A few months ago, while tutoring at Y.E.S., I was helping a 4th grader with a worksheet on commas. The worksheet provided two paragraphs, with these instructions: ”Insert the missing __ commas.” One paragraph’s instructions said seven, and the other’s said fifteen. Those were the only instructions, and I could see no other grammatical errors in either paragraph besides missing commas. While filling in the worksheet, however, we twice came across sentences like this:
Jack picked up his baseball glove he went to the game.
In case your English classes are a little fuzzy in your memory, those are two independent clauses (“Jack picked up his baseball glove,” and “he went to the game”) smushed together (update: apparently, “smushed” is not a word). In English, there are three ways to separate independent clauses: a period, a semi-colon, and a coma + conjunction. You can NOT put just a comma between them. Two independent clauses separated by a comma is called a comma splice, and it is considered a major grammatical error. And yet, the instructions only allowed the student to place commas to correct the errors. Hence, the worksheet was prompting the student to form comma splices.
As an English nerd, I was appalled.
I refused to let the student put a comma there; instead, I had her put a semi-colon. Who cared that she did not even know what a semi-colon was (*sob*)? We were not going to make comma splices on MY watch! I also wrote a little note to the teacher at the bottom of the page reminding her about comma splices (yes, I did). I then vented to everyone around me who would listen, and left the tutoring session full of indignation.
Later, however, I began to second-guess myself. I had to admit that comma splices were an epidemic among my college students, and they were having a really hard time wrapping their minds around the idea that they were wrong. Plus, I had to admit that I saw comma splices everywhere I looked, even on advertisements and in published materials. I even stopped reading Luke the Magic Treehouse series because of all the comma splices and sentence fragments! So…maybe comma splices were okay now? Even though I was raised to think that comma splices were wrong, and the grammar manuals to which I had referred throughout the semester also seemed to think they were wrong, I had to admit the possibility that such teachings were outdated. After all, language is fluid, and the rules of grammar are always subtly shifting. If my college students had not been taught that comma splices were wrong, and these elementary students were apparently being taught that they were just fine, then maybe I was the one who was wrong! Maybe comma splices weren’t “still a thing.”
A reminder hanging in the hallway at my college.
Confused, I resolved to ask the head of the English department the next day at school. I ran into him and another veteran professor in the hallway and posed the question, “Are comma splices still wrong?” Now, I have to tell you that both of these professors are rather liberal in matters of grammar, as the trend among teaching writing is to move away from grammar and focus on content. Even so, the rain of indignation that immediately poured down upon comma splices left no doubt as to their current, taboo nature. Words like, “very, very wrong,” “major grammar error,” and “inelegant” abounded, and the veteran professor even said, “It tells me that they don’t know what constitutes a sentence.” There was no doubt that these professors thought comma splices were wrong. I felt better; after all, I had been waging a one-woman war against comma splices all semester!
Even though my heart told me that comma splices were “still a thing,” I felt like I had to ask because of all the evidence that suggested it wasn’t still a thing: it was apparently being taught in public schools, most of the twenty-somethings I knew had no problem with it, I seemed to see it everywhere in culture, and people seemed to be forgetting why it was wrong.
So…along those lines, I also feel compelled to ask,
Is premarital sex still a thing?
No, really. I’ve been raised to think it was wrong, and the Bible seems to clearly define proper sexuality as being solely within the realm of marriage, but based on the anecdotal evidence of Greg’s twitter feed and my 173 young, single, mommy friends on Facebook (not really, but it’s a lot), plus the not-so-anecdotal evidence of studies likethe one mentioned in this article, I am beginning to think we are undergoing a shift in thinking about sexual morality, not just in society, but in the church. Because you see, 98% of Greg’s twitter friends and my Facebook friends are people whom I met in church. Most would call themselves Christians.
