Tag Archives: Purity Culture

Don’t dismiss best practices for Christian living as “legalism” and “denying grace”

Telling a woman how to make wise decisions protects her
Telling a woman how to make wise decisions protects her

On Sunday, I listened to a very interesting discussion between Sean McDowell and Jessica van der Wyngaard on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable show. The topic was on the pros and cons of purity culture. I didn’t know a thing about “purity culture”, and had never read any books about it. I didn’t really disagree with anyone on the podcast, but I did want to say something about it in a blog post.

Description:

20 years ago Joshua Harris was the poster boy of the evangelical ‘purity movement’ having authored the bestselling book ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’. Today, Harris regrets writing the book, and has also recently changed his mind about Christianity.

Justin is joined by Jessica van der Wyngaard, director of the documentary film ‘I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye’, and Christian apologist Sean McDowell, to discuss purity culture, singleness and the Joshua Harris story.

The MP3 file is here.

First, here’s a brief summary of what everyone said on the podcast:

  • JW: the book urged people to give up dating in favor of courting and suggested other rules that would guarantee a successful marriage to your soul-mate
  • JW: some of the rules proposed by the book were not Biblical
  • JW: I’m not a virgin and I’m in early-30s, but I accept that we should teach what the Bible says about abstinence
  • SM: purity culture is the idea that if you remain sexually pure, God will give you a spouse and bless you in the future
  • SM: purity culture is the idea that if you have premarital sex, you will be tainted forever
  • SM: I’m afraid that those reacting against purity culture will build a sexual ethic solely based on their shame, their hurt, their concern about legalism, and this will not help the next generation
  • SM: let’s have a balanced Biblical approach to sexuality instead
  • SM: there is scientific data to back up the Bible’s teaching that marriages work better when sex occurs only within a marriage
  • SM: it’s a mistake to define your spiritual standing based on whether you are a virgin or not
  • SM: following the Bible’s rules for sexuality is an important part of discipleship
  • SM: the Bible is replete with examples of people restoring their standing before God through forgiveness and redemption

Right now, we are living in a secular culture where people are hooking up, having premarital sex, living together, and breaking up far more often than in the past. There is this pattern of choosing partners based on secular criteria: outward appearance and ability to entertain. And this approach to dating – choosing people for the wrong reasons, and trying to force a commitment using premarital sex – is now common practice, even among Christians.

I think people should have a plan to counter this trend that’s realistic and guided by studies and evidence. For example, studies show that people who have no sexual partners before marriage are more likely to still be married 10 years later. Studies show that cohabitation negatively impacts the stability of a future marriage. It’s difficult to accept that this is the way the world is, but if a stable marriage is a goal for you, then you should care about the best practices for having a stable marriage.

Take a different example. Suppose you have a lot of shame and bad feelings over having run up $90,000 of student loans. Now your retirement will be much more difficult. The answer to these feelings of shame is not to say that you can invoke “grace” and that will make everything OK. It won’t. It might help you to make better decisions going forward, but that debt is going to affect your future spouse, your future marriage and your future children.

There are real costs to these behaviors for your future, and being forgiven through Jesus’ atonement isn’t going to instantly make the effects of those choices disappear. It’s good to warn young people about these costs. It’s also good to help people who have made mistakes undo the damage by investing in them. I don’t want us to throw out evidence-based best practices as “legalism”, because they help us to reach the discipleship goals specified for us in the Bible.

The goals of the Bible (e.g. – not aborting, not divorcing) are good goals. If we find out from science that premarital promiscuity or cohabitation reduce our odds of achieving that goal, then it’s a mistake to dismiss that evidence because it make us feel bad about our past. It’s not legalism to investigate evidence and consult wise advisors in order to choose how best to achieve goals like marriage. That’s actually being wise.  Making good decisions doesn’t give you the right to be proud and compare yourself to others, but it is good to make good decisions for yourself, and to share your reasoning with those who ask you.

I agree with the speakers that purity culture is wrong to promise people a happy marriage if they only keep their virginity. That’s just the prosperity gospel, and it really is not a Biblical view of the Christian life.

