Where America’s Sex Ethic Is Headed
Dr. Russell Moore is the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He joins us again today, filling in for John Piper. Dr. Moore, as you know, the landscape of sexual ethics in America is changing rapidly — maybe faster than anyone could have expected. You carefully study the trends of our culture. In your opinion, what do you expect in the near future? Where is the American sex ethic headed? And what will be the fallout?
No Longer Shocking
I was with my grandmother one time — years and years ago — and we ran into a woman in the community where I grew up who had divorced her husband and she had moved in with a man that she wasn’t married to. My grandmother was very kind to her. She was asking her, “How are you doing? What is going on in your life?” And my grandmother said, “And how is your lover?” I remember being taken aback and when the woman left, I said to my grandmother, “What did you just say?” And she said, “Well, isn’t that what you call it, a lover?” And I said, “You know what? Don’t ever say lover again.” And it was at that moment of skin crawling in my own life that I realized that the reason my grandmother was handling this so awkwardly was because she had never met anybody in real life who was in that situation. Somebody was living with somebody who wasn’t her husband.
Technology Intensifying Sexual Temptation
Well, we are moving into a time when there are going to be fewer and fewer things that are going to be shocking to people. The problem is we are moving into a time now where I think technology is going to change, to some degree, the nature of sexual temptation. It is not going to change sexual temptation itself. As the Bible says, “there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Sin is what it is. Temptation is what it is. But technology can change how that temptation comes to people. And so I expect, for instance, the nature of pornography to change. And that has real implications for teaching within the church. Think about, for instance, what was going on a generation ago. When people thought about porn, they were thinking about pressuring those outlets in their communities from providing it. And so your local 7-Eleven or your local convenience store had pornographic magazines behind the counter, or that local video store had the area behind the curtain back there in the back of the room. And there was a lot of effort given to try to pressure those businesses not to traffic in pornography, or to keep hotels from having pornographic movies and so forth.
That was commendable and that was admirable, but what no one saw at the time was that there was a digital revolution coming that would make pornography virtually ubiquitous. No one saw that it would bring with it this illusion of anonymity, so that somebody doesn’t have to think of himself or think of herself as the sort of person who would go and rent that videotape or go and purchase that magazine.
I think we need to be asking, How is technology moving and how is that going to change the nature of temptation? I think it is quite possible that what we are going to be seeing is a kind of four-dimensional sort of reality for porn where there is a virtual reality created that can be indistinguishable from an actual sexual encounter. There are already people talking about what is going to happen when there is the use of life-like robots for sexual immorality and so forth. I think we need to be ready for that and expect that.
Transgenderism at the Forefront
I also think we need to expect the transgender issue to come more and more to the forefront as more and more people start to — especially children and young people — become confused about gender identity. Just last night, I had to deal with my own children. We were watching the news and there was a news program that came on about a young boy who was four or five years old and thought of himself as a girl and was going through the transition to be a girl. And my kids said, “I didn’t even know that could happen — that a boy could turn into a girl.” Well, parents are going to have to know how to answer that question, because those sorts of things are going to happen more and more and more.
I think we can also expect marriage rates to continue to go down as marriage continues to become redefined and become so elastic. I think the very meaning of marriage starts to change, and marriage rates go down. And who are those who suffer? Women, children, the poor — the most vulnerable are those who suffer right away.
Abortion Becomes Anonymous
And then I think we need to recognize that while we are making a good deal of progress on the life issue as it relates to abortion, I worry about the way that the abortion issue is becoming less clinical and more chemical. So, I worry about what is going to happen when, like pornography, abortion brings with it that illusion of anonymity: someone simply has to go and get a prescription from a local pharmacy in order to destroy this life within them. I think that is something we are going to have to be watching and ready to address within our churches as well.
Living Water and a Wedding Feast
Short term, I think the sexual revolution is going to continue ravaging churches, communities, and neighborhoods. But long term, I think the sexual revolution is going to leave a lot of people wanting. It is not going to be able to carry through on its promises. And so we need to be ready for those — like the woman at the well in Samaria — to be able to speak not only about what it is that they are doing wrong with a call to repentance, but also to say, “We have water that you know not of. We have living water that actually satisfies” (see John 4:7–15). We need to be able to articulate better why we believe the things that we believe about marriage and sexuality, not only because they are moral, but because they are based and rooted in the gospel.
This picture of one man giving himself to one woman and one woman giving herself to one man in a one-flesh union for life is picturing the union of Christ and the church. It is presenting an invitation to that wedding feast at the end of the gospel story. We need to be able to articulate that, and then we need to be able to picture it in healthy marriage cultures in our own churches and expect a lot of people who have never seen that sort of thing at all to say, “Why do you do that? Why do you live that way? Why do you value these things?” Not only so that we can talk about marriage, not only so that we can talk about a biblical view of sexuality, but so that we can talk about the gospel itself. I think we are going to have more and more opportunities to do that in the generation to come.