By Barbara Falconer Newhall
For the young evangelical Christian, chastity before marriage seems to be a hot topic — if the folks I met in my spiritual writing group at the Glen Workshop in Santa Fe a few years ago were any indication. The conversation and the writing kept drifting back to that tantalizing subject — how to manage one’s sexuality when sex is off limits.
Whether sex before marriage is OK or not-OK is not a hot topic for me however. Of course it’s OK. I don’t go along with the idea that a person must be 100 percent sexually chaste before marriage. Indeed, I’m pretty much against the idea. (I’ve got lots of reasons for that opinion. No space for them here. Suffice it to say that if folks are going to postpone marriage into their 30s, as so many do these days, then folks are going to be missing out on a lot of nice — God-given and God-blessed — sex. And that’s a pity.)
Still, I do think that the evangelical Christian culture that holds to the no-sex-before-marriage principle has a lot to teach the rest of us.
The Naked Truth
A line from a book by our workshop leader, Lauren F. Winner — “Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity” (Brazos, 2006) — sums up just one of the helpful thoughts that I (as the sole “progressive-Christian-who-finds-truth-in-Buddhism-Islam-and-heaven-knows-what-else” in the room) gleaned from my close encounter with the evangelical point of view during that workshop.
Winner writes that chastity and singleness “tell us, for starters, of a radical dependence on God. In marriage, it is tempting to look to one’s spouse to meet all one’s needs. But those who live alone, without the companionship and rigor of marriage and sex, are offered an opportunity to realize that it is God who sustains them.”
Hmmmm. A refreshing thought in our happily-ever-after culture of “Sleepless in Seattle” meets “Notting Hill.” Thinking of marriage as marriage, rather than as the answer to all our troubles, takes a heck of a lot of pressure off the arrangement.
Going Where Lauren Winner Goes
I love Winner’s precise mind, even when it goes places that my (foggier) mind does not readily take me. So when her “Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis” (HarperOne, 2013) came out I jumped on it, and I was deeply touched. It is a wrenching, book in which this headstrong woman experiences doubt and loss of faith following the break-up of the marriage she’d written about with such hope in Real Sex. It’s a book I want to spend more time with.
I’m also looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of Winner’s latest, “Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God” (HarperCollins, 2015) as well as works by some authors that Winner recommended to our group, namely Vivian Gornick and Patricia Hampl.
Just Plain Sexy
One more thing I learned at the Glen about current trends in evangelical Christian sex is — it’s sexy. Note, for one thing, the voluptuously unfolding magnolia on the cover of Winner’s “Real Sex” book.
Want to read more about Lauren Winner? Here’s a post from the Glen Workshop conference. Also, she gave some excellent writing advice to religion scholars at the American Academy of Religion when they met in San Francisco a few years ago.
More from Barbara Falconer Newhall in her prizewinning book, “Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith.” Published by Patheos Press, ‘Wrestling with God” is a journalist’s pilgrimage through the religions of the world in search of a way to believe. It’s written for believers and doubters, seekers and the none-of-the-aboves. Pretty much everybody.