A ranty, funny, dead-serious intersectional feminist blog.

“It’s Not My Body”

Marc Chagall - God and Eve - 1960

God and Eve, by Marc Chagall

I admit I’m late to the party. I haven’t read The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti or seen any relevant documentaries. But sometimes you see something out there in the world and you realize that there isn’t time to know everything–you just have to speak out. So, yeah. Here I go.

Someone recently pointed me to this article at Focus on the Family’s super-crappy website claiming to explain to anyone who is wondering why chastity is so important in the eyes of the Lord. It doesn’t actually quote any scripture to back it up–just makes a number of statements about Christian* life meant to be accepted as fact. Most of this I can politely disagree with and move on. But one item…well, it seriously pissed me off.

It’s Not My Body

Chastity is important because it involves how we comport our bodies — and through faith, our bodies are no longer our own. In faith, you have become part of Christ’s body, and it is Christ through the Church, who must give you permission to join His body to another body.

In the Christian worldview, we have no right to sex. The place where the Church confers that privilege on you is the wedding; weddings are specific acts that grant us permission to have sex with one person.

As you can imagine, I have some issues with that worldview and the way it sets girls and young women up to believe that from square one their bodies are out of their control. When I was a child, the idea of God was terrifying anyway. A gigantic white man who, in my mind, wore all black (even a black turtle-neck–I was born in the sixties!) and lived in the sky looking down on us seeing everything we did even when we hid? How terrifying. But if my parents had told me that my body was not my own, but belonged to that man in the sky? Honestly, I can’t even imagine how that might have felt as a little girl. Would it have made more sense to me, or less, when adult males in my life sexually abused me? Hard to say, but how on earth can a worldview like that raise young women with any real sense of themselves as human beings?

(Note: I realize that the page referenced above is ostensibly aimed at both sexes. But let’s be honest, shall we? In this worldview–and unfortunately, in our culture–the responsibility for remaining pure lies with the girl and then the woman she becomes. Boys play offense; girls play defense.)

The worldview illustrated by the Focus on the Family article is responsible for the fact that little girls all over the country attend “Purity Balls” and pledge their virginity to their fathers in some kind of sick mockery of a mass wedding. Seriously? I pledge my VIRGINITY to my FATHER? “Dear Daddy, my virginity is yours to have and hold in Jesus’ name until such time you and he decide I can have sex.” Holy shit, people, there’s something really wrong about that, isn’t there? It can’t just be me.

It terrifies me that a generation of girls is growing up in this subculture that–in the 21st century!–teaches them they have no say in their lives. It baffles me that anyone thinks these Purity Balls are anything but a way to manipulate little girls by letting them dress up like princesses and marry their daddies. Calling Doctor Sigmund Fucking Freud. It makes me sick that these girls will grow into women who believe that God and the men in their lives know what’s best for them while they do not, and that their bodies do not belong to them–that they have no real choice when it comes to sex, marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, motherhood…except to do what their churches tell them Jesus wants them to do.

Jada, Will, and Willow Smith

Jada, Will, and Willow Smith

Will Smith, in a recent Parade interview, had this to say on the subject:

We let Willow cut her hair. When you have a little girl, it’s like how can you teach her that you’re in control of her body? If I teach her that I’m in charge of whether or not she can touch her hair, she’s going to replace me with some other man when she goes out in the world. She can’t cut my hair but that’s her hair. She has got to have command of her body. So when she goes out into the world, she’s going out with a command that it is hers. She is used to making those decisions herself. We try to keep giving them those decisions until they can hold the full weight of their lives.

*I’m not a Christian, but my boyfriend is. He’s read the bible. Studied it. And when he read the Focus on the Family page I linked above his first words were, “Yeah, this is just evil.” I asked him to tell us more in his own words:

Jesus never said a single word about sex. Not one word. Jesus’ core teachings were about legalism, injustice, and hypocrisy.

In the Bible, there are four accounts of Jesus’ teachings that are directly *related* to sexuality, and one of those (unfortunately) is a later addition, but does demonstrate how his early followers understood his thinking. Those four passages are:

(Matt 5:31-32, Matt 19:9, Mark 10:11-12, Luke 16:18) If a man divorce a woman and marry another, it is adultery. — This is admittedly a challenging claim, one that almost no Christians in any era have taken as the last word on remarriage. It should be noted that this passage is pointedly in the context of old testament law and is being directed at the hypocrisy of legalist teachings about that law.

(Matt 5:27-28) If a man look on a woman with lust, he has committed adultery with her in his heart. — Another challenging claim, but one that is generally taken as a koan, not an instruction. The koan is intended to point to the intent of the heart as the essence of the morality, not adherence to the letter of the law.

