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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Sexuality, purity culture, and the need for wise guides

Written by: on March 7, 2019

I have a confession to make. I watch the Bachelor. With much of life being lived very full and more serious than it probably needs to be, the Bachelor is a silly way to relax and analyze the social dynamics of unrealistic dating.  The reality show known by us as “the best of the worst tv” is trash tv at its finest. For those of you not participating in this subculture of polygamous dating to find “the one” via rose offerings in a near game show series, let me give you a quick update. This season of the Bachelor features Colton, a twenty-seven-year-old male who is desperate to find a wife after failing in his appearance on a previous season of the show. The most notable thing about Colton besides his previous football career is that he is a virgin. Colton’s virginity looms large as he whittles down the number of ladies from nearly thirty to three, all of which he is falling for.

The big question one has to ask when watching this season is, “Why does it matter that Colton is a virgin?” Well, first of all it makes good television. In a show that is all about hooking up, being the lead star with a harem of beautiful women means that the topic will drive more viewers and more drama for all. Second, and more interestingly, there is an obsession with sex and sexuality that is a big sociological change in American culture over the last thirty years.  More specifically, there is an expectation that one will have had sex at least once before marriage.[1] This makes those who have not had sex outliers and conversation pieces. (The irony here is that those who have not had sex don’t know what they are missing and don’t have anything to compare, nor do they have to worry about potential complications of previous intimate relationships. Yet, the reversal still stands.)

This week’s book topic of discussion, Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age by Jonathon Grant approaches the reversal from chastity to sexually experienced when considering both the church and broader culture.  Grant is interested in exploring the complexities of the relationship between the church and modern culture to begin to propose an alternative perspective of personal identity and how it integrates the sexual aspects of oneself.  As Grant states at the end of his first chapter, “The basic conviction of this book is that Christian faith and secular culture exist in complex interrelationship. This creates both challenges and opportunities for discipleship.”[2]

Divine Sex utilizes Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age to treat much of what’s happening in society with regard to sexual themes in modern Western culture. In particular, “The age of authenticity is a description of the uniquely modern phenomenon in which individual self-expression (authenticity) with regard to sexual behavior is taken as an ultimate value, such that any suggestion of moral guidance that might curtail sexual expression is not well received or is disregarded.”[3] Being authentic to one’s own sexual expression today is valued over and above moral discernment, as clearly seen in cultural time pieces such as the Bachelor.

As much as Grant connects with Taylor’s work in the first half of the book, there seems to be a missing depth when it comes to application in part two. While being very pragmatic, one reviewer noted Grant does “not engage in substantial ways with rigorous theoretical or empirical research on sexuality.”[4]

Of the growing complexities of our secular era, particularly the perspective on sexuality, there is need of a more well thought through response to the issues Grant presents. In his final section he begins with practices, including centering embodied worship and making the church a hub for growing mature relationships. However, he ends rather weakly, not addressing a myriad of issues and how to begin to approach them. In contrast to last week’s text, which gave well researched yet simplified responses helping to unravel complexity, Grant’s text was disappointing in its conclusion.

One specific area Grant only briefly touches on in chapter eight is that of purity culture and its major implications over nearly thirty years. Purity culture may be one of the primary reasons for the swing of evangelicals into the age of sexual authenticity. In particular, there is a major effect on gender and the way women have responded to evangelical teaching from groups such as Focus on the Family and True Love Waits campaigns.

One author, Linda Kay Klein spent the last twelve years writing on the effects of purity culture on America. From an article recently published about her book, Pure:

“In purity culture both men and women are taught that sex before marriage is wrong. But it’s teenage girls who end up most affected, Klein finds, because while boys are taught that their minds are a gateway to sin, women are taught that their bodies are. After years of being told that they’re responsible for not only their own purity, but the purity of the men and boys around them; and of associating sexual desire with depravity and shame, Klein writes, those feelings often haunt women’s relationships with their bodies for a lifetime.”[5]

It is obvious from Divine Sex, Pure, and even the Bachelor that we need a map and guides along the way, to not be completely lost in our journey. I would argue the map is rooted in Scripture and the guides are mindful mentors who walk alongside with wisdom and a listening presence. My intention is to continue to raise up these mentors as female ministers of the gospel through my research and artifact. These women from a diverse set of backgrounds will have processed any shame with regard to sexuality. They will be able to converse and listen as they guide the next generations of disciples, navigating the terrain of culture with a well-crafted theological compass.

