Sexually Broken: Tough Conversations with Culture
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Sean McDowellSean McDowell, PhD, is a bestselling author, coauthor, or editor of more than 18 books, including Evidence That Demands a Verdict (with his father, Josh McDowell). He is also an associate professor of apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University and blogs regularly at seanmcdowell.org. Sean speaks internationally on a variety of topics related to culture, students, and apologetics.
Author Sean McDowell offers ideas talk about porn, sex, and LGBTQ issues with those we care about in a sexually broken world.
Sexually Broken: Tough Conversations with Culture
Ann: Dave, what do you think are the top three issues that we, as followers of Jesus, we just need help in how to think and dialogue about this, especially with our kids?
Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today.
Dave: —not just men—it was just men; it’s still in my world, a lot of men—but it’s women as well.
Homosexuality or the whole LGBT question and “How do you respond to that?”
We probably don’t even have time today to get into it: but even transgender, same-sex attraction, but even gender dysphoria—I mean, every day I see, and I shouldn’t be on social media every day, but I’m there watching what people are dialoguing about it—and those seem to be rising to the top.
Ann: I think, as parents—as I talk to especially moms—these are the issues that they’re not sure how to talk to their kids about it, because we haven’t faced it as much as we are in this culture today.
Dave: Yes; and I’ll tell you: there’s not too many people I’d want to talk to about this more than Dr. Sean McDowell. I’m not kidding, Sean,—
Sean: Thank you.
Dave: —having you here, as a dad, as an apologist, as a man with a doctorate in these kind of questions, and just written a book.
Of all the things you’ve written—you’ve written a lot about apologetics—and this one’s more/it’s about apologetics; but it’s in the area of Love, Sex and Relationships in a Confused Culture; in fact, I just gave you the subtitle. [Laughter] But it’s called Chasing Love, which is what every one of us is doing every second of our lives. Now, we’re trying to help our young people understand that in a confused culture.
Welcome back. It’s going be great to have a discussion with you about those topics.
Sean: Well, thanks for having me back. I would echo what you’re saying, that whenever I talk with students and I open up for questions, the top two or three are about sexuality and typically something related to the LGBTQ conversation; so let’s talk about it.
Dave: Yes, and you put that in your book. I mean, a lot of us—you know I’ve written—it’s like, “I don’t know if I’m going there.” You’re going there, and you have chapters on those. We’re not going to be able to get into all of them; so I would tell our listener: “Get the book, and even get the nine-week Bible study or nine-session Bible study.”
Ann: I would agree with that, Dave. And I would say, “Share that. Use this as a Bible study, even if you’re a mom. Share this with your friends; talk about it. Maybe you do this study together; bring some of your kids in.”
What’s your podcast? What’s the name of that?
Sean: That’s called Think Biblically. It’s out of Biola University. There’s a lot of overlap with what we do here; but we talk about culture, worldview, theology, and just try to equip people to defend and know their beliefs.
Ann: Would this be something good for high school kids to listen to/college kids?
Sean: High school and college kids spend a lot more time on YouTube than they do listening to podcasts; but we jump right into content and talk about the thorniest, yet most important, topics of our day from a biblical perspective.
Dave: Alright; I’ll play like a devil’s advocate: “Sean, you know, I don’t think porn’s that big a deal. I watch it,”—by the way, listener, I don’t; okay?—[Laughter]—but you know, any typical man or woman may say, “It’s not that harmful.” You have some myths in your book about it, so how would you answer that?
Ann: I would say, Dave—and more and more couples are saying—“We watch it as a couple, and it’s not that big of a deal. It really helps us, and my therapist has even recommended it.”
Sean: Are you hearing this from Christian couples, or you hearing this from non-Christian couples?
Ann: I’ve heard it from a few new Christians, who haven’t heard any teaching on it.
Sean: Okay; a new Christian would be different than a non-Christian; because one of the things we don’t want to do to new Christians is go: “What’s the matter with you?! Porn is wrong!” There’s discipleship and there’s growth, and there’s time that we need to allow new Christians to develop into.
