In the early years of the 1950s the phenomenon of broadcast television was beginning to sweep America. In these early days, however, it was still a small minority of American households that proudly owned a television set. At this time, a ban was executed by the networks prohibiting the use of the word “virgin” in television broadcasts. The censorship of this word was explained in light of the term’s close connection to matters of sexuality. So sensitive were the original producers of television towards offending the ethics and mores of the American public that words as seemingly harmless as the word “virgin” were banished from the airwaves in order to keep at arm’s length all possible sexual innuendos.
Obviously, we have come a long way from the days of Ozzie and Harriet and the dawn of television broadcasting. However, since that time, the American culture has gone through its most radical cultural revolution in its history. The cultural revolution of the decade of the sixties contained within it a major cultural upheaval with respect to sexual mores. The old taboos against premarital and extramarital sexual relationships were destroyed by the new sex ethic. The new sex ethic was heralded by social scientists such as Alfred Kinsey and later by the Chapman Report and other chroniclers. What society now accepted in practice and in the arts showed a dramatic shift from an earlier time when chastity was regarded as a virtue. Every aspect of the media, in terms of cultural expression, made massive use of the new morality. Today one can hardly read a novel, watch a television program, see a movie in the theater, or even look at the advertisements in magazines and in stores without being acutely aware of this radical shift. Sex is the number-one seller for every conceivable sort of consumer product from razor blades to automobiles. If it’s sexy, it sells.
The cultural revolution brought in its wake a completely different climate with respect to casual sex, extramarital sex, and, in more recent times, homosexual practices. This new climate has produced a level of erotic stimulation that no generation in human history has had to deal with in the past.
Because of this shift in cultural acceptability, young people particularly are bombarded every single day of their lives with every conceivable sort of erotic stimulation. Of course, as long as there have been men and women, there have been biological urges and sexual appetites to deal with in terms of seeking to live chaste and virtuous lives. There is a sense in which fallen humanity has always had to struggle with the erotic impulses of the human heart, but at the same time there has been a massive escalation of temptation brought in the wake of the explosion of erotic stimulation in our day.
The advent of the computer and the use of the Internet has rapidly increased this escalation. Though I am technologically challenged — I do not know how to go online, have never written an email message, much less have an email address — I am still aware that pornography on the Internet is a multibillion dollar industry in our country. My limited use of the Internet boils down to this, each day one of my associates graciously and professionally downloads for me the latest information coming out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on the developments of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team — one of my passions. What strikes me in reading the print on these articles is that frequently in the margins of these major articles there are seductive pictures of scantily clad young beauties that beckon for further investigation. It’s clear that pornography, even in a sports article, is but a click or two away.
Given the bombardment of the external stimulation that the young person today receives, it is well advised for the church, even though we are called to maintain the call to holiness and virtue that is ours from Scripture, to have at the same time compassion for people who are overwhelmed by temptation. It would be good for us to remember the encounter of Jesus with the woman caught in adultery, who while treating her with His loving kindness and tender mercy and forgiving her for her sin, nevertheless commanded her to cease from that behavior henceforth, saying, “Go and sin no more.”
If we examine the biblical ethic with respect to sexual behavior, we see that from the Old Testament through the New Testament, the ethic is virtually monolithic. Take, for example, the technical study of the word pornea as it is used in the Scriptures. In Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, we read, “The New Testament is characterized by an unconditional repudiation of all extramarital and unnatural intercourse” (p. 590). He recognizes that if anything is part of the original message of the New Testament it is this unequivocal judgment with respect to sexual purity and immorality.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, Paul expresses the corruption of our humanity that flows out of our base idolatry, and the subsequent judgment of God upon that. We read in Romans 1:24–32: “Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, He gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” In this the apostle Paul sees that sexual immorality, particularly with respect to its expression in homosexual activity, represents the extreme degree to which human moral corruption sinks. He sees these practices as being the result of a debased mind, a mind that is filled with unrighteousness, and that the people who do these things in defiance to God, at the same time encourage others to do it as well.
When society gives its approval to forms of illicit sexual behavior, that becomes the strongest temptation of all to people who are susceptible to doing what everybody else is doing. That’s why it is the task of the Christian in the twenty-first century to underscore the unique call that God gives to us to be people who are non-conformists to a fallen and pagan culture. We are to seek to live transformed lives and to have our minds informed not by what other people are doing in the secular culture, not by what is deemed acceptable in television episodes or movie scenes of extramarital sex or by homosexual relationships, but we are to have our minds informed by the Word of God. I know of no other antidote for us to heal our sick souls in the midst of this crisis.