Evangelical Sexy Virginity Panties For Jesus… and Romney

And so it’s come to this: the American evangelical religious establishment is busting a gut to elect a pro-abortion Mormon multimillionaire predatory tycoon with multiple offshore bank accounts who may or may not have paid his taxes while protecting the money he’s made from “harvesting” American companies by shipping US worker’s jobs overseas. (Yes, he’s pro-abortion. Just check out what he actually did as a pro-choice governor in my state — Massachusetts — and wait for the reality check the “family values” folks’ will experience if he’s elected and sells them down the river.)

Notwithstanding the facts of Romney’s actual past political activity evangelicals are working for this socially liberal flip-flopping opportunistic Mormon tax-avoiding “heretic” (their word not mine) and follower of Ayn Rand, Margaret Sanger and Joseph Smith in order to stop the reelection of an evangelical president whose lifetime working experience as a community organizer, senator and now president has been dedicated to helping the “least of these” in ways proven to actually reduce the number of abortions.

Then again it’s been a long time since facts –- for instance the truth about what actually might reduce the number of abortions — got in the way of North American evangelical fanaticism and sexual dysfunction. Evangelicals seem to prefer labels to action, ideological purity rather than actual accomplishment. These are the folks that poll after poll demonstrate do not believe in global warming, or evolution, or that gay men and women are born that way, while simultaneously believing in a literal interpretation of Bronze Age creationist mythology and Roman era misogyny/homophobic bunk found in the book that evangelicals venerate to the point of idolatry.

So when it comes to abortion politics what would you expect from folks who have ignored the fact that the only way to reduce the number of abortions is to first help the women who fall below the poverty line and account for half of all abortions and second, to embrace the efficacy of comprehensive sex education?

“Chastity is getting a makeover. Surrounded by a sex-saturated society, millions of young people are pledging to remain virgins until their wedding night. But how, exactly, are evangelical Christians convincing young people to say no when society says yes?” So writes Christine J. Gardner in her book Making Chastity Sexy: The Rhetoric of Evangelical Abstinence Campaigns. Gardner (an evangelical  teaching at Wheaten College) takes her readers far past merely investigating the sex education/abstinence campaigns to make the point that individualistic society and the autonomous self has become the means of the “wait until marriage” virginity — sanctifying movement.

In other words the evangelicals are using pop culture techniques to make abstinence only “sexy.”

Implicit in the abstinence sex “education” programs being promoted around the country, on which millions of dollars have been spent by the government especially during the Bush era, is the belief that committing to delay sex until marriage makes sense only if one has a personal commitment to follow Jesus Christ. At the heart of the campaigns that are supposedly about sex education is a belief that without a “new life in Christ” the life of abstinence is almost impossible to follow.

Thus abstinence only programs like True Love Waits, Silver Ring Thing, and the Pure Freedom are selling virginity as a sexy choice of personal affirmation using consumerist techniques that are promising “better sex,” in fact “great sex” and perfect marriages if virginity is maintained as a “gift” for the prince or princess, God will lead you to as a reward for putting on that ring, signing a pledge and delaying sex. (For a documentary look at the abstinence only programs the best film I’ve seen on the subject is Daddy I Do, a nuanced and profoundly moving look at the complexities of the whole American sex debacle directed by Cassie Jaye, a brilliant young woman with an eye for telling detail.)

Studies have shown that those who pledge to maintain their virginity and who do not keep the pledge are less likely to use contraception when they break their pledge and have sex. A 2009 study published in the magazine Pediatrics uses the data to compare pledgers and non-pledgers who share similar characteristics and found that after five years the pledgers were just as likely to have had sex as the non-pledgers. Other studies find that the sexual behavior of virginity pledgers does not differ from that of closely matched nonpledgers, and pledgers are less likely to protect themselves from pregnancy.

In other words the programs fail in their long-term objective but are a resounding success if “success” is measured in terms of finding excuses for large religious gatherings and reinforcing the evangelical beliefs. The abstinence only program not only fail but sets up young people to fail doubly.

First, as the book notes, at best sexual activity is delayed only by a few months or years and then when the young person enters into sexual relationships they are more exposed to pregnancy and venereal disease not less. That’s because abstinence only programs do not fall into the category of comprehensive sex education and thus actual education about sex, condom use and so forth has been denied any such use would imply premeditated sin and thus in fact the message of abstinence only is don’t do it but if you do do it since you’re sinning don’t compound the sin by planning to sin.

The thrust of Gardner’s  book is to analyze how the various groups like the Silver Ring Thing, have used the modern feminist rhetoric of choice based on a primary language of individualism to sell the notion of Christian chastity. The way the chastity argument is pitched the young people is that if they wait sex will be even better and that their choice to remain virgins is a self affirming “stand” against the secular culture.

