Five Principles of the New Sexual Morality

Alastair Roberts
Aug 15, 2014
The sociologist Mark Regnerus recently published a piece for the Witherington Institute’s Public Discourse, suggesting that support for same-sex marriage in some Christian circles correlates to broader shifts in morality surrounding sexuality and relations. Survey respondents were asked to declare their level of agreement with seven statements relating to the issues of pornography, cohabitation, no-strings-attached sex, the duty of staying in a marriage, extramarital sex, polyamorous relationships, and abortion. The results illustrated pronounced fault lines between those committed to historic Christian stances on sexual morality and supporters of same-sex marriage.
As conservative Christians, we often see such data and reach for one or both of two related narratives: the narrative of the rejection of morality and the narrative of the slippery slope. I’m convinced both approaches typically oversimplify matters and obscure the reality.
Within the narrative of the rejection of morality, those who abandon an orthodox Christian stance on sexual morality cast off all external restraint and moral norms and are subject only to the dictates of their own sinful nature. As the stars of the moral constellations are extinguished in their heavens, they navigate the pitch guided by the unprincipled light of their individual wills, doing only what is right in their own eyes. Should it surprise us that such persons are widely supportive of abortion and cohabitation?

For the slippery slope narrative, there is an inherent instability to error and, given time, the rejection of biblical truth in one area will lead to its rejection in a host of others. This narrative is employed by those who argue that support for same-sex marriage will eventually lead to support for polygamy, incest, paedophilia, and bestiality. Even if biblical morality isn’t abandoned wholesale, it will be gradually eroded. Those advocating a slippery slope narrative often present empirical evidence illustrating the steady abandonment of Christian truth among those who took a precipitous first step.

Elements of Truth

Both of these narratives contain elements of truth. In many of the moral shifts we are witnessing, the individual will holds privileged status, empowered to reject various higher authorities or bend them to its inclination. We also often witness the (d)evolution of moral commitments over time, seeing how pulling one thread can lead to a larger moral fabric unravelling.
Yet there are problems too. The rejection-of-morality narrative doesn’t do justice to the fact that most who abandon orthodox Christian morality don’t do so for a willful moral anarchy. Advocates of the slippery slope narrative often presume rather than demonstrate that the rejection of position A will eventually lead to support for position B. Relatively little evidence is forthcoming to substantiate claims that support for same-sex marriage will lead to support for things such as bestiality or paedophilia. In fact, opposition to certain sinful acts, especially those of coercive abuse, may even be intensified.
The elements of truth in both narratives can be retained and considerably strengthened when we appreciate that the shift we’re witnessing is not the abandonment of all morality but a shift to a new moral system, one with its roots firmly within the philosophical tradition of liberalism. This new moral system is loosely coherent, and its underlying principles will work like yeast through the dough of our moral vision. Rather than advocating mere amorality, it forcefully presses moral claims against Christian sexual and relational ethics: for this moral system, Christian morality isn’t just wrong, it is immoral.
Until we understand this new morality on its own terms, we’ll be unable to offer effective responses to it.




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