(John 4:16-18) Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman: Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither. The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly. Some things to note about this: in the first place, Jesus is passing absolutely no judgement on this woman. He is not denouncing her as an adulteress or rebuking her in any other way. It is additionally important to note that Samaritans were not Jews, and many Jews would not even speak to Samaritans. They were like an untouchable class of Israel. Secondly, in the conversation that follows, Jesus and this woman discuss the nature of prayer. This is widely thought to be a true account of Jesus, and it shows that despite what sound like very hard lessons about adultery, he really doesn’t give a shit. Sexual ethics are not interesting to him.

(John 8:1-11) The woman caught in adultery. A famous passage that turns out to have been added fifty years or so after Jesus died. It demonstrates what some of his closest followers thought of him: a woman is about to be stoned to death for the sin of adultery. Jesus intervenes, asking “you without sin to cast the first stone.” There are a number of reasons why this is known to be a later addition, but again, it demonstrates that the people of Jesus time understood his primary teaching to be one of compassion and honoring the heart and the connection to God over any form of legalistic prescription for behavior.

In all of this we see one consistent theme: Jesus doesn’t like a casual divorce, and Jesus is not bothered by what people of his day considered sexual sin.

More important than what he did say is what he didn’t. These are four short passages across four pretty long texts. Jesus had an *enormous* amount to say about the failings of his society. In order to find a mature, Christian understanding of sexuality we need to look to other teachings of Jesus that we can apply to our sexual lives. Every generation of Christians has come to understand that Jesus was bringing a new understanding of God to the world: the understanding that God is love. Jesus had exactly and only two commandments to his followers:

“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40

“All the Law and the Prophets” — this means everything in what we call the Old Testament. All of the old testament and all of the new testament can be seen as elaborations on these two commandments. For someone who follows Jesus, this is the only law. Everything else is interpretation, explanation, elaboration. A point of conflict between Christians and Jews is that Christians believe this *supplants* all other law. That all other efforts of law, particularly in the Old Testament, are flawed attempts to codify these simple commandments.

Paul made this abundantly clear to the Corinthians: All things are lawful; but not all things are expedient. All things are lawful; but not all things edify. (1 Cor 10:23)

In short: there is nothing prohibited to a Christian. Legalistic efforts to limit action always fail to capture Jesus’ simple commandments. There is no law that restricts Christian action. Whether an action is the right thing to do in the moment is between you and God. It comes down to the intention of your heart. It comes down to the embodiment of Jesus’ commandment to love.

Must Christians be “chaste”? All things are lawful. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Do we have a “right” to sex? All things are lawful. Love your neighbor as yourself.
Is any sex before, outside of, or after marriage an “embodied apostasy”? All things are lawful. Love your neighbor as yourself.

Perhaps the most egregious and anti-Christian thought expressed in the Focus on the Family piece is this sentence: “The place where the Church confers that privilege on you is the wedding.” This is so anti-Christian in any and every sense as to be mind boggling. In every view of Jesus from the very conservative to the very liberal, Jesus came to break down the barriers between humans and God. Jesus taught, over and over, that every human is in direct relationship to God. There is no intermediary. There is no role for anything that calls itself a Church to confer anything on anyone. Each of us may pray directly to God — not through a priest, not through a temple, not through a church. Each of us is baptized directly by God with the baptism of the Spirit which connects our heart to God. I don’t care whether it’s about sex or anything else: each individual is guided in his or her responsibilities to God only by that first commandment: to love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind.

Any person who teaches anything else must beware of another, darker point that Jesus made:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Talk to the hand

“Talk to the hand.”

So there.

Love ya!


9 responses

  1. Fantastic post Rosie! I am not a Christian, but I’ve heard of Focus on the Family and I think they are so full of shit…I agree, it’s pretty scary when any group who has authority over young people starts telling them that they are not in control of their own bodies. A lot of people spend way too much time telling other people how to live…it’s sickening. I agree about Will Smith and his family too! I love them!

    October 23, 2012 at 6:25 pm

  2. Hmmm…it’s an interesting case you’ve got here and one I’d like to examine more throughly —particularly the Focus on the Family article you read. The organization is known for its family based Christian views but sounds like the a lack of context is missing here completely.

    The verse I think they may have been drawing from (without explicitly saying it) is from 1Corinthians 6:19: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;” but there’s more to this than just this one sentence.

