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American evan­gelical Chris­tians had their own sexual rev­o­lution in the 1970s, Daniel Sil­liman claimed at a lecture Monday.

Sil­liman ’06 spoke on “Selling Sex at the Christian Book­store: How Market Forces Shaped the Secular Fantasy of American Evan­gel­icals.” Cur­rently a post­doc­toral fellow at the Uni­versity of Notre Dame, Sil­liman claims that though it may seem a no-brainer to place evan­gel­icals staunchly on the tra­di­tional, con­ser­v­ative side of the American culture wars, this assumption obscures the facts.

“A look at the pub­li­cation dates of Evan­gelical sex manuals shows these Chris­tians were not fol­lowing a cul­tural shift,” Sil­liman said. “They were a part of it.” He pointed out that the first popular book to give sex advice, evan­gelical or not, was Marabel Mor­gan’s “The Total Woman.” It was the best­selling title of 1974.

Sex manuals like Morgan’s encouraged Christian wives to embrace their sex­u­ality and use it to improve their mar­riages and find sexual ful­fillment. Middle-class, middle-aged women began engaging in sexual roleplay with their hus­bands, greeting them at the door in just sheer stockings, high heels, and an apron, or seducing them in the garden.

“For a change tonight, place a lighted candle on the floor,” Morgan’s advice sug­gested. “Seduce him under the dining room table. Or lead him to the sofa.”

The typical inter­pre­tation of this kind of advice, according to Sil­liman, has been to say evan­gel­icals were merely trying to claim it was pos­sible to both achieve sexual sat­is­faction and be a good Christian.

Sil­liman, however, believes a close reading reveals a more sin­ister truth.

“They said sexual sat­is­faction was attainable through belief,” he said. “They argued belief in Jesus and the Bible was directly, causally con­nected to com­plete per­sonal ful­fillment.”

Sil­liman sup­ports his claim by pointing to the phe­nomenon of Christian book­stores, through which this evan­gelical sexual rev­o­lution — a kind of pros­perity Gospel, but with sex — was able to spread.

During the 20th century, when book­sellers such as Eerdmans, Baker, and Zon­dervan dis­covered they could sell unprece­dented numbers of books by mar­keting their works to a “trans-denom­i­na­tional print culture,” did Christian books really began to sell. Men­nonites and Dutch Reformed, for instance, though they saw them­selves as opposed in certain the­o­logical matters, were beginning to see each other as allies in the fight against the secular culture.

As a result, Sil­liman said, “Pub­lishers’ market incen­tives changed.”

Books on Men­nonite doc­trine or Methodist the­ology, which would appeal only to spe­cific, narrow audi­ences, wouldn’t sell as well as books on prac­tical issues like mar­riage, children, and how to live day to day.

“Not everybody was happy about this dumbing down to books with the broadest appeal, but the market was the market,” Sil­liman said. “In the changing dynamics, attention to immanent, this-worldly things was encouraged and rewarded.”

Books like Marabel Morgan’s “The Total Woman” would even­tually sell very well in this market — leading to an evan­gelical sexual rev­o­lution.

Silliman’s larger point, then, becomes clear: although the evan­gelical Christian culture of Zon­dervan pub­lishing and Marabel Morgan saw itself as bat­tling modern sec­u­larism, its ultimate concern — whether in its sexual rev­o­lution or its book­stores — was fun­da­men­tally secular.

“An evan­gelical identity emerged with the emer­gence of a print culture, and the identity is con­structed not against sec­u­larism but within sec­u­larity, within sec­u­larism,” Sil­liman con­cluded. “They pro­duced, sold, and bought reli­gious books, but they were reli­gious books about the here and now. They were all about abundant life — but the kind you could have wearing just sheer stockings, high heels, and an apron.”

Sil­liman will teach a course at Hillsdale next semester on “Religion, Society, & Culture.” The class, which may be counted for credit in the soci­ology, religion, or Christian Studies depart­ments, will examine how religion is a cul­tural activity and social phe­nomenon throughout America’s history.