Thursday, August 9, 2012

Losing It

I read Carolyn Custis James' "Why Virginity Is Not The Gospel", and something about it just didn't click for me.

I figured it should, but it just didn't.

Christian feminist blogger Dianna Anderson isn't feeling it, either. She writes:

As a feminist Christian blogger who spends a lot of time talking about the problematic nature of the purity movement, I by all accounts should support this article.

But James’ framing of the issue is so gendered, so confusing, and so ultimately NOT the argument that needs to be made that I simply cannot get behind it. She ends up in a somewhat good place, but the route she takes to get there is so filled with problems that it erases all good things she may have said.

James’ discussion begins with Olympian Lolo Jones’ proclamation that she’s a 29 year old virgin, and how she wants to save that gift for her husband because she is a Christian. James laments that Jones has so much more to give her husband, and if you cut out the middle few paragraphs of her piece, it would have worked simply as a lament about how a woman’s self-worth is boiled down to an untouched vagina. Those are the points I do agree with – your self-worth and what you bring to the table in a marriage relationship have nothing to do with whether or not another person has managed to get their hands on your bits.
But that’s where my agreement with James ends, because she wrote this:
A message of purity and abstinence, as important as this is for young women (young men too) comes too late for huge numbers of young American girls, including those in church pews. It is utterly devastating to the one-in-four girls who is sexually abused before she reaches her 18th birthday. We live in a world where by the age of 18 an estimated 70 percent of girls have had sex at least once and not always by choice, where globally countless women and girls are in the grips of sex traffickers, where an appalling 48 women are raped every hour in the Congo, where within our own borders sexual freedom has opened the door for young women to be as sexually promiscuous as men, and where some girls with the very best of intentions succumb to temptation. I grieve all of this, but do not for a second imagine that any of this means a woman has less to offer a husband or that in any sense it diminishes her worth.
Let me draw your attention to that first sentence again. The message of purity is important, she says, but should not be the center of the Gospel because it’s already too late for many women.
This is a terrible argument, not because it’s true, but because it neglects both the damage that rape does to a woman’s self-worth, and how a purity message compounds that damage by leaps and bounds. There is a distinct lack of concern that we live in a patriarchal culture in which men and women are raped at extraordinary rates and that rape is used as a weapon in war. She barely acknowledges that the purity movement may actually compound their pain, or actually helped in her rape by failing to teach her about what healthy sexuality looks like.
I definitely have a huge problem with equating rape with consensual premarital sex. I've sat and heard strains of such equivocations from well-meaning (I think), but horribly wrong ministers while discussing overcoming sexual sins. Rape- forced, demeaning, coerced and often times violent- has been lumped in by *some* purity teachers with lust, fornication and adultery, and I cringe at the very thought of it. So I definitely agree with Dianna's point here. But then, she loses me:

And we learn why she doesn’t attack the purity message itself and still wants to prize it as important when we get to the end of her list: “…here within our own borders sexual freedom has opened the door for young women to be as sexually promiscuous as men, and where some girls with the very best of intentions succumb to temptation.” Ah, it’s already too late for the abstinence message because women are already choosing to have sex – indeed, choosing to have as much sex as men (which is a confusing statement in of itself, because who are these men having sex with if not the women, assuming James’ heteronormative framing is right?)...
This is James’ way of sounding like she affirms progressive sexual ethics concerning women’s sexuality while still holding on to archaic, women-as-property based social mores. The virginity may not be the Gospel for James, but it is certainly a part of it. Women are worth more than their virginity, she says, but she’ll still grieve your loss of purity if you choose to do it outside the confines of marriage.
The emphasis is hers. I was left thinking, what's wrong with Carolyn grieving sin? How should a Christian react to sinning? Not condemnation, that's for sure, and I don't pick that up from her HuffPo piece. In fact, I think she takes pains to not be a Judgey McJudgeypants, and for that, I commend her.

Interestingly, I posted a link to Carolyn's piece on Facebook, and I got feedback that the article was off, but perhaps for not taking a hard enough stance against sexual sins.

