I'm going to take a few minutes to rant about something that has really begun to annoy me in modern "christianity": the virginity fixation that seems to have crept into everything. I grew up in a Christian home. I attended Sunday School and church (I was even a Baptist for a few years, and I spent plenty of time in "open brethren" and a couple house meetings), and I went to a Christian school for several years (like, from grade four until half-way through grade eleven). So I got to hear the Big Talk any number of times.
You know, when Christians talk about either "morality" or "purity", they only mean sex. Apparently fraud, dishonesty, or physical violence is neither immoral nor impure. Has anyone else noticed this?
At any rate, I recall any number of exhortations to "wait until marriage" or "save yourself for marriage" or whatever. And frankly, some of it seemed rather laughable to my teenage ears. It sounded to me like the truly sex-obsessed were the adults, who didn't want to talk about anything else. I and the other teenagers I knew weren't nearly as interested in sex (or talking about sex) as the Christian leaders (teachers, youth leaders, pastors youth pastors) seemed to be. Interestingly, my parents seemed more three-dimensional too. They, like my teenage friends, could actually hold a conversation without having it denegrate into some sort of warning of the sexual dangers I was certainly facing. Perhaps having well-adjusted parents is the root of all my personality problems...
I eventually taught high school for several years (both public and private), and I still think I was right as a teenager. Teenagers are not nearly so hormonally motivated as pop Christian culture seems to think. But I get ahead of myself here.
A few years ago, I was at a wedding for a friend's daughter. Nice kid: I don't know her very well, but well enough to unflinchingly help her (and her husband) out if they ever need anything. Well, there was a speaker at the wedding, whom I (still) respect immensely. At the reception, he gave a little word, which centered on the bride's "purity". "She kept herself for marriage" was frequently repeated. Now, I'm not questioning whether she kept herself for marriage or not. But I just have to ask: how is it the business of all her wedding guests? Or to put it another way, if her husband's satisfied with her (and she with him), why does anyone else care? And if this were just an isolated incident, I'd dismiss it as a weird anomaly. I mean, you can't hang around Christians too long without seeing several of those. But it wasn't: I've heard similar comments on the radio (Christian stations), in print, and on the web.
I know this seems like a nit, but I suspect there are bigger principles working. Let's look at a couple:
First, this sort of thinking centers on the idea that life until marriage is a sexual obstacle course, which suddenly ends at the wedding. Would that such were the case! The fact is, I suspect there are more sexual tempations for the married (or divorced or widowed) than the teenager. I suppose celebrating small victories as well as big ones is not a bad thing, but doesn't this seem a little myopic? I can assure you with a straight face that I am much more capable of sinning sexually now that I have a decent income (and some worldly wisdom), than I ever could as a penniless, awkward teenager. (Because as is obvious from my blogs, I am suave, well-heeled, and filthy rich... or perhaps not so much.)
Second, this creates an idea of "purity" as a one-shot deal. Let's consider a rather innocuous (although perhaps not terribly common) scenario: Let's say a Christian man in his mid-thirties wants to marry a Christian woman in her mid-thirties. Suppose further that she was widowed young. For the "religious right" Dobson-listening, mainstream Christians (who no doubt frequent my blogs), let's assume her husband was a brave American soldier killed in Iraq. In fact, let's assume the bride has a child from this first marriage. Is she "pure"? More to the point, consider a young Christian couple who met ina Bible study a few years after she got saved. She has a child out of wedlock, but it was before she was a believer. Is she "pure"?
The problem is, purity and virginity are not the same thing; but this obsession about it would lead us to believe they are exactly equivalent. I remember when I was a teenager, the pastor of the Baptist church would talk in glowing terms of a high school student who made a statement to the effect "I'm going to wait for marriage, and I'm going to marry a virgin!" I used to Rah! Rah! with the rest of the congregation, but now I wonder why. Is it more holy to marry a virgin? Is someone "experienced" fundamentally less holy?
It seems to me this fixation with virginity is at odds with the fundamental message of Christianity: that God loves those who are worthless and broken; and has done the unthinkable in sending His Son to die for them.
Third, it further mythifies sex in the mind of Christian young people. I mean, if the leaders and role-models all talk about it non-stop, it must be worth obsessing about, right? I recall once being in a "college and careers" get-together, and some of the older people made a couple double entendre jokes. They were frankly pretty funny. Someone said, "Guys, we need to tone it down, there are single people here!". While I appreciate his good intentions in trying to keep us singles "pure", the fact of the matter is, an off-colour joke or two was much more innocuous than calling attention to the matter. In fact, my respect for him would have been much higher, had he made some comment about off-colour jokes in mixed company. The whole idea of "not tempting the singles" seems more aimed at maintaining some mythical status for sex than at actually maintaining some level of "clean" conversation.
Fourth, it intrudes on what's no one else's business. Let's be honest: it's none of my business how big a whore Mrs. X was before she was saved. In fact, it's none of my business what a whore she was after she was saved. It is my business if she's a whore now, but only in the sense of church discipline: and fornication is listed alongside slander in that list (1 Corinthians 5): which is suggestive.
Don't misunderstand me: sexual sin is sin. But where there has been confession and repentance of any sin, there is the need to let it go. I wouldn't dream of commenting in a church gathering on whether a wealthy fellow-christian got his money honestly. So why would I feel free to comment on whether a sister in the Lord "kept herself pure?". I mean, if someone were to introduce a sister to the assembly by saying "This is _____, and she made a fortune; but it' a beautiful fortune: she didn't actually rob any banks to get it," they'd (rightly) be considered off their rockers. But when that same person talks at someone's wedding and says "_____ is very beautiful in her wedding dress, but she's even more beautiful because she kept herself pure", then that's accepted calmly.
While I'm sure most of the Christians who make much ado about purity mean well, I can't help but think they're barking up the wrong tree. And I can't help but wonder what the fallout from this one might be in a generation or two.