If this new Christian couple said that to me, I’d say, “Tell me a little bit more about yourself. Tell me about your relationship with your wife. How does she feel when you look at this?” I would kind of be on an information gathering. He might say, “Oh, she’s fine with it.” I’d say, “Have you really asked her that?” Because I’m suspicious that a lot of wives would say that—they might acquiesce and agree—but probably, ideally, don’t.
I would start there, and then I would also go to Scripture. I’d say, “Have you ever thought about—I know you’re new to the faith—have you spent a lot of time thinking about what God’s design for sex is and the plan from Genesis all the way through Scripture? Have you thought about that very much?” If they’re new Christians, maybe not. Then you can take them to the text: take them to Genesis 1; take them to
The other way you can go—which I don’t want to just start with—“Here’s why it’s bad for you”; because the bigger question is: ‘Are we honoring God with our bodies? Are you being holy?’”
Ann: Is that how you would start the conversation?
Sean: With a Christian, I would take them to Scripture. I would/the problem with consequences, especially with young people, is they feel like, if they’re looking at porn the way you describe, they feel like: “I’m the exception; it doesn’t affect me.” So it’s not as effective as you think it could be.
Now, you could share stories of people and say, “You know what? I’ve actually talked to a couple that were young [and] married, and they said the same thing. Are you curious where they are now, five years later, having sat where you sat, and are you open to what their thoughts would be, back to themselves, saying the very things you’ve said to me?”
I might go that direction but I’m leery just with the consequences thing, because I remember being a kid and my dad would talk about STDs. So I’m like, “Well, I haven’t had sex; my girlfriend hasn’t had sex, so neither of us would get an STD. I can check that one off the box.” [Laughter]
Ann: I used to think that same thing: “Well, that’s not going to happen”; so yes.
Sean: Right? That’s why I start off the book by saying the bigger question is: “What does it mean to love God? What does it mean to love other people? Is pornography honoring to those people? Is it honoring to God? Is it honoring to your spouse to be looking at somebody else naked?” These are really fair questions that I would lovingly and graciously try to get these couples to think through.
Dave: You’re going to tell your kids, or tell anybody that asks, “It’s wrong; it’s bad, because it hurts you to love God and love others.” Is that where you’re going to head?
Sean: Ultimately: “Be holy, because I am holy [1 Peter 1:16],”—that’s why. It’s not for the consequences; it’s not to get something from God: “Don’t have sex so you get a reward of great sex later,” or “…great babies later.” That’s not what it’s for. It’s: “Be holy, because I am holy.” God has called us—the greatest commandment is—“Love God and love other people.”
How we act in terms of sexuality is simply an extension of the larger question of discipleship: “Who are we?” “What’s my life about?” “What does it mean to love people?”
Ann: One of the things you said in your book was that research indicates that porn use contributes to many young Christians leaving their faith.
Sean: It does.
Ann: Why is that?
Sean: My dad, in 2016, commissioned a huge study with the Barna Research Group called The Porn Phenomenon. What they found is, as Christian students increasingly looked at pornography, it would decrease their belief in the authority of the Scriptures; you could almost see a direct correlation there.
Sean: Now, exactly why is a little tougher to figure out. But when somebody’s looking at pornography, it is directly opposed to a biblical view of sex, love, and marriage. The Bible says: “Keep the marriage bed pure and honor it (Hebrews 13:4).” Well, what does pornography do?—it’s all about premarital sex or extramarital sex—“Live for yourself; do what feels good.” If somebody looks at pornography, it teaches them to use people as objects for their own gain. It teaches the opposite of self-control; it teaches: “Live for what feels good.”
Those are totally opposed to Scripture that says, “No, actually, restraint and self-control is good. Don’t use people; love people.” Even though people don’t connect those dots, looking at pornography undermines the confidence that actually God’s design is good, and it’s still relevant today, and it applies to my life.
Dave: I’m trying to remember if I am getting this right, from hearing your dad—again, when I was in college—say something like—and you’ll know if this is even accurate or not—but what you just said made me think along these lines. I remember him saying something like, “Often, when somebody comes up to me with an intellectual question about the faith, it’s usually a smoke screen for more of a moral issue.”
