Passion and Purity: More Unruly Affections

Happy new year! I took a little bit of a blog vacation (holidays, family, baking, you know) but now it’s 2014 and time to dive back into Passion and Purity.  Get excited!

To recap, we’re in chapter 4 of Passion and Purity, a chapter entitled “Unruly Affections”. Elliot has just told us that bringing anything at all into order involves time and expense, labor, toil, and sacrifice. She is now describing those early, heady days when she first noticed Jim Elliot and found herself increasingly attracted to him, noting that he seems to fit the picture of what she wanted in a husband:

He loved to sing hymns, and he knew dozens by heart. He loved to read poetry, loved to read it aloud. He was a real man, strong, broadchested, unaffected, friendly, and I though, very handsome. He loved God. That was the supreme dynamic in his life. Nothing else mattered much by comparison. He was a Greek major and so was I.

Later, she describes moments of early infatuation that I bet a lot of us can relate to:

Jim was coming in. He caught my eye and broke into a wide smile. I floated for the rest of the day. Jim Elliot had smiled at me.

Ah, l’amour! They take some missions road trips together, talk about things you talk about when you’re a young Christian falling in love. It’s all very sweet. I have a tiny problem with her checklist (reading poetry aloud? I mean…that’s nice, but not exactly a dealbreaker, right?) but let’s let that slide for now, because which of us hasn’t fallen in love and said something ridiculous like, “And we both like Chee-tos, lattes, and this one totally obscure band!!!! It’s obviously fate!!!!”

And then.

We sat in a booth in the [student recreation center]. Jim gave the order, then opened his Bible. I’ve forgotten the reference, but I remember the talk. It was about my reticence. Jim rebuked me as a “sister in Christ,” urged me to be more open, more friendly. Christ could make me freer, if I’d let Him. I was hurt a little.

But I was glad to see Jim’s forthrightness, glad I mattered to him, mattered enough for him to speak the truth to me faithfully. Another item on my “checklist”–this was the kind of man I was looking for.

Well. She takes this to heart and signs up to join a group of students would go “to talk about Christ to people in railway stations.” Unbeknownst to her, Jim is in the group. She’s nervous, but she goes through with it, ignoring him ’til the trip home. Let’s see how this little vignette ends:

We talked all the way back to Wheaton, and he walked to the dorm with me. Nothing we said has stayed with me except a general impression of encouragement. Maybe he saw that I had chosen what was hardest. He left with a breezy, “See you in Greek class.”

Let’s break this down. A guy that she’s interested in–but, notably, is not in a relationship with–sits her down under the guise of Christian discipline and rebukes (her word!) her for being too reticent. (Too reticent for what, I wonder? Too reticent for his liking? Too reticent for God? Too reticent for a good Christian woman?) She takes this to heart, assuming that he has only her best interests at heart, and chooses to do something that is, for her, scary. He sees this, they talk, and not once does he acknowledge with his words (only with a “general sense”) that he noticed her bravery. The best she can say is “maybe he saw that I had chosen what was hardest.” Yes, maybe. Or maybe not! How can you know unless he USES HIS WORDS and TELLS YOU? (Heads up: “use your words” is going to be a major theme in later chapters.)

I have so many questions about this. Would she have felt comfortable sitting him down and pointing out a flaw as “a sister in Christ”? (My bet: no.) Did she have the opportunity to talk back to him, to say, “Well, it might seem that way to you, but here’s what you don’t know…”? Or did she just accept his criticism quietly because she is “the weaker vessel” and it’s his job to lead, after all? Was reticence really a problem for her, or was it just something that he, personally, didn’t care for? Did she feel that Christ needed to make her “freer” or was she perfectly content with how she was?

My reaction to this, in other words, is, Who exactly do you think you are, Jim?

These are important questions because a lot of careless and destructive “advice” get passed along under the guise of “speaking the truth in love” as a “sister in Christ.” If you don’t have the relationship and communication skills to sift through Christian doublespeak and gendered power dynamics, if you don’t have the self-awareness to look out for your own interests, well…who knows what kind of terrible advice you might be persuaded to take, just because it was pointed out by a handsome Christian guy you have a crush on? Mix in the gender power dynamics that Elliot preaches (men always lead, women always follow) and you have a situation ripe for self-doubt…and abuse.

I’ve seen this myself. These are not made up:

–“I’ve noticed that you aren’t as involved as some others at church. Have you considered volunteering for worship team?” (Even though you’re a pre-med biology major and have no time for a social life, let alone youth group, and volunteering for worship team will take away the only alone time you have in your busy week.)

–“I’ve noticed that you don’t go on the weekly evangelism trips to the inner city with our church group. Do you think maybe you’re letting your own comfort get in the way of God’s plan?” (The woman in question was dealing with her father’s medical care after he’d had a stroke.)

–“I heard that you’re not joining us on the spring break trip to Expensive Godly Place. Do you that could be interpreted as you abandoning your church community? Are you letting the lack of finances stand in the way? You know, that comes across as pretty prideful–God will always provide!”  (What about when God really, really doesn’t provide those finances?  Then what?)

This little vignette in Elliot’s life turns out to be harmless because Jim was not an abusive jerk giving her terrible financial and/or personal advice. But I wish she’d used this anecdote to talk about what skills a woman, Christian or no, might need to navigate the murky waters of a young relationship when we’re inclined to give our new beloved the benefit of every doubt. Instead, thousands of young Christian girls using this as a template, waiting for their Jim Elliot to come along and guide them along the path of righteousness, willing to follow unquestioningly.

What a missed opportunity.

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