culture

culture

Chastity and the Future of the First Amendment

chastity, children, culture, family, religion No comments

The family is the most sexual of all organizations. But given the sexual chaos of modern times, new families who want to succeed in their task of child-raising must quickly find a community of other families of like mind.  They are most likely to find such families at their place of worship if the sexuality taught there is a family and child centered sexuality.

The data show (see chart below later) that central to family sexuality is an ethos of chastity, necessary for marital unity and stability and out of which flow myriad benefits.  Without chastity the family is no more a thriving family than a monastery without celibacy is a monastery.

Chastity is now central to the public argument for religious freedom because such families need their freedom of association and freedom of action to raise the next generation to live the same strong family life.  They need freedom to teach their own way of life: marriage till death do us part, and raising their children to do the same.  Much as the Amish fought and won their freedom of association and way of life, so too other religious communities are now finding they too must fight and win a freedom which they had assumed was theirs without asking.  It had been so.  It is no longer.

If we want our religious freedom we have to be able to make the argument for teaching chastity as a way of life, not as a “risk reduction strategy”.  Chaste family life is easy to defend in the public debate because it is far superior to all other ways, by any measure of human thriving.  Teenagers (who have yet to experience life and learn its hard lessons by experience) need to understand that there are lifelong consequences for “sowing wide oats”, as the most important chart in all the social sciences makes clear:

They need to be very familiar with the data (with the lessons of life experience) that the totally monogamous couple (only sexual partner ever: their spouse) is the least likely to divorce – by far. And that one third of women who have had only one other sexual partner (normally before marriage) are likely to divorce within five years, and that those who had two such sexual partners (other than their husband – again most likely before marriage) have a fifty percent chance of divorce within five years — and that half of their children will be raised without their father present.

Chastity may be difficult but it is central to a family-centered life.  And it is also central to justice for children.  There is no free lunch on this issue, not for teenagers, adults nor for society itself.

If churches and parents do not make the strongest case possible for the chastity-based family (and on its fruits and benefits it is an easy case to make) they will not get their religious freedom.

The rest of society may think such families are weird (despite the data) but they will likely respect them for the path they have chosen.

The future of the First Amendment rests on the freedom to teach the centrality of chaste family life.   We will not win I if we are ambivalent or shy.

Malleable Human Nature: The Black Hole of Culture

child well-being, children, culture No comments

A most remarkable essay has just been released, Three Necessary Societies  by Russell Hittinger of the University of Tulsa.  It will likely be referred to repeatedly in years to come as people unwrap its implications.  Among many other issues, Hittinger draws attention to the frightening prospect of the simultaneous serious weakening of all three of the necessary societies needed by man: the family, the church and the polity (civil society, including government).

Hittinger underlines the cause of this simultaneous weakening in the now-deep-seated anthropological assumption that man’s nature is malleable. This assumption shapes the ethos of our day.  It is no wonder then that culture should evaporate.  If culture is a people’s way of acting together to help each other through life, particularly through the important tasks and through the tough periods, the wise practice of those who came before us make little sense if we can shape our nature and our trials and tasks into whatever form we like.   If we can remake marriage, the sacraments, our sexuality, our obligations, our most sacred relationships, even our God who needs guidance on how to do these well.

The implication for families is that cultural support will become very small, and very local.  It will exist only where others we associate with hold to a view of human nature as a given, a nature with potential strengths that need to be cultivated and predicable fault-lines to be guarded against.

In the anthropology of malleable human nature taboos make no sense.  There is no “massively forbidden” act, there are no fundamentally destructive practices, such as abortion or sexual perversions.  Of course if the child is not the ultimate purpose of sexual intercourse anything is permissible.

Set against this is the fact that family life is fragile, as our age has taught us.  There are attitudes and acts to be guarded against if one is to have a strong family.  It was a great comfort for our great grand-parents when the culture did a lot of the guarding and said a lot of the “no”s.  It is the burden of modern parents that they have to do all the explaining, repeatedly, to teenage children tempted by the license of modernity.

