Sex as the Generational Divider in Church

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Note: The following is not about Parkway or even about the Presbytery of South Louisiana.  It is about how I see Christ’s larger Church in our culture today.

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Yesterday, at the Presbytery of South Louisiana’s Presbytery meeting, there was a breakout session on three different topics (pensions/health care – packed; synod mission and grant programs – packed; and youth ministry – half full).  It may just have been in my rotation because everyone was supposed to go through all three break out sessions.  But it also seemed fitting as youth ministry always has usually not to be a top tier issue in the larger church.  The conventional wisdom seems to be that youth ministry is an issue for youth, and their parents, but not for the larger church.  We have “more important” topics to consider.  But the conventional wisdom is coming at a higher and higher cost.

In the breakout session we got to watch a video by the Barna Group called “You Lost Me.”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jitHsBPGtUY .  Barna asserts that the divide between generations has come for a variety of reasons but I believe when you dig into it, the largest  dividing issue is Christian sexual ethics and it eclipses all other differences between young and older Christians today.  If we are ever to address it, we need to address it before our youth become young adults and are likely gone.

In many churches, I think we use the old southern culture maxim of “not talking about anything uncomfortable” most of the time. It was like when I was back in school and somehow, mysteriously, each year history class would end with World War II.  No need to talk about the messy Korean and Vietnam conflicts (not to mention the Civil Rights movement and everything else that happened in the 50s and 60s).  It was just more comfortable timing it out to end with World War II.  In much the same way, I believe most churches simply don’t talk about sex (yet it is a major topic to most young people).

Some young people in my breakout session talked of their experience with another option their church tried.  Their church did raise the issue and drew the lines between right and wrong very very clearly.  The only problem is the young people, much like the cartoon characters in Barna’s Youtube video, went straight to the internet and found that many people today have different answers than they were hearing at church –  it isn’t all so black and white.

Use this simple statistic – the large majority of couples today live together before getting married.  This was not the answer for many older Christians when they were in their 20s and 30s.  Add onto this some substantive disagreements over homosexuality, marriage, women’s careers, and child rearing and you have a gumbo full of potential discord.

And so, for many people of faith today, the answer is to stay away from Christians who have different views and the easiest way to do that is to stay away from church.  And we are all weakened in the process.

Church needs to be the “Google” of moral questions.  People need to be able to come to church and in a very non-attribution and nonjudgmental atmosphere – and ask some of their deepest questions.  And together, we also can wrestle with the fact that if any of us were born 20 years ago we would likely have different views on some big topics than if we had been born forty, sixty, or eighty years ago (with a variety of answers even within those groups).  Still, God loves us all.  Jesus died for us all.  The Holy Spirit dwells within each of us and calls us together.  How can the best answer be to stay away from one another?  I often think today when I hear adults outside of the church question their faith it comes from the fact that their image of God is like that of a mid-teenager instead of whatever their age actually is.  Frequently, this is because that is just when they stopped going to church and their image and understanding of God largely stopped changing at that point (even though all of their other knowledge kept growing).

I also remember back in the 90s hearing a speaker say it was time for the church to sit down and openly discuss what Christian sexual ethics should be in the 21st century.  A number of people attacked saying, “It is the same answer as it was in the 1st century. What an immoral question!”  So, the conversation went nowhere.  We didn’t end up really talking about it then.  And we largely don’t talk about it today (except for people in extreme positions who seem to want to only talk about such topics one way or the other).

I simply believe Jesus would talk about it if he were here.  He would not let sex divide his people.  Maybe it’s finally time for us to talk about uncomfortable topics.

What do you think?

Tom

2 Responses

  1. Tom, perhaps the reason the breakout session on youth ministry was only half full is because many churches don’t have youth any more! As for your take on divisions between older and younger church folk, I heard Carol Howard Merritt (former member of PSL as I recall) speak at Montreat, summer 2010, I believe it was, that for younger people some of the issues about sexuality that older Christians are in such a lather about just aren’t issues for them — and they wish we’d just shut up and move on to more important stuff, like faith. I may be distorting her words with my poor memory, but I refer you to her book Tribal Church for more on what she has to say on this subject.

  2. I always emailed this blog post page Sex as the Generational Divider in Church | The View from the Crossroads to all my associates, for the reason that if like to read it after that my friends will too.

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