Tuesday, July 9, 2019


The hot button moral issues have divided Christians into two combative camps. People aren’t listening anymore. And young people are leaving the church. What can be done to bring people together?

In a House Divided, Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures, I try to establish a framework for discussing divisive issues.

What is the framework?

The framework requires respect based on understanding why sincere Christians arrive at different conclusions about morality. There are four major components of the framework, which are covered in Part I.

1. How facts about sex can help us think about the issues.

2. How an understanding of our human nature can help us develop a humble stance toward different ideas (Read more about the SCOPES model).

3. How conservatives and progressives read the Bible differently (e.g., see Borg, 2001)

4. How conservatives and progressives emphasize five to six  different dimensions of morality (See Haidt 2012).

What are the topics?

The topics are linked to beliefs and values in conflict about matters related to some aspect of sexuality.

  • Sex Education
  • Contraception
  • Premarital Sex
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Christian Marriage
  • Same-Sex Marriage
  • Gender Roles in Marriage, Church, and Culture

What have reviewers said?

"...Sutton takes these three themes (different ways of thinking about scripture, different criteria for deciding what is moral, and different persons within different church cultures) as a way to explain why thoughtful Christians arrive at different moral conclusions within the domain of sexuality... if we can understand each other then we can reason with each other (or at least respect each other). Perhaps a house can be a place where disagreement occurs in the context of unity.  Perhaps Christian brothers and sisters can disagree without being divided."

Professor Rod Bassett, Wesleyan College

"Dr. Sutton examines morality and sexuality with a scholarly but accessible book. It will keep your students thinking and pondering their framework and philosophy for morality and sexuality as they face complex issues in current events"

            Professor Jennifer Ripley, Regent University

Where has the book been used?

A book Study in Church Study Groups, An Undergraduate Psychology Course on Integrating Faith and Psychology, Seminary Courses on Ethics and Morality.

Where can the book be purchased?

      An eBook or Paperback can be purchased from the Publisher wipfandstock
      And other bookstores including Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes

Are FREE copies available for instructors & reviewers?

     The publisher (wipfandstock ) provides a FREE copy to book reviewers and course instructors.  
See the Exam & Reviewer choices below the picture of the book on the publisher’s website. (wipfandstock )

Are there additional resources?

            Yes. There are three additional resources.

1. Website for the book

2. Online blogs with over 50 posts on related topics in the news

3. An inexpensive discussion guide on AMAZON for 99 cents

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Mother's Day for Very Young Mothers

Imagine Sally’s pregnancy begins to show by Christmas time. Would she be happy that by April, before school is out, she would deliver her first baby weighing 7 pounds? Sally is one of several young American mothers who did not have an abortion. According to her doctor, Sally was age 10 when she gave birth. Imagine celebrating mother's day at age 10.

Photo for Illustration Only/ From Explorer Free to Use and Share

Changing Laws Affecting Mothers

In the U.S., 10-years old girls are in elementary school. I wonder how well elementary schools are prepared to help young mothers adjust to pregnancy and stay in school. I wonder how many churches and pregnancy centers help child mothers through pregnancy. I have not read much about prolife positions on the care of girl-mothers.

Recently, during the time of an average pregnancy, several American states have passed laws setting early restrictions on when a mother may legally end a pregnancy. It’s hard to keep up with the variations in language that permit abortions under certain conditions. Rumors abound. It is not surprising to learn that many women have questions (Shugerman, 2019).

An Alabama proposal debated last week prohibited doctors from aborting a fetus when it is “in utero.” The only proposed exception permitting a later abortion would be a serious risk to the mother’s health (Paul & Wax-Thibodeaux, 2019). Unlike other heartbeat laws, Alabama’s proposal did not include an exception for incest or rape. In case you are wondering, girls have delivered healthy babies. But there isn’t much to read about the mental health of these very young mothers.

On Facebook, conservative women and men see the restrictive abortion trend as progress toward a total ban on abortion in all 50 states. It is no secret that conservatives hope to undo the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade, which broadened laws permitting women to have an abortion.

