Commitment-Free Critics and the ‘Christian Virginity Cult’

You may have noticed the recent volley of criticism against the evangelical sex culture. No, not the trends toward loose morals, but the Christian fascination with virginity and purity. The casualties of the “purity movement” are starting to speak out.

Former fundamentalist and current feminist Elizabeth Esther looked back on her adolescence and said, “[W]e implied that a woman’s inherent worth and dignity could be measured by whether or not a man has touched her.” Those who fail to meet the physical requirements are “damaged goods.”

Sarah Bessey continued the theme. She observes that she was “disqualified from true love” because of her previous sexual encounters. She and others “feel like the dirty little secret, the not-as-goods, the easily judged example.” For those so shamed, Bessey enthuses,

There is no shame in Christ’s love. Let him without sin cast the first stone. You are more than your virginity—or lack thereof—and more than your sexual past. Your marriage is not doomed because you said yes to the boys you loved as a young woman. Your husband won’t hold it against you, he’s not that weak and ego-driven, choose a man marked by grace.

Rachel Held Evans voiced her approval of both posts. The ever-bold Tony Jones wondered if Christians should “celebrate pre-marital sex,” concluding, “Today, sex is everywhere. It’s unavoidable. A new sexual ethic for Christians is desperately needed.” A more moderate Emily Maynard condemned “virgin” and “non-virgin” as philosophical categories for human beings. 

They all have a point. Too often in an over-sexualized culture, Christians engage in what Elizabeth Esther calls “reverse objectification.” Purity policing leads to a strange objectivism—a surrender to the sexual message of the age. Christians risk ceding the argument that a woman is a purely sexual object when it comes to her visible physical nature. So in response, her body must be hidden or else made ugly to keep the spirit clean and pure. In the end, much unjust suffering comes down upon girls and the rest of society because of various abuses.

Much like Islamic settings, Christian fundamentalist cultures can shame women and eschew human beauty. Some religious folks resort to a “steaming pile of legalistic shame-mongering.” When a religious community sees the human body along utilitarian lines while sacred texts forbid sexual misconduct, they resort to deontological ethics—unwavering adherence to rules. In certain circles, there is an underlying assumption that God punishes the sin of fornication by ruining the future marriage, when that may not in fact be the case. But sin is much more deceptive and subtle.

Individualism Gone Wild

At the same time, all is not well with these virginity critiques. The underlying complaint seems to demand that we accept different decisions without critique or even regret. But sin—especially sexual sin—affects the entire community. Likewise, fornication (as with any other sin) interrupts communion between God and man and thus must be reconciled through Christ.

The sin of fornication is not minimized by “mutual consent.” Contrary to popular belief, the Old Testament is not chauvinistically patriarchal, and the Scriptures are clear on sexual mores. The most honest skeptics intimate sexual standards based in an old book should be thrown out altogether. Couples “really committed” to each other, we hear, should be able to do as they please outside the bounds of traditional matrimony.

What a strange understanding of commitment! This new standard eliminates the risk of love. The traditional understanding of the marriage covenant requires trust, especially in the sexual realm. A couple is taking a plunge into the world of family life because they love each other. Couples who abstain until marriage tell one another, “I love you so much that I will surrender my body to you. I have denied the pleasures of a moment for a life tied to only yours in this dangerous world, from this point on.”

For generations, this model of marriage has proven remarkably resilient. In this context, love can be truly maddening—people do crazy things like have children together, stick together through debilitating diseases, and mutually endure declining health. On the other hand, what reason do the “really committed” have not to jump from one sex partner to the next? One could conclude that such “commitment” is merely strong emotion—a passion of the moment—that has little to do with true resolve.

Thankfully, healing is possible for couples who do not abstain. The gospel of Jesus Christ can overcome any sin! Still, pastors who counsel couples tell me the process of restoring trust is long and painful. Virginity does not make someone “better,” but young Christians deny themselves the fullness of romantic love by fornication. They will only make things worse by lying to themselves about it.

For the longing singles among us, we have heard it said that love is patient. So go out there, date, and maybe get married. Just do not make allowance for the lustful flesh.

  • Paula

    It isn’t clear to me how you arrived at this conclusion: “The underlying complaint seems to demand that we accept different decisions without critique or even regret.”

    I don’t see that at all, especially in Emily’s post.

    • Joe Carter

      ***I don’t see that at all, especially in Emily’s post.***

      Ms. Maynard says:

      ”Virginity is just another way that people in power talk about who’s in and who’s out of favor with Church, that we set up winners and losers in a Kingdom supposedly of equals. It’s just another way we try to make God like us more than other people. I’m done with the factions setting up beds in the streets and yelling at me to jump on in with them and live my life their way because it is best.”

      That certainly seems to support Gingerich’s claim.

      • Shaney Irene

        Refusing to look at people as “winners” and “losers” in the kingdom of God is not the same as saying all decisions are equal. It’s refusing to look at people as the sum of their decisions. HUGE difference.

  • Paula

    Thanks, Joe.

    Yes, that is definitely an excerpt from her piece in which she speaks of how the church often determines the holiness of people–past, present, AND future–by one aspect of their life. That one aspect, especially if you’re female, is whether or not you’re a virgin.

    She isn’t advocating “to each their own” in terms of purity or saying that there aren’t consequences to sin. What she IS saying instead is that we are all sinners in different ways, forgiven and covered by the grace and blood of Christ. The Church shouldn’t place an albatross of penance around of necks of people who are no longer virgins, subsequently creating an elevated position for those who are. That isn’t biblical.

    • liz decker

      Yes Paula…YES! But I warn, if you continue to speak the truth & what actually goes on in church…you will be shown the door & slandered as you leave. :(

      • Melody

        There are no virgin police. What kind of church do you people go to?
        Everyone is responsible for their own sin. We are to repent of every sin. God’s not fooled. You can make a social atmosphere of accepting or condemning of whatever but in the end it is just you and God face to face. None of the arguments are going to wash because God is not stupid.

        • Paula

          OF COURSE we are to repent of our sin. I don’t see how my statement or the article I’m referring to (Emily Maynard’s) imply otherwise. How is believing God’s promise that our “sins are cast to the bottom of the sea” (Micah 7:19) trying to fool God?

          Christian culture and the Church often label young adults as a whole person by whether they’re a virgin or not, and that is where the problem lies.

          • Melody

            No it doesn’t.

            • Paula

              I’m glad that hasn’t been your personal experience then.

            • Melody

              Yes I have dealt with it in the past. Way more than you could ever imagine or that you have dealt with.
              It doesn’t matter. Their sin doesn’t lessen my sin. Their ill treatment doesn’t make me righteous. Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is what makes me righteous. All my years of staying away because I thought the church owed me better treatment is more shaming to me in the shadow of the cross than any of the sex I had.
              What Jesus suffered on my behalf is unimaginable and next to my hurt feelings at being snubbed is just ridiculous to compare.

            • Paula

              Melody, thanks for engaging with me on this, but I don’t think our discussion is being fruitful. I apologize if I offended you in some way.

              You disagreed with my statement that this happens in the Church, and that’s why I genuinely expressed that I was glad you hadn’t experienced what I was referring to. Just as I haven’t pretended to know your life story, please don’t pretend to know mine.

              I have not said that anyone’s sin lessens the sin of others; what I have said is that the Church sometimes treats people who have sinned in this fashion differently. How the Church treats people is of eternal importance, and I don’t believe it’s wrong to hold our community accountable to loving all completely and equally.

            • Melody

              It doesn’t because I do not let it. When I was twenty I was treated like the woman with the scarlet letter on my chest because I had a child as a teen. They were willing to let me be there but everything I did or said was looked at with a critical eye, waiting for me to slip up. I left very angry and blaming God for those hideous excuses for Christians. Why would He subject me to people like that if I was really forgiven, right?

              The problem with the whole situation was that I was looking at them in the same way that they were looking at me. When you are looking at God and what He has done for you then you don’t have time to be looking at other people.
              When you are busy trying to learn and grow then you don’t notice the negative things as much. When you do, ask yourself “am I like that?” Because there is a 99.9% chance that you are like that. If you really don’t think you are then you have another issue going on.

              I still run into those kind of people occasionally. Yes it is embarrassing that I have been married and divorced twice. But the healing of my family depends on me acknowledging how Christ has saved me. Having pride in anything is damaging. Paul claimed grace but he did it while very honestly talking about his sin.

            • Paula

              Melody, thank you for sharing your story and experience.

              From what I understood, you’re agreeing that this does happen in the church, but you’re saying that there’s also an aspect of projecting feelings of guilt onto others. I agree that this can definitely happen, and I agree that our worth, forgiveness, and redemption is established by/in Christ alone.

              However, I don’t agree that everyone who experiences this is prideful and not already “busy trying to learn and grow”–as you explain. And I absolutely disagree that JUST focusing on ourselves when we are facing an injustice solves the problem with the church.

              Of course a healthy church is compromised of people with healthy personal relationships with Christ. We’re called to live in community though, and we’re called to love our neighbors as ourselves and to hold our brothers and sisters in Christ accountable. We are also asked to share with them when they have sinned against us (Matthew 18:15-17 and Galatians 6:1-2, for example). Therefore, in addition to focusing inward, we should also work outwardly, in humility.

            • Paula

              *comprised not compromised

          • Joan

            How does your church even know that you are not a virgin? Why are people’s sins so public?

  • Hannah Anderson

    The irony for me is that the OT law was (in some respects)”easier” on pre-marital sex than adultery. In the first case, the two were expected to marry and in the second, they were stoned. And yet, as a church culture, I remember experiencing the exact opposite emphasis. There was heavy focus on virginity (as should be) and yet, divorce and remarriage were rampant. Not necessarily approved of, but it did seem that teenagers carried more judgment for their sexual sins than adults.

    From my experience, it wasn’t that virginity shouldn’t have been valued, but that we were inconsistent with how we applied the standards of sexual purity. I wonder if part of that stems from the fact that teenagers’ actions and emotions are somewhat easier to influence than adults; maybe it was simply easier to deal with the problem of pre-marital sex than it was to deal with the problem of extra-marital sex.

    • Elena Johnston

      That’s an important point, Hannah. We cause a lot of trouble when we fail to distinguish between what the Bible says about adultery and what it says about fornication in general. Scripture is very clear in teaching against both of them… but it’s important to keep clear on what it’s talking about when.

      I was recently shocked to realize that Jesus’ injunction against looking at a woman with lustful intent is about adultery, and has little to do sexual attraction between singles. Jesus’ command against lust comes straight from Moses–Matt. 5:28 echoes Ex. 20:17 in the Septuagint in that respect. The new thing is that Jesus is asserting that the command against coveting your neighbor’s wife is actually embedded in the command against adultery. Jesus’ analysis of the 10th commandment gives weight and Mosaic precedence to his teachings on anger and on divorce and remarriage.

      Of course Jesus’ whole point is that these teachings have broad implications for the role of our thought lives in all areas of sin–and that would obviously include the sin of fornication. Desiring to sin is sin.

      But it’s okay to desire marriage and all the benefits thereof–just not with somebody who’s already married to somebody else. Confusion over this unfortunately drives a lot of young people to despair and sin as they give up on the possibility of sexual purity and holiness in general.

      • Andrew Leaming

        Elena, I’m SO glad you said this. It frustrates me greatly when people overlook this exceptionally obvious connection, especially since Jesus actually says it is “adultery” and two unmarried people cannot commit adultery. Sigh…

      • Hannah Anderson

        The failure to distinguish between legitimate sexual longing and illicit lust can also cause a great deal of angst for couples once they are married. If we encourage purity without teaching that purity in marriage also means passion toward your spouse, we set people up to have dysfunctional intimacy–they simply can’t “turn on the switch” when it is proper.

