Posts Tagged ‘boundless’

The fourth bomb on why young people leave the church we now discuss.  According to Barna headline it is summed up in this sentence: Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.  The article expands to the following.

One of the significant tensions for many young believers is how to live up to the church’s expectations of chastity and sexual purity in this culture, especially as the age of first marriage is now commonly delayed to the late twenties. Research indicates that most young Christians are as sexually active as their non-Christian peers, even though they are more conservative in their attitudes about sexuality.

Regular readers of this blog have seen the sexuality issue pop up several times.  For this post two things need to be parsed out: what is official view of the evangelical church, how is it simplistic (and harmful), and what ought we to do?

Simplistic testimonies: Out of Touch and Out of Date.

Evangelical theology is quite often folk theology.  This is not to say that it’s bad.  It is more a comment on how a message gets accepted and how it gets communicated.  You’ve seen it work if you have ever had someone “testify” to the goodness of God or their working in their life.  Evangelical theology is deeply rooted in the folk experiences of God’s winners.  That is, people who can tell us how great it is to live a holy life, all by the grace of God of course.

Exhibit A among “God’s Winners” is Mark Regnerus.  Several years ago, he argued for the case for young marriage.  In it he extolled the virtues of marrying young.  Naturally, he answered many of the objection such as economic insecurity, immaturity, and even a kind of romantic perfectionism.  He wisely admitted that it is unrealistic to expect people to wait.  Instead, he argues that our crisis with sexuality is really a misunderstanding of marriage.  Overall, he feels that inspiring young marriage (and helping people to get there) is the solution to our woes about sexuality.  Not surprisingly, Mark Regnerus married young.

Another issue, we can call it exhibit b for God’s winners, is he frequent testimonies and sharing on podcasts like, such as this story about bachelor pastor who got married late in life.  In podcast 246, Steve DeWitt, talks about his lengthy time unmarried life up until age 44.  He shares his thoughts on loneliness, expectations on perhaps always being single, and a scatterings of relationships a long the way.  He remains one of God’s Winners because he remained pure.

Stories like this that help motivate the standard lines of the evangelical sexual ethic.  It can be summed in few sentences: virginity is how the unmarried stay holy.  Multiple partners will make used up.  Young men should not dishonor young women.  Young women should not dishonor themselves.  If you ‘burn with passion’ just get married young.  Marital sex is totally hot.  Look up these in any evangelical message board, any evangelical sermon, and you’ll see these memes repeated ad infintum.

Meanwhile, Tamar tempts Judah like its no big deal.

Meanwhile, Tamar tempts Judah like it’s no big deal.

Overly simplistic, harmful and marginalizing.

For the young Christians the party line creates familiar feeling.  It’s like a baby boomer telling you to “just get a job.” 

Why are these messages so completely out of touch?  Part of it is that the way church leaders dogmatically ignore bad consequences of the evangelical sexual ethic.  Feminist Jessica Valenti outlined some of the interesting lopsidedness of what she pejoratively calls “virginity fetishism.”  At purity balls, young women promise to keep their virginity intact.  Young men promise not to defile a young woman by ‘taking’  her virginity.  Does this not seem strange?  Is virginity only a quality that women have?  Why?  Such a strange emphasis on one gender is damaging.  I like to think that there is a bit more to being a ‘Godly woman’ than what doesn’t happen prior to marriage.  It is also seems to imply that women are not interested in or tempted by sex.  This is such an archaic, outdated notion that I face palm even typing it.

There are however more dramatic examples.  In one instance a kidnapped rape victim, Elizabeth Smart, endured sexual slavery at age fourteen.  She was rescued when her captors brought her out into public.  Why didn’t she just run away the first chance she got?  Elizabeth explained that rape victims struggle with a feeling of worthlessness and that this is made worse by conservative, abstinence only sex ed programs.

Some might say that this is an extreme example.  Indeed it is.  So consider the idea that virginity somehow helps single people prepare for a great marriage.  It is rare to find a Christian in their mid 20s who doesn’t know someone who wasn’t hurt by this myth.  It’s ugly result is a quick divorce to get out of a premature marriage.  One candid story, entitled “My Virignity Mistake” the author tells a story of an expensive marriage, a disappointing sex life, and a subsequent divorce.

