Publications often set up "experts" to write definitive pieces on certain subjects without asking them to follow some basic journalism standards, such as providing evidence for conclusions. We see this kind of piece from historian Jessica Warner the Globe & Mail on how evangelicals are getting quite sexy.
An earlier title read "Praise the lord. Let's fornicate" and was later changed to "Praise the lord. Let's copulate," but the original headline is still in the URL. We might assume that's a copy editing issue, but you can tell that it was designed to create a stir.
Sin is still sin among today's born-again Christians. But exactly what constitutes sin has undergone a certain shrinkage over the past several decades. The clearest sign of this is the explosion of books, columns and websites urging the faithful to drop their inhibitions and become better lovers. America's conservative evangelicals are in the throes of a revolution--a sexual revolution.
Warner tells us later in the article that evangelicals are not far behind the sexual revolution similar of the 1960s and 70s, but it's unclear what she means: that evangelicals are participating in sex outside of monogamous relationships, using the pill, etc.? She cites the explosion of books, columns and websites as evidence for how "what constitutes sin has undergone a certain shrinkage," but it's unclear what definitions of sin have actually changed.
Besides, haven't books, columns and websites overall increased in the last few decades? She then looks at evangelicals from the 19th century as her baseline for a shift in attitude.
Where the original evangelicals were squeamish about their food, banning coffee, tea and sweets from their tables, their modern counterparts have higher obesity rates than virtually any other group in America. Where the original evangelicals signed temperance pledges and agitated for Prohibition, their modern counterparts are increasingly relaxed about drinking, so much so that a Pentecostal such as Sarah Palin has no compunction about holding up Joe Six-pack as the "normal" American.
Where is the data coming from? Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin actually attends a non-denominational church now, but since when is she held up as a reflection of a religious body?
Separate beds, a curtain between these, separate bedrooms if you can possibly afford it--these are the sorts of helpful hints you will find in the advice literature that targeted 19th-century evangelicals.
So, yes: When conservative evangelicals such as the LaHayes and the Ethridges encourage wives to be more sexually available to their husbands and more demonstrative in bed, they are saying something that would have scandalized earlier generations of evangelicals.
What's unclear is whether this is a religious shift or a cultural shift. I would guess that modern authors might have "scandalized" more than just evangelicals in the 19th century, but that's just a guess.
But when these same evangelicals go around calling sex one of "God's good gifts," to be enjoyed within the bounds of marriage but to be enjoyed nonetheless, they are unwittingly reverting to the original Protestant position, to the Reformation theology they claim to reject.
Ah ha! the author seems to say. These authors don't even know what they're actually saying. But do the LaHayes and Ethridges actually reject what Reformation theology might have said, especially in regards to sex? Finally, her conclusion:
Can you save marriage by tarting it up? That is a question that conservative evangelicals must answer for themselves. But the historian in me has grave doubts. First food, then alcohol, now sex: America's evangelicals have compromised on so many core principles that one wonders which will be the next to go.
Since when do evangelicals consider guidelines related food, alcohol and sex core principles? Sure, they might say that the Bible has things to say about those areas of life. But they have nothing to do with, let's say, Jesus, evil, God, heaven, etc.
Again, our baseline for identifying a shift comes from the 19th century. We're talking about the Pride and Prejudice era--that's a pretty easy baseline to set to identify a shift in public discussion about sex.