02/14/2012 02:31 pm ET Updated Apr 15, 2012

Love and Sex: Putting Old Values in New Language

To my traditionalist friend,

I think we need new language around the matter of love. I would welcome your help in crafting it.

You know how much the world has changed. Fifty years ago, marriage meant not just one man and one woman, but also a public ceremony, the exchange of vows, "till death do us part," and children. It was the dominant -- pretty much the only -- paradigm for loving relationships in U.S. culture.

It is still your dominant paradigm. You continue to argue for the "sanctity of marriage," the notion of "one man/one woman," even the importance of mothers staying at home. You rail against rampant promiscuity and a hypersexualized society.

Here's the problem. Fewer and fewer people are listening to you. They consider you irrelevant -- a holdover from a obsolete past. In the not-too-distant future, they will stop listening altogether.

If your thinking were across-the-board terrible, this wouldn't bother me. But I find it sad precisely because your values (quite apart from your specific arguments) have a great deal to contribute to this new landscape. Yet again, the landscape cannot hear you. That brings me back to new language.

As you know, I celebrate many of the changes of the past 50 years. I am glad that LGBTQ people feel freer to be who they are and love whom they love. I believe it is good that people in dead or violent marriages can escape them more readily. Overall, I think it is good that people can shape their life commitments according to their unique nature with less fear of disapproval or reprisal.

But beneath your current language I hear values that our society sorely lacks -- and, I believe, needs. Beneath the talk of marriage is a passion for commitment. Beneath the concern with easy divorce is a deep love of faithfulness. Beneath the railing against promiscuity is anxiety of the damage wrought by physical intimacy without spiritual intimacy. Beneath the fear of commitment, which seems to be everywhere these days, is a cherishing of risk.

What if we stopped worrying about the forms that relationships can take -- two-parent vs. single-parent families, children vs. no children, same-sex vs. heterosexual vs. polyamorous vs. whatever -- and started talking up the values beneath the forms?

What if we embraced all people regardless of orientation or life circumstances, but promoted the value of commitment and intimacy and perseverance? Might it result in healthier, more resilient relationships, more stability for people in a world of disorienting change, happier children? Might it provide the kind of language that would allow you to join the general conversation in a way that you can be heard and taken seriously?

Is it possible that this-- and not a particular form of commitment -- is what God is aiming at? Is it worth exploring? Would you be willing to try?