Sit tight folks—it’s time to take on the purity movement. If I had a YouTube channel, this would be a rant video. A couple of weeks ago, my mom sent me a link to Josh Harris’s new documentary I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye. While the book wasn’t majorly influential in my life, the ideas that it promoted shaped my adolescent view of purity and romance. Watching the documentary got me thinking about this topic yet again, so here we go:
Jump back in time with me to 2010. I was fifteen when I first read my all-time favorite novel, Jane Eyre. I devoured the story and kept a journal with significant quotes and vocabulary (yeah, I was that nerdy homeschooled kid). There’s one particular quote that I circled back to over and over. Mr. Rochester is reflecting on his past when he tells Jane, “Dread remorse when you are tempted to err, Miss Eyre. Remorse is the poison of life.”
For many years, I lived by those words. A naturally cautious person, I tried my best to avoid anything I might regret later.
Romance was presented to me as a minefield of potential regrets. Of course, there was the big one—sex outside of marriage—but evangelical culture piled on lots of additional warnings. Kissing, holding hands, frontal hugs, and emotional attachment were all dangerous territory—the first steps on a slippery slope to sex (which, ironically, was not so awesome for women). Solomon’s exhortation to “Guard your heart,” became the foundation for a host of pharisaical rules about courtship. Today, I want to take a hard look at the reasoning behind some of those rules.
#1 The Irretrievable Gift
God wants you to give your whole self to your future husband—physically, emotionally, and spiritually. When you share yourself with men before you’re married, you’re essentially robbing your future husband of the “firsts” that you owe him.
This one is usually followed up with an illustration. Imagine you’re a piece of tape. Whenever you’re involved with a man who you’re not married to, it’s like sticking the same piece of tape to something new. Eventually the tape loses its stickiness. You don’t want to lose your stickiness before your wedding night, now do you?
I have so many thoughts here. First of all, I don’t owe my future husband anything. I don’t even know if he exists. What I do know is this: Jesus gave his life for me and I owe him everything. Not being sexually intimate with someone before marriage is something I choose for Jesus—not for some ethereal guy. When Jesus asks me to do something with my body, I’m going to honor what he asks because I love him.
My heart belongs to Jesus too, but in evangelical-speak, “saving your heart” often means avoiding emotional risk (or going on a date without a commitment as in the clip below). That’s not something I’ve chosen to do. I really don’t believe that hearts work like tape. More on this in myth #2.
Also, treating sexual purity as an irretrievable gift doesn’t make space for people who didn’t have a choice. This narrative teaches that you have less to offer if something was taken from you without your consent. It is a tragic narrative for any abuse survivor.
Finally, where does the Bible talk about saving yourself spiritually? I’ve heard people teach that you shouldn’t pray together and I’m honestly so confused. Can your prayer lose its stickiness too???
#2 Safety is Always Better
If you give your heart away, you’re setting yourself up for unnecessary pain. What if you break up after you’ve become emotionally attached? It’s going to be so hard.
I think that maybe this is where the prayer rule comes from. If you don’t get too close to someone, it won’t hurt so much if you break up. Safety is, of course, appealing. But the unspoken assumption here is that pain is bad and ought to be avoided. I don’t actually believe that. I believe that appropriate risks are worth taking even when they don’t turn out the way you want. Jesus loved Judas, right? Was his love somehow wasted because Judas walked away? I don’t think so. Anytime you enter into a relationship with another person, you choose to take a risk because that person is worth it to you. In a healthy relationship, you both end up feeling honored by what you shared even if it ends.
#3 Guarding His Heart
You’re not just guarding your own heart—you’re also responsible to guard your Christian brother’s heart. Be careful not to wear anything that might cause him to lust. If he does, it’s on you.
I don’t even know where to start here. There is a place for a healthy sense of modesty grounded in respect for the body Jesus gave you, but this narrative portrays men as sex-crazed animals who lust after women perpetually if we don’t cover enough skin. It assumes that self-control for boys is simply out of reach. As a result, I learned to relate to men primarily out of fear and to think about my body as a liability—dangerous both to men (they might stumble) and to me (I might get raped). I have a LOT more say about modesty in case you’re interested…
Ok—are you still with me? Take a deep breath.
When my first relationship fell apart, I didn’t know how to process it. Was I a failure? Had I given my heart away in some irretrievable way? Should I regret it? I’ve had some time to sort things out—to wrestle with the angel—and here’s where I’m at today:
I don’t find a fear based approach to dating and sex to be helpful. I think it’s way more helpful to focus on Imago Dei and the indwelling presence of Christ. I believe that a relationship should be a place of mutual giving that honors the image of God in each person. You can’t draw hard and fast lines outside of the lines that God gave. You have to wrestle the angel yourself.
Think about the “Weight of Glory.” In his essay C. S. Lewis says,“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”
If that’s the person you’re in a relationship with, then the way you treat him is a reflection of the way you treat Christ. Because of Jesus, you treat his body and your body with the respect and honor that Jesus asked you to show. When that’s the way we approach our relationships, we don’t need to have regrets if things don’t work out.