People who choose to have premarital sex haven’t separated themselves from marriage. But studies indicate that they have damaged the stability of their future marriage if they do nothing to counteract the effects of their choices. And I think there is more to counteracting these bad effects than just stating to your partner “Jesus forgives me, so you can’t judge me”. The focus of the “no-rules because I feel ashamed” crowd doesn’t seem to be on taking the damage seriously and fixing it. Their focus seems to be on not being judged.

I don’t think that a cursory response (“don’t judge me!”) is adequate to undo the damage from premarital sex. But if a person is willing to be honest about their past, and put in the work to understand the effects of premarital sex on their future marriage, renew their minds, and re-establishing their bonding ability, then they should be able to fully counteract the damage. I have met people who have done this, and you can see in their choices and lifestyle that there’s been a complete turning against their former use of sex for fun and attention and self-esteem. It’s not “idolizing virginity and idolizing marriage” to look at the data, and make choices that are likely to lead to a stable marriage.

Why do Christian men prefer to marry virgins?

Here's some helpful advice for women about choosing a man
Here’s some helpful advice for women about choosing a man

Some Christian women argue that chastity is an “idol” that detracts from Jesus’ “gospel of forgiveness”. Basically, they claim that although premarital sex is a sin, it shouldn’t stop a man from marrying them, because they can just make the sin disappear by asking Jesus for forgiveness. But does this really address the underlying concern that men with have marrying a non-virgin?

Let’s start with an example (reported by Daily Wire), then analyze what is going on here:

Though “The Bachelorette” star Hannah Brown has been open about her Christian faith this past season, she also openly boasted about premarital sex as if it were no big deal.

“I have had sex, and, honestly, Jesus still loves me,” Brown said on Monday’s episode.

[…]Brown later spoke with Entertainment Tonight about her religious views on Christ, which boil down to a “personal relationship with Jesus” without doctrinal accountability.

“Regardless of anything that I’ve done … well people might think, ‘Oh, that deserves a scarlet letter.’ That’s not how it works. I can do whatever — I sin daily and Jesus still loves me. It’s all washed and if the Lord doesn’t judge me and it’s all forgiven, then no other man, woman … can judge me,” Brown told Entertainment Tonight.

So to start with, Transformed Wife has a spiritual reflection this, which you can read. The Bible teaches that sex outside of marriage is rebellion against God, and Jesus tells people who sin that they are forgiven, but that they should “sin no more”. Sinning no more is hard. But what should be easy is not telling everyone that sinning is OK, like Hannah Brown did. She doesn’t think that the Bible has the authority to say NO to her feelings and desires. Already, this is a red flag for men who feel that they can’t trust a woman who is willing to throw out Bible verses when it goes against her desires.

Even among Christians, premarital sex is the rule, not the exception:

As many as 80 percent of unmarried evangelical young adults have had sex, according to an analysis of a study on sexual activity in the upcoming October issue of Relevant, a Christian magazine.

Young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 who identify themselves as evangelicals are almost as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, according to the article “(Almost) Everyone’s Doing It.”

This study from Live Science makes clear that young people see avoiding commitment as an intended benefit of premarital sex.

Two-thirds of participants said they had been in a “friends with benefits” relationship, and 36 percent said they currently were in one. The main advantage of such a relationship was “no commitment” (reported by 59.7 percent of participants), which was followed closely by “have sex” (55.6 percent).

Let’s decide what premarital sex tells marriage-minded Christian men about a woman.

What a woman’s choice to have recreational premarital sex tells a marriage-minded man

What kind of men do women choose for recreational premarital sex? Well, they choose men who don’t commit to marriage before sex. It’s not as if women are choosing these men because they are good at commitment behaviors; sobriety, fidelity, charity, protecting children, etc. A premarital-sex woman thinks that a no-commitment man is the best man. If she thought that a marriage-minded man were best, she’d be giving him sex – after marrying him. She uses her temporary supply of youth and beauty to reward the no-commitment man for his “superiority”. What makes him superior? A bunch of superficial traits like height, tattoos, piercings, arrogance, etc. – basically, he’s fun in the moment.