 

[1] Regnerus, Mark and Jeremy Uecker, Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 1.

[2] Grant, Jonathan. Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age.  Baker Publishing Group. 2015, 28.

[3] Resch, Dustin. “Divine Sex: A Compelling Vision for Christian Relationships in a Hypersexualized Age.” Anglican Theological Review.  Evanston Vol. 98, Iss. 2,  (Spring 2016): 405-406,408.

[4] Resch, 408.

[5] https://broadly.vice.com/amp/en_us/article/pa98x8/purity-culture-linday-kay-klein-pure-review

About the Author

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Trisha Welstad

Trisha is passionate about investing in leaders to see them become all God has created them to be. As an ordained Free Methodist elder, Trisha has served with churches in LA and Oregon, leading as a pastor of youth and spiritual formation, a church planter, and as a co-pastor of a church restart. Trisha currently serves as leadership development pastor at Northside Community Church in Newberg, OR. Over the last five years Trisha has directed the Leadership Center, partnering with George Fox and the Free Methodist and Wesleyan Holiness churches. The Leadership Center is a network facilitating the development of new and current Wesleyan leaders, churches and disciples through internships, equipping, mentoring and scholarship. In collaboration with the Leadership Center, Trisha serves as the director of the Institute for Pastoral Thriving at Portland Seminary and with Theologia: George Fox Summer Theology Institute. She is also adjunct faculty at George Fox University. Trisha enjoys throwing parties, growing food, listening to the latest musical creations by Troy Welstad and laughing with her two children.

10 responses to “Sexuality, purity culture, and the need for wise guides”

  1. I love this, Trish: “I would argue the map is rooted in Scripture and the guides are mindful mentors who walk alongside with wisdom and a listening presence.” You are wise to see mentoring as a safe place for these important conversation. While I think the church needs to be more transparent and willing to talk about these issues, I also believe that there is a need for care and discretion in determing the HOW and the WHERE of these much needed conversations.

    I use a sort of “intake” form for the women I mentor, which enables them to clarify their expectations and communicate what they are seeking in a mentoring relationship. But this form also gives me the opportunity to ask some of the more delicate questions in a less imposing way. I ask not only about their vision and the projects and work they are involved in, but also things like “are there any areas of your life where you feel like you are in danger or fragile (emotionally, spiritually, physically, or mentally)?” and “are there any personal struggles that you wish to discuss?” In just asking this, I get pretty honest responses that help me to shape my mentoring to their needs.

    Are you going to have intake forms or an interview process for your mentors/mentees?

  2. mm M Webb says:

    Trisha,
    We learn new fun facts about you all the time! I love how you use “silly way” to slide your audience into your post. I am smiling as I look at your “Bachelor” Colton and read how you describe him as a cultural time piece. I’m not lost for words, but will take the safe path and share a personal reflection from a missionary life experience where we were trying to help reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in Botswana.
    I do have two adult daughters, and 5 African informally adopted daughters, or should I say they adopted JoAnne and me while we were serving in Botswana. We learned a lot from them about how they view sexuality and how they were treated in their culture regarding sexuality. They were all young Christian women. We have been staying in contact with, had them fly to the US and Canada, and go visit them and attend their weddings. 4 of the 5 are now married.
    In countries like Botswana, where the men practice sex with multiple concurrent partners; the wives, girlfriends, and daughters are treated very poorly. I mean there is no ramped sex-trafficking like many other 2nd-3rd world countries, but culturally they stay silent and do not report incest and rape and the girls and young women are not taught to resist or say no by their mothers or existing cultural norms and values. Unfortunately, it is very common for fathers, cousins, uncles, and grandfathers to take advantage of young girls in the family. (there are not many grandfathers, the majority are dead from HIV/AIDS) There are even tribal myths still practiced about having sex with very young girls believing that the sexual union with a child will help cure them from the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the country. Sadly, it is all a lie, just another scheme of the devil, and the disease continues to spread and kill off entire generations of certain tribes.
    So, at the request of the government we went into public schools, universities, and remote villages with messages of Salvation, strong messages on abstinence, single partners, circumcision (helps cut down the transmission of HIV/AIDS), and how to say “no”. They have made progress, improvements, and some changes to the law, but the crimes continue to go unreported and unpunished.
    Sorry, Colton may need to consider staying true to himself if he goes looking for a bride over there.
    Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might,
    M. Webb

  3. Dave Watermulder says:

    Thanks, Trisha,
    I bet you will find out who else is (secretly) a part of Bachelor nation through this post. My wife and I mayyyy be on board as well.
    I think you laid this out very well. The first part of the book was really strong with the social-science research but the second part was harder to pin down. I think that is to be expected by an author who is explicitly trying not to fall into the “easy answers” trap that churches are used to (like, “just tell me where the line is, or how far is too far”). But still, it remains to be seen how pastors will use or apply the information in the first part of this book.