One fall-out of the evaporation of culture is that parents are left, more and more, to their own devices in raising children.  They have less support around them.  Culture operates on many different levels in supporting parents: it contains deliberate overt acts, and others that are “just the way it is always done”, still others that are preconscious and subconscious.  Taboos are powerful unconscious cognitive mechanisms that forbid, normally something people are unaware of and beyond consciousness.

Given the erosion of taboos, one of the first tasks of young newly married families is to find other young families with whom they want their children to grow up and the schools likely to have the children they would not mind their own children marrying.  Once married, how quickly the child becomes the center of action for the young married couple and that child’s own remote, future romance and marriage begins to shape the parents’ thinking.

In the absence of an operating guiding culture the newborn child forces parents to begin the construction of culture for themselves.  The child is at the heart of culture, the purpose of culture.  All eyes are on the child for he and she are the future, even the everlasting future, “For of such (little children) is the kingdom of heaven.”

 

Pat Fagan, PhD

Director of MARRI at The Catholic University of America

Growing the Culture Locally

children, culture, immigration, religion No comments

At the core of culture is the child, wrapped in a family and embedded in a community of faith:  Faith, Family and the Child (the future of the world).

My guess is that for the next hundred years or even longer economies will churn a lot as the ever-deeper breakthroughs in physics and biology get harnessed in new technologies, “the process of industrial mutation that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one” (Schumpeter, 1942).    As a particular source of income dries up many people will likely have to migrate in search of new income.  That migration will upset the stable relationships that make cultural patterns possible.

Migrants feel intensely the need for a welcoming community.  Where are they most likely to find it?  In places where people of their own faith, race, and language live.  And when they cannot find such religious and ethnic compatibility they will seek community among those who share their view of life, who share their faith and who worship as they do. It is there they expect to find those who will welcome them, treat them kindly and make them feel at home despite obvious differences.

These also are the folk they will trust to educate their children: good people who share their values and beliefs.

Such religious locales are the hothouses that grow nurturing micro cultures.  And as the world churns and migrants flow because of war or economics such new micro cultures will continue to sprout and grow into vibrant new communities.  In the United States we are used to seeing this happen in our major cities as this pattern repeats itself again and again with each new wave of immigrants.

However it is now happening across the globe wherever more affluence and work act as magnets to those fleeing violence or poverty.  Thus, even as economies churn, cultures also churn.

And most of us and our children are going to be displaced in some way by the churning of the emerging economic orders.  Migration in the US has always been, not only for new members from the outside, but also within the country, frequently by those whose ancestors came generations ago.  We are a migratory people, increasingly so.

For the world to be a welcoming place for families with children (the families that give us the future) places of worship will be the hub around which the necessary cultural patterns will emerge.

Places of worship will need to be deliberate in their “full family service” if they are to be the community magnet their new members need them to be.  Many Evangelical churches have blazed the trail in taking care of this need.    Catholic families have the same needs.  And in filling them the Church is building, parish by parish, congregation by congregation, the strands of the new culture, the patterns of support and celebration from the cradle to the grave.  Nunc coepi.

The Global Culture Each Child Needs

children, culture, religion, romance No comments

Culture is a living organism, of interconnected relationships with universal strands.[1]  Culture is a people’s way of guiding themselves through life, from conception to death and through all the critical milestones on the way to life on “the other side”.

A people distill their experience into the wise ways of elegantly celebrating these milestones — of relating with each other in definite protocols in dress, in speech, in ways of expressing joys or sorrows.  In being with each other, ways of supporting each other every step of the way.   That is culture.

And high culture is when we, from all levels of wealth and education, put music and art and poetry and drama and song and dance to these steps through life.

How much of culture would vanish if we left out romance (courtship through marriage), how much poetry, song, dance, opera, novels, drama and art.   Imagine these arts with no expression of romance.

The most exciting part of culture is the celebration of romance, from the first moment of interest in “the other” through the high drama of the ups and downs of coming closer and closer in affection, leading eventually to betrothal and marriage.   The whole community looks on and hopes — or fears.

