Ann Voskamp wrote a compelling response to the verdict in Steubenville, framed as a letter to her sons. It offered prophetic affirmation of men and women, and I was grateful she turned her grace words to light dark corners of both church and culture (even if the language of "real manhood" makes me bristle).
But I keep turning over this line in my mind:
Unless a man looks to Jesus, a man doesn't know how to treat a woman.
Yes, Jesus provided an exemplary (and radical) model of honoring women, but plenty of men love women well without looking to Jesus for the blueprint. Christians can be just as selfish and messed up as the next guy. It's our hope that sets us apart more than anything else; God knows it's not the Church's record with women!
God is Love. A man who treats women with dignity and respect demonstrates the love of God, even unwittingly. A person who serves others sacrificially loves like Jesus, whether or not she follows him herself. Love is of God. There is no love (or goodness or truth) apart from God, but Christians hold no monopoly on those or any virtues. God is so much bigger than our imagination, doctrine, and constructs.
Wendell Berry said, “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred places and desecrated places.” God is present in his creation and our relationships. His love is at work within and around all of us, whether we've eyes to see or not. Every good and perfect gift is from above.
To talk adequately about Steubenville is to talk about consent, but Christian sin-and-purity teachings have failed us in this realm. We pit Premarital Sex against Married Sex, rarely acknowledging where Sex You Didn't Choose falls on that matrix. If my body is a temple, can I be desecrated, left to ruin? (No!) If we are not our own, can we still speak frankly about honoring the bodily autonomy of others? (YES.)
Looking back at the boys I dated before Jim, the only one who initiated a conversation about physical boundaries was not a Christian, yet he treated me with more respect than some of his faith-filled peers. Christians are comfortable speaking the language of No, but we need to learn the language of Yes, recognizing that boundaries aren't firstly about proof texts (or gender roles!) but loving our neighbors as ourselves and not treating people like objects. (The ways the Church teaches modesty can also be every bit as objectifying as our sex-soaked culture, reducing women and men to body parts.)
Can we learn to speak the language of consent, grace, sacrament, and the inherent worth of every person as easily as we speak of sin? If the Church truly wants to esteem women like Jesus does, we have a long road ahead of us.
"Sexual purity" is not, as far as I can tell, a scriptural concept at all, and I vote we strike it from the record. Purity stands, but that biblical virtue is related far more closely to what's in our hearts than our pants. Yes, Christians are called to be set apart and not conformed to the world, but not like this. Jesus fulfilled the exacting requirements for ritual purity long ago, and evangelical obsession with "sexual purity" reads more like Levitical law than the way of Jesus.
Can we look at the synonyms for impurity for a sec? Go ahead and add "sexual" as a qualifier to any of these, and try not to wince:
contamination, corruption, defilement, dirt, filth, grime, pestilence, poisoning, pollution, scum, stain, taint, uncleanness
No wonder Christians have so many hang-ups about sex and bodies! Careless language and terrible metaphors lead us astray and into some pretty abysmal theological territory. We've entangled sex with the language of dirt and shame to the point that it's extraordinarily difficult to decipher a Christian narrative about healthy, holy sexuality. We tread in heretical gnostic territory when we fail to distinguish attraction from lust and physical response from sin. The language of sexual purity heaps shame not only on lustful pursuits but on any expression of natural desire, and this is not God's design.
We are embodied people. We are sexual people (even when we are celibate). Sexuality isn't something that lays dormant until ya put a ring on it. It's part of what it means to be human, created by God. The Incarnate Emmanuel refutes any claim that human bodies are anything but good.
Christians can love God and the bible and still do this better than we are right now. If the Church truly believes that sex is holy and our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, then let's re-frame our conversations about both with care, forgoing lazy metaphors, bad theology, and excuses about how "We didn't mean it like that."
Words matter. They hold the power to create life (kinda like sex), so lets revere them both, honoring God and one another with our bodies and our words. Like Ann reminds us, let's look to Jesus, treating each other with reverence, purity, and great love.