  • Derek Rishmawy

    Thanks for the balanced piece. I get the “virginity culture” critiques. I preach a strong grace to my students because that’s the Gospel. At the same time, the commands of God are still good and are still there for a reason. We try to keep those too. In fact, as with just about everything else, it’s because we try to actually keep the commands, God’s forgiveness and saving grace for our failures is so beautiful.

  • Thankful

    I especially appreciate where you point out the problem the church has with wanting to keep women “hidden or else made ugly to keep the spirit clean and pure”

    I don’t think the church sees how it pushes ladies into the arms of the world when it acts that way.

    The frustration of being too sexual if I dress attractively, but too unattractive to be desired if I dress “modestly” (shapelessly) has been my constant companion.

    Meanwhile all the desirable, Christian men I know marry thin, shapeless girls – so I don’t know who I would be tempting in the first place.

    I’ve spent half my life “protecting our brother’s eyes” from my shameful, tempting shape. At the same time I’ve been overwhelmed the temptation to chuck it and date non-Christian guys who will tell me I am beautiful without a pause, without worrying that they think I’m beautiful for the wrong reasons, or that they’re sinning when they do.

    • perfectnumber628

      Good point- I feel like I’ve gotten a ton of confused and mixed messages from the land of “Christian dating advice.”

  • liz decker

    None of the women you labeled & quoted expressed that they thought sexual immorality was ok.
    “Contrary to popular belief, the Old Testament is not chauvinistically patriarchal, and the Scriptures are clear on sexual mores.” – Why? Because you say so? SMH

  • Nell

    I take issue when the word “purity” is equated with virginity. I am a strong believer in abstinence until marriage and have encouraged my children in this area. But, none of us is “pure.” We may abstain from the sexual act but still struggle with pornography and lust.

    • Melody

      The struggle should be to keep the heart pure for one person. If people would avoid individual one on one time whether by computer, cell phone, or in person until they are ready to be married then there will not be regrets about what they have been doling out along the way. Even pieces of the heart given away for idle crushes is a baggage that doesn’t have to be carried if someone doesn’t want to. But we can’t force someone to want to keep their heart that way. It is between them and God. And only they know when they have strayed in that way.

      • Kristin

        I have always had crushes – ALWAYS – since the time I was in kindergarten; I have always been “boy crazy.” But, I have not given my former crushes or even my ex-boyfriend pieces of my heart. I may have given them my time, my efforts, and my affections, but I did not lessen my capacity to love. That all implies that I am somehow not able to love my now-husband (or future kids, etc.) fully.
        Sorry to pick out one part of your comment, but it’s very problematic to think of anyone’s heart in that way.

        • Melody

          If you want to raise kids in a future environment you have to be able to think ahead. You have to think about what the world is going to throw at them that you did’t have to deal with. As in what is Satan going to come up with to pervert what we may think is harmless.
          Yes I had crushes. I had teen magazines. I even loved a “virgin” singer for all the good it did me. When you make the thrills of your heart the center of your universe it doesn’t always turn out well. If it did for you then fine. But your life isn’t done yet and you do not know what your future holds. Does scripture say to be on guard or not?

          Did they have sexting when you were 9? Technically people are still virgins. How about pictures on phones? That is just pixels when you get right down to it. I think females have a hard time telling when emotions cross over into lusting. Can lusting be anything that you think about more than God?

          I’m not talking about being legalistic. I’m talking about not taking a bunch of broken heart stories into the one relationship that you want to have for the rest of your life. That football player from the news recently certainly is still a virgin but I doubt he still feels like a whole person. That was my point.

      • Shaney Irene

        This is adding requirements that the Bible itself does not express. Keeping the heart pure is keeping the heart pure from sin, not from emotions, and crushes are the latter, not the former. There is also nothing in the Bible that says to avoid one on one time with someone of the opposite sex before marriage (and in fact, there are examples of that in the Bible that give no hint that it was wrong). If people want to set up those personal boundaries for themselves, then that’s fine. But to act as if it some universal standard when it is not creates the exact problems these articles have been referring to–causing people to see their own natural emotions as wrong, creating guilt where there is no need for any, etc.

      • perfectnumber628

        “Even pieces of the heart given away for idle crushes is a baggage that doesn’t have to be carried if someone doesn’t want to.”

        I have heard this before, and I used to believe it. Tried to keep all my emotions shut down, because to even like a guy would damage my heart.

        This is so incredibly false, and I have no idea why some adult women at my church have taught it. Yes, I have had crushes on boys, and they did NOT give me permanent damage. If I like a guy, but he doesn’t like me, then I’ll be sad for a little bit but then I’ll move on. THERE IS NO PERMANENT DAMAGE. THERE IS NO “PIECE OF MY HEART” MISSING.

  • liz decker

    Where are the women labeled ‘after God’s own heart’ after immorality, adultery & murder?

    • Karen Butler

      Rahab, Mary Magdalene, for example.

      The Bible focuses on David, and expands his story to describe him with those words because he was a unique type of Christ. But these women are also highlighted — like David, they too sinned sexually, yet were raised to positions of honor and great influence. Of Mary, Jesus says,

      “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body, she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:10)

      • Hännah

        Yeah, Mama Karen!

      • gail

        Karen, I so agree! It has always bothered me that Rahab is always labeled “Rahab the Prostitute” rather than “Rahab the Rescuer”! After all, we don’t call David the Adulterer or the Murderer…

        • Ramona

          Brilliant example, Gail! “It has always bothered me that Rahab is always labeled ‘Rahab the Prostitute’ rather than ‘Rahab the Rescuer’! After all, we don’t call David the Adulterer or the Murderer…”

          • Bill

            It may have something to do with the Bible labeling her “Rahab the prostitute” (or “Rahab the harlot”) four out of the 14 times the name is used, but never “Rahab the rescuer.”

            • Melody

              God doesn’t hide either one’s sin and He certainly doesn’t hide the natural consequences to that sin for David either.

        • Melody

          Rahab isn’t the rescuer. God is the rescuer. God’s grace extends to Rahab and her family because she recognizes the One True God. Rahab looks past what she is because she is looking at Him and trusting Him.

  • Howard Merrell

    Thanks, Bart.
    This together with your previous post on this subject are excellent.
    Your post, and more so some of the articles with which you interact, point to a tension that is inherent in Christianity. The Bible realistically talks of the consequences of sin, and those of sexual sin are often great. Yet, the Bible presents an amazing grace that forgives all sin.
    Just from a viewpoint of the way things look and feel to me, I agree with your assessment: The “demand that we [The Church or Christendom in general] accept different decisions [about sexuality] without critique or even [the intimation that such decisions might lead to] regret.” is very much a part of the zeitgiest, even the Christian zeitgiest.
    I have long been convinced, and remain solidly so today, that God has given guidelines in various areas of life for he blessing of His people. Even those who are not followers of the Lord benefit from these. Premarital sexual involvement does not condemn one to a bad marriage, but it doubtless does introduce elements both personally and culturally that must be overcome to have a rewarding family relationship. I have personally never heard the one about God judging folk with a bad marriage, because of premarital indiscretions, but there are a lot of wackos out there, all across the spectrum.
    Some of the articles you referenced speak of Pharisaic pride. That has no place . . .
    It is interesting that the great sinners of the Bible and Christian history–David, Mary Magdelene, Paul, Augustine, Newton–never seem to me to attempt to achieve worth by diminishing the sin that once characterized their lives. If anything they maximize its horror. Rather they speak much of God’s grace.
    This is a good conversation to have. I hope it continues among those who have something worthwhile to say.

  • jeirmi

    I greatly love and respect the institution of marriage, but I would struggle to use the ancient text to out right say that it is a sin to have sex before being married (a cultural concept that varies greatly). There is an aweful lot of unmarried sex in the scriptures, and there is plenty of hurt and pain associated with it, but I do not at all see how one can label the act itself as a sin. I have interpreted Sin as anything that brings harm to the divine, to oneself or someone else. Sex can certainly be used to hurt or take advantage of another person, but it can also be a place of shared love and shared connectedness to the spiritual. Some great examples in scripture are Ruth’s hot porn-like story with Boaz, the entire sexual escapade of Song of Solomon, the accepted practice of prostitution and concubines… Marriage is about protection particularly for women in biblical times. I believe Marriage can still provide a kind of protection for both parties (even same sex), but it is not a sin to have sex. My thoughts…

    • Scott

      Could you please explain how the story of Ruth and Boaz is in any way “porn like.”

      • loo

        “Uncovering his feet” was a euphemism in the ancient world for “uncovering his genitals”. Also, sending your daughter out after dark (in a pre-electric world) to go lie with a man is hardly modest.

        • Scott

          You have to do better than that. Site some reputable source confirming your position.

  • Gary in FL

    “Contrary to popular belief, the Old Testament is not chauvinistically patriarchal, and the Scriptures are clear on sexual mores.”

    Uhmmmm… which Old Testament are you reading? The OT consistently endorses patriarchy, but the sexual mores are anything but clear. I guess you could argue the mores are sufficiently clear to preserve a patriarchal culture, but then you have to recognize how marriages were most often arranged then by parents, and safeguarding virginity reflected (in addition to God’s will) an effort on the part of the girl’s family to ensure a future groom’s family didn’t receive “damaged goods,” if you know what I mean. This bears little resemblance to the world we live in today, and therefore interpreting the Scriptures to make proper application in our day should involve honest reappraisal.

    • Akash Charles

      the OT also teaches not to lie or commit adultery but this is not “applicable in our day” as well as it bears little resemblance!!
      I guess in a matriarchal culture this would bear no resemblance-so obviously we need to interpret it differently.

      The scripture is pretty clear regardless of culture one is not supposed to go around and actively try to have sex with as many people as possible, and yes this is a sin and yes we have grace- but the bible offers the best way on how to solve these problems!!

  • Natalie

    NO, to this: “…but young Christians deny themselves the fullness of romantic love by fornication.” It is laughable to equate fullness of romantic love to virginity. When you view romantic love, as you have here, you boil it down to genitals and acts. Instead, wouldn’t romantic love be better defined as the nurturing of the body, mind, and soul through a vessel of self-sacrifice?

    • Hannah Anderson

      I’m not sure that these things are in opposition. Fighting to maintain virginity for your future spouse is very much a way to nurture “the body, mind, and soul through a vessel of self-sacrifice.” In many respects, it’s not simply the physical act itself that diminishes the fullness of romantic love, but the spiritual immaturity that led to the physical act in the first place; left unchecked, this will very much limit future (and present) romantic love.

      Still we mustn’t compartmentalize ourselves to much–we are holistic creatures and what happens in our bodies affects our spirits and vice versa…

      • Natalie

        We are holistic creatures, yes, I agree with you.

        Some women have been raped and sexually abused. They never had an opportunity to “fight to maintain virginity”.

        Plus, being a remarried woman myself, I didn’t have virginity to give to my second spouse. What could I give? I gave ALL of myself. My body, mind and soul were not of any less value to God or to my husband simply because they had previously been shared with someone else.

        So I would still caution that a virginal state never equates to fullness of romantic love. I find the idea juvenile.

        • Hannah Anderson

          I agree that it is very important to distinguish what we mean by “virginity.” If we are simply elevating a physical state of being, then certainly this is simplistic. But if the emphasis is on purity–which prior to marriage must express itself in virginity–then I don’t see how this is a problem. (The situations in question were about teenagers–for them purity did equal virginity.) Perhaps the issue is that we need to be more clear in speaking about purity which is so much bigger than simple virginity.

