Parenting in the Age of Purity
Raising four children over the last three decades, my wife and I encountered our share of challenges. The kids are fine, fun, and fully adult. We couldn’t be more proud of each one, including the excellent choices they made of spouses. We enjoy the young lives of our four grandchildren and do all we can to be present with them–physically or electronically. Our family, in short, is a source of blessing and enchantment. Each is involved in their own church and active in their community. They have their own take on how we raised them, how the church influenced them, and on the question of sex and purity.
When our kids were young through their college years, the purity movement, at least sexual purity, strutted onto center stage at youth conferences and across the screen at church youth meetings led by well-meaning pastors who honestly wanted to protect kids and keep their jobs. The movement, from what I can tell, flooded into every corner of north american church life. Parents demanded the emphasis and churches delivered.
The metaphors used to convince girls of the need to remain pure, however, often resorted to fear or shame. The prospect of “ruining” a girl for her future spouse, led many boys deeper into the dark world of pornography and the shame of “damaging” themselves for their future mate. Much like the scare tactics surrounding marijuana I heard as a high school student, teens and preteens were told that the choice was between entering marriage a pure virgin or as a used piece of bubble gum–ruined and unworthy of the white dress.
Only Two Options?
Are those truly the only options the church has to offer? Is it any wonder that kids have simply stopped listening to church leaders regarding questions of morality or sex? Do shame, fear, and sometimes bullying by youth pastors in any way represent the gospel?
Mercy, grace, forgiveness, restoration and reconciliation form the foundation of the gospel. These dispel fear, shame, and remorse. The fruit of the spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, goodness, and self-control–derive from God’s character and are born into the life of followers of Christ as they live according to the spirit. Being led by the spirit, walking by the spirit will overpower and overcome the selfish gratification of the flesh. Flourishing in life, the call to become fully human, fully alive is never a call to “white knuckled” fear or even to following the rules in order to avoid shame.
Restoration in the spirit of gentleness is the response to sexual and non-sexual failings. Galatians five and six are quite clear on that point. Conceit, provocation, and comparison keep us in chains. The cross freed us from the powers of sin and darkness. Idolatry of all kinds is vanquished because of the cross. We can all live as flourishing individuals, not because we live pure, sinless lives, but because restoration and healing are continually available through the spirit in the community of Christ followers who offer the gospel freely as the great news it truly is.