“Male & Female He Made Them”: Really!
Over the last half-century or so, there has been a progressive erosion of what was once a universally understood norm, that human beings are male and female. While many factors have brought about this change, there are several that represent a significant departure from the moral tradition common to both Eastern and Western Christianity. Chief among these are:
- The development and widespread availability of artificial contraception.
- The rise of “no fault” divorce.
- The cultural acceptance of (or at least indifference to) fornication and adultery.
- The ready availability of pornography.
- The granting to same-sex couplings the same civil and legal status as marriage.
These developments are all interrelated. The inherent link between conjugal intimacy and procreation was undone by contraception; the permanence of marriage by no-fault divorce; marriage as the exclusive context for sexual intimacy by the acceptance (even among Christians!) of pre- and extramarital sexual behavior and pornography. And with the growing cultural acceptance of same-sex couples as “marriage”, we are now at a place where even the basic, created, distinction between man and woman is seen as irrelevant.
These events are all cultural battles in the Sexual Revolution that has been fought since the 1960’s. And, more and more, parents are contacting me about the emotional and moral harm they see being done either to their children or their children’s friends by the acceptance and promulgation of the moral norms of the Sexual Revolution. Though our situation is serious, we need to be careful that we don’t succumb to the understandable temptation to look at all these developments as merely an attack on sacred cultural norms.
As Christians and people of goodwill we need, to be honest.
Some of the cultural norms, like the role of women in society and the workplace or the tendency to blame the victim of sexual assault or to overlook physical abuse in marriage, needed to be reformed. But often with needed reform came a growing indifference–again, among Christians–to the Christian moral tradition and what God has revealed to us about who we are as men and women.
As youth ministers, we often find ourselves serving young people who have been negatively influenced by our culture’s understanding of sexuality. For example, a growing number of young people are quite open and fluid about their sexuality. As they move through high school and into their early 20’s a young person might think of himself or herself at different times as gay, bisexual, or straight.
Complicated as questions about sexual orientation are, there are also a growing number of young men and women who are confused about their sexual identity (transgenderism). A young person who is biologically male will think of himself as female (trans-woman) while a biologically female young person might insist that she is actually male (trans-male). As one friend of mine said, “It is a very difficult subject to navigate right now.”
In addition to the harm this does psychologically, confusion over sexual orientation or identity often results in the young person (and often family and friends) falling away from Christ and the Church. Important as the cultural questions are, it is the relationship of the young person to Christ and the Church which is our primary concern as youth ministers.
So what are we to do?
First, we need to accept the facts on the ground. Even if the young people in our youth groups aren’t themselves personally struggling with pornography, same-sex attraction, gender dysphoria (the clinical name for transgenderism) or in a family broken by divorce, it is almost certain that they have friends or classmates who are.
So the second thing we must do is pray. We need to pray not just for the young people in our parish but for their friends. Part of praying for young people is also praying for their parents. You might consider asking your priest to say occasionally the “Akathist to the Mother of God, Nurturer of Children” to ask the Mother of God to intercede for all children and their parents.
We also need to pray for ourselves, other youth ministers and for the deacons, priests, and bishops as together we minister to young people. We need to have not only wisdom and compassion for those who struggle but also the courage not to compromise on the Gospel. As I told a young friend recently, wisdom is useless without the courage to act. Such compromise often happens out of a misplaced sense of concern for those who are struggling.
While we don’t want to drive people away, we also can’t deny the Gospel. Unfortunately, and again even among Orthodox Christians, there are those who have accepted the moral standards of the world. In doing so, they take from young people to opportunity not just for repentance but restoration, reconciliation, and wholeness in Christ. As a minister of the Gospel, accepting the world’s standards means I become an obstacle to someone else’s salvation.
Third, to prayer, we need to add good information about all of these issues.
We need to educate ourselves on the Church’s moral tradition as well as the scientific data on all the issues introduced here. The Ruth Institute is a good place to begin. Here you can find resources that address the moral consequences and the scientific implications of the Sexual Revolution.
Finally, it can’t be said enough. We need to pray for the young people we serve. I pray daily for the members of the OCF here in Madison. I also commemorate all the members by name when I prepare the gifts for the Divine Liturgy. While solid moral teaching and good scientific data (see here) are essential, without prayer they won’t bear fruit that will last.