          • Shaney Irene

            Ummm…teenagers haven’t been raped or sexually abused?

            • Hannah Anderson

              Absolutely not. We must be more than aware and sensitive to these situations, but the abstinence conversation by definition is addressing what the individual can control–not the sinful, deplorable acts of another person.

              Maybe I’m naive enough that I’ve never considered a person who has been harmed by another person as “damaged goods.” There is no question that they are victims. But what we are discussing is how to engage the question of personal sexual ethics–being raped or molested has nothing to do with the victim’s sexual purity. They feel guilt but that is precisely where we come alongside them and affirm their worth and value–this false guilt is a tool of Satan to destroy them.

  • Brad

    So I read the Elizabeth Esther piece, the Sarah Bessey piece, the Rachel Held Evans piece, and the Tony Jones piece. You sum them up by saying: “The underlying complaint seems to demand that we accept different decisions without critique or even regret.”

    I am baffled at how you could have read any of those articles and walked away with any of them having that as their point. The underlying complaint seems fairly obvious: the way we talk about and our emphasis on virginity shows that we love sexual purity more than actual people. It creates a weird honor/shame dynamic that inhibits honesty, grace and reconciliation.

    • Rachel Held Evans

      I am as baffled by that conclusion as you are.

      But in my experience, deliberate misrepresentation and an irrational response like this one indicate that our point was well-made. Fortunately, a lot of people have been profoundly encouraged and challenged by what Sarah, Elizabeth, and Emily wrote, and I am so thankful for their work.

      • Hannah Anderson

        “..deliberate misrepresentation and irrational response like this one indicate that our point was well-made.” ?!?!?!? Seriously, you’re better than this. We don’t have to reduce everything has to be an Us vs. Them paradigm.

        In the larger context, this piece does give credit where credit is due (“They all have a point”). So that I didn’t read it as an attack on the specific posts so much as a caution about how we engage the conversation. In questioning whether we elevate virginity to idolatry, we must not lose the truth that virginity is not simply a conservative evangelical more.

        Jen Pollock Michel has a similar concern in her recent Her.meneutics piece. In response to these same articles, she questions, “But is there such a thing as hyper-purity, a sexual standard more rigorous than God’s? …I’m not so sure. God’s purity standard is effectively impossible to meet.”

        It’s a great piece that very effectively holds to both grace and truth.

        • Rachel Held Evans

          Jen made her point well without misrepresenting what Sarah, Elizabeth, Emily, and I said.

          The author of THIS piece refers to us as “commitment-free critics,” and suggests we support commitment-free sex. Nowhere in any blog post or book I have written will you see me advocating such a position. And you will certainly not find it in Sarah’s, Elizabeth’s, or Emily’s posts….which are the ones that originally generated this conversation.

          I’ve had experiences with TGC before, and I know how many in the group operate. I stand by assessment that this article misrepresents our original argument in order to divert attention from it.

          • Collin Hansen

            Thank you for commenting, Rachel! It’s kind of you to participate in this community. Maybe we’re misunderstanding each other on the type of “commitments” we have in mind. When I, for example, talk about “commitment” in relationship to sex, I’m talking about marriage. What kind of commitment do you have in mind? That would be a helpful clarification. I understand that you cannot speak for any of the other authors.

            • Kate

              Does it not occur to you that one could value and encourage sexual expression within the committed context of marriage AND wish to stop the shaming of women who’ve experienced sex in other contexts—particularly when the shaming is often presented in such a way as to re-traumatize rape and abuse victims?

            • Collin Hansen

              Great points, Kate! In fact, that’s what this article argues. I’m glad to know you agree.

            • Rachel Held Evans

              Kate says it well when she says: “Does it not occur to you that one could value and encourage sexual expression within the committed context of marriage AND wish to stop the shaming of women who’ve experienced sex in other contexts—particularly when the shaming is often presented in such a way as to re-traumatize rape and abuse victims?”

              Please consider reading Sarah’s, Elizabeth’s, and Emily’s original posts…and perhaps the comment section after my post, where a lot of men and women share their stories. The “damaged goods” narrative is profoundly destructive and needs to be discussed.

              That was the original point of our posts, but the author has not really chosen to engage it. Instead, he put words in our mouths so he can argue with something none of us ever said.

              I appreciate the dialog and the chance to weigh in. Not sure how productive it would be to continue, seeing as how we seem to be missing each other a bit. :-) But grace and peace to you all as we try to understand one another better.

            • Collin Hansen

              If everyone agrees with Kate, then we definitely don’t have any problem! Let’s continue to foster this needed conversation together. We’re all committed to sex within marriage only. And we’re all against shaming women who have been raped and abused. Have I understood you correctly, Rachel?

            • Laura Johnson

              “And we’re all against shaming women who have been raped and abused.”

              Shouldn’t we all be against shaming of ALL women (and men, though for some reason this issue seems to fall more on women), while, yes, being particularly mindful of those raped and abused?

            • Collin Hansen

              Sure thing, Laura! The good news is that I don’t hear anyone arguing otherwise—at leas not on this site. Shame doesn’t produce genuine repentance. Only the grace of Christ can.

            • Laura Johnson

              Good then! Thanks for the clarification. My apologies. I guess I shouldn’t have assumed that the fact that you ‘didn’t make a point to say X’ meant that you ‘didn’t agree with X’.

          • Hannah Anderson

            @Rachel: This is highly cynical and not representative of the generosity you generally express toward those who come from differing viewpoints.

            I did not read this article as an attack against these specific writers, but more as a corrective to the entire conversation. It did not pick apart specific posts or dismantle individuals but offered caution about how to discuss the problem of idolizing virginity. The writer is actually in agreement with the general concern and is simply arguing for a more robust expression of sexual ethics. I’m sorry if your perspective forces you to see it as an attack.

            • Hannah Anderson

              My last post referenced Rachel’s earlier one about her experience with TGC. (Wow, looks like we all need to take a number. :-)_

            • gail

              Hannah, I don’t see how the authors could not take offense. Having read all of their posts, I think they were unfairly represented in this article.

            • Hannah Anderson

              I think there is a inclination to expect to be misrepresented. The history between RHE and the TGC is getting in the way of the actual conversation.

              Like I mentioned earlier, this piece is not the first to speak caution to how we engage this issue. While many of these posts courageously speak against the shame culture, they do not as effectively offer grace rooted in repentance. For my part, I assumed it, knowing the authors, but it was not clearly articulated and that was highly problematic. If you read them in isolation to other writing, you would definitely get the impression that sexual sin wasn’t a big deal.

            • Elena Johnston

              The misrepresentation was in the title “Commitment-Free Critics.”

              Unless, of course, the title was meant to reference some other unnamed critics who actually were promoting sex outside of marriage?

            • B

              Maybe what Rachel, Sarah, Elizabeth and others are asking is that the conversation be changed? Maybe we should start talking about wholeness and worth instead of strictly virginity?

              I married my husband at 19. He was my first kiss, when we got engaged. My first sexual encounter was on my wedding night.

              By TGC standards and those that are uttered today – I counted as PURE! Yay me!

              Except….my marriage was sexually violating at every single turn. My marriage (that I am now not in – sorry – I know that takes my purity away in many of your eyes) was one of severe sexual abuse.

              When we hold up as an idol simple “Stay a virgin until your marriage and sex within marriage is awesome and pure” we are missing so much. We are missing the piece of uttering and bestowing worth at every turn. When it becomes LAW instead of Spirit we have lost our Jesus in the context.

              I fully believe that if I had been taught less “true love waits” and more about what true love actually IS, I would have never spent 10 years living in shame and pain as my husband sexually violated me every 36 hours of our marriage.

              The conversation MUST change. Rachel, Sarah, Elizabeth and others are leading that change and for that I am deeply thankful.

            • Akash Charles

              sorry but from my experience and many others Rachel : tolerance as Cat : Water!!

              anyone who holds a different view must surely hate women and wish them to be nothing more vegetables!!-this attitude, quite typical among egalitarians really makes it harder for me to even listen to the their viewpoint.

              Because I refuse to believe my Dad/ Pastor /Elders etc who all have wives (business women/nurses/architects etc) hate women!!!- if anything from my conversations egalitarian men have lower respect for women ( Casually talk about women that as the sole reason women exist is to please them sexually-it sickens me)- this is obviously not true to all egal men but this kind of attitude the RHE and other have basically reduces the ability of people to have a conversation.
              Also a lot of men s well get condemned for premarital sex as well but they do not complain about those who condemn they have enough trust that God has forgiven them – and yes condemnation I guess is a consequence of sin-that even I fear but that is part of life!!!- notice how men do not complain about being condemned

              I think the route problem is we are raising girls to believe that the whole world exists to make them happy and that they can never do anything wrong- because what the articles the author has linked to is basically trying to justify whining!!!- you sinned like all of us stop focusing on yourself and move on, and if people condemn you that is Good ( it should keep you from sinning again!!!)

            • Hannah Anderson

              I completely agree that there must be a conversation about this–but a conversation and not a battle. I agree that these bloggers brought valuable insight to a serious problem (as did the author of this piece), but I cannot agree that they offered the best solution to that problem. Just because you recognize a problem doesn’t mean that you have interpreted every nuance of the issue correctly. This article is addressing, not the problem that they have identified, but a weakness in their solution–that is fair and shouldn’t be seen as an attack.

              If we are so concerned about making this a battle, about who is right and who is wrong, about who has hidden agendas and who is misrepresenting who, we are NOT focusing on the problem. We are focusing on our own need to be right. We are focusing on ourselves. It is small and tiresome. It lacks wisdom and maturity. And it must stop if we are to move forward.

            • Hannah Anderson

              P.S. I can understand why the title is problematic but the text of the article offers a much fuller expression of how the author views the conversation–which includes crediting these bloggers with bringing up a significant issue.

            • Elena Johnston

              It’s good to point out the other side of the story, make sure it doesn’t get left out. (Shall we sin that grace may increase? May it never be!) However, bearing false witness against your neighbor is a kinda big deal.

              Fornication is sin. So is slander.

              Thanks be to God for his infinite mercy.

      • Jessica

        “The underlying complain seems to demand that we accept different decisions without critique or even regret.” That seemed to sum it up for me. I thought that was spot on.

        I understand that by condemning “damaged goods” language is not exactly advocating for free sex all the time all over the place. The problem with these blog posts this week is that they seem to want to gloss right over the fact that premarital sex goes against what God commands. It just seems like these pieces are quick to talk about how so few of us actually do remain virgins until marriage and we aren’t supposed to judge those who don’t wait…so let’s just minimize how bad premarital sex is. How is that helping anyone in the long term? I loved what the poster said above about how those in the Bible and in Christian history have not tried to minimize their sin. Let’s have a discussion about the problems with the purity ring culture while still maintaining that sin is sin and that beyond that premarital sex DOES have consequences that aren’t all that pretty some of the time.

        • Collin Hansen

          How do you read the linked pieces, Jessica? What is the sin identified? What are the consequences of premarital sex that they enumerate?

          If anyone else, including the named others commenting here, could fill us in, that would be really helpful. We do not want to misrepresent them, so here is a chance to answer clearly. Thank you in advance for the clarification!

          • Jessica

            I am sorry that I wasn’t clear in my response, Collin. I agree with you. I DID NOT see a clear calling sin a sin in the blog posts that this TGC post was responding to. I also think that those linked-to blog posts fail to talk about the real, lasting earthly consequences of premarital sex. I don’t think their discussion should leave those out.

