But then I heard about the Freeman-Bowman wedding.
I'll recap in case you haven't heard about this one yet:
Christian girl, at age 13, promises her father (a pastor) that she will remain pure until marriage. Christian girl and Christian boy fall in love. Get engaged. Get married. On wedding day, Christian girl presents her father with a certificate from an OBGYN certifying her purity, based on an examination.
The story is sweeping certain sections of the internet, along with (it seems) calls for this to become trendy. Big wins for purity culture, right? Not really.
For today, I'll focus on only one problem with this story:
Purity is not physical. That's the title of this blog because it's the larger of the two problems. The problem with this is that it defeats the intention of purity culture. Purity culture is supposed to promote... purity. Isn't it?
Jesus says, "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
This is part of a pattern He was setting up for us. Sin isn't only about our bodies and behavior. It's about our thoughts, our intentions, our hearts.
This is the same as when Paul talks about the need for the Jewish people to have "circumcision of heart."
Perpetuating the myth that purity can be equated with virginity, with the status of a body or body part, with anything tangible, such as, for instance, an intact vs. broken hymen, is dangerous. It makes us look ignorant, for starts (because hymens get broken for all kinds of everyday life reasons). Teaching our men, our women, our sons, our daughters that purity can be equated with the physical also does two, equally bad things: It condemns women who have broken hymens for other reasons, like riding horses, doing gymnastics, being born without one, being raped or sexually assaulted... It puts a spotlight on them, making others question their honesty, their purity, their spirituality. It makes them question themselves (and perpetuates confusion and misinformation-- such as the frequent question of if virginity can be compromised through the use of tampons...). For those who have been raped or sexually assaulted-- this mindset creates an in-between place that few people are addressing, full of unique mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges.
Further, the myth that purity can be linked to the physical conveniently gets us off the hook. Teaching our men, our women, our sons, and our daughters that purity can be equated with the physical allows us to ignore our thought lives. It goes against all Jesus was trying to tell us in the passage I quote above. It puts us in danger. We may sin unintentionally, unknowingly, but we are at risk for sin. We delude ourselves that we have succeeded in purity if we have managed to not have sex-- or, at least, some kinds of sex. But it is easier to focus on the physical, isn't it? We want a clean list of do's and don't's. We want to police our behavior (and, let's be honest, some of us want to police other's behavior too). It is much easier to control our bodies and behaviors-- it's much harder to control our thoughts. But we have been called to control our thoughts. Who is qualified to sign the certificate of our purity, if any of us deserves one? Only God. We need a "cardiologist" not an OBGYN. "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
I want to hear the success stories of young Christian people who have committed to purity and have made it. Let's put more of that in the media and social media-- by all means. But we can do that without perpetuating myths and without perpetuating patriarchy (more on that next week).