Why Prayer Beats Playboy

Christian couples can teach secular sex therapists a thing or two.

At the risk of encouraging a Donahue-type, “Let’s Compare Our Sex Lives” debate, we join Christian attorney George A. Tobin in saying religious folks are not the sexual prudes we are made out to be by the sexperts. Writing in First Things, Tobin refers to a curious discrepancy in The Janus Report on Human Sexuality, which bills itself as “the first broadscale scientific national survey since Kinsey.” He points out that authors Samuel and Cynthia Janus, summing up their “Sex and Religion” chapter, say that “many religious people have some difficulty enjoying their sex lives.” Not exactly cutting-edge thinking, but not exactly accurate, either.

For example, 55 percent of those who rated themselves “Very Religious” also said they were sexually “Active” or “Very Active”—just beating out the 54 percent who are “Slightly Religious” or “Not Religious” who think of themselves that way.

Asked whether they had experienced more or less sexual activity in the last three years, Catholics led in GDS (Gross Domestic Sexuality) statistics, 44 percent saying they had experienced more versus 27 percent who experienced less. Protestants were not far behind (41 percent versus 29 percent).

If there is any reason for concern about sexual lethargy, it ought to be for the nonreligious. The survey says that these poor folks are not doing well. Of those who gave their choice of religion as “None,” 35 percent reported less sexual activity in the last three years than the 30 percent who experienced more activity.

The Januses may feel this sexual regression was made up for by the fact that the “None” and “Not Religious” people reported more sexual fantasizing, more extramarital affairs, and more variety of sexual technique. However, only 44 percent of the “Not Religious” believe themselves to be functioning at a sexual “biological maximum,” compared to 59 percent of the “Very Religious.” On the whole, it was a disappointing showing by the “happy pagans.”

These findings reminded us of conclusions reached by Catholic sociologist Andrew Greeley three years ago in his book Faithful Attraction. Surveying married people, Greeley found the most powerful correlate of marital happiness to be praying together. Couples who pray together often are twice as likely to describe their marriages as being in the falling-in-love stage as those who pray less often. They also report considerably higher sexual satisfaction and more sexual ecstasy. Compared to prayer, such practices as swimming in the nude and undressing each other had rather limited impact, according to Greeley. He also found regular church attendance and frequent religious retreats relate positively to marital happiness.

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So why is it that the Januses, along with many therapists who write about sexuality, believe that religious people are peculiarly troubled? It could be that only peculiarly troubled religious people show up in the Januses’ offices. Or perhaps therapists are more likely to notice when religious people are sexually troubled and then make a connection between their clients’ religious beliefs and sexual dysfunction. The most likely possibility, it seems to us, is that the Januses are blinded by their own beliefs. It has been the almost uniform contention of people writing about sexuality in the past 50 years that sexual taboos and ignorance have contributed most of our misery. If only people had more scientific knowledge of sexuality and fewer inhibitions, troubles would disappear. Religion, which insists on putting morality over sensuality, makes people feel guilty and has done great harm. Or so the experts say.

Yet in this time of greater awareness and fewer inhibitions, people do not seem to be demonstrably happier. Rather, it seems clearer than ever that our grandparents basically had it right. If you want to be happy, sexually and otherwise, marry someone whom you love and respect, and stick with that person for the rest of your life. Within a strong marriage, sexual awareness and a lack of inhibitions have a good chance to grow, with or without instruction from the experts.

If you want to be unhappy, on the other hand, contract AIDS by sleeping around. Go through your third divorce. Split children between two or more households. Under such conditions, your knowledge of arousal techniques or your freedom to fantasize may not contribute much to your happiness.

Religion helps create lasting marriages and discourages the kinds of behavior that destroy them. That creates good conditions for sexual enjoyment. This is not to say that religious people have nothing to learn about sex. The Christian church has spoken about sex with extreme caution more often than with thanksgiving. People like the Januses have made us rethink this, for which we should be grateful. Sex is, after all, a part of God’s good creation. There is reason to believe that Christians through the ages have, in the privacy of their bedrooms, enjoyed themselves immensely. Now, we have more reason than ever to think so.

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By Tim Stafford.

If we had not seen the National Council of Churches logo at the top of the page, we might have thought we were reading a document prepared by the National Association of Evangelicals. The document, entitled “An Invitation to Evangelism” and presented at the NCC’s mid-November meeting in Baltimore, speaks with unusual clarity: “Through the gospel we are set free from sin, restored to true dignity as persons created in God’s image and introduced to a life of holiness.… We are born from above by the Spirit as we put our faith in the crucified and risen Lord.”

Of course, the word evangelism remains problematic within many NCC circles. Some simply avoid using it. Others apply the term indiscriminately to almost any ministry that churches undertake. So the goals of the proposed NCC statement are relatively modest: to initiate ecumenical dialogue regarding the meaning of evangelism and to encourage the development of more intentionally evangelistic programs. One of the paper’s drafters, William Abraham of Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, notes: “We would like to see the churches seriously owning the ‘E’ word again.”

“The Invitation to Evangelism” is encouraging because it sets forth the imperative of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to all persons.

The church bodies that make up the NCC will study and amend this draft and then consider a revised statement next November. We hope it is approved, but we worry that it may be gutted by those within the NCC who distrust evangelism. Public comments from some NCC board members do not ease those worries. For example, a United Methodist clergywoman urged that new forms of worshiping communities be affirmed—including underground churches, house churches, WomanChurch, and gay and lesbian communities. On the other hand, concerns raised by other NCC board members could strengthen the document. An Orthodox priest suggested strictures against inappropriate proselytizing, particularly in Eastern Europe. And an Episcopalian, warning that this document was too “this worldly,” asked for clearer references to the Resurrection and the community of the saints.

The NCC statement offers a unique opportunity for ecumenical discussions. While dialogue involving national church leaders is good, perhaps having study groups and joint projects in local communities or ministerial associations would be better.

As for those of us who have criticized the NCC for its neglect of evangelism, we should engage in constructive conversation with our liberal counterparts. True ecumenism, after all, has evangelism at its heart. Let’s remember Christ’s prayer that his disciples “may all be one … so that the world may believe.”

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By Diane Knippers, a CT advisory editor and president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington, D.C.

The issue of legalization of illicit drugs once again burst into the headlines with Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders’s declaration late last year that the war on drugs has failed, and with her advocacy of legalization as the means to ending the urban violence and criminal profit.

But what about the infants and young children caught in the web of illicit drug trade, street violence, and addiction? Currently, Illinois has 34,000 children in foster care—75 percent in Chicago’s Cook County. The state reports: “The increase in drug usage is linked to the increase in reports of child abuse and neglect and the removal of children from biological parents.”

Children born addicted to drugs tend to have low birth weight, have tremors, and are often unable to handle stimulation. They often have learning disabilities, behavioral and physical problems. They can be very difficult children to raise and are frequently abused and neglected by their biological parents. The state routinely takes custody of such children at birth. The state can do so now because illicit drug use is prohibited. What grounds will the state have for protecting these children if such use becomes legal?

As the adoptive/foster parent of three children from drug-abusing households, I cannot be completely unbiased about this discussion. All three of my children suffer the effects of their birth mothers’ drug abuse—and I suffer with them and love them through it.

Saying that drug abuse is a private issue and that legalization will end the violence ignores the most innocent victims of all—the children. These children will continue to be the responsibility of the state in increasing numbers, but they will be entering the system abused, neglected, or even dead.

By Cynthia Cronk, a production manager at CTi.

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