As I'm sure I mentioned at some point on this blog (hey, I've been at this for over three years, and now I'm starting to actually forget some of what I've written), I lost my virginity on my wedding night. I don't have any regrets about waiting and no, I don't feel I missed out.

But I don't talk about that much. Why? I'm not ashamed of it, to God be the glory. But I didn't take the Lolo Jones' route, either. I'm proud of her, and find it insulting she was mocked for HER CHOICE. Funny how some choices are lauded, and others are denigrated... Anyway, I feel despite saving it, in many ways, I had spent it. Jesus said just thinking about adultery made one guilty of it. Well, according to the Savior's teachings, I was about as untouched as Samantha Jones, then.

Yup, me and Samantha.

I *do* believe the purity message has often led to major fails. I think the main reason for that is because it's placed so much emphasis on the physical, and way too much pressure on girls to stay pure while looking the other way while boys weren't. 

There are points I agree with both Carolyn and Dianna. Ultimately though, I align with Jesus, who truly is the Gospel. Without the mind and spirit, there is no purity.


Red Cardigan said...

This is a beautiful bit of writing.

For the record, I think that anybody who would ever tell a sexual abuse victim that he/she is not a virgin is simply wrong. Having something stolen from you isn't the same thing as giving it away, and any former rape victim who seeks abstinence as part of his or her physical, sexual and emotional healing after the attack or abuse has my vote to be considered a virgin right up until he or she engages in truly consensual sex. I also believe in the concept (though the phrase is a bit strange) of "secondary virginity," where someone who has lived a sexually permissive life realizes that Christ's call includes a message of radical chastity and embraces that call with his or her whole heart.

The point of purity should never be about those of us who "waited" looking down with ugly pride and superiority on those who didn't. The point should be that purity and chastity--yes, even marital chastity which is about way more than occasional abstinence--are healing, life-giving, affirming ways to live, and Christ knew they would be and called us to them.

Do we have to identify sexual sins and work against a culture that thinks virginity is weird but junior-high sex encounters, pre-and extramarital sex, and all sorts of perverse habits are fine? Yep (which is sort of how Ancient Rome was when Christianity got started). Should our main goal to be to label those struggling with sexual sins as evil people and point fingers of blame at them? Christ's encounter with the woman caught in adultery gives us one warning about what happens if we do that; the very words of the Our Father (...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us...) also warn us about judging the sins, past or present, of others more harshly than we want to be judged when we face Him at the end of our days.

Truly, a thought-provoking post!

Jesus-in-the-city said...

I found this post really thought provoking too!

I didn't grow up in the church, and I'm kind of glad that I didn't have some crazy pressure to be virginal crammed down my throat my whole life...

BUT, I do wish that I was taught to value my sexuality as a young girl and to save it for marraige because that is what it was designed for. That's pretty much the long and the short of it, in my book. I don't think we need some long, drawn out, pressure cooker theology about it. I think it's simple enough to say, with consistency and love, that sex was designed for marriage and when you have sex outside of that boundary it subtracts and not adds to you as a person. That is scriptural, actually.

From my own personal experience, I would encourage my daughter to have the wisdom to know that the emphasis the world puts on sex is really gratuitous and unwarranted, it is not the be all and end all of life, it does not make you, though it could actually break you and, outside of the way God designed it, it is not going to help your life, your self esteem or your contribution to society. There are too many important things to focus on out there before marriage besides who you're doing it with. I will encourage her to focus on those things... Her relationship with Jesus, her education, helping the poor and disadvantaged, music, sports, art, friendships, family, etc, and not let sex become an idol and I think I also need to be careful not to make virginity an idol, either. Honesty and openness and learning from my own past mistakes, parenting through my own testimony, I think will be the best medicine.

Mark said...

Hi again.

I think what Diane Anderson is objecting to is Carolyn James' framing of the premarital sex issue in a way that denies young women their autonomy. When James grieves, it is for women who have "succumbed to temptation" . This is a common, unpleasant twisting of the situation, so that all premarital sex is portrayed as a result of a material world wearing down the moral walls of weak-willed young women. It implies that no Christian woman would ever, you know, change her mind about abstinence.

