Monday, January 7, 2013

Bible college, part 2

It always felt like the sole voice of reason regarding purity came from the faculty, who were more loosely aligned with the school's beliefs. Northwestern was consistent with picking like-minded staff, but professors were harder to come by, and let's face it: they're thinkers. One day after a chapel session where a guest speaker claimed dating was faulty, the professor in my next class ranted about how silly that was. He said that people needed to have a way to get to know each other without their parents looking over their shoulder. He said he feared the purity approach created daughters who still clung to their mothers and weren't ready for marriage. I changed my mind a couple times that day, but I was and still am grateful that someone stood up to challenge a purity idea in that setting. Too often in any Christian setting, people are afraid of voicing dissent to a righteous living ideal, for fear of being viewed as more sinful or worldly.

Years later, the same professor brought up the purity ideology to say that he didn't like how it had an all or nothing approach. If a person committed one slip-up, one mistake, they were no longer pure, and never could be again. There is no room for error, and it paints humans as nearly equally tarnished whether you were 99% good or 50%. Sure, people who change their ways or vow to be perfect going forward are respected, but they are still considered different from the rest of us "truly pure" folk. At the time, purity was still so ingrained in my belief system that I didn't know what to do with that criticism. I sympathized a little with the harshness of purity's standards, but at the same time I suspected that people were just trying to get away with more leniency, and I didn't like that because I wanted my future husband to be as pure as me. It was easy for me to be judgmental because I wasn't in a relationship where I had to figure out where the lines were or be tempted to push boundaries.

My theology professor junior year told us stories from his more conservative past. He attended Pensacola Christian College and spoke of how many misguided young marriages he witnessed. The purity culture there was so extreme that couples rarely touched or spent unchaparoned time together. As a result, they rushed into marriage as soon as graduation was over, and it horrified him to see people making such big mistakes. He almost went down that same path after listening to a preacher talk of respecting women by not touching them at all before marriage. He excitedly told his mother that he had decided never to even hold the hand of the woman he was going to marry. His mother responded, "That's a horrible idea! Why would you cruelly withhold affection from the woman you love? If you respected her, you would show her you love her."

The pressure to find a husband in college was intense. "Ring by spring" and "MRS degree" were common jokes. I myself saw some very short engagements and young married couples struggling to get by. I saw the jealousy of singles over those in relationships, and I saw the arrogance in married couples who bragged of finding a beautiful spouse and of having a sex life. I saw the pity we had for single people in their late 20s, and the belief we had that we would never have to wait that long. I never found my husband in college like I thought I would. And the next few years of my life would be confusing as a result.

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