The Case for Chastity

by Christine O'Donnell, special to the Cultural Dissident, November 9, 1998

Adolph Hitler once said that to engineer a society you must first engineer its language. Starting with the youth, he set in motion a design to erode the power of words, to steal the significance and beauty of a single word.
We can see the unfolding of that plan in our society. Society's " sexual liberation" has unleashed an entirely new lexicon. For example, "gay" has always meant joyful and gleeful. Yet, today, when we say that Ellen is gay, we're certainly not talking about her emotional well being.

In the same way, even Christians have become caught up in the new uses for old words, often in an effort to remain competitive in the public debate. Words like abstinence and phrases such as secondary virginity are now commonplace in the marketplace of ideas put forth to counter the sexual ideology of the 90s.

I don't encourage anyone to seek " abstinence." I cringe at terms like "secondary virginity" or "recycled virgin." One of my goals is to get the body of Christ to stop proclaiming these words. I would rejoice if I never heard "abstinence" from a pulpit again.

Yes, I am a Christian. Yes, I do seek to surrender my entire life to the will of our Father. That is precisely why I don't talk about abstinence or secondary virginity when I am asked to speak about sex. Abstinence is a physical discipline, not a calling. It makes our physical condition the goal.

As Christians, virginity is not even our goal. Purity and holiness are our calling in Christ. In Philippians 3:14 when the apostle Paul urges us to "press toward the goal" he is not calling us to push the limits as long as we don't cross the line. He continues to assure us that it is a prize, a great reward, to live as Christ calls us to live.

I don't like the term "secondary virginity" because it, too, makes virginity the goal and seems to classify certain people as second-rate Christians. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new." It does not say "all things except our virginity." When Christ heals people from cancer, there is no doubt that the physical body has been restored. Yet sometimes our own shame can cause us to doubt His ability to restore our purity. Christ promises to cleanse us from all of our sins.

Someone may challenge this idea by pointing to the fact that many Christians may have contracted AIDS in a promiscuous past. Sexually transmitted diseases or a pregnancy are consequences set apart from our healing. God may choose to heal someone from cancer, yet that person still has a great deal of medical bills. The outstanding bills do not determine whether or not the patient has been healed by God.

I know many physical virgins who are not sexually pure. I know many virgins who are into pornography or who are "doing everything but" with their boyfriends. On the flip side, I know many non-virgins who live beautiful, holy, pure lives through the power of Christ's blood.

Another disagreeable point about abstinence is that it does not transcend into marriage, yet our call to purity does. Married couples, especially, are called to sexual purity. When a married person uses pornography, or is unfaithful, it compromises not just his (or her) purity, but also compromises the spouse's purity. As a church, we need to teach a higher standard than abstinence. We need to preach a righteous lifestyle.

So what word do we preach? I struggled with that for a while. I was continually being asked to do media interviews or give speeches about sex. I would talk about this concept of holy living, yet had no word for this idea. I prayed for God to give me a word that applied to all people; married, single, virgins and non-virgins. This word would encompass our entire lives, not just our sexuality.

About a year ago, I was talking to a crowd about my thoughts on abstinence and the need for a higher standard. After my talk, a woman approached me and suggested that I use the word chastity. I politely thanked her but quietly thought how sad it was that she missed my point.

The whole purpose of the Savior's Alliance for Lifting the Truth was to restore Biblical values in a way that is relevant to this extreme generation. It was not to bring back, what at the time, I thought were Victorian, puritanical ideas about sex. So, I continued to search for a word. God was probably laughing at my refusal to see His answer to my prayer.

This past summer I was invited to speak at a large Christian rock festival. I wanted a powerful word to drive home this concept to the crowd. I begged God to give me a word, but He continually reminded me of that woman's face and her love for the word chastity. Then, just days before the festival, I recalled a speech that I had given about strategy of engineering language. I instantly felt embarrassed that I was blind to my own point! So I researched the word chastity.

When I heard the word chastity it would conjure up uptight images of chastity belts. I was succumbing to a meaning of Chastity that robbed the beauty of the word as well as its true definition. Chastity comes from the Greek word hagnos, which means clean, pure and holy. It is synonymous with the Greek word hagios, which means consecrated and sacred.

God wants us to live chaste lives. The dictionary listed words like integrity, honesty and purity as synonyms. It did not mention our sexuality. Surrendering our sexuality to God before and after marriage is a by-product of living chaste.

We can proudly, with honor, proclaim that we are consecrated to God. Yet there seems to be a stigma attached to proclaiming that we live chaste lives.

We should just as proudly proclaim our chastity. When God looks at His people, He looks at the integrity with which we live our lives. He searches our hearts and distinguishes between who has surrendered every crevice of their hearts to Him and who has not.

God does not distinguish between who is a virgin and who is not. Christians tend to ask each other whether or not we're virgins. The real question is whether or not we are chaste.

Christine O'Donnell is the founder and president of SALT-Savior's Alliance for Lifting the Truth)