for Gina's eyes, and I have work to get done so I can continue to watch the NBA playoffs. I'm still irked that Kobe Bryant got away with rape so easily. Gotta wonder what effects that has had on the kids who idolize him, and their future partners, but I repeat myself.


We disagree far less than you might think, LeeQuod. :-) Actually, I don't think we disagree at all. Let me try to clarify my original point, because I don't think I stated it very clearly before.

I'm not trying to draw a distinction between public and private behavior and/or consequences. That's not the point at all. I'm just saying this: What I seem to be seeing (and I mostly have anecdotal evidence for this, so I may be wrong) is more and more people saying things like "I made a choice that was unfortunate and has had bad consequences for myself and others, so it was not the right choice for me at that time," and fewer and fewer people willing to say, "I sinned."

(I'm not specifically referring to Bristol Palin or Carrie Prejean here. I'm talking about Christians in general.)

Does that make sense? Or should I try to unpack it a little more?

Ben W

Hmm. So, Gina and LeeQuod, would you favor legislation that made sin illegal, particularly pornography and extramarital sex? (obviously thievin' and murderin's already illegal).

And LeeQuod, I have to take issue with your application of Chaos Theory to theology/linguistics - yes, actions can have far-reaching and unforeseen effects, but that still doesn't make it your affairs.


It does make sense, Gina; thank you. And from my perspective of Chaos Theory theology, I'd say that anyone claiming something was a choice that was merely unfortunate, rather than potentially catastrophic, is saying they know as much as God. We most definitely can't know the consequences of our actions years into the future, but He does.

So when we find someone unwilling to say "I sinned", it's because they believe they have equality with God. (One guy did - but only one - and even he didn't cling to it.) And when someone tries to deal with Him as at best a peer, rather than as Someone vastly superior, they expose their great folly for all those willing to see it.

Worse, they show that their relationship with God is actually an abusive one, where the individual is willing to make God deal with a horrible situation that between two people would certainly result in multiple 9-1-1 calls. It's interesting to read the book of Hosea in Eugene Peterson's version "The Message". http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hosea%201%20;&version=65;
Not exactly how "Pretty Woman" with Richard Gere and Julia Roberts would lead us to believe marrying a whore is like. Yet, when we say "I made a choice that was unfortunate", God responds "Yes, and *I* get to pay for it." Even so, He repurchases us from the slave block and takes us home again to clean us up and love us. Just amazing.

So it's like Andy said at the start: "if you believe in it". Many actually don't, and just use church as a relatively benign social and cultural institution. Annie Dillard was right; if we really knew where we were going with Mom on Mother's Day (plus Christmas and Easter), we'd lash ourselves to the pews and wear crash helmets. We'd grab on and scream our lungs out in exhilarated fear at the roller-coaster ride of faith. We'd be thrilled by those screaming along with us, we'd never want the ride to end, and we *certainly* wouldn't want to do anything that would lessen the enjoyment of us or anyone else. (Rolley, go easy on those Milk Duds; I'm sitting right behind you.)

But the price of admission for this ride is saying "I sinned", and many are unwilling to pay. Then then they wonder why their lives are not much fun.

Jason Taylor

Ben, that is presuming more then has been said. Claiming the right to berate someone about a given sin is not necessarily claiming that it should be outlawed. Prudence and mercy as well as justice has it's claims.

And such legislation as you describe would also affect other peoples lifes in a detrimental manner by giving more power to the government.


Ben, as we don't live in a theocracy, I can see no way for that to work -- not without getting results like those faced by Soraya M. (see Catherine's post). So, no, you won't see me out marching for anti-fornication laws.

But the sad truth is that this freedom usually has to be paid for by others. We're free to commit adultery, so spouses and children get cheated on and/or left -- and too often sink below the poverty line, or are abused by Mommy's new boyfriend. We're free to have premarital sex, so innocent children are killed, or sometimes, again, born into poverty. So we have to have more laws to protect people from consequences of their own or other people's bad behavior.

As they say in the military in another context, freedom isn't free. Someone always pays -- quite often, an innocent bystander.


Ben W wrote: "So, Gina and LeeQuod, would you favor legislation that made sin illegal, particularly pornography and extramarital sex?"

Sure, if we could get something better than Potter Stewart's "I know it when I see it" definition. Oh, and if we could get legislators, police and judges to craft, enforce and administer those laws in a superhuman way. "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

In fact, Prison Fellowship Ministries (which sponsors The Point) exists because Chuck Colson saw injustice in our justice system. Now, compared to prisons in other countries (say, Turkey or any African nation, or Mexico) ours are paradise. But still.

So I'd favor them if the laws we already have for other crimes worked humanely. But I think getting laws written on human hearts is more important. And I believe that was something like Gina's point; making this behavior illegal actually makes it *less* likely that people will see the connection to God, repent, and be restored. They'd just try to figure out how to not get busted.

"And LeeQuod, I have to take issue with your application of Chaos Theory to theology/linguistics"

I forgive you anyway. ;-)

" - yes, actions can have far-reaching and unforeseen effects, but that still doesn't make it your affairs."

So, Ben, if some commuter is still hung over the next morning after his wife kicked him out of the house the night before when she discovered his affair, and in his bleary state his car mows down you and/or someone you love while crossing the street, you wouldn't believe that preventing that affair would be a good idea, and you wouldn't prevent it if you could? I have two daughters, and if I could destroy all the world's pornography to keep either of them from getting raped, I'd do it - even if it meant meddling in someone else's business. Dr. Dobson had a chilling interview with Ted Bundy right before Bundy's execution, where the serial killer discussed how his taste in pornography led to more and more violent material, and more and more unstable behavior. If the absence of that stuff would bring back just one of Ted's victims, would it be worth messing with some porn producer's income stream - i.e., his private affairs? And, in fact, meddling in the affairs of the actors, actresses, distributors, etc.? And meddling in the affairs of a Ted Bundy who wants to buy it?

Gina, can Ben borrow some concealer from you? I think his nose is starting to turn ever-so-slightly blue.

jason taylor

" - yes, actions can have far-reaching and unforeseen effects, but that still doesn't make it your affairs."

Besides the fact that, that is a dubious claim and can be interpreted as claiming immunity from retaliation if you press a point, few really behave as if they believe that. Which is why I am not allowed to ride without a seatbelt or jaywalk. Furthermore the left has at times been quite eager in using legislation to control who people associate with for the purpose of controling discrimination. If you wish to claim the necessity of that that is reasonable. But once doing so, you cannot claim that others have no business over your affairs.
The nature of society presupposes interdependance and if one accepts benefits and protection from others one should assume that others have some say over one's own behavior.

Rolley Haggard

Ooooh my stomach. Wish I hadn’t eaten all those sausages and deep-fried candy bars and steak-umms and fries and, and, and that double-scoop milkshake and, and that handful of Milk Duds….

O my, o my. Please, not the loop-de-loop. And that headwind. Oh please oh please. This could be a real test of friendship. "Greater love hath no man…..."

Forgive me, LeeQUORRRRTTT!


Of course you're forgiven, Rolley; I, uh, saw it coming...


I think the soft peddling begain (among Christians) when we tried to start young pregnant teens choose life. We started preaching a kinder message of forgiveness and acceptance in an effort to encourage them to carry their babies full-term.

I'm not saying it's right or wrong - these are tough questions.

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