    It was a letter written to the Corinthian Church by the Apostle Paul, addressing the matter sex and what it means to be ‘sexually immoral’. You see the Corinthian church, before they became a church and even after had an issue with sex. They were downright crazy with it. They had no problem with sleeping with prostitutes or even incest. By early hebrew standards ( and a few other outside cultures) they were the very definition of this sexual immorality as sex outside of marriage was very frowned upon in many cultures. (Women not found to be virgins on their wedding day were treated as adulterers or women who had cheated on their husbands. Sexual ‘purity’ (no sex before marriage) was pretty much the standard and while there were plenty of cases of it outside of marriage, unless you were a prostitute consequences could be bad.

    Here’s what paul says about the issue:

    “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

    Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

    1Corinthians 6:12-20

    He doesn’t mean that we lack all control on our human bodies. we have a choice. we can choose to have sex or not to. we can wait till marriage or not to. but there are things that come with the choices we make.

    The Corinthian church itself had gotten way out of hand and was practically drowning with issues (lawsuits, etc.), sex being the most predominant.

    What Paul was trying to get them to do was to respect what God had done for them (saving them) by stopping the practice of things He said were wrong. If they were really thankful for what God had done for them, they would stop. Nobody would have to tell them.

    It would be like you gambling and getting in too deep to ever payback the debt and your parents/friends bailed you out by helping cover the cost. Maybe they sold some furniture, their car or even their house for your debt. Or even paid your bail money cause you did something that landed you in jail. They could have left you in your predicament but they pulled you out. (Now granted this doesn’t happen for everybody, but lets just use this hypothetically here.) Now if you truly respected what your parents/friends did for you, you would listen to them when they told you it wasn’t wise to do such. If you didn’t care about what they did then you’d just go do it again.
    Becoming Christian means to give your “self rule” if you will, to God. You put yourself under Him as a child to their parents.

    A child does not rule the household so long as they are in it as a parent would. They do not establish rules, curfew etc. But they abide by the rules set by their parents (or at least they should). These rules are in place for a reason, not to punish your child but to help them learn things like responsibility or to keep them safe. Like if i told my niece not to touch the hot stove—I’m not punishing her, I’m trying to keep her safe from burning herself. If I tell her to go to bed at a certain time its because I want her to get a good nights sleep for school or her other activities for the next day.

    Granted the child still has a choice. She can choose to touch the stove and suffer getting burned or choose to stay up late and fall asleep in class the next day and get in trouble with the teacher.

    On the issue of sex, it was highly esteemed to be between one woman and one man within the context of marriage. Granted this doesn’t always happen nor has it. Today in modern culture, sex outside of marriage is viewed ok or in the very least—the norm. But it doesn’t have to be and it shouldn’t.

    Sex was given to be part of marriage to make a couple ‘one’ as Paul points out in 1corinthians 6:16-17:

    Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

    He actually quotes the Ot testament book of Genesis2:24:

    For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

    The act of sex joins you to a person emotionally, and physically. It’s not a bond one should care to have with a perfect stranger. How many tv shows do we see out there that show teens having sex and when one partner moves on to another the first is seriously hurt emotionally?

    Sometimes those emotions turn to depression or even jealousy. I saw it happen many times with my friends in high school.

    This girl slept with that guy, but got dumped cause she got pregnant or because he found something better. Or the guy realized what the girl really wanted and he ended up suffering, by having his reputation shot by her or being laid up in a hospital or better yet a wheelchair.

    Sex was meant to be treasured within the context of marriage because of the strong ties it creates. (This is something I’m learning very quickly as a newly wed myself.) It’s because of these strong ties that God designated it for marriage only. One because of the unity in marriage (and children) it creates. And two because of the emotional ties that can be devastating if not hurtful outside of marriage. (It can do the same damage in the case of divorce.)

    How many of us have been hurt by those type of sexual relationships outside of marriage?

    God knows this so he established the rule to protect us from ourselves just like my niece and the stove.

    Also, while, yes, Jesus did deal with issue of injustice, religious hypocrisy and other things He did speak about sex. twice when asked about the issue he quote Genesis 2:24 in the book of matthew 19:1-10 on the subject of divorce:

    When Jesus had finished saying these things, he left Galilee and went into the region of Judea to the other side of the Jordan. Large crowds followed him, and he healed them there.

    Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

    “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
    “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

    Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
    The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

    Then again in Mark 10:1-9 (also on divorce)

    Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.
    Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

    “What did Moses command you?” he replied.

    They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”
    “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

    When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

    Contrary to some, but Jesus DID care about sex. Otherwise he would not have mentioned it let alone have answered the scribes and pharisees. If he didn’t care about it He would have just blown them off and gone along with His teaching at time.
    In the episode of the woman caught in adultery we see this too. John 8:2-11 records the event:

    At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
    But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

    At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

    “No one, sir,” she said.

