Student Ministry and the Purity Culture
Recently, the blogosphere has been abuzz with denunciations of the pervasive purity culture hailing from the 1990s and early 2000s, and with good reason. While helpful in some—albeit very few—ways, the oversimplified purity culture, which advanced delayed sexual gratification until a far-off wedding day, was never very biblical and, in the long term, not particularly helpful in facilitating faithful disciples of Jesus. At best, this purity culture pointed out the sheer cliffs and dangers associated with sexual brokenness without providing a helpful path to navigate them.
And if I’m honest, I’ve endorsed this very culture in many conversations with students. But youth are savvy, and with the sobering realities of divorce and family brokenness splattered all over our culture and the church, they have seen through my smoke and mirrors. It might be helpful, then, to ask, ”What should I give students in lieu of a purity culture steeped in delayed sexual gratification and marinated in the false promise of an all-satisfying marriage?”
True love waits? Nope.
While it is certainly true that true love waits for good timing, espousing marriage as a satisfying alternative to sexual promiscuity simply leaves students to pop their wrists with rubber bands, hoping to drive away lustful thoughts through a culturally-appropriated medieval practice.
True love waits? Ok. But more than that, true love serves (1 John 4:10-11; Luke 10:27). Sexual sin uses others. So instead of asking students to delay gratification until a far-off wedding day, which may or may not be in the cosmic cards, why don’t we help them discover how to counteract the inward, self-exalting nature of sexual sin and actually use their gifts to love and serve both their friends and their significant others?
What would dating look like if, instead of asking “How far is too far?” we asked, “How can I love my brother or sister in Christ to better point them to Jesus?” What if we really helped students steward and use their gifts, whether by serving on a leadership team, cleaning up lunch trays at school, playing in the worship band, or serving as a small-group leader to younger students? An emphasis on serving others will help to counteract the sexual sin that urges them towards isolation and self-exaltation. It might seem strange, but perhaps one of the greatest ways to fight sexual sin is to roll up our sleeves and do good for someone else (Matthew 23:23).
Your needs will be met? Nope.
I love the emphasis on God fulfilling our needs, but oftentimes we confuse human wants with godly needs. Sex isn’t a need. Feeling a certain way about myself, whether being accepted by a spouse or feeling fulfilled in a good marriage, isn’t a need. But being in God’s family is a need. Worshipping the Lord is a need for human flourishing. So while I’ve sat with many students and simply told them that either their needs will be met in a future spouse or that their needs will be met in Jesus, I’ve actually failed to help them distinguish between true and false needs, repent of false needs, and turn outwardly in love and service towards others and the Lord.
The “need” to be sexually fulfilled—which says, “Life would be fulfilling if I could just have sex”—simply isn’t going to be fulfilled this side of eternity or the next. Our sexual “needs” are tainted and distorted by our own sinful nature. Since none of us are going to marry in the New Earth (Matthew 22:30), I need to awaken students to the self-denying and others-serving reality of being in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 16:24; 19:30). Ultimately, I need to teach them the humbling, hard, but necessary, tasks of repentance, suffering, and service.
Marriage might be an answer? Ultimately, nope.
Certainly, marriage is a wonderful thing and a gift that God has given us. It does alleviate a measure of isolation. It does make us more like Jesus as we learn to live with another person who is just as much of a sinner as we are. And it also tells the wonderful story of Christ’s relationship to the Church.
Marriage does help in staying sexually pure. But it only helps our brokenness; it doesn’t cure it. Even the wonderful intimacy that marriage provides remains tainted by sin and selfishness. Marriage is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. It does not take away our brokenness or selfish expectations. In fact, it really only highlights them.
For all its glory and aid in fighting sexual brokenness and in providing a safe context for true intimacy, marriage is only a signpost, a shadow of a deeper reality that will outlast all vows and covenants and one which will cure and re-create all that’s broken and distorted. This deeper reality is, of course, the Person and Work of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-33; Revelation 19:6-8). Our sole hope is His person as Savior, Lord, Prophet, Priest, and King and His work of salvation for us, including His work of the Spirit in us.
Let’s ask ourselves today: am I promoting a purity culture that is devoid of the self-sacrificing, others-serving, Jesus-following nature of being in the Kingdom of God, or am I giving students Kingdom realities that will truly carry them through self-denying death and into others-serving life?
[bctt tweet=”True love waits? Ok. But more than that, true love serves.” username=”ys_scoop”]
Cooper Pinson is on staff with Harvest USA’s THE STUDENT OUTREACH and has served in various capacities in youth ministry, having most recently served as Junior High Director at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL before heading north to study at Westminster Theological Seminary. He and his wife have one, beautiful daughter. Check out more from The Student Outreach at WWW.THESTUDENTOUTREACH.ORG; @GOSPELSEXUALITY.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.