Following up on the Countryman series, I have to wonder: Where is the serious Christian teaching on premarital sex? Or the purpose of sexuality more generally? He sketches out some principles, but I don’t know that our churches (i.e., mainline Protestant one) are really teaching much in the way of a substantive sexual ethic.
It seems to me that it’s unrealistic to expect people to remain virgins until they’re married, particularly when people are frequently delaying marriage till their late 20s or early 30s (or beyond). Nor is it altogether clear how you’d justify such an expectation. Moreover, Christians do more harm than good when they insist that losing your virginity means losing your “purity” or that people who have sex before they’re married are somehow damaged goods.
Mainliners typically don’t adopt the more zealous pro-chastity rhetoric and tactics favored by some evangelicals, but what have they replaced it with, if anything? What are teenagers and young adults in our churches learning about how they should carry out their sexual lives? Since I was not a churchgoer during that particular period of my life, I really have no idea what our churches are saying about this stuff. But it seems to me that we need to say something.
I do get the impression that mainliners almost expect there to be a period during young adulthood when people leave the church and “sow their oats,” only to return once they’re settled down (married, having kids). So we can leave any teaching about pre-marital sex to a kind of benign neglect. Leaving aside whether this pattern will continue to hold (more likely, it seems to me, that fewer and fewer people will bother coming back to church), this hardly strikes me as a responsible approach since the vacuum left by the church will be filled with who-knows-what from the surrounding culture. But what is the alternative?