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?
Categories
Music youth ministry

I like Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream

Currently, Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream is top 10 on iTunes. It’s huge. And I am not ashamed to admit that when it pops up on my iTunes I listen to it 3-4 times in a row.

While I’m sure most youth workers groan when they hear this song… I take a totally different perspective.

I want this to be my students dream, too.

Well, not exactly— since the video leaves a lot to the imagination. Here’s what I mean by “I want this to be my students dream, too.

  • I want my students to have a fun, audacious, spontaneous, and exciting sex life. (Until they get married- “Pre-sex lives.”)
  • I want them to fall in love and be happy with that person for a long time. I want their love life to be fun, like a teenage dream.
  • I want them to fall in love early in life. I want them to grow up (meaning, take full responsibility for themselves) and get married ASAP. I believe we’re creating a self-fulfilling prophesy that they aren’t ready when they are.

Perhaps the reason this song speaks to so many people is because we tell people to wait too long for this type of relationship? Perhaps there was no room in our lives at 18 or 19 years old for a no-regrets love affair? Perhaps our parents scared us out of teenage dreams with statistics about divorce and telling us we needed to go to college first?

But this dream, I believe, is quite similar to God’s desire for us. The Bible is clear about sex before marriage. But it is equally clear about early marriage.

I just know when I watch this video I think about my relationship with Kristen. We were almost 19 when we met. We took lots of walks on the beach. (aka- free dates) Outside of the motel line– that video was us! Our parents both told us we were too young and we ignored them. (Just like they ignored their parents warnings!)

When we got married at 21 we fulfilled the dreams of this video and it was great. (Though, Kristen grew up baptist so skin tight jeans were out of the question.)

My prayer for youth ministry is that we are crazy enough to tell our students and their helicopter parents that they need to have teenage dreams for themselves. I pray that we become culture creators and truth tellers in such a way that gives our society a wake-up call. Teenage Dreams isn’t shameful. We would not exist as a people if it weren’t for generations of teenage dreamers. We don’t need to shame teenagers from their sexuality, we need to teach them appropriate ways to embrace it.

Categories
Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

Secret Sex

I’ve been around Christians long enough to know that they like to talk about sex. In fact, I know enough about internet traffic to know that only one thing is more popular than a post about sex. In fact, most of you are reading this because you clicked on a link with a keyword you like to click on, “SEX” and are wondering what the secret is all about.

What’s the one thing more popular than a post about sex? A post about sexual behavior Christians “shouldn’t do but like to talk about.”

– Homosexuality

– Cheating

– Masturbation

– Pornography

– Getting caught looking at gay porn and masturbating.

Here’s some data behind this Christian propensity to search for and click on things about sex. Notice the #1 read item at YMX over the last 2 years by a wide margin… it’s an article called “Solo Sex” and its about masturbation. In the 2 years that article has been on the site it has averaged 25 readers per day! Likewise, my blog data shows that most of my google visits from google searches arrive on terms such as “Christian dating” or “Christian sex.”

Proving this point further, stop for a second and think about this:Why are you reading this post? What about the title ‘Secret Sex’ made you click here?” Did I trick you to come here with my blog title? Did you click on a delicious link I served on Twitter? Or were you googling something like “Christian love advice?”

Here is my theory, disagree with me if you like. I think that internally many evangelicals are wrestling with sexuality. I don’t mean they are worried about their gender preference or even secretly longing to do sinful things. I think that within Christian circles it just isn’t safe to talk about sex which leaves many adult Christians very immature in how they handle sex. So the result is that we talk about sexuality in very immature fashions. (And then we wonder why students have messed up views on sexuality!)

While in non-Christian circles it isn’t unusual to have some safety within your peer group to talk about sex in an intelligent manner, I know I’ve never found Christian friends willing to have a serious conversation blushing it off as either “naughty” or diverting to childish jokes. (Of course, maybe its just my friends?) So while it may be normal and/or healthy to seek out talking with a peer about something intimate… in our circles we repress that discussion and look for answers privately.

And I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

I wonder if that repression of the discussion, which in and of itself is amoral but breaks a Christian taboo, is exactly what leads to the gross sexual dysfunction within many churches and marriages. Why can’t Christians just talk about sex? Why do Christians scour the internet searching for answers?

Sidebar: Of course it could also be that there are so many people out there googling anything to do with sex that this disproportionally elevates the click through rates of posts about sex… that’s a theory worth contemplating without devaluing the overriding question.

So, what is it?

– Victorian cultural leftovers permeating Christian culture?

– Fear?

– Our mommy told us never to talk about sex, just learn about it the way she did in the library?

– It should just be repressed. Asking this question proves that Adam is a pervert and just likes to say “sex” a lot.