So far, no states have technically banned abortion. Instead, they pose restrictions that would make it very difficult for a pregnant girl or woman to get a legal abortion. The punishment for an abortion appears to fall on the physicians rather than the women. Thus, it seems in these debates about laws, a woman is not a moral agent. It would seem a woman may mentally choose to have an abortion but may not legally obtain one if she waits too long or fails to comply with other rules governing her pregnancy.

Politically it makes sense to punish physicians rather than women. Perhaps it also makes political sense to make exceptions to an all-out ban on abortion in order to undo the horrors of rape and incest. But in other regions of the country, a complete ban on abortions might make political sense. By political sense I mean, the majority of voters in some states want a particular type of abortion law that is different from the laws in other states.

Now back to Sally

We usually think of teen girls when we think of young mothers. But, though rare, elementary school girls do get pregnant. The youngest and most famous young mother, Lina, was of kindergarten age (Yahoo, 2007). Presumably, girls will be having children as more and more laws approach an all out ban on abortion. It won’t matter to the lawmakers if the girls were raped by friends or relatives or strangers. It won’t matter to the lawmakers if the young parents were both children. Girls will be pregnant and will not be having an abortion.

We know girls will be delivering babies as they have done around the world for years. An unknown number of more girls will be pregnant when abortions are banned. Society has become more accepting of single teen mothers. But you don't hear much about girl mothers. An ethical society will need to change its institutions to respond to the needs of girl mothers in places where abortion is illegal. 

As far as biological maturity, it has been documented for years that girls begin puberty at ever earlier ages. According to Texas A&M, American girls got their period about age 16-17 just a 100 years ago. Currently, the average age is 12-13 with many having an earlier start, e.g., age 10. This age fits with the historical record of very young mothers—there’s a higher frequency of mothers at age 10 than for the younger years.

Changing Marriage and Relationship Patterns

Children can marry in many states. Between 2000 and 2010, about 248,000 American children got married. Most were girls and the youngest were 12 (McCoy, 2018). Thus, presumably, young mothers could be cared for by the fathers of their children, if those fathers had sufficient income to support a young family. This of course is theoretical. We know so many teen mothers are single. Despite the laws permitting child marriage, the average age of marriage has increased in the US. Recently, women were typically 27 and men 29 (Abadi, 2018). 

The bottom ethical line is, even if child marriage is legal, it is not a solution to the problem of very young mothers. And one must ask the ethical question: Is child marriage ethical? Can a child consent to marriage? Should parents have the right to consent to their children marrying at age 12 or whatever age? More importantly, does anyone think these young girls became pregnant by choice? Are they not victims of sexual assault?

Some single mothers are able to earn a living and care for their children. But it isn’t easy. Girl mothers are even more dependent on others than are 16-17-year-old mothers. The attitudes of parents and her local culture will be vital to the welfare of girl-mothers and their children.

Why Look at Extreme Cases?

If a governing group wishes to make laws consistent with ethical principles, then one must consider how such a law might affect people who are different in some important way to the average person governed by the law. 

Laws by their nature are coercive. Laws impose rules limiting the freedom of those governed by the law.

Ethical laws ought to consider morally relevant facts. Some elementary school age girls can and do get pregnant. They are victims of rape. Is it right for lawmakers to insist nine and ten year old girls to give birth?

So, who gets to make the decision for the care of these pregnant girls? How will the institutions of society support pregnant children at school, church, and in the community when girls must be pregnant for up to nine months?

Are sex education programs effective for girls who do not want to be pregnant in fourth or fifth grade? Can a girl really fend off a rapist? 

Are parents and law makers fully aware that most women and men have sex before they marry? And a significant number of people have sex before they are legally adults? Are decision-makers fully aware of how many girls and young teens are at risk of becoming pregnant as a result of sexual assault?