The thing that irks me about abstinence is that is it's the last bastion of paternalism in peoples lives. In all other areas of our lives, the paternalism vs. autonomy debate has been decided in favour of autonomy. Suppose one day you sit down with your daughter and tell her about the wonderful life she's going to have. You tell her that she can chose to be anything. You tell her that in terms of a career, it's all up to her. She can be President, a doctor, a teacher, a lawyer or anything she desires. In terms of appearance, she can choose to dress how she wants. She can choose to travel where-ever she wants. She can choose to support any political party she wants. She can date whoever she wants. All of these choices will reflect who she really is, and are all totally up to her.

But then you will have to tell her that there is one aspect of her identity that is not up to her, that has already been pre-chosen for her. Her sexuality. This is not a choice that will reflect her identity. It is instead a one-size-fits-all package that is handed out to millions of girls. All are expected to conform. It is decreed, mu beautiful daughter, that you will be chaste until marriage (average age 27), then monogamous till death. Other options, such as polyamoury, bisexuality, lesbianism, transgender or just spending a weekend riding that cute guy from the gym, are not acceptable. This is best for you, because we know you better than you will ever know yourself, and we know that your sexual needs are exactly the same as all other girls. And if you think differently, then there's something wrong with you.

Instead, I say support sexual autonomy. Let the girls choose. If they choose to be abstintent until marriage, like Lolo Jones, then more power to her. and if they chose to be sexually active, like the polyamourous atheist (one of favourite bloggers), more power to her too. It's not about the choice, it's about the right to make the choice.

Jesus-in-the-city said...


Totally disagreeing on this one. I didn't mean to imply by my post that my daughter wouldn't have a choice, only that I will truthfully and lovingly inform her that every choice has a consequence and the consequences that stem from the choice of premarital sex lead to death... "there is a way that seems right to a man, but it's end is the way of death." (proverbs 16:25)

This does not only mean physical death, which you would have to agree that in many sad cases, premarital sex does lead to physical death, but it also means spiritual death, which I am just as eager to help my daughter avoid. I will try my hardest to steer her clear of the teaching of the world that claims that premarital sex can be had with no frills, no attachment and no consequences, that you can join your spirit with the spirit of another human being over and over and over again, and not be affected by it. Not only does the bible teach this (1 Corinthians 6:15-19) but I know it to be true from my own testimony, my own long experience in the world as a non Christian and my new, miraculous life after my conversion to Christ.

I guess at the end of the day, i believe the most important thing is that what I will teach my daughter and encourage her toward in life will match up with the Word of God. I will not raise her up in a direction in life and then confuse her by saying, "but people don't really believe that," or "God didn't really mean that," or "the Bible says this and we believe the Bible is the Word of God, but you should do what you want and there won't be consequences if you choose to stray from it."

I believe the Word of God because I am a product of it's Life giving benefits and I believe my daughter will benefit from an uncompromised teaching of God's Word more than from a muddled grey area where anything goes and what is acceptable and what's not changes on a whim depending on what is fashionable at the time.

You are right that at the end of the day, my darling daughter will have the freedom to choose life or death, but just like God the Father pleads to us all, I pray that given the Truth, which is even greater than the facts, she will choose Life (Deuteronomy 30:15)

Oh, and as recommended reading, if you have a Bible, maybe try reading Proverbs 5. It is great encouragement from the Word of God regarding chastity before marriage and might give you greater insight into why a parent would encourage their child toward it and away from physically, emotionally and spiritually harmful life choices.

God bless!

April Byrd said...

Love it Alisha! Awesome piece! "I was about as untouched as Samantha Jones! *bol* that was too funny! This will definitey be a share!:)

Mark said...

Hi Jesus-in-the-city.

I read Proverbs 5, like you suggested. I found it a bit morally unpleasant, and I'd like to go into the reasons why.

