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Ryan Peter. Writer.

I tuck my kids away at night and think about how boyish they are. I think about how the bath that night turned brown and mirky within seconds of them getting in, thanks to their grubby little faces and dirty little feet. I think about how my eldest stole birds’ eggs from the garden and got shouted at by some older person for his ignorance about nature conservation. I think about how my youngest built an amazing Lego piece that day. Something about all this makes you feel, “job well done,” as a parent. They’ve had a fun day of just being kids and just being boys and that means I’m doing my job right. They’re experiencing life and enjoying it.

Then I get on the news (I like reading the news once the boys have finally gotten to sleep) and I find that my sentiments and feelings about my boys being boys are apparently outdated and bigoted. They’re outdated in two ways. Firstly, I’m told that boys can be girls and girls can be boys, it’s all a matter of some social construct, and I’m a big idiot for thinking that gender isn’t something fluid. Then I’m told that real ‘boys being boys’ are those who sleep around and take what they want.

Then I do a little bit of research in theology (nothing relaxes me more than reading theology) about this topic, and most of what I find are blog posts on the Internet that are all about the evils of modern day sex and how we should tell our kids not to sleep with anyone before getting married. I agree with this sentiment. But I find it too negative. It’s not negative about sex – most of the Church teaches that sex is a wonderful thing, but only that it should be enjoyed within the ‘confines’ of marriage. But the very word ‘confines’ bugs me, because it immediately creates a negative impression.

I think I can find the problem and it’s this. All of our arguments and discussions about sex and sexuality today is really limited to only when to have sex, who to have it with, and how you should (prefer) to have it. Whether you come from a secular conservative or secular liberal perspective; or whether you come from a church perspective; it all seems to boil down to the same thing. But this is profoundly narrow. It’s missing something important in the equation: beauty.

Even though many church circles will speak loudly and proudly about how beautiful sex is, as long as it’s within marriage, the beauty of sexuality itself is often missing. And no matter how much the secular perspective claims to have an appreciation of the body and the beauty of sexuality, it completely botches this up with its constant support of pornography, it endless dribble about sex being a free-for-all, and its constant, never-ending politicising of sexuality. Gay people became a political commodity a decade ago. Transgenders have now become a political commodity. Trans-human philosophy is nothing else, really, than an opportunity for some or other political body to gain influence and power.

In an ongoing blog series, I am going to openly share my own current journey exploring this topic. My initial reason for this is because I want my children to grow up with a healthy view of themselves and others. I want them to be kind, loving, intelligent, gracious towards others, able to discern good from evil, and to always respect others. None of that is going to come by me teaching them that sex is a free-for-all. In fact, that’ll do the very opposite. None of that is going to come if I confuse them about why it is they look the way they look and feel the way they feel, and I tell them they might be a girl. None of that is going to come if I let them get dragged into being nothing but a political commodity. They’ll never be all they can be if they get dragged into the vicious pit of Internet pornography. I’ve got to help them navigate this world with grace.

Secondly, I’m all too aware of my own weaknesses. Recently I was ordained as a pastor at my church. I’m very sensitive to how so many pastors have been weak in this area, and how families and whole church communities are torn apart because a pastor had an affair (or several) or even almost had an affair. I’ve seen even heroes fall. If my heroes can fall, then surely I am in even bigger danger? So I want to guard my heart in this area and want to be faithful to my wife, to create a healthy family and healthy church community. But somehow I feel that what I presently know about this subject isn’t strong enough.

That’s because the majority of the teaching I’ve received, and the majority of churches out there, seem to only preach half the story. What we tend to do is try and get everyone to listen to reason, which is fair enough, except not far enough. For instance, we say it’s not a good idea to sleep with anyone before marriage because it’s the more level-headed thing to do. It means you don’t need to worry about STD’s or pregnancy. It’s much more emotionally and relationally safe. All this is quite true and in fact a watertight argument. Abstinence is pretty much a one hundred percent guarantee against unwanted pregnancy or STD’s. It makes much more relational sense to risk going into a marriage without having had sex than to risk going into it with having had sex. That whole deal about ‘seeing if you’re compatible’ is nonsense, and everyone – including its most loudest supporters – know the real problem is just their commitment issues.

But I think that most of us in the church have largely tried to stop people from over-indulging in sensuality by giving them a maths formula. In other words, we try and use some sort of rationalism to prevent them from peering into a mystery. Most people actually don’t jump into bed because it’s rational to do so, but precisely because it’s irrational. All the risk and adventure is far more attractive than the cold hard reality. Obviously, reality hits later, but in the heat of the moment, rational logic is not good enough. We are failing to show the mystery and excitement about purity – or rather, it’s more old-fashioned word, chastity.

Make no mistake, this is not about Purity Culture. In many ways, American Purity Culture has shot itself in the foot. Google Purity Culture and see what you find. Of course, you’re going to have to wade through a lot of liberal and feminist rants (and yes, there are a lot of rants). The No Shame Movement, which appears to work against Purity Culture, defines the idea as such:

Within the conservative Christian context, purity culture is simply the view of any discussion of things of a sexual nature outside of the context of heterosexual marriage as taboo.

However, neither Purity Culture or the No Shame Movement seem to get the point. Both of these limit the whole ordeal of purity to sex and sexuality, and fail to go much further or deeper than that. Purity in itself isn’t a word to describe merely sexual purity, which is why I seem to prefer the old-fashioned word of chastity a bit more. It has a history behind it, one that is theological and philosophical, and comes at things from a much more positive angle. There’s far more going on in this debate, philosophically and theologically, than just when you have sex, who you have it with, and what kind of sex you (should) prefer.

Which is why we need to explore the positive side of purity. It’s not just about a list of don’ts. It’s also not about the do’s. Purity not only affects sex but everything. We need to show how the pursuit of the pure, chaste life is actually a thrilling, exciting pursuit that leads to you becoming a more generous, well-rounded, kind, and down-to-earth, content, peaceful, and happy human being. We need to talk about how life itself can become more beautiful, more desirable, and more peaceful, through a simply commitment to purity.

That requires first for us to explore what purity means, because obviously it’s more than just when to have sex, who to have it with, and how to have it. Purity itself opens us up to the grand mystery of a deep, rumbling thunderstorm at night; of a gentle, cooling breeze on a hot day; of a soft, welcoming bed after a hard day’s work. I hope to uncover why in this series. I’ll be learning myself as we go along.

Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

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(C) Ryan Peter Strydom