Stuff Christian Culture Likes

Stuff Christian Culture Likes


#130 The short engagement

posted by Stephanie Drury

engagement1.jpg

When couples in Christian culture get engaged they are encouraged to keep their engagement short. The engagement period is considered a ticking time bomb because of the difficulty of “staying pure.”

If they’re not already covertly Doing It, some couples try to deal with the purity situation by not kissing until the altar. Others, after spending time in prayer about it, will allow themselves some passionate hand-holding. Others may decide (prayerfully) that they will kiss “but that’s it,” and the rest furtively dry hump their engagement away.

engagement2.jpgIn any event, limping to the finish with the last dregs of virginity intact is considered by Christian culture to be a technical success, but any missteps up to that point can be a source of shame the couple may cling to for years. Some couples tell their woeful tale to their church’s singles or youth ministries as a sort of community service so that the young upstarts won’t make their same mistakes. The singles and youth eventually become nauseatingly familiar with the details of the regrettable gaffe(s) and while the couple is careful never to present these stories in an appealing light, they manage to be strangely compelling anyway. 



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Stephanie

posted February 22, 2010 at 11:35 am


This was the bane of my existance growing up. I personally was a “rebel” by the time I got married so we didn’t have this problem. But boy, this is all too familiar!! Good one! :)



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juls

posted February 22, 2010 at 11:39 am


the phrase limping to the finish was just too much for me. this post is so true!



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Timothy

posted February 22, 2010 at 12:37 pm


Sometimes I think Christians invented anal sex, just to get past this problem.



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Jess P

posted February 22, 2010 at 12:46 pm


“…furtively dry hump their engagement away.”
Bwahahaha!



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Em

posted February 22, 2010 at 12:58 pm


Oh, God. I remember those “cautionary tales”. They were almost always involving the current husband (because admitting to having more than one sexual partner in a lifetime is scandalous) and always left me feeling like “so what?”. You had premarital sex…with the person you ended up marrying. And I’m supposed to feel tragic about this? And if you CAN’T get past that, doesn’t that seem to point to a bigger hang-up in your life and relationship? And everyone in said Bible study is too embarassed to ask what the big deal is.
Of course, they’re mortified because they missed they’re magical Jesus sex moment WHICH DOES NOT EXIST. It’s this weird self-perpetuating myth since people rarely discuss sex as being good unless they’re a youth pastor in front of 1000 teenagers…but actual discussion about reality? Never.



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Josh Tompke

posted February 22, 2010 at 1:39 pm


The reason the Magical Jesus Sex Moment is so self-perpetuating is that most people are never 100% extra-virgin by the time they get married, so they assume they somehow ruined it for themselves, and saying something will just draw attention to this fact.



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Ben Mordecai

posted February 22, 2010 at 1:43 pm


I cut my engagement in half for it.
You can read about it here:
http://bit.ly/90ESDJ



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Sarah

posted February 22, 2010 at 1:46 pm


Not to mention that in this scenario so much of the couple’s relationship centers around the sex/not-sex continuum that they find out they’ve married strangers to whom they aren’t sure how to relate. Great setup for a stable, well-rounded marriage.



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Sarah

posted February 22, 2010 at 1:50 pm


Sorry, Ben, I didn’t see your comment hen I posted. That was in no way directed at you.



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Rob

posted February 22, 2010 at 2:32 pm


The problem as I see it, is that Christians not only don’t talk about sex as the Bible does, but don’t give it high honor as God does. Being abstinent for abstinence sake is idolatrous as it makes a god out of sex. The issue is never merely sexual purity, let alone that sex is somehow magical for those who wait. The issue is walking in a way that is not only God honoring, but believing that how God describes reality (which includes human relationships) is really the way things are supposed to be.
In my view, hyping up sex to be the end all and being dismissive of it, “it ain’t all that and I was a rebel when I was younger,” (both of which are easily seen in Evangelical culture) are synonymous problems that miss the point all together. The fact that we can mistakenly treat sex as not only a god, but as being devoid of a spiritual component is appalling. After all, God describes his “knowing” of his bride as a man “knows” his wife. To simplify, Evangelicals and sex = secular worldview.



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Greta

posted February 22, 2010 at 2:50 pm


Yes, those “cautionary tales” of sex before marriage!
Growing up, every Christian I knew who had sex before marriage (and I mean sex with the person they ended up marrying!) shared their woes of it “taking years” for God to bless their sexual relationship because of their pre-marital sins.
However, no one has ever really been able to explain what this means. Did the sex “go bad” post-wedding ceremony? Did the woman break down and cry about her past transgressions before penetration? Was sex filled with terrible pre-ceremony shame?
I’ve never heard anything really concrete, but hear vague phrases all the time like, “God withholds blessings” when you are have committed pre-marital sexual sins. Can someone explain what this means in non-Christianese?
For some pastors who’ve had sex before marriage, they’ve made it their personal life-long mission to make sure that no one else makes the same grave “mistake” they did. Yet, these same pastors boast (brag, write books, blog, teach year-long sex sermons, are explicit about specific sexual acts with their beloved, etc.) about their amazing sex life with their “high school sweetheart.”
Christian Culture also has a weird double-standard when it comes to men and women’s pre-marital activities. It seems “a given” that men will have sex before they meet their bride-to-be and that fact is shoved under the rug when the engaged Christian couple refrain from sex for those few months while they are dating and engaged.
Why is it the woman’s duty to carry the burden of shame and guilt, to show a repentant heart, and spin their testimony into cautionary tales for young ladies?
In a church I used to be a member of, the engaged couples were given the “why wait to get married” talk, stating that the longer you are engaged, the more likely you are to sin, so if you really want to get married, do it like NOW!
But I do like the idea of a short engagement simply because it seems more practical.



