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Religious Tolerance logo

Comparison of teachings by various faith
groups on aspects of human sexuality

Two additional faith groups: one liberal and
one Neopagan. Openness of sexual discussions
within evangelical faith groups

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This discussion is a continuation of a previous essay

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Two additional faith groups and religions:

Unfortunately, the full range of religions in North America was not represented. The Chronicle selected three very conservative and one mainline Christian denomination. Liberal/progressive Christian groups were ignored.  In order to give a wider range of faith groups, we have added two columns for:

bullet Unitarian Universalist Association: a very liberal faith group drawing on Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Humanist, Jewish, Muslim and Neopagan spiritual sources.

bullet Wicca: probably the largest of the Neopagan religions in North America.

Ratings for these two religions were estimated by three members of the OCRT who belong to these faith groups. (The OCRT is the multi-faith agency that sponsors this web site.)

Factor Unitarian Universalist Wicca
Teen Sex



Premarital Sex



Extramarital Sex












Birth Control



Married Clergy



Female Clergy



Homosexual Orientation



Homosexual Sex Acts



Homosexual Marriage *



Homosexual Ordination



* This term is no longer used extensively. It has been replaced by "same-sex marriage" or the acronym "SSM." This is a more inclusive term because it includes persons with a bisexual orientation.

Some consider "SSM" to be inadequate because it implies that same-sex marriages are different from opposite-sex marriages. They prefer the term "marriage of same-sex couples" or simply "marriage."

** Wiccans use the term "initiation" rather than "ordination."

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Summary of beliefs:

bullet With the exception of masturbation, each of the factors received a 1 rating ("condemned") by at least one faith group.
bullet With two exceptions (teen and extra-marital sex) each of the factors received at least a 4 rating ("morally acceptable in most cases") by at least one faith group. 

bullet The only factor over which most faith groups agreed was their near universal condemnation of extra-marital sex.

bullet There are enormous variations even within the four Christian denominations. Yet all are based on intelligent, sincere, devoted, diligent, and careful theologians analyzing the same book: the Bible. Obviously, the Bible is ambiguous. Theologians bring their cultural beliefs and world view to the Bible and interpret its contents differently. With few exceptions, Christian theologians agree on what the Bible says; they are unable to agree on what the Bible means.

bullet With such massive differences of opinion, conflicts between faith groups over sexual matters will probably be not harmonized long into the future.

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Openness to discussion within evangelical denominations:

The Beliefnet website contained a interesting essay by Lauren F. Winner about the openness with which evangelical Christian churches discuss sexual matters. 1 It was followed by a series of readers' postings. The specific topic was premarital sexual activity between two single, heterosexual individuals, apparently within a committed relationship. This is extremely common today; surveys show that about 95% of spouses are non-virgins when they marry.

The author was referred to by her girlfriend Sarah as an "evangelical whore," because she had not remained celibate until marriage like Sarah did. Ms. Winner's boyfriend is not recorded as having been criticized. Winner wrote:

"...the church tells all of us to be celibate outside of marriage, and then turns a blind eye to those thousands of unmarried evangelicals who ignore this injunction. We Christians spill plenty of ink moralizing about sex, but we seem unwilling to talk about it in any honest or theologically engaged way."

She discusses the book "Singles at the crossroads" by Al Hsu, which describes the consensus of conservative Christian faith groups that:

"Sexual expression is not essential for life. While we acknowledge that sex is a good gift designed by God, we must also affirm that it is intended for only appropriate circumstances."

"Appropriate circumstances" would seem to refer to sexual acts between an opposite-gendered, married couple. 2 Hsu recommended that couples attempt "to pursue holiness and purity," using whatever method "works for us."

"Purity" is a term used primarily within the conservative Protestant community to refer to sexually inexperienced persons. An individual is considered to become impure if she/he engages in sex before marriage. Over the past decade, the term "secondary virginity" has come into common use. It means that a person had lost their virgin status, but has made a decision to not engage in sexual acts in the future, until marriage.

Ms. Winner  concludes:

"...what I am or am not doing in bed affects my relationship with God as much as what I do in church does, and it's the job of my sister in Christ to hold me accountable. The problems isn't that Sarah made my sex life her business. It's that her evangelical vocabulary left her with nothing to say but 'whore.' "

Comments posted by visitors to the Beliefnet essay were all supportive of Ms. Winner.

bullet "kinnereth" is the author of two books on singleness and sexuality which were published by evangelical presses in 1988 and 1991. He believes that the unwillingness of evangelical churches to have any meaningful conversation about pre-marital sex has not improved in the decade since. He refers to two surveys taken by Southern Baptist Convention and Presbyterian Church (USA). They shows that two out of three of their single members are not celibate.

bullet Gino Peregrini commented: " 'Whore' has a very specific meaning, and it does not refer to two people loving each other physically."

bulletBruce Robinson (the author of this essay) commented that Paul's criticism of premarital sex occurred in the 1st century CE when society was very much different from today. In those days premarital sex had to be outlawed because it was so dangerous:

bullet An unmarried woman was considered the property of her father. If she was not a virgin then she would be devalued.

bullet There was no reliable method of birth control.

bullet There was no reliable method of detecting STD infection.

bullet There was no reliable method of preventing infection from STDs from being transferred.

bullet There were no effective treatments for STDs.

bullet An unmarried woman with a child might have great difficulty surviving.

bullet The time interval between puberty and marriage was typically very short - perhaps a year or two.

None of these factors apply today. For example, puberty now comes years sooner and marriage is typically delayed for the average man and woman to the mid to late 20's in the U.S. and Canada. Perhaps, if Paul lived today, he would modify his epistle to allow "safe" pre-marital sex under some conditions. Attempting to remain celibate for over 15 years may not be practical for many individuals.

Premarital sex should be discussed in the churches. Attempts should be made to determine whether Paul's writings are absolute truths for all cultures and all eras. Perhaps with so many changes in culture and medical science, Paul's writings are relative truths -- only valid for 1st century Palestine and no longer applicable today. Perhaps the original justifications for a ban on pre-marital sex have evaporated.

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  1. "Morality & Ethics: Sex and the single evangelical: the church lady vs. the 'evangelical whore,' " Beliefnet website, at:  
  2. Albert Y Hsu, "Singles at the crossroads: A fresh perspective on Christian singleness," Intervarsity Press, (1997). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

Copyright © 1997 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2014-JUL-07
Author: B.A. Robinson with data from Jef Poskanzer

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