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The Scarlet Virgins: When Sex Replaces Salvation Paperback – May 29, 2017
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About the Author
Rebecca Lemke grew up in a tiny homeschooling community in the Midwest; the kind where you couldn't talk about tattoos, spaghetti straps, Christmas trees, or the Easter bunny. Purity was a large focus of her childhood, perhaps even more of a focus than Jesus. She learned firsthand the perils of putting our focus on something other than Christ and now seeks to restore the Truth to the people she loves: Our worth is not in what we have done, but what He has done for us.
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I also think this could be helpful for those who have been sexually abused, because while a person might not have been bombarded by purity culture or other legalism, abuse tells many of the same lies. You are pure, you are forgiven, you are holy, you are indwelt by God; often, you are innocent of what you feel most guilty about. Once agreeing with God about it is enough if you’ve done anything wrong. Let God uncover and kill false guilt. It is so easy to self-impose legalism.
This book is unmasks the lies inherent in ‘purity culture.’ These various sets of Christ-minimizing, extra-Biblical teachings have been injected through legalistic groups, using the name of Christ to perpetrate devastating lies regarding sexuality and many other aspects of life. Purity culture became wide-spread during the much-needed purity movement that was spurred by the American sexual revolution. Fear set the stage for what, in many places, turned into a self-righteous, works-based ‘salvation,’ a ritualistic attack on identities, theirs and God’s.
This is a respectful and compassionate treatment of what many people have invested much time and energy in, seeking to help others, and often doing so. The legalistic view of purity seems to have been very intertwined with the crucial purity movement. By-and-large, the people involved in ‘purity’ culture, writers and teachers and parents, have wanted the best for their children, truth, and not the degrading harm then and now wracking people worldwide. I have not reread I Kissed Dating Goodbye since reading this book. I think it, and other similar books, have a number of good principles and good stories, but that certain assumptions, sometimes dogmatically stated, have easily been used to invite lies about identity in Christ, and sully awareness of his presence, in many young lives. As she indicates, Harris had no intention of his book being among those used to bind burdens on kids, some of whom abandoned God in response to those who misrepresented him, using whatever teaching material was handy to reinforce their own set of rules. It amazes me that so many Christian adults could be influenced through Christian groups to view women as problematic objects, and view themselves and others as a product of cumulative sins. Everyone who’s trusted Jesus as savior is redeemed, perfect in Christ and relying on his pure self living in them every act and attitude of obedience. Every such child of God is capable of embracing the progressive healing extended by the God who trusts teens in his challenge of growing, his joyful adventure of embracing the sexuality he created them with while embracing pure God in his holy body temple. We aren’t robots and God would raise people trust him while experiencing new, compelling feelings, searching his pleasure with their minds, and not feeling each unintended sinful response as a nail in the coffin of their salvation.
Parents and young adults have a real need when it comes to navigating adolescence without accumulating memories and identity turmoil and perhaps relationships or social/financial/educational limitations they later wish they could undo; but fearing these, and worse, fearing rejection by God and negation of identity in Christ, has, for many, produced deeper pain from which to heal, and this fear-based rule system has harmed those even ‘lightly’ touched by the insidious weight of these lies.
I feel like I understand my churched-as-kids peers much better, I feel like I understand myself better, and I understand legalism better. I have a different view of society as a whole, having seen lies and ramifications I didn’t know about. I can see a bit of how these lies have influenced most Christians who have had basically no direct contact with purity culture.
These kinds of lies have assaulted Christian families. Whether or not the parents have any conscious inkling that a teacher or influential person is teaching something in particular, or in a way, that is not completely in accordance with God and his truth, then the parents’ real authority from God, and his moment-by-moment leading in how to implement his word, is drowned out in the lie that screams to be enforced or find vent in attitudes. Parent-child love is crippled by the lie between them. Earnest young Christians are at as least as much risk as children who early on reject their parents’ lie-conflicted Jesus. Either way, young adults’ ability to discern right from wrong decreases as they continually switch off the conscience, in their attempt to survive constant false-guilt.
Teens can assume these lies, to some extent, even just reading good books, or the Bible, on their own. Assumptions also tend to spread through dress, body language, and church culture, without specific lies being introduced through teaching. It's easy to feel uncertain, and adopt rules, and equate them with godliness.
Talk with your teens about pleasing God, trusting him, and enjoying his peaceful guidance that never whips them into shape, driving them to perform. Talk with them about not fearing sin, but looking to Jesus, their life-long guide in sometimes changing personal convictions (Romans 14), the author and finisher of their faith, moment-by-moment. God is not wanting them to avoid ‘turning someone one’ by wearing thick sackcloth, and God is not giving them a list to use to judge their peers. God is their merciful judge, and he always sees Christ’s paid blood. Talk with them about how they are no longer sinners – they won’t reach sinlessness before heaven, but their identity now as saints is in Jesus, not in attempts at ungodly emotional dissociation or detachment, not in isolation or trying to starve or cut themselves from the sex drive God packaged them with.
Beautifully written, and something teens can easily read. Insightful and well-researched.
Purity is a good thing. We should all strive to be pure. Sex is a sacred thing. It should be saved for marriage. It is a beautiful gift of God. We should all wants to be pure and to save sex for marriage as God designed it.
