Ministering to the Lost…

I was going through my Evernote app this morning, cleaning out old articles, and I found a few things I mean to blog about but never got around to.

Russell Moore had this piece at pastors.com about refugees fleeing the wreckage of the sexual revolution last July:

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.

Moore talks about God’s order for creation — not something I entirely buy, given how thoroughly creation has been disordered by sin — but he goes on to write about the two kinds of churches that will find it virtually impossible to really minister to those wounded and discarded by the sexual revolution:

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).

Basically, too many conservative churches will be too angry lamenting the loss of their cultural power, privilege, and influence — the fact they dictated the terms of culture — that they will be too involved in condemning the world, and those seeking redemption, forgiveness, and belonging.

Liberal churches, meanwhile, will give up on the whole sexual sin enterprise and accommodate themselves to the norms of the sexual revolution (this is another form of “God’s order for creation”), thus providing little in the way of support for those who have been abused by it.

Moore gets close to the real essence of the matter when he writes in his last paragraph:

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.

The Sexual Revolution cannot keep its promises. Like almost all of modernity, the sexual revolution promises liberation from the human condition, from history, and from our very human limits. It promises a world without suffering or exploitation, but it fails … because the very promise of liberation itself is a lie in all its guises — economic, political, social, personal. It’s a very beguiling lie, because liberation promises to empower us as individuals and as humanity, free us from ancient chains, from things we did not choose, from the consequences of sin, from the very fact that we are sinners. But liberation delivers a world bereft of any kinds of protections, any kind of obligations, and any kind of responsibility. And it delivers power straight into the hands of those most willing to use that power to exploit, abuse, use, and destroy.

This is impossible for human beings to hear right now, in part because the promise of liberation still sparkles and shines in the afternoon sun. It really is beguiling, this notion that was can be free and can make ourselves anew, without any reference to our innate natures or limits as human beings.

But it’s also hard to hear because modernity, as I have noted before, has stripped away the moral pretenses of power. The good order of the world that promised to protect the weak frequently abused them in deep, dark secret, justifying or excusing that abuse all the while speaking pieties about chastity, purity, and virtue.

Our age’s rebellion may be pointless, but it is not senseless.

And yet, I’ve come to believe Moore is right. The church that will best be able to minister to those wounded, broken, abused, and abandoned by the sexual revolution will be those that embrace a more conservative or traditional understanding of sex and its place in the human community while at the same time keeping a very liberal ability to accept and welcome without first demanding conformity and adherence. We cannot merely have “consent” and “don’t hurt anyone” as our guides because sex is always bigger than the two people who engage in it, but we have to accept — fully accept — the very real physical and emotional consequences of sex (babies, the intimate entangling of two human beings) along with an understanding of mutual obligation — that the consequences of sex create a cascade of individual and communal obligations, from the spiritual and material support for marriages (and married people) and children to fostering the kinds of intimate friendships that will include those who are single. Sex may be very good, but it is also very powerful and very dangerous, and every kind of human power needs to be tempered, restrained, and controlled by rule and ritual.

Moore is right — they are coming, the broken, the wounded, the exploited, the lost. How shall we welcome them? And what shall we tell them?

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3 thoughts on “Ministering to the Lost…

  1. Some random thoughts along with general agreement:

    It’s a little misleading to talk about the Sexual Revolution as a novelty. I think it should be dated from WWII, though it didn’t become blatant until the advent of oral contraceptives in the mid-1960’s. This general development of “loose morals” among ordinary people began just as the previous age of vice — of houses of prostitution — was passing away. This was once a fact of life. There was a strip of buildings near the old train station, in the town where I live, which had an ill repute even up to my childhood in the 50’s — saloons and pool halls as well as brothels. I assume the police were paid to ignore it; and some believed this was a necessary evil to prevent men from preying upon “respectable women”.

    You once described in a post an example of self-righteous brutality of the radio series ‘Gunsmoke’. In the TV series, it was plain to all but the youngest viewers that Miss Kitty ran whores in the Long Branch saloon. Such things (along with massive consumption of hard liquor) were part of the stereotypical lore of the old west. Viewers would have been puzzled by its absence. In the earlier seasons, girls could be seen taking customers upstairs. This was phased out, in an ironical development: Just as promiscuity was becoming more prevalent in the real world, viewers wanted at least a pretense of more seemly behavior. It makes me think of the current paradox of ubiquitous porn alongside the extreme sensitivity of the public culture of colleges.

    In the 1970’s, it was often said that prostitutes would go broke in college towns, because there were too many girls giving it away. [In this time of eternal adolescence, I can’t help using the terms ‘girls’ and ‘boys’ for folks under 25.] Then came AIDS, etc. Now, I have heard that some students essentially hire themselves out as mistresses to pay their way through school. There are said to be personal ads on internet lists seeking and offering. I haven’t tried to verify. I have wondered if there is any connection with the boom in construction of high-end condos which has changed the look of several parts of town over the past 20 years, unabated by the housing crash. The common explanation is that upscale parents of students were choosing to buy condos for their kids while they were in school and sell them for a profit after. But that’s a lot of upscale families. The polar opposite from what ‘student housing’ was in my day.

    The vices of the 19th century were challenged by temperance movements and the like, often forming the core of early feminism. Church institutions responded as well. Some by separation – that is, by rejecting members who fell into ‘hard living’. Others by missions which evangelized the fallen. And others which crusaded for moral reform through legislation and political pressure. Theodore Roosevelt tried to ‘clean up’ New York City when he was police commissioner in the 1890’s. Even the hyper-energetic TR failed to change the culture of the city, but he did reduce corruption in the police force. Maybe the Pentecostals have been the most successful, since they have tended to spring up from the same people they minister to.

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    1. And there have been periods in the history of the West where mini-sexual revolutions have taken place — such as France in the first half of the 18th century — and that has always borne out the notion that someone’s self-actualization (the Marqus de Sade) is someone else’s suffering and pain, and that is usually philosophically legitimized as the need for the superior human being to realize their full potential. We aren’t quite there yet, but at some point we will be.

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  2. I think the best line you wrote was in the comment section. One person’s “self actualization” is someone else’s pain and suffering. Another way to say it is “The wicked disadvantage others for their own benefit while the righteous disadvantage themselves for others benefit”

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