The commitment man is bad, because he just wants to burden her with a “boring” marriage commitment. Commitment requires moral boundaries that would reduce her fun. For example, the commitment man might tell her “these research papers say that it’s best for our newborn if you quit your job and stay home, instead of putting them into daycare”. Or he might say, “we can’t afford your shopping” or “your smoking is bad for our pregnant baby”. And she doesn’t want to deal with this “controlling” behavior – not right now, anyway. Her youth and beauty needs to be used to chase her real priority, which is fun with the hot bad boys. Marriage is not her first priority, it’s her last resort.

Marriage-minded men can’t lead a family if they marry a woman who does not respect them

So, suppose that a woman passes up marriage-minded men during her young and pretty years. Should a marriage-minded man pursue her after she’s done having fun?

Well, what does her past decision-making reveal about her character? She prefers no-commitment men, and her goal is fun.So how can a woman who chose no-commitment men suddenly change herself completely around and start to like men with commitment skills, (chastity, sobriety, frugality, mentoring, etc.). Marriage-minded men marry in order to lead. But will a woman who prefers no-commitment men and fun allow a man she sees as “boring” and “controlling” to lead her? A wise commitment-man must choose a woman who respects his preparation for and focus on commitment.

Now the woman might say that she’s changed, and now she is ready to get serious with a real man. But what reasons does a man have to think that her change is genuine? What has she read to change her mind? What actions show that she wants a man to lead in moral and spiritual areas? What evidence is there that she is now an activist against feminism, promiscuity, abortion, divorce, socialism and single motherhood? Isn’t a man entitled to ask for some evidence of what caused her to change her mind about which men are good, and what relationships are for?

Suppose that her sudden change is just because she recognizes that her recreational premarital sex approach to getting a no-commitment man to commit hasn’t worked. So she hasn’t changed which men she is attracted to, but now she just wants financial support and the social respectability of marriage. From a man she doesn’t admire, doesn’t respect, will not support, and will not follow. Is that a good value proposition for a commitment-man?

Marriage-minded men don’t marry in order to give a woman who prefer no-commitment men financial support and social respect. We marry in order to lead a family with the support of a woman who respects our focus on marriage and commitment. We don’t trust last-second conversions to the pro-patriarchy position. We have to be convinced that a woman really repented of her past, and now has a deep, Christian understanding of men, marriage and parenting. This is a nearly impossible task given the myths about men and marriage that are floating around in this secular leftist culture of feminism and misandry. In order to accept that the woman has changed, we expect to see the work you did to change your behavior patterns and beliefs from anti-marriage to pro-marriage. I have met a few women who have done this, including some of my trusted advisors… but it’s rare.

The importance of evidence in making selfish, reckless behavior unthinkable

My female advisors are always telling me to be more positive in my writing. “You must tell women what to do after mistakes have already been made!” OK, women: the solution is simple, and it’s found in Romans 12:1-2. You have to change your criteria for men, and your vision of marriage by consuming evidence that makes your prior decisions unthinkable. You must train yourself to disregard your feelings, your desires and cultural pressure. And then you must put your new mind into practice with your actions, including promoting your new vision for men, sex and marriage to other people in public. These actions will signal to men that you are serious about marriage.

So, I’ll just link to my previous posts about peer-reviewed scientific research, which shows the scientific backing for the Bible’s teaching on this topic:

The evidence is necessary because evidence helps everyone to do the right thing, regardless of feelings, desires and peer approval.

You wouldn’t waste your money on tattoos, alcohol, cigarettes and travel if you understood the financial demands of retirement and how to invest in order to be ready for retirement. Knowledge of investing and retirement overrides feelings, desires and peer pressure. If women do not prioritize learning the “boring” evidence about best practices for men, sex and marriage, then they will decide how to live based on their feelings, desires and the culture. In a secular left culture like this, a man with chastity and a good fortune will be attracted to women who have deliberately walled off sin by strengthening their ability to be good at marriage with evidence.

If you’re looking for somewhere to start, I recommend “The Sacred Search” by Gary Thomas and “The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands” by Dr. Laura Schlessinger.