She ends with a hopeful note:

Soon after our divorce, he got remarried to someone who suits him better than I ever could have. And years later, I can confirm that I am not that woman who has no interest in sex. I don’t quilt. I haven’t compiled a grocery list in bed in years, and I now know that sex can be amazing … with a bartender who only knows your first name, a pilot you meet on vacation in Costa Rica and yes, with the right guy – sex in a marriage can be beautiful. The key is to figure that out before you find yourself walking down an aisle in a dress that costs more than the family car (my mother has since reminded me). It isn’t the most important thing when it comes to love. But for me, I learned that sex is important enough not to wait. -Salon

As you can see by this quote, this description of sex doesn’t fit with the idea that multiple partners make a person feel used up like a piece of tape that looses its adhesive power.

Shut up and Listen

Many people will see the negative results here -a shamed rape victim, a young divorce, and a lopsided sexual dogma- and insist that these are the results of sin not the morality about sex.  Honestly, can such an attitude really reflect a thorough understanding of how “God’s losers” are experiencing sex?  Remember, part of the problem is that Evangelical sexual ethic is folk theology that’s not just proclaimed but created by the testimonies of folks like a 44 year old bachelor pastor.  I can see no justification to ignore or reinterpret stories of people who failed to get to meet the cut.  These problems are not the result of sin.  These problems are the result of an archaic, out-dated, lopsided, and completely out of touch sexual ideal.

The 80% of young Christians who are having sex anyway likely agree with this point.  If we keep beating the drum about virginity, abstinence, and the virtues of young marriage we expect more young people to leave out of sheer alienation.  If we trudge along with idealistic views of sexual purity, relationships, and dating we will lose the attention of young people who already know it isn’t working.  I can’t emphasize enough that we need to re-evaluate our sexual ethic in light of our contemporary context, rather than appealing to an imagined past or somewhat selective examination of scripture.

Let’s start by honoring young women.  You read that correctly.  The current sexual ethic is not not really helping any woman who feels used up after sex, or is feels guilty about wanting sex.  It bothers me that there are Christians out there who think that dating or marrying a non-virgin is either a taboo or a consolation prize.  We need to erase the virginal purity idea from our minds.  A women’s intrinsic worth as romantic partner no more depends on her not having had sex than a man’s not having viewed pornography.  By way of example, consider this.  Years ago, a friend once asked if she would be ‘used goods’ if she tried to date post-divorce.  I told her that any guy who would think that of her isn’t worth dating in the first place.  Why?  Most likely because he is not totally aware of his own failings when it comes to his sexuality.

More generally, we need to have a more candid two-sided dialogue, when it comes to sex.  You will notice that I did not talk about the famous passage in Corinthians.  Equally, I did not reference lesser known references to the unexpected sexuality of the old testament.  This because I find those conversations hard to start.  The impression I get from most Christian romance media and message-board discussions is that Evangelical zeitgeist is still mired in a very black and white, very dogmatic, way of thinking on this matter.  This is especially true for the organizations like boundless who speak just a bit too authoritatively about purity and romance.  We need to understand what the Bible actually says about sex, and I do mean all of the Bible, not just the verses that reinforce the folk theologies.

Fortunately, the attitude is changing.  Articles such as the ones of shared in this blog, this nice one at Internet Monk, and this wonderful documentary give me some confidence that other people’s stories will be heard.  I hope also that most of the young Christians in what Relevant calls the “secret sexual revolution” will have the confidence to be less secret about it.

Make no mistake: it’s not going to be enough to revise or re-articlate the old ethic about sex.  The current sexual ethic needs to be replaced.  If we expect to keep the coming generations, we need to get sexual ethic that makes sense.  We need to get one that works.  This will begin only when more and more young people become honest and candid with themselves.

God’s losers need to be heard.

Quick update:  This is one of those rare blogs that are a joy to write because of the comments its brings.  After reading this, please be sure to at least skim through the comments.  Then, please repost this on facebook, twitter, or whichever your prefer because the comments are worth reading by all in the Christian community.


As I type this, I am in Korea and making my last plans before I leave.  Soon I will return to Los Angeles county where I will attend a wedding.

Weddings, have been happening quite a bit over the last five years.  The tend to happen a lot after college.   There are two in particular.

The first wedding recently passed and it began the marriage of one of my life long friends.  This was a big step for someone who grew up in a divorced home since he was four.  The wedding had only a few friends attending.  It was at a location that was special to the couple.  It was the wedding they wanted, and not the one their families wanted.  You see, this couple -who had been co-habitating- decided that quick eloping was best because their families were simply making far to many demands.