Okay. That's good. So what's the problem?
Because Jesus would have agreed with the Pharisees that keeping the Law is a good thing, but He would not agree with how they saw the Law. He would not have agreed to added on rules. The Law was not meant to be a burden to the people.
Sometimes purity can become that.
Note that this is not saying purity is a burden in the sense of "I have to wait until marriage to have sex?!" This is instead saying that we are going to put a bunch of other rules around ourselves to make sure we are staying pure. To an extent, this is fine. It would be foolish to throw caution to the wind and say "I'm going to do whatever I want around the opposite sex because I am committed to purity." We should be aware of temptation and our weakness to it. As a married man, I recently told a female neighbor that I could not take her to the gym because I would not drive alone with a woman who was not my wife or a close family member.
Lemke grew up in the Purity Culture. I can't say that I did. Part of that could be that I grew up a man and was not aware of the way that women had to live their lives. Too many women are told that men are visual and they must not be stumbling blocks to men. This much is of course true. There is nothing wrong with dressing modestly. The problem is when it becomes such a rule as if "This skirt must go this high." Sometimes a bra strap might be seen coming out on a girl's top or she could show some cleavage. We could think of the way the Muslim culture treats women. We really don't want to be seen that way.
There's also the idea of how you need to avoid physical affection of any kind and heck, even having a crush can be a problem because you're giving your heart to someone else. As a man nearly married for seven years, I had a number of crushes before I met my Allie and now my heart is for her and her alone. She's not getting less of me because there was supposedly something left behind with another just because of a crush.
If you remember the book I Kissed Dating Good-Bye, this book is largely a response to that. I never did read it, but I saw a number of people who either loved it or hated it. Interestingly, recently the author has realized he spoke without knowledge and is even breaking from ministry to go to seminary, something he didn't think too highly of.
In all of this, the number one goal is that we must avoid sex before marriage. Now, of course, we should, but we don't want to be extreme. It's not the case that just because a girl and a boy are talking in the parking lot together, that they're going to immediately jump into his car and drive to his place for an afternoon of hot passionate sex. On a TV show, you can see a man and a woman meeting together and it's automatically "Yep. We know what's going to happen." The man and the woman are both automatically fully in the mood every time. Often the message is that men are just great big walking hormones and the woman must learn how to protect herself around them and how to not arouse the beast because he can't control himself.
I spoke about physical affection earlier. This is something that's often seen as the first kiss at the altar movement. One can see why it is a touching thought, but I do not think it works well. This is a whole time of dating and engagement where you're told physical affection is a big no-no, and then all of a sudden you're supposed to pass from a kiss to full sex.
There are a number of women who have a hard time with this switch. (Many times, the guys don't. We learn very quickly that this is something we can enjoy.) A woman has had her sexuality treated as something dirty and then when she is with her husband for the first time on her wedding night, it magically becomes pure and pristine and all her thinking switches instantly.
Sorry. Doesn't happen, and there are many marriages that have struggled because of this and some have even apostasized.
Part of it is also we give a very negative message about sex with lip service paid to the joy of sex. I remember being in Bible College and hearing a sermon at my church during a Silver Ring Thing ceremony. The associate pastor got up to tell the teenagers about the importance of waiting until marriage. He said that if you have sex before marriage, it will be for selfish reasons. Okay. I can agree with that. He then went on to why they shouldn't.
"Think of the shame and guilt you'll feel. Think about what you'll have to tell your spouse on your wedding night. You could get an STD. You could get pregnant."
And I was thinking "Pastor. Maybe it's just me, but those sound like selfish reasons too."
There was never anything about why this is wrong. It was all about how you'd feel. No worldview of sex. No talk about the role of sex. There was I think one sentence dedicated to the joy of sex. That was it. As I was sitting back there listening, I was getting bored, and as I've said before, if you can talk about sex and a college guy is in the audience and getting bored, you're doing it wrong.
Lemke's book is one big on grace and forgiveness, and yet there's no real hostility towards the Purity Culture movement. She understands these people mean well, and she applauds that. One can think of zeal but not in accordance with knowledge.
Lemke also deals with the idea of damaged goods and such. This is common in our culture where if a woman has sex before marriage, it is as if her value is automatically lowered. This can be especially hard if it is the result of abuse the woman had no control over. A woman who has sinned by having sex before marriage even if her fault is not irredeemable. She can work and still have a good and godly marriage.
If there were some things I'd like to change, she does talk about having a husband and why the wedding night was so hard. I found myself wondering how it is growing up in the culture she eventually came to have a husband. That would have been good to have explained.
She did write about the joy of sex in the end, but I would have liked to have seen more. We should have it in our culture that instead of secular TV shows having some supposed idea of sex that lures people in, they need to be looking at Christian marriages and know there is great sex going on behind the scenes and wanting to have that one day. One of the greatest honors I have had in my life was a friend getting married and getting in touch with me and saying that he wanted what I had and seeking my advice. Doing marriage well takes work and it's good when others recognize it is being done.
Lemke's book is an easy and quick read. It is one that I can recommend. We need purity, but we don't need to be so extreme we make our own existence a burden.
Deeper Waters Apologetics