Again, it may not be that kind of thing; but do you find, that often, that the porn use has contributed to people walking away from the faith? That’s not an intellectual: “I don’t believe in God anymore”; it’s moral, and it has a way of desensitizing our soul in a sense.
Sean: I think, when people are questioning God, it sounds more sophisticated to cache it in intellectual terms; but underneath that, it’s often relational brokenness/emotional brokenness—just volitional/my will—“It’s my life”; right? Thinking of songs—“It’s my life,”—I did it My Way.
Dave: You want me to sing it?
Sean: Oftentimes, there’s a moral component, as well. That’s why, for me, in evangelism and spiritual conversation, I’m often thinking, “What’s the question behind the question?”
I had a young man tell me one time; he asked me all these questions about God and he goes, “Honestly, here’s the deal: I think Jesus is God, but I am texting right now a whole bunch of different girls that I’ll hook up with. Why would I give that up for some belief?”
Now, I’m not saying that’s true for every atheist; that would be a very unfair stereotype. But it’s certainly true sometimes. We realize that we can’t separate belief that God exists, and the Bible’s true, from how we live; because Jesus said, “You were bought with a price. Honor God with your bodies. You are not you own [1 Corinthians 6:19-20].” People realize that what we believe about the Bible is going to play itself out in your relationships.
Dave: It is interesting to think, if a person is listening right now, and they’re struggling with porn—one of the things that you just highlighted is—“Dude,” or “Woman, be very careful. You think this is a porn struggle; this is a faith struggle”; right? “There is a possibility this is going to lead you, if you keep…” You know, you think, “It’s just this area of my life; it’s this sexual thing”; but it could…—right?—is that what you are saying?
Sean: You know what’s interesting? There is a big study by Oxford. I can picture the cover of the book; his last name was Perry—I’d have to double check it—and he talked about how even pornography contributes to young people questioning and leaving their faith; it’s one piece.
We all talk about kids have doubt and leave their faith; there are broken relationships. But kind of the elephant in the room is, the more somebody looks at pornography, the less confidence they have in the Christian narrative—the less confidence they have—and sometimes it’s intellectual; sometimes it’s experiential.
Kids are told: “Confess your sins and Jesus will take that temptation away.” They go to the altar, and then the next day or that night, they’re feeling temptation; fall into sin again; ask for forgiveness; go to the altar again. It becomes a cycle. Then eventually, kids are like, “This doesn’t work. Maybe Christianity is false. I can’t live in this tension; I’m more free if I just embrace a different worldview.”
Ann: Wow! Do you think that’s typical?
Sean: It’s so hard to say “typical.” I can just say I have heard that narrative many times, and I see it a lot. How is that common? I don’t know, but it’s definitely common for many young people. We just teach a cheap grace and don’t talk about real discipleship. And really it’s grace that’s going to help somebody through a porn addiction when they realize Jesus covers their shame.
Dave: Yes; or any temptation. I mean, we all know this: “When you play with something in the dark, it’s going to affect all areas of your life.”
I might have shared this here before; but it just made me think of a good buddy of ours, Dan Orlovsky. He was a quarterback for the Lions that came to Christ. Now, he’s on ESPN; and he’s a brand-new Christian.
Ann: This is not now, but back—
Dave: This was—
Ann: —when he was in Detroit.
Dave: —over a decade; 15/20 years ago. He’s married with three—four kids now—triplets and a little girl.
Dave: I mean, he’s a sweet guy—baptized him—just an amazing—and did their wedding. Anyway, he’s a brand-new Christian; and he’s coming out of an NFL quarterback lifestyle. He’s got girls and parties.
And he’s with his buddy, Mike Furrey, who’s farther along the way in his Christian walk. Mike’s driving the car; Dan’s sitting over here—I hear this the next day—Mike looks over, and Dan’s got two phones. He looks over; and he goes, “Dan, you have two cell phones?”
Ann: —which was pretty typical.
Dave: Pretty typical of the locker room.
Dave: Guys would have a separate phone—
Sean: Oh, gosh!
