I’ve been thinking a lot recently about purity pledges.
For the uninitiated, these are when Christian teenagers (both male and female, though it seems to be more common for girls) promise to be sexually abstinent until marriage. The promise is made usually around the time they hit puberty and girls sometimes buy or receive a ‘purity ring’, possibly given to them by their parents. In the more extreme forms, you have ‘purity balls’, where young girls go on ‘dates’ with their fathers during which they promise that they will not to have sex or marry against his wishes. Sometimes, they even sign a covenant to that effect.
I’ve read a number of articles and stories about the damaging effects of these pledges and the culture which endorses them (witness the links above).
What I haven’t seen is a theological, Bible-focussed discussion of the concept of pledges, or how they compare to the various kinds of commitments we see in the Bible.
I’m guessing one of the reasons for this is because, at a glance, the Bible seems to paint a confusing picture. Solemn promises are meant to be kept, yet there are many examples where keeping a promise led to death and destruction. We also have Jesus’ teaching that we shouldn’t swear anything at all – which is somewhat puzzling for couples who (like myself) have made wedding vows. So, are promises good or not? And what kind of commitment is a purity pledge?
To answer these questions, I’ll first look at the different types of commitment in the Bible (this post), then I’ll look at what characterises good and bad commitments, and lastly I’ll apply the findings of those two posts to the specific example of purity pledges.
Here we go. (Grab a cuppa, this post has 3,500 words.)
So, there is this idea that women have the ability and commission to preach just as much as men. This sermon is offered alongside the work of other like-minded groups of people who are each doing their bit for bringing about the fullness of women’s ministry. A group I have some involvement with is the Ezer Rising team, and you can even order mugs and t-shirts with this slogan if you want!
You can watch the YouTube video (~25 minutes, ~480MB) or you can read the text which is (for the most part!) reproduced below.
(The video is also embedded above, but it doesn’t display in all readers.)
It is 500 years to the day (well, sort of, if we don’t worry about the shift to the Gregorian calendar) since Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses onto the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenburg, on 31 October 1517. His actions kicked off the reformation – a movement during which the protestant denominations split away from the Roman Catholic church.
Coming from a protestant background, this seems a fitting time for me to write 95 short statements on the themes of this blog. Of course, they don’t cover everything! But you’ll find in them thoughts and theologies that either have been, or will be, very much an integral part of my writing. (And when I’m cribbing someone else’s work, I’ve put their name in brackets.) I’ve split them into ten categories:
I’ve always loved the first five books of the Bible (aka the Torah).
I don’t feel lied to because suddenly I’ve opened up and noticed the gory bits. I had already noticed the bits prejudiced against women, disabled people, homosexuals and people with different ethnicities. Oh, and the slavery and the retributive violence. And the honour-shame culture.
I’m not opening up my Old Testament every day thinking “This is the text that’s unadulterated goodness and will show me show to live my life with absolute clarity.” I always knew it was more complicated than that.
Yes, I have approached the text from my earliest youth with a presumption that it is inherently good, but I’ve not been so naïve as to think that everything it describes is good. Including the bits that the authors and compilers don’t seem to be flinching at.
Now I know that this makes me an outlier and I’m prepared to own that. I’m not about to inflict the genealogies of Numbers or the sacrifices of Leviticus on people who simply don’t have the stomach for it. Struggling with the Pentateuch does not make someone less of a Christian or less of a human being. If anything, struggling with it shows you’re actually exercising your God-given faculties of thought. Good. Do that.
So why do I feel lied to? Well, loving the Torah is something I felt as a child and as a teenager and as a student.
And you wanna know what else I was doing all that time? I was reading my New International Version translation of the Bible.
Last Christmas I realised something that made me so angry I wanted to pick up my laptop and smash it to pieces.
No, this was not an urge that I had felt before.
I was contemplating the second chapter of Hebrews which talks about Jesus being made like the people whom he helped. The book is one of my favourites in the New Testament because it has a wholesale take on Jesus as the Great High Priest. I’m a sucker for the Old Testament books of law (don’t judge me!) so I lap up the words of this letter with delight every time I read them. Assuming I understand them, of course. And there’s no guarantee of that because, good grief, this book is complex!
Anyway: I was contemplating how Jesus was both like and unlike the people that he acted on behalf of as a priest. The thought-process was in aid of a blog post I published in the new year about how “priest” was to be my word for 2017. You see, a priest identifies with someone who is both like and unlike them. That is an integral part of how a priest ministers reconciliation. It was that like-and-unlike idea I had in mind when picked the image for that post – which I’m reusing for this one. (It comes from a winter wedding, in case you hadn’t guessed.)
The thought I had as I was contemplating was this: when a group of people, called by God to be ministers of his covenant to the world, separate themselves from others on the grounds of “purity”, they subvert and frustrate God’s reconciling plan for everyone else.
When I was a plucky secondary school pupil, I had an idea for a perpetual motion machine. I was beyond excited. I was going to solve the world’s energy problems. I was prepared to accept that maybe there was a glitch in my design that I hadn’t realised, so I prayed earnestly that if I was wrong then God will tell me that very same day.
That afternoon my older brother told me it wouldn’t work.
I didn’t believe him to begin with, but gradually reality sank in as he explained. As Scotty would say, “Ya canna change the laws of physics!” Unknowingly, I had been trying to break the first rule of thermodynamics – that energy cannot be created or destroyed.
Thing is, right now, I feel like a child again. I feel like I can change the world. Or maybe it’s not that I can but that I will – by the grace of God, in the wisdom of Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the fellowship of the church – change the world.
Is that me or is that not me? I don’t care! The world is going to change – and that’s what really excites me.
