Press-Republican

On Religion

February 4, 2013

The sexual revolution trumps doctrine, again

Back in 1969, the same year as Woodstock, Gallup Poll researchers asked Americans this moral question: "Do you think it is wrong for a man and a woman to have sexual relations before marriage, or not?"

"Yes, wrong," responded 68 percent of those polled, while 21 percent said, "No, not wrong."

By 1973, the traditionalist total affirming that premarital sex was wrong was down to 47 percent and the minority of those disagreeing rose to 43 percent. In 1991, only 40 percent considered premarital sex immoral, with 54 percent disagreeing.

Anyone paying attention to the moral math could see the trend. By 2001 the number of Americans who took the conservative stance was leveling off at 38 percent, but the percentage of those embracing the liberal, progressive position was up to 60 percent. The numbers were relatively flat in 2011, with 60 percent accepting premarital sex and 36 percent continuing to call it immoral.

"Things have been pretty steady recently among the Americans who are religiously active," noted Ed Stetzer, the president of LifeWay Research, which is linked to the 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention. "The real action has been on the other side of the spectrum, among the people who are atheists, or agnostics, or who have no affiliation with any particular religious group.

"Then you have the people that I call the 'mushy middle,' who remain connected to some religious faith, sort of, but not active in any real sense of the word. ... That's where we're seeing people changing their minds on sexuality."

The results of a recent LifeWay survey suggest that Americans who have, in recent decades, embraced premarital sex as a moral norm are continuing to edit their beliefs to go with the flow of the Sexual Revolution.

The hot-button issue at the moment, of course, is same-sex marriage. This is a political and cultural puzzle that -- for believers in various world religions -- is closely connected to a number of ancient doctrines linked to sexual morality.

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