But behind all the excitement and drama of romance — eventually — lies the baby, the new life.   The purpose of it all.  This is the quieter but stronger joy, that transforms the beautiful young woman into the strong young mother who now has a fierce purpose in life,  a purpose that also transforms her husband, the young man moving from ‘carefreedom’ to steady worker and strong protector. And with each birth together they grow in strength and love — if all is going as it should.  If they love. If they live for the other.

Thus at the center of culture — of all the weaves of its tapestry — lies the baby.  But also lies prayer, for — as all with common sense or the experience of life we all know — the help of God is needed to rise to such love (and the data illustrate it so).

However, it is a mistake to see ourselves as guardians of old cultures, though we love them and bring much of them forward with us, especially the more intimate and the deeply family forms within them.   Rather, because we live in a very new and very different world, we are called to create our new ways of guiding and supporting each other — particularly in the more public, “high-art” and “low-art” forms — that express the drama of romance to the birth of the child and all the steps that child negotiates on its journey to its own romance with the one to whom it is going to give its heart for the rest of its life… and on to death, when that child finally goes home to God Who has watched over each of its steps — from that first moment of its creation when He and two other children of His, male and female, co-created this new wonderful being: their child.

We are all called to build these new cultures— the long dance of love and service to others around us but most of all service to the one to whom we have given our heart and to the children we together have called into existence for all eternity.   We are the builders of a new culture that, interwoven with strands of modernity, will span the globe.   For all these milestones through life need a similar guidance, universally, if they are to be successfully negotiated: fidelity, purity and chastity of heart, marriage, birth, motherhood and fatherhood, introduction of the child to God and the transcendental (to which they take to like ducks to water in the very early years when it should therefore begin), wisdom from parents and grandparents about life, love, hard work, friendship, loyalty to family, friends and community, enjoyment of festivities, time for family and friends, and, as preparation for the last journey to the next life, a richness in belonging selflessly to those close by.  All these are universals.  All peoples need their own wise ways of shepherding their offspring through life, thus giving the world variety in culture because of tradition, habitat, and religious beliefs.

Protecting each other’s different ways of negotiating these steps through life is a universal and global need.  Honoring and permitting the differences is needed in a global community.  This culture building is a new twist on a task as ancient as man, and as widespread as the dispersion of mankind through history.

All over the world, in all these cultures, the same melody can be heard, sung by every child, sung to all of us but most intimately to its father and mother:  I need you both to love each other — in marriage — for without your married love I cannot become the person I am meant to be; without your marriage I cannot fully become myself.  You owe this to me.  It is my right.  On it I am helplessly dependent.   It is not only your gift to me.  It is a justice — an inalienable right — a universal right you owe me and as I cry out for it, I cry out for justice.  With all the other children of the world.

It is time to articulate this universal right of the child.  It is the core strand of the weave of every culture, of all the cultures we are called to build anew for our children and grandchildren on into the centuries ahead.

In this just love lies life.  Outside it lies death.  We are called to life — always, everywhere, forever.

[1] Slightly adapted from a speech given at The World Congress of Families, in Budapest, May 27, 2017

The Emerging Culture That Will Last

children, culture No comments

Culture is a society’s way of joyfully guiding itself into the future, a future made most visible in its ever-repeating cycle of celebrations.

When you cut to the quick on that future the child emerges.  Looked at differently, our culture is our way of collectively guiding ourselves to guide our children along certain paths, as elegantly as we can, to ensure as good a future as we can for them.

Why the emphasis on elegance?  Because culture is a common enjoyment.  It is “beauty for everyone”.

Culture is a people giving themselves a little bit of heaven while here on earth: enjoying the beauty we have created for ourselves as a people.  Thus special days are celebrated as beautifully as we can: birthdays, weddings especially — a high point of culture, as are all the key steps leading up to it: the patterns of romance and of engagement.  So too are a peoples big festivals honoring its history as a people and so too are its big religious holidays made to be enjoyed (even the somber ones).

