Endangered species: abstinent New Yorkers

YouTube Preview ImageOn this week’s episode of Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom,” we’ll take you inside the world of an endangered species: young humans “living the abstinent lifestyle in New York.”

I kid. I kid.

But a New York Times feature on conservative religious types waiting on sex until marriage (a la Tim Tebow) has a safari-type feel — as if the newspaper is introducing readers to zoo animals. The largely clinical portrayal of “chaste Christians” lacks any real spiritual or religious depth.

The top of the story:

Trinity Laurel moved to Manhattan at 21 to pursue a modeling career. Raised in a Christian home, Laurel was a virgin when she reached the city, and says she has “remained pure” while living here since.

Not all of her friends can relate.

“They’re like, ‘How do you do that?’ ” Laurel, now 28, said. “People are almost fascinated.”

Welcome to New York, Tim Tebow. Now that the Jets have broken training camp and Tebow, a famous chaste Christian, becomes a full-time New Yorker, it has become a common, and mildly amusing, pastime to fret about the temptations he might face or the potential loneliness he might suffer.

It has become a common, and mildly amusing, pastime … Seriously? Pastime among whom? Among average New Yorkers? Or in a specific elite American newsroom? But I digress.

Laurel figures prominently in the story, yet the Times never endeavors to go below the surface of her Christianity or her commitment to abstinence.

The newspaper never asks Laurel or the other abstinent interviewees why they refrain from premarital sex. It seems obvious that their decision relates to their religious beliefs. Yet the Times never lets them express their beliefs in their own words. Such personal insight certainly would have improved the one-dimensional story.

It’s not that the story is adversarial toward the abstinent interviewees. It’s friendly enough. It’s that the paper does not go far enough to tell a real story, instead settling for a narrative in which the main characters come across as cardboard cutouts.

One of the more interesting people quoted in the story is a campus minister:

The Rev. Michael Keller, who grew up in Manhattan and who leads the Reformed University Fellowship City Campus ministry at Redeemer, said New York’s commodified approach to sex makes life more difficult for the abstinent. “If everyone else is using sex as something to consume, you will too,” he said.

Later, there’s this from Keller:

Rev. Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian, said he did not like the idea of organizing singles-based activities for abstinent members of the congregation. “It’s important,” he said. “But I also don’t want to elevate it to make it an ultimate thing.”

What does Keller mean when he says he doesn’t “want to elevate it to make it an ultimate thing?” Are there non-abstinent, non-married members of the congregation? What does the church teach concerning premarital sex? Do young people find it difficult to adhere to those teachings?

There’s so much left unsaid — and unasked — in this story. But at least readers get to see the lions and tigers and abstinent religious types, oh my.

About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    I think you’re doing Marlon Perkins an injustice; he was interested in the subjects he and his crew filmed and cared about them and their lives. If Mr. Tedeschi feels the same way about the people he interviewed, he will need to cite something other than this story as evidence.

    But then the NYT has a “shampoo setting” for quaint little stories like this, and it’s as plain as the snark quotes on “remained pure” in the third line of the piece: Blather, print, repeat.

    • Bobby Ross Jr.

      Trust me, I meant no offense to Marlin Perkins. :-)

      • geoconger

        Watch what you say about Marlin Perkins!
        Here is an anecdote about the great one from the CBC News website:

        In 1982, the fifth estate investigated whether the many nature documentaries interfered with nature for dramatic purposes. Bob McKeown reported how a Disney documentary showing the phenomenon of lemmings plunging to their death over cliffs had in fact been the same film footage spliced together to give the appearance of mass suicide. When McKeown interviewed zoologist Marlin Perkins, host of Wild Kingdom about truth and fiction on wildlife programmes, he clearly hit a raw nerve. The octogenarian Perkins firmly asked for the camera to be turned off, then punched a shocked McKeown in the face.

        http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/content/about/howwework.html

        • Bobby Ross Jr.

          Let me repeat: I meant no offense to Marlin Perkins. :-) But just in case any of his survivors decide to take up the gauntlet, I’m going into hiding …

  • Will

    It could have been a lot worse.

    I remember a Village Voice story starting “If the religious right has its way, more of our children will be chaste than ever before.” Yeah, I can’t sleep thinking of the rising menace of chastity. They’re coming for your CH-I-L-DREN!

  • Kris D

    At least the author of the article mentioned this:
    “The spread of college-based abstinence groups like the Anscombe Society may help newcomers feel more comfortable about their chastity, said Donna Freitas, a Brooklyn resident and author of “Sex and the Soul,” a survey of sexual behavior among college students. “There’s more conversation going on about what’s happening in the hookup culture, and how much unease there is about it,” she said.”
    Perhaps the NYT could do a follow-up article on the 93% who have had premarital sex by age 30 & how many are not in committed relationships. The flipside of this article is that there is a lot of dissatisfaction among those that have been part of the hookup culture in that they have not progressed in a relationship any further.

  • Peter Hamm

    Since i think that the Michael Keller might be a relation of Timothy Keller, who runs an orthodox (small o) Presbyterian Congregation in Manhattan that reaches out to a lot of communities, and having read a number of Kellers books….I hear common refrains in those quotes.

    Sexual expression in today’s culture as commodification.
    Not raising something important to an ultimate thing.

    The first point is that the assumption in much of this chaste talk, is that chaste people are lonely because they are not really “connecting” with anyone. But if you are “connecting” for any reason other than life long committed love then, you will be left less connected than before, at least in Kellers opinion.

    The second point, I think i can help to explain. In Kellers theology, all sins can be brought back to placing anything, even good things before a holy God. To have another God before God…for some that means “sinning”, and for some it means putting an identity characteristic as more important than God to who you are, i.e. your sexual identity as a chaste person.

    Keller is here arguing that what chaste single people need is a deep and loving community, which incorporates a large number of other “types” (old retired, happily married, teenagers, divorced parents, who are all committed to God). Otherwise the most important thing for the single chaste people becomes how good the singles ministry, and that becomes the definition of ministry, and starts to approach being an idol.

    When I was a single person at my church single ministry sounded like an oxymoron, a way to reach out to people while picking up chicks.

    My presumption

  • sari

    It gets a little tiring to read article after article about Christians who wait for marriage with no mention of the many observant Muslim and Jewish girls who are in exactly the same predicament. Perhaps someone can broaden the topic next time to recognize the difficulties those young women face when living a religious life while living in the mainstream culture.

  • Pingback: Pod People: Romney, abstinent New Yorkers and (almost) Randy Travis


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