The second wedding is an upcoming wedding.  It is from a couple that met at our Alma Mater.  Both of the families are two parent homes and have families that support their decision.  I do not doubt one bit that there are plenty of snags in the planning, but this couple is very blessed to have financial and emotional support they do.  Naturally, they are not co-habitating.

Now, which couple is most likely to be welcomed, supported, and approved by your church?  My hope is that you could honestly say “both equally” though we know in many churches this is not the case.  In some cases, a couple in cohabitation will be thought of as a pair of “seekers” who need to be prayed for and carefully instructed.  Other times, maybe they will be asked to leave.  There are, though, many churches that would consider such a situation a non-issue.  Though that is rare.

Whether we’re comfortable admitting it or not, we must look at the negative affects our Christian prescriptions have on people -and the moral prescription for marriage, sex, and cohabition is summed up in one sentence.  “Everyone should just get married young.”  Added in the fine print to the prescription are clauses like, “never marry a divorced person” or “co-habitation is faithlessness” and so on and so on.  It is proclaimed by everything from parachurches like and magazines like Christianity Today.  It is made to sound simple.  If there be any hardship, God will take care of it.  God will take care of it so well, that to not obey is inexcusable.

The more I think about it, the more I feel that this violates the command to love one’s neighbor.

The big problem is this:  There is nothing “simple” about a marriage and that problem is only worsen by making it “young” marriage.  But young marriages can succeed, right?  Yes.  Many young marriages do succeed.  However, it seems that those that do succeed will probably have an entire apparatus of support that many do not have.  Take a hypothetical example of two couples in their early 20s.  A betting man probably doesn’t want to place his chips on a couple from divorced families or unstable ones.  A betting man will put his money on a pair that comes with different background.  That background is two nuclear families that were emotionally stable enough to give the right model for their kids.  Also, both these families are probably going to be shelling out a bit for the wedding.

Now, that model has not been normal since at least the early 90s.  So why are people still willing to declare young marriage “simple”?  Most people who are reading this can think of not just a few, but probably several people they know in their early 20s who either lack the financial means to get married or are not emotionally prepared to do so.  Honestly, it seems to me that there might be good reasons why people would co-habitate rather than get married at 23.  Faithlessness isn’t the only reason.

Now, some may object here and rightfully point out that the beginning of marriage does not actually have to be expensive.  After all, a few legal fees and a visit to a courthouse is all that is actually needed.  The average cost of about twenty grand is actually superfluous.  While this is true, we have to wonder whether a secular institution -and yes courthouses are secular like the  rest of our government- can confer something that Christians believe is deeply spiritual and religious.  Boundless has had a few discussions about what makes a “Christian wedding.”  Does the courthouse visit meet the standards?  Additionally, is the wedding everyone deserves -imagine your ideal for the moment- something that is for everyone or a privilege for those whose families can pay for it?

Many others probably note that referencing people’s lives, hypothetical situations, and not citing scripture much on this issue.  This is because I was steeped in what’s called the “Wesleyan Quadrilateral” which states that the experiences of cultures and individuals will not only affect how you ask theological questions, but how you answer them.  This is not a purist, quasi-scientific, notion of sola scripture nor is it rigorous Reformed systematic.  I realize that there are many Christians out there who feel that a deliberate, consious effort to ignore the experiences of human beings in favor of a very strong  sense sola scriptura is the best the way to go.  The Bible, after all, should tell you everything you need to know about anyone.  While I do not share this view, it is probably at least logically consistent.

However, when I do think of scripture, I think of the command to love one’s neighbor as yourself.  It seems from Jesus’ ministry, that love was supposed to trump rules, laws and traditions.   When co-habitating couples are excluded from assembly or otherwise marginalized rules are probably more important than love.  For instance, I have heard rather callous, and knee-jerk, comparisons between visiting temple prostitutes in the world of Rome (see 1 Corinthians 6) and cohabitation.  In the minds of many Christians, these situations are morally and spiritually identical.  Yet I cannot help but feel that this is a violation of the commandment to love one’s neighbor.  The critics, in this case, have not so much as taken the time to ask or to understand why a couple might cohabitate.  Unless they do, they cannot truly know whether or not that couple sins.