In other words they’re using sex — and the message of individualism and personal choice — to sell the abstinence message. From Christian celebrities as spokespersons to the sale of panties printed with virginity slogans, the abstinence movement uses the power of sex to make chastity appealing to the media-saturated “texting” screen-hooked generation. Abstinence only rallies wind up looking more like the roll out of a new line of the Victoria’s Secret panties and bras than anything most evangelical great-grandmothers would have recognized as pitching chastity let alone Jesus.

The American abstinence version of “sex education” depends on a fairy tale narrative to reinforce definitions of female and male stereotypes. The “princess” in other words the young woman, waits passively for the “prince” to actively “rescue” her from virginity, spinsterhood and the secular culture. Each fairy tale princess in the abstinence movement’s narratives is rewarded for waiting by finding her true love and living happily ever after. And by definition a “true Prince” cannot be sexually active outside of marriage.

The fairytale narrative implies an audience whose members expect a reward for their sacrifice of sexual abstinence. In other words a fairytale happy ending to remaining virgins is great sex, great marriages, and oh yes, a shot at heaven too later on. Thus the abstinence movement promotes the idea that happy marriages and relationships can be guaranteed by “saving” one’s virginity for the Prince or Princess of God’s choice.

The fairytale narrative also implies that its audience consists of heterosexuals who, for the most part, define their identities as consistent with traditional evangelical gender roles. Those who remain single by choice or otherwise let alone gay men and women, are excluded entirely from the programs since virginity is sold as a guarantor of good marriage and marriage the purpose of relationships.

Feminism is the bogeyman here, as professional and domestic callings are set up as archenemies. For some young people, focusing on a divine romance with Jesus can function as a substitute for or avoidance of earthly romances. As Gardner points out one of her evangelical male college students told her that girls have turned him down for dates because, as he put it “they are too busy dating Jesus.”

Gardner convincingly makes the argument that the abstinence movement works against the most profound Christian values of selflessness and sacrifice and instead adopts rock concert style celebrity saturated techniques of pop culture as a tool to get people to turn against that pop culture. The final result of the abstinence only movement is that evangelicals are selling their spiritual birthright to adopt techniques to sexily sell no sex to a generation saturated by a pop-culture. But the technique undermines the fundamental message of the gospel. Because the Christian gospel whatever its other virtues or lack thereof, is not in the business of pitching a consumerist lifestyle where virtue is rewarded by good times.

According to a 2008 survey by the Barna Group evangelical and other “born again” Christians divorce at the same rate as other Americans. The message of great sex may resonate more strongly with evangelical youths than the message about waiting for sex. If sex is so great and the reward for abstinence while why wait? This reinforces the guilt attendant on sexual activity in a way that drives young people away from the use of condoms, exposure to truthful counseling and an ability to negotiate their sexual experiences in a positive way.

Evangelicals have become part of the status quo and reduced their religious voice in favor of “connecting” with young people. Gardner’s book makes a convincing argument that the unintended consequence of the abstinence only programs is to further infuse consumerist individualistic and selfish “values” into the evangelical movement.

Similarly the Republicans have also been hypocrites while talking big, for instance about their pro-life ethic. But what have they achieved? First, through their puritanical war on sex education they’ve hindered our country from actually preventing unwanted pregnancy. Second, through the Republican Party’s marriage to the greediest and most polluting earth-destroying corporations they’ve created a climate (both moral and physical) that has scorched the earth for-profit, with no regard to future generations whatsoever.

The real solution to abortion is to change the heart of America, not the law. We need to stop seeing ourselves as consumers. We need to stop seeing ourselves as me and begin to think of we.

Romney is the epitome of the “ME” Ayn Rand view of the world.  That evangelicals are ready to follow him down the rabbit hole to his “family values” scorched earth of opportunistic individualism in the name of  pro-life beliefs is one of the greatest political not to mention religious ironies imaginable.

What we need in America is a spiritual rebirth, a turning away from the false value of consumerism and utilitarianism that have trumped every aspect of human life. To implement this vision we need leaders that inspire but to do so they have to be what they say they are. It’s not about policy it’s about character.

 

Frank Schaeffer is a writer whose many books include the best-selling Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible’s Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics–and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway

About Frank Schaeffer

Frank Schaeffer is an American author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker. He is the son of the late theologian and author Francis Schaeffer. He became a Hollywood film director and author, writing several internationally acclaimed novels including And God Said, "Billy!" as well as the Calvin Becker Trilogy depicting life in a fundamentalist mission home-- Portofino, Zermatt, and Saving Grandma.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X