Notable progressive ministers are now embracing polyamory, approving of dating apps like Grindr and Tinder, calling chastity "unhealthy," and declining to warn people about the consequences of hookup culture.
Earlier this week HuffPost Life interviewed Brandan Robertson of Mission Gathering Christian Church in San Diego, California; Chalice Overy of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina; and "Michael," a San Antonio man whose last name was not given and is currently working as a "clergy person" in a church. Michael considers himself "polyamorous."
The publication explored questions about dating life and sexual ethics with the liberal church leaders as part of a larger series on at relationships in America "from the perspective of different ethnicities, sexual identities, life experiences and circumstances."
"I think the evangelical church world that I come from has taught some really unhealthy ideas about sex and sexuality, and I spend a lot of my time trying to deconstruct 'purity culture' in favor of a healthier, more holistic view of sexuality," said Robertson, who identifies as gay, when asked about premarital sex.
"I believe for some people, waiting for marriage before having sex can be a very healthy path. I also believe that for most people, sex before marriage is a healthy expression of the gift of sexuality and is not 'sinful' or morally wrong."
While he tries to push back on the "hookup" culture in his personal life because he finds random sex unfulfilling, "I don’t judge others who do," he said.
In October, Robertson posted a video, which he subsequently deleted, calling polyamorous and open relationships “holy” and “beautiful” in a talk at his church in support of "queer theology."
Overy weighed in that the expectation that people wait until marriage is "unreasonable," and that her beliefs had evolved over the years, particularly if it is expected of them "to make thoughtful decisions about who they marry."
Michael from San Antonio explained that "our own personal ethics" constitute the boundaries on sex, not "contractual arrangements" like marriage.
"I have lived monogamously, and that was no different ethically for me than living with multiple lovers; it was what the agreed-to and defined boundaries were at the time," he said.
Cheslen Vicari, evangelical program director for the Washington-based Institute on Religion & Democracy, was incredulous, noting she knew of nothing "healthy" about sexual sin.
"Off the top of my head, I can think of all the unhealthy effects of premarital sex, from a woman’s perspective. Insecurity, a desire for false affirmation through intimacy, attachment, then feelings of rejection, and the cycle continues," she wrote on the organization's blog Thursday.
"All of these unhealthy effects are thwarted by the marriage covenant that should bring security, fidelity, and lifelong commitment."
While their views seems strange to Orthodox believers, an "unspoken green light" hangs over premarital sex in the minds of many younger evangelicals, she noted. Few evangelical leaders address young evangelicals’ "passive, if not affirming approach" to the subject.
"Young Christians need guidance on these serious moral issues. Clergy, this is where your faithful Christian witness is so desperately needed," she said, urging pastors to speak.
Challenging the historic teaching about marriage and sexual ethics has been an ongoing theme for progressive Christian authors.
In a 2016 CP interview, United Church of Christ minister Bromleigh McCleneghan, author of Good Christian Sex: Why Chastity Isn't the Only Option — And Other Things the Bible Says About Sex, maintained that she has heard from "countless" people who were taught that if they saved sex for marriage they would avoid hurt and that their sex lives would be satisfying but that did not turn out to be true.
Sexual relationship outside of the marriage covenant are fine provided they are "mutually pleasurable and affirming," she wrote.
"I also know many who had sexual relationships outside of marriage that did not leave them hurting or empty, but were loving and supportive," the author said then.
She explained she regards the Bible "seriously as a living witness, but also as a historic document written in a particular time and place," when asked if she believes in the infallibility of Scripture.
Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in southern California, said in response that her words were evidence of the end times since "the Bible says that in the last days, there would be false teachers," Laurie argued.
"When someone gets up and says that the Bible is not the Word of God, I really don't care what their point is. That, to me, is apostasy."