After the failure of abstinence-only education policies, evangelical leaders and institutions have begun to consider promoting preventative measures to combat the country’s rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) sparked controversy when it accepted a grant from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, but the organization defended its decision by saying it is concerned about the abortion rate in the evangelical community. And a wider range of evangelical leaders are beginning to concede that contraception is “a valuable tool in the abortion reduction toolkit.”
And the shift to embrace more comprehensive education that includes forms of contraception may actually be part of a larger shift among younger evangelicals, according to BuzzFeed:
A study released in December by the National Association of Evangelicals found that 44% of unmarried 18–29-year-old evangelicals had been sexually active — but the study defined “evangelical” as someone who attends church at least monthly, believes Jesus Christ is the only path to salvation, and believes the Bible “is accurate in all that it teaches,” requirements that may leave out some who still consider themselves part of the group. Another study puts the figure at 80 percent. And a recent poll found that 44% of 18–29-year-old evangelicals favor same-sex marriage, lower than the national figure but much higher than their elders.
Jonathan Merritt, author of A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars, sees a shift from an older ideal of virginity — where “you either had it or you didn’t” — to a new ethic of purity which acknowledges that lapses may happen. And he sees a bigger change afoot: “The last generation was very focused on personal holiness. This generation also focuses on the outward expressions of the faith.”
In addition to evolving opinions about contraception and sex before marriage, the increasing number of young evangelical Christians who support marriage equality lines up with other polls showing that most people who say they are religious, including Catholics and mainline Christians, also back marriage equality.
And this is situated within a larger shift away from stringently abstinence-only policies. Even deeply conservative states like Alabama and Mississippi that have opposed comprehensive sexual health instruction for decades are showing some signs of progress in this area.