            • Collin Hansen

              No, that’s my fault for the confusion, Jessica. I’m just looking for feedback from others who have read the articles. I’m thankful for your concluding point. We can—indeed, must—have a conversation about the purity ring culture. In fact, that’s a topic TGC has tried to address on occasion. I especially appreciated this one, Purity After Impurity, written by women with experience on this issue. Or there’s this article on “Youth Ministry’s Tendency Toward Legalism.”

              So we have to push back on the destructive effects of bad theology on hurting youth, especially women. And we continue to tell them that God can overcome in Christ any sin, including extra-marital sex, even if sometimes the consequences of our sin endure.

          • Ramona

            If you really don’t want to misrepresent them, may I suggest that you contact them and ask them their thoughts directly on whether they believe it’s a sin or not? It may be a little late for that at this point. But, at the very least, comment politely on their original articles with your area of concern, and see if they respond. That way no one has to guess at the heart of another nor intentionally or unintentionally ladle out a false accusation against their sister.

            • Collin Hansen

              Good idea. In fact, that’s what we did with Rachel Held Evans when she commented on this article. So far she has not responded.

            • Laura Johnson

              You asked her AFTER labeling her a ‘commitment free critic’ without cause.

              Next time, if you are truly wondering if these bloggers are advocating commitment free sex, maybe doing a blog post where you guys:

              1- recognize the validity of the critique (which you largely did), and
              2- Respectfully ASK if they are advocating for commitment free sex,

              instead of assuming that they are. That, IMO could lead to much healthier dialogue.

        • Hannah Anderson

          I agree completely Jessica. The problem is not that these pieces critiqued the very real problem of idolizing virginity, but they relied on “we’re all human so we can’t be blamed for sexual mistakes” instead of Christ’s mercy and grace–if you follow the line of reasoning, we can’t expect our husbands to remain faithful after marriage but praise the Lord for grace to forgive them every time they pick up a prostitute.!

          In the end, it’s not simply what was said but how it was said and what was not said–yes, we must dismantle false paradigms but we do not do that by erecting equally problematic ones. The truth is that we ARE all damaged goods–we ARE all broken. Some of us by our sexual past, some of us by our judgmentalism–but we must be broken in order for Christ to mean anything.

          • Jessica

            Yes, Hannah! Your second paragraph is very important in this discussion. WE ARE ALL DAMAGED GOODS! WE ARE ALL BROKEN. Chief of sinners, right here! Christ’s sacrifice covers all sin, though, and for that we rejoice!
            I understand that the message of ALL of us being broken isn’t always the one that is given OR the one that is heard by some people. I am grieved that in some cases women have been made to feel like they alone are damaged goods. My heart hurts for those who have been made to feel like their sins or their experiences have brought them to a place where they are beyond God’s grasp. I hope the truth of the gospel will permeate those lies. Let’s not fail to call sin what it is, though, or to minimize it. In that world, why would any of us really need a savior?

          • Brad

            “The problem is not that these pieces critiqued the very real problem of idolizing virginity, but they relied on “we’re all human so we can’t be blamed for sexual mistakes” instead of Christ’s mercy and grace”

            Have you read the articles? They most certainly did not rely on the “we’re all human” and make mistakes argument. They did talk about Christ’s mercy and grace.

            From Sarah Bessey’s article:
            “There is no shame in Christ’s love.”

            “Now, in Christ, you’re clear, like Canadian mountain water, rushing and alive, quenching and bracing, in your wholeness.”

            “For I am convinced, right along with the Apostle Paul, that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any other power, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus. Not even “neither virginity nor promiscuity” and all points between can separate you from this love.”

            • Jessica

              Brad, I think there might be more agreement on some issues than it seems like. Maybe not…who knows…
              I think there was a lack of a CLEAR link between the premarital sex (and it’s sinfullness!!) and Christ’s sacrifice covering that sin. This goes back to the commenter who talked about the importance of magnifying our sin that the amazing grace of Christ’s sacrifice might really mean something. No need for cheap grace in this discussion, in my opinion.
              Also, unrelated to just this comment, this whole thing is getting a bit out of hand with the shaming talk. Just because someone disagrees with you, does not mean they are shaming you. Just because someone says that something you did was sinful does not mean that they are shaming you. Women HAVE BEEN SHAMED by people or even by congregations for their sexual sins or even for things done to them. THAT IS SHAMEFUL, but let’s not imagine that where it isn’t happening.

            • Hannah Anderson

              @Brad Yes, I have read the pieces and Sarah’s came closest to offering legitimate redemption. But it was offered in context of the shaming of others not the shame brought about by personal sin. So by not making the distinction clearly, it read like Christ’s love redeems you from other people’s shaming–not that of your own sin. Because the truth is that promiscuity most certainly does separate you from Christ’s love–not that He loves you less but that there is a breach in the relationship–and it is repentance that restores you fully and completely to Him.

      • Howard Merrell

        First let me thank you for your work which has been a blessing to my wife (whom, by the way, I have no problem describing as beautiful.), and other ladies.
        I obviously cannot argue with the intention of your post, and I do confess to being both chronologically and biologically removed from the young women at the heart of this discission. I do think that characterizing Bart’s observation as “deliberate misrepresentation” and an “irrational response” does not match what I read.
        I will limit my comments to the portions of the other posts you quoted in yours.
        It is obvious from the first paragraph you quote that Elizabeth Esther is using sarcasm to help make her point. I both admire the skillful use of sarcasm and agree with her main point. However the one-sided-ness of her argument, and her choice of words–what is “hyper-purity” anyhow? 101%?–do leave little room to maneuver for those of us who want to sound a clear call for just plain, non-hyper purity. Every Sunday I address felons, alcoholics, fornicators, liars, adulterers, and, since I include myself in those being preached to, those plagued with hidden vices like pride and inappropriate lust. As a preacher who seeks to uphold the standards of God’s word I constantly run the risk of wrongly offending those I confront. I listened to the young women who wrote these articles. We do need grace.
        Sarah Bessey writes, “In the face of our sexually-dysfunctional culture, the Church longs to stand as an outpost of God’s ways of love and marriage, purity and wholeness.” I for one say “Amen.” (Though without inserting a slang term for copulation.) Yet, again in her concluding remarks the sarcasm aimed at efforts to be just such an outpost kicks in. I suppose that hyper-purity must be associated with “sparkling upper-middle-class extravagance.”

        To the “Darling, young one[s] burning with shame and hiding in the silence, listen now.” You will not find the peace and cleansing that you so very much need by seeking to lessen God’s standards. You will find them by maximizing God’s grace. For times when those of us who claim to speak for God have condemned sin without proclaiming grace, I ask forgiveness. Sin, all sin, has consequences. The greatest of those consequences is not a failure to have a mind-blowing honeymoon. The greatest consequence of sin is the death of the Son of God on the cross.
        I would feel better if the plea to the young woman were not “Don’t believe that lie.” but Understand the magnitude of God’s grace. Those who are forgiven and cleansed by Him are not “damaged goods.” They are a bride “glor[ious], having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing.

      • Teri Anne

        I think this argument is really about patriarchal men maintaining their power in a culture that is increasingly egalitarian. The cult of purity is a very powerful tool for controlling women and shutting down the valid concerns of women like Rachael Held Evans or other women who are less well known. As church membership continues to decline (one third of people under thirty do not attend church), complementarian ministers such as John Piper are becoming increasingly irrelevant. But meanwhile they are making a lot of noise rattling their sabers.

        • Sara

          I think you nailed it, Teri Anne.

    • Paula

      Brad, you’ve said this better than I did. I’m glad I’m not the only person confused by how that was his “take away.”

      • Rachel Held Evans

        We critiqued (fairly, I think) the “damaged goods” narrative that can be so destructive in some religious cultures, and the author has concluded that we therefore support “commitment-free” sex. It would be insulting if it weren’t so bizarre.

        • Joe Carter

          ***and the author has concluded that we therefore support “commitment-free” sex. It would be insulting if it weren’t so bizarre.***

          Gingerich makes it clear that when he is talking about “commitment-free sex” he is referring to sex outside of marriage. Are you saying (as I hope you are) that you agree that sex outside of marriage is always wrong?

          • Hannah Thomas

            Joe, I’m going to quote ONE portion of piece clear up what you are asking.

            ”’Christians are alarmed by what we see as a sexually permissive society. America no longer seems to share our values. This scares us. The less sacred sex seems to the broader culture, the more sacred we insist on making it among fellow Christians.”’

            Notice, ‘by what WE SEE” or ‘share OUR VALUES’. The last sentence was referring to the purity ring type of movement attitude. They overcompensate the values we hold dear to the point of no grace, forgiveness, etc if you fail in this area. That’s not Christlike, and it certainly doesn’t mean no boundaries when comes to sex either.

            They basically are telling girls (and yes BOYS) that your virtue as a human is taken away if your virginity is gone before marriage. Yes, it is a gift that is intended for your spouse on your wedding night. Our value is not tied up in our virginity, and yet that is the message you receive within these movements. It sad and its very harmful.

            I honestly don’t understand why people can’t seem to comprehend this aspect. The ‘commitment free’ aspect seems to just add motive to what was pointed out, and honestly I have feeling it all due the label of feminist the author made sure to point out. I can’t believe I’m the only one that has read the stereotypical definitions of feminist ad nauseum, and how they view sex in general like ‘sex in the city’.

            When you view the author(s) in that aspect – no matter how they explain things – it tends to jade your prospective. That’s just human nature in our culture it seems. Sad really.

            • JohnM

              Hannah Thomas, We’ll see if this one links. In any case, if I read that Christians are the ones who are alarmed I would assume “our values” refers to Christian values, not to the values of your mythical “purity ring”. As for anyone’s “virtue as a human” make no mistake, that is pretty much taken away by sin whether one is a virgin or not. I think some commentors here have made that point, even as they argue for those “values we hold dear”.

        • Akash Charles

          Newsflash , we all are damaged goods that need God’s grace and women are not the only ones who think that, men also think and rightly so that the are damaged goods and that is good as it means all the more we need to depend on God’s Grace to survive. The author concluded it because you never said it was wrong and you refuse to say that now??!!

          also this virginity damaged goods thing affects men as well-you need to get out into the world and see that life in many ways is worse for men!

    • Collin Hansen

      I thought Tony Jones, at least, was pretty straightforward. I don’t know if any of the other writers agree with him. Since they’re now commenting, maybe they can help us out. He said:

      To pretend that those are two virgins walking down the aisle, approaching the coital bed for the first time is uncommonly naive And it seems to me that Jesus was lots of things, but he wasn’t naive to the world in which he lived. He did, however, both preach and live prophetically within that culture. He didn’t take it as it was, without pushing back against it. In his day, it was that tax collectors were ostracized and that men shouldn’t pluck heads of grain on the Sabbath. Today, sex is everywhere. It’s unavoidable. A new sexual ethic for Christians is desperately needed. I for one am going to work on that. Will you join me?

      • Brad

        Actually, when I read that, I didn’t find it at all straightforward. Wanting to work on a new sexual ethic does not necessitate wanting to get rid of any concept that premarital sex is a sin. He doesn’t outline anything about the shape of this new sexual ethic, but just states we need one and he’s going to start working on one.

        Essentially, I read the desire to create a new sexual ethic as completely in line with my statement above, that the underlying point is our current sexual ethic creates a weird honor/shame dynamic that inhibits honesty, grace and reconciliation.

        • Collin Hansen

          That’s an interesting response, Brad. I wonder if that’s how others read it, too. Maybe so.

          As I read him, Jones writes in the context of criticizing views that restrict sex to the marriage covenant. And he says we need a new ethic. And he says we live in a culture where sex is unavoidable. And he says that it’s not realistic to expect two people to abstain from sex before marriage.

