This chapter is devoted towards setting up the “rules” when it comes to sex within a dating relationship. Which the author outright declares off limits for any Christian couple.
“Total abstention from sexual activity outside of marriage and total faithfulness inside of marriage. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts.”
Jim writes of having his appetite “whetted” and regretting the physical contact that they did have. Elisabeth states that the contact Jim refers to was: holding arms, sitting close together, and her touching Jim’s hair. Stating that this small amount of contact “awakened” his sexual desires.
All of these desires are portrayed as dangerous and wrong. Elisabeth shares how she and Jim early on decided that they felt strong urges to giving into their sexual desires. So to avoid this, they completely avoided anything that stirred those desires. She implies that they gave up physical contact because of this.
I would like to insert my opinion here. Closing yourself off sexually is not a healthy thing. And the more you separate this aspect of you from your person the harder it is to re-connect with.
Okay I’ll get back to the regularly scheduled content.
“Intimacy is not necessary.” Dang, what a quote to open up with. The author makes it clear that observation alone is enough to judge a person by. Physical contact is not needed.
She even goes on a tangent suggesting a return to arranged marriages. Suggesting that wiser older people are able to better chose a mate for you. But alas as she states, “We are stuck within our ill-defined system.” Also throw in a lovely statement about how a local Canadian Indian tribe didn’t have marital problems until “they began to follow the white man'” and gave up arranged marriages.
“It is a powerful lie that, because sexual desire is natural, healthy, and god-given, anything I do because of that desire is natural, healthy, and god-given. ‘How can anything that feels so good be so bad?’ ‘Intimacy is an act of worship.’ ‘Denying yourself the expression of that desire is dangerous – it’s repression, it’ll lead to perversion and so on.’ ‘Nobody can control all that fire when he is young.’ Lies, all of them. Christians who buy such rubbish today are without honor.” p125
I’ve noticed a trend where the author dismisses arguments to her position with a simple hand wave. She states that all that are unwilling to commit to “self-denial” are “without honor.” And demands that we be willing to “swim against the tide.”
And may I also dwell on this point a bit. Especially the idea that repressing your sexuality is healthy or normal. Research has shown that in bible belt states porn use is much higher, while it is much lower in less religious states. The more these desires are regulated and controlled the more they come out in secretive ways, or even cause an increased focus on sexual desires. Repression of sexual desires also generally increases thoughts of shame and guilt regarding sex. These feelings often do not end after marriage. It has also been suggested that repressing of sexual desires also leads to higher rates of vaginismus and erectile dysfunction.
Also this whole concept brings up another idea altogether: the idea that we can not trust our own bodies or natural feelings., because this is the at the core of this idea. That Christian must deny their own sexual desires and feelings, suffering physically for g-d for spiritual and eternal benefits. This is a concept constantly spoken of in the evangelical church. That we as a whole are sinful; Therefore we cannot trust our bodies as they are inherently evil.
This concept or belief further alienates the Christian from their own body. Instead of learning to trust their body and listening to what he/she finds sexually appealing, those feelings are repressed. Because the body and its natural sexual desires can not be trusted.
“How shall I speak of a few careless kisses as sin to a generation nurtured on the assumption that nearly everybody goes to bed with everybody? Of those who flounder in the sea of permissiveness and self-indulgence, are there any who still search the sky for the beacon of purity? If I did not believe there were, I would not bother to write.” p127
Can I roll my eyes here? Using a beacon to search for those who are willing to take up the cause of purity. “Sea of permissiveness” oh good gravy. As if everyone that doesn’t believe exactly like you is without morality or values. To take this even further, who gets to decide what is moral or not? Elisabeth clearly thinks she has the answer, but even if you are solely basing morality on the interpretation of Christian scriptures there are multiple interpretations of scripture.
“In contrast, servile, base, and mercenary is the notion of Christian practice among the bulk of nominal Christians. They give no more than they dare not withhold. They abstain from nothing but what they dare not practice. When you state to them the doubtful quality of any action, and the consequent obligations to refrain from it, they reply to you in the very spirit of Shylock, ‘they can-not find it in the bond.’
In short, they know Christianity only as a system of restraints. It is robbed of very liberal and generous principle. It is robbed of very liberal and generous principle. It is rendered almost unfit for the social relationships of life, and only suited to the gloomy walls of a cloister, in which they would confine it.
But true Christians consider themselves as not satisfying some rigorous creditor, but as discharging a debt of gratitude. Accordingly, theirs is not the stinted return of a constrained obedience, but the large and liberal measure of voluntary service.” p129
This quote in her book she credits to William Wilberforce. But it’s once again highly dismissive of anyone who disagrees. Any Christian that has an opposing view is merely a “nominal Christian,” and they are just trying to break free from the “restraints” and rules that Christianity place on them. He then states that Christian’s should be willing and ready to follow anything g-d asks of us.
Elisabeth then goes on to praise the Christian’s that are willing to abstain. But she doesn’t necessarily list which things Christians should abstain from she only cautions, “to tread so lightly, to hold each other at arm’s length.” She also states that this will be a time of suffering, but Christian’s are to expect this suffering for Christ.
Going from chapter 27 to this causes a little bit of whiplash. While they had decided not to commit to any physical contact while they were together, Jim does not follow this while they are separated with other women. He has several “kissing incidents” with other women while they are separated even though he and Elisabeth have never kissed.
He askes for forgiveness and reconciles with Elisabeth. But the telling part of this is that Elisabeth blames this on his “newfound freedom” in Christ that Jim moved too fast in his Christian liberties.
“Jim’s explanation was simply that the Lord had liberated him from some old restraints, enabling him to reach out, break barriers, enjoy things. He admitted he had carried it too far.” p132
She implies that taking any small “liberty” will lead to negative actions like this. If you aren’t familiar with the idea this sounds like the slippery slope fallacy that is commonly used in the church. The idea is that you constantly have to hold to the very highest level of purity lest you “slip” in some small way. If you start letting your boundaries and standards down then it will lead to “moral failures.”
I was hoping to make it a bit further in this section of the book, but it looks like I will be revisiting this topic of abstaining from sexual contact and purity in my next post as well. I felt it was better to slow down and address some of these things a bit further. Especially considering the fact that a lot of these concepts really influenced my own dating life in a toxic way.
The troubling ideas of not allowing any amount of contact or even a sexual thought caused myself a lot of shame growing up. Especially as a teenager with increased hormonal fluctuations and feelings that were never explained to me. Anything and everything caused sexual stimulation as a teen and with that came shame and guilt as well. So I attempted to shut that all off, unsuccessfully of course. But I did try.
I’m not sure if it was here or elsewhere I picked up the idea, but once I started dating, I struggled with the idea of approval. As Elisabeth pointed out, you should follow the guidance of your elders. And I can sadly say even in this area, I referred back to my mom and dad to try and see if they approved or disapproved with my choices. I sought full permission from “Her” father to date, and when engagement was approached also sought permission at that time as well.
I would encourage those still inside evangelical culture to consider how their views on sex and sexuality have effected their lives. Have your beliefs brought good things into your life, or are your beliefs on sex bringing you and others harm? Also instead of thinking of the divine as tolerating our messy sexual expression, why not think of the divine as being a part of your whole life including your sexuality. Divorcing spirituality from certain portions of our life isn’t healthy.