Today we are going to enter the realm of love, sex, and relationships.
This is a realm where my status as the husband of an imaginary wife and father of 2.6 imaginary children gives me unparalleled expertise.
To guide our thinking on this thorny topic (Don’t I just completely and totally rock this alliteration thing?), I direct your attention to a pair of posts written by a regular contributor at internetmonk.com who writes under the handle “Mule Chewing Briars”. These posts are part of a larger and ongoing series entitled “Losing The War”, which deals with several realities that present-day evangelicalism must reckon with in the wake of recent defeats in the culture war. Be advised: These posts are not designed for easy consumption. It will take some effort for you to wrap your head around what Mule Chewing Briars is saying here. But in the end it will be very much worth the effort. Here is the first, and here is the second.
“The more things change the more they stay the same”, but some things are just gamechangers and that’s all there is to it. In the first post, Mule Chewing Briars looks at some gamechangers that have transformed the realm of love, sex, and relationships in the overall world into something you would find completely and totally unrecognizable if you grew up more than fifty years ago, and the ripple effects which these changes have had inside of the Church. All branches of Christianity have been impacted, not just evangelicalism.
In the second post Mule Chewing Briars, who writes from an Orthodox perspective, gives us a glimpse of what the world of love, sex, and relationships looks like from the vantage point of Eastern Orthodoxy. A couple of things stand out: First, the Orthodox view of marriage, specifically of the purpose of the marriage ceremony, is different from Western Christianity. In the Orthodox way of looking at things, the purpose of the wedding ceremony is not to create ex nihilo, as it were, a union that did not exist before, but rather to bless a union that is already in the process of developing. Second, the Orthodox take a different view on a lot of things that are important to evangelicals. Issues such as complementarianism, male headship, etc. don’t even show up on their radar screen. The Orthodox Church sets down some hard and fast boundaries, but inside those boundaries there is a surprising amount of liberty. Most of the time things work out as they should but when things don’t, they believe it is better to let individual couples negotiate the territory on their own than to attempt to rush in with dogmatic pronouncements and inquisitorial witch-hunts, as you see in some of the uber-Reformed corners of evangelicalism that are heavy on complementarianism.
At this point please allow me to highlight some things from these posts and how they land in my world.
The Sexual Revolution of the 1960s and the militant feminist movement from that era into the 1970s gave women permission to be promiscuous, which was something they never had before. But this newfound freedom came with some unintended consequences, because women are essentially different from men, all the militant feminist rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding. You see, if you give a man permission to be sexually promiscuous and he will want to sleep with anything and everything that shows even the slightest capacity for movement. Give a woman the same permission and she will fly like a bat out of hell, straight for the exact same man that all the other girls are after. In other words: Apart from Christ, men crave sexual variety while women crave sexual quality.
Nowadays it is the norm for women to postpone marriage until they have had the opportunity to establish a career and find themselves. At least that is the stated norm. What this really looks like, however, is that women want to chase wild, edgy males whom they view as very desirable sexually. But recall that women all make a beeline for the one guy whom they view as the most desirable. So if a woman succeeds in getting this guy, good luck holding on to him. There will be countless other women waiting at his doorstep. And the guy will soon tire of her (recall that men crave sexual variety) and move on to the next thing.
In the pre-Sexual Revolution world, because of a basic survival need that women had for men, pretty much anyone could count on eventually marrying at roughly his or her own level. Patience and persistence would win the day. Nowadays–not so much. Militant feminism has pretty much devastated any sense of dependence which women may have had upon men, economic or otherwise. But the expectation laid upon men to serve as the primary breadwinner is still in place, even though changing economic conditions have rendered this all but impossible for all but a fortunate few.
All of these changing cultural currents have had repercussions inside the Church. For decades now, it has been considered normal for women to take already-divorced men as their first husbands, bypassing many eligible never-before-married men in the process. Marriage enrichment seminars that deal with step-parenting and blended families are all the rage nowadays, and have been for quite some time. This is true in all branches of Christianity, not just evangelicalism.
This leaves the Christian woman who wants to be chaste in the current milieu with some very unpalatable alternatives. First, she can compete for the most desirable young men who share her values. But the competition is fierce (recall that women make like bats out of hell for the one man they find most desirable), and she had better be at the very very top of her girl game or else she won’t even get a moment’s attention from these men.
Or she can date outside the Church. This is increasingly acceptable in Christian culture these days, but it is really not a good option. There are very good reasons for Christians not to marry non-Christians, and such marriages face long odds of success. Or she can keep her virtue and remain single.
Or she can pick through the leftovers.
David Murrow, writing at Focus on the Family’s blog site, opines that current church culture in evangelicalism is designed to weed out all the most desirable young men. From preschool all the way through Sunday school and youth ministry, there is an ever-increasing pressure on boys and young men to be something that they are not or else just get out. Here is what Murrow has to say about the men who are still in church after all these years of Sunday school and youth ministry:
The single men who survive the screening process generally fit one of the following profiles:
- The Bible geeks. Quiet, studious men who love to study theological tomes. Or verbal guys who love to teach.
- The musical. They play in the band. Or they stand on the front row raising their hands during the music.
- The asexual. Guys who are OK with kissing dating (and kissing) goodbye.
- The predators. Guys who know there are plenty of desperate young women in church and enjoy trying to get them in bed.
- The social misfits. Strange men who come to church because it’s the only place women will smile at them.
If you’re into these kinds of guys, then the church dating scene isn’t so bad. If not, then you’ll have to fight over the most rare (and for some, the most desirable) category of single churchgoing men: the late converts. These are men who came to Christ in their teens or 20s, bypassing much of the screening process. Many were saved out of terrible sin. They have been forgiven much and love God much. (These guys get snapped up quickly by the best-looking women.)
I leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide which of these categories I fit into.
As an autistic person I have long since reconciled myself to the fact that the realm of love, sex and dating is at best a very treacherous terrain. Success in this realm demands a very diverse, complex, intricate set of social skills which I fear are beyond me. Add to that the current cultural milieu in which women are free to drop all pretense of economic necessity and pursue only the most attractive men they can find, and the situation is pretty much hopeless.
I can date outside the Church. But as noted earlier, this is never a good option. Such marriages face long odds of survival. What else would you expect when the two people involved are in disagreement on their answers to the most important questions in all of life and the universe?
Or I can try to find a woman who shares my values. But in this day and age, an awful lot of these women look at men through the filter of “Lord, is this the One You have chosen for me to marry?” In an evangelicalism rife with courtship movements, purity pledges, promise bracelets and other such things, many women have rejected not just sex but any other physical contact prior to marriage. And the idea of devotion to God is frequently presented in a way that causes women to think that men are excluded. I ran into this several years back when a girl I was interested in told me that I was a distraction to her pursuit of a meaningful relationship with God.
It is hard enough when every woman I know is either married, engaged, in a relationship, or so into her girl friends that she wants nothing whatsoever to do with me (in a romantic context, at least. At least that is how it appears from my end). Add to that the issues and complexities resulting from bad teaching and all the fads and movements to which evangelicalism is prone, and the situation is close to hopeless.
But I know that my imaginary wife and 2.6 imaginary kids still care very much for me, so it’s not all bad.