So Solomon tells his son some reasons why adultery is not cool. Of course when you have 700 wives and 300 concubines, perhaps refraining from adultery might not represent such a heroic accomplishment. Nonetheless I am not a fan of adultery and generally think it's a bad idea. But my reasons are very different to Solomon's, and I think they're better reasons.

Firstly, Solomon warns against all those potential adulteresses, and I think this doves with your earlier comment about all the emphasis the world puts on sex. I think they both refer to an illusion that the sinful world will pressure people to lose their virginity, and Christians must keep their protective walls up. The truth is that the world doesn't give a hoot about an individuals' sex life. Let me use a example. I had a close friend in university called Alison. In high school she had always wanted to save her virginity for the man she would marry. But in university she questioned this, and wondered whether she should enjoy some youthful adventures. After months of internal struggling, she finally decided to be sexually active, put aside her reservations and waited for handsome men to ravage her. And waited. And waited. And then waited some more.
See, the world isn't just going to give you a sex life. If you want one, you have to work pretty hard for it. Most people save their loins for someone who's put in the time and effort to show that they're special. So all those adulteresses with honey dripping from their married-man-craving lips exist only in married men's wishful dreams. Sorry Solomon's son, there's no slut-army waiting for your moment of weakness, just ordinary people with their own lives and needs.

Secondly, Solomon's advice seems to play into the whore/madonna belief that is still sadly prevalent today. Why are adulteress' a worse choice of mate? Well, an adulteress is bitter as gall, sharp as a sword and gives no thought to the way of life. Really? All of them? So, there are no kind, intelligent, funny or humane adulteress'? O.K. I'd better stick with my wife then, who Solomon describes as a loving doe with satisfying breasts. That's the right course, because there has never in history been an unloving or cruel wife. Or one with unsatisfying breasts, for that matter.
I'm generally against adultery because it represents a manifest betrayal of trust, and severely injures innocent people. But it does depend on context, and not every marriage is a happy, healthy place, nor is it always wrong to seek comfort in others arms. Solomon is unfairly and malignly stereotyping people based on their marital status. There's also a touch of xenophobia in his advice not to let your toil enrich another man's house.

Third, Solomon says that his son could only hook up with an adulteress if he hated discipline, or if his heart spurns correction. This seems a little unimaginative. What about, you know, love. What if he made a mistake, and was trapped in a loveless marriage. Should he take Jane Eyre's advice, and seek the embrace of a hateful madwomen, or find the courage to start a new life?
The point I'm making is that Solomon is strawmanning the motivations for adultery.

So that's enough about Proverbs 5. I'll just wrap up by saying that the choice that young Christian women is really not a choice. Remember that movie The Truman Show, where Jim Carrey's character wants to book a trip to Fiji to visit his love. The fake travel assistant says sure I can book a flight, but your plane will probably be struck by lightning and you'll die a horrible death. That's the same way the sexuality choice is presented to young Christians.

Alisha De Freitas said...


One of the things that I appreciated about your comments is that I felt they were not only honest, but fair.

These last two? Not so much. Yes, you're being honest to the point of bluntness, but I'm not reading fair at all, which is disappointing.

Let me respond to your first comment which can be directed to Aja or me since we both have baby girls. Alright, you point out James' framing as denying "young women their autonomy". You point out that she grieves for these women and refer to it as being "common" along with it be a "twisting" of the situation. Let's stop here. My responses to you:

*How EXACTLY did JAMES frame the situation as such? I really didn't get that, so help me out with a quote.
*What James' grieves for is Christians having premarital sex, which according to the Bible, is a sin. I know you don't subscribe to all this, but those who call themselves Christians usually do. So what you're actually rejecting to is the morals and ethics Christians receive from Scripture. Let's just get to the heart of the matter.
I think I mentioned before about the Christian worldview and mindset. Because Christians place Christ at the center of their lives (well, at least try to), they see the world through Him. So what you are seeing as an attack on autonomy is placing our autonomy under the rule of God.

This may appear so odd from the outside that I'm asking you to approach it the way you would people from a very different culture.

