We woke up one day last week to the first snowfall of the season, gentle white flakes touching down, slowly covering the muddy front lawn. It continued all day, the wind picking up, forming small drifts here and there. I was happy for the snow as it made it a little more bearable to take down my Christmas tree and tuck away the family traditions along with it for another year.
White and pristine was my world, reminding me of the Lord’s promise that He will make our scarlet sins as white as snow. He is the great Purifier, the Cleanser of my Soul. Such a comfort that is to me!
I have been thinking so much about the concept of purity in the past couple weeks, first as I have enjoyed the sweet innocence of a house full of little ones. They look at everything in wonder, their bright little eyes reflect their own worlds, yet untouched by those things that threaten to darken all of us. How do we protect our precious girls from those things? How do we protect our dear boys, our sons and grandsons? But more accurately, how do each of us, men, women, boys and girls, keep our hearts and minds pure in a world that ignores and even devalues the concept of purity? And how do we do this when modern evangelicalism tells us that it has to do primarily with sexuality and then spends so much time talking about it?
Recently reading excerpts from Mark Driscoll’s latest book along with seeing some of his teaching videos has left me feeling the need to retreat into a safe place and take a bubble bath for my very soul. I keep asking myself what has become of the evangelical church when it welcomes one man’s graphic sexual fantasies as “marriage counseling.” Or, what is wrong with the body of Christ when pastor and author Ed Young spends a weekend in bed with his wife on the roof of his church to promote sex? Apparently I am not alone as even Wade Burleson has weighed in on this one. Purity, it seems, is a relative term and doesn’t apply to all people all the time.
But it isn’t only Pastor Young’s actions or Driscoll’s explicit language that bothers me about the latest public discussions about moral purity, Christians, and sexuality. What really alarms me is that in so many places there are mixed messages about what purity actually is along with a double standard for purity that says it is somehow more important for girls to be pure than it is for boys. Oh, there is a hat tip to the rest of us, but most of the programs and so-called “ministries” seem to target young women and I am wondering why. And often it is measured by arbitrary ideals rather than the Lord’s standards. Why, for example, is a woman’s outward appearance so central to the discussion?
After spending some time reading some of the current evangelical thought on women and purity, here are some of the messages I think are being sent and the links for you to read yourself. As always, I look forward to your thoughts.
Being a truly morally pure wife and mom probably isn’t sexy.
Back when Ted Haggard’s homosexual affairs became public, Driscoll suggested that this could be a temptation for other pastors since their wives often tend to let themselves go. He went on to share that he had had to straighten his own wife out on her wardrobe, ultimately telling her to stop “dressing like a mom.” In his latest publication he goes on to share this story: ”My pregnant wife came home from a hair appointment with her previously long hair that I loved chopped off and replaced with a short, mommish haircut. She asked what I thought. She could tell by the look on my face. She had put a mom’s need for convenience before being a wife. She wept.” Add this agenda to his assertion that young men who grow up in our “porn culture” have certain expectations regarding sexual practices, mix in a hearty dose of unbiblical gender roles, and one can only imagine the trips being placed on wives.
I’m sorry, but not only does Driscoll wear his own hair exactly like all my babies wore theirs, curled on top, but this is some of the most big baby behavior I have ever seen in a man. I am so sad that a “young, restless, and reformed” body of young men look to this man as a role model. And what message is this giving to young women? That looking “like a mom,” whatever that means, isn’t appealing to husbands? That women sin if they have their own preferences of style and taste? That the world is right and sex is only for young and attractive women, as defined by our post-Christian culture? Where is the sense of purity in this?
Compare this to the young husband and father I know who came through a particularly difficult time of labor and childbirth with his wife only to exclaim that he had never seen a more beautiful and lovely woman than his wife at that moment! That is the message those desiring to promote sexual purity need to be handing out!
A morally pure young woman must see herself as a princess who is outwardly beautiful and vulnerable.
A few years ago during one of my mom’s retreats, I had the women each decorate and wear crowns, not because I wanted them to envision themselves as some sort of helpless princess in need of rescue or a queen-of-everything mom who runs the show at home. Rather, I hoped to convey that day, especially through our Bible study in 1 Peter, that we, as women, are part of a royal priesthood, women who have been given a calling of our own from the Lord, women who have been “ordained” before the foundations of the world to bring Him glory.
