The Young and the Sexless

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That's the title of Jeff Shartlet's Rolling Stone article on chastity and virginity among young evangelicals. He keeps calling them fundamentalists, but that's just wholly inaccurate for the people he's talking about). This piece is mostly fair and accurate, though, much more so than most media pieces on evangelicalism. For example, he describes someone's being convicted of secular music as deciding it would lead him to sin rather than what I would expect someone who isn't an evangelical to interpret it as, i.e. simply thinking secular music is wrong. Another telling moment is when he describes one young man's realization that his sexual interactions had adopted a sexist standard of the world, one that evangelicals' standards have countered. You don't see articles in secular magazines pointing out things like that very often. They're usually more inclined to try to find sexism in evangelicalism than they are to point out ways it resists sexist double standards.

Also see the GetReligion critique, which makes some fair points against some of the misunderstandings and flat-out errors in the piece. They're not the only ones or even the ones that seemed most obvious to me. For example, it's a little odd to portray Campus Crusade for Christ as an insidious group seeking to invade segments of society to spy on them when all they're trying to do is be salt in a highly secularized world, which sometimes takes understanding the culture by participating in it. There are various threads within evangelicalism on this issue, that might generally be classed loosely as a movement, and the piece reflects quite a lot of this without commenting too much on any negative opinion he might have about it. The overall movement Shartlet is treating includes all these threads, but I don't see it as a united movement, and some of these threads run counter to each other.

For instance, there's a tendency among evangelical college students, one that sees itself as inspired by Josh Harris' book Why I Kissed Dating Goodbye (that I think misunderstands Harris, which his second book clarified and somewhat revised), that amounts to saying men should simply wait around until God drops a woman in their lap to get married to, with no stage between being friends in group settings and being engaged and no responsibility on his part to be the sort of person who would attract a good wife or to seek the kind of woman who would be a good wife. There's a tendency among some others to use the word 'dating' to describe something close enough to what Harris calls courting. There are those who follow neither school but are heavily into some of the other tendencies in this piece. I don't expect a writer for Rolling Stone to be keyed into all these things, but I think it comes across in the piece that this is a united movement with some clear trends that most of the people in it have.

That's true to some extent, but some of these elements (e.g. masturbands, purity rings, language like 'recycled virgin', the view that the Song of Solomon is merely a metaphor for a relationship with God, the idea that sex is something like a threesome with God in the mix, and the Wild at Heart thesis that men have a moral obligation to be risk-seeking, physically athletic, non-intellectual jocks, hunters, and motorcycle enthusiasts) will be seriously frowned upon by some who very much support the general outlook. He also describes John Eldredge as wanting men "whipping the ladies back into line". I'm no fan of Eldredge, but that sounds nothing like the man I'm not a fan of. Shartlet's portrayal of male chastity as feminine, with celibacy "offering Christian men ... the vulnerability of being a woman" seems downright sexist.

Overall, the piece is well done and overcomes many barriers journalists seem to have to portray evangelicalism accurately, and despite the hesitations I've just enumerated I highly recommend it as an eye-opening look at a sub-culture within evangelicalism that truly is unique in the history of the world, one that has some elements I really appreciate and some that I think anyone should find downright weird, one that in some ways is thoroughly counter-cultural, as biblical Christianity must be, but in some ways adopts elements of mainstream American culture, for better or worse (with some of both).

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Jeremy at Parableman has some good posts up (as usual).  There's one on Time magazine's "color-coding" of of the Supreme Court justices by ideology.   There's also one about a recent Rolling Stone article chastity and virginity... Read More

Welcome to the 147th Carnival of the Vanities.  I'll be your host.  So as Betty Davis said in All About Eve, "Buckle your seatbelts.  It's going to be a bumpy night." As many people may know, the host of the Carnival frequently com... Read More

Bible Studies Under the Acacias reflects on two kinds of truth, and on their place in our lives as Christian bloggers. Viewpointt seeks to correct the record regarding Intelligent Design. Crossroads discusses Aimee Semple MacPherson and why she... Read More

2 Comments

I have some friends that fall into this group and I have to say I find the whole thing a little weird. It's as if they've made an idol of sex. Reading the article it seems like many of them are more concerned with following the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. A lot of the behaviour seems well over the line to me. Ok so you haven't had penetration but you've done everything else. If these folks burn so much why not go ahead and get married. I thought part of Paul's point was that if sex takes you away from ministering then get yourself in a situation where you can get that need met, ie marriage. If these guys are in their later twenties I think they are really missing out on being married. The older I get the OT references to the "wife of thy youth" take on greater meaning.

This is only one of the strains in that article, though. Another is the wholesale anti-stimulation tendency. One young woman said she knows when she's even aroused, and she turns right around and heads the other direction in those cases.

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