Let's say we get a chance to meet in real life. You fly over to the U.S., stay with my family in Jersey. There will be a very real adjustment in our accents, choice of words, food we eat. Also, K is from Trinidad, while I come from a Black American background. Even more differences from you. Now, you would I believe, give us the benefit of the doubt with all our differences while you come to learn and understand WHY we do things the way we do.
So please try to do this regarding Christians. It's very unhelpful to conversation to read that traditional Christian principles as chastity is actually some attempt at "twisting" and removing "autonomy".
*On what grounds do you call this a "common" occurrence? With all due respect, I again remind you that you're outside this culture, so I question how it is you know what's common or not. If you are mainly going by blogs, my next question is which blogs? You've been here a few times, and I hope you haven't picked up that vibe from my posts. Also, while blogs are fun, they really are second are third hand on learning about things. Especially when everyone has some ideological stance.

When I wanted to know more about Islam, I might've started at the web, but you best believe I didn't stop there. I went and brought a Koran, went to to a mosque, learned from Muslims firsthand. I wouldn't just go to Christian sites and read about it. That's just lazy.

Alisha De Freitas said...

Okay Mark, not done yet, lol.

As for what I'd actually tell Zoe one day, let me say, I'd never frame sex in such a way you did. From the jump, I wouldn't tell her she could anything she wants. And this has nothing to do with religion, this is commonsense. Once a person makes a choice to pursue one course of action, you automatically eliminate the others. So I'd encourage to seek out what interests her and to always do her best, but no, you can't be anything. For more on this, read this post:

Any let's continue to leave religion out. In talking to Z, I'd want her to know that sex is great, but it's not the end all, be all of life. It's not. And having sex comes with A LOT of responsibilities. I'll teach her about STDs, cervical cancer and AIDS. Teen pregnancy, single motherhood. Let her talk to my sister about how life was being 16 and pregnant. She can also speak with a couple of friends who had abortions, how one wound up hemorrhaging and the other had cramps and bleeding for weeks. Abortions are surgery, and with any medical procedure, there are risks.

Now, lest you think I'm some scare-monger, with any thing, I'll let her know the pros and cons. Once she starts driving, yeah, it'll be fun. But she'll also see many drivers suck, so she needs to drive defensively. She'll come with for car repairs and maintenance, and she'll know just how expensive insurance is. This is reality, Mark. I'd be a derelict parent if I didn't share with her that life is full of joy, shock, loss, smiles, tears, consequences and responsibility. ESPECIALLY for women. And ultimately, Z will choose for herself whether she wants to be a Christian, sexually active, a businesswoman, an athlete, even a driver on NJ streets. Just like I did.

Alisha De Freitas said...

Last one, Mark: that has got to be the most negative reading of Proverbs 5 I've ever heard. Really, Man? LOL! Come on! I think what Aja was suggesting was a little exegesis.

Would you look at, say, The Sermon of the Mount with such a harsh, postmodern view? How about some of Buddha's sayings? I think you missed the forest through the trees. It's a parable! LOL!

Mark said...

Hi Aja.

Well, this is an interesting start to the morning. Firstly, let me assure you that my reference to daughters did not refer to any actual person, but rather a generic daughter in a comment aimed at society in general. I would never use a strangers family members to make a point. The comment by James that I was referring to was "where some girls with the very best of intentions succumb to temptation. I grieve for all this....". By saying that women have premarital sex by "succumbing to temptation", it implies that unmarried women can't make a reasonable, informed and consensual choice to get it on.

I agree that I know very little about Christian culture. One of the reasons why I visit blogs like those is to experience different cultures. But abstinence education in Anerica is not a Christian viewpoint. It is a healthcare initiative funded by hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars. It is secular, at least in name, because for politicians to admit that they support it due to their religious beliefs would be to admit that they are going against tge First Amendment of the Constitution. I was trying to make a secular argument against it, and if I unwisely mentioned Christian beliefs, it was only because the original article and comments were phrased in Christian terminology.

As for Proverbs 5, O.K. maybe I overinterpreted it. What can I say? I gave it an honest go. Turns out I'm not a fan.

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