Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Whatever Happened to "Honorable" Intentions?

In the culture wars we’re facing today, the stakes are high. The battles we win and lose directly affect the legacy we will leave to future generations. So, it’s imperative that we fight the right battles and focus on the right issues.

I am convinced that the recent emphasis within the Christian community opposing homosexuality and gay marriage is actually a distraction from the real moral issue that Christians in our culture should be concerned about.

The real issue is not gay marriage vs. straight marriage. It is not heterosexual sexual activity vs. homosexual sexual activity. The real issue is what is God’s purpose for sex, and what are we as Christian parents doing to prepare our children for successful marriages?

Border Wars

My friend, John, is a former career military officer who has taught me a lot about how battles, including battles in life, are won and lost. One of the main concepts he has shared is what he calls “border wars.” All battles are fought on borders. The goal of the aggressor is to swiftly and continually move the border as close to the heart of the enemy as possible until victory is attained. The goal of the defender is to keep the border as far away from the center of power as possible.

That concept often plays out in family relationships and in society at large. For example, there will be battles between parents and children over a myriad of issues. The concept of border wars says that no matter where you as a parent set a limit – or border – you are going to have a battle. If you set a curfew, you will have to fight a battle whether the time you set is 9 PM, 10 PM or 1 AM. So, set the border where you want it to be instead of where the child wants it to be – and prepare for the fight.

The problem we are facing on the moral front in our society is that we have been setting the borders in the wrong place for decades.

There was a time when the father of a young woman would ask a potential suitor if his intentions were “honorable” – meaning, “Are you interested in pursuing my daughter as a possible marriage partner, or are you just interested in fooling around?” Then, society told us that border was outdated, and we should really only be concerned with making sure our children didn’t “get into trouble” – which translated into “use a condom and don’t get pregnant.” Later, the battle lines were drawn at whether or not it was right to live together out of wedlock. Now, it’s gay marriage.

Why Sex?

Just looking at what we see on the TV screen, the silver screen, the covers of supermarket tabloids, and in the behavior of even Christian teens and adults throughout our society, one could easily get the idea that the primary purpose of sex is recreation. We kiss, we pet, we engage in sexual intimacies of various kinds because they are pleasurable! Isn’t that what you are supposed to do with someone you care deeply about, or find particularly attractive?

No! It’s not.

Our society has focused for far too long on promoting sex outside of marriage as normative behavior to be engaged in casually by anyone older than about twelve. And, the Christian community has fallen into the trap of thinking that as long as our children don’t get pregnant or get someone else pregnant, or acquire some kind of sexually transmitted disease, or become gay – then whatever they do in private is okay.

But, teen pregnancies, abortion, Sexually Transmitted Diseases, pornography, and homosexuality have not increased because we don’t use condoms, or aren’t careful when engaging in sex, or don’t have the right filters on our computers, or don’t have laws on the books against gay marriage. They have arisen because we have failed to successfully understand and communicate to our children and our society God’s real purposes for sex, marriage and family.

There is definitely a pleasurable, recreational aspect to sex that was expressly put there by God for the enjoyment and delight of His creatures. But, that is not its primary purpose. And, it is not to be engaged in casually. The primary purpose of sex is to create life. And, the primary purpose of marriage and family is to provide a safe, hospitable place for the expression of intimacy and the growth and nurture of new life.

Sex . . . When And With Whom?

One of the major problems Christians should be addressing is the almost constant focus on paring up young people long before the feelings that are generated in those relationships can be righteously fulfilled. It is almost assumed today that if teens or young adults do not have a boyfriend or girlfriend, or if they are not dating someone seriously, there must be a problem. But, the dating pattern, itself, is the cause of a much greater problem.

Many years ago, Paul Jehle made a very profound observation about typical dating relationships. They don’t always happen this way, nor do they have to. However, it has been my experience that what he said is almost prophetic.

He noted that dating typically goes through five stages:

It starts with Attraction, and very quickly leads to Pairing Up, which in turn leads toIsolation – spending lots of time alone together.

So far, so good. There doesn’t seem to be anything particularly problematic up to this point. It’s the fourth and fifth stages that lead to a great many young people being deeply hurt, and their ability to experience successful marriages significantly hindered because of the emotional scars that result.

The fourth stage of a typical dating relationship is Physical Intimacy – and it is generally the case that the longer the time together, the more intimate the involvement.

The fifth stage is Breaking Up, which often results in feelings of rejection, shame, bitterness and anger. Two people who couldn’t be separated suddenly don’t want to have anything to do with each other. Then, the cycle repeats itself.

What happens is that this pattern undermines morality, and actually prepares for divorce.

The apostle Paul made it very clear that God desires relationships between the sexes to be characterized by moral purity.

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Moral purity is not simply refraining from intercourse outside of marriage. It’s keeping oneself pure from all kinds of physical intimacy before marriage in preparation for true physical intimacy in marriage.

But, the typical dating pattern not only undermines morality, it also prepares for divorce by providing training in how to break close relationships. Because there is no real commitment to begin with, there is no need or incentive to work through the difficulties that always arise in close relationships. It’s just easier to break it off and look for someone else. Many today think of marriage in a way very similar to going steady or hooking up. It’s expected that there will be a breakup sooner or later – serial dating that often leads to serial marriages.

Life Partner Relationships

This may sound incredibly naïve, but Christians need to reset the borders back to “honorable” intentions.

We would do well to encourage our children to pursue life partner relationships, and quit engaging in the boyfriend/girlfriend relationships that will almost inevitably lead to emotional hurt and prepare them for failure. The time to start looking for the right life partner is when you are ready to become the right life partner.

Before that, you are just playing with a loaded gun.

In the cultural battle for morality, some people who play with loaded guns shoot themselves and others in the foot. Some people who play with loaded guns shoot themselves and others in the heart.

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