Do numbers even matter when a law is made? That is, shouldn't a law be written so that the lives of ten, one hundred, or a thousand lives are not harmed?

Adult women can vote and have a voice in decisions about laws that govern their reproductive rights. But who speaks for the girls?

If an unborn child is a person with the rights of a person, who protects the rights of that unborn person? What defines a person? Is a person a being with a heartbeat, a brainwave, a potential to live without a biological dependency on another human? Those are the decisions lawmakers have considered when writing laws limiting abortion.

When it comes to life and death decisions about people, it makes sense to think about end-of-life care as well as beginning-of-life care. If life is sacred, as is if often claimed, ethical people ought to be concerned about preserving life from conception to the grave. 

In all of these decisions, one ought to consider who is responsible for the lives at issue? Ethical decisions require an ethical decision-maker. If women are not permitted to make decisions about their pregnancy, then they are not considered moral agents. Instead, the lawmakers and the physicians become the de facto moral agents who decide life and death.

 If governing bodies do not trust women to make an ethical decision about their pregnancy, who will they trust to make an ethical decision about their pregnant girls? The governing body has assumed the moral authority and abbrogated any rights of parents.

If the unborn are truly persons, why not change birth certificates, elligbility for medical services, tax laws about counting dependents and so forth? Should insurance companies offer life insurance to pregnant girls and women in case of a miscarriage or still birth? Why isn't it common to hold funeral services when a woman has a miscarriage? I do not see much evidence that societies focused on forcing children to give birth cares much about those girls who have been raped.

Abortion Ethics

You might suspect that people of many religions have considered the ethical issues involved in abortion decisions. There really are many different cases that can challenge any ethical principles concerned with harm to mothers and unborn children as well as concerns about the rights of the unborn, mothers, and fathers. Laws without exceptions are simply stated and do not require moral judgment. Ethical decisions require wisdom. Ethical decisions may sometimes requuire people to make difficult choices. Ethically, one should err on the side of life, but one should not ignore the sacred lives of little girls who have become pregnant because of some rapist.

Extreme ethical positions can evoke disgust. 

Extreme ethical positions make the holders of such positions look like they don't care about people.  
Conservative Christians have made extreme pro-choice people look uncaring and immoral with pictures and videos showing the destruction of babies aborted near term. The images evoke disgust.

Liberal Christians are concerned about the lives of women destroyed by pregnancies due to brutal rapes. And conservative Christians don't seem to care about these women when they insist they deliver their rapist's child. The sexual assualt of children is disgusting. It ought to evoke an emotional response. Is it not equally disgusting to force little girls to give birth?

Examples of ethical thinking about life and abortion: Family Research Council, BBC, Focus on the Family,  MSNBC,

I am prolife. 
All lives ought to be sacred. 
Ethical leaders must consider the imact of laws on all persons.

Read more about abortion, birth control, and morality in

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Additional Notes.

The case about Sally is fictional but based on the facts that girls aged 10-11 do give birth to babies.

Less is known about early puberty in boys, but a similar decline in the onset of puberty is evident. There are theories about why this declining age of puberty has happened for girls and boys, but definitive answers are lacking.

Young fathers are more rare than young mothers. In 1998, Sean Stewart was permitted to miss school to be with his 16-year-old girlfriend when she delivered their child. He was 11 and she was 15 when she became pregnant (Watson-Smyth, 1998).

In 2010, a young couple, age 14, appeared to have community support according to the story by Blake in The Telegraph.


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Monday, April 29, 2019

Male or Female or What Sex Understanding Intersex

Sunday, 28 April 2019, PBS aired an episode of Call the Midwife, which includes the story of a young woman, age 22, who is about to marry. During an exam, she tells the nurse that she never had a period. On further examination, she learns she has a condition they called testicular feminization syndrome.

I won’t spoil the show for you! 

As usual, the series tastefully deals with difficult subjects. Different characters display different emotional responses as the story unfolds. The care is provided by the Christians sisters serving women and their families in one of London’s poor areas (Poplar). If you want to see the show, it is Episode 5 of Season 8.