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Chrissy

posted February 22, 2010 at 3:24 pm


“the couple is careful never to present these stories in an appealing light, they manage to be strangely compelling anyway.”
At the church my sister and I grew up in, a couple shared their “shortcomings” to the youth group, and my sister said that every time she saw them all she thought was “THEY are the couple that did THAT.” It’s hard to describe what is so compelling about knowing someone’s personal “failure” but it is undeniable that it somehow titillates the audience.
Mixing a secret with a portion of shame was not the most effective method of preventing virginity loss. If anything, it most effectively perpetuates the shame of the couple seeing as they still feel the need to confess their sin. The moral of these stories is almost always “Don’t do it, because you will suffer guilt like we did.” It is a fear tactic, that shames the couple, and pre-shames the kids “just in case.” They never highlight the beauty of “the fruit of repentance” because it would somehow suggest that God’s grace is so good that you are allowed to sin. They only emphasize the guilt that comes before the repentance and encourage you to avoid that guilt at all cost. Using guilt to manipulate people wreaks of Christs’s death. It is only half of the story. Without the gospel of the resurrection, we remain in guilt and shame. But if they were to preach the freedom of the resurrection, and the grace one experiences in the “fruit of repentance” then “the news” they claim to believe actually sounds like “Good News.” Instead it sounds average: “God forgave us, but the guilt we felt was so great that it wasn’t worth it.” It belittles God’s forgiveness and highlight’s man’s sin. Sex becomes the ultimate guilty pleasure, and we forget that we’ve all been sinning all along, sex or no sex. We don’t feel nearly as guilty for “lesser” sins, and yet the need for forgiveness remains the same. We have no problem accepting grace to cover the “small” sins we chose to commit. But sex remains the sin we obsess over, and suggests there is no freedom from THAT sin unless you remain in a constant state of repentance for it. “The fruit of the spirit is guilt…” Oh wait. No it’s not.



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Rollo Tomassi

posted February 22, 2010 at 4:13 pm


“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:28
Oops, sorry churchy, you lose again.
The game’s fixed and you can’t possibly “stay pure” when thinking about it is the equivalent of doing it.
Good thing we have Christ’s love of salvation.



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Ben Mordecai

posted February 22, 2010 at 5:18 pm

JustGuessing

posted February 22, 2010 at 7:30 pm


What gets me are these purity pledges. Parents will send their kids to a seminar that coerces them to sign a pledge to remain chase until marriage. A 12 year old has no clue what they are signing.



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CR

posted February 22, 2010 at 10:03 pm


We did it before marriage and we still do it now. It was great then and it is also great now! I’m guessing I will never be considered to motivate horny college students.



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Laura

posted February 22, 2010 at 10:07 pm


Haha! Hey, now, my engagement was 5 months long and my marriage turned out WONDERFUL!! :D :D (Um, if you don’t know me, then you must know that it didn’t actually, and the above was a joke. . . )



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Jeremiah

posted February 22, 2010 at 10:42 pm


I have no love for the various manifestations of modern American Evangelical Christianity, but while this one is both funny and true, the problem is that mainstream christianity or the modern irreligious have no answer either.
Guys – Do we want to marry complete hookers? No. Would we prefer to marry virgins? Who wouldn’t? How many dents in the cherry is too many? 2? 5? 10? 100?
Would the world be a worse place by any measure if true life-long monogamy were the rule rather than the exception?



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Chrissy

posted February 23, 2010 at 2:07 am


Jeremiah, it’s somewhat futile to debate the other extreme. By answering the question of what constitutes a woman as “complete hooker,” we’d simply be making a new black or white rule to follow. If “true life-long monogamy” were “the rule rather than the exception,” it would be much easier to define your “hooker.” The fact is that it’s not the rule, and quick engagements are not a realistic way to instill purity into society. Using guilt to solidify monogamy as the rule, into impressionable young people only offers one message: Unmarried sex is BAD. Married sex is GOOD. Other than that, there is little to no open dialogue regarding sex, unless one is confessing their “struggle” with sexual sin.
Christians and the “modern irreligious” may not have the perfect answer, and I believe that implies that there is not one. There is not a simple answer to a difficult question. The simple answer, “don’t have sex and get married fast,” has proven to be the wrong answer for many people who were earnestly trying to do the right thing. Perhaps it means God does not want us to obey a simple answer, but wants us to wrestle with him and our humanity and find peace in the midst of our struggles. We have been thoroughly schooled with SOMEONE’S answer (ie: Elizabeth Elliot), but this robs us of our wrestling match by dictating in advance what we should do in a hypothetical situation and relationship. Applying the same formula to every relationship suggests that every relationship is the same. If life were as simple as a formula, the human experience would not be so valuable, and so difficult, and we would have no reason to wrestle with God. In following formulas, christians all start to look and sound the same. Hence: this blog.
So… Q: “Would the world be a worse place by any measure if true life-long monogamy were the rule rather than the exception?”
A: The world would be neither better nor worse, so long as living is based on a rule.