          I maintain that Jones offers a few hints, at least, about what that new ethic would look like. But maybe I’m the only one with that interpretation.

          • Brad

            “As I read him, Jones writes in the context of criticizing views that restrict sex to the marriage covenant. ”

            I’m wondering where you got that context. He starts with Sarah Bessey’s article as the context for his thoughts. Nothing in Sarah’s article criticizes the view that sex should be restricted to marriage.

            “And he says that it’s not realistic to expect two people to abstain from sex before marriage.”

            He never states that. He may hint at that with his comment about the average age of people getting married being so much longer after puberty than before, but he never says that it is unrealistic to expect people to abstain from sex before marriage.

            He does say that it’s naive to believe that both partners will be virgins on their wedding night – and, in fact, the statistics support this. But, and this is my view, this is why we need a new sexual ethic – we need a way that move beyond hidden shame and allows us to honestly deal with sin in a gracious and conciliatory way.

            • Collin Hansen

              Thanks for the clarification, Brad. What do you think the new sexual ethic would look like? And how would we develop it? In other words, what is our standard or authority?

            • Brad

              Collin –
              First, thanks for trying to engage in fruitful discussion. As for what I think a new sexual ethic would look like, I’m not entirely sure, and blog comments are not a real good place to try and sketch something like that, but I will say two things:

              1. I agree with Elizabeth, Sarah, and Rachel – sexual immorality needs to be demoted from it’s place as the *worst* sin you could commit.

              2. From my vantage point, the church in general has a hard time being honest and helping people deal with sin. It’s easy to confess about our broken past, but hard to confide about our broken present. Part of this is due to the nature of sin, but I think part of that involves the culture our churches create.

            • Collin Hansen

              Excellent points, Brad. That’s a good place to start in any discussion about the contemporary situation as we move toward applying God’s Word.

            • Rebecca Erwin (@frognparis)

              We, as a Christian Culture, often use the words: repentance, sin, brokenness,etc. They are thrown around like football scripture verses. What we are not, as a culture, taught is how to recieve forgiveness. To accept and walk in the grace given. Instead of debating sin/not sin we should be discussing how to walk in freedom.

              As a victim of many types of inappropriate situations in the church, along with being told my body was wicked and deceitful to begin with I never realized or understood God as a refuge or defender. I did not know I could defend myself, let alone be truly redeemed. The heart knowledge of these concepts took years of Holy Spirit teaching me himself. These women are the first in my whole life who are speaking it in authority. For that validation I rejoice in the one who made us all free.

    • gail

      I am baffled as well, and surprised at the criticism of what is such a necessary conversation. Having worked with high school and college students for thirty years, I believe these viewpoints are crucial to the spiritual development of the next generations. While we strive for purity always, the reality is that we are not perfect. We need to create a space for these conversations and applaud these authors!

      • Collin Hansen

        The great thing about the internet is that if you want to create space for conversation, you can just start a blog! And no one can tell you what to say! So thankfully, we’re having the conversation. Now, what’s next? How do we help young people strive for purity, and how do we help them find the grace of God in Christ when they sin so that they can “go and sin no more”?

  • Brad

    But this is manufacturing disagreement. It’s not like this author is disagreeing with their position but misrepresenting their arguments. This is creating a position that is not found in those articles

    • Joe Carter

      ***But this is manufacturing disagreement.***

      Is it? I think if each of those authors were to state that they believe unequivocally that sex outside of marriage is wrong that Gingerich would clarify and apologize if necessary. What do you think the chances are that they’ll do that? (I’d say close to zero.)

      • Brad

        “I think if each of those authors were to state that they believe unequivocally that sex outside of marriage is wrong that Gingerich would clarify and apologize if necessary. What do you think the chances are that they’ll do that? (I’d say close to zero.)”

        Nothing in any of the articles I said I read states or hints that they believe it’s OK to have sex outside of marriage. I regularly read two of the authors mentioned, and have come across nothing to suggest either of them believes it’s OK to have sex outside of marriage. I would say that the chances of an apology are closer to being zero than that they hold the position that’s been created for them.

        • Collin Hansen

          I hope you’re right, Brad. So help me understand: Is that point about restricting sex to marriage not relevant for these discussions? If so, why not say it?

          I can certainly understand a need to get beyond an unhelpful shame culture. I just hope we’re not also trying to get beyond God’s Word as if it’s unhelpful as well.

        • Joe Carter

          Well, I’ve asked RHE to say if she thinks sex outside of marriage is immoral and she refused to give an answer. She has certainly given plenty of hints (her support of homosexual sex) that implies she doesn’t have a problem with it.

          • Brenda

            Well there is a big leap. That is how people are misrepresented-when others make assumptions or put words in their mouth

            • Joe Carter

              If they are being “misrepresented” then why don’t they clarify what they believe rather than refusing to answer a really basic and simple question?

            • Akash Charles

              they do not want to clarify cause the know that deep down they truly believe pre-marital sex is Okay- but hey we cannot say that their view is wrong then we become “legalistic”!!!

      • sara

        why is it impossible for some of us to have a conversation about sexuality without inserting a reflexive disclaimer about sex-outside-of-marriage into every piece of writing? this comment — and demand — are oversimplified and puerile.

        • Joe Carter

          Why is it “oversimplified and puerile” to ask people if they hold to the Biblical view of sexual ethics? And why is it so hard to get a straight answer when they are asked whether sex outside of marriage is immoral? That is, after all, the point they say they are being misrepresented on.

          • Laura Johnson

            Perhaps people don’t like being given litmus tests in order to be deemed worthy of approval. It can feel like a game. “Answer yes to all the right questions and we will let you into our club.” Some of us have decided we don’t really care enough about ‘the club’ to play the game, even if we might have answered ‘yes’ to your questions after all.

            • Laura Johnson

              oopps, this was meant to be a question Joe Carter…

            • Rachel Held Evans

              Yes. Well put

            • Joe Carter

              Let’s clarify what has happened:

              1. Gingrich wrote that many Christian writers are starting to imply that we need a new standard for sexual ethics.

              2. Several of those writers say that they are being misrepresented.

              3. We offer to change the wording of the article in order to not to “misrepresent” their views if they’ll clarify what those views are.

              4. They refuse to do so.

              It’s not a “litmus test” but a question about Biblical sexual ethics. If they have abandoned that ethical standard then they should have the courage to admit that is the case instead of implying that everyone is “misrepresenting” what they believe.

            • Laura Johnson

              It’s a litmus test ABOUT ‘Biblical’ sexual ethics… and their posts, at least RHE, SB, and EE’s, were NOT ABOUT sexual ethics. They were about a culture of shame.

            • Kelley

              Perhaps they do not *need* to clarify those views. In the articles by Rachel, Sarah, Elizabeth, and Emily, you will find four women celebrating that fact that Jesus makes us pure regardless of our sexual history, and pleading with the Church to recognize that truth. This article implies that they were advocating premarital sex, which was not the point of any of their articles. That is misrepresentation, regardless of their positions.

            • Melody

              No Joe is right. They are not making it clear because they were raised in the church.
              At some point it was no longer a big deal to have men in leadership getting divorces, getting remarried, ect. and now we have living together, gay leadership living together and gay marriage. That is how our attitudes shape the bigger picture. It was all about not judging and extending grace and sin abounded.

              I’m coming at it from the other direction. I have lived the wretched life and experienced the pain caused by it. I do not want my children to live my pain. It is much worse than having to deal with self-righteous believers. And you can’t be healed until you face it head on. People raised in the church need to quit trying to claim preciousness and hang on to the fact that they deserve death. That is when you really get grace.

            • Alfredo zavala

              @ Melody. Wow! Best response yet.”I’m coming at it from the other direction. I have lived the wretched life and experienced the pain caused by it. ” “People raised in the church need to quit trying to claim preciousness and hang on to the fact that they deserve death. That is when you really get grace.” It helps me “get” it a bit, as I was not raised in the church as well. By “getting it” I mean people who want to be for lack of a better term “liberal Evangelicals” If you want to have transgender Christians as i just read about on RHE’s blog, then why participate on TGC’s page? I mean guess what, following Jesus is not easy. It’s not about me. It’s not about my sex. It’s not about me feeling good about myself. It’s about dying and being alive. Maybe you’ve forgotten or never experienced the wretchedness of which Melody speaks of. I for one am so glad that I have been set free of it. I have a new life. And though this might shock some of you … a changed life.I think a basic cursory reading of the NT makes this perfectly clear- your life can and should be changed. My 10 year old son gets it.

            • Collin Hansen

              Thank you for your comment, Kelley. Perhaps you could help clarify something. Through what means and message does Jesus make us pure? And what does Jesus ask of those he purifies? I’m not sure I understand the answer to those questions based on the articles you cited. I appreciate the help!

            • Kelley

              Hi Collin,
              I could be misunderstanding your question,(and if I am, I’m terribly sorry!), but are you saying that because these articles don’t specifically mention the cross and the resurrection, nor holiness, the authors’ are advocating sexual sin? They all claim to be followers of Christ, as do you and I, so I am not sure spelling out the gospel is needed here, since we both know it to be true. :) All I will say is, no sin is too great for Jesus’ forgiveness. When I read the aforementioned articles, I saw that as one of their main points (in addition to the fact that people can make virginity an idol). While it’s true that none of those articles specifically says “sex before you are married is a sin,” neither do they say that we can just go on sinning with abandon. That’s what I meant by my comment.

            • Kate Evelyn

              It bothers me, Kelley, that (it seems as though) you’re asked to directly state what you believe, as if your faith is being questioned. The point of the posts by Sarah, Rachel, Elizabeth, and Emily was not to define sin, but to talk about grace and forgiveness and hope. The question Collin asked you, as well as this post in general, is more interested in making grand statements.

              *To Collin, if I’m misinterpreting the question you asked Kelley, I am sorry.

            • Hannah Anderson

              Because it was brought up earlier, this clip is a terrific snapshot of how TGC would understand the culture of “damaged goods.”


            • Collin Hansen

              I’m afraid you’re misunderstanding. There seems to be a lot of that going around, unfortunately. I’m sorry for not making my intentions clear. I think it’s absolutely needed that we say no sin is too great for Jesus’ forgiveness and that we can and do make virginity an idol. Seems to me like we actually have a lot of common ground. I also think it’s helpful to follow the example of Jesus and share with these women the basis of hope of his forgiveness and the promise that sin need not endure.

            • Kelley

              I agree. :)

            • Edna

              Collin, women AND men. This isn’t just a woman’s issue.

            • Yuri


            • Brenda B

              I agree with Joe, and also Alfredo’s comment further above. I certainly don’t disagree that there needs to be a discussion about this strange “purity ring” thing or that shaming a person, any person, no matter what their sin struggle is, is sinful. Shame on anyone who does that! But there has been no comment as to whether or not these bloggers believe that extramarital sex is sinful. Why the silence on this? I do not believe that just because something feels good, that makes it OK. That is relativity and it’s a major problem. I think it should be clear that God’s way is the right way in all moral choices. I also believe His perfect grace and forgiveness are not in question here either, in my mind that’s a given. All these “technicalities” and “what about rape” comments are avoidance of the issue. We’re not stupid. I have been involved in the mainstream evangelical Church (not the same “building” however) for 42 years and I have NEVER run across a single person who would claim the victim of a rape or an assault is the one who sinned, or that such a person is “damaged goods.” That person was ASSAULTED. They were not committing any sexual sin! That insults me as a Christian, that anyone would seriously assume I would think that! Use a little common sense and say what you say and mean what you mean.

