Paul Prather: Love, forgiveness, honesty are much more important than sex

Contributing columnistApril 12, 2013 

Channel surfing, I discovered yet another reality show. Reality shows have taken over television like an entertainment staph infection.

This one, on Lifetime, was called Preachers' Daughters.

I hate to admit it, but I found the show irresistible, probably because I grew up as the son of a preacher, which isn't all that different from being a preacher's daughter.

I'm also a preacher myself, and I raised a preacher's son. Now I'm the grandfather of four; I'm helping to influence a preacher's grandchildren.

In short, I was a ready-made audience.

The show's premise was simple. Cameras followed three ministers and their families as they navigated the minefields of their daughters' adolescence.

All three families struck me as fairly normal and largely likeable.

But my biggest take-away was that, although the ministers hailed from different Christian denominations and lived in different geographic areas, apparently their main concern for raising godly daughters was to keep them from having sex before marriage.

My perception could be wrong. This was TV, after all, and sex sells ads, so it might be that in real life, the preachers discussed all sorts of issues with the girls, but the show's producers focused only on the sex talks. Or it might be that the series' other episodes covered additional topics.

Yet I wouldn't be surprised if sex really was the central concern among these decent families. Many Christians seem almost obsessed about it.

That's always mystified me. Maybe I've written about this before.

If you listen to the railing that Christians do from pulpits or out in the public square, it's disproportionately related to glands: abortion, gay marriage, birth control.

I learned long ago as a pastor that anytime a parishioner got riled up about "the sin in our midst" and started insisting the congregation repent and spend more time in corporate prayer to defeat the devil, invariably that was code for, "Somebody's having sex with somebody I don't think he should have sex with, and he might be enjoying it."

It was never about, "Somebody has gotten too prideful and materialistic," or, "Somebody acted rudely toward a prisoner in our jail ministry."

Never was it about those things.

Never. Ever.

Back to Preachers' Daughters. For a bunch of reasons, I agree that single teenage girls (and boys) would be wise to avoid fooling around in the back seat, or wherever teenagers fool around these days.

I tried to teach my own son sexual responsibility, self-respect and self-control. As far as I could tell (parents being the last to know), he listened. I sure don't object to others lecturing their kids on the inevitability of desire and the need for restraint.

Too often, however, Christians have acted as if sex is the only issue. And it's not. By a long shot.

If you read the New Testament, sex doesn't appear to even rank among the major concerns. It's there all right, among various exhortations toward clean living, but it doesn't get nearly the ink you'd imagine, given the buckets of ink Christians devote to it today. In the New Testament, sex is nearly an afterthought.

So when contemporary Christians blather on about sex to the neglect of everything else, I wonder if they've ever ventured into the New Testament or the writings of the church fathers who succeeded the apostles.

Just as we do, Jesus and his early followers lived within a larger, permissive culture in which licentiousness was common.

But they paid greater attention to what they perceived as the weightier matters of their gospel: faith, humility, honesty, generosity, forgiveness, love for society's outcasts, perseverance amid suffering, the comfort of the Holy Spirit.

What I'd liked to have seen during Preachers' Daughters was a parent who said, "Honey, I pray that, being 15, single and dumb as a gourd, you'll keep your pants zipped. But equally, I pray that you'll be nice to the fattest girl in your class, that when everyone else says ugly things about her, you'll stand up on her behalf.

"I also pray you won't — for a single moment — imagine that just because we can afford to buy you designer clothes, you're a whit better than the kid who gets her clothes from Goodwill.

"I hope I'll never have to pressure you into going with us to the nursing home to sing for the Alzheimer's patients, that you'll go because you see the value in it.

"I trust you'll always tell the truth, which means not cheating on your math exam and admitting your faults as much as it means witnessing to people about your religion."

To me, as to the earliest Christians, who presumably knew the Lord better than you or I, these other practices are as vital to a moral life as is sexual restraint. Maybe more vital. Not only for teenagers, but for adults as well.

Paul Prather is pastor of Bethesda Church near Mount Sterling. You can e-mail him at pratpd@yahoo.com.

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