Friday, May 19, 2006

Lauren Winner's winner of a piece on evangelical abstinence pledges. She rightly sees that "law" doesn't cut it, and only grace and a loving community will affect the transformation the law demands.

Here's an excerpt:

So why is the church's approach to teaching chastity falling short? Consider the popular "True Love Waits" virginity pledge: "Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate and my future children to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship."

This pledge and others like it are well meaning but deeply flawed. For starters, there's something disturbing about the assumption that teenagers are passively waiting for their future mates and children, when the New Testament is quite clear that some Christians are called to lifelong celibacy. (Paul, for example, did not have a mate or children, and Dan Brown's fantasies notwithstanding, Jesus's only bride was the church.) Chastity is not merely about passive waiting; it is about actively conforming our bodies to the arc of the Gospel and receiving the Holy Spirit right now.

Pledgers promise to control intense bodily desires simply by exercising their wills. But Christian ethics recognizes that the broken, twisted will can do nothing without rehabilitation by God's grace. Perhaps the centrality of grace is recognized best not in a pledge but in a prayer that names chastity as a gift and beseeches God for the grace to receive it.

The pledges are also cast in highly individualistic terms: I promise that I won't do this or that. As the Methodist bishop William Willimon once wrote: "Decisions are fine. But decisions that are not reinforced and reformed by the community tend to be short-lived."

During our first year of marriage, my husband and I lived in a small apartment inside a church. On Tuesdays, Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon met downstairs. As I got to know some of the regulars, I began to wonder if there wasn't something the church could learn from the 12-step groups in our midst.

Read it all.

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