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And while Linker usually feels at home in sexual modernity, he sees wisdom in the traditionalists' view and argues that their terror at abandoning old norms may make sense. —but the losses are murkier and probably won't be tallied for a very long time.

" However one reads the available evidence, it seems clear to me that the question is dramatically less important than traditionalists think.

Traditionalists in the United States have seen their influence over sexual norms wane greatly in the postwar decades.

If you believe that birth-control pills represent a historic advance to be celebrated, or that neither homosexuality nor premarital sex nor masturbation should be stigmatized, much of this change is salutary.

In contrast, the vast majority of believers confront policy questions—even on matters as important as torture or the environment—only indirectly, at election time. But even apart from my disagreements with traditionalist Christians on sexual matters, I often wish that they would talk about sex differently, emphasizing Christianity's demands to be loving and good to one another rather than its prohibitions.

Should religious groups speak out against torture and advocate for environmental stewardship? Should they also provide guidance on matters of sexual behavior for their congregations and participate in public discourse on these matters? The obstacle to traditionalists being heard in the public square—to persuading people that there's wisdom in their approach—isn't their focus on sex, but what they focus on when sex comes up.* * *Let's imagine a private, residential college in purple America.

One could conclude that the latter "do best," on average, by all sorts of metrics. What if there are far more urgent questions and perspectives for traditionalists to be raising?

* * *The gay Catholic blogger Andrew Sullivan recently responded to the centrality of sex in the culture war between traditionalist Christians and other groups, arguing that "the actual dividing line between modern and traditional Christians in the public square is that I do not regard sexual matters to be that important in the context of what Christianity teaches about our obligations as human beings in the polity and the world. Access to universal healthcare and asylum for children escaping terror, for example, matter far more in Christianity than whether my long-term relationship is deemed a civil marriage or a civil union.

For many, the instances when their behavior has the ability to most powerfully affect others for good or ill will involve sex.