Categories
youth ministry

Is Purity the Right Word?

Photo by Boris Drenec via Flickr (Creative Commons)

I didn’t grow up in church. As a result, I am still learning Christianese. You know, the weird language Christians use when talking to each other.

  • Sanctification = I’m less a jerk today than I was yesterday.
  • But it’s a blessing = I’m really disappointed by what happened to me, but I’m trying to make the best of it.
  • That was Spirit-filled = I liked how that made me feel.
  • I’m pursuing righteousness = My choices have screwed things up, but I’m learning from them and trying to do better.
  • We go to a Bible-believing church = I go to a Baptist church.

Every subculture has code language. As we get to know a subculture, picking up on the code language is key to being accepted.

It’s mostly harmless. Mostly.

That said, I have an issue with the code word “purity” as we talk to adolescents about human sexuality.

We have a whole batch of code language which I don’t think is helpful.

  • Purity = Abstinence
  • We’re going to have a purity weekend = A scared straight weekend, similar to drivers education where we will fill a room with sexualized language, then tell them not to act on it.
  • We want you to commit to sexual purity = Even though we don’t want to talk about sex, we want you to promise us you won’t have sex until marriage.
  • You can chose a new purity in Christ = It’s not OK that you’ve had sex, but we’ll accept you anyway.

On and on.

My problem with purity language is three-fold.

Biblically, it’s not true

There is a disconnect between language of purity and our own sinfulness. Outside of Jesus, no person has ever been truly sexually pure, by Jesus’ definition. “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) There are a lot more verses in the Bible that emphasize our innate sinfulness. I have a feeling that even Mother Theresa may have had a naughty thought once or twice in her life. Certainly, the Bible is full of stories of sexually impure people doing awesome things for God.

David slept with a woman and got her pregnant. (After watching her bathe from a rooftop!) Then he had her husband killed to cover it up. And yet he is called, “A man after God’s own heart.” Solomon, whom the Bible proclaims as one of the wisest men in history, had sex with hundreds of women. God even chose to create a sexual scandal to bring his Son to earth. The Bible is FULL of impurity when it comes to sex.

Maybe I’m just too Calvinist? But I believe that Jesus is unique in all human history as the only person to truly be pure. So standing in front of a group of teenagers and telling them to chose sexual purity is starting the discussion from a guilt-inducing place and coming from a hypocritical mouth.

Purity isn’t the right word. Biblically. It’s too loaded.

Physiologically, it’s not true

Sex isn’t dirty but pure isn’t quite the right word either. Purity language makes it seem as though sex is something that it isn’t, physiologically.

As we describe sex– bathed in the language of purity— we are setting our students up for disappointment. They already know their bodies aren’t pure. And as they later explore their sexuality with another person purity won’t be a useful word for it.

Statistically, most of the students you are talking to about their sexuality have already experienced some levels of sex. (With another person, alone, or watching it online.) So when you stand in front of them and use language of purity to describe sexuality, they probably think you are crazy.

From a physiological standpoint, purity isn’t the right word.

Developmentally, purity is too symbolic

Adults all know that “sexual purity” is a symbolic term. It’s code language. It’s a way that we’ve come up with to talk about our sexuality in a way we are comfortable with. We justify, even if it isn’t helpful at least we are teaching something.

The problem with using symbolism to talk about sexuality is that the early adolescent mind can’t decode it. You use the term “purity” symbolically; they hear it literally. So you teach on sexuality using language that they don’t understand and seems completely devoid of their own experience. You finish feeling like you’ve really expressed your view and they leave more confused.

Purity is a good word symbolically, but it might not be developmentally appropriate.

Just to be clear

I’ve got no problem teaching students that they should live their sexual life in a way pleasing to God. I’ve long taught my students, “My desire for you is that you will grow up to have happy, healthy, and simple adult relationships.” And I’ve used purity language tons!

I’m only questioning our choice of words. Is purity the most useful word to describe glorifying God with our sexual selves?

For discussion

  • Do you agree or disagree with my premise that purity isn’t the right word to talk to adolescents about human sexuality?
  • What would be better words we should use to talk to students about sexual health?
  • We all know parents are the best people to talk to their kids about sex… so how can we better partner with parents?