Confronting The Elephant in the Bedroom of Christianity
I began this article by talking about my friend who faces the dilemma of a Christian culture that holds virginity as one of its highest ideals. The more stories I hear like hers—the more narratives of brokenness and familial shaming I’m told—the more my heart breaks for the individual and for our community of faith.
Anomaly or not, I feel as if a lot of well-meaning Christian men and women hold to a view of human sexuality and purity that is in no way redemptive. Again, culture shapes this more than Scripture. We carry around these attitudes of what we will and won’t accept in a relationship. Some people advocate dating. Some advocate courtship. Some advocate a near Puritanical approach to sex and dating. Some advocate a mutual and responsible exploration of “the other.” Intimately bound up in most approaches taught in the church, even some of the ones I agree with the most, is a sense of individualism and a “What’s in it for me?” attitude. Many single men and women walk around with lists. Topping the list is generally a desire for someone who is pure. Or at least someone who hasn’t gone “all the way.” Some of them hop oneHarmony so some nebulous algorithm can help them make sense of what it is they want. We pay lip service to the idea that God is involved in the mix. But, he’s not really. Of course, we get appropriately indignant when our sincere relationship with God is questioned at this juncture. Not, too indignant, though. We don’t want to appear too esoteric or worse…Pentecostal.
We worship virginity. We bow to it. We raise it up as our standard. We hold it as the Church’s highest ideal. But, it can only be the Church’s highest ideal when firmly attached to an individualistic view of the faith. However, if we hold to a more communal understanding of the faith and take Scripture into account, we begin to get a view of the connections we miss when we’re too close to the tree to see the forest we’re in.
The “I only want a virgin” mantra is to miss the point of the Cross.
Some may scoff at this. Why can’t someone choose who they want and what they’re looking for in that person? After all, if they are to live with this person “until death do we part,” then doesn’t it make sense to live with someone who makes you comfortable? If marrying a non-virgin makes someone uncomfortable, well, they shouldn’t have to live with that. What is more, if one person keeps themselves pure—with maybe a little base-running in there, but getting thrown out at home plate—why shouldn’t they expect the same from a life partner? God calls us to purity and what’s better than two pure people marrying each other and beautifully displaying Christ’s love for the Church?
Far be it from me to throw a wrench in the works, but what if two people with individualistic ideas about life, faith, and love marrying one another doesn’t reflect God like they think it does? What if virginity isn’tsupposed to sit at the top of one’s list of criteria to look for in a mate?
I’m sure some of you are livid at this point. But, I just don’t see virginity at the center of the Gospel. I like Rebecca St. James just as much as the next person, but maybe a generation of “Wait For Me” men and women are tacitly being taught something that isn’t true.
Hosea and Living Ubuntu
Consider the story of Hosea. For all the claims we make of God “guiding our relationships,” when I look at Scripture I have a hard time thinking I’d want him pulling the strings. The more and more I thumb through its pages; the less our declarations seem authentic. When I see God involved in people’s relationships [in the Bible], I see him doing all sorts of things that most of us would never do. Like telling someone to “take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom…” Not only is Hosea told to marry a non-virgin, but a woman he knows ahead of time is going to cheat on him and who is going to bear to him hellspawn. You never hear that story in churches. When they cart the example couple out in front of the youth group with their story of “We waited and we couldn’t be happier…”, I think that maybe we are being disingenuous about the stories the Word of God gives us and only serves to reinforce a negative view of people who have chosen to do otherwise.
The Cross, however, is about more than staying virgins until marriage. I’d even venture that the Cross of Christ isn’t even about your virginity. The Cross—the old rugged cross—is about redemption. And without redemption we are unable to see the world as God sees the world—broken and desperately in need of hope. Hope that gives us new eyes and abolishes a personal faith in favor of a communal faith.
Might I suggest that to enter any relationship with virginity as the highest ideal is to reveal that one is not ready for a relationship at all? It reveals within the individual a spirit of unforgiveness and an “unknowing” of what it means to be human.
In his treatise on forgiveness, Bishop Desmond Tutu speaks of the African Weltsanschauung known asubuntu:
What does any of that have to do with virginity? Everything.
The story of Hosea is a story of ubuntu. The story of the Cross is a story of ubuntu. And with a new set of eyes, men and women who remain chaste are able to see men and women who do not remain chaste through redeemed eyes. They are able to adopt a more redemptive posture in regards to the mate they chose—choosing not to see what was, but rather what could be…together. They are now able to walk inubuntu, seeing themselves in the other and not diminishing their worth because their choices were different.
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If you’re still reading this, let me close with stating what I am not saying and reiterating what I amsaying.
First, I am not advocating that virginity is some hopeless, pie-in-the-sky pipedream. I am not saying, “Well, since the statistics are stacked against you, you might as well go out there and do it and do it often. Wrap it up tight.” God has called us to a particular standard of living. While there is room for disagreement on how that standard is walked out in this life, there is a standard nonetheless.
Second, I am not advocating that young marriage is the ideal for everyone. Just as with anything, if taken to the extreme, a solution that works for some might be detrimental if practiced by all.
Now, let me reiterate my main points, so that there is no confusion. As Obama says, “Let me be clear.”
First, I am advocating young marriage for those who feel called to it and for those who cannot control their passion. The two need not be synonymous nor mutually exclusive. Scripture teaches that this is not a sin. If you feel led to do so, you are free to do so.
Second, I want to stress the fact that statistically, the longer one puts off marriage, the higher one’s chances climb of having sex before marriage. This isn’t an excuse. It is not an attempt to pardon people from any type of moral standard impressed upon us by Scripture. I am simply stating a statistical fact. Nothing more. Nothing less.
Third, Christians are called to a standard not just of physical purity, but also of purity of heart. To anubuntu heart. It is from this wellspring that a redemptive posture is made possible to us and available to others. It is through this purity of heart, available only by the renewing of one’s mind, that we are able to see and worship God correctly and see and love our neighbor as ourselves—even a neighbor we are considering dating.
 Interestingly, I have talked with people who are in Christian relationships and have myself participated in enough Christian relationships of my own to have discovered that many young men and women rather enjoy “first, second, and third base.” So long as the penis does not penetrate the vagina, many young Christian men and women enjoy as much of each other outside of marriage as they possibly can.
 Desmond Tutu, No Future Without Forgiveness (New York: Doubleday, 1999), p. 31.
 This is a creative means of saying that if you comment on this article and say something that I am not saying when I have clearly and emphatically stated exactly what I am and am not saying, I will call you out on it. However, if you have read my words and choose to agree or disagree with my point, feel free to dialogue with me on this. I don’t claim to have it all figured out. If you do, please enlighten me.
 Is has been pointed out to me that I have taken the long way around in regards to getting to the issue of redemption and I might have treated it as more of an afterthought than as the main point. This was done intentionally as I am currently writing another series on the matter of direct forgiveness and redemption based upon a few films and the worlds of Bishop Desmond Tutu and Christian scholar Miroslav Volf.