The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision is probably best understood as one battle in the coming war between the sexual revolution and religious liberty.
This became clear to me after talking with Dr. Russell D. Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, last week. Though we planned to talk about religious liberty, the conversation turned especially interesting when I asked him for some optimistic thoughts on how things might play out.
“Long term,” he said, “I’m very hopeful, because…the sexual revolution isn’t going to be able to keep its promises.”
This, as you can see, transcended a mere legal discussion over whether or not a “closely-held corporation” should be compelled to pay for things which violate their rights of conscience. When I pushed him to expound a bit, he continued:
A lot of the sexual revolutionary rhetoric sounds very much to me like prosperity gospel preachers on television, just with a different gospel, but the same sort of thing — this is going to make your life better — you’re going to have this triumphant future where everything is possible for you, there are no limits on you, and you’re going to be happy with this.
(As some of you know, I’m not as down on the so-called “prosperity gospel” — or, at least, I may have a more nuanced take than Dr. Moore — but I think his larger point here is valid. Our modern culture does sell a largely positive and non-judgmental message about sexual promiscuity, while largely downplaying responsibility and the potential downsides.)
So how might this shake out? Dr. Moore continued:
… I think [Christians] need to be the sort of people, at the end of all of that, who can step back and point to those permanent things, and be able to model those permanent things, because I think there are going to be many people who are going to ask, “Is this all there is?”
Nobody ever wants to hear the words — “is that all there is?” — in relation to sex. But joking aside, the lack of fulfillment that can result from a string of meaningless conquests is well documented, and hard to escape. What is more, one supposes more and more people will be coming to the conclusion that they were sold a false bill of goods by the culture.
Prior to the sexual revolution, when American culture, institutions, and technology conspired to promote a more traditionally Christian sexual ethic, it was easy to portray this system as prudish, arbitrary, and authoritarian.
The argument was that these old fashioned ideas about morality and abstinence were stultifying and unhealthy. Suppressing our desires, we were told, created all sorts of negative externalities such as shame and guilt, which in turn, created much evil in the world. If we could break the bonds that have been inhibiting us, we would finally be free.
To be sure, some of the old fashioned attitudes about sex and gender were misguided and harmful. But the new paradigm may not have much to recommend it, either.
Ironically, though, there just might be some unintended, if salutary, consequences to come from the sexual revolution’s cultural victory: Absent the paternalistic protectionism that artificially prevented some Americans from following their libidos, more will presumably come to a more conservative way of thinking — through trial and error.
Presumably, some of the people who buy into this “if it feels good, do it” message will grow wiser with age, prompting them to preach a more modest sexual ethic — if only for pragmatic reasons (by virtue of experience and life lessons — not because the church or society told them to).
But Dr. Moore is likely also correct when he suggests that the Christian church ought to be expecting some Prodigal sons and daughters to return home — having tried it their way, and having discovered that they still haven’t found what they’re looking for.
As Dr. Moore notes, however, in order for this to work, people of faith will have to model lives focused on the “permanent things.” Presumably, love and sex, within the confines of marriage, are among those things.
But an angry, materialistic, or hypocritical church won’t be an attractive alternative for those who — having exhausted all other carnal options for happiness — are suddenly drawn toward the numinous.
You can listen to our full conversation with Dr. Russell D. Moore here. And download the podcast on iTunes!