Dave: —for a separate life.
Dave: Mike looks over and sees Dan has these two: he’s got one in his hand; he’s pulling out two. He [Dan] goes, “Oh, yes; well, this is my phone I make calls with; but this is my phone I have my girls in.”
Mike goes, “Oh, hey, let me see it.” He hands it over to him. Mike opens the window and throws it out. [Laughter]
Sean: Good for him, man!I love it.
Dave: They start driving; and Dan’s like, “What are you doing?!”
He’s [Mike’s] like, “Dude, that’s your old life; you can’t live in both worlds.” Dan is the guy that tells the story; because he’s like, “I had no idea how right he was.”
Ann: And he loved it—he loved that Mike did that—like, “Wait; that’s wrong? I shouldn’t do that?” It was this great discipleship ministry that Mike had.
Dave: Whether it’s porn or whatever temptation it is, man, you’ve got to be very, very careful.
Okay, a burning question in our culture right now is the LGBTQ question. How, as followers of Christ, do we deal with this? How do we love one another?
Ann: —and have a dialogue—
Dave: How do we understand it?
Ann: —with our kids, and understand it?
Sean: First thing we’ve got to do with our kids is start young. I get heartbreaking emails almost weekly, if not daily, from parents who are like, “My kid’s 17; and all of a sudden, they came out; and they’re embracing this narrative. What do I do?”
Of course, I don’t say this; I want to say, “Were you talking with your kids when they were eight, and they were ten, and they were twelve?” These conversations start early; that’s the first thing.
The same thing: we also have to model for our kids what this looks like. I have found more people that feel like: “Either you’re a jerk and you’re a bigot, and you take the biblical view”, or “You have to be affirming and change the biblical narrative to love somebody.” Of course, a lot of people in our culture will say that.
I found that doesn’t have to be the case. Jesus believed in truth very firmly but was loving and gracious towards people who were outside the faith. That’s the trick for our kids—is just say—“Here’s what Scripture teaches…” “Here’s why…” “Now, how do we lovingly live this out with other people?”
One thing I would say to parents is just be careful about—if you hear a song/if you’re watching a TV show—and say a gay couple comes up. Be careful how you talk about this issue and these people, who are made in the image of God; because kids are listening. I had a young man come out to me—it’s probably been three or four years—he said, “I’m just afraid to tell my parents. I know they love me, and they’re Christians; but I can remember certain”—what he interpreted as—“bigoted, homophobic statements, and now I know that they view me differently.” Those parents had no idea what they were doing.
When we were growing up, my dad would take us down to Laguna Beach, because we lived in the mountains of San Diego. We’d go there maybe two to three times of the year—stay on the beach as a family—and would intentionally take us to a restaurant. There was a waiter there by the name of Jade, who was gay. He actually ended up dying by AIDS. I just saw my dad—I remember him befriending him—being so kind with him.
One time, in front of our family, my dad is bold/he goes, “Jade, I just want my family to learn.” He goes, “Would you share with my kids, ‘What is it like to be gay in America today?’ Do you mind sharing with our family?”
Now, some people are like, “You can’t ask that!” Well, my dad had a relationship with him; he was willing to listen. That just showed me and taught us, as kids, that your sexual orientation is irrelevant to being made in the image of God. We all have something to learn. We can all build relationships, and God loves them and God loves us.
Ann: What’s that conversation sound like?—let’s say to an eight-year-old—like how did that start? I’m thinking of parents listening, like, “Tell me how to do it,” whether they’re eight, or twelve, or—
Sean: Well, eight and twelve would probably sound a little bit different—but I’ve had—let me take my daughter, when she was twelve. A lot of kids will have friends, who start coming out at this stage. I just asked my daughter a lot of questions; I said: “Did this surprise you?” “What are some ways your friends responded?” “Why do you think it was so hard for them to come out?” “How did you respond?” And walk it through.
My daughter had a friend, who has come out, and struggling with identity. My daughter goes, “Hey, he just texted me.” I said, “Okay, let’s do this together; let’s talk through a response.” She’s like, “Okay, Dad, tell me what to say.” Inside, I’m thinking, “I care about this kid, but I’m helping my daughter model, like: ‘Hey, we love you,” and “I know your parents are doing your best.’”