INTERSEX or Disorders (Differences/Diverse) of Sex Development (DSD)

Currently, scientists refer to the woman’s condition in the episode as a type of intersex or DSD condition called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS). People with this AIS condition are genetically male (XY) but resistant to the male hormones (androgens). Thus, the person has many physical traits of a woman but has a man’s genetic condition. There can be variations from partial to complete AIS.

Intersex is a somewhat older term for a broader category of people with atypical sex conditions, which includes people whose sexual anatomy does not fit the usual appearance of male or female. In 2005, a name for a broad category of atypical sex conditions was created as Disorders of Sex Development or DSD. External genitalia can vary as can internal sex organs. The observable sexual characteristics can differ from the chromosomes (XY, XX, XXY). Some conditions are evident at birth and some are evident at puberty (Read more in this article from Pediatrics).

In case you are tempted to think there are three, four or five sexes, let’s be clear that mismatches between chromosomes and sexual anatomy can vary and be complex. As one example, some people are mosaics—having a mix of different chromosomes where some cells in the body have the female (XX) and others the male (XY). For more information on advances in the scientific understanding of variations in gene variations leading to differences in sex development, see Conway, 2014).

You might wonder how many people are born with such a condition. So far, the data do not reveal a clear number because different conditions have been identified as being a part of DSD. The conditions are not frequent (see e.g., NYT). Media reports picked up on the writings of Fausto-Sterling, which suggested intersex conditions were more common than we might think, but Leonard Sax challenged her data and notes the problem of who ought to be included in a category when attempting to estimate the number of children born with a condition that could be identified as intersex. Based on his analysis and definition of intersex, human sexuality remains a dichotomy for almost all humans with the birth of a child with intersex occurring less than 2 out of every 10,000 births (See Leonard Sax, 2002).

Current medical practice focuses on people with DSD, which includes conditions of Turner and Kleinfelter syndromes and the hypospadias. When all the DSD conditions are part of the definition of a sexual difference, the number of children born with a sex difference is about 1 in 100 live births (Sandberg, Pasterski, & Callens, 2017). 

So, you can do the math to appreciate how many people in your school, place of worship, organization, or business have a DSD condition. Every child with a condition necessarily involves one or more adults, but knowing the numbers does not predict how many will need what type of medical and psychological care and support. Perhaps the numbers do allow us to be more sensitive to the way we write and speak about human nature and sexuality.

The word “Disorders” in DSD is understandably unacceptable to some. On the one hand, an identifiable medical condition is part of the cultural process to obtain care paid for by health insurance. On the other hand, those who wish to avoid stigma would prefer a term such as Differences of Sex Development or Diverse Sex Development. Another term in use by the US National Institute of Health is SGM, which refers to Sexual and Gender Minorities and thereby includes those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender as well as those with nontraditional sex development or DSD.

Some people classified with DSD live their lives not knowing of their condition. Some parents and families have made surgical changes (gender assignment surgery). Others postpone surgery until the child is old enough to understand their gender identity. 

Adjustment to conditions varies with the individuals and the parents as well as the specific biological condition. A study by Davis (2014) provides examples of how different people with a DSD condition respond to diagnostic terminology.


Religious texts and traditions historically treated sex as binary (created male or female). While differences in external sex anatomy could be seen, the study of internal differences and chromosomal differences has been relatively recent. The idea that humans had 46 chromosomes was established in the 1950s (nature). Anyway, as it turns out, when it comes to sexual anatomy and genetic conditions, some people are mixed and not simply "created male or female" (See APA topic on intersex conditions for more detail).

When it comes to moral and social implications of being one sex or the other, some people refer to the male and female binary division as a premise in one argument or another. I’ll leave it to the religious scholars to help the faithful to integrate science and faith.

Many won’t see any conflict. Others won’t be interested unless a family member is involved. And others may truly experience a spiritual struggle when interpretations of sacred texts are used to condemn some aspect of one’s identity, which in the current discussion means the lack of a distinct male or female biologically-based identity.

