Much like Dianne who admitted having difficulty writing her blog post about purity, I struggle with knowing how to say what I think about the emphasis on sexual purity within many Evangelical circles. I believe this is an important topic, but probably not for the same reasons I usually hear espoused.
To be sure purity gets a lot of attention: purity rings, purity balls, purity pledges, and now, apparently, purity bears. This attention is driven to a large degree by savvy businesses who know how to exploit the Evangelical hand-wringing over sex into a huge marketing niche. The success is undeniable: purity turns up as a hot topic on most any conservative Christian website. Or, peruse many Evangelical churches and purity messages will adorn the walls, be found in their literature, will be heard from the pulpit at a rate where it seems this must have been all Paul or Jesus ever talked about.
OK, so part of my uneasiness with purity as a subject is the way in which it dominates claims about what it means to follow Jesus. I have to wonder: did Jesus really focus on purity this much? And, if so, what did he mean by it?
As I read the gospels, Jesus called into question the religious authorities for their attentiveness to such religious claims on people’s lives such as purity and sacrifice: substitutes for genuine faith and illustrations of how far attentiveness to the forms of religion had jettisoned the spirit of such rituals, laws, and beliefs.
When people focus on purity—and by this they always seem to mean sexual abstinence in all cases outside of marriage—the message, especially to young women, is that their sexuality is the most important part of who they are. They have a special gift, their virginal state, to give to their future spouse. Until then, they should prepare themselves for the steaming hot sex they will have for the next fifty or sixty years when they are married forever and ever. Of course, their preparation should not include any thinking per se about this incredible sex, because that would give Satan power over their minds always a bad proposition because compared to men, women think about sex way too often.
And yet, isn’t thinking about sex, albeit it future sex, the result of the purity craze? Following Dianne’s advice to focus on beauty, to keep one’s appearance smart and one’s car smelling inviting takes time and diligence. And, if this goal of beauty is driven by a larger, more expansive goal of finding the right mate, isn’t the injunction to protect oneself against lust or desire made all the more difficult by the constant attentiveness to one’s level of attractiveness?
What if, on the other hand, young people, women and men, were not only given good information about sex, including safe sex options and, at the same time, were encouraged to see the mission of Jesus as including but also going beyond personal sin and calling people into a way of life, one where people rub shoulders with the poor and marginalized of society, one where our experiences with outsiders help us to see the world through their eyes, one where we recognize the distinction between following Jesus and say, love of country?
Sure, sex has the potential to be a focal point when hormones are raging. Rather than telling people to abstain by creating all kinds of gimmicks that also function to heap considerable guilt upon young women in particular when they succumb to even the tiniest of sexual flirtation, what if we helped them to see that Jesus saw structural sin too?