Wednesday, March 28, 2012

TCM, "Would You Only Marry a Virgin?"

We live in a secular culture that disdains marriage and worships sex as a functional god. From self-described “sexperts” dispensing advice to magazine covers selling us impossible images of female beauty to soap commercials suggesting that a particular brand is “the man your man could smell like,” we are bombarded with images, ideas, and philosophies suggesting that sex is our god and any other view is tantamount to sexual atheism.
Conversely, the Church has chosen to swing the pendulum to the opposite extreme. If the world is going to worship at the altar of sexual promiscuity, we’re going to worship at the altar of virginity. Sexual purity will be our functional god. Of course, it doesn’t seem like this, though. After all, Christians are called to remain celibate before marriage and faithful within. There are a host of texts in Scripture that bear out this fact. Virginity is the ideal for the Church.
“All the guys who are worth my time aren’t interested in me because I’m not a virgin,” a close friend of mine says to me as we drive quietly through the city of Detroit. And my heart breaks for her and for anyone who shares her story and plight.
This woman is one of the most caring, giving, merciful women you might ever meet. Any guy would be lucky to serve and lead her as her husband. Unfortunately, Christian men and women are taught to “save sex until marriage because it’s God’s best for you and…well…you don’t want to be thinking about your spouse’s other sexual partners on your wedding night.”
It is not hard to surmise that the world is selling us a bill of goods. One need only point at the trail of destruction left in the wake of rampant “sexual freedom.” But, what if the Church is selling us a bill of goods when it comes to sexual purity? I’ve heard every sermon challenging young men and women to save themselves for marriage. Entire series and books have been dedicated to dating, sex, boundaries, and relationships…all in light of the Word of God. That’s if your church is even talking about sex at all. But, is this practical? All spiritual platitudes aside, does it work in the real world? Can I tell my daughter, “Stay a virgin until marriage,” and have any hope of that being a possibility for her without it being the strangest anomaly known to man?
Call me naïve or foolish or liberal, but I am truly convicted that the Church is preaching a message about purity that is both impractical and unforgiving. The culture disdains marriage and puts it off so that people might remain in a state of advanced adolescence for as long as possible, especially men.
Let’s call this kind of male Ban, a hybrid of both boy and man. Ban is juvenile because there has been an entire niche created for him to live in the lusts of youth. The accompanying culture not only tolerates this behavior but encourages it and endorses it. (Consider magazines like Maxim or movies like Wedding Crashers.) This kind of male is everywhere, including the church and even, frighteningly, vocational ministry…As Ban puts off adulthood, he also puts off marriage. Why bother with a wife and a mortgage when you can live in your parents’ basement, play video games all day, participate in adult sports leagues at night, and barhop every weekend?[1]
Sometimes, though, it is not simply Ban being enabled by family and friends to put off adulthood and marriage for as long as possible. Oftentimes, the Church feeds into this mentality. When it comes specifically to marriage, the Church puts it off because, “You want to have your house in order before you take on such a huge responsibility.” The culture from which Scripture springs has very sparse examples of virginity held onto into their mid-20’s or early-30’s. Part of that had to do with the life expectancy of people during that time. But, the main reason was because cultures in the Middle East tended to practice arranged marriages, young marriages, and child marriages. To this day, the practice of young marriage is practiced in Africa and many Middle Eastern countries. For years, even in North America, young marriage was the ideal.
But that has changed.
Percent of population having had first intercourse, by age (2007)
25% by age 1526% by age 15
37% by age 1640% by age 16
46% by age 1749% by age 17
62% by age 1870% by age 18
69% by age 1977% by age 19
85% by age 20-2181% by age 20-21
89% by age 22-2492% by age 22-24
Many Christian men say that they want a chaste Christian woman. Many women say they want a man who has “remained pure.” But, given the mixed messages sent to us by culture and the Church, we need to realize that chastity is a statistical improbability the longer one puts off marriage. The choice seems to be either, spend your youth experiencing everything—including sex (because it will likely happen)—or get married young and put off certain other experiences until the future (but experience them with a life partner instead).
More times than once I have heard young Christians look down on their friends who married young or who are planning to do so. “Oh, they just couldn’t wait to have sex,” many claim.
And so what if they couldn’t?
I have a friend Brendan who is getting married to his college sweetheart and he is counting down the days until he can do what he has waited his whole life to do. Talk to him long enough and you realize that sex isn’t the only reason he is marrying young, but all joking aside, it is a major factor in his life at the moment. There is excitement and rightly so.
Paul addresses this excitement in his first letter to the Corinthian church.
“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But, if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion…If anyone thinks he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin.” 1 Corinthians 7:9, 36
Would YOU only marry a virgin? Take our reader poll. 
The difficulty many people have is bound up in the idea of self-control. After all, self-control is one of the spiritual gifts and if you can’t control your sexual urges, even under culturally-contextualized theological duress, then you have somehow failed Jesus. We put off sex for such a great length of time in a sex-saturated culture, provide people with only a prohibitive framework for human sexuality, then vilify them for finally “giving up the goods” and “becoming a statistic.” What is even more problematic is that we think those who choose to marry young within a solidly Biblical framework are somehow doing something wrong. And I know people will claim that far too many young people who get married end up divorcing, myself included. But, could it be that many of these marriages fail not because they married too young, but rather because those who are called to covenant with these young marrieds in order to support them hold to a view that is shaped more by culture than it is by Scripture?
And now the turn…
To be continued…

[1] Darrin Patrick, Church Planter: The Man, The Message, The Mission (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), p. 9, 11

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