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.