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Sex, marriage and babies are now topics too hot for preachers to handle?

Sex, marriage and babies are now topics too hot for preachers to handle?
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% of U.S. conservatives who say it is &quot;very important&quot; that couples with children together legally marry:

2006: 62 percent

2020: 41 percent

If you are a conservative who thinks people should get married if they have kids, you are not representative

&mdash; Rob Henderson (@robkhenderson) January 16, 2022

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Hey religion-beat reporters (and even pros who cover politics): Want to find some really interesting stories?

Ask this question: What are the subjects that clergy are afraid to address in the pulpit? This was the big idea looming in the background during this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (CLICK HERE to tune that in).

For example, lots of people interpreted the silence of many super-preachers on the ethics and affairs of Donald Trump as evidence of support for him. It is much more likely (see some of the info in this “On Religion” column) that they knew the people in their pews were divided on this topic.

Thus, they were afraid to discuss it. They didn’t want to start a war.

Here’s another case study, one so old that my reporting on it predates the Internet. But I addressed the topic in this 2016 post here at GetReligion. Remember the “True Love Waits” phenomenon?

Anyway, I realize that for many people the whole “True Love Waits” thing was either a joke or an idealistic attempt to ask young people to do the impossible in modern American culture. …

What fascinated me was that, according to key “True Love Waits” leaders, they didn’t struggle to find young people who wanted to take vows and join the program. What surprised them was that many church leaders were hesitating to get on board because of behind-the-scenes opposition from ADULTS in their congregations.

The problem was that pastors were afraid to offend a few, or even many, adults in their churches — even deacons — because of the sexual complications in many lives and marriages, including sins that shattered marriages and homes. Key parents didn’t want to stand beside their teens and take the program’s vows.

This brings me to some amazing Gallup Poll data that —as far as I can tell — didn’t receive any news coverage when it came out in 2020. There was a Twitter flurry about it the other day, which led to some people re-upping this “story” that wasn’t a “news story.”

The headline on the feature at Gallup: “Is Marriage Becoming Irrelevant?” Here is a chunk of the information that should have raised eyebrows, for reporters and preachers — including clergy who face people sitting in “red,” “conservative” pews.

Sixty-six percent now believe it is morally acceptable to have a baby outside of marriage, an increase from 53% the first year the question was asked in 2001. Seventy-two percent, up from 53% in 2001, consider sex between an unmarried man and woman morally acceptable.

Most key subgroups are less likely now than in 2013, and all are less likely than in 2006, to view it as critical that couples with children together legally marry. Political liberals and young adults are two groups whose opinions have not changed appreciably in the past seven years.

Frequent church attendees (45%), political conservatives (41%) and Americans aged 55 and older (38%) and are among the groups most likely to believe marriage is crucial for parents. Democrats (18%), those who seldom or never attend church (19%), political liberals (21%) and moderates (22%), and adults under age 55 (23%) are among the groups least likely to regard marriage as being very important for such couples.

What part of that final paragraph shocked you? Here is an online reaction from Rod “Live Not By Lies” Dreher (who has been a friend of mine for nearly 30 years).

Note that Gallup finds that only a minority of weekly churchgoers believe that it is “very important” for couples with children to marry. We have lost the meaning of marriage, even among most professing American Christians. …

Someone on Twitter — I think it was Michael Brendan Dougherty — remarked about this that conservatives who are surprised by these numbers have ignored the reality of life among the white working and lower classes. That must be true. I am reminded of a visit I made back in 2013 to a conservative Evangelical college, which had invited me to give a speech. … In a small dinner with some professors before my talk, I asked them, as is my habit, what most concerns them about their students. One professor said: that they won’t be able to form stable families. I was genuinely shocked. How is that possible? I asked. This is a conservative Evangelical college. The professor answered, with tears in his eyes, “Because most of these kids have never seen one” — meaning a stable family.

Now, think back to that “True Love Waits” anecdote from the late 1980s.

What would have happened if many or most Southern Baptist pastors (or Catholic priests) had preached a strong sermon on why PARENTS needed to get behind the “True Love Waits” project, even if — or especially if — it meant repenting of some sins in their pasts or, for that matter, their present lives?

Many pastors were afraid to find out. Why? They knew what their church believes on sex and marriage, but they knew people in their pews were not as united on this topic as many would presume.

Let me end with the viewpoint of a rather crucial person in these debates — the late George Gallup, Jr. I had two chances to talk with him on this issue, and others similar to it. Here is a 2014 column on that topic: “Three questions, three fault lines in American pews and puplits.” Warning: This contains a reference to the infamous “tmatt trio.”

In a 1990 address, Gallup issued this warning:

“We revere the Bible, but don’t read it. … We believe the Ten Commandments to be valid rules for living, although we can’t name them.

“We believe in God, but this God is a totally affirming one, not a demanding one. He does not command our total allegiance. We have other gods before him.”

About that time, I shared a set of three questions with Gallup that I had begun asking, after our previous discussions. The key, he affirmed, was that these were doctrinal, not political, questions. My journalistic goal was to probe doctrinal changes that revealed fault lines in churches. The questions:

* Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this happen?

* Is salvation found through Jesus, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

* Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

Thinking about that third and final question, take another look at the 2020 Gallup numbers of sex, marriage and babies. There are stories in those numbers. Trust me on that.

At what point will preachers lose their fear of addressing this topic?

Enjoy the column and, please, pass it along to others.

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