Catholic Sexual Morality is Better

Pope John Paul II > Mark Driscoll

…and much better than what’s coming out of Protestantism.

I had planned a big post about this, but to be honest I don’t want to give it that much thought because some of it is disturbing. So I’ll be brief.

What we’re seeing in Protestantism, even the Evangelical strain, is a lowering of sexual morality. This is highlighted nowhere better than Neo-Reformed mega-man Mark Driscoll’s (prolific) opinions about what sexual practices are acceptable for married couples. Tim Challies, another popular Protestant pastor, wrote a series of blog posts critiquing Driscoll’s disturbing conclusions about sexual activity in marriage (first one is here). I only skimmed those posts because I don’t want to read any kind of details on perversions.

Bad. Wrong. Degrading.

But the problem is: sola Scriptura can be interpreted to mean, “hey, the Scriptures don’t say that X sexual activity is wrong, so we have Christian freedom to do so, if everyone involved is okay with it and it’s not against the law.” And who’s to say that that is a misunderstanding of the Bible alone? In Protestantism, it’s all opinions, and whoever is the loudest or most charismatic often influences the most people. Driscoll is an example: a hip, fun, loud, brash preacher.

Solution: Catholic teachings on sexual morality.

Pick a book, any book, whether the new Theology of the Body translation by Waldstein, one of Christopher West’s works, or another ToB synopsis. Take a class (or start one) that goes through West’s CD volumes on it. Read the catechism and other documents on sexuality. Read Mulieris Dignitatem and Humanae Vitae.

In Catholic doctrine, the full dignity of husband and wife is preserved. And the proper understanding of the Bible is safeguarded by the Apostolic Tradition and the right use of philosophy.

God bless. Please share your thoughts on good resources for people interested in Catholic teaching on sexuality.

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23 thoughts on “Catholic Sexual Morality is Better”

      1. Unfortunately, West’s work (and Gregory Popcak’s) have some solid Catholic theologians debating his writings/work with the similar criticisms you give here for Mark Driscoll. πŸ™ Actually, I have Driscoll’s book on my desk, and in *some ways* (not all, as Driscoll goes much farther), it reads similarly to me as West’s “Good News About Sex and Marriage.” Now it has been years since I read “Good News,” so my memory could be off. I just remember certain acts and descriptions etc in “Good News” that implied they were “okay” so long as you were respecting your spouse’s dignity/or had good intent. When we asked our marriage preparer about it, he said, no, no, no not okay (and he is completing his PhD in Marriage and Family studies from Rome, JPII’s original institute). So yeah, suffice it to say, there’s debate, not just in style but content too. πŸ™

        Secondly, thank you for this post!!! I totally agree… I just got his book (it was given to me), skimmed it, and had to put it down. I was horrified.

        1. Sarah, yes there are some legitimate (and not so legitimate) criticisms of West, but I’m glad you agree that Driscoll is taking things to a much worse degree.

          1. I just did some quick research out of curiosity, and it looks “Good News” carries the nihil obstat and imprimator. Good to know!

            And yeah, as a Catholic, there’s no way I could promote Driscoll’s book! Yikes. But I am also glad to see Protestants responding. There’s a lot less consensus in various Protestant communities about sexuality, the meaning/purpose etc., especially once you enter marriage (but you know this! :)). I am so thankful for JPII’s teachings.

  1. Oh, Mark Driscoll. Every time I read something he’s written, I like him a little less.

    I just don’t think “the world is changing sexually” is reason enough to give people permission to sully something as precious as the marital bed. I really think that there are some acts and sexual behaviors that cause more damage to the marriage relationship than cause any good. Since sex is meant to be edifying and a relationship enhancement (not to mention the physical embodiment of becoming ‘one flesh’) within marriage, it just doesn’t make sense to introduce them into the bedroom.

    Just my 0.02! πŸ™‚

  2. I think John Paul II said it all when he described human marriage as an expression of the Mystery of the inner life of God, a primordial sacrament.

    When we express our sexuality, we’re using sacred language. We can use that sacred language to say sacred things and maintain the pattern similarity between our sexual expression and the Mystery of God.

    But our culture, which tends towards reducing the meaning of all things to their utility in self gratification, has polluted this language to the point that the realities they express are practically incomprehensible.

  3. I checked out Challies critique on it and it’s interesting to skim the comments and see them wrestle with the issue. I mean it seems a no brainer to me and well… ewwww!

  4. In Driscoll’s attempt to break from “Platonistic” traditional influence regarding marriage and sex (as Driscoll mentioned in one of his sermons), he has instead fallen more deeply into Platonism than most Fathers ever did… which is typically what happens when reconstructionists try to de-Platonize something.

    The idea that it doesn’t matter how the body is used once a certain “spiritual/intellectual” pact has been made is about as Manichean as it gets.

  5. It’s hard for me not to believe Mark Driscoll doesnt love the Lord or the Holy Spirit isn’t working and influencing his life. Same w many other Protestants or close e free friends, I’m not saying I agree with Mark, I stand behind the Catholic’s teaching about sexuality. But I just have such a hard time understanding why “believers” can’t see the Catholic church’s truth. When they CLEARLY love the Lord, believe in basic doctrine. I mean how do you decide whos right?

  6. “What we’re seeing in Protestantism, even the Evangelical strain, is a lowering of sexual morality. ”
    I’m not sure that is true: your link says 76% of the Evangelicals still find premarital sex wrong. The numbers I have seen for the Vatican’s flock comes no where near that:the numbers I have seen record it as only 54% in 1972 among weekly mass goers, and only 30% now among the same group and declining. And these are the ones who are meeting their mass obligations. Even the non-church going Protestants do better, around 40% and increasing. Among Orthodox teens, I am shocked (pleasantly) to find, only 5.57% find premarital sex is right (the only stat I could find on the Orthodox; partly as surveys are more interesting about homosexuality it seems).

    As you point out, it was a Protestant Pastor who was calling Pr. Driscoll to task (rightly or wrongly I can’t say): I have no reason to think Pr. Tim Challies believes in sola scriptura any less than Pr. Driscoll. Pr. Driscoll may be a minority, speaking rightly or wrongly. Since you have stated you think he speaks wrongly, I still see a problem for using him as an example, given your own link to Pr. Challies, for saying the evangelicals are lowering their sexual morality. It’s not like the embrace the EPCUSA or the ELCA have made, but such groups are a dwindling minority among the Protestants, at least in the US.

    I can’t help but feel that their is a little apple versus orange comparison, as much of the things you put on your “to read” list do not get into the same type of approach (and detail) that Pr. Driskoll is going for. One might argue that media is part of the messsage, but it would be nice for that to be spelled out and ennuciated. Especially given the accusations against Pr. Driskoll.

    “And the proper understanding of the Bible is safeguarded by the Apostolic Tradition and the right use of philosophy.”
    Ah, natural law rears its ugly head. That can lead to some uncomfortable positions, see, for example:
    http://www.catechism.cc/articles/marriage-bed.htm

    1. Isa,

      Bully for the Orthodox. Hopefully that continues. I conceded in the facebook comments on this post that it was a bit unfair of me to implicate “Protestantism” with Driscoll’s theological opinions.

      Your particular numbers on Catholics I would have to see. Certainly we have much to improve on catechesis-wise, but the regular Mass attendees I know are much much higher than those numbers.

      It sounds like you reject the concept of natural law. Is that true?

      1. I got the numbers from a variety of places, but these are as good as any:
        http://blog.adw.org/2010/10/pondering-permissiveness-and-attitude-toward-pre-marital-sex-in-the-church-what-the-data-shows/
        Btw, I have to state that saying that it is wrong and following up on that are two different things. Also, if could get the same question from countries with Orthodox majorities would have been nice, but all the studies are interested on attitudes to homosexuality, etc. Run of the mill chastity doesn’t seem to interest the demographers (who do, however, measure religious attitudes in the same studies, as a gage of “sexual repression”).

        “It sounds like you reject the concept of natural law. Is that true?”
        Yes. There are Orthodox who vehemently support it (including my own parish priest: but, since he was trained in the Vatican (litarally), that might be expected). The tradition (and Tradition) as a whole, however, especially outside of the “Western Captivity” do not support it. Nor do I. (nor do most Western Rite Orthodox, as far as I can see). That is, btw, my major criticism of Humanae Vitae, despite agreeing with many of its conclusions.