For religious parents of intersex (or DSD) children and individuals with an intersex (or DSD) condition, the emotional distress and emotional responses depicted in the aforementioned Call the Midwife episode can be real. 

Healthcare professionals, mental health workers, policy makers, and religious leaders would do well to be appraised of the medical facts and lived realities of people who do not neatly fit the typical patterns. In short, despite the role of diagnoses in obtaining medical care, including psychological care, the diagnosis does not directly lead to identifying how individuals and their parents experience the reality.

And it might be helpful, if those so certain about human nature and the causes of various conditions, could imbibe a dose of humility when it comes to faith and science. 

On the one hand, the religious binary sex enthusiasts ought to consider medical realities. 

On the other hand, the statistically challenged crusaders tempted to inflate low frequency conditions ought to consider a rigorous approach to defining conditions and obtaining frequency data.


Conway, G. S. (2014). Disorders of sex development (DSD): An overview of recent scientific advances. Psychology & Sexuality5(1), 28–33. https://doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2013.831213

Davis, G. (2014). The power in a name: Diagnostic terminology and diverse experiences. Psychology & Sexuality5(1), 15–27. https://doi.org/10.1080/19419899.2013.831212

Sandberg, D. E., Pasterski, V., & Callens, N. (2017). Introduction to the special section: Disorders of sex development. Journal of Pediatric Psychology42(5), 487–495. https://doi.org/10.1093/jpepsy/jsx065

Read more about Sexuality, Morality, and Religion


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 Geoff W. Sutton

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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Gay Christian Identities still in Conflict in 2019

Recently, an American politician has increased his national standing since he became a Democratic candidate for president. Pete Buttigieg is the Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. 

Two identities in conflict for some Americans don't appear conflicted when Buttigieg speaks of himself. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, he referred to a time when he wrestled with his identity as a gay man and a Christian (29 March 2019).

It's no surprise that many conservative American evangelical Christians continue to view same-sex relations as sinful. Evangelicals are highly represented in the Republican party and evangelical leaders have spoken out in support of president Trump. For these conservatives, the identities of American, Republican, and Christian seem highly integrated. And for many, the notion of being gay and Christian doesn't make sense.

Despite their views on same-sex relations, many evangelicals have shown a kinder face toward sexual minorities in recent years. A recent book by Mark Yarhouse and his colleagues of the conservative Wheaton College (formerly at Regent University) expresses this trend in the lead title, Listening to Sexual Minorities. Yarhouse is a favored speaker at many evangelical colleges and universities.

In contrast to what seemed like a more friendly environment for sexual minorities, evangelical leader, Franklin Graham, just issued a two-pronged attack on Buttigieg aimed at splitting the "gay Christian" identity. Here's a recent quote (WP, 25 April 2019):

“Mayor Buttigieg says he’s a gay Christian,” Graham wrote. “As a Christian I believe the Bible which defines homosexuality as sin, something to be repentant of, not something to be flaunted, praised or politicized. The Bible says marriage is between a man & a woman — not two men, not two women.”

Eventually, Democrats will decide who will represent them in the national election. Meanwhile, we can expect more people wrestling with religion and sexual identities. Some will look at their own identities while others look at their attitudes toward those identifying as gay Christians. 

But there is another identity that might be in conflict for some-- party affiliation. We don't hear much about being gay Christian and Republican. Hopefully, no one will challenge the integration of gay Christian and American.

For those interested in the conservative and progressive interpretations of biblical texts, consider reading A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures

Buy from the publisher, WipfandStock, or at your favorite bookstore.

Now for some data. PRRI reported that most Americans support protections for people who identify as LGBT (2018). The supports is stronger among Democrats, but more than half of Republicans are supportive.

Thursday, January 31, 2019


Sex education is an important component of learning to become a responsible adult. All youth get sex education from several sources—some more desirable than others. The world’s large religions have specific teaching about sexuality and morality, which can be a challenge for governments who wish to avoid religious teachings.

