Thursday, February 14, 2013

Do Christians Idolize Virginity?

Sarah Bessey writes painfully here in her post, "I Am Damaged Goods":
I was nineteen years old and crazy in love with Jesus when that preacher told an auditorium I was “damaged goods” because of my sexual past. He was making every effort to encourage this crowd of young adults to “stay pure for marriage.” He was passionate, yes, well-intentioned, and he was a good speaker, very convincing indeed.

And he stood up there and shamed me, over and over and over again.

Oh, he didn’t call me up to the front and name me. But he stood up there and talked about me with such disgust, like I couldn’t be in that real-life crowd of young people worshipping in that church. I felt spotlighted and singled out amongst the holy, surely my red face announced my guilt to every one.

He passed around a cup of water and asked us all to spit into it. Some boys horked and honked their worst into that cup while everyone laughed. Then he held up that cup of cloudy saliva from the crowd and asked, “Who wants to drink this?!”

And every one in the crowd made barfing noises, no way, gross!

“This is what you are like if you have sex before marriage,” he said seriously, “you are asking your future husband or wife to drink this cup.”

Over the years the messages melded together into the common refrain: “Sarah, your virginity was a gift and you gave it away. You threw away your virtue for a moment of pleasure. You have twisted God’s ideal of sex and love and marriage. You will never be free of your former partners, the boys of your past will haunt your marriage like soul-ties. Your virginity belonged to your future husband. You stole from him. If – if! – you ever get married, you’ll have tremendous baggage to overcome in your marriage, you’ve ruined everything. No one honourable or godly wants to marry you. You are damaged goods, Sarah.”

If true love waits, I heard, then I have been disqualified from true love.

In the face of our sexually-dysfunctional culture, the Church longs to stand as an outpost of God’s ways of love and marriage, purity and wholeness.

And yet we twist that until we treat someone like me – and, according to this research, 80% of you are like me – as if our value and worth was tied up in our virginity.

We, the majority non-virgins in the myopic purity conversations, feel like the dirty little secret, the not-as-goods, the easily judged example. In this clouded swirl of shame, our sexual choices are the barometer of our righteousness and worth. We can’t let any one know, so we keep it quiet, lest any one discover we were not virgins on some mythic wedding night. We don’t want to be the object of disgust or pity or gossip or judgement. And in the silence, our shame – and the lies of the enemy – grow.
I don't doubt for a second that what she recounts here is true. And it makes me sick. This tragic, legalistic message is not going to help anyone grow in love for Christ. All it will produce is arrogance (for purity achieved) or despondency (for failure) and the Gospel tolerates neither. I think Matt Chandler's classic response is the best I have seen in response to the scene that Sarah describes.

I love how Jesus dealt with humble women and their sexual issues in the Bible.  He doesn't bring the hammer and he doesn't sweep it under the rug as if it's no big deal.  John 4 and John 8 are very instructive here.

Jesus doesn't allow us to say that sexual sin is "no big deal".  In some sense, it is in a unique category in the Bible (1 Cor. 6:16), and our sexual lives point to the oneness of Christ and the Church.  God doesn't like it when we mess around with his pictures that are supposed to be used to glorify him alone (ie, The Lord's supper, marriage, etc).  After holding back the stone throwers in John 8, Jesus clearly tells the woman to "go and sin no more".  Take note that he didn't say, "It's ok.  Your sin is not that big of a deal."  It was a big deal but Jesus knew that his grace would transform her more than the law ever would.  This is the Gospel.

But keep in mind that Jesus' standard on sexual sin is much more rough than a mere cult of virginity could ever produce.

[28] But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [29] If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. [30] And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.  (Matthew 5:28-30 ESV)

So what is the answer for sexual law breakers?  Hell really does hang in the balance.  Jesus is pretty clear on that here.

I can tell you for sure that it's not in a watering down of the law as some would have it but rather it is highlighting our need for the true lawless and sexually pure One to stand in our place.  Flee to him as the only source of hope for the coming wrath on sexual law breakers and every other kind of law breaker of which I am the chief.  Jesus' standing in our place never communicates that our sexual sin is no big deal.  It shows us how truly ugly it is!  The wrath of God had to be poured out on it!  But it also shows us how deeply loved we are in spite of our sexual brokenness.  This true love is what we have all been waiting for.  It runs deeper and is more profoundly satisfying than sexual sin could ever be.

Law breakers have only one hope.  Jesus.  He loves to replant and revive broken roses by his sheer grace and mercy alone.  This is our only message to the sexually broken.

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