America’s sexual revolution has been underway for some time now. And at least as far back as 1967’s so-called “Summer of Love,” traditional and biblical understandings of the purpose and place of sexuality in our lives have been under open assault.
But what began as a countercultural movement has in the ensuing decades become anything but countercultural. Those voices are now in the ascendant, to say the very least. And those of us who’ve continued to hold to a more conservative viewpoint are now the counterculture.
I write all of that as a preamble of sorts to my topic today: Miley Cyrus. Plugged In has commented about Miley many times before, of course, as the 22-year-old entertainer’s words and choices have provided plenty of fodder for discussion about mass entertainment, cultural influence and moral values since her arrival on Disney’s Hannah Montana in 2006.
Today it’s about things she recently said in an interview with Paper magazine (which was accompanied by nude photos taken of her … with a pig). Specifically, I want to focus on what Miley said about her understanding of sexual ethics in 2015. What she said is important for those of us who are part of the new counterculture to grapple with, because I believe it might be the most concise and accurate summary of the mainstream perspective on sexuality that I’ve seen recently (and maybe ever).
Miley’s entire perspective on what’s appropriate and what’s not when it comes to sexual expression between (she qualifies) adults can be boiled down into a single word: consent.
I am literally open to every single thing that is consenting and doesn’t involve an animal and everyone is of age. Everything that’s legal, I’m down with. … As long as you’re not hurting anyone, your choices are your choices. I don’t relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.
In other words, as long as there’s consent, there need be no other questions. That’s the beginning and the end of any conversation about sexuality as far as Miley Cyrus is concerned. While that may sound somewhat shocking, this young woman’s stance is increasingly one that’s echoed throughout mainstream culture. She’s just managed to boil it down to its bare essence.
And the essence of Miley’s worldview is something we need to deal with because she’s both the product of a culture that’s jettisoned any and all other sexual norms and someone who’s powerfully reinforcing the mores (or, in many ways, the lack thereof) that she’s come to embrace and embody.
To deal with the consent-only sexuality worldview that Miley Cyrus represents, we must ask a couple of simple but crucially important questions: What is the purpose of sexuality? And who gets to decide?
Historically, Christian theologians have identified two primary answers to the first question. 1) The purpose of our sexuality is to create a union—“oneness,” the Bible calls is—between a man and his wife. 2) The purpose of our sexuality within that marriage bond is to produce new life when that is possible. Because those purposes are so sacred, so fundamental to human existence, God has placed protective parameters around sexual expression to protect us and to allow our relationships to flourish—which leads us to the answer for the second question. Our sexuality is beautiful, powerful and life-giving in its God-ordained context of marriage. Outside of that context and its divine origin, it can be a source of deep pain and vulnerability, not to mention the tragedy of creating new life without a loving, protective family to nourish it.
Our mainstream culture, in contrast, answers those two questions in a radically different way. The purpose of sexuality, Miley and so many others would argue, is personal pleasure and self-actualization. As for the second question, well, we already know the popular answer there: Each individual—not God, not Scripture, not any religious or cultural tradition—is sovereign over his or her body and sexual choices.
In such a worldview, the concept of consent is all that remains. The only sexual “sin,” in the world’s eyes, is forcing someone to do something against his or her will. And apart from coercion or sexual assault, there is no other sexual ethic to guide anyone’s choices. In other words, as many, many songs have said one way or another throughout the last five decades, “How can it be wrong if it feels so right?”
Those of us who are concerned about the culture’s direction—and especially its influence on those growing up in it today—have a critically important job to do with regard to this clash of worldviews. Namely, helping those we have a chance to influence understand and take hold of exactly what God’s good and beautiful purpose for sexual expression in marriage is.
That’s no small task in our oversexualized culture, especially with sirens such as Miss Cyrus advocating “anything goes” more blatantly than ever—and being praised for it.
I’d like to wrap up by quoting Christian youth culture expert Walt Mueller (of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding), who has already written about Miley’s latest articulations:
It’s easy to grieve over Miley’s values, attitudes, and behaviors. For me, my faith, my children, and my grandchildren are filters through which I see Miley Cyrus, and I am sobered. But being sobered should always lead to action. And so I want to encourage you to 1) Pray for Miley Cyrus (“God, make yourself real to this young lady. . .”), 2) Pray for the children you know and love (“Lord, reveal yourself, your will, and your way to our kids. Make them hungry to know the incarnate Word Jesus and your revelation of yourself in the Scriptures. May their hunger be insatiable!”), and 3) Know and unashamedly speak the Truth that transforms. Yes, God is sovereign and in control of all things. He has not and will not abandon His Creation or His people. What a blessed assurance. That’s great news!
Indeed, amid so much bad news in our society today, we still have the privilege of living out the Good News, the gospel of forgiveness, freedom and purpose Jesus has given us. And it’s a gospel that’s so much bigger and more fulfilling than our culture’s false gospel of sexual consent.