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.

  • http://www.paulslegacyproject.org Ilene Flannery Wells

    I do not have any problem with a person choosing not to have sex until marriage. I have a problem with anyone assuming that people who have sex outside of marriage are somehow immoral. Sex is natural and good.

    I do, however, support promoting caution to all young people that sex is not a recreational game. It can create a serious bond between two people. The first time is precious, don’t rush it. The time, and the person, and the setting, must be right.

    Conservative religious people are harming our young by not educating them about their bodies, allowing them to understand how natural sex is, while also instilling in them the importance in loving oneself first, before you can share that love with someone else. Instead, they concentrate on the act, making it dirty, and handicapping their youngsters as they enter adulthood.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Ilene, thanks for reading my post. I agree with you. As a father and grandfather surrounded by young people I love and looking to be honest about life including sex, the last thing I think they need is a set of theological rules that threaten them because they provide incomplete information.

    • Selah

      @Ilene
      I respectfully disagree on some of you points.Yes , sex is great ! It was designed to be great by God in a marriage relationship between a man and a woman. I know of many parents who are believers in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, teaching their children about what God’s word says, and His Word explains it nicely in 1Corinthians 6:15 – 20.’ Sex outside of marriage is somewhat immoral ?’ 1 Corinthians 7( early part of chapter ) also gives some very good insruction.I’ll take God’s word over any of the opinions out there because His Word is ” truth “.

      • Nate

        Separation of church and state. Period. I believe the bible is bullshit. None of it ever happened and it’s all mythology. Yet, these people want to impose this lifestyle legislatively in many cases, and encourage voting for candidates who believe that as well. In the same breath, they say how sacred they hold the constitution, but that we should all live by god’s word. That is purely unconstitutional… and unlike the bible, that’s a document that actually governs the United States.

      • ds

        Sex is natural, sex is good. Not everybody does it, but everybody should.

  • Rob Wahl

    I found Frank Schaeffer, how cool is that! Hey you know its easy to be for “family values” when that means writing laws that don’t apply to you. Its one thing to take to propose to make a law, its another thing to “live a life worthy of the calling we have received”.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Rob, good point the family values tag line is just another version of sanctimony most of the time. Thanks so much for reading my post! Best, F

  • Joe Campbell

    Mr. Frank,

    Wow I was impressed with this article. Many Protestants are doing some weird things out there… Have you ever heard of the “Virginity Balls” where fathers take their daughters out to a ball and they make a pledge of abstinence?

    Are you still a practicing Orthodox? I think it is wonderful that you are not afraid to speak out on these issues. I really value your opinion, well, because of not only your upbringing, but also because I think you employ some common sense to a lot of these issues!

    Thanks again for the article.

    Joe

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Joe, Been going to my local Greek Orthodox church for 25 years, so “still” as you say Orthodox. The only part that has changed is that in some communities (thank God not ours) there have been an influx of evangelical and Roman Catholic converts looking for the “one true” church and bringing the spirit of exclusion with them. They of course would no longer think I’m even a Christian because I ask questions, and worse vote (mostly) for those “evil” Democrats. Then again how can I judge the far right types since I used to be one of them. We’re all on a journey after all.

      • Joe Campbell

        Amen Brother. It’s a beautiful journey. I watched an interview a while back; you were talking about your switch to the Orthodox Church. I must say I was both impressed and curious. I would like to sincerely thank you. Your words and actions have made me feel so much saner and given me strength to follow a path that I consider straight even when those around me have prescribed all sorts of routes that don’t seem to make sense. I have been lucky to have your words and encouragement with me on my journey.

        Did you ever think about making a movie? I would love to help!

  • Joyce Withrow

    Frank, you always make me laugh, as well as think. And you definately have a wicked knack for the provocative headlines.
    Back in the early 80′s my husband and I (newly married and with my 12 year old daughter and our 6 month old daughter) felt compelled to “do something” about abortion by becoming volunteer houseparents at a home for pregnant girls. Two years later, having lived with and done our best to help 21 pregnant young women and their babies and myself pregnant with a “Mary Pride baby”, we were done with that and trying to pick up the pieces of our shattered idealism. We were very influenced by you and your folks, read your newspaper avidly and were quite flummoxed when you disappeared!
    It has been disturbing and enlightening to read your books and opinions about the American cultural landscape, evangelicals and politics. They have helped me with my own confusion and limited understanding of the strange twists and turns in the evangelical world in the past 30 years. I am glad to hear you tackling this gnarled up subject of sexuality, birthcontrol, abortion and the weird evangelical love affair with Mitt Romney and Co. Sometimes the bitter tone that comes through your writing isn’t helpful to your credibility…but I get it and suffer from fits of bitter sarcasm myself. I just regret that most people I know do not want to examine these uncomfortable realities with anyone who doesn’t see it from their point of view. Keep writing and thanks.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Dear Joyce, thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. Maybe “tone” is indeed a blind spot in my blogs. Help me out and be specific, as in let me know when I could have said something better, as in “why did you have to include thus and so line.”

