I have long railed against American values being hijacked by gay marriage and abortion. Even I, however, did not foresee that contraception would join to create a trifecta of social sexual issues that utterly dominate this country’s values discourse. How long are we going to do this?
Let me tell me you just how destructive this is. While we obsess over gay marriage, heterosexual marriage has gone off a cliff. A front-page New York Times article just reported that half of all births in the United States to mothers under 30 years of age are outside of marriage. The divorce rate among baby boomers has surged over the past two decades by more than 50 percent. In 2010, a third of adults ages 46 through 64 were divorced, separated or never married compared to just 13 percent in 1970.
Then there is the sexual famine in the American marriage, with up to a third of marriages being platonic. Fifty percent of first marriages, 60 percent of second marriages, and 70 percent of third marriages end in divorce. And get this: People in conservative voting states actually have higher rates of divorce than those in liberal voting states.
All this has happened while, to cite just one example, evangelical Christianity in the United States has moved from humble beginnings a century ago to a movement that now boasts approximately 25 percent of the country’s population.
How is it possible, then, that the more religious America becomes, the more the institution of marriage crumbles?
A huge part of the problem is that we are mired in religious distractions that take us away from focusing on core issues. The same applies to other urgent issues that seriously challenge us, such as unemployment, a lackluster economy, ballooning debt, and the Iran threat.
How is it that such weighty issues are shoved aside for a discussion about Rush Limbaugh and free contraception?
It is a lie to say that morality is principally about sexual issues. There are Ten Commandments, but only one deals with a sexual theme (adultery). The other nine concern themselves with not worshipping gods made of gold (hear that Wall Street?); honoring parents; setting aside one day a week to strengthen family and community; respecting one another’s property (a good lesson for some in Washington who believe that what we earn belongs to government); and not coveting another’s success (a good lesson for Hollywood, which wants us to live vicariously through celebrities).
My Christian brothers and sisters point out that homosexuality is singled out with particular opprobrium in the Bible with the word toevah (“abomination”). Yet, of the 103 times “toevah” is used in the Hebrew Bible, it appears only twice with regards to homosexuality.
Furthermore, the Greek word used for abomination, “bdelygma,” appears only four times in the entire New Testament, two of which are merely using a quote from the book of Daniel, in which he describes “the abomination of desolation.” The other two references are found in Revelation 21:27, which says that anyone who practices abomination will not enter Heaven, and Luke 16:15, where Jesus implies that the love of money is an abomination. This teaching is echoed earlier in the Hebrew Bible where love of money that leads to dishonest business practices is decried in four different verses as an abomination.
If “toevah” is so important, then, to my Christian brothers, where is the discussion of runaway materialism and American greed in our discussion of values?
The fixation with sexual morality to the exclusion of nearly everything else results in large part from the depiction of Jesus as celibate and, in Catholicism, of the virginity of the Mother Mary continuing throughout her life, so much so that classical Catholicism seemingly contradicts even the New Testament’s statements of Jesus having brothers (James, Joseph, Judah, and Simeon) and sisters. Adding significantly to this theme is Paul’s emphasis on his own celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7; “it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am,” he says.
The net result is a view of sex that seems incompatible with holiness and, therefore, must be redeemed. Hence, the strong Catholic emphasis on sex for procreation and the ban on contraception. This is further reinforced by Jesus seemingly banning divorce in Mark 10, which has lead many to believe that marriages are to be based more on fulfilling God’s directives than on love and pleasure.
In sharp contrast to the New Testament, however, the Hebrew Bible in many places lauds the powerful feelings and close bond that can be found between a man and his wife: “And Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent, and took Rebekah, and she became his wife; and he loved her,” “And Jacob served seven years for Rachel; and they seemed unto him but a few days, for the love he had to her,” “â€¦but he shall be free at home one year, and shall make happy his wife whom he has taken.”
If social conservatives and pro-family advocates really want to heal the family, then one of the first steps they need to take – beyond expanding the values discussion, as I have consistently argued – is embrace the Jewish approach to sex, in which sex is not primarily about procreation, but intimacy.
Here is where we can make headway in our confrontation with modern secular culture and women who promote views about sexuality such as Sandra Fluke. Legislating sexual ethics is not the answer; appealing to people’s deepest sensibilities and desires is.
What men and women want from today’s relationships, immersed as they are in a fragmented, cyberspace universe, is a sense of connection and oneness. This is especially true of sex.
Sex is the motion that leads to emotion. It represents the sewing together of two strangers as bone of one bone, as Genesis says so beautifully: Therefore shall a man leave his mother and father, cleave unto his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24)
Its adhesive becomes diluted when it is used casually and the people who get hurt most in those situations are usually women. As I wrote in my book “Kosher Sex,” “Sex is an intensely unifying moment in which man and woman experience a spiritual epiphany. But this is true only when the interests of pleasure are sublimated to become a tool of unity.” Even in secular society there is the growing feeling that sex is something that should be preserved for a committed relationship, especially marriage.