Thus we can also admire and vicariously enjoy other peoples’ cultures: the Italians as they celebrate in their very Italian way all sorts of feast days; Indians of India with very different religious feast days and holidays; Chinese in their ways, Japanese in theirs.  And so it goes on, all around the world.

There are common elements in all cultures: birth, marriage, death and funerals, courtship, birthdays, high religious feast days. They exist all over the globe for all peoples in all places.  Life has the same common “critical tasks” no matter what nation or people we are.

For us in the US the question today is “What do we celebrate together now?”  With birth a suspect thing (thanks to abortion and out of wedlock births), with romance dying (given contraception and the hookup culture), with weddings only for some and far fewer, and with the afterlife non-existent for an increasing number, lots of the reasons for elegant celebration or mourning are gone.  The building of elegance around these milestones in the life can no longer be a common project for present America.  We do not have a culture war. Instead, through shared embarrassment, we have a culture starvation.

Some of our states have even eliminated death as a stage – it has now become a choice!   But who can celebrate an assisted suicide.  Can anyone envisage great art being inspired by such?  A new Mozart Requiem that brings us deep within ourselves even as it brings us up to the heavens?  For suicide?

We are a people who no longer have a common project of shepherding the child onto a life path that leads to the “good life” (or a “good enough” life) and finally into the afterlife.  We no longer have such a common project to which to commit.  Hence we can have no culture.

But the American that will survive will build its own new culture and it will come, it can only come, from those who love bringing new life into existence, for without the baby there is no cycle to repeat.

Out of the ashes of present post-modernity will spring the new American culture – probably already well underway but not visible through the mainstream media whose energies are fixated elsewhere.  Our new America will be one with ways of moving through the stages of life with the elegance that “Joe the construction worker and his wife Jane” are quite capable of expressing when they get together with their families and friends at community celebrations.

I predict that the dominant color in the new patterns being woven into the cultural fabric of the new America, the one that not only lasts but thrives, will be  the celebration of new life, and in the tapestry of this culture the thread of the Fatherhood of God will be visible.  We will find an American way to do this.  We will be a people who celebrate four beings, the new baby, the couple who co-created this new life, and God the creator.  This is the culture that will emerge, likely already is emerging.  The logic of reality makes it so.

We have lots to look forward to. Culture spotting will be the new enjoyment.

The Universal Right of the Child to the Marriage of His Parents

children, culture, family, marriage, rights of children 2 comments

No topic has more power to transform the male-female debate, the chastity debate, the abortion debate, the divorce debate and the feminist debate than the right of the child to the marriage of his (or her) parents.

Every child has this right from the moment of conception.  The child did not ask to come into existence but was brought into existence by the action of two people, a male and a female.[1]

Without his parents’ married love and commitment the child is not going to thrive the way he should.  He is not going to reach his “ordinary” potential.  It is a pretty clear cut case of a one-way obligation.  The child is not obligated to his father and mother — at this stage of his existence.

The adults (sexually mature: as in capable of transmitting life) are the ones with obligations towards the child, towards this new person they have most seriously affected — for the rest of his existence.

However this obligation cannot be enforced by law because the marriage of the father and the mother has to be entered into freely.  It is invalid if forced. So how do we ensure this right of the child?

We do it by culture — by the cult (cultivation) of moral responsibility for sexual acts.  This new person is the main (most serious) consequence of sexual activity.  Sexual intercourse is designed to produce children.  Nature pushes that way with extraordinary force.  It is extraordinarily serious.  The onus on the “actors” is heavy and long-term.

Living cultures get that point across.  That is why they shepherd sexual intercourse into marriage.

Every child has the right to the marriage of its parents —even if the parents do not give it or withdraw it.  The right still stays.  The violation of this right does not take away the right but only makes it clearer than ever.  It is in its absence that we see the effects of its withdrawal: children don’t reach their potential – for learning and earning, for living longer, for being happy, for marrying in adulthood, even for having and raising their own children.

So where do we start to get this right restored to its proper place in society?

One obvious place to start is in the churches.

Can Christian churches teach this?

