Trigger Warning: mentions of rape, pedophilia, and sexual assault/abuse
As a purity ring-owning 20-something woman, I’ve had countless opportunities to brag about my purity, feeling a smug sense of pride each time a sister in Christ confided in me about her sexual sin.
“We dated for a few months, and then we gave in to temptation. I wish I had waited.”
Yeah, that was dumb. She should’ve been smarter.
“Gabby, we had sex and I got chlamydia. Then after I stayed away from him for a while, but we had sex again and I got herpes.”
Wow, how pathetic. She got an STI from her boyfriend and went back for some more? Good Lord. She’s weak.
Throughout my entire adolescence and for all of my early 20’s, I prided myself on being the virgin, the pure one. I never considered that no guy had actually asked me to be his girlfriend, to go on a date, or to have sex until I was 23 years old. That external sexual struggle wasn’t an issue for me, so I hadn’t been faced with that difficult decision. “Should I indulge in sex with him or should I wait?” never popped into my head until just two years ago. And when that opportunity presented itself, I toyed with it multiple times. I considered it. I talked about it with the guy, flirting with my first chance at real physical pleasure. I thought about the specifics: what I would and wouldn’t do in the bedroom. I never said yes to the guy, but I definitely almost did. I was extremely close to doing it with someone I hardly knew at all. I think the only thing that held me back was the fact that I was a virgin, and still believed that virginity was special.
Can you imagine the torture it must be to be in a long-term relationship with a guy or girl, love them with all of your heart, and not be able to express that love through sex? I wonder that anyone can resist that. It truly must be the Holy Spirit who keeps them in check.
Why did I consider giving my virginity to a man I didn’t really know? I wish I had a more honorable answer, but I only have this. He complimented me in a way no man had done before. He told me I was beautiful, intelligent, passionate, and incredible. He said that I was a great woman, unlike any other woman he’s known. Looking back, I see that this was a ploy to get inside my panties, but at the time, I slurped it up like an Oreo McFlurry: delicious, sweet, cheap, and oh so bad for you.
In addition, I was at a spiritually rocky place and began questioning everything that the white evangelical church had taught me throughout my entire life. I was tired of blindly following rules and I wanted to have some fun. Besides, was sex before marriage really a sin? Was ____ really a sin? Was ____ actually wrong? Could I do ____? What if I did ___? All of these questions consistently rolled about in my mind, tossing and turning, stealing from me sleep, joy, and peace. After studying the Bible on these various topics, I never came to a real conclusion about any of them and to be honest, I still am unsure about a lot of things. I hope to get those answers as I grow older in age and in faith.
Because I cut my teeth on a purity-drenched Christian rape culture, my understanding of true purity of heart was deeply flawed and created by rich, old, white Christian men. According to most prominent Christian leaders at the time (and even now, let’s be honest), if you have sex before marriage, you’re impure. Masturbation is impure, although for boys it’s more understandable. After all, men have high sex drives and women don’t have that desire nearly as strong as men. If you have homosexual attraction, it’s best to quiet it. Don’t mention it or you’ll give life to it. If you engage in homosexual sex, not only are you impure, but you are perverted as well. There’s something innately wrong with you and your sexuality. It’s an abomination, so you probably are, too. If you’re pregnant, don’t get an abortion. How dare you? It was your choice to have sex. Live with the consequences. In this situation, children are treated as a punishment. That kind of derails the pro-life movement, doesn’t it? If you use children as a means to punish the women who have sex, then you don’t really want to protect children. You want to punish women and shame them. Now if a woman or girl is raped and becomes pregnant, she’s told to keep the child because clearly God wants the child to be born, which is why He allowed her to become pregnant.
Men in the church who prey on little girls, little boys, and women are protected by other men who dare not subject their church or ministry to the ramifications of public knowledge of this abuse. We hear of affairs that pastors have with members of their congregations almost weekly. Internet porn is a real struggle for many pastors these days. Pastors are divorcing their long-term spouses and marrying younger, more attractive spouses as they become more well-known (I’m looking at you, Israel Houghton).
