Making all kinds of churches nervous

TrueLoveWaitsI've been wondering, tmatt -- in question (3), are you trying to get at the homosexuality question, or something else? If something else, can you say more about why that question in particular? If homosexuality, why phrase it in such an indirect manner? (Since it is often the definition of the marriage sacrament that is contested.) Just curious. Posted by Liz B. at 10:28 pm on September 27, 2006

This is an excellent question, since battles over sexuality have dominated the religion beat for a decade or two.

Back in the late 1980s and early '90s, religion-beat profesionals began to see signs that the progressive wing of the mainline Protestant world -- led, in this case, by the Presbyterian Church (USA) -- was seeking theological language to declare sexual intercourse, in or out of marriage, a sacrament in and of itself.

Of course this was linked to the gay issue, but the issue is much bigger than that. Some liberal theologians -- in a burst of candor -- began to say that adultery was not always a sin and that the Holy Spirit might, in some cases, lead a person into adultery. "The wind blows where it will" and all of that. I have searched the World Wide Web and I cannot find a good summary of the crucial document, which was the 1991 report of the Task Force on Human Sexuality in the PCUSA. The chair was a United Church of Christ intellectual named John Carey.

Meanwhile, the Episcopal Church was arguing about some similar topics, led, as always, by the candor of Bishop Jack Spong of Newark. A key moment came in 1991 with the defeat of the "(Bishop William C.) Frey Amendment," which simply stated that Episcopal clergy should not have sex outside of marriage. This was too controversial to pass.

But the events on the left were only part of the story, in my opinion.

In the typical "conservative" church, pastors were falling strangely silent on the sins that beset their own flocks, mostly sex outside of marriage and before marriage, while they were often trumpeting their churches' beliefs on the sexual activities of gays and lesbians. It was the old plank-in-the-eye issue.

I thought it was interesting that I was told, while working on one of my earliest columns about the "True Love Waits" movement, that some of the strongest opposition to the concept came from adults, not teens. The problem was that pastors could not offend divorced deacons or other adults in the church who were having sex before marriage or outside of their marriages.

When it comes to sex, the typical conservative pastor is much more afraid to talk about premarital or extramarital sex than about homosexuality. There is a story there, I think, and it's an important story.

The emphasis in Christian tradition is on sex and marriage. A journalist who asks religious leaders this question -- "Is sex outside of the Sacrament of Marriage a sin?" -- will disturb many on the left and the right and, I have found, will almost always gain new information.

Again, my goal in creating the tmatt trio questions was journalistic, not theological. I was trying to find out what questions would get me past that old political left vs. right divide.

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