These are opportunities with our kids. Just make sure it’s positive; go back to Scripture and just teach it in an age-appropriate way. That’s all that we can do. How to explain what it means to be gay to an eight-year-old would obviously be different than a twelve-year-old, but you just do your best. If you make mistakes, and you’re trying, and it’s done in a spirit of love, the Bible says, “Love covers a multitude of sins.”
Dave: You say in this chapter, “Stay faithful to Scripture; be a good friend.”
Sean: Yes, that’s right!
Dave: But often, when I’m a good friend, and I’m faithful to Scripture, there comes a rub. At some point, it’s like, “You’re not really a good friend, because you aren’t agreeing with my lifestyle.”
Sean: Yes; here’s how I counsel young people—I’ve done this many times—I’ll say:
“Okay, do you and I differ over important things?” “Yes.”
“Here’s what I want you to know: my relationship with you will never change—my love for you—based on anything you believe or you don’t believe. I don’t care if you change your religion/your sexuality; I love and I care about you.
“My hope is that you would extend this same kind of friendship to me. Because I actually think it’s our difference that we can be friends, amidst a big difference, that actually makes this friendship meaningful. But if you’re going to end this because I won’t believe what you believe, know that I would never do that to you. The moment you want to be back in relationship with me, I’m here; because I care about you.”
Dave: That’s good.
Sean: Now, I’ve had—I’ve also said, “Parents,”—when kids say this to parents, sometimes, I’ll get a little bit stronger. You have to be wise. I counseled a mom to say to her daughter/say, “You know what? I love you no matter what, and this will never change. I raised you.” Almost like: “Don’t you dare put my unconditional love for you on a certain definition that’s coming from culture today. My love for you will never change. If you want to shut me out of your life, I can’t control that; but I will never shut you out, period.”
Sometimes there’s a time and place to be very firm with a young person. Now, can they walk away? I’ve had parents say, “Yes, I tried that; and my kids want nothing to do with me.” All I can say is: “My heart breaks for you. I’m so sorry, but you are trying to live out a firm gracious love. You might have to give this some time; and I think God is looking down saying, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant.’” That’s all we can do.
Bob: The subject that Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking with Sean McDowell about this week is the subject of sexuality and gender, hot button subject in our culture today. Sean’s written a book called Chasing Love that we’re making available this week to any of you who can help with a donation to support the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Your donation extends the reach of this ministry. You make it possible for hundreds of thousands of people, every day, to connect with FamilyLife and receive practical biblical help and hope for their marriage and their family. That’s what you’re investing in when you make a donation to this ministry.
You can donate online at FamilyLifeToday.com, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. Again, when you do, request your copy of Sean McDowell’s book, Chasing Love: Sex, Love and Relationships in a Confused Culture. We’ll send it out to you, along with our thanks for your partnership with us in the ministry of the gospel and the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
Now, I know that this is the time of year when a lot of church small groups are getting started up again. Maybe you’re in a small group, where you guys are going through a book study or something. At FamilyLife, we’ve got a number of small group resources that couples have found very helpful in pointing them toward God’s design for marriage or for parenting. Recently, I did a series on my book, Love Like You Mean It, a ten-part video series for couples to do in a small group setting. Dave and Ann Wilson have done Vertical Marriage. There are many of these small group studies available.
You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to find out more about them. Right now, between now and February 18, if you use the promo code, “NEWYEAR2022,” you’ll save 25 percent off any small group order. So go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, if you’re looking for something related to marriage or parenting for your small group. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com and check out what we’ve got available and, again, use that promo code, “NEWYEAR2022,” to save 25 percent off.
We hope you can be back with us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to talk about one of the pandemics/the hidden pandemics that we are facing in this culture that’s not being talked about enough. That’s the pandemic of pornography and the impact it’s having on relationships, on marriages, on our soul. Ray Ortlund is going to be here with us for that. We hope you can be with us as well.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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