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Young evangelicals defy sexual liberalism

NASHVILLE (BP) — Young evangelical Christians are defying America’s sexual liberalism despite predictions to the contrary, two Southern Baptist ethicists say in an op-ed based on a new study.

Some Americans outside conservative Christianity have forecast young evangelicals soon will reject the church’s standards and join the culture in its liberal views on such issues as same-sex marriage, premarital sex and gender identity, Russell D. Moore and Andrew Walker wrote Wednesday (July 9) in a piece at National Review Online. That is not what research by a University of Texas sociologist indicates, they say.

A study by Mark Regnerus, an author and associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas-Austin, suggests “churchgoing Evangelical Christians are retaining orthodox views on Biblical sexuality, despite the shifts in broader American culture,” Moore and Walker wrote. Moore is president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), and Walker is the ERLC’s director of policy studies.

Among the study’s findings, according to Moore and Walker, are:

— Only 11 percent of evangelicals between the ages of 18 and 39 say they support same-sex marriage, while a “solid majority” of self-identified atheists, agnostics, liberal Catholics and liberal Protestations back it.

— About six percent of evangelicals support abortion rights, while more than 70 percent of their non-believing peers agree with such rights.

— Only five percent of evangelicals believe cohabitation by unmarried couples is acceptable, but about 70 percent of those who are religiously unaffiliated or consider themselves “spiritual but not religious” agree with cohabitation.

The study’s results are both encouraging and unsurprising, given evangelicals’ identification with Christ, Moore and Walker wrote.

The research suggests younger evangelicals “aren’t hewing to the culture’s expectation that they conform to its values,” they wrote in the National Review piece. “That’s a welcome reality, especially given the significant cultural pressures that young Christians face in today’s culture.”

Moore and Walker wrote, “As American culture secularizes, the most basic Christian tenets seem ever more detached from mainstream American culture. Those who identify with Christianity, and who gather with the people of God, have already decided to walk out of step with the culture. … Evangelical views on sexuality seem strange, but young Evangelicals in post-Christianizing America have already embraced strangeness by spending Sunday morning at church rather than at brunch.”

Sexuality is not incidental to Christianity, they say.

“Marriage and sex point, the Bible says, to a picture of the gospel itself, the union of Christ and his church,” Moore and Walker wrote. “This is why the Bible spends so much time, as some critics would put it, ‘obsessed’ with sex. That’s why, historically, churches that liberalize on sex tend to liberalize themselves right out of Christianity itself.”

Moore and Walker acknowledged the cultural shift.

“The Sexual Revolution marches on, but it doesn’t move forward without dissent,” they wrote. “On any given Sunday morning, in your community, young Evangelicals are telling America that a sexual counter-revolution is ready to be born, again.”

The results of his research, Regnerus says, “suggest that while a modest minority of Evangelicals under 40 profess what we might call more sexually liberal attitudes, it’s not a significant minority,” according to Moore and Walker’s op-ed.

The study identifies an evangelical as someone who attends an evangelical Christian church weekly.

Regnerus shared part of his research in a presentation at the ERLC’s April leadership summit on the Gospel and sexuality. The study surveyed more than 15,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 60, but Regnerus focused on respondents younger than 40. The entire study will be released in September.
Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).