Posted by: dacalu | 4 February 2014

Sex, Morality, and Young Adults

I have noticed some confusion among clergy colleagues and Christians in general about this latest generation (Millennials) and attitudes about morality – particularly sexual morality.  For many, modern opinions seem ridiculously liberal or strangely conservative because young adults refuse to fit neatly into the liberal/conservative categories we have become so fond of.

“How can someone so seemingly liberal about X be conservative about Y?”  It happens all the time.  We must ask and answer, listen and tell if we want to understand the faith of our brothers and sisters. There is not a one of us who does not relish being orthodox when we think our predecessors got it right.  There is not a one who does not relish being a reformer when we think they did not.  GK Chesterton said it well:

“The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.”

One revolutionary position does not a liberal make.  Nor should we see a desire for traditionalism in some aspect of the faith as a call for conservative theology.  Rather, we need to listen to the issues at stake.  Millennials want a balance of new and old that differs from the status quo of Boomers and Xers.  They want to negotiate for themselves where to draw the lines.  Every generation does.  That said, I’d like to lay out some areas where I think Millennials are calling for change.

1. Accessible Worship (instantly understandable and visitor friendly) versus Deep Sacred Space (complex initiation, layered symbolism, and carefully crafted words and deeds)

We’ve been arguing over this for centuries.  I think we will be for centuries more.  Evangelism calls for one; discipleship demands the other.  Every generation re-evaluates.  Boomers leaned heavily toward accessibility.  Millennials are clamoring for more depth.

2. Accessible Theology (clear, concise, and simple) versus Contemplative Theology (experiential, poetic, often intentionally embracing paradox and multiple levels of meaning

Much the same as number 1, but in this case, the Boomers and Xers sought out more contemplative and permissive theologies, while Millennials want more clarity.

3. Plain meaning of scripture versus Analogical (comparative) and Anagogical (teaching) Exegesis

I have yet to meet a serious Christian who was not convicted by some plain, unavoidable passage from the Bible.  “Love your neighbor.” “Turn the other cheek.” “Be holy.” “Choose life.” “Sell everything you have and give to the poor.” “This is my body.”  I have yet to meet a serious Christian who did not feel the need to argue that the text was telling them something serious about how to live their life here and now.  The Bible has more to offer than what it says on the surface level.  In the 16th century, Christians had strayed too far away from plain meaning.  For roughly the last 120 years we have been arguing over this one ad nauseum.  Millennials are sick of it and want to move on with both plain and deep readings.

Moving to the categories of sex, sexuality, and gender, there are other divides.

4. Orientation (gay, straight, …) as Identity (who you are) versus Behavior (what you do)

Vast, largely obscure tomes have been written on this subject, but the up-shot is that most Americans now believe that our romantic and sexual affections are shaped by our genes and early childhood and cannot be changed later in life.  Millennials are tired of ex-gay ministries and other attempts to “straighten” people out or even keep them in the closet.  They think everyone should be free to be honest about who they are.  This in no way limits moral obligations on what you do.

5. More versus Less permissive expectations about gender – “proper” behavior for men and women

Likewise, Western society is moving toward equality between sexes (male and female) and freedom of expression.  There are still social norms and expectations, but they are becoming less sex specific.

6. More versus Less permissive rules around sex.

I think there is a call for clearer guidance from theologians and pastors about what good Christians should and should not be doing with their bodies (#2).  Millennials want sex and marriage to be more sacred (#1) but they are also more willing to see them as independently good.  They follow neither the plain reading subordination of women nor the heavy anagogy (complex Biblical interpretation) necessary to limit all physical intimacy to child-bearing sex within the scope of marriage (#3).

I am a late Xer, myself.  I could be wrong about the desires of the next generation, but I know we are in a transitional age.  I know that Millennials are tired of infighting in church and government.  They desperately want to tell you how they see the world, but they also want to hear what you think – no matter what age you are.  This is a time for honesty and clarity and we’ll only get there if we are willing to ask one another specific questions about our faith – and be compassionately, yet unstintingly honest about the answers.  No matter who you ask, if you talk long enough, I guarantee you’ll be surprised.



  1. Hello,
    I am a Millennials, and work with Millennials I really think you are the first xer to really get close to what we want. though I would like to clarify a little as many Millennials are yet not fully adults and there will be many changes as they become adults. The first is number 2. I would say that we do not need it to be black and white or domed down that is a big mistake, those of use that followed the truly clear reading of there bible as kids verse a more historical studies, with a lot of grey areas are more likely as adults to leave the church because we could not make it work in the black and white. That of course covers number 3 too for in fact the idea of literalism did not come into meaning until the early 19th century, and again I think you will see how that black and white will end up not working for use, Which I think you really hit on in number 4, 5, and 6. I should also say that many of those that would call themselves Millennials, are really xer I am 25years old and can say that those of us from 25 to 30 are not all Millennials, and one way to check is to see if they light up when you say that unlike the baby boomers we do not want to stick it to the man we want to be the man. the youth I work with glow when I say that and those that my mom works with too. But I am only telling this to you because you seem to have some understanding of us I find that vary few xer do, and it does not help to keep us in the church.

  2. […] my last post I claimed that Millennials are interested in the church being clearer about moral expectations […]

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