Culture Sex and sexuality

Welcome to the Sexual Counter-Reformation

One of the traps we fall into as Christians responding to the chaos in today’s culture is that sometimes we do not see the wood for the trees.  So we end up responding to particular issues without realising the context in which those issues arise.  It is absolutely essential that we get the bigger picture – the helicopter view.  In the following article I attempt to do that – and in a way that ordinary Christians can grasp without having to get a PhD in sociology or theology!  I hope it helps….

This article was first published on Christian Today – access the original by clicking here 

Welcome to the Sexual Counter Reformation

Pagan Paradise

Once upon a time human beings lived in ignorance and bliss. They knew they were sexual beings and had sex with whomever, whenever and however they wanted. At the time of the Greeks, Romans and Pagans, everyone lived in sexual freedom and harmony. And then along came the Christians – especially St Paul and St Augustine – and spoiled the whole party. They turned sex into guilt and repression and for the past 1500-plus years the Western world has largely lived under this cloud of Catholic/Calvinist/Christian oppression.

50 Shades
NBCUniversalDakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in 50 Shades Darker – but are we seeing a sexual Counter-Reformation?

The Sexual Enlightenment

But never fear. A new dawn was coming. Up stepped the apostles of the New Enlightenment: Darwin, Marx and Freud; followed by their disciples such as Margaret Mead (The Coming of Age in Samoa); the Bloomsbury SetKinsey, Ingmar Bergman and Hugh Hefner, among others. The seeds of the new sexual revolution were sown, seeds that would only come to fruition in the 1960’s sexual reformation.

Easier divorce, the invention of the contraceptive pill, acceptance of sex outside normal conventional marriage, the industrialisation of pornography, the legalisation of abortion, the freedom offered by drugs, some elements of the feminist movement, and the development of Queer theory were all contributing factors in this glorious liberation. By the Summer of Love in 1967 we were all able to share free love, sexual liberation and freedom from the sexual and social repression of our Puritan/Catholic past. We were progressing into sexual nirvana.

Strange Fruit

Or so the story was supposed to run. But 60 years on the seed that was sown in the 1960’s sexual reformation has borne a very different fruit. Sexually Transmitted Diseases are at download-6an epidemic level, abortions now run at millions every year; one in three marriages end in divorce; millions of children are not being brought up with both their parents; child pornography and abuse is on the increase; hard core pornography has become the norm on the internet; the streets have not become safer for women; and slavery (in the form of sex slave trading) has returned to the West. Broken homes, dysfunctional families, increased loneliness, gender confusion and the sheer utter lovelessness of it all.
And so we have come on to a crisis point. Some think it is a turning point. The Spectator last week was headlined ‘The Sexual Reformation’ and carried articles wondering if the backlash against the failed fruit of this reformation was now leading to a Sexual Counter-Reformation. It was pointed out that sexual freedom has led to sexual fear and now there is a new secular puritanism coming to the fore. Every word is to be scrutinized, safe spaces established, ‘women-only’ carriages on trains’ etc. In an era that is obsessed with sex (was it ever different?) and where we have such sexual freedom, the irony is that many are concluding it’s better not to have sex at all. We live in an era when Fifty Shades of Grey is feted as feminist erotica, even though it glorifies male dominance and violence, while a man putting his hand on a woman’s knee is an evil sign of the patriarchy. Our answer to misogyny (hatred of women) is apparently misandry (hate men). Put those two together and you end up with misanthropy (hatred of human beings). In the age of humanism we are heading towards a society that likes the idea of humanity, it’s just humans it can’t stand.

There are some Christians who think that this backlash is a good thing and that it might herald better days ahead. I’m not convinced. I think that we live in a confused, hurting and increasingly irrational culture, where the gods of money, power and sex still reign. I don’t believe that a return to a perceived golden age of Victorian morality is either possible or desirable. What we really need is to go back even further – to the 1st century Greco-Roman Pagan world.

Back to the Future

In a sense we are already there. Unlike the myth sold us by the false apostles of the new sexual revolution, this was not a time of sexual bliss but one of confusion, abuse, slavery, sexual diseases, infanticide and abortion, immorality, and the rich and powerful ruling over and using the poor and weak. In other words instead of our society progressing we have regressed to the Greco/Roman/Pagan past. We have gone back to the future.

So it’s simple. The Church should do in the 21st century, what it did in the 1st. Preach the Gospel, care for the poor, avoid all sexual immorality, live in a community of love and fellowship and keep ourselves from being tainted by the world. The Church failed many times (look at the Corinthian church for a start). But that is where we have such an advantage. Ours is not a gospel of law (do this and you will live) but a gospel of grace and forgivingness (this has been done for you – now go and live!). Nothing our secular sexual revolutionaries or counter- revolutionaries can offer comes anywhere near this. They can only offer a false freedom that leads to slavery or a moralism that leads to condemnation. We can offer forgiveness that leads to eternal life. A new beginning. A new birth. God knows but our society needs to hear and see that right now.

As James 1:7 says: ‘Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

David Robertson is Associate Director of Solas CPC in Dundee and minister at St Peter’s Free Church. Follow him on Twitter @TheWeeFlea.