      On the other hand the context of 90 percent of my writing (Huff Post, Wash Post, novels, CNN whatever) is in what I once would have called the “secular” world. And out “there” people worry less about tone.

      What counts is the stab at truthfulness and the quality of the writing. That said I’d rather change a few more minds. But truthfully I doubt I’m the guy to change most evangelical’s minds. (Check out the lies and hate on the religious right/far right web directed at me by people who obviously have read little to nothing of my actual work).

      After all the powers that be in the evangelical world are busy making a living from a world I more or less utterly reject. Not much half way meeting points there as in if my work was nicer they would have agreed with me.

      Mostly I see myself as 1) a grandfather spending 70 percent of any day with my grandchildren. 2) a husband/father doing the husband/father thing (spent the morning putting heating vents into my son’s house). 3) a writer, who wants to entertain, make a living, once in a while produce actual art that lasts.

      As such my best writing is not about issues at all but stories about people. For instance my Calvin Becker novels are in 9 languages, have remained in print and have lots of people who read them for pleasure. And my Marine family books are read by hundreds of thousands of military families who are glad someone is telling their/our story.

      So its only people like you and me from our odd backgrounds who read my work (books that is) knowing much about my past or who say Mary Pride was and that sort of thing. BTW I loved your “Mary Pride baby” line!

      Anyway, rambling here, forgot this was an “answer” and just started having a conversation with you over a drink. My son john just called and told Lucy and Jack are up from their napes so I’m off to collect them and then plant the 250 dafodil bulbs I have waiting for our afternoon project.
      Love and Best, Frank

  • Joyce Withrow

    Frank, Well, thanks for the chat. I didn’t mean to chastise you for your “bitter tone”…I know that is one of the most damaging things you can accuse someone of when you are in evangelical circles! But I don’t think that way any more.
    I have enjoyed your novels and got a lot out of your Crazy For God tell-all. It really was helpful for me, because your mom and dad were formational in my figuring things out (along with a lot of other writers). I never thought they were anything but human beings like the rest of us, but the turn to the right, which I did as well, wasn’t so great and really confused me. It was a delight to get a little inside view of your family’s craziness, because my own experiance has been not so smooth and tidy. But your parent’s teaching that we are made in God’s image, all of us, not just christians, their celebration of art and music ( not “christian”) and your mother’s wonderful Hidden Art book, really helped me to embrace life and learn so many wonderful things. Over the top hyper she was/is(?), but full of life. Every thought-leader I have met or read about had their strangeness. Both my husband, Scott, and I are glad for the contribution of your family to the richness of the wild mix of ideas and discussions we have had over our 30 year marriage.
    I look forward to reading more of your books and articles. Happy for you that you enjoy your family and garden.
    ~Joyce

  • Joyce Withrow

    One more thing…I just listened to your discussion with Jay Bakker and you said almost word for word what I said about the bitter tone that christians accuse you of all the time and how you graciously respond to this accusation. Pretty funny. You know very well how we have been schooled. I have been put in the bad christian bin quite a few times for being “bitter” or “having baggage”. I rarely comment on things I read because of my all too mundane thoughts and ideas. I appreciate your gracious and patient response.

    • Frank Schaeffer

      Hi Joyce, I’m so pleased to know you are reading my writing– or some of it anyway. I’ll keep that encouraging thought in mind when tackling my next blank page. Very Best, F

  • surram

    What kind of nonsensical article is this, and why has Ayn Rand been dragged into it? If the writer has a problem with her philosophy, let him address it separately and not in this snide, crude fashion.

  • Brian

    Always a fun and provoking read.

    Even though I find myself largely in agreement with what you write, I still find it provoking me to dig a bit deeper and ask myself why I think what I do. I’ll make you a deal – if you keep writing, I will keep reading.

    Thank you.

  • http://www.sheldoncurry.com Scurrior

    So glad I stumbled onto this. Very well done. I knew your father slightly as he and I traveled once in parallel wagon trains. I left the trail and we lost touch. When I saw your name I thought “No way”. Happily – way. So on we go wearing our “snide and cruel fashion”/s. Ora et labora.

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  • Yukio Strachan

    Hi Frank,

    As a fellow PK, I love your work. My dad told me that your dad’s books were required reading in school.

    You wrote that– “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.”

    What I remember growing up and listening to people like Billy Graham on television say that a young woman with true faith wouldn’t allow herself to be seduced into rape. Leaving the person not only doomed to hell or but doomed to finding a happy marriage too. Like someone above mentioned, being so hung up on abstinence only, they don’t provide comprehensive education because that would, of course, promote sex. It’s crazy.

    Thanks for being real!


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