A recent bill in the US state of Colorado has caused some concern among Christians (reference below). But a Christian sex educator, April Janae,  has looked at the details and writes a post which addresses issues beyond her state. Her opinions are informed by experience and research. With her permission, I have included quotes from her Facebook post. I did not include some text that specifically addressed the Colorado issue. I’ve also included a link to the Sex-Education chapter she co-authored in Christian Morality.


From April Jonae 30 January 2019

-Parents, it is YOUR job to educate your kids about sex. If you’re depending on the public school system to instill biblical values into your children, then you are in for a rude awakening. It is also your RIGHT to opt out your child from sex education at their school. This has always been the case, and the new bill also permits this. Your child doesn’t have to participate. So chill out with the comments on homeschooling your children if this bill passes. Signing the opt-out form will likely be a simpler option.
-Abstinence is NOT being removed from sex education. Abstinence will still be taught as the best option for teens, it will just no longer be presented as the only option. Contraceptives and medically-accurate info on their effectiveness will be taught as well. In my opinion, teaching abstinence-only is a dangerous thing. There will always be a population of teens that choose to engage in sexual behavior, and we are doing a great disservice to those students by not providing information to them that will reduce their risks of pregnancy and contraction of STIs.

-LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk for contracting STIs and engage in risky sexual behavior at a higher rate than heterosexual youth. So I believe that language that includes them in the conversation about the risks of sex can only be a good thing. Many abstinence-only sex ed programs do not address anything but heterosexual relationships, which causes LGBTQ youth to check out...hence the higher rates of STIs.

-My last thought: please do some research on abstinence-only sex education and it’s effectiveness in this country. When I first began researching sex ed, I assumed that abstinence-only education would have produced the lowest rates of teen pregnancy and STIs. I was shocked to learn that the opposite was true. Historically, abstinence-only programs have not delayed sexual activity, and students who have received abstinence-only education were more likely to experience unintended pregnancy and contract STIs at higher rates than students who receive comprehensive sex ed. That being said, I am not advocating that you stop teaching your children abstinence. I will certainly be teaching my children this principle. I am suggesting however, that we need to consider the facts when deciding what type of sex ed is taught in our schools.


See Chapter 10 by April Janae (Montoya) and Shonna Crawford  “Tensions and Challenges: Christian Morality and Sex Education.” In Christian Morality. Available at Pickwick, AMAZON, and other bookstores.

FREE exam copies available to instructors and book reviewers from the publisher, PICKWICK – a brand of WIPFANDSTOCK.

You may also be interested in A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures. Also available from PICKWICK and on AMAZON.

Consider Connecting-

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Conversion Therapist Comes Out & Apologizes

David Matheson, a gay conversion therapist, has come out as gay according to The Independent (24 Jan 2019). The story was also covered by Sky News and other sources.

Matheson is identified as a Mormon. He has created coursework to help people change their sexuality.  In the coming out story, we learn he left his marriage of 34 years and has begun dating men.

Matheson has not given up his Mormon faith but he did criticize the way he was raised.

According to The Independent, 15 U.S. states have banned mental health professionals from practicing conversion therapy on minors.

His apology was directed to those who identify as LGBTQ: "I unequivocally apologize," he said.

Matheson provided a lengthy post on Facebook dated 21 January. In the post, he provides more details about his marriage and experience in dealing with this life-change.

Same-sex attraction and marriage are topics covered in A House divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures available with discounts from the publisher (Pickwick).

Professors receive FREE exam copies.


If interested, please join me. I write about psychology and culture—especially topics related to the Psychology of Religion and Positive Psychology.


My Page    www.suttong.com

My Books  

 Geoff W. Sutton

TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton

LinkedIN Geoffrey Sutton  PhD


Academic Publications (many free downloads)
  Academia   Geoff W Sutton   (PhD)
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