In contrast to this, many young Christian women are encouraged to see themselves as princesses, emphasizing outward beauty, passivity, and the need to always be under a man’s protection. Of course, women ARE children of their heavenly father who is the King of Kings, but nowhere does Scripture admonish us to be princesses. In fact, all believers are called to grow up in the fullness of our salvation, (1 Peter 2:2) becoming mature Christians.
I so appreciated reading author Laura Robinson’s thoughts on this subject and believe she has summed it up so well after being exposed to John and Stasi Eldridge’s nonsense: “I am not a princess….It’s not bad news. It’s great news, actually. God has called me, has called all of us, not to a life of childlike sentimentality but to concrete hope and service in Him through discipleship.”
Doesn’t this make you think of Amy Carmichael and Gladys Alward? These women are among the greatest examples of godly womanhood in modern church history and yet they saw themselves as part of a royal priesthood, as the Lord’s servants who thought not of themselves but of others, to the glory of His Heavenly Kingdom. They enjoyed purity because their lives were focused on Jesus and others rather than themselves.
Moral purity is all about a young, single girl’s virginity and its oversight by her father.
A couple weeks ago I watched a documentary on Randy Wilson’s purity balls, which also was recently featured on a major television news program. Purity balls are a black tie dinner and dance for fathers and daughters to attend together where the emphasis is on exacting a commitment from daughters to their fathers that they will remain virgins until marriage. Also central to Wilson’s ministry is a father’s committing to protecting a daughter’s virginity and signing a pledge to become a “High Priest” of the home, both of these principles being played out in a variety of troubling ways. One young woman summed up the idolatry in her experience by saying “I realized what a privilege it was to be able to spend a night with my dad as he imparted glory and purity into my life.”
Wilson’s wife, Lisa, says that they wanted to create an event with “elegance, romance and extravagance, all the things girls find attractive” in a way that would “touch the intrinsic soul of a daughter” and leave her saying “I am beautiful and worthy of being pursued.” This is to be stressed and enforced by the father and a girl is to learn that her sexuality never belongs to her but rather first to a father and then to a husband. Organizers of this even state that “such an impregnable wall of fathers is what is necessary to see a movement grow that changes the course of our nation’s s history.” Note to self: more dominion theology rhetoric. It is the Gospel of grace alone that changes peoples’ hearts and lives.
I have known really lovely and intelligent girls who have participated in purity ball ministries but I’m certain it wasn’t at all like the stunning display shown here. (Be sure to watch all 4 episodes for the whole message, otherwise you will miss many of the more dangerous nuances.)
Even more interesting than this piece was a master’s thesis on the purity movement by Holly Adams Phillips entitled To Cover Our Daughters: A Modern Chastity Ritual in Evangelical America. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of her conclusions, I found some of the research she did into the ramifications of these teachings to be fascinating. Her insights into child development and autonomy, for example, I believe, are worthy of consideration. She also demonstrates how some of the very means of protecting young women are, in fact, making them more vulnerable.
Phillips concludes by saying “The Purity Ball’s overt agenda, purity, is supposed to be addressing, according to the fathers, the increased sexualization of America’s daughters in a way that defies popular culture. However, are not the labels of virgin or pure just as much sexual labels as “slut or whore.” I would like to argue that the characterizations of a young girl’s status as sexually active or not are in both cases is sexualization of a girl.” Indeed, Stacy McDonald chose Raising Maidens of Virtue as her book title because it sounded more appropriate than labeling daughters “young virgins,”yet is still conveys the same emphasis, that of a daughter’s value being entwined with her sexuality.
I believe this is truly at the core of the current discussion on sexuality in evangelicalism: in seeking to promote sexual purity, whether through endless discussions of modesty in dress or in defining their roles ad nauseum, women and girls are, in fact, sexualized and, in the process, demeaned. Under the guise of “purity” the messages are mixed and confusing.
In reality, true moral purity comes from a life focused on Jesus Christ and serving others. Why don’t we hear this? Probably because it isn’t sexy enough.
“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”~ Galatians 5:13-23