I just remembered that I can reblog from other sites. So, here is part 2 of the modesty series I’ve been writing for Ezer Rising.
by Christine Woolgar It might have escaped your notice, but Hogwarts has a dress code. In having a uniform, Hogwarts’ follows mainstream practice in UK primary and secondary schools (that is, those for pupils up to the age of 16). Uniforms certainly differ, but regardless of how a school is funded, they all have […]
That tweet was in April. It’s now July. What I’m about to write is a mixture of theological thoughts I’ve been mulling on in the interim and talking over my husband – because he’s a fabulous deep-thinker who sometimes sees things I don’t.
When I’ve been talking to him about my ideas about virginity he’s said to me,
“OK but… this idea is like the fur of a cat. You can stroke it one way and it’s fine, but if you stroke it the wrong way, you get the cat’s back up. It’s still the same fur, but it doesn’t work. You’ve got to be careful with this.”
So, I could be on the wrong track, but even if I’m on the right track, you’ve got to look at my direction of travel here. Also, even if I’m on the right track and going in the right direction, this is a curiously complex issue. Again, it’s like cat’s fur: you can stroke a cat anywhere, but you can’t stroke a cat everywhere on its surface at the same time. (This is also called the ‘hairy ball theorem’.) In a similar way, what I’m about to say may not the have logical consistency the way we might expect at first.
OK, so I was having a Twitter conversation and was asked about practical examples to make churches more inclusive. I started writing. This list isn’t exhaustive, but this is what I’d say off the top of my head.
The way I see church is like a long, long banqueting table. It has many dishes. Each person will find something there that doesn’t work for them – maybe it’s gluten, lactose, refined sugar, or maybe it’s texture, consistency, taste – but everyone will find something that they can enjoy too.
My greatest criticisms of both Fifty Shades and the 2017 version of Beauty and the Beast come down to how they frame hope.
In Fifty Shades, Christian’s hope is vested in Ana, and the fear of losing her drives him to control her. In the 2017 Beauty and the Beast, Beast fares a bit better; he vests his hope in Belle’s intangible presence, which means he’s less controlling. But in the 1991 version we see something fundamentally different: Belle is Beast’s symbol of hope. When Beast surrenders to uncertainty he dies inwardly, only to be reborn into a new hope when Belle returns.
In these respects, I’d say Fifty Shades presents a hope that is Mormon, the 2017 Beauty and the Beast presents a hope that is Platonist, but the 1991 Beauty and the Beast presents a hope that is consistent with traditional Christianity.
Now you might say that’s over-analysing, but hey – I’m coming to the end of twenty-six blog posts that look into Beauty and the Beast in some form, so I think I’ve kind of already opened myself up to that accusation. I may as well keep going until I’ve said everything that I think is worth saying.
This is a long post, even by my standards (4,000 words), but if reading the above whets your appetite – keep going.
It’s the one-year anniversary of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting. It wasn’t long after 12 June 2016 that I spoke publicly about how I wanted to react in the wake of it. I didn’t go into whether or not I thought gay marriage and LGBT relationships were right or wrong; instead I challenged other Christians on how they were going to react.
I was nervous, but I did it, and afterwards I was glad that I did it (as were a number other people, judging by the feedback I received). I also posted a shortened version on this blog. I incorporated considerations about Brexit (which happened two weeks later), though the original was written with only Orlando in mind.
And for a while now, I’ve wanted to share the full version, and the first anniversary of the shooting seems as appropriate as any other time.
That said, I am now stepping way, way outside of my comfort zone.
So… the fabulous Sierra White has asked me to share some thoughts on modesty for her Facebook page Ezer Rising (and blog: Ezer Rising), which (if you didn’t know) is committed to sharing content about women’s equality from a Christian perspective.
First thing I’ll say is that I’m going to approach modesty in a way that I haven’t seen done elsewhere. Not because other ways are necessarily wrong or flawed, but because different ways of looking at things work for different people. And sometimes a different perspective can help us appreciate things that we hadn’t seen before.
For the Christians reading this, this also means I’m not going to start with Bible passages to make my case. I love the Bible, but if we start with a question like “What does the Bible say about modesty?” then it’s very easy to look for the word “modesty” and find ourselves constrained to considering only a few passages. Instead of doing that, I’ll step back and ask “What is modesty?” You can then go away and weigh my ideas against what you find in the Bible. (Or not, if the Bible isn’t really your book.)
I don’t want to write a long commentary on this poem, but I will say that as I wrote it, I was reminded of C.S. Lewis’ sermon The Weight of Glory (bold emphasis is mine):
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people.
It felt fitting to have the image of steps leading into light as the setting for this poem – the sense of journey and pending entry. But there’s an added layer too: the picture is one I took in a stairwell at Manorbier Castle in Pembrokeshire, which was used in the 1988 BBC adaptation of Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (and which I loved watching when I was growing up). This castle is Cair Paravel, where – in another life, perhaps not so far from our own – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy were crowned kings and queens.
I got home tired. My temp job was uncomfortably far from where I lived, and I hated the travel. I was in my early twenties having moved away from home a few months previously; meanwhile, I was living on my own, trying to land myself a permanent job, and manage the sky-high rent I was paying.
And you have to understand, the rent really was sky-high for a single person. Because the original plan was that I’d share the property with my best friend. Except, her efforts to land a job had been met with even less success than mine. So it didn’t happen. Later, once the minimum time was up on the tenancy, I moved into something more affordable. (Also met two fabulous friends in the process, so not complaining there.)
So yes, I got home tired. I put the light on. I put my stuff down. I went through to the living room. I came back into the kitchen. And then… I noticed something had moved. I can’t remember what exactly what it was, but a cold feeling came over me as I realised someone had been in the house. What had they done? What had they taken? What if they’d taken the landlord’s stuff?
Then I noticed all the dirty washing up was now clean and stacked neatly on the draining board.