Let's play an old fashioned game of Bible Drill. You know, take out your Bible, I'll tell you what to look up, and the first person to find it wins. Ready? Alright: open to the verse that explicitly, clearly states that sex outside of marriage but still within a committed relationship is sinful. Oh, and be sure it applies to Jews and to Gentiles.
How's it going?
Is it taking a little bit longer than you expected?
That may be because in all of the Scripture, the apocryphal writings included, there is no singular, clear verse that in and of itself alone teaches us that saving ourselves for the context of marriage as defined by a legal document is the most honouring to God.
You may be able to twist a few verses about women and their virginity to get to that conclusion, but good luck trying to make it work for men.
You'll turn up with lots of passages about integrity, faithfulness, commitment, and unity between two becoming one, you'll even have a few references to it being better to marry than to burn, but you'll have little about a piece of paper being the checkpoint after which coitus gets the divine thumbs up.
Yet, how many camp talks, purity banquets, True Love Waits events, and so on drop Scripture in and around the topic of virginity and sexual ethics as a whole without ever really admitting that what they're working with is a presumed way of interpreting those passages?
And why do we keep making the issue virginity when the issue is sexual ethics. When the issue is that virginity is a part of sexual ethics. As we've been saying around the blogs lately, we need a different way of talking about sex, and that includes how we approach the reason to wait.
Last Friday, The Gospel Coalition wrote a skewed article critiquing some of the posts that went around last week about purity culture in the Church.
Among its many problems, the article ignored outright whole posts that directly contradicted the false narrative it was trying to create, that: "The underlying complaint seems to demand that we accept different decisions without critique or even regret."
Now, wait a second.
Of the posts that have been written thus far about purity, purity culture, and sexual ethics, not one of them has said that we should just throw in the towel and call sex an anything goes campaign in the Church. (Elizabeth Esther provides, perhaps, the best, humorous, well-reasoned rant about how silly this whole thing is.)
But as much as the tone the article from The Gospel Coalition upset me, what upset me more was the conclusions it made in its defense and the way it treated Scripture in so doing.
The author, Barton Gingerich, who holds a BA in history from Patrick Henry College, does not appear to be a scholar of Biblical languages or theology, yet, he concludes that "Contrary to popular belief, the Old Testament is not chauvinistically patriarchal, and the Scriptures are clear on sexual mores."
The one passage that gets close to mentioning virginity and waiting for marriage is Deuteronomy 22, but this same passage gives the men of Israel permission to stone a daughter found to no longer be a virgin.
Enter good hermeneutics: this is a command specifically given at a particular time and place; Jesus both fulfills and abolishes aspects of the Law; historical context matters when we interpret passages of the Law for our present day.
But Gingerich claims that those of us writing on issues of sexual ethics in the Church both want to say that virginity doesn't matter and that we ignore Scripture's obvious claims about sex as a whole.
Except we aren't.
As Elizabeth Esther said so well, "I believe all the things!"
None of us have said that sex outside the context of marriage is not problematic. (I can't speak for all of us, but I myself believe it to be sinful and for Scriptural reasons. These reasons just happen to be based on the whole of Scripture, not little parts taken out of context.)
What we are asking and what we are calling for is recognition that Scripture is not as simple on the matter of sexual ethics as a whole as it has been construed to be. Virginity is a part of this conversation, but it is not the whole of it.
Gingerich may find a plain reading of Scripture enough, but with Biblical languages, historical context, and sociological and anthropological history, I have questions.
I have big questions, and I actually believe the Scripture is big enough to handle them. I just also believe that the Scripture isn't as tidy as a memory verse when it comes to sexual ethics.
What we're asking for is to stop being fed lines like, "For generations, this model of marriage has proven remarkably resilient," and instead spend time wrestling with actual Scripture and in its context.
What we're asking for is to be good hearers of the Word, so that we can become good doers as well, to want to put Scripture's words before our own, to draw from the Text what the practices of our Faith should be, not what is really just a form of Tradition masquerading as godliness.
What we're asking for is to actually wrestle with the things that matter---like the diverse, complicated and holistic issue of sexuality as a whole---to not settle for answers that actually aren't obvious because our God is not always so obvious.
Sexual ethics, purity, sexuality---it's bigger than virginity. Show me the proof passage that neatly deals with and accounts for those who have been raped, those who have been abused, those who identify as trans*, those who are intersex, those who are ...
It's not as simple as a memory verse.
The kingdom of God does not tidy up into male and female with heterosexual norms. We don't live in a world that turns that way.
And maybe that's alright.
And maybe we need to realise that for many of us having these conversations, we are having them from a position of privilege and that must be taken into account before we proceed.
Maybe that means it's time for us to pour a lot of coffee, bake a lot of pie, pull up our chairs, open our Bibles, round with prayer, and begin to talk.
And, moreover, maybe that means it's time to begin to listen.
There are people on the outskirts of these conversations we need to bring in.
We need to be a Church big enough for a Scripture that's big enough.
Let's get to work.
Let's get to talking.
Let's get to hearing.
Let's get to healing.
Next week, I'll be writing a post about how I have come to the conclusion that saving sex for the context of marriage is a Biblical claim. This is just to get the ball rolling on the conversation of sexual ethics as a whole.