How is the growing acceptance of same-sex marriage related to other opinions about sexual morality? That is a question explored by Mark Regnerus (associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas) in a recent study on relationships in America. In a survey of nearly 16,000 Americans in early 2014, Regnerus asked a series of questions about various sexual morality issues. He zeroed in on the responses of church-going Christians (attend church at least three times a month and identify with some sort of Christian affiliation).
Regnerus found that Christians who support same-sex marriage are much more likely to support other behaviors that have traditionally been considered immoral, compared to Christians who oppose same-sex marriage. Here is a summary of the results:
- Christians who support same-sex marriage are seven times more likely to believe that viewing pornography is OK
- Christians who support same-sex marriage are more than three times more likely to believe that cohabiting before marriage is a good idea
- Christians who support same-sex marriage are more than six times more likely to believe that it is OK for two people to have sex without expecting anything further
- Christians who support same-sex marriage are nearly six times more likely to believe that it is sometimes permissible for a married person to have sex with someone other than his/her spouse
- Christians who support same-sex marriage are nearly 13 times more likely to believe that it is OK for three or more consenting adults to live together in a sexual/romantic relationship
- Christians who support same-sex marriage are six times more likely to support abortion rights
Regnerus also teased out the beliefs of gay and lesbian Christians, which in every case were even more permissive than Christians who support same-sex marriage and much more permissive than the general population average.
- More than half (57%) of gay and lesbian Christians believe viewing pornography is OK and support abortion rights
- Half of gay and lesbian Christians believe that premarital cohabitation is good and that sex without expecting anything further is permissible
- One-third of gay and lesbian Christians believe that it is OK for three or more adults to live together in a sexual/romantic relationship
- Gay and lesbian Christians are nearly twice as likely as Christians who support same-sex marriage to approve of occasional marital infidelity (and 11 times more likely than Christians who oppose same-sex marriage)
Regnerus’ study shows that approval of same-sex marriage and homosexual behavior is part of a broader constellation of moral values that is substantially more permissive than traditional sexual morality, as taught in Scripture. When human sexuality is divorced from heterosexual marriage and from procreation as a part of our sexuality, the underpinnings of Christian sexual moral teaching are greatly weakened.
Our modern culture sees sexuality as an individual fulfillment issue, linked primarily to pleasure. Whatever brings pleasure and fulfillment to an individual is not only allowed, but applauded, regardless of whether or not God considers it morally right. With the widespread use of contraception and in-vitro fertilization (both of which I support), we have succeeded in making the primary biological purpose of sexuality totally optional. And to keep it optional, it is necessary to have free access to abortion (which I oppose) as a backup when contraception fails.
When it comes to sexuality, we have embraced technologies (contraception, IVF, abortion) that have fundamentally changed our human moral understanding. As Christians, our moral teaching and theology have not been strong enough to counter this technology-driven shift in belief systems. (Remember that the above statistics reflected the beliefs of Christians, not non-Christians or the general population.)
It is imperative for Christians to understand the big picture purpose of our human sexuality in God’s eyes in order to withstand the pressure from our Western society to compromise our beliefs. Naturally speaking, God designed sex to help create a permanent bond of love between a man and a woman, fashioning them into a family unit that is equipped to bear and raise children. Sociological research has proven overwhelmingly that children raised in intact, male-female, biological parent families turn out much healthier than children raised in other family arrangements.
Spiritually speaking, God designed sex and heterosexual marriage to reproduce the image of God in a couple (Genesis 2) and to represent the union between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5). Embracing other models of sexual fulfillment weakens or even obliterates the meaning that God has given to human sexuality, both contributing to and illustrating the “lostness” of fallen humanity apart from God.
Our problem is not just same-sex marriage or homosexual behavior. Our problem is that Christians are moving toward adopting a non-Christian worldview of human sexuality. All of the sexual morality issues fit together into a coherent whole. Weakening one weakens them all. It is past time for the church to regain its voice in teaching God’s design for human sexuality.