Magazine article The Christian Century

Opening Up about Sex

Magazine article The Christian Century

Opening Up about Sex

Article excerpt

The statistics, some evangelicals say, can no longer be ignored. Eighty percent of young evangelicals have engaged in premarital sex, according to a new video from the National Association of Evangelicals, and almost a third of evangelicals' unplanned pregnancies end in abortion.

It's time to speak honestly about sex because abstinence campaigns and antiabortion crusades often aren't resonating in their own pews, evangelical leaders say.

In some instances, that discussion is beginning to happen:

* At a recent Q Conference in Washington, participants were asked at the end of a session on reducing abortion if churches should support the use of contraception among their single twentysomethings. Responding by text message, 64 percent said yes, 36 percent said no.

* A "Sexuality and Covenant" conference April 19-21, cosponsored by Mercer University and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, included on its agenda an acknowledgment that "marital sexual relationships" are not available for many Christians.

* In addition to its video, the NAE is preparing to distribute information packets to pastors that include testimonies from birth mothers and adoptees, as well as definitions of almost a dozen "prevention methods" ranging from abstinence to sterilization.

"This cultural moment calls for a both/and approach that I think can be challenging for churches," said Jenell Williams Paris, a Messiah College professor, at the Q Conference. "Both lift up the ideal of premarital chastity and support people who do otherwise with knowledge and resources that can help them prevent pregnancy." Paris, who has authored books on Christian approaches to sexual identity and birth control, was slated to speak also at the Mercer conference.

Sarah Brown, the CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said, "Isn't it better for unmarried, sexually active young people to use contraception than to not use it and [then] experience a distressing pregnancy and elect abortion?" Brown said. "It's a difficult choice. It's a difficult question, but I think that's what we have to ask ourselves."

More than ten years ago, Sarah Walsh Landini, a Pittsburgh barista, was one of those evangelical twentysomethings who abstained. But at age 23, she didn't, and within a month she was pregnant.

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"The Bible says not to do it, but I think, for most people, they need more than that," said Landini, now 35, who still sees her 11-year-old son, Jacob, whom she gave up for adoption. "We want to know why. And most of the time folks aren't prepared to answer the question why. …

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