            • Rod


            • Rod

              That yes was for Laura’s comment. Oops.

        • Hannah Anderson

          Mainly because of cultural issues–we have to establish a baseline precisely because our culture doesn’t. Sexual freedoms is a right within our culture so when we discuss sex, we must make a distinction about a Christian understanding of sexuality and our culture’s understanding of sexuality.

      • Shaney Irene

        Many of them won’t not because they endorse premarital sex but because blanketly condemning all sex outside of marriage doesn’t take into account that some people have no choice–i.e., those who were raped or abused. If you don’t think the two things are equivalent, you probably haven’t talked to someone who has been raped or abused. I have, and the blanket “all sex outside of marriage is wrong,” message makes them feel like they did something wrong when they didn’t. This discussion deserves nuance and precise language, because the women who are being hurt by these messages deserve our compassion.

        • Melody

          No that is a natural reaction in yourself to the rape. It isn’t necessarily what others are thinking. God certainly does not hold you responsible. Those are Satan’s lies.
          All sex outside of marriage is wrong. What was done to you is wrong. The person that did that to you holds all the responsibility.

        • JohnM

          Well, I would certainly condem the actions of the rapist or abuser. I’ve never, in any of many churches I’ve attended or conversations with Christians I’ve had, heard anyone suggest the victim or rape or abuse is blameworthy.

          I’m with Melody above – What kind of church do you people go to?

          • Edna

            JohnM, I don’t think it’s that churches suggest that victims of rape and abuse are to blame for what has happened. It’s that churches sometimes idolize purity and virginity and make it the be-all-end-all of Christian life. In doing so, they establish this goal that victims aren’t able to attain because their purity was stolen from them, and this can create more guilt for the victim.

            • JohnM

              Edna, While I agree churches sometimes wrongly talk as if sexual sin is the only kind there is the goal is always presented in terms of the individual’s thoughts and actions. When someone truly had something forced upon them, when no intent of the their own was involved and they had no choice, their “purity” was not stolen from them, they still have it. Not that any of us in a general sense are really pure, apart from Christ, but that’s a different subject, we’re talking about something specific here.

              I can understand some sense of loss on a victim’s part, but there’s no reason for that to translate into a sense of guilt. Maybe churches need to stand ready to explain this, as needed, but they need not and should not leave off preaching God’s intent where our sexuality is concerned. And when we critique the churche’s message on this or any other subject we need to avoid overstating our case.

            • Edna

              John M, my first response seems to not be linked to yours. Sorry.

              “but there’s no reason for that to translate into a sense of guilt”

              JohnM, I would really encourage you to look into the effects of rape. Please look into it.

              No one has said that the church needs to stop preaching God’s intent for sexuality; what people have said, and what I agree with, is that the church needs to stop making an idol out of it because it’s harmful to the whole church body and especially to those who are victims of rape and abuse.

            • JohnM

              Edna, Yes, I’ve noticed there does seem to be some problem with responses linking here for some reason. Anyway, I debated whether I should respond to your last, or if it was time to let it go but… :)

              I don’t deny the apparent – that some rape victims experience a sense of guilt – I just deny that there is a reason they should. If we need to make that point more often and more emphatically then let’s make it. If there is more we can and need to do for victims let’s figure out what that is and do it.

              However, whenever we preach about God’s intent on anything I don’t know as it would be correct to say we are making idols. Our error, when there is any, may be that we sometimes preach on one thing to the exclusion of anything else. I don’t think it’s even the case that anyone’s past is really being held against them as much as is suggested, and I agree it shouldn’t be.

              Let’s just don’t play the “what about” game as if the exception is the rule. If women (not that there’s a double standard, just that women seem to be the particular concern here)find themselves “not a virgin” it is not the majority case that they were raped or abused.

            • Edna

              Oh, man… this is frustrating haha. This is my last attempt to make this comment work:

              John, thanks for your response :)

              While I agree that victims of abuse are not guilty for what has happened, I don’t think it’s fair for us to say how they should respond to the trauma (and just to be clear, the feelings of guilt/shame occur in both Believers and Non-Believers). Sexual abuse happens to 1/5 women in the U.S., so while they certainly aren’t in the majority, that’s a huge number, and it’s important that we be mindful of them.

              I agree that we are not making idols when we preach God’s intent. His intent is to preached, and we are to be obedient. My personal experience growing up in the church in New England and frequently visiting the various churches of friends (just to give you context) is that often, in a genuine attempt to preach purity, youth and young adult ministries in particular DO idolize sexuality and can hold people’s past against them. In talking with people and also in reading different blogs, it seems like this happens somewhat frequently.

              All I’m advocating is a more balanced, scriptural approach. We should always seek balance.

          • Akash Charles

            If you are going to condemn that then why not condemn promiscuity-why do you choose what to condemn and what not to .

            as far as I know God condemns all sin

            • JohnM

              Who said I don’t condemn promiscuity?

            • Melody

              Exactly and it puts our young people at risk. There is more than purity at risk. Sin never hurts just one person.
              These articles seem to be equating sex with picking your nose in public. Yes it is covered by the blood but it will still hurt. It is a big deal. Sex for a woman is connected to the heart.
              Those blogs just sound too much like the world that tries to tell us that we as women can have the same freedom and attitudes as men towards sex. It’s a lie. It hurts to give yourself to someone and have it turn out badly. It’s not some memory that you look back at fondly or in a neutral way like a first grade crush.

              The worst part about it. It is setting up ridicule of the girls that want to be pure because God has asked us to be because our bodies no longer belong to us but is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Where is the place for those women in that group of bloggers?

            • Akash Charles

              according to the “feminists” their body is theirs and they can o as they wish

              how dare a God take away their rights!!!

            • MikeG

              Akash, I would encourage you to read the articles because they have nothing to do with what you wrote.

      • Bridge

        Joe, this is unfairly setting up a straw man. As Laura critiques above, you seem to be refusing to consider the point of view of these bloggers because they aren’t saying it the way you would say it. Say your own piece, hear the heart in theirs. This perspective requires giving the benefit of the doubt rather than caving to the impulse of cynicism. Grace and peace.

      • Brad
        • JohnM

          Brad, This is part of the problem. My first response after clicking on the link was “Here’s one…what exactly?”

          What I initially saw was a rambling discourse that didn’t seem to get to any point. Only after clicking through a link to a link and scrolling through did I find “Yes, virginity is wonderful. I value it. I tell my children to wait until they are married to have sex”.

          Well good. I still don’t know if that answers the mail for everyone. Especially given the context within which it is embedded I’m not sure if it is the unequivocal statement people are looking for.

          Maybe there’s more that I still missed. Even if that is the case the point I’m really trying to get at is that there is a certain virtue in being concise and to the point, and answering direct(and legitimate) questions directly. When people ask a straight up question they’re looking for a straight up answer. They don’t want to have to dig for it. They shouldn’t have to. I don’t think anyone owes an apology for not finding buried statements.

  • Laura

    I had read many of the initial articles this article addresses. As a single virgin in my late twenties I had been left feeling both ashamed, as if I had been accused of being to judgmental, and hurt for not having experienced something that apparently was no big deal cause God forgives. I know this was not intended by the authors but I am glad to see a more fleshed out response to the ideas proposed.
    The gospel provides a picture that is big enough to cover both me and my sisters who have had sex before marriage. God extends his love to Israel as she prostitutes her self to foreign gods time and time again. He himself provides the means for her atonement by his death for her. This does not minimize the depravity of her prostitution but emphasized the vast extent of God’s grace. I do not idolize “virginity” because I know that even my “virgin” heart has to daily crucify its lust on the altar of God’s grace. I am humbled in this. Yet let us not go on sinning that grace may abound. Rather let us strive to reflect the nature of Christ more fully in all our actions, and especially the marriage relationship as it is such a close reflection of the relationship between Christ and the Church.

    • Joe Carter

      Great comment, Laura.

  • Jessi

    It took each of these women (and guys too) a lot guts and courage and trusting of themselves to God’s hands alone to be protected from the backlash of putting themselves out there like they did, with such honesty and vulnerability. They shared from their own stories, each different, and how God worked in their lives. I didn’t hear any condoning of sin or indifference to God or His word. I hear much testimony, which is part of how we overcome…both personally and corporately. I applaud each of them for the words and for trusting themselves and their reputations to His care. I am absolutely sure that growth and healing has come to many through their willingness to shed fear and shame, and push back the darkness with the light of truth. A huge THANK YOU to each one of you that was cited in this post for sharing your hearts.

    • Laura Johnson


      I read several of these pieces. The intent that I can see in these posts is to address the sometimes very unhealthy aspects of the ‘purity’ culture. They were vulnerable stories and critiques that need to be heard. They were not meant to be comprehensive ethics on premarital sex. Hear THEIR MESSAGE, don’t get all uptight that they didn’t give YOUR MESSAGE. There is room for varied perspectives and aspects of this issue, but don’t expect every author to be able to give all aspects and perspectives at once.

      • Bridge

        You’re right on here, Laura. The problem is that rather than taking these posts at face value, hearing their hearts and pain, and viewing these as brothers and sisters loved by God, many commenting (in keeping with the original TGC blog above) seem angry because their message isn’t part of the story. The emphasis isn’t where they would place it – on sin and fear and retribution – but instead on where the writers place it – on grace and peace and forgiveness. The harsh and unforgiving nature of the culture critiqued oozes out of the judgmental words of its defenders. May we all better understand God’s grace – and extend it more freely to each other!

        • Laura Johnson

          And to be fair, I think TGC and most commenters would agree with the ideas of grace, forgiveness, etc. But they are very afraid that ‘too much’ focus on grace and such, with out always being very vigilant to talk about sin, will lead to license to sin. They are suspicious that anything on the more ‘progressive’ side will just lead to pure relativism. I don’t believe that fear is founded, but I do believe it is what they are reacting from. I do believe their hearts are genuine in their desire to ‘defend the truth’… and I do want to honor that sincerity.

          They are worried we ‘progressives’ (though I wouldn’t even really put myself in that category) will turn everyone into godless sinners, and we are worried that the ‘conservatives’ want to turn everyone into pharisees.

          And Jesus stands in the middle, welcoming all who will come.

          • Collin Hansen

            Appreciate the thoughtful comment, Laura. You can never have too much grace! Just being vigilant about sin won’t do any good. Only Jesus can liberate us. But from what? And to what kind of life? Those questions remain unanswered, from what I can see.

            • Laura Johnson

              To a life of love and freedom (from sin AND shame)and intimacy with God… an intimacy that would include both wrestling with questions about how to live well and submitting to our best understanding of such.

              I strongly, strongly suspect that RHE and the rest of the bloggers would agree with that, as would you and the author, no?

              I just wish we could start the conversation there, without suspicion of or fear of each other.

            • Collin Hansen

              I thank as long as we’re submitting our understanding of how to live well to the Bible, I’m on board. But if we can’t agree on sexual ethics, the conversation will be stunted. We won’t be able to progress from the shame to the healing and repentance, where necessary on every side.

            • Laura Johnson

              I can agree, it just takes some wrestling (more for some I realize) to feel confident in how to understand and apply the sexual ethics in the Bible.

              And there needs to be grace and dialogue in that wrestling, realizing that some of us don’t always feel it’s all ‘clear’. It’s discouraging to feel like we are always on the verge of being ‘written off’ by the conservatives just bc we are prepared to reexamine why we believe what we believe about X, Y and Z.

              Thanks for the gracious dialogue!!

            • Collin Hansen

              That’s helpful to hear and know, Laura. Blessings!

