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.
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)