This past weekend I met a couple who were married on the Fourth of July and baptized on the fifth. They had been cohabiting for many years and had several children together. They had never known anyone who was part of a church. But when their lives didn’t turn out the way that they hoped, they were willing to try anything, including a local church. There they ran into an old gospel, and new life. As I watched them plunged into the waters of baptism—and as I heard their three year-old son yell from his pew “Wow!”—I thought about how their story may well be the story of the coming generations.
The Sexual Revolution certainly seems triumphant. After a generation of no-fault divorce, cohabitation, ubiquitous pornography, and the cultural unhinging of sex from marriage and marriage from childbearing, we now see the courts and the culture decoupling marriage from even its most basic reality: gender. And there are hints on the horizon that the next step is to culturally, and perhaps legally, decouple marriage from, well, couples. If sexuality is about personal expression and individual autonomy, after all, then by what right can society deem that sexuality should be limited by such an arbitrary number as two?
The danger for Christians is that we buy into the Sexual Revolution’s narrative. I don’t just mean that we accommodate ourselves to the sins and heresies of the movement, although that’s always a danger too. I mean the danger is that we assume that the Sexual Revolution will always be triumphant, progressing upward and onward. To assume such is to assume that the Sexual Revolution will be able to keep its promises. It can’t.
We live, after all, in a cosmos ordered around the Logos of God, a Logos we have come to know personally as Jesus of Nazareth (Jn. 1:1-14). Part of the wisdom of the universe is the resilience of the marital one-flesh union. Marriage, and the limits of sexuality, not only pictures the gospel (Eph. 5:32), it is also the way that human beings thrive and flourish. We think we want autonomy and novelty and transgression. What really satisfies though is fidelity and complementarity and incarnational love.
That’s why I say the church should prepare for the Sexual Revolution’s refugees. We should understand why the culture around us is exuberant. They believe this will make them happy, that their alienation has been a result of cultural marginalization or Puritan repression. But the primary problem we all have is internal. There’s a conscience that speaks to us of a word we want to hide from—“Where are you, and where are you going?”
There are two sorts of churches that won’t be able to reach the refugees of the future.
The first is the church that is so scared of people that we scream at them in anger and condemnation. If we see ourselves as people who are “losing” a culture rather than people who have been sent on a mission to a culture, this is how we will be. That will be exacerbated if we take our cues from those who play outraged Christian caricatures for a living rather than from those who have come to seek and to save that which was lost. If we do not love our mission field, we will have nothing to say to it.
The second sort of church that will fail these refugees is the church that gives up, or silences, its convictions because they’re not popular. This too is fear. We assume that we can reach people if we dance around the sexual questions, thinking that we can get to that part of discipleship after they’re part of the family. That’s just not the way Jesus does it. Jesus gets right at the point of guilt, the part the person is protecting, and calls the person not only to repentance but also to forgiveness and freedom (Jn. 4:16).
If we are silent about what the gospel says about sexual immorality, we will not only lose our mission, but we will also lose the respect of those we are seeking to reach. They can read texts. All the gymnastics of the revisionists does nothing to silence what honest people read in our Scriptures. When they hear us clearing our throats in embarrassment or explaining away things unfashionable at the moment, they hear from us that we are more afraid of them than we are confident in our gospel. How then can they trust us with words of life that can overpower the grave, when they see that we are not even willing to go against the spirit of the age?
The Sexual Revolution cannot keep its promises. Many people are going to be disappointed, and even before they can admit it to others or to themselves, they are going to ask, “Is this all there is?” We need churches that can keep the light lit to the old paths, that can keep the waters of baptism ready. We need to be the people who can remind a wounded world of what we’ve come to hear and believe, “Come unto me all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). That’s good news for refugees, like us.
For more on this, see my new book Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel.