How can we quote the Bible in support of our moral values when the Old Testament contains laws calling for the stoning of a woman who lost her virginity before marriage? Actually, based on biblical principles, both Judaism and Christianity teach that such laws are not for today. But could you imagine what America would look like if sex outside of wedlock was as scandalous in our day as it was in ancient biblical times?
In his talk to high school journalism students, Dan Savage mocked the fact that the Bible “says that if your daughter’s not a virgin on her wedding night – if a woman isn’t a virgin on her wedding night – she shall be dragged to her father’s doorstep and stoned to death.”
Was this law ever justifiable? In ancient Israel, which the Bible states was a theocracy instituted by God himself (according to the Torah, God delivered the children of Israel from Egypt and then spoke his laws to them from Mount Sinai) and which was part of a culture where it was almost unthinkable for a girl to lose her virginity to another man before marriage, a law like this was hardly exceptional.
That being said, by New Testament times, Jewish leaders had virtually abolished the death penalty for such offenses, Jesus stopped a Jewish crowd from stoning a woman caught in adultery, and Paul taught that there were spiritual consequences rather than corporal consequences for such offenses. As for today, in absolutely no shape, size, or form could I (along with every conservative Christian whom I know personally) ever dream of advocating the death penalty for premarital sex, nor could I could dream of advocating the death penalty for adultery or homosexual practice. Obviously not!
But let’s ask ourselves an honest question. While people on both sides of the debate categorically reject such legal punishments for sexual violations, is our contemporary society really in a position to make judgments on ancient Israel when it comes to sexual morality?
In America today, one in four teenage girls has been infected with an STD, and out of the hundreds of thousands of cases of gonorrhea every year, “teenage girls between 15 and 19 account for more cases than any other age group.” Some of the gonorrhea strains are developing into incurable “super bugs.” And we are the enlightened ones?
The CDC reports that one in 5 gay men has HIV, while gay and bisexual men account for half of the new HIV infections in the U.S., having AIDS at a rate over 50 times higher than other groups. (The rates are alarmingly high among gay teens.) Despite this, Dan Savage and his “husband” Terry Miller advocate being “monogamish,” admitting to at least 9 extramarital encounters between them since they have been together, even claiming that it has been a “stabilizing force” in their relationship. And Savage is criticizing biblical morality?
Let’s also consider the effects of the 1960’s sexual revolution on America. In 1960, 23% of black children were born out of wedlock; by 2008, the rate was up to a mind boggling 72.3%. In white America, children born out of wedlock rose from 2.3% in 1960 to 28.1% in 2008, an increase of more than 1000%. According to a Brookings Institution report published in 1996, “Every year about one million more children are born into fatherless families. If we have learned any policy lesson well over the past 25 years, it is that for children living in single-parent homes, the odds of living in poverty are great. The policy implications of the increase in out-of-wedlock births are staggering.”
And what about the modern plague of pornography? Recent surveys indicate that 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites, that 12% of all internet sites are pornographic, that 25% of search engine requests are pornography related, and that the average age at which a child first sees online pornography is 11. And we are the ones standing on the higher moral ground? (This recent headline reporting on the UK says it all: “Generation XXX: 13-year-old boy sexually abuses 5-year-old sister thanks to porn, says therapist.”)
Perhaps rather than focusing on the issue of the death penalty for premarital sex in ancient Israel – which, to repeat, I categorically reject as a legal standard for today – we should take a hard look at the destructive effects of the rampant, out of control, sexual promiscuity of our day. Perhaps rather than gloating about our “progressive” attitudes towards premarital, extramarital, and homosexual sex, we should rue the fact that in 1969, 21 percent of Americans believed that “Premarital sex is not wrong” while in 2009, 60 percent stated it was not wrong.
Let the naked truth be told: America today is the land of Ashley Madison ads encouraging adultery, celebrity sex tapes ad nauseam, staggering rates of sexually transmitted diseases, and reality TV shows like “16 and Pregnant.”
Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University. He is the author of 25 books, includingLine of Fire. Follow him at AskDrBrown on Facebook or @drmichaellbrown on Twitter.
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