Now, before I ask my next question, I’ve got to say this: I agree that the church has mishandled the sex issue in all sorts of ways, and I’m glad that we are exploring different ways to get our point across. For example, in a recent post, Richard Beck argues that it is perhaps more relevant to talk about sexual promiscuity to college students in terms of wisdom and foolishness, rather than sin. Also in the recent past, Rachel Held Evans has claimed that sex is one of the church’s blind spots, that we often use the virgin/whore dichotomy of looking at the issue, and that such talk further alienates sexually active people, rather than bringing them to repentance. Even more recently, there was a debate on the site, Mere Orthodoxy, where one side was advocating that, given the number of sexually active young Christians, the church should start teaching about contraception.
So…okay, I get all that. And part of me is glad that we are thinking outside the box here, seeing that our past efforts have tended to fail miserably. But sometimes I just want to ask, “Can we still say that it is wrong?”
Seriously–can we? Like, to people we know who are sexually active? Should we? Would it help, or would it only alienate? I really wonder these things, because sometimes, for me, it often seems like the elephant in the room. It sometimes seems that, while all of us in our little Christian bubble are yelling about the importance of sexual purity, we don’t always do a good job of effectively conveying that concept to people outside of our little Christian bubble. Thus, we seem kind of like my English professors, ranting about comma splices, while most of the world doesn’t even know what comma splices are. The problem is, I don’t really know how to pop that bubble, practically speaking, in my own life.
Now, don’t get me wrong: as a youth minister’s wife, I’m not uncomfortable talking to teens about sex (sample question from teen when I first got into youth ministry: ”Have you ever had sex twice in one day? What about six times?”). I didn’t necessarily answer all those questions, but trust me, I have not the slightest problem telling young teenage virgins, pseudo-virgins, and almost-virgins to wait until marriage. That conversation gets substantially more awkward, however, when I’m dealing with twenty-somethings who have been sexually active for a decade and truly see no problem with it. I feel like I sound backwards, a complete relic of a bygone era. And I don’t always handle it well. Here, for example, is an excerpt from a conversation I recently had, in which I tried to work the concept of sex within marriage:
20-something woman: Yeah, my mom has had a boyfriend for six years. Before you ask, they don’t have plans to get married.
Me [laughing uncomfortably]: Well…I mean, I kind of understand where they are coming from…
Woman: Yeah, all my friends think I’m weird when I say I want to get married.
Me: I think it’s good you want to get married. With your mom, though, I was saying that I understand where she might be coming from because if she’s not a Christian….see, the Christian view of marriage is that [glancing back at my kids in their carseats] you wait, you know, until you get married, so…there’s not much chance of someone just staying together for years and years without it.
Me [pressing forward through the awkwardness]: See, the Bible teaches that marriage is supposed to last forever, and most people don’t think of it like that today. And so, you know, if you aren’t a Christian and don’t follow the Bible, then I could see why you wouldn’t want to get married…
What on earth? What was I even trying to say? I guess I was trying to remind the woman that marriage is more than just a word, since she said she wanted to get married one day, while at the same time trying not to come down too hard on her mom. Good grief. I sarcastically thought to myself, “Well, you handled that well,” and the conversation moved to something more benign.
Here’s the rub: I think premarital sex is still a thing. I think that it is wrong. And I don’t say this as a cultural warrior, or someone who is ringing her hands and fearing for the future of our country (love casts out fear, my friends). But I say this as a person who knows a lot of single moms…and to a woman, not one of them seems happy with her life. In fact, the default setting for them seems to be “depressed and overwhelmed.” And I don’t blame them one bit. I cannot imagine raising children on my own; it’s hard enough when you are blessed with a support system. And I do see it as a natural part of my Christian identity to help the single moms as much as I can. Yet, with all that I do, I cannot replace a husband. Being in this situation, I can’t help but think that it almost seems like I would be doing people a favor to overtly and regularly discuss God’s plan for marriage. And yet, again, how do you do that in a culture when sex outside of marriage is the norm without alienating people? I really don’t know yet.
By the way, a few week’s later, I asked the student from tutoring about her teacher’s reaction to my comma splice note. The student shrugged her shoulders and said, “I don’t know; she just seemed kind of confused.”
So am I, teacher. So am I.
Any thoughts on how to handle the sex issue with twenty-somethings in the church? And do you think premarital sex is still a “thing”?