Re-imaging Humanity – Sex, Sexuality, Gender and the Inhumanity of 21st Century Humanism – Part 1


  1. Thanks, a very good article. I particularly thought the line about liking the idea of humanity but not standing humans rang true. (Sadly, similarly some Christians love the idea of the church, but can’t stand the church in practice – Bonhoeffer had a saying about this.)
    I would add to your last paragraph that we also need a Psalm 80-style calling to God to work in merciful power.

  2. “the irony is that many are concluding it’s better not to have sex at all”.
    Put ‘BBC’ and ‘asexual’ into your search engine and see how many hits come up.
    Admittedly being averse to sex is not quite the same thing as ‘concluding it’s better not to have sex at all’ but it’s interesting that asexuality is something the BBC now deems worthy of plugging.

  3. The stats on STIs are worth a closer look. For instance, the real increase is in the US; figures are relatively stable in Europe. Two factors are hypothesised for the US increase – the miserable failure of the abstinence first programme and the lack of a national health service. It’s probably not that people in the US are having more extra marital sex than their European cousins, but rather that they have less information and poorer health care.

    In many cases, statistics on STIs were not accurately gathered until the early part of the twentieth century, which makes a broad comparison between later and earlier times difficult.

  4. Mike17, the BBC is ‘plugging’ being asexual, but rather reporting on something that has always been with us, but up until recently it has been rather taboo. Imagine how isolating it must feel not to be represented in any way.

  5. The hypothesis that if we get to do the things which we want to do then the result will be personal happiness is very plausible. Any argument against it sounds counter-intuitive. Freud, for all his shortcomings, recognised that the Self is divided and in conflict with itself. He was, effectively, re-casting the doctrine of Original Sin into materialist and psychological terms. But even that proved to be too much bad news for the 60’s generation and their successors who seem to think that humans are much more internally unified than they really are and that the sexual impulse is a relatively straightforward thing to control and manage if only people are sufficiently well educated and religious ideas are excluded from public discussion. The more their project fails the more it’s advocates are likely to succumb to a ‘one more heave’ strategy and do what they did before but with more vigour.

  6. Interesting article. My understanding of Kinsey was that his major work was an observational study, and I agree that he promulgated sexual freedom, but on the basis that he found everyone was doing everything anyway and we might as well talk about it. I’m not convinced that the rates of every negative effect (e.g. children with one parent) mentioned above have increased since ‘the sexual revolution’ and it’s not the fact that we’re better at counting these things, diagnosing STI’s, etc. I’m not convinced the solution that has been promoted by evangelical Christians is the right way as well as there seems to be some indication that divorce rates, teen pregnancy, STIs and other things tends to be worse in ‘Bible Belt’ states in America as opposed to places with comprehensive sex education.

    My other question is this, I never see Christian petitions about restricting divorce to cases of adultery and people who were divorced and remarried in my evangelical church were never stigmatised and it was accepted that a second marriage where the first spouse was alive was as equally valid as the first. Why does the church treat gay marriage, two people seeking to form a committed union as different to divorce?

    1. Kinsey’s work is now established as a complete fraud. The rates of one parent children have enormously increased. Bible belt states means nothing if people don’t practice what they preach. The practice of divorce and remarriage varies but what I call serial monogamy is not acceptable. SSM is very different.

    2. Divorce and remarriage was a controversial topic in the churches I grew up in in the 1980’s and 90’s. My parents were missionaries with a non-denominational organisation so we had contact with Christians from a variety of denominations. I know of churches today that still do not allow divorced and remarried people into church leadership. However it seems as though many Christians have compromised in this area.

  7. David,
    The common complaint of the man in the street is, ‘I don’t know what the world’s coming to.’ Perhaps the simplest answer to that is ‘Aging Population.’ Other nations are worried about the problem: the Chinese don’t know how to persuade the survivors of their one-child-policy time-bomb to now have two children of their own; the Japanese find that a significant number of their young men are too afraid of young women to even talk to them, far less start a family with them. And we seem to keep adding reasons for not having children yet or even at all to our repertoire. Just imagine if one of our innovations — e.g. gay marriage — proved to have a far higher uptake than anticipated; people will still find ways to have babies and raise children but the effect will be to increase the average age of the population unless we bring in more immigrants. It could be argued that if the US had had Northern Island style abortion laws instead of a woman’s right to choose then Hillary would have won the election since those lives thus saved in red states alone would have been predominately brought up to be Democrat voters.
    You are right to point us to the early church for comfort and to challenge us. If children are a gift from God — and they are — then there is no need for us to put social pressure onto our young people to marry and attempt to out-breed the world, as some do. I think we are liable to underestimate how much freedom came with Christianity not to have to get married and not to have to marry off one’s unmarried daughters. Our times are in God’s hands and it is not unreasonable to conclude that, if the nation repents, then God is able to restore the years that the locusts have eaten.

  8. Orphans and widows…..(James)

    Where do we see the most harm in society? Toward children and women, in particular the fatherless, the husbandless.

    Virtually every social study concludes this, yet the word of God highlighted it first! Long before our modern social think tanks.

    The mandate for the church is to help this group. Because they are the most vulnerable, they are the most exploited, the loss of a “husband and father” is devastating to both “wife and child”, but their neglect has a wider impact on society. A mother need not be married to be a “widow” in the biblical sense, (Jesus made that clear with the woman at the well) nor does the “fatherless/orphan” need the man to be deceased.

    The absent father/husband is enough.

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