The Church Needs to Teach Chastity Instead of Abstinence

I have a new piece over at The Federalist:

That’s the problem with purity culture. It purports to be about saving sex for marriage, but the whole point of purity rings and abstinence is to refrain from sex while delaying marriage. It’s all supposed to help young people remain celibate while dutifully fulfilling their worldly priorities first—namely, education and career—until marriage hopefully just comes along and happens somehow.

There, in that demand for celibacy, lies the rub. As the Church of Rome has been proving for the last 1,000 years, celibacy doesn’t actually work for most people, no matter how many oaths, ceremonies, and monastic environments are used to facilitate it. If you don’t have the Apostle Paul’s relatively rare gift, it’s not sustainable long term. After all, humans have always struggled with sexual temptation, and our culture ramps that temptation up to 11 through mass media and loose mores. The Christian prescription for that struggle isn’t celibacy—it’s marriage.

Whether it’s the perverse culture of theological liberalism or the celibate culture of conservative evangelicalism, the root problem is that they’re both attempts to baptize feminism. The liberal end with its vagina-worship is your basic sex-positive feminism, in which chastity is seen as a shackle from which women need to be freed.

But the conservative evangelical side is likewise feminist, because its pours its effort into baptizing the elevation of education and career above marriage and family. It just simultaneously tries to force that into the mold of Christian prohibitions on fornication.

It might be odd to think of conservative Christians as feminists, but one must remember that conservatives are first and foremost traditionalists. Feminism is now a wrinkled old lady that has been marching through our institutions for generations. It’s become traditional in many respects. Conservatives may balk at the latest extremities, but they’re mostly on board with things like egalitarianism, serial monogamy, and blaming men for everything.

Christians need a third path—something that actually encourages marriage instead of choosing between fornication or celibacy. The church needs to recover the virtue of chastity.

You can read the whole thing here.

This entry was posted in Ethics, Feminism, The Modern Church, Theological Liberalism. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Church Needs to Teach Chastity Instead of Abstinence

  1. Hello Matthew,

    Thank you for your article in today’s Federalist, which I will read again more carefully–much to contemplate. You may be interested in MY web site at http://www.thefirstscandal.blogspot.com. The site relates to both your Federalist post today, and your blog’s theme. It’s all about sex, theology, philosophy, and culture.

  2. Dan says:

    You comment in your article,
    That’s the problem with purity culture. It purports to be about saving sex for marriage, but ******the whole point of purity rings and abstinence is to refrain from sex while delaying marriage. *****It’s all supposed to help young people remain celibate while dutifully fulfilling their worldly priorities first—namely, education and career—until marriage hopefully just comes along and happens somehow.

    Your “whole point” seems very vague and generalized. Are you saying the point of abstinence is to refrain from sex while delaying marriage? I think many young people who are pursuing purity would love to marry early (even if the culture discourages this) but that doesn’t mean they can just make it happen. I don’t think their goal is to just “fulfill their worldly priorities first (education and career), but instead to use their time wisely before they marry. How would you have them (a young lady, let’s say) pursue marriage first and foremost? And is that really the MAIN thing she should be pursuing.

    • Matt says:

      Dan,

      Let me unpack the comment for you. I’m saying that purity culture has been American Evangelicalism’s most popular prescription for the high sexual temptation of the wider culture. But the Biblical prescription for high sexual temptation is marriage. The reason that Bible-believing Christians avoided the Biblical prescription in favor of their own is because the Biblical prescription messes with worldly priorities which demand that we delay marriage. Ergo, the whole point of purity culture is to remain celibate while delaying marriage.

      And I’m as certain as you are that many–even most–young people pursuing purity “would love to marry early.” However, the difference between wanting to marry early and trying to marry early is like night and day. In general, the people who acheive their goals are the ones who actually try to, not the ones who would love to have their goals happen. But while there’s a huge difference between wanting to get married and trying to get married, I don’t think there’s any meaningful difference between having a goal of fulfilling worldly priorities and thinking that fulfilling worldly priorities is the wisest use of one’s time.

      I spelled out a lot of details about what trying looks like in the article, and it’s not what most young Christians are doing. I’m not going to rehash it here unless you have a more specific question.

      As for whether marriage should be the main thing, that depends. If she wants to be married someday, then it should be the main thing. If she doesn’t want to be married, but she’s a Christian who struggles with sexual sin, then it should also be the main thing. If she has Paul’s gift of celibacy and has no interest in ever marrying, then it shouldn’t be the main thing.

      • Dan says:

        Thank you for that response. The more I read and re-read your article and reply to my comment, the more I appreciate what you are saying. Thanks for widening my perspective.

      • RK says:

        I would add that historically, abstinence from sex was always originally intended to be a short-term measure, not a long-term solution. The part about “delaying marriage” was only ever supposed to mean “until you’re ready to leave Mom and Dad” and not “until you’re thirty.” That a lot of kids nowadays aren’t ready to leave Mom and Dad until they’re thirty (or even older) is one of the many toxic byproducts of our world’s anti-Christian culture, terrible economy, and bad parenting.

        That said, just telling Christian youths “Don’t fool around until you’re married!” isn’t enough. Parents and ministers and Sunday School teacher alike really need to take a more active role in introducing youngsters to their prospective mates (with—I’m thinking—more social gatherings and personal advice on how to woo a spouse) and in giving them a safe haven at which to go on dates once they’ve been introduced. We also need to stop scattering them far and wide into this cruel and hateful world away from everyone they’ve ever known as soon as they graduate from high school; what hope of getting married and starting a family in the prime of their lives can the youth have if they know friends and lovers and their entire “community” are soon to be scattered to the four winds, never to be reassembled?

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