This article first appeared in the From the Editor column of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, volume 33, number 04 (2010). For further information or to subscribe to the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL go to: http://www.equip.org/christian-research-journal/
When I was an adolescent in the 1960s, the United States of America was a very different place in which to grow up. The Judeo-Christian worldview/ethic that shaped our culture remained dominant into the ‘60s, despite having been progressively chipped away at since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. Such traditional values as faith in God, the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage, and the importance of personal responsibility, self-discipline, and duty to others still held sway. While many people within society did not adhere to these values, they were at odds with a culture that did.
This consensus was both expressed in, and reinforced by, codes that the film and television industries imposed on themselves (to preempt the need for government censorship). Such codes prohibited, among other things,1 the glorification of violence, drug abuse, and crime; the detailing of the methods used to commit crime; and the use of profanity, nudity, and even “lustful kissing and embraces.”2 The Production Code of the Motion Picture Industry specifically stated, “The sanctity of the institution of marriage and the home shall be upheld. Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing.”3 It further stated, “The subject of abortion shall be discouraged, shall never be more than suggested, and when referred to shall be condemned.”4
In 1966, however, Hollywood abandoned the motion picture code in favor of a ratings system that allowed films to include sex, foul language, and other once-taboo elements as long as they were reflected in the film’s rating. Television followed suit by loosening its own standards. Almost overnight film and TV viewers were being barraged with the message that premarital sex was morally and socially acceptable.
By the latter half of the ‘60s the edifice of traditional values was visibly tottering, and by the early to middle part of the ‘70s (depending on which part of the country you lived in) it had all but collapsed. The “sexual revolution” was in full swing, and the situation has remained essentially the same to the present day.
That there was a causal relationship between the change in Hollywood’s treatment of sex and society’s attitude toward it seemed plain enough to many who observed the unfolding of these events, but Hollywood and social liberals often dispute that films and TV have such influence on viewers. However, well-noted recent scientific research bears out that the extent of exposure to sexual content in the media does predict sexual behavior (at least in the case of adolescents, the subject of the study).5
If Hollywood really believes that entertainment media do not affect people’s beliefs and behavior, then why is it so important to them that films and TV portray attitudes and behaviors they want to see accepted in society? For the past thirteen years, for example, viewers have been subjected to a concerted effort in television programming to portray homosexual relationships as morally and socially acceptable. A recent sociological survey indicates, moreover, that the public has moved toward Hollywood’s view,6 and behavioral studies confirm that television has played a significant role in this social shift.7
It would be simplistic to suggest, however, that society embraced premarital sex simply because of the influence of Hollywood (or of any other media capital or cultural center, for that matter). For the sexual revolution to sweep across the country, the inhibiting fear of unwanted pregnancy needed to be relieved. This was made possible first by the marketing of birth control pills in the 1960s, and second by the legalization of abortion in 1973.
The bold new world of sexual liberation that characterized the ‘70s is no longer new and not particularly bold. We are simply left with the consequences, such as: (1) the number of abortions in the United States recently passed the fifty million mark.8 (2) Forty percent of U.S. children are now born to unwed mothers,9 reinforcing such social ills as the crippling cycle of poverty and crime in the inner cities.10 (3) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than one million people are living with HIV/AIDS in the United States, and “through 2007, more than 576,000 people with AIDS in the United States have died since the epidemic began.”11 None of these problems would exist to the alarming extent that they do were it not for the mass acceptance of sex outside of marriage as a societal norm.
As grave as these physical, psychological, economic, and social consequences are, the spiritual consequences of the sexual revolution may reveal Satan’s master stroke. Of all the cultural changes in the ‘60s and ‘70s that hastened America’s transition from a “Christian” to a post-Christian culture, I believe none was more responsible than the change in the national consensus about premarital sex. Prior to the sexual revolution, converting to Christianity did not put one at odds with the culture the way it does now.12 It was standard behavior for couples to wait until marriage to have sexual relations. Couples who lived together were “living in sin,” and this was frowned on by a much wider segment of society than conservative Christians. Today society tells couples that cohabitation is not only acceptable, but also wise, in order to confirm compatibility.
The sexual revolution has thus created a formidable obstacle to many people’s consideration of the gospel. Single people accustomed to one-night stands or ongoing sex with boyfriends or girlfriends must now become celibate, resisting the culture’s continual barrage of sexual stimuli and opportunities. If cohabiting individuals truly wish to make Christ their Lord, it should be obvious what their first act of obedience needs to be: either to get married or to return to celibacy and change their living situation. Thus, the hardest decision these people ever have to make as a Christian may be their first one, and clearly, many people are unwilling to make such a sacrifice.
This points to the importance of not sidestepping a discussion of the will of God regarding sexual sanctification (1 Thess. 4:3–4) when leading cohabiting individuals to Christ. Otherwise they may accept Christ while continuing to cohabitate, diluting the church’s witness to the world and inviting the judgment of God. This is the topic of this issue’s Effective Evangelism column, written by Joe Dallas (p. 6). For a historical understanding of how the sexual revolution came about, see Bob Perry’s feature article on Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood and veritable mother of the birth control pill (p. 44). Finally, Robert Velarde’s feature article looks at the dominant role television plays in our culture (p. 20). If it can profoundly impact our society’s views on premarital sex and homosexuality, what other views might it be importing into our culture?
- Some of the behaviors prohibited in the codes, such as interracial romance, rightly would not be considered offensive by most contemporary social conservatives.
- “The Motion Picture Production Code,” http://productioncode.dhwritings.com/multipleframes_productioncode.php. The Hays Production Code governed the film industry from 1930 to 1966. Even stricter standards were enforced in television using the Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters from 1951 through the mid ‘60s, although the code itself was not suspended until 1983. (See “Code of Practices for Television Broadcasters,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Practices_for_Television_Broadcasters.)
- “The Motion Picture Production Code,” “Particular Applications,” II, 2, (B).
- “The Motion Picture Production Code,” “Particular Applications,” II, 4 (from December 1956).
- Jane D. Brown, Ph.D., M.A., et al., “Sexy Media Matter: Exposure to Sexual Content in Music, Movies, Television and Magazines Predicts Black and White Adolescents’ Sexual Behavior,” Pediatrics 117, 4 (April 2006): 1018–27 (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/abstract/117/4/1018).
- See, e.g., http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2010/06/16/attitudes-towardgays-and-lesbians/.
- Kristen Philipkoski, “Change Channels, Change Minds?” Wired, September 2, 2003, http://www.wired.com/medtech/health/news/2003/09/60035?currentPage=all.
- See Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., “Fifty Million Lost Lives since 1973,” National Right to Life News, January 2008, http://www.nrlc.org/news/2008/NRL01/LiveLost.html.
- Jessica Ravitz, “Out-of-Wedlock Births Hit Record High,” CNN.com, April 8, 2009, http://www.cnn.com/2009/LIVING/wayoflife/04/08/out.of.wedlock.births/index.html.
- See Chenoa May, “Poverty and the Single Mother,” April 29, 2010, http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:ymWdnUcTzPUJ:ppgbuffalo.wikispaces.com/file/view/Poverty%2Band%2Bthe%2BSingle%2BMother.doc+percentage+unwed+mothers+inner+city&cd=6&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us.
- “HIV and AIDS in the United States,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/us.htm.
- Of course, the world was still the world, and the faithful Christian was called on to discern the subtle ways that even a “Christian” culture may deviate from Scripture (e.g., materialism, racism, excessive drinking, and pride).