While this is happening, countless women in the church are being physically, emotionally, verbally, mentally, spiritually, sexually, and financially abused by their husbands. They’re told not to leave their husbands because their good hearts and faithful walk with Christ will eventually help their husbands. After all, a soft word turns away anger, right? Be soft, ladies, as you’re supposed to be. Like you’re programmed to be. Women are told that they must be silent about abuse and misconduct. If a man does it, especially if that man is in church leadership, don’t tell anyone. His career would be ruined. Would you really want to do that to a man who’s doing God’s will and work? Imagine all of the people that won’t be helped because you decided to make a big deal out of nothing. Every man has urges. He just made a mistake. Let it go. Besides, you’re a very attractive woman. It’s only natural. You must have men throw themselves at you all the time, right? You should expect this. As a matter of fact, you should cover up more and silence yourself so you won’t be such a temptation to these struggling men of God. If only you didn’t wear those tight jeans that night. You know, what you wear determines whether or not your brother in Christ sins. You chose to wear those tight jeans. You knew that your Christian brothers would stare at you. Why don’t you respect and honor them? You should help them as they struggle with their manly sexual urges. See, you just don’t understand how hard it is for men to resist. Men are sexual and visual creatures. Make it easier for them. Cover yourself. Hide yourself.
On the off chance that a pastor who has been caught abusing or assaulting someone comes forward, he is praised for his honesty. Wow, it must have taken a lot of courage to stand up before your congregation, the people who trust you and idolize you, and admit that you forced a teenage girl to perform oral sex on you when you were her youth pastor. (Hey, Andy Savage. I’m talking about you.) When they do admit their mistake, their sin, it’s often veiled under a false narrative of “It was consensual.” or “I couldn’t help myself.” or “It happened 20 years ago.”) For example, Andy Savage initially claimed that what happened between himself and his student was “a sexual incident that happened 20 years ago.” What this does is place the blame squarely on the shoulders of the women who were abused or assaulted. It blames them for their dress, their speech, and their behavior. It belittles them, by emphasizing how old this incident is. How silly is this woman for now bringing up what happened so many years ago? Of course, when the pastor admits these things, he’s clapped for. Who’s clapping for the girl who was assaulted and/or abused? Why isn’t she being praised for her honesty, courage, and commitment to justice?
Because women are naturally temptresses, of course! This belief has infested the Christian church since the time when men began to take over and dominate the faith. We know that the early church was an imperfect group of people committed to gender equality, ethnic harmony, and social justice. Women had churches in their homes and were called partners of the faith and the mission. Jewish believers were scolded when they wouldn’t eat with Gentile believers. The poor were brothers and sisters with the rich. It wasn’t complete, but it was a beautiful start.
Something shifted. Something altered the path of Christianity forever in an awful way. Justification of the subjugation of women became commonplace. Reasoning for slavery of people of color was generally agreed upon. White, Christian, straight, land-owning, English-speaking men were the chosen ones, the ones to whom Christianity and its development belonged. This has continued for centuries.
We women are just now fully free to reclaim equal right to the Imago Dei. Well, women in the west are. Our sisters around the world do not have such freedom of speech and being. So we speak up for them. We stand and say, in our tight jeans and shirts that women are made in the image of God as well. Men are not the standard of human. Only men and women together image the complexity and fullness of God, although we can never completely attain that, of course.
Women are not naturally temptresses. Our bodies are appealing because God made them that way and He doesn’t make mistakes. He makes no bad things. Our bodies are good. What we wear is our choice. It’s between us and God. Should a man inappropriately touch us or decide he wants to sexually assault us, our clothing is not a factor in that. It’s entirely his choice to abuse the Imago Dei in us. Because what he decides to do with our bodies, he is actually doing to God as well. He insults our Creator by damaging what He created in love and beauty.
Women have equal opportunities in the church. We can be pastors, preach, teach, sing, dance, pray, evangelize, and minister just like Jesus did. I’m not going to say, “just like men”, because men are not the standard of a Christian. Not all of us are content being at home as wives and mothers, putting our spiritual gifts aside in order to support our husbands with their spiritual callings. Men are not called to more. Men and women are both equally called to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ from shore to shore, sharing the truth, loving others, and living a mission-minded life of joy in Him.
Andy Savage eventually resigned as a pastor from his church. Interesting how men are given the choice.