Of course, many might think at this point this point that loving one’s neighbor is making sure that neighbor knows that they are not following God’s laws.  Furthermore, they must also know that God gives them the grace in order to follow such laws.  This seems odd because I am fairly certain that any evangelical or anyone who knows an evangelical knows what the evangelical (God’s?) laws are when it comes to sex, marriage, and cohabitation.  They probably don’t need to hear it.  Regarding grace, such an approach is the wrong meaning of the word.  “Grace” does not mean that God helps you follow laws so that you can have a good relationship with God.  Grace means you have a good relationship with God, regardless of how often you fail to keep certain laws.  To borrow from a Lutheran minister, heaven will be filled with failed Christians.  Why should anyone have to be a successful Christian to be welcome at a church?

Maybe if we really want these people who are co-habitating to get married, it might be a good idea to treat them better.

For sake of my own friendships, and for sake of my own conscience, I decided long ago that I wasn’t going to consider a young marriage somehow superior to co-habitation.  It is not that I do not think that a young marriage is not a wonderful thing.  It is that I do not think a marriage or a union is diminished by cohabitation or similar so called compromises or shortcomings.  I am simply no longer able to silently judge those who fail to follow an idealized moral prescription.  Love of one’s neighbor is supposed to transcend laws of holiness.

Some of the best relationships I have seen did not need the laws anyway.

>In my previous blog, I asked everyone for their opinion on a question that I heard on the The Boundless Podcast. The question came from one woman, asking another woman on a show hosted by a woman on whether or not it was “correct” to initiate contact with a man she was interested in on eHarmony.

Thank you again, espeically Nicole and Brandi, for your responses to the question.

Here’s how I would answer it: The purpose of eHarmony is to make getting into relationships really easy. Why would you want to make it more difficult? The answer is ‘women need to let the men lead.’ Does letting the man lead mean doing nothing? This may seem like hyperbole, but I have to wonder this: if a woman is unwilling to make contact due to ‘we need to let the men lead’ will she be able to reciprocate interest later? Can she respond in a way that is conducive to relationship building once mutual attraction is out the open?

I know this may seem counter-intuitive to many Christian woman/girls, but if you don’t show interest in a guy that guy will assume that you are not interested in him. Let me repeat that: if you don’t show interest in a guy that guy will assume that you are not interested in him.

It seems so strange that FOF, Boundless, and other segments of Evangelicalism want to so harshly split gender roles. Men are supposed to 100% dominate, assertive, and pursuit-driven. Women are expected to be 100% submissive, passive, and receptive. Yet scientifically everybody knows that testosterone and estrogen are present in both genders. Philosophically, most schools of thought (especially eastern) will say that there is a “feminine” nature and a “masculine” nature and that all humans are mixture of both. Even the Bible ascribes both masculine and feminine traits to God. It seems so obvious that while we might expect behavioral tendencies for each gender, we shouldn’t expect some black and white, either/or, divide.

More broadly, I simply don’t understand the purpose of such moral quandaries when it comes to dating. Is it not missing the forest for the trees? If the goal of Christian dating is to get into a committed, healthy, relationship, than maybe we shouldn’t be so fixated on little rules. What if the rules are in conflict with the stated goal? It is if we want two streams of water to flow down a hill and meet together. So we decide to add several dams, ditches, and other obstructions to make sure they do so the biblical way.

I hope that any evangelical woman on eHarmony would consider talking to …guys… when they have questions about how to interact with men on eHarmony because that seems the better place to look. (This of course assumes that male/female friendships are not against the laws of evangelicalism.)

I will close with one final thought. My honorary sister commented that if women can lead the church, than they can click the eHarmony thingy. I would like to add that if women can host a podcast, endorsed by a large parachurch/webzine, which has influence over many, many, young evangelicals, than they can click the eHarmony thingy.

>If there’s one thing I like about Korea, its that I have lots of time to listen to podcasts. I randomly downloaded a few from “Boundless” which is far as I can tell is Focus on the Family for twenty somethings. In Podcast 156 the host read an eMail from a listener. It was a question about how to approach men. The guest answered.

Here’s the irony: It is a dating question about men. All three people involved were women.

So for a different perspective, I hope that all guys reading this post -married, single, dating whatever- take a chance to read this question from a concerned reader. Answer -in this blog- about how you would answer this question because your insights lasts longer here than on facebook.

“A couple of friends and I have been trying out eHarmony. In an effort to the let the men lead, I’ve been waiting for my matches to initiate contact before entering into a conversation with them. The trouble is that there are two or three who’ve intrigued me from their profile, but they have not contacted me. After two or three weeks, I wonder if I’ve just gotten lost in the list of matches that accumulate over time. Would it be helpful to them to just drop an ice breaker or initiate a conversation?

How do you answer it guys?