    “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
    Now there’s a million things up with this story if you’ll dig in and research. One this may have been a trap for both Jesus and the woman as the man she was caught with (according to hebrew law) should have been brought with her, thus showing the pharisees went about the whole thing wrong in the first place.

    Nevertheless she had messed up and broke the law. The law was the law—the very thing Jesus supported and came to illustrate and fulfill. But rather than say go ahead and stone her he said, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

    Well guess what? All those who were accusing her couldn’t do it, because they were just as wrong as she was. They had pride and their own self-righteousness and hypocrisy in the mix. Absolutely none of them were guiltless and the only One who was wasn’t about to condemn her. Thats not what He came for.

    When the others left He still did not condemn her but he did not condone her actions either. Note that he tells her,“Go now and leave your life of sin.”

    It wasn’t that Jesus didn’t care about the issue or the woman—he very much cared for her. But her mistake that got her in this mess was still a mistake and not one He smiled on or simply waved off, or to keeping doing and try not to get caught.

    Rather He warned her NOT to do it again.

    If she respected ANYTHING of what He just did for her, she wouldn’t.

    October 23, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    • Wow, FaithBook — thank you for adding to the conversation. Personally, I think “didn’t care” may have been used for effect. Obviously, Jesus cared about people — about individuals — and about their wellbeing. I am sure sexuality was part of that wellbeing.

      I also think that Jesus repeatedly drew distinctions between the perfection of the Kingdom of Heaven and the reality of the fallen world. We are to aspire to perfection, but within the fallen world, we have both a simpler and more challenging path than one ruled by a set of laws. No laws that describe what we may or may not do are ever sufficient to describe the reality of our choices in a troubled world. In this world we have forgiveness, and compassion, and most of all, grace.

      Personally, I think the Focus on the Family thing misses what is important and essential in Jesus’ teaching, and introduces very harmful and fundamentally non-Christian patterns of practice.

      But I am super happy to have your voice and insight added to this conversation!

      October 23, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    • Thanks so much for taking the time and energy to share your considered thoughts. I’m going to take some time to digest what you’ve said and I may come back and respond in more detail–then again, I may not. I’m not a Christian, and I think I’ve communicated my primary concern with this message. Thank you!

      October 23, 2012 at 7:27 pm

  3. In societies where virginity was valued, it was part of a package of goods either delivered to the groom as part of the dowry, or paid for with the bride price. Sounds like economics, and it is.

    Nature has built in systems that assume multiple sex partners; men have sperm cells whose job is NOT to race for the egg but to attack competing sperm cells, and women’s bodies can apparently favor one partner’s sperm over another for fertilization. But if it’s important to know that the children your resources are raising are your own, chastity becomes important. Chastity and subsequent ownership of children by their fathers isn’t important in every society–most early peoples in temperate, generous environments didn’t put much store in it, but the children of the fierce desert Abrahamic god came from an environment that wouldn’t support a lot of extra people. A woman knows her children are hers, but a man does not unless he enacts measures to assure it. And when the economics became codified as “God’s Law,” it spread everywhere via the delivery system of religion whether it made human sense or not.

    So you still have people believing God told them fathers own their daughters’ bodies.

    By the way, Will Smith is brilliant, isn’t he? What a family.

    October 22, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    • “Demand for Purity” is a tool of thought reform, a method of keeping believers of rigid systems stuck in the system. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thought_Reform_and_the_Psychology_of_Totalism, number three on the list.

      It doesn’t just refer to sexual purity — it can be any demand for moral perfection. However the fundamentalist Christian approach to sex fills that role quite well.

      October 22, 2012 at 6:09 pm

      • Ok, that’s utterly terrifying. How do you counter something like this, I wonder?

        Also, I just read your post on synesthesia and…wow! Fascinating. I can understand why you’d want to communicate that–the rest of us are missing out!

        October 22, 2012 at 6:31 pm

        • It’s not too terrifying, I guess because thought reform is part of all our lives. It’s how humans find beliefs and hold to them. It has contributed to our survival (don’t go near the bear cave) as much as it has contributed to human misery (fascism, terrorism, religious fundamentalism).

          I’d like to spend more time in life writing about mind control topics, including a series on how to combat it. There are lots of books on what mind control is, and how to deal with family members who are in full-on cults. In general society? Open systems of thought tend to combat it the best, like democracy, free speech, and tolerance. Take any of those bullet points at that link, and reverse it. That’s how you combat it.

          Thanks for checking out my blog. :)

          October 22, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    • Amazing when you put it like that. I wish the people who spend all their time telling other people how to live would read their own damned Book.

      Will Smith is pretty awesome in my book.

      October 22, 2012 at 6:26 pm

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