This is not an easy subject to write up.

But I think it's important.The past few weeks an old argument has surfaced, an argument over sexual behavior. I say "old" because - for many people - that argument was settled years ago, about the time Moses came down from the mount with the commandments.

But every generation tries to get in the last word.

Three things triggered my thinking. The first was a comment by a guy I know, a guy who was a tie-dyed San Francisco hippy in the '60s. He told me, "The '60s were a joke. The only things worth saving are macrame and free love - and I have my doubts about macrame."

That comment not only stuck with me but soon linked up with recent newspaper stories about protestant groups urging a change in church policy toward extra-marital sex. And those two things both joined with a recent late-night interview with a renegade Episcopal priest.

Three signs are too many to ignore. When the news muses speak, journalists better listen.

To begin with, the renegade Episcopal priest was very impressive - full of measured, intelligent opinions about liberal sex - which was probably enough to scare the pants off a lot of viewers.

"In the days of Shakespeare," he said, "young women reached puberty at age 12, then were chaperoned everywhere for three years. They usually married about age 15. But today young men and women reach puberty at 10, live away from home for several years and marry at 22. Like it or not, they're going to have sex; and instead of condemning them, religions should have a ministry for them."

Pretty heady stuff - the kind of thinking that many liberal ministers find even more seductive than sex itself. And more and more churches are getting on the bandwagon. Religion was made for man, they reason, not man for religion. Religion has to go where the people are or die.

And that seems to make perfect sense.

Unless you think it's pure idiocy.

Conservatives, for instance, tend to think the "Sinless Sex" bandwagon is more akin to the coach that carried wayward boys off to Pleasure Island in "Pinocchio." It's death on wheels.

In fact, I have a feeling traditionalists don't see the issue as sexual at all. What they see here is Christianity's oldest and boldest foe: Personal Pride. People don't want more sex, the thinking goes, they want to be more self-indulgent. Arrogance - not sex - got Sodom fried. And "hard shell" Christians have no wish to spend the next 40 years wandering around in the wilderness because some self-centered fool can't keep his hands off the golden calf.

Traditionalists feel that lowering standards is to be a traitor to God, a coward for the cause. When expectations are lowered, they reason, so is performance. They quote Robert Stone: "We have to promise more than we can deliver just to deliver what little we do."

On the other hand, liberals fear that kind of thinking will turn organized religion into a dinosaur. Religion will become irrelevant by 2001.

Conservatives fear that watering down moral codes is a shortcut to mediocrity and that will make religion irrelevant by 2001.

Keep your eye on 2001. I plan to. We may be in store for a spiritual Desert Storm.

Watch this space.