Two years ago, Elna Baker wrote an article for Glamour titled, "Yes, I'm a 27-Year-Old Virgin."
A few months ago, Baker wrote another article for Glamour. This one was called, "Guess What? I'm Not a Virgin Anymore!"
Because of her Mormon faith, Baker had planned to save sex for marriage, but it didn't work out that way. Less than a year after she became "a reluctant spokesperson for abstinence," she had sex.
What happened? By Baker's own account, there was a shift in her thinking.
My whole life I had done my best to uphold those rigid tenets—I believed obedience would get me what I thought I wanted: a temple marriage to another Mormon. I came close: I finally met a Mormon guy, and we connected so much I moved to Utah for him. But as soon as I got there and stood face-to-face with the life I'd dreamed of, I was miserable. I had stopped pursuing my career. I had left the city I loved. I felt like my life was about to end rather than begin. I told my boyfriend how I felt, and we broke up. I went back to New York City, wrote the Glamour piece and continued to date—albeit not very successfully.
Let's stop right there. I'm not an expert on Mormon theology, so I can't go too deeply into Baker's religious faith and what it did or didn't teach her. But I do see something in her account that's familiar to this evangelical Christian, an appealing but dangerous belief: Obedience will get you what you want.
Few realize just how dangerous, how wrong, and how widespread that belief is. But we Christian singles have reason to know it. It's been taught to us from the time we're teens or even preteens: "Practice abstinence, and someday the right partner will come along and you'll be so glad you waited!" The obvious implication is that your obedience guarantees the promise of that right partner.
To give just one of hundreds of examples, popular evangelical author Don Miller got himself in hot water recently with a blog post (which has been taken down) offering love advice for women.
Various people had different objections to what Miller wrote, but this part particularly stood out: "Believe it or not, there will come a day when a man will fall madly in love with you and you will have the honor of sitting down with him one special night to explain that, while you weren't perfect, you turned down plenty of guys and cried yourself to sleep hoping somebody would come around and treat you with respect."
First of all, I'm not sure I want a guy who wants to hear all about my history of crying. It sounds a little creepy. But there's something even worse in the passage. It's the promise of that right partner coming along—when, in fact, God has made no such promise. Which means that some of us will remain celibate.
Now, that doesn't sound so good when you're trying to teach about abstinence. Believe me, I know; I've helped teach the subject before. How much success are we going to have if we say, "Kids, abstain from sex, maybe for the rest of your lives"? It sounds so much better to say, "Wait until God sends you your AWESOME partner!" that it's no wonder we succumb to the temptation.
But we shouldn't. Because it's not necessarily true. And as Elna Baker's story shows, the "obedience will get you what you want" philosophy has a dark side. First, it puts the focus on us ("doing this will lead directly to a reward"), not on God ("this is what God wants me to do, so I'll do it"). And second, when obedience doesn't get you what you want—or when, as in Baker's case, getting what you want doesn't turn out well—it can lead to disillusionment and resentment.