From time to time a member of the Christian left will admonish the Christian right to stop obsessing about sex. This is a clever move because in addition to undercutting traditional sexual morality it also suggests that those who are concerned with the topic are acting on some secret ulterior motive. Voyeurism? Projection? Repression? Whatever the precise cause, it definitely sounds unhealthy.
Tom Ehrich is one of the most recent to advance this case. His post, an excellent example of what C. S. Lewis termed “bulverism,” largely takes for granted that Christians are obsessed with sex and speculates that this is the result of some kind of perpetual adolescence. The substance of his contention is that:
We obsess about sex, a topic that Jesus himself ignored. Our public presence has narrowed to questions around abortion and homosexuality. The “Christian” political agenda has become nothing more than electing candidates who will deal correctly with abortion and homosexuality.
One could suggest quite a few things that Jesus Christ had nothing to say about, but sex would not make the list. He reaffirmed the central moral teaching of fidelity in telling the woman caught in adultery to “leave your life of sin” (John 8:11, NIV), but then went much farther and stated that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28, NIV). Some rather stern language about plucking out eyes and cutting off hands followed thereafter and then further discussion of divorce and fornication. So much for the supposed silence of the Savior on the subject of sex.
Just as puzzling, however, is the assertion that abortion is a sexual issue for pro-life Christians. There are a lot of ways that the pro-life movement views abortion. The folks at Feminists for Life view it as a women’s issue. The folks at Secular Pro-Life view it as a secular civil rights issue. The common thread for all pro-life groups, including religious ones, however, is the issue of life. Not sex.
Ehrich suggests as proof to the contrary the absence of Christian opposition to “warfare, profit-seeking obesity, addictions and destroying our planet,” and I confess I am at a loss. Does he earnestly believe that carbonated beverages and killing are equivalent moral concerns? The inclusion of such an absurd comparison makes it hard to start a serious discussion about just war or global warming. In any case, however, it is not the opponents but the proponents of abortion who see the issue as being intrinsically about sex. This is to be expected. Those who view consequence-free copulation as a fundamental civil liberty are bound to see quite a lot of things as being about sex.
Nor is sex plausibly relevant to Christian politics on the issue of homosexuality. The most prominent issue of the day, gay marriage, has literally nothing to do with who can have sex with whom. It is, especially among those who oppose gay marriage, about the definition of society’s most vital social institution.
Throughout Ehrich’s piece what becomes clear is that what motivates Christians to oppose abortion and same-sex marriage is not an obsession with sex, but an obsession with what was always at the heart of Christ’s concern: ministering to the vulnerable and the powerlessin this case, the pre-born and the lately born. Defenders of legalized abortion want to clear the way to have sex without the threat of incurring obligations to any child who may be conceived. The majority of proponents of same-sex marriage view the institution of marriage as one that exists fundamentally for the benefit and fulfillment of adults (hence the rhetoric about equality) rather than to codify obligations of parents to their offspring. In both cases Christians refuse to allow the bonds of duty between parent and child to be severed. Christians stand for those who need protection in the womb and those who need the richness and the resources of a father and a mother in the home. It’s not about sex. It’s about caring for those who are dependent and defenseless.
I am by no means making the case that there is no room for debate or improvement in how traditional Christians approach politics. But one cannot reasonably explain the position most Christians take on these issues by referring to alleged sex-obsession. Nor can one reasonably blame Christians alone for the prominence of these issues in our society today. It takes two sides to have an argument. Blaming Christians, by implying that they are the extreme party, is just a subtle way of taking the opposing side.
Abortion is an incredibly divisive issue because the Supreme Court decided to short circuit the legislative process and enact a radical abortion regime by judicial fiat that has resulted in more than a million human deaths every year since 1973 (on average). Gay marriage became a prominent issue not because Christians randomly decided it would be a fun issue to focus on, but because the gay community changed its views on the topic in the 1990s and adopted a strategy that emphasized assimilation with the mainstream and downplayed distinctive aspects of gay culture.
Christian views on the obligations of parents to their children did not suddenly change and become extreme. They simply became, in society’s view, inconvenient. Since that time the only real problem has been that Christians, by and large, refuse to get with the times. Even when you make fun of them for being sex-obsessed.
Nathaniel Givens writes at Difficult Run.