Even in the midst of a sexual revolution, of a generation drawn to open relationships, hookup culture, and "polyamory," virginity still enthralls.
Yet another beautiful young woman is auctioning hers off. The cable show My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding juxtaposes a cultural expectation to maintain virginity until marriage with a flashy celebration on the day-of. Feminist defenses of virginity crop up on edgy websites. A burgeoning academic field is devoted to "virginity studies." Even the "first kiss" video that recently went viral is but a variation on the "first time" theme.
In the midst of this, younger evangelicals question the church's message to encourage Christians to maintain "purity" until marriage. They have a point: some of our efforts cross the line between encouraging chastity and venerating virginity. But as the examples above show, making an idol out of virginity is a problem that's much bigger than evangelicalism.
A recent article at The Other Journal that details virginity's history in the church moves toward correcting a myopic vision that can't see past the pews of personal experience to the broader historical and cultural contexts. Yet, the exaltation of virginity for virginity's sake began, and continues, well outside the church.
Rather than merely an evangelical hang-up, our adoration of virginity is a universal impulse with a long tradition. Throughout human history, virgins have been worshipped in paintings, sculptures, poetry, prose, and song. Today's church needs to do a better job at distinguishing between biblical and cultural views of virginity to develop a robust theology of the body, human sexuality, and chastity.
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