Would your pastor be willing to say so from the pulpit?  If not why not?

Have you ever heard of such a sermon?

What would its effects be – after the commotion died down and folk accepted the obvious?

Teen chastity would soar.  Abortions would plummet.  Marriage would increase.  Divorce would plummet – at least in the churches. And with all these changes a host of other great changes would follow.

I suspect nothing would have the impact on shaping the culture than a restoration of respect for this fundamental, universal right of every child.

Would you bring it up with friends and see what they say?  What are the obstacles to getting adults to assent to this, first privately and then more publicly among their friends and colleagues?

Let me know what you think and what you find out. Comment below or email me directly at pat.fagan.marri@gmail.com

 

[1] A different essay could explore the rights of the child brought into existence by modern technologies and teams.

 

Marriage vs. Alluring Images of Infidelity

commitment, community, culture, divorce, Hollywood, intact family No comments

The seven-decade tradition of TV watching continues apace in the Internet Age: 34.2 percent of the internet bandwidth is occupied by Netflix during primetime according to Sandvine the provider of such data. But there is a link between TV viewing and the state of marriage.

A natural experiment occurred in Brazil between 1960 and 1990 as the government there pursued a TV expansion strategy, moving into a new state every few years and building the infrastructure for TV watching. This staggered project provided a staggered change in behavior as peoples TV viewing changed in each newly furbished state. The end result: a significant rise, and a staggered rise province by province, as TV viewing spread. Soap opera viewing (i.e., infidelity-viewing) was identified as one of the most significant aspects of the change.  Henry Potrykus of MARRI summarizes the research in a brief paper.

We in the states have been watching TV for so long, and its content increasingly depicts family lifestyles that we have come to accept and condone (sex outside of marriage, divorce, and cohabitation), that we are likely totally unaware of the effect of TV watching on the family behavior of ourselves and of our children. Even mature adults are affected. Divorce among those fifty and above has grown very significantly in the last few decades. Instead of seeking marital therapy that works, the divorce court seems to be the route of choice.

Where lies this power to change? One of the most powerful resources of the mind is the faculty of the imagination. Skilled hypnotherapists use it all the time, and to great effect. Top athletes become experts at using it constantly in their preparation and even during peak contests. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, psychotherapists ever, Milton Erickson, started early in his career with traditional hypnosis but forty years later had evolved to getting the right helpful image into the mind of his client… By the art of storytelling. TV combines the story, the image, and the idea. No wonder it has such powerful effects.

Americans watch an average of 2.8 hours of TV per dayaccording to one of the best sources, the Department of Labor’s Time Use Survey. Can we have a strong culture that feeds on so much family-weakening imagery? Brazil says no. 

It may not be the picture or what is viewed as much as the ideas—conveyed most powerfully through the image—that have the impact, as Richard Weaver in 1948 contended and as he foretold the generalized effects of TV, which he called “The Great Stereopticon” in his classic “Ideas Have Consequences.” Ideas with story images have even greater consequences for good or for ill. Parents, take note. And my wife and I had better be careful about what we watch on TV. We become what we think about.

Our Floating Sexual Anchor

church, culture, Dating, gender, MARRI, marriage, young adults 1 comment

By: Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern
      Joshua Kelsey, MARRI Intern

The “2014 State of Dating in America” study, conducted by ChristianMingle and JDate, examines the dating behavior of Christian young adults. The study’s most ominous finding is the rapidly growing Christian acceptance of sex outside of marriage.  When asked if they would have sex before marriage, 63% of Christian young adults answered yes, and only 13% said no.  When asked how far into the relationship it was acceptable for the couple to move in together, 27% said after six months of dating, 30% said after a year of dating, and only 13% said it was only acceptable after marriage.

