Why We Need To Teach Chastity, Not Abstinence, In The Church

I struggle with how abstinence is taught in the church. What? Hold on before you get offended and jump to conclusions thinking that I am supporting premarital sex! Let me explain. Abstinence teaches that one is not to have sex before marriage. Typically the talks that I have heard over the years on abstinence are essentially summarized by drawing a bold line in the sand and aggressively saying to youth, “Don’t sexually cross this line.” Early on in ministry when I was a youth pastor I also drew a line and continually reinforced the message. This isn’t bad but unfortunately this is sometimes the only thing that we teach in regard to sex education. I am not sure if it is because we are afraid to talk about sex in the church or if it is easier and less messy to just draw a line? 

Now to be more specific, the reason why I struggle with the teaching of abstinence is not that I endorse premarital sex but rather that the philosophy of abstinence is far too limited, it does not go far enough nor does it give a fully comprehensive view of the sacredness of sex in all aspects of life. It also fails because it only teaches what the church is against and doesn’t teach what the church is for. 

Rather than “abstinence” may I humbly recommend “chastity?” The teaching of chastity doesn’t limit itself to a mere line in the sand that is intended to only bind sexual actions before marriage but rather it comprehensively addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of sexually purity in all aspects of life. Furthermore, where abstinence only addresses those that are single before marriage, the teaching of chastity speaks to everyone; youth, adults, single people and those that are married. It speaks about fidelity, purity and the sacredness of sex in view of the way God graciously anticipated intimacy to be. 

Chastity teaches us about the sacredness and gift of sexual intimacy within marriage. Randy Newman teaches on this saying, “within marriage God blesses the husband and wife in total voluntary vulnerability. In this marriage bond the husband and wife are allowed to be intimately free and find acceptance in each other. Over time instead of ridicule, oneness emerges where acceptance and unashamed love captivates the couple.” He goes on to say, “By protecting the intimacy of sex from pollutants and keeping it bound in the covenant of marriage, a husband and wife can heal each other in their deepest areas of pain. They get to bind together what has been shattered from life, serving each other within the shadow of the Cross.” 

My hope when teaching chastity to my confirmation class and the church is that the theology of chastity would really inscribe the idea that sexual intimacy is a gift of God that is very good and is given to future and current brides and grooms. Chastity approaches the idea of sexual intimacy not with a mere one dimensional line but as an authentic gospel driven virtue. It is a virtue that fosters respect for the gift of sex, a gift that is not only reserved for marriage but also exalted, honored and celebrated in marriage. Thus the church is not merely against sex or anti-sex, but the church cherishes sexual purity and is for chastity and the blessing of sex. The church is for the gift of sex and for protecting the sacredness of sex. May we go beyond abstinence to the theology of chastity!

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