The “Abstinence Movement or the “evangelical purity culture,” call it what you will, is getting a lot of criticism lately. Not that its goal of saving sex for marriage isn’t commendable. But that so many single evangelicals–as many as 80%–including many who have taken that pledge, are failing to live up to those good intentions.
Lutheran writer Matthew Cochrane points out that the purity movement, which is often accompanied by formal vows, ceremonies, and even rings, bears a great deal of resemblance to the Roman Catholic vows of celibacy required for priests, monks, and nuns. Those vows are also often broken.
There is certainly a gift of celibacy, one greatly to be prized. And Christians do need to refrain from sex before marriage. And they should cultivate the self-discipline that enables them to do so. But the Biblical solution for sexual desire is not celibacy but marriage. (See 1 Corinthians 7.)
Cochrane says that the problem with the abstinence movement as currently practiced is that it combines a vow of celibacy with the delay of marriage. Evangelicals, he says, are like everyone else in the culture, assuming that they should wait until they are finished with their education and are established in their career before considering getting married.
This is true of both men and women, leading Cochrane to criticize the way evangelicals are perhaps unwittingly buying into the feminist ideology. Having to wait for all of that time, when both men and women are in their most sexually ready years, will of course mean that they will be likely to fall into sexual immorality. Christians, he says, should try to get married earlier. Marriage should be more of a priority than higher education and a career.
Cochrane also says that Christian young adults often take a curiously passive approach to getting married. They are waiting for God to bring them someone to marry. But, he says, marriage is something we need to actively prepare for and pursue.
He tells about a young woman who has now given up her faith because of the purity culture. She followed all of the rules, she said, but God never brought her anyone. Meanwhile, her career took off and she moved to Japan.
This is the problem with waiting for God to bring you husband (or a wife). One actually has to make some kind of effort to get married. One blind date by college graduation isn’t exactly a rigorous attempt to find a spouse. Even more ridiculous, she genuinely believed she was doing everything right to marry a good Christian man, despite moving to a nation where Christians represent 1 percent of the population.
Contrast her feeble attempts at marriage with the way she pursued her career. For this, she completed both college and graduate school, along with relocating to the other side of the planet. She pulled out all the stops. It’s really no coincidence that these are the areas of life in which she succeeded. In the meantime, the first relationship she mentions is the guy she fooled around with at 25—a relationship she ended after two months by moving again.
As ineffective as her pursuit of a husband was, I have no problem believing that she really was doing most of what her fellow Christians were telling her. 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.
Cochrane goes on to suggest how to actively prepare for marriage. I suspect some of his advice may be controversial.
It certainly isn’t easy to find someone. Getting married earlier is easier said than done if you can’t find anyone to marry.
What do you think? Do any of you have any hard-won wisdom to convey on this topic?
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