        1. I wish the question they asked was worded “Does the Catholic Church teach premarital sex is wrong?” Instead, it was phrased as “Is premarital sex ALWAYS wrong.” Our culture has taught enough relativism to make someone who is weak in their faith not be bold enough to say “yes, X is always wrong.” Because *maybe* there’s an exception that I haven’t thought of, etc.

          My experience of Catholic beliefs is certainly very different from these numbers, and I think it represents knowing the many Catholics who are orthodox and solid in the practice of their faith. This is the group who is re-evangelizing the rest.

          Nonetheless, though I don’t think the numbers are as bad as the survey suggests, I have no illusions that they are not still deplorable. They are.

  7. You may be totally right about many Protestants.

    This Protestant goes to a church where the Law of God is upheld to the max. “If you even look at a woman (in that sexual way), then you have commited adultery in your heart.” We take that seriously. So, that Word of law convicts us, and slays us to any righteousness that we might have in what we do, say, feel, or think.

    And then we are free to trust in that forgiving Word (“Father forgive them…”) that comes to us extra nos, from outside of ourselves…declared to us…that we might have new life in Jesus.

    My 2 cents.

    Thanks.

  8. Thank you for this. Elizabeth Esther commented on this problem with her wonderful blogpost “The Pornification of Marriage”. Just recently I read in another popular evangelical book on marriage that “anything goes” as long as there’s no physical harm and it’s mutual. :/ It makes my stomach squirm, and let’s face it – if you are the one dissenting, these kinds of statements make you feel like the “guilty” one, or even the “sinful” one, as some books I’ve read even imply that women should be willing to perform sexual acts as a gift to their husband. Do I think these books were speaking of degrading acts? No, but in this culture and this time, that’s how they can easily be applied.

  9. I personally think that this is a really good post! Frankly, it makes quite a bit of sense to stick with Catholic sexual morality on this one (considering we were right with the contraceptive issue, I’ll trust the Church with this). See, I think the whole problem is that young Christian men are wanting to, as Challies says (paraphrased), “act out what they’ve seen on their wives.” Frankly, a young man should, in my opinion, not waste a single moment thinking about “Can I do this with my wife” as it reduces the sexual act as mere recreation. The first and foremost thing that should be in the mind of a Christian husband is the wish to please the Lord and show love and care for his wife (and children). That should be the first priority. Rather than thinking “Can we ____”, as the controversial title of the chapter in Driscoll’s book is called, young men should think “What can I do to please my wife? To show her love and be edifying for her?” That’s my two cents.

  10. I wrote blog post about this a few years ago. “Evangelicals and the marriage bed”. I think that a root cause of this tendency is the protestants lack of a Eucharistic doctrine. I plan to write more about this to explain the connection.

  11. I did a 6 part series on view of Christian sexuality over the centuries: parts 3-5 were exclusively Catholic and 1-2 and 6 were heavily Catholic. I used about 3 dozen sources, but I’d say my single best source was Dyan Elliot’s Spiritual Marriage. The book really covers in detail the transition from Carolingian sexual morality to the high middle ages, which is one of the 3 or 4 key transformations. And frankly the chapter on the early materials are worth reading. I can’t think of a better source of Catholic doctrine as it existed over a period of several centuries. A note the book is not apologetic or anti-apologetic, it is purely descriptive. But if you are looking for recommendations, it has been about 4 years but I spent a lot of time hunting for good material on Catholic sexuality and this one was head and shoulders above my second place list.

  12. On the plus side, this many non-Catholic faiths losing their way on such fundamental moral issues could lead to an influx of converts to the Catholic Church. I was stunned when I learned that even the Eastern Orthodox Church has come to allow contraception (non-abortifacient varieties) and remarriage (even though they also teach that it is the priest who performs the sacrament and not the bride and groom, which to my mind means that even an annulment isn’t possible and ought to be verboten). Sometimes things have to get worse so they can get better, as evidenced by Christ’s Passion. The only problem is that it gets too tempting to 1) treat the evil as a good rather than an evil but necessary means to a good end, or 2) get so overwhelmed with such a big picture that we lose sight of the trees for the forest even when those trees are being cut down.

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