At first, I thought I liked that New York Times article from Katelyn Beaty. And not just because of its oh-so-sensually clickable headline, “How Should Christians Have Sex?”
A few of my friends shared this article. Most who did seemed to have positive response to it.
So did I, at first, mainly because I saw it as another expression of my annoyance with the “romance prosperity gospel.” For example, I wrote:
At best the Romance Prosperity Gospel is hazardous. But I may go so far as to call it wicked. What else can describe the claim that “God makes this promise to you” when He has not made that promise? Yes, the RPG may be better than sexual impurity. But it compares poorly with God’s real promises, emphasizes anecdotes over God’s Word, and harms single Christians.
Then I thought about the article. And, if I had time, I’d write more about why I ultimately choose not to be a fan of it.
But Gregory Shane Morris (of Breakpoint) got there first. And I think I (mostly) agree with his gut reaction.
First, for those just arriving to this new web-scene, Morris summarizes:
Beaty opens her piece by implying that promising not to have sex until marriage (you know, the sine qua non of Christian sexual morality) is creepy and unhealthy. She explains that her decision at age 14 to sign a “True Love Waits” pledge imposed “a psychological burden” that she and her peers “are still unloading.” She submits purity balls, purity rings, and “Wait For Me Journals” for the scorn of Times readers, and repeats the familiar complaint that purity culture taught young Christians that if they only behaved themselves, God would bring them the perfect spouse (a claim Ben Shapiro calls “Gumball Machine God,” and which I’ve examined at length, here).
As Morris seems to echo, I feel that Beaty’s article is softer and less inflammatory than many other “exvangelical” articles. Yet her strange love-hate relationship with “purity culture,” does come across as frustrating. How does Beaty expect to get the moral results without church leader’s clear call to self-discipline (with some possibly silly cultural side effects, such as “True Love Waits” merch)? Has Beaty worked to disentangle, biblically, the church’s cultural oddities—like mushy journals, and some false promises about perfect wedding-night sex—from the promises that the Bible actually gives us, starting with “you will get perfect happiness in Christ”? I think Morris is right to let that frustration show in his response.
Anyway, read Morris’s whole piece, although Morris does wrap it up quickly.
He’s also probably more charitable in not challenging what is, I believe, a core problem with many (not all) of these “exvangelical”-style articles. Frankly, these show at best a pretty clear display of the writers’ own unresolved conflicts about church, family, and other challenges (sometimes even trauma). And, at worst, it’s a display of willingness to monetize this unresolved tension or recovery for fame and profit.
Perhaps I know only enough to be dangerous about the topics of biblical peacemaking, conflict resolution, and even counseling. But here are some fairly brief thoughts on this growing trend of “exvangelical” articles and aspiring thought-leaders.
First, if you really do have a “psychological burden” (Beaty’s words), caused by evangelical church-related conflict, then you’ll not find the healing you need by becoming a Big Pundit Cheese.
Here, I do assume in good faith that people who write exvangelical articles really are talking about psychological burdens.
But this impulse among exvangelical voices reminds me a lot of some people who claim to have had certain bad experiences with, say, alcohol abuse or family conflict. However, instead of actually getting help to work through these experiences and come to some resolution, they instead act as if that they can find healing from that experience by helping others who have had similar bad experiences.
Unfortunately, such a person has not actually healed from this experience by growing stronger in Christ and the gospel.
If not, then by seeking fake “therapy” on their own terms, they only risk a continuation of the cycle that works against them.
Even worse, they could be volunteering to act as the blind who lead the blind.
Second, the appropriate place for healing from “evangelical” conflicts is not in this kind of punditry.
People may use these exvangelical articles as a language to describe their stories, as an early stage of coming to grips with aby real trauma.
But this kind of material is more like the early “law” of the Old Testament. Such articles and other materials can only reveal the problems; they are an introductory, 101-level part of the healing process. They cannot actually resolve these problems or help us heal from them—much less make us happier or strong enough to lead others in dealing with similar problems.
Rather, such exvangelical or church-critical materials must lead to the Gospel, that is, Christ’s life/death/resurrection, rightly applied to our own stories of personal sin and subjection to others’ false beliefs and sinful actions. In this gospel application, we can begin healing:
- We can understanding the bad and good of the “evangelical culture.”
- We can overlook people’s unintentional sins where we can.
- We can leave other false teachings or sinful actions to the God who avenges wrongdoing.
Here’s the catch: this healing doesn’t happen over the internet, or with articles, or by finding people who share our same grievances with particular Christian cultures. Instead, we can only get this healing with help from wise and caring sisters and brothers in the faith. This can only occur in real-world personal and loving environments (perhaps including but not limited to trained biblical counselors). And that means that the biblical counselor may also (gently and after earning our trust, I hope) point out areas where we ourselves must strive, in the grace of Christ, to fulfill the biblical ideals to which we insist that other Evangelicals in Power uphold to the letter.
Third, neither the original article itself, or any of the pushback from critics, should be taking the overt Gospel for granted.
Here’s what I mean.
If you agree with this article and identify as a Christian, ask yourself: Do you have anywhere in the back of your head a thought like, “Oh, well, we don’t need to talk about that ‘God’s law fulfilled in the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ’ stuff, because we already know that”?
If you even have a hint of this thought, well, you might want to consider empathizing with that graceless youth-group speaker who treated a single person’s lost virginity as if it were a shattered mirror, impossible to piece back together. Do you see what happened there? In order to fix what he felt was a Big Problem (promiscuity), that “purity culture” guy didn’t ground his teaching in the gospel. But then, in order to fix that other Big Problem (purity culture), mightn’t we also fail to ground our teaching in the gospel?
Gospel-ignoring is the very deadly error that led to (so we claim) any excesses with “purity culture” in the first place.
Ignore that, and we are doomed to repeat the same errors.
Fourth, ultimately, if Christian writers/leaders makes it their chief end to fix problems, while ignoring the gospel, they will not even fulfill their own goals.
They’ll just be repeating the supposed “purity culture” mistake: trying to fix problems, while ignoring the divine Solution.
They’ll become part of the cycle of legalistic problem-fixing, even while being painfully self-aware about the evils of legalism.
And, they’ll end up (despite all good intentions) enabling their own unhealed “exvangelical” readers. Many such readers may not even be reading the article to learn from it, but may instead see the materials as a simple accessory to adorn the reader’s own personal story.
Fifth and finally (for now), in such instances, I think we need to identify a recurring fallacy.
Perhaps we might call this fallacy argumentum ad exvangelical.
It would describe, simply, the fallacy of claiming, “I feel hurt by Christian group/the Church/’evangelical culture,’ therefore I have moral authority to speak against any of these.”
Yes, I would call this a fallacious argument, even if the person has suffered real hurt. But I would not then condemn the fallacy-maker or walk away, satisfied, having hurled the epithet in some internet comments section. Instead, I would hope that I can tell this person: “I’m very sorry you were hurt that way. Have you considered these methods of finding healing from that experience?”
This person doesn’t need to be a Big Pundit Cheese.
They also don’t need nasty critiques like “oh, poor little snowflake” or “get over it.”
Instead, they need expressions of firm correction that are immediately coupled with sincere offers of care. In the context of the real Church. In the context of the real gospel. And, most importantly, in the context of a perfect loving Savior, by whose wounds we are healed.