Passion and Purity, Chapter 2: The Life I Owe, pg 24
Elliot wants to impart a “sense of destiny” to color the rest of the story in the book: the way to do this in a Christian sex book, of course, is to remind everyone that following Christ is worth more than a momentary sexual passion. He has paid the price for your soul; you therefore owe Him your life (including your sexual choices, obvs). Hence this chapter’s title.
The sense of destiny: someone has paid for me with blood. How the knowledge lifts my spirits beyond the moment’s hot desire!
I think that this spiritual appeal is a much more solid foundation for her book than the previous chapter’s murky history lesson and feminist straw men. What’s more, it’s hard not to admire her steadfastness and resolution. She’s all in.
It is also very good advice to keep long-term goals in mind when you’re making decisions, particularly decisions about sex: Is this worth it? Is this relationship healthy? Is s/he pressuring me at all? What does this mean to me — and to us? Will this distract me from other important things in my life? How will I feel about this later? Am I prepared to take the necessary precautions to avoid pregnancy and STDs and other negative consequences? If not, why not? Does this jibe with my faith? Etc. Sex can have some serious consequences. Think about them before diving in.
But — you knew there’d be a but! — let’s think about how she characterizes sexual temptation: “a moment’s hot desire.”
Now let’s think about how Elliot has previously characterized sexuality, using flippant words and phrases like, “Times have changed, they say. Everyone’s equal.” and “Now anyone can go to bed with anyone else, regardless of gender.” In the last chapter, she effectively defines “modern” sexuality as “doing whatever you want with whomever you want.” Later in this book and in others, she will give instruction on appropriate gender roles in great detail–delving into that now would make this post far too long so suffice to say that prescribed gender roles by definition don’t make much accommodation for an individual’s own sexuality or sexual expression.
So as far as I can tell, Elliot values sex (within marriage) but doesn’t have much time for the idea of sexuality.
This is a problem. A life of celibacy (or, at the least, a life of celibacy until marriage) is not simply a series of avoiding single temptation after single temptation, like a lifelong game of whack-a-mole. An overwhelming focus on (not having) sex can of course make it seem like every day is a gauntlet of sexual temptations. When you define your very personhood in terms of virginity and sexual status, of course that is going to be at the forefront of your mind and of course you are going to see obstacles everywhere. Of course.
But a person’s sexuality is more than the sudden desire to have sex right now with this really, really attractive person. Sexuality is a part of who you are, not simply a moment’s hot desire, not just an instance of temptation. Elliot never defines the word, but talks around sexuality as if it were something that happens externally–she characterizes “kids these days” as sleeping around with no thought to consequences or relationships, no thought to masculinity or femininity, no thought to commitment or sacrifice. LGBTQ as a category doesn’t exist in her paradigm–she seems to think that they are “normal” people (that is, heterosexuals) who are deceived, following their “momentary hot desires” into whichever bed they may lead. It’s hard to see how she takes sexuality any more seriously than that, given that the only other thing she’s said about it is how terrible it is that people can now “sleep with anyone, regardless of gender.” So, naturally, she thinks that “sexual expression” is simply an invention of evil feminists. In that same interview, she notes that LGBTQ sexuality is sinful and destructive.
This doesn’t leave us with a lot of options for how to deal with sexual and romantic longings that are not “momentary hot desires”. Yes, for some Christians, remembering Christ’s sacrifice may indeed make it easier for them to remain celibate. But for many others, that is not enough. It is not enough to tell our gay brothers and sisters that they should just think about Jesus more. It is not enough to tell someone who wants companionship and love and family and sex to just ponder the cross. (Really, wouldn’t it be better for them to just go ahead and get married already?)
Dianna Anderson takes this kind of prescription to its inevitable conclusion when she talks about what “love the sinner, hate the sin” really means:
We’re assigning them to a life of being alone – never having someone who understands them in all the ways that heterosexual couples understand each other. It is a priest-like vow of chastity that is assigned rather than chosen, which makes all the difference. An external imposition, rather than an internal desire and calling.
It is asking them, for the entirety of their adult life, to sleep alone, to never fall in love (because that could lead to the sin of sexual act!). They will never walk down the street hand in hand with someone they like. They will never raise a child with their partner. They will never watch that child move from grade school to middle school. They will never watch their child walk across the stage in an ugly hat and a black robe. They will never turn to their partner in that moment and shed a tear of pride, glad to have someone along in the journey….
Justin Lee over at the Gay Christian Network talks about the actual consequences of telling young people that their very desires are sinful:
When it functions as it should, the church offers us reasonable boundaries to help us live holy lives. We say to young men, for instance, “The sex drive you feel is normal, and I know at times it can feel overwhelming, but don’t let it control you. It may be tempting to have sex with pretty girls now, but it’s far more fulfilling to wait.”…
When a young man is gay, the message he gets isn’t to wait until the right time; it’s that there will never be a right time. Not only that; he’s told that his sex drive itself—not even lust but just the temptation he feels—is a horrible sin, something that may condemn him to hell even if he never acts on it.
Kids who hear these messages feel trapped. They’ve been made to feel that they’re condemned even if they follow all the rules, and many grow to hate themselves.
It’s easy to assume that “normal” sexuality is the one that you yourself identify with. (Elliot says as much in the interview linked above.) But to stop there, to choose not to listen to other people’s experiences and versions of “normal” is unloving and short-sighted. Sexuality can be expressed in infinitely varied ways, and considering that Passion and Purity is a book about virginity — which means it is a book about sex — the flippancy with which she treats sexuality is striking.
So let’s summarize: Elliot first says that sex is so important that your sexual status defines you: singleness is virginity, and virginity is your payment for commitment, ladies! But then she goes on to imply that sexuality is actually not that big a deal — it is comprised of momentary temptations that you can avoid if you keep the right perspective. It’s quite a feat, but it looks to me like Elliot has over -valued sex and under-valued sexuality.
*I was hoping to find a comment from Elliot about the gains we’ve seen in gay rights in the last few years or so, but couldn’t find anything substantial. However, she has definitely gone on the record endorsing the view that the homosexual “lifestyle” is one of “destruction” and that widespread acceptance of homosexuality is evidence that we as a society don’t adequately value our “masculineness” and “feminineness.”
I will absolutely be posting about this later on when we talks about what Elliot means by “femininity” and “masculinity.” Stay tuned.