Virginity Isn't Our Holy Grail
With all the emphasis on virginity as virtue's Holy Grail, if a Christian woman isn't a virgin when she marries, she's made to feel that she has somehow disqualified herself from God's greatest blessings and callings.
That's how Sarah Bessey explains the unfortunate subtext of much of the purity speak that is happening in our churches in her recent post "I Am Damaged Goods."
"In the face of our sexually dysfunctional culture, the church longs to stand as an outpost of God's ways of love and marriage, purity and wholeness," she wrote. "And yet we twist that until we treat someone like me… as if our value and worth was tied up in our virginity."
Implicit in what I'm reading about purity from Bessey, and a host of other women, such as Elizabeth Esther, Rachel Held Evans, and Carolyn Custis James, is a broad concern over how the church handles and presents God's teachings on sexual sin. This topic matters a great deal, considering that nearly 80 percent of self-proclaimed Christians are having sex before they are married.
The church has been pushing purity standards for ages. Esther refers to the shame she carried with her as a virgin into her marriage because she'd kissed a couple of boys before her husband and because she had masturbated. Esther would argue that the church's restrictions are becoming more rigorous, and by outlining its own capricious rules, the Church has inevitably constructed a "new and improved virginity."
But is there such a thing as hyper-purity, a sexual standard more rigorous than God's? Referring back to Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount, where he insists that lust is equivalent to adultery (Matt. 5:27-30), I'm not so sure. God's purity standard is effectively impossible to meet.
We can, though, fall guilty of making God's grace small by making sexual sin big, whenever the church insists that non-virgins are cast beyond the reach of grace. Sexual promiscuity is not the unforgiveable sin. Let's not forget those featured in Jesus' genealogy (Judah, the man who slept with his daughter-in-law, mistaking her for a prostitute; David, the king who murdered the husband of his mistress), nor those winning mention in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith (Rahab, the prostitute who sheltered the Israelite spies, and Samson, the man with a weakness for beautiful women). The Bible, in weaving its long history of redemption, is not a storybook of heroes. Failure, even sexual mistakes, has not once tied God's hands. He accomplishes what he wills through the worst of us.