This data does not describe the US population at large—this is the state of things within Christendom (or at least the Christendom according to Christian Mingle and JDate). With thoughts like this harbored in Christian minds throughout our land, it makes sense that marriage is falling apart in our country, divorce rates are remarkably high, and the definition of sexuality is in perpetual flux.  Such research should shock and disturb Christians—the church, after all, ought to be the solution, not the problem.  Our biblical roadmap shows us the way to joyously hold out the single answer to how things work. Shouts of solutions, remedies and programs reverberate through our social conversation, but evidence of their success is grim.  As Christians leave the voice of true reason (divine design), they will enter the age of parenting in the midst of moral and ideological chaos. What follows is that our next generation of children will be raised outside God’s paradigm—they will be the first generation, in theory, to have no background of stability.  The current generation is rebelling against a standard they despise—the next generation won’t be rebels so much as followers of the new social norm.

How can we Christians who hope for cultural redemption fight chaotic societal trends when 63% of our own are captivated by the same trends?  Christian leaders are frustrated, saddened, even angered, by the socio-sexual battle cries thundering against any righteous standard they uphold.  The homosexual marriage movement is gaining ground, more children are born out of wedlock, and cohabitation is increasing — all working to undermine the bedrock of society, the family.  We as Christians expect the unbelieving world to choose its own paths, to stray from God’s design.  Throughout the ages, in varied cultural contexts, societies have turned towards sexual disobedience (among other kinds)—and, one by one, have fallen from splendor. We also know that God’s call to His own people is to turn from sexual immorality, to be set apart, and, most shiver-inducing of all: Be holy, for I am Holy. We adhere to His design for the sexual out of obedience to the Creator of sexuality.  We adhere because…it works.  Simply put, His design makes sense.  He created sexuality, and therefore His way works.

And yet even self-proclaimed followers of God are so blind in the sexual arena.  Society’s proposed sexual system only leads to chaos—first within family relationships, leading to breakdowns in the other key institutions.  In what other context does society so energetically encourage actions that blatantly do not work?  The family (and how sexuality is conducted within this framework) is the root of a functioning society, the stream feeding the tree that grows the branches of government, of economy, of education, etc.  The United States will struggle to maintain any coherent identity or global presence if we continue on this road.
The people of God have always been the symbol of hope.  In theory, we know what it is that works. This is where we mourn the most tragic part of our national story—Christians are following the tide. Those entrusted with the beautiful knowledge of how to grow a thriving society are putting such wisdom aside and stepping into chaos with the rest.

Many think that people leave the Faith and then become sexually promiscuous. But as the State of Dating in America study showed, this is simply not the case.  An increasing many are maintaining their Christian title while adopting the cultural standards of their choice.  We should not simply force our adolescents to sit in church pews. We must teach children of relational beauty, young people of sexual wholeness. We must reach out to the young Christian adults facing a sexually chaotic culture, come beside them, and help them discover true sexual order. We must seek to restore faithful zeal, but also to restore sexual clarity and obedience. We must, with care, ask sexuality and religion to lead each other hand-in-hand away from the pit that consumes them. Only then, when our own Christian culture has changed and sex is honored among us, can we have a hope at all of changing the secular culture and thus offering our nation a happy end.

Facebook, Privacy, and the Commoditization of Children

child well-being, children, culture, family, fathers, marriage, mothers, social media No comments


