Friday, January 25, 2013
My decision to leave purity behind
I was 26 going on 27, the age where one could definitely say I was past my marrying prime according to conservative Christian standards. This realization is probably what made me finally think about purity in a different way. Because when you're young and you expect to get married in a short time frame, saving yourself for marriage doesn't look so daunting. You expect you will fall into place with the majority of everyone else while leaving the older singles to worry about their life. You can easily write them off as a rare select group of people that God has special plans for. Or they're just unlucky, and it will make you feel more lucky in comparison. But when it happens to you and you are suddenly in the minority among all these young married couples, it may feel like time to self-evaluate. At least it did for me.
It was suddenly very clear that all the purity teachings were based on the assumption that I would be married in my early 20s. Since I no longer fit in that category, should all those rules apply to me? What kind of system can be considered good if it neglects to incorporate all the people within that system? Is it really that inflexible? Is God that inflexible? I began to see the purity movement as a well-intentioned system with unrealistic expectations and lack of consideration for non-mainstream individuals. The purity movement that I knew never talked about the widowed or divorced, but according to the logic they were using to promote abstinence before marriage, it would certainly also apply to people who had been married in the past. Should we really expect them, too, to return to an asexual nature where you cannot act on a single sexual impulse, not even think about sex?
Because that's what purity culture ultimately expects people to be outside of marriage: asexual. Putting down all natural desires both in mind and body. I realized I couldn't possibly believe God created us to be that way. Anyone who successfully put to death their natural sexual desires would have a very difficult time bringing them back to life in the marriage bed. The fact that Christian couples proclaim to have great sex lives right off the bat means they had to have failed at total purity leading up to the marriage. If success is dependent upon failing the system, then the system is clearly broken, is it not?
Then there was the issue of how it affected people: their behavior and decisions. Young Christians rush into marriages so they can have sex sooner. A society that assumes every unmarried person has never experienced sex and every married person has a great sex life is a setup for division, jealousy, arrogance and suffering. I had seen countless young worship leaders, musicians and youth ministers brag to a room of young people about the beautiful wife God gave them and hint at how fun sex was. And even more commonly I had seen the jealousy of unmarried men and women towards their married friends. I had known men who were "ready for marriage" who proposed to the first girl who would let them. I had seen female friends of mine pine away and mourn their singleness, letting it occupy their every thought. Single people were clearly pitied while married people were celebrated and accepted. This worldview hurts people. It breeds inequality, competition and dissatisfaction. This can't be the right way.
But what of the bible? Isn't that why we're all doing this? Doesn't it say something about no sex outside of marriage? Come to think of it, I didn't know of any one passage that stated that. There was plenty of talk of sexual immorality but what did that include? Does the bible specify or are we imposing our preconceived ideas on the text? This is a whole other discussion for a later time, but suffice it to say, I realized the biblical defense of purity was too weak for me. I even began to question what marriage was. Because if purity hinged everything on a marriage date, what was the criteria? The legal document, the ceremony, or the commitment to each other? If it's that fuzzy, how can the rules be so strict?
With all of these thoughts swirling through my head, it dawned on me that I no longer believed in the purity movement. And that I no longer believed that sex outside of marriage was a sin. And that if I became involved in a serious relationship in the future, I probably would not wait to have sex. I wish I could convey how big this felt to me. And how scary. For the first time in my life, I wondered if I would be severely punished by God if I was wrong. But I also felt truly independent. And also as if I had made a transition from a girl into a woman.