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On Religion: ‘The Bachelorette’ Preaches on God, Sex and Marriage

Twitter is an awkward place to fight about sex and religion, especially when the clash is between ABC’s current Bachelorette and a man who wanted to be her husband.

Former Miss Alabama USA Hannah Brown recently tweeted: “time and time again jesus loved and ate with ‘sinners’ who laughed and time and time again he rebuked ‘saints’ that judged. where do you fall Luke?”

Luke Parker, who asked Brown not to use the show’s “Fantasy Suites” nights as opportunities for sex with finalists, replied: “There is a difference between eating with sinners who laugh and sinners who laugh at their sin. Sin is the very thing that put Jesus on the cross and that’s not a laughing matter.”

The last straw for these two Bible Belt Christians? When Parker urged her not to put sex before marriage, the Bachelorette responded: “I prayed so much for clarity and I feel like I have finally gotten clarity on you. And I do not want you to be my husband.”

Parker kept trying, which led to this kiss-off one-liner from Brown: “I have had sex and, like, Jesus still loves me.”

These debates happen all the time and pastors know that many young people in their pews have made their own compromises between centuries of doctrine and premarital sex, said sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia.

“What’s striking about what we see here is now naive so many young people are about life and love and marriage,” said Wilcox, referring to “The Bachelorette” clash. “They don’t seem to understand how important it is to develop self-control as they try to move seriously into emotional, physical and spiritual relationships. …

“So many young people don’t realize that what the pop culture is selling them is not conducive to a good relationship, based on what we know from the social sciences.”

According to Wilcox, experts who dig deep into the biennial General Social Survey, conducted by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, see clear signs of the struggles many young people are having finding happiness, marriage partners and stable sex lives.

Writing in The Atlantic, Wilcox and colleague Lyman Stone noted: “Controlling for basic demographics and other social characteristics, married young adults are about 75 percent more likely to report that they are very happy, compared with their peers who are not married. … As it turns out, the share of young adults who are married has fallen from 59 percent in 1972 to 28 percent in 2018.”

These survey numbers, they added, also show that: “Young adults who attend religious services more than once a month are about 40 percent more likely to report that they are very happy, compared with their peers who are not religious at all. … What’s happening to religious attendance among young adults today? The share of young adults who attend religious services more than monthly has fallen from 38 percent in 1972 to 27 percent in 2018, even as the share who never attend has risen rapidly.”

While the soapy details of “The Bachelorette” are offered as entertainment, they also reveal that many young adults “are messing up the sequence of events” that offer them their best chance to have stable, happy marriages, said Wilcox, reached by telephone.

For starters, it’s important to “be patient and move slowly” when seeking a relationship that will last. At the same time, researchers have found that that people who have fewer sexual partners, or who delay sex until marriage, have the highest odds of building stronger, healthier marriages that “will go the distance,” he said.

Here is another piece of advice built on painful numbers in GSS surveys: “If young people want to avoid divorce, it’s wise for them to put marriage vows ahead of the whole baby-carriage stage of life.”

This old-fashioned “success sequence,” said Wilcox, is not what young people are seeing in movie theaters or in the flood of social-media advice offered by celebrities seen in “The Bachelorette” and other television products.

“When it comes to sex, the popular culture wants you to ‘Just Do It,’ like in the whole Nike approach to life,” he said. “As it turns out, that isn’t what leads to happiness in sex and marriage.”

Terry Mattingly (tmatt.net) leads GetReligion.org and is Senior Fellow for Media and Religion at The King’s College in New York City. He lives in Oak Ridge, Tenn.

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