  • Hannah Anderson

    Just to throw another wrench into the works:

    I distinctly remember the moment my mother told me that if I were ever to get pregnant that she and my father would care for me and help raise the baby. It shocked me because, good Christian girl that I was, I really did believe that the very worst thing that I could do was engage in sexual sin. I thought I would have no choice but to be rejected. But that wasn’t my mother’s fault; it was my own simplicity. My mother actually extended grace to me that I didn’t even know existed.

    Point being: it’s true that churches can overemphasize virginity but it’s also true that teenagers can sometimes misunderstand what is being said.

    • Jessica

      I think this also goes on with older women (past teenage years). I am mixing up blog posts and comments in my head, but I have seen it happen a lot where someone who has engaged in premarital sex can be sitting in a church and simply hear it said that engaging in premarital sex is a sin…and their takeaway is that they have been shamed. LET ME BE CLEAR, shaming does happen. However, it seems like “shaming” someone is fairly wide and open to interpretation. Just my two cents…

      • Hannah Anderson

        Absolutely. There is legitimate, sinful, despicable shaming that flows from evil self-righteous hearts. And then there is shaming we feel when our sins are confronted. If we don’t respond in repentance, the only thing left to us is to push back on the people speaking against our sin. We begin to feel that it was their sin of “shaming” that made us feel guilty not our sin.

        I have also seen wonderful expressions of grace and support when people have sinned so it’s hard for me to say this issue is one-sided. Communication happens between a sender and a receiver and any false understanding could be the result of one or the other, or quite frankly both. When working with teenagers, adults must be abundantly careful in how they speak about purity precisely because teenagers generally do lack wisdom and don’t have the capacity to capture the fullness of the conversation.

  • Rod

    They don’t need to do that because they haven’t stated that sex outside of marriage is permissible.

  • Maribeth Jones

    Eshet Chayil to Sarah, Elizabeth, Rachel and Emily! Their posts were brave and encouraging. I didn’t find anything that led me to believe that they’re OK with “commitment-free sex.” There is definitely a time and place to talk about the consequences of sex outside of marriage, but that simply wasn’t what the authors were writing about. They were addressing the “damaged goods” narrative that is shaming women in the church. Let’s not minimize that message by criticizing them for not covering the complexities of sex, purity and the church in it’s entirety.

    • Eric Fry

      Exactly, Maribeth, and Eschet Chayil to you along with Rachel, Elizabeth, Sarah, and Emily as well (and L’chaim to Tony.) I wonder if these same evangelicals give the purity lecture to people in their thirties and forties coming to church for the first time, or returning after being shamed by a congregation for being divorced? Do divorced adults get a different message about purity than young people do? Some churches do, some don’t; I personally returned to a church some years after a divorce, and they were accepting of me, so long as I stayed single the rest of my life, yet they still preached against asceticism and the ban on marriage for Catholic priests.

      As you said, this is an extremely complex issue, and a party line mentality isn’t going to cut the mustard from any side on these issues.

  • Kate Evelyn

    Having read the posts–specifically those by Elizabeth Esther, Sarah Bessey, Emily Maynard and Rachel Held Evans–criticized in this article, I don’t understand how the author of this piece comes to the conclusion that the authors are advocating for any kind of sexual sin. They weren’t claiming that fornication is fine or encouraging Christians not to bother waiting for marriage, to go and sleep with whomever they want. They were calling the church to be more Christlike, proclaiming the truth that that all our past mistakes have been washed away, forgiven. God Himself doesn’t remember them anymore–so why should Christians throw condemnation and shame upon someone who had sex outside of marriage? The writers were rejecting the unfair boxes Christian culture sometimes attempts to force people into–that virgin equals pure and holy versus non-virgin, which equals sinner and ruined–because Christ loves both alike. In His eyes, both virgins and non-virgins are equally pure. Christians are defined by Christ, not by sexual history. How is anything “not well” with that?
    While I think the author of this particular post had good intentions, I think he gravely misinterpreted the posts in question.

    • Shaney Irene

      Completely agree.

    • Kelley


    • perfectnumber628

      Yes! Amen!

    • Paula

      Well said, Kate!

    • Melody

      Or equally not pure would be a better definition. A virgin is not without sin. She could be a virgin because she is such a nasty mean person that no one will get within ten feet of her. She would still need the Savior.

      • JohnM

        “She could be a virgin because she is such a nasty mean person that no one will get within ten feet of her”. :) Ah Melody. Strait shootin’ Melody. Seriously, I appreciate what you bring to the conversation.

      • Kate Evelyn

        My point wasn’t about criticizing hypothetical situations involving various sins. In Christ, we are spotless and pure and clean regardless of sexual past or a history of nasty meanness, and that was my point–and the point of the posts by Sarah, Rachel, Elizabeth, and Emily.

  • EMSoliDeoGloria

    Jen Pollock Michel’s article at CT is one of the best I’ve seen in this discussion (Carolyn James’s a few months ago was also good).

    I wonder if Bart fully grasps what is being protested in these articles but I share his concern that some of the authors seem unwilling to hold up the biblical standard of sexual integrity.

    God’s grace get’s up close and personal with human brokenness and redeems us. But redemption transforms us, it doesn’t excuse or minimize our brokenness.

    • Hannah Anderson

      Yes, this is important–“some of the authors.” It’s very hard to discuss multiple pieces and individual articles. I guess I understood his referencing them as setting up the broader conversation–not simply a critique against each one.

  • Rachel Held Evans

    …replying to Laura.

  • Alfredo zavala

    Well, I can’t believe it but I actually just read through ALL the comments!Very interesting conversation. Like it all. Who says FB is not edifying! I do have to say the elephant that is in the room is if those who feel misrepresented on their views of premarital sex (ie. not forbidden ) would really simply end my ignorance on their views(since I don’t read their blogs) and answer the simple question! Don’t dance around it by bringing up technicalities. As the old saying goes, the silence is deafening!
    I’m with Joe here. I’ll give you the all the non consensual outside of sex technicalities. Ok? The reality is that I, as a concerned follower of Jesus, am getting increasingly alarmed at what I think is a laissez faire attitide towatd sin in general and sexual sin specifically in the church. No waffling please. This is not a litmus test, just an honest question. Where do you stand? Waiting…

  • Spiritual Images

    I believe that if your loved one really loves you then he will wait for the right time as an expression of his love and respect for your belief.

  • Raquel

    I think a great indicator that Christian culture really does make virginity an idol is the response of many who demand that the bloggers write out that they are not promoting sexual sin. Let’s focus on context and the point of the article.

  • Teri Anne

    Elizabeth Esther is not disagreeing with the traditional beliefs of abstaining from sex before marriage. She is objecting to the purity culture, in which a woman’s worth is marked by her virginity and ancient doctrines are dressed up with purity rings and purity balls.

    Since ancient times, any woman who does not adhere to the cult of virginity is considered damaged goods. Even though I was a virgin, I was damaged goods because I was molested. I believed that I could never be a real Christian because of the abuse, even though I did nothing to encourage it. I am 55 and I believed this until recently. Now I do consider myself a real Christian, but I no longer attend church because of the virulent hatred I see coming from conservative Protestant churches.

    • Jessica

      Teri Anne,
      I am sorry that you felt that for so long. My own childhood was marked by abuse and violence and I know that the beliefs that get imbedded in us as a result of that, well, they really don’t fade easily. I am sorry that you suffered so long under the belief that you were not worth the love of Christ or that a full life in Christ was something you couldn’t have. I attend a fairly conservative church and I honestly don’t believe ours teaches hatred. I am sorry you have had that experience in the ones you have been to. I pray that you would find a loving church home.

    • Melody

      Terri Anne I would challenge you to tell me how you are different from them? Are you loving them the way that Christ loved? The sacrificial love that doesn’t require that you get first? That is what He asks of us. When you refuse to go love them because you think they are hateful the only thing that is different between you and them is geography.

      • Teri Anne

        Melody’s comment is typical of the blame the victim attitude I have encountered in the four churches I have attended in the last ten years. She is really saying that my anger at being mistreated at church means that I am hateful and unforgiving, and therefore I am responsible for the way I was shunned in church.

        The truth is that because of my shame and embarrassment, no one ever knew that I was an abuse victim, although the only kind pastor I encountered did guess the truth. I looked up to the other parishioners and really wanted to be accepted as a fellow Christian. My shyness made it difficult to be outgoing, but I tried very hard to be friendly, polite and interested in people.
        My efforts were to no avail and after 6 years I gave up. I am no longer attending any church, and it is going to take a while for me to work up my courage to try again at another church.

        Lest other readers think I am a social misfit, I just graduated with a PhD in the physical sciences. I was a university instructor and I earned a prestigious fellowship for my very successful science outreach project.

        • JohnM

          Teri Anne, I’m a bit confused about your testimony. First you say “Melody’s comment is typical of the blame the victim attitude I have encountered in the four churches I have attended in the last ten years.” Then you say “no one ever knew that I was an abuse victim”. Perhaps I’m missing something here, but could you clarify?

          • Teri Anne

            JohnM asks a fair question, so I will clarify. According to my therapist, the neglect and emotional abuse I suffered during childhood was severe even by Child Protective Services standards even though I was not hit. I was also sexually abused. I tried to choose my husband wisely, but he turned out to be abusive as well until he died after 20 years of marriage. The spousal abuse was somewhat obvious to the home church I attended for a brief period because they saw my husband’s behavior before he died, but I never told them about the childhood abuse. I never felt safe telling anyone at the three Wisconsin Synod churches that I attended about any of the abuse.

            When I wrote that Melody was showing a “blame the victim” mentality, I was referring to her admonishment that I was being shunned by other parishioners for my supposedly unloving attitude towards them. The shunning was subtle but very real. Parishioners would look through me, and would not reply to my greeting. This was yet more abuse I had to endure, and the mistreatment I suffered at church was very damaging. The world may be cruel, sinful and full of problems, but I have enjoyed much more kind treatment outside of church and I highly doubt I will be returning to church anytime soon.

        • Melody

          Me, me, me, my Teri you are so busy worrying about yourself and what you went through that you can’t even recognize when someone else has been through the same thing.
          I didn’t say they were shunning you because you are unloving. I said that you are exactly the same as them. You don’t love. As long as you just care about what you get and not what you give then you will get crap. Been there – done that.

          What the world gives you looks better because it is appealing to your selfishness. It looks better because you do not have expectations of them behaving better so they have no where to go but up.
          The people at church will never meet your expectations because you expect them to behave above and beyond your expectations for yourself.
          They are sinners just like you. Many of them have probably gone through more horrific things than yourself. As long as you think you are the most damaged person in the room and deserve the most kindness you will never see who it is that you are supposed to help.

          Speaking as a saved survivor to a victim.

          • Teri Anne

            Melody is saying a lot of the same things my abusers said to me since I was a young child. When I told my mother I disliked having large holes in my clothes or that I was tired of being screamed at all the time, she told me that I was being selfish, starving people in India have it much worse and didn’t I know that people were sinful. In other words, how dare you complain about being mistreated!

            Melody is saying being shunned at church was my fault because I am selfish, unloving, am only out for what I can get, do not care about anyone else and expect everyone to always cater to me. According to my friends, this does not describe me at all, and in fact I would have been happy with mere politeness at church.

            I am sorry for Melody, who must have endured difficult experiences. She is so angry that she needs to project her anger onto me, a stranger she has never met. I do not know her personal situation, but I suspect her anger is justified.

            • I’m so sorry

              Teri Anne, I’m so so sorry for the abuse you suffered and for the mistreatment you’ve experienced in the healing process. I just wanted to make sure you heard that from someone here.