By MARRI Intern
Recently on Slate, author Amy Webb recounted the story of a friend who frequently posts pictures of her young daughter on Facebook. In her opinion, these digital memories are irreversibly “preventing [the daughter] from any hope of future anonymity.” In reaction to this modern way of public life, before Webb’s daughter was even born she and her husband created social media profiles and a Gmail account for their child. When she is old enough their daughter will have access to an online presence, if she so chooses. Now that their daughter has been born, they diligently monitor social media websites to ensure that none of their friends or relatives posts pictures or personal information about their child.
While Webb’s prerogative as a parent is not in question, she does raise an interesting (and rather concerning) question: what are parents doing to children’s futures by putting them in the public spotlight before they are conscious of the decision? In the past, baby pictures were kept at home in an album; today they are broadcast on the internet. Before modern technology, a person had to know the parents to be able to see a child’s pictures; now, depending on your internet privacy know-how, anyone can see them, including corporate face recognition software. There are babies and children on social media news feeds that users have never met and likely never will because they are the step-nephew-in-law of their college roommate’s best friend (or something like that). While there are cynical applications to remove babies from their news feeds, this is not the point. The point is that society has changed. Americans are increasingly willing to share private details of their lives in a public forum, sometimes with unfortunate negative consequences.
There are countless stories of parents finding pictures of their children being used for advertising, for fake online accounts or even for child pornography. Furthermore, many children born into this generation will have had an online presence since before they were born (think sonogram pictures). American parents have shifted from protecting their children’s privacy to publicly displaying their children. Sons and daughters have arguably become yet another possession that one may flaunt before neighbors. How many “likes” will I get if I post a picture of my child doing x? Look at my baby’s adorable new clothes! And on it goes. Even celebrities effectively place a dollar value on their children by selling the rights to their baby’s first pictures. Parents’ love for and adoration of their children is certainly not in question here, but are these parents devaluing their child by sharing him or her with the world?
Perhaps these parents could instead spend their efforts on become more actively involved in their children’s lives and education to ensure the best chance for their success. Click here for more information from MARRI on what involvement in your child’s life at a young age can mean for his or her development.

Understanding Homosexuality

abstinence, Christianity, conscience, culture, news, Rick Warren, same-sex attraction, social science 1 comment

By Maria Reig Teetor, Intern 

Last Tuesday, evangelical pastor Rick Warren appeared on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight” to discuss the controversial question whether people are born gay or develop gay attractions.

With the recent political campaign we have heard this topic covered in the media as gay activists are pushing for same sex marriage to be legal. As of November it is legal in 9 different states.

After listening to Rick Warren’s statement I realized that at the core of the debate is our understanding of what it means to identify as gay. We need to talk about this issue and not just fight the legal battles. Talking helps plant the seed that will start people thinking about what it means to have gay attractions versus acting upon those attractions.

The first step in talking about it is to make a clear distinction about what sexual orientation means, as Peter Sprigg explains in “Debating Homosexuality: Understanding Two Views.” Sexual orientation is an umbrella term for three different aspects of sexuality: sexual attraction, when one is sexually attracted to someone of the opposite sex, the same sex, or both; sexual conduct, whether the individual chooses to act upon that attraction; and self-identification, whether the individual thinks of himself as “gay,” “lesbian,” “bisexual,” or “straight.”

Gay lobbyists assume that all three are consistent with one another, but based on the research, that is clearly not true.

Should an individual who feels attracted to someone of the same sex (because of the environment he or she has been exposed to, peer pressure, loneliness, or some internal self-identification) act upon these attractions? No, not necessarily.

We all have tendencies that aren’t in accordance with our God-given nature, but it doesn’t mean we choose to engage them.  As Pastor Rick Warren explained, “I have all kinds of feelings in my life and it doesn’t necessarily mean that I should act on every feeling. Sometimes I get angry and I feel like punching a guy in the nose. It doesn’t mean I act on it.”

So, what if someone responds, “I was born this way, I cannot change my attractions”? To this we can answer, first, that the research has not found any “gay gene” or related biological issue that proves someone is born with gay attractions, but that it’s a result of a complex mix of developmental factors. For instance, MARRI research shows that a young woman is more likely to experiment with a lesbian partner if she was raised in a non-intact family.

Second, as Pastor Rick mentioned, we can all be drawn to something that is not good for us or that is not according to our nature, but that doesn’t make it right. He gave the following example: “Sometimes I feel attracted to women who are not my wife. I don’t act on it. Just because I have a feeling doesn’t make it right.”

Those individuals who feel same-sex attractions should be treated with the same respect and kindness we treat any person, but that does not mean we should embrace their actions. We must fight to defend an understanding of sexuality that is in accord with our human nature and human dignity.

In order to do that we must first understand the core of homosexuality: attractions exist, but attractionsare not actions. This is especially important for helping adolescents who are confused by a false explanation of same-sex attraction or caught up in homosexual behaviors. Young people should be educated about the moral nature of every decision they make, including their sexual decisions.