Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s, I was right in the middle of the Evangelical whiplash cultural course correction following the social revolution of the ’60s and ’70s. This produced youth ministries at the time serving up a steady diet of Hells Bells and True Love Waits.
Purity Rings and True Love Waits
It seemed, growing up in that era, that the great enemies of the Evangelical church were Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll. Drugs and Rock and Roll were solved by creating a subculture of Christian Music. Sex was addressed by creating the purity culture. The goal was good, but the application of that goal I think was very harmful. Wanting kids to live Holy lives is a good thing. Kids need to understand the importance of Sanctification in the Christian life. The way in which it was taught was not helpful to kids or the church as a whole.
I’m talking about youth meetings where a youth pastor chewed a piece of gum and then offered it to someone else to chew. Of course, they would refuse. They’d then pull out a rose and tell the boys to pass it around while they talked about keeping yourself for marriage. At the end they would ask for the rose back. It was bent and broken. The youth pastor would say, “nobody wants something that is used.” Once a youth pastor said, “If you kiss a girl who you don’t marry you are kissing another man’s wife.” The church in the ’90s in its fear of sexual revolution created a sexual revolution of its own.
The problem is not the calling out the misappropriate use of Sex and Rock and Roll from the generation before them. The problem was trying to fix hearts and broken culture with only rules. “This beat is sinful,” and, “No one wants used things,” both come from a human perspective of trying to keep kids away from something. Rather, they could have challenged them to live for something, painting a picture of a God who redeems broken things.
Should my kid…
Should my kid date? I say yes. In the high school years, kids are learning the basic tools for life, hopefully with the guidance of a loving adult. My advice, which goes against the grain of the ’90s purity culture, is for your kids to have many meaningful friendships with members of the opposite sex. The advent of technology has isolated our kids and taught them that real friendships consist of likers of their airbrushed photos. Friendship is a dying art in need of revitalization. Lewis in his book The Four Loves says:
“To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”
I am convinced that our kids need to learn the art of friend-making and friend-keeping. They need to learn to have a conversation, with someone of the opposite sex, because should they get married they will need to be talking to their spouse daily. The time in high school should not be dominated by serious exclusive relationships but should be a time, where with the help of loving adults, our kids learn how to be good friends.
Kids need to learn how to have face to face conversation that isn’t awkward with the opposite sex. They need to learn what types of texting is appropriate. They need to learn how to treat people that they are attracted to and how to treat people that they aren’t attracted to. How can this happen if the boys sit on one side of the room and the girls on the other? I don’t believe the path to marriage starts though sexual attraction. I think it begins through meaningful friendships.
Friendship with others starts with understanding whose we are.
I dated several women before I married my wife, Sandra. None of those relationships detracted from my relationship with Sandra. They clarified for me who I was looking for and what I found in my wife. The problems in the single dating culture in the church aren’t solved with a lowering of standards, they’re resolved by asking the right questions and starting in the right place. We are asking, “should we date,” – the question should be, “are my relationships God-honoring or self-gratifying?” We should not ask, “How far can I go and still be ‘pure’ as a Christian,” but rather, “To whom do I belong.”
The problem with the purity culture of the ’90s was not the concern of a hypersexualized culture. The problem was that the starting point and goal were not God. When man is the starting point and imperatives of our sermons being a used piece of gum or bent flower, you end up with crazy weird applications of truth. You got off course. When you start with God and understand that you belong to him, you are free to have meaningful friendships. Suddenly, you see others as image bearers, rather than objects which have been created by a loving God to reveal to you his mercy and grace, much of which can only be experienced in the gift of friendship.
I remember hearing years later Matt Chandler preach a message about that rose: that no one wants because it was broken and used. He ends the video with poignant finality, “Jesus wants the rose. That’s the point of the Gospel!” This is what the purity movement missed in their desire to protect kids from harm. It missed the gospel. Such a powerful message of our God who redeems. Jesus wants the rose.