  4. Great post Trisha! I love your honest confession of a Bachelor watcher. Although it has become a cultural phenomenon and very appealing to the people-watching part of me, I can’t seem to stomach the extreme dysfunction and brokenness revealed on TV that is all too similar to what I deal with in real life with my clients. I do think it is interesting how they are highlighting a virgin for the second time and exposing his unique standards for this age. All that to say, I do not judge you are anyone else for watching. 🙂 Although I did not like some of the author’s subtle bias that came out against women (read mine & Jenn’s post), I think it is good that he is highlighting the need to teach and mentor our young people a different way to navigate our hypersexualized culture.

  5. mm Jay Forseth says:

    Hi Trish!

    Well done finding the review that questioned the depth of the second part of the book!

    I was interested in your talk on “purity” especially since my wife and I have taught classes on that to both boys and girls for the past 15 years. I agree, as you said, “…we need a map and guides along the way, to not be completely lost in our journey. I would argue the map is rooted in Scripture and the guides are mindful mentors who walk alongside with…”

    Well stated!

  6. Great creative opening, Trisha!

    I’ve watched it as well. You’re not alone. Lol

    It’s interesting that Colten’s lack of sexual background still speaks of society’s fixation with sex. I recently watched a commentary of the show on a news channel and the whole show was centered around Colten losing his virginity. They weren’t hungering for him to find the right woman, or date someone with integrity – they hungered to see him ‘fall’ and find favor with ‘normal culture’.

    You mention, “Purity culture may be one of the primary reasons for the swing of evangelicals into the age of sexual authenticity. In particular, there is a major effect on gender and the way women have responded to evangelical teaching from groups such as Focus on the Family and True Love Waits campaigns.” Yes! The purity culture did not serve to encourage purity, but misguided purpose to women. Females were blamed with male behavior and were given the role and the calling of a ‘submissive’ stance, within marriage, within the culture, and within the church. It was a bribe, whereby God was portrayed as a Genie and marriage was portrayed as the ONLY wish that women could possibly desire.

    The purity culture assigned women three roles, they were either seen as a mother, a wife or a temptress. All of these roles had to do with sexuality, not personhood or calling. How has the purity culture damaged working relationships within the church? Has this served to exclude women from leadership?

  7. Hi Trisha,

    Thanks for your good observations.

    It is tragic that the reaction to a sex-obsessed culture by the church is to shame women through purity culture teaching. There is a parallel in that other fundamentalisms (eg. in Islam) also shame women and shut them down.

  8. mm Jason Turbeville says:

    Trisha,
    We all have our shows that truth be known are just as silly as The Batchelor, mine is The Simpsons and Family Guy…not very proud of that to be honest but there it is. The purity culture you spoke of is interesting, I read the same review as you and it caught my eye. One of my professors in seminary was the man who created True Love Waits, and I can tell you his intention was not about shaming girls for their body but for all to understand that purity is out of love of Christ and not of self. To many youth ministers made changes to his work much to his disappointment. I did a DNow weekend on the subject as a youth minister but the focus was on self and the damage we can do to ourselves in our thought life. I don’t know if it was any better but it felt like it. Thanks for your observations.

    Jason

  9. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Trisha,

    Great post. I particularly thought the connection to the purity campaigns and the effect on young women was insightful. Yes, virginity in a man in his 20s or 30s is novel and will draw interest, particularly if he is attractive or well know ie. Tim Tebow and your Bachelor contestant. Because the church has largely excluded itself from the cultural discussion on human sexuality those that refrain from physical relations until marriage are seen as quaint or ultra-conservative. The church needs to get back into the discussion from a perspective other than ‘thou shalt not’ and move toward the blessings and freedoms that will result in not only sexual purity but a healthy and Godly based perspective on human sexuality in all its facets.

  10. mm Kyle Chalko says:

    Hi Trish, great job. I did not know about this years bachelor being a virgin. I do confess to being interested in the bachelor from time to time and could totally see myself getting in to it.You are defintely right we need more of these better mentors.

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