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Cheap Sex & Modern Love

An interesting letter from a reader. I’ve deleted some identifying information to protect her privacy:

I’m a married woman with 3 teenagers. I read your blog and think it’s interesting, and weirdly encouraging. Your Ben Op idea intrigues me. Not sure I agree with you, but would have you over for dinner anytime.

I’m writing you because I thought you would find this information interesting. My husband and I came from conservative Christian families. We married at age 20. He and I met at school, fell madly in love, and it seemed the normal thing to do would be to marry. There was plenty of pushback back then. We didn’t listen to the naysayers, just plugged along with instinct. We both had good jobs before we decided to have children.

When our kids were young, we realised both of us working was crazy and I quit.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago: my 19 year old son got married! This is the part I thought you might find interesting. He and his wife are pretty unusual [the reader here describes their work and education accomplishments, and an extraordinarily charitable thing the couple is doing to serve a needy family member].

The pushback from Christian acquaintances has been shocking. I sent my kiddos to [a Christian school]. This would be maybe the most conservative, evangelical, blah blah blah place in the [region]. Mostly people are mad and upset I would “let” my kiddo marry. He takes after his parents and is fairly “strong minded” so the “let” thing is hilarious!

But, here’s the thing! So many of these parents would be perfectly fine if my son was sleeping with his girlfriend, but are not OK with them being married. Let that sink in. These are not people who would identify as “nominal” Christians. These parents want their kids to marry as 30 somethings I guess.

I don’t think most people should marry as young as my son did, or I did. But, the fact that living together, wink, wink is perfectly acceptable is a massive problem.

Also, on Facebook many friends from the church we used to go to are gushing over a marriage. His 3rd, her 2nd. Problematic. I think both of these people are better humans than me. Wonderful people. We have worked with both of them in youth ministry, but back in the day when you made a crappy choice to leave your spouse, it would be called sin. Today it’s just celebrated because after all, who doesn’t want to be “happy.”

Last night, someone I talked to at an event in Nashville urged me to read sociologist Mark Regnerus’s new book Cheap Sex, which is about the technology-driven transformation in sexual behavior and mores over the past few decades. I’ve ordered it, and it’s on its way, but was able to find these passages online from the introduction:


What’s interesting to me, comparing these passages to the reader’s letter, is how so many Christians have been thoroughly assimilated by the norms of the broader culture. Last night at the Benedict Option event in Nashville, Dr. Russell Moore talked briefly about the access of kids to technology, which often entails pornography use. He said the biggest problem is not really the kids, but the parents who give them smartphones indiscriminately, because the parents don’t want to be out of step with the social norms in their peer group.

I get really tired of hearing people criticize The Benedict Option on the grounds that we Christians are supposed to be “salt and light” to the world — something we cannot be if we withdraw from it. Aside from the fact that I don’t advocate a total withdrawal from the world, what these complaints often mask, I find, is a desperate fear that they and their children will be seen as weird. Christians can only be “salt and light” to the world if we retain our savor and our luminosity. The metaphor implies that Christians bring something distinct and necessary to the wider world. But if we are just like everybody else, what good are we — and how faithful to our mission? As Jesus said,

But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

When I hear Ben Op critics say, “But we are called to be salt and light,” what I often (but not always) think is, this person does not want to have to change her life or her kids’ lives in any way that would make them seem “weird,” and is trying to construe her conformism as a Christian virtue. Do you want the world of “cheap sex” for your sons and your daughters? Then go ahead, go with the flow, and dispel your anxiety by telling yourself that It’s Not Happening To Them. Just please have the honesty to not bring Jesus, salt, and light into it.

Meanwhile, reader with the newly married son, I salute you and your weird family.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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