Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Good intentions and justifying the means

Since I've moved away, the church I grew up in and that my parents still attend has gotten more conservative. Last year, my mother told me about an event the church was hosting for teenage girls in the community. It was a lock-in and the theme would be--you guessed it--saving yourself for marriage. They were going to decorate the church as if for a wedding, and there would be dress forms showcasing bridal gowns around the church.

The idea sort of sickened me. It was just one more message these girls were going to get that told them their value lies in how worthy they are of wearing a white wedding gown. Of being ready for a wedding night. Of being chosen by a man. Of all the themes that could have been chosen for a church youth sleepover, it had to be about sex. It is what Christians are most worried about concerning their youth.

She told me, "The woman who organized it had a child outside of marriage at a young age, and she wants to make sure these girls don't make the same mistake." Okay, good intentions. I understand what she's trying to do, I just don't like how she's doing it. But I think all people that teach purity have good intentions, and look what's become of their teachings. For most youth, it simply didn't work. And for the ones who took the teachings to heart, like I did, many of them are now speaking out against the pain it has caused them in their lives.

When I was first working through my issues with the purity movement, I asked myself, "Can the end justify the means?" If teaching sexual purity can help a few teens avoid making some sexual mistakes, is it worth it? I do care that young people don't get hurt by jumping into sexual relationships too quickly or by getting pregnant way before they're ready. The answer came to me pretty quickly. There are other ways we can help them that come with much less baggage, less lies, and have application past the short range of young adulthood.

When I think about the things I was taught that were so dependent on the assumption that I wouldn't need them past the age of 22-25 (because I'd be married by then), it makes me angry. Angry that I was being fed a temporary fix that wasn't meant to be a lifelong value, but something that would simply get me safely past a finish line. The adults in my life should have known better. They were old enough to know the truth. Yet they allowed us to believe that waiting would make our married sex life better than everyone else's, that premarital sex would put us in a world of hurt no matter what the circumstance, and that people who had premarital sex were damaged goods nobody would want to be with.

Granted, the majority of the voices I heard hawking purity were young ones. Single or newly-married Christians in their twenties. Maybe they didn't know better. And maybe the older ones had fully convinced themselves the lies were true, despite whatever evidence they had witnessed to the contrary. But does that make it okay? Those facts do not change history. They do not heal wounds. Good intentions do not right wrongs.

1 comment:

  1. I understand what you are saying, and I think it's right to be said.

    I think that the purity movement was one of the first (knee-jerk) reactions of American Protestantism to the sexual revolution. To me, part of what you are describing is a natural outgrowth of Protestant theology. Protestant theology basically tends to follow the line of thinking that we all remain sinners, we just get 'covered up' by the grace of Jesus. Protestant theology does not offer the same ideal of inner transformation...it is a one-time, always saved kind of deal. The problem with that is, it doesn't actually happen that way and people still have a ton of bad habits and inclinations after being 'saved'. I don't think Protestant theology has a real adequate way of addressing this reality. You find yourself left with the inevitable situation of people who are 'saved' but still have all the disordered desires and tendencies that everybody has...and eventually giving in to them. Of course this is unacceptable, so some way has to be found of dealing with the results...hence the purity movement. It was the best they had with the tools they had.

    Catholic theology is different. It says that we are actually transformed by the grace of God, not just covered up. We actually become holy and virtuous by a (sometimes very slow) process, but that the change is real and not just apparent or cosmetic. From this tradition, chastity is a life-long virtue which we grow in throughout our lives. Single life is one 'training ground' for growth in chastity, but marriage is another one. Chastity means the full healthy integration of the sexual desire, which was always good but was damaged or disordered due to the effects of sin on the human race. It is a lifelong process and the goal is holiness rather than just 'saving yourself 'til marriage'. It's the same goal for everyone, married, single, widowed, divorced, or celibate. Properly understood, it is a journey that requires sacrifice and self-denial on the road to eventual integration and peace.