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How to be tough

ALL the world knows that Christians are interested in only one thing: sex. And what they’re interested in is putting a stop to it, wherever possible. This widespread perception (nowadays, alas, vindicated daily by our beloved Anglican Communion) is receiving intriguing support from No Sex, Please, We’re Teenagers (BBC2 Tuesdays). Here, two Evangelical youth workers, Rachel and Dan, are working with a group of Harrow teenagers, trying to persuade them to relinquish the sexual activity that they have taken for granted, reject sex as an inevitable element in teenage life, and learn to develop relationships that leave physical intimacy for marriage.

My liberal hackles rise. Rachel is described as a modern Christian, which means that rather than belong to any Church, she has invented her own, which meets in her house. Most Christians I spend time with agree that the Church has done huge damage throughout history by treating the loss of premarital virginity as the cardinal sin above all others; that for most young people the inclusion of sexual activity in a relationship, aided by the God-given development of reliable contraception, helps them to discern whether or not this is the lifelong partner for them.

But the programme is intriguing because, for all my dislike of the focus on sex as the only thing that really matters, the project does seem to have worked an extraordinary transformation on the lives of the participants. There is, of course, an issue concerning translation.

The "young people" whom wishy-washy liberals think are not overmuch spiritually damaged by sexual activity are those aged 18, 19, 20. in a sequence of essentially serious, longish-term relationships. These Harrow kids are much younger than that, and much of their sex seems to be shockingly casual, little more than (if you will forgive me) the expected climax of a night out.

This picture of current British life is truly disturbing, and it is quite right for the Church to seek to change it. These young people have grown in maturity, and become reflective and candid, asking hard questions and rejecting easy answers. But the problem remains: is the only answer to mindless and damaging promiscuity absolute chastity (nothing more than kissing is permitted) until the wedding?

This is the sort of hard-line, black-and-white morality, the only thing that will bring our society back from the abyss, that the Church, ought to be promoting — according to Cristina Odone in Don’t Get Me Started (Five, Tuesday). Look at the decline in churchgoing! Look at the rise of the mosques! Look at the growth of Pentecostalism! It’s obvious what is needed: authoritarian, unchallengable certainties. That’s what God is like, so that’s what the Church should be like. Ann Widdecombe says so, so it must be right.

This was a deeply confused, unhappy programme, resorting to tabloid sound-bites rather than real analysis. Ms Odone’s recent programme, on women bishops, was moving and real, because she allowed herself to be changed by what she found. But I suppose the whole point of Don’t Get Me Started is to provide someone with a soapbox to mount a savage denunciation — not a serious and open-ended exploration of an issue.

 

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