I recently read an article from the Pew Research Center. If you don’t know, the Pew Research Center advertises itself as a “nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes, and trends shaping the world.” They go on to say, “We conduct polling, demographic research, content analysis, and other data-driven social science research.” The field of research includes everything from politics to science and technology as well as religion and public life. The Pew Center is considered to be a benchmark standard by many other organizations.
For this reason, when the Pew Research Center speaks about religion, Evangelicals are well served to listen. And that is why the article from August 31, 2020 caught my eye. The headline read, “Half of U.S. Christians say casual sex between consenting adults is sometimes or always acceptable.” Headlines such as this should make every Pastor, Sunday School Teacher, Youth Leader, and Elder lookup.
Let’s consider 3 reasons why this might not be as shocking as it might seem. 1st, anyone who is even slightly awake will notice how sexually explicit material is multiplying. Furthermore, the same Pew research indicated that among those who are religiously unaffiliated, 84% said that casual sex is sometimes or always acceptable. If the respondent indicated they were either agnostic or atheist, that number jumped to around 95%. Given that the numbers of unaffiliated continue to rise and that the unaffiliated hold the levers of influence in culture, we can see that their influence has had a great deal of impact upon the church.
A 2nd reason why the Pew Research data is unsurprising is that the title, “Evangelical Protestant” has become an increasingly vague term. In many cases, researchers simply ask respondents to identify themselves. I don’t think the Pew Center asked the “Evangelical Protestants” to identify how often they attended church, their submission to scripture, nor their submission to the historic truths and commands of the Christian faith. And so, we might say that among self-identified evangelical protestants, over half think sex outside of marriage is often or sometimes acceptable. I recently saw a large pickup truck with “dualies” on the rear, a huge exhaust pipe and a loud engine pass me on the freeway. The truck had a bumper sticker on the back. “I identify as a Prius”. As we should know, “saying so don’t make it so”.
A 3rd reason why the Pew Research data is unsurprising is that we live in a day with an ever-weakening church. It’s not that churches don’t talk about sex and sexuality. Sometimes I think they talk about it too much. What is lacking is a commitment to expositional preaching. What is lacking is the training of our children and youth in the historic foundation of what we believe. It’s less a matter of why we believe what we believe. It is astonishing that youth can come out of church and never have learned Sola Scriptura, the attributes of God, the Trinity, the two natures of Christ, the penal substitutionary atonement, the nature of sin, the person of the Holy Spirit, effectual calling, ecclesiology, eschatology and so on. I have observed baptisms in some churches where the person being baptized said no more than they had accepted God. And so, it was said, “On the basis of your confession of faith, I baptize you….”
For these reasons, it should not surprise us then, that the situation among self-identified evangelicals is as it is. Why should they reject the wider culture, when the only body teaching them has been the wider culture? How can we have been silent on the truths of our faith, and then think we can speak when it comes to sexuality?