I was saddened after reading an interview on Fox News with a woman named Linda Kay Klein and a new book that she is promoting that challenges the teaching of purity that the Evangelical Church has promoted.
Klein grew up in an Evangelical Christian environment that promoted the values of sexual abstinence and purity - the standard sexual ethic in Christianity. While many young men and women in the Evangelical church have been taught these values, Klein argues that what she experienced from the church was "sexual shaming" when it came to the issue of sexual purity. She purports that the teachings she received as a teenager on this subject served to bring trauma, fear, and anxiety that lasted well into her mid-twenties. Her experience has led her to write a book entitled Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement that Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free.
In the interview, Klein gives the reader a glimpse into her newfound sexual ethic.
As a person who grew up in an Evangelical church environment, I was taught from an early age that sex was designed by God to be practiced in the context of marriage between one man and one woman. Anything outside of this would be violating the bounds that God established. This seems to fall in line with what Klein was taught, but in addition to this, Klein states that she was also labeled a "stumbling block" of temptation for boys. She asserts that the blame for this was placed on her which made her feel shame for her body.
A "stumbling block" in Evangelical terms is a term for a person who causes someone to violate their conscience or sin because of their actions. It is taken mainly from Romans 14:13 and 1 Corinthians 8:9 although the concept is mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. Christians are taught that they are not be a stumbling block to someone else. This applies equally to men and women and can be applied in a number of scenarios - sexual purity being one of them.
The way that Klein was made to feel and the negative impression of the Evangelical church that Klein was left with is unfortunate. I hope that in the future pastors, teachers, and leaders in the church would be mindful of presenting the important teachings of Biblical sexuality in a way that is seasoned with grace, truth, and love.
However, even a negative experience such as Klein had does not change the fact that sexual abstinence and purity is virtuous.
The problem I see with Klein's approach is that she seems to imply that her bad experience with teachings on sexual purity invalidate purity as something beneficial or virtuous. She belittles the value of these teachings in Evangelicalism and seems to suggest that any woman who would practice it is living under oppression and shame.
It was during college that Klein walked away from Evangelical Christianity and she decided to lose her virginity at the age of 26 to a long distance boyfriend. She describes how "beautiful" it was because she had learned to "separate sexuality from spirituality." She went on to suggest that her sexual experience felt like a "holy experience with God in the room."
There are so many things about these statements that are alarming to me.
First, to make a claim that it is possible to "separate sexuality from spirituality" is preposterous. Even biology confirms that sex is more than merely a physical act. To suggest that a person can simply "disconnect" the two is misleading.
Second, to suggest that her sexual experience outside of marriage was a holy moment endorsed by God shows how far Klein is willing to go to move away from the Evangelical sexual ethic. Yet, she does not argue on any philosophical or theological grounds, she merely argues from personal feeling.
The article concludes by noting that Klein is now married (to a different man than the one she lost her virginity to) and she states that she is grateful that she did not bring "sexual shame into her marriage." What this statement appears to insinuate is that by having sex before she was married Klein felt that this somehow prepared her better for marriage than sexual abstinence ever could have. While this might be Klein's personal feeling, the data certainly does not support this conclusion. Data would suggest that more "sexual shame" is created by multiple sexual encounters before marriage than not. Nicholas H. Wolfinger has a fascinating article on this subject and the data shows a negative correlation between the number of pre-marital sexual partners and the success of the marriage.
Overall, Klein's cavalier approach to sexual ethics fails to consider sexual abstinence as a virtue or value. Instead, she approaches the subject out of a disdain for her Evangelical roots and seems to try and distance herself from anything that would even come close to its teachings on the subject using personal opinion and feeling.
A few final thoughts:
First, if you are a woman who grew up in the Evangelical church and received a message of shame because of your body, I am sorry. You should never have been made to feel this way. Your body is not a curse and you are not inherently a "stumbling block." Well-meaning people can take a valuable principle and employ methods to convey it that are not helpful. I am sorry for this.
Second, to any young person who read the interview with Klein or who plans to read her book...I would implore you to consider that sexual purity is not something that the Church teaches as a means of trying to shame, suppress, or oppress. As a pastor, I teach sexual purity because it is what God desires for our good. Understand this...God created sex. He is for it, not against it, but He is for it in the right context. Do not buy into the myth that purity is antiquated and oppressive, and certainly do not let anyone make you feel bad or guilty or foolish for a decision that you have made to save sex for marriage.
Lastly, there are some people reading this article who grew up in the Evangelical Church, heard teachings on purity, had sex along the way, and look back and wish they hadn't. Maybe you are even dealing with feelings of guilt. If that is you, then I want to encourage you that you are not less than or unworthy of love. Whatever happened in your sexual past, God will forgive you if you ask Him. Start over and determine today that you will live in purity. Be free of guilt and walk in freedom.