            • Melody

              No Terri but I can see that you will continue to manipulate what I’m saying and you will never get it. From what you have said I know that I have been through more but I’m not sharing it because I have absolutely no doubt that you do not care.

            • Melody

              I would add one more thing, you have more in common with your mother than you realize.

            • Teri Anne

              I have to admit that Melody is right, and that I am obviously not understanding what she is trying to say. I am very confused because I do not understand why she thinks I am the most horrible person imaginable. Nor do I understand why she is so angry at me, a stranger that holds her no ill will and whom she has never met.

              I refuse to allow anyone to relegate me to being a second class Christian because I am an abuse victim. I refuse to undergo the humiliation of a Matthew 18 tribunal in which I present my story to a panel of pastors and elders, so that they can certify me as a genuine victim and therefore worthy of compassion. I do not have to demonstrate that I am really “over” the abuse in order to prove that I am a “real” Christian.

              The Bible says that anyone who believes in Jesus will be saved. The Bible does not say that any woman who follows traditional gender roles, is submissive to her husband, bears a sufficient number of children and is a virgin until marriage will be saved.

  • Jessica

    I think we do people (especially women, speaking from experience) a great disservice to fail to mention the truths of how premarital sex can harm them. By and large, that truth is missing from these blog posts. The trauma and emotional scarring is related to being judged or related to victimization of rape or incest. I will bear witness to the REAL, LONG LASTING emotional scarring that occurs after premarital sex and I will continue to do so because I believe it is important. Why can’t that be a part of the discussion? Where was the discussion of the physical consequences? Before someone responds by saying that those posts can’t answer every question…I will stop you. It can be a part of the picture and it needs to. We can’t have a discussion about this without talking about this issue in truth and with a CLEAR MESSAGE that sex is something that should occur only in marriage. While the Bible might not be a blueprint for every last choice in life there are some things that it is clear on. Furthermore, where are these churches where it is taught that rape and incest victims are to blame? Really? No! I agree that is has happened and that it has happened more than it should have, but I wish people would quit acting as if that is some party line for the majority of Christians or the majority of Christians with conservative values on sex.

    • Hannah Anderson

      @Jessica. Yes. And yes. If you are going to write about the shame culture surrounding virginity, you must acknowledge–somewhere and somehow–that the shame and brokenness is multi-layered. It is both the result of how people treated you AND the result of the sin itself. Shame cannot simply be the product of other people’s self-righteous.

      To leave out the very real consequences of sin–both emotional and relational–is to minimize it. I do not believe these authors intended to do this, but I do believe that the criticism for not addressing it is valid. You simply cannot talk about grace without clearly articulating what grace rescues you from–both the self-righteous shaming of others and the shame of your own sin.

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  • Jennifer Falk

    I understand the rebellion. I too was a part of the beginnings of “true love waits.” I did wait. For a long time. I had really good parents that had open discussions with me about love, sex, marriage, and purity. Then I moved away from home. I got wound up in the culture of my peers. I allowed a boy to talk me into sex because we would get married. Guess what? We didn’t. Yes, I am saved by the grace of my Savior and his blood. I am forgiven, restored, purified. But sin has consequences. I am married now with three beautiful children. My husband and I love and trust one another. However, the past relationships really DO haunt my marriage. The images, feelings, hurts, and betrayals of my past affect me and my relationship with my spouse. It has nothing to do with guilt or shame. It has everything to do with my sin. Christians don’t need to give up on purity. We need to teach our children about temptation. We need to talk openly to them about sex, love, and the consequences that we experienced. They need to know how it has affected us, and they need examples of love that does come together in marriage purely. We don’t need to shrug off all of our beliefs, but we do need to quit sweeping the information under the rug. Kids know when you’re hiding something, and if they don’t get information from their parents, they will get it from their peers, the internet, television, etc.

    • Melody

      Thank you Jennifer, I was sure I couldn’t be the only one.
      I want different for my children. I don’t want legalism. I want them to love Christ so much that they won’t want to let anyone else get in between them. And as their mother I want to be able to give them the tools they need to keep those creepy guys with words of love at bay or the girls that pretend interest in knowing about God because they want a boyfriend. I don’t see how those articles take into account that reality in the world.

  • Alfredo zavala

    It’s interesting to me that some people commenting here seem to be “bothered” by having their faith questioned. Why? I mean that would never bother me. I would be glad to express what I believe. I mean this is a Belief Blog so to speak. From what I can tell these blogs are talking,defending,defining belief… So people have their feathers ruffled because someone is asking them to clarify what they believe? I think one of the terms used was “litmus test”.Or as someone said earlier concerning this artcle “making grand statements” We are to contend for the FAITH earnestly. So trying to define that faith is important, no? That is why I read the TGC blog. Iron sharpens iron…Agree to disagree… bring it on fellow brothers and sisters.

  • Sam

    Might a lot of this discussion be another fruitless episode in the “Comparing Personal Experiences” drama?

    My own experience has shown both sides. I’ve seen those who have had sex before marriage treated like lepers who had committed the unpardonable sin. I’ve also seen local churches laugh off fornication and cohabitation in their memberships. Both realities are true of Christian communities, and both fall very short of Biblical standards.

    Comparing one experience to another in order to diagnose a problem with evangelicalism is a completely pointless exercise, because very few people come at it honest. There are people who were saved out of fundamentalist cruelty and people who were saved out of liberal, demythologizing lies. Saying one is a bigger problem than the other is really just to say my personal experience is more credible than yours.

  • Kamilla

    On Twitter, Mrs. Evans complained that she was being expected to lay out all her beliefs in that stunted format and yet here, where she was offered the freedom to do that in an adequate forum, she refuses to do so (as is her wont). Those of us who have been reading her work for some time recognize the pattern well and are not surprised it hasn’t changed.

    With all the back and forth on what these writers were or were not intending to say, I think it is worth taking note that at least one of them has clearly stated her views on non marital sexual relations. From Joy Bennett:

    “Choosing not to abstain from sexual intercourse before marriage is fine not shameful.”

    (In the original the word “fine” is crossed out, this doesn’t come across in the formatting here)

    I won’t be holding my breath to see if Evans or any of her sister bloggers distance themselves fom such clarity.

  • Teri Anne

    Many people gave kind and thoughtful comments. But after reading all of the comments, I have still come to the conclusion that attending a conservative church is simply not safe if I want to avoid more harsh judgments. Even if most churches do not label abuse victims as harlots, I would still be considered at fault because I am not over it yet. This would be considered a refusal to accept God’s grace and a lack of forgiveness. There are many who would agree with Akash Charles that I am just whining, and that I expect the “whole world exists to make me happy”.

    I am NEVER going to attend an orthodox church again, but I may eventually attend a Progressive church. There is a good chance that a church that cares about the immense emotional pain of gay people may also care about me.

    • Akash Charles

      I was not referring to those abused- see you it is sad that you twist the abuse you face to make an argument.
      Let me make myself clear- I DO NOT believe that those who are abused are victims , and THEY SHOULD NOT be treated as such.

      It should be the church’s first responsibility to take care of those abused

  • Hannah Anderson

    Drumroll for painful irony:

    For many people, the issue seems to be that Gingerich failed to differentiate between these blog posts–that he lumped them all together as representative of a “commitment-free” approach to sex…. just like many conservatives believe RHE et al do in failing to distinguish between the varying positions of complementarianism and patriarchy.

    Point being: We’ve all been here before only in different positions; and because we’ve already done this, we should know that nothing good comes from engaging in shame-mongering in response to shame-mongering. Nothing good comes from perpetuating conspiracy theories and assuming motives. This kind of rhetoric is not mature, helpful, or progressive by any definition.

    So for me personally, the first blogger who actually responds properly to criticism–who when reviled reviles not a again, who gives a soft answer to wrath–he or she will have my undying respect and gain a loyal reader.

    Because regardless of how much you blog about grace, this is what grace actually does.

  • Akash Charles

    i did have and have been reading heaps of their posts

  • Elizabeth

    Barton – you have misrepresented what those authors wrote.

    Every one of them would argue that God’s perfect plan is for sex within committed marriage. They also think that those who sin in this area shouldn’t be shamed and called damaged goods and that God can redeem anyone and any situation.

    I suspect that you have enough education and enough Christian conscience to know in your bones that you have done some poor research and writing here. I think you owe an apology to the authors in question.

    (BTW – I get nervous, too, when I feel that the conversation on purity is veering toward ‘anything goes, premarital sex is fine.’ This was NOT the view expressed by the authors you mentioned).

  • Elizabeth

    Akash – read the articles. None of those authors is saying that premarital sex is okay. They would all agree that God’s perfect plan is for sex within committed marriages.

    Barton has chosen to misrepresent what was written.

    • Kamilla


      That is simply not true. Mrs. Evans has repeatedly been given the opportunity to go on record to clarify her position on extra/pre marital sex and she has steadfastly refused to do so. But then, I think it’s fair to say that these writers would also attempt the methysically impossible and try to include unions between two persons of the same sex under their definitions of “marriage”.

      What a “committed marriage” is as opposed to marriage, I could not even begin to speculate.

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  • Katherine

    Mr. Gingerich, I’d be curious to know what you and others of the TGC would have to say on a healthy theology of the body. As you acknowledge in the first part of this response, there’s something critically lacking in evangelical circles. We don’t acknowledge the full intertwining of body and soul, I think, and end up sounding a little Gnostic except where we condemn behavior with our bodies. (e.g your statement, “Just do not make allowance for the lustful flesh” that doesn’t really acknowledge that we’re sexual beings even when we’re unmarried). How do we balance the reality of mature Christians who are also unmarried, sexual beings without just saying, “Don’t”?

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  • FISH

    I would be genuinely curious to know how Jones, RHE, Sarah Bessey, Kristen Howerton, and Esther Elizabeth would feel about other sexual sins. Do we idolize virginity and purity when we beg our kids to abstain from pornography, sexual abuse of another, or how about sex-slavery? These other sexual sins leads to their own destructive end.

    Is there forgiveness and mercy that covers it all? Yes. Is there a lasting, permanent damage and consequence as well? I sadly say yes.

  • FISH

    I’m curious what these female authors would say about other sexual sins such as porn, sexual molestation, and sex slavery. Each one of these sexual sins lead to “damage” even though there is forgiveness to those who have committed them.

  • Gil T

    I wonder if the volley of criticism against sexual purity is misguided as the well-intended, – evangelical sex culture?!?!

    Definitely, I commend you on the message of purity, but I remind you of how saints in Christ have similarly come to embrace and exalt the terms “Christianity” and “spirituality” as substitute acceptable buzz words for the faith that is in Christ Jesus and life in the Spirit. They are proud and confident of their capabilities with these and I expect the “evangelical sex culture” will be added to the mix to further dilute the purity of the message of Jesus.

  • Michael Hedrick

    “Virginity does not make someone ‘better,’ but young Christians deny themselves the fullness of romantic love by fornication.”

    This is a pretty bold statement to make, and it’s troubling to me in that I don’t see this concept in Scripture.

    The concept of marriage, and especially of relational purity and impurity, is one of the primary frameworks used by both the Old and New Testaments to conceptualize and explain God’s relationship with his people.

    According to Scripture, we as believers are the equivalent of individuals who have committed adultery and become impure, but have repented, have been accepted, and have been made clean by the Bridegroom. As a result, we get to experience a full, restored, and renewed relationship with the Lord.

    So, would we say that we as believers, who have committed spiritual fornication before entering into a true relationship with the Bridegroom, cannot experience “the fullness of love” in relationship with Him?

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