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Brandon

posted February 23, 2010 at 4:32 am


The act of sex in Gods eyes is what makes a couple married. The ceremony is a way for the couple to celebrate in most times an overly showy manner the consumation of the marriage that may have taken place, or will take place. Either way sex and marriage is meant for one man and one woman, and the ceremony only makes public the covenant made in the marriage bed.



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stephanie drury

posted February 23, 2010 at 10:12 am


Jeremiah’s getting the point of this blog, which is that the problem is neither mainstream christianity or the modern irreligious have the answer.
And I think Brandon’s right.



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Rob

posted February 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm


Actually what makes a couple married is not the sex act; the sex act consummates the public pledge/covenant of love and faithfulness. The commitment and the sex work together and one does not make another. This is why Christ not only pronounces the Church as his bride, but at his second coming will consummate his relationship to her.
Like I said earlier, Christians tend to disregard God and what he says when it comes to talk about sex, marriage, etc.



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stephanie drury

posted February 23, 2010 at 3:21 pm


Rob, then what do you think of the Old Testament decree that if you sleep with a woman you have married her?



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Em

posted February 23, 2010 at 4:09 pm


Ugh, Jeremiah, really? What classifies a woman as a “hooker”? because last I checked it had something to do with selling her body for sex.
You point out something really telling: in both Christian and nonChristian cultures, sexuality is male-centric and absolutely obsessed with female “purity”. Sure, you don’t want to marry a hooker. I, too, don’t want to marry a dude with more STDs than an entire city. But no one (especially in the church) ever seriously talks about dudes staying as pure as the damn driven snow.
When you say “who doesn’t want to marry a virgin?” my answer is why is it so important? If you really love someone, their sexual history (barring anything really extreme) is probably not going to matter. If it does, I’m sorry for you.



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Rob

posted February 23, 2010 at 5:32 pm


The model for all of these things is God himself, which for example he weds himself to Israel with his pronouncement in Exodus 19 and 20 which is not merely a Covenant, but his pledge of marital faithfulness to be followed out through the keeping of the commandments. This is why he speaks of his bride as going whoring after other lovers in Hosea: she broke faithfulness to her husband. God’s relationship to Israel does not begin with sex, it is consummated with it.
But as for your biblical citation, I really don’t know what that could be except Deuteronomy 22:28-29, “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”
Or similar Exodus 22:16, “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to be married and lies with her, he shall give the bride-price (i.e., the engagement present) for her and make her his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the bride-price for virgins.”
The issue here is not they have been declared married, the issue is that they significantly sinned and the man is now obligated to do what he should have done in the first place: make a commitment of faithfulness to the woman, something that he is forced to do now by law financially. The sex act doesn’t make them married as the father has the right of refusal. They very well may not be married. It’s not as if the Father and the law say, “they will not be married,” and yet they really were. That would make God to be talking out of both sides of his mouth. After all, the sin of the couple has brought serious shame to both the couple and to her family. Notice the language of Deuteronomy (both come from the ESV) that he has violated her. Even if it was consensual, it is still a violation as a God sees it.
Of course, we live under the headship of better covenant with Jesus as our mediator and so such sins, though shameful and still a violation (though we tend to disregard the violation [unless its rape] for our own secularized view of sex) are covered by the grace of our Lord Jesus. It still doesn’t change the Bible ‘s position that is seen throughout God’s own dealings with his people, both in the Old and New Testaments, that marriage is constituted through Covenant and consummated through sex, or in the case of our Lord, his Second Coming.



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Chrissy

posted February 24, 2010 at 12:04 am


Rob, I think Brandon covered the commitment factor in saying “Either way sex and marriage is meant for one man and one woman…” Initially, I had the same thought as you: That sex is not what creates a marriage. The promise and/or commitment is what makes a marriage.
But Brandon’s mention of monogamy clarifies that a commitment is involved. I could be wrong, but I believe we’re all (you, me, Brandon and Stephy) on the same page. Yes?



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Jeremiah

posted February 24, 2010 at 2:30 am


Em – Everything you said is valid. But none of it answers any of my questions/concerns.
Believe me, I’d love it if we lived in a world where we have consequence free sex with numerous partners, but that’s just not how most of us are wired. And pretending it doesn’t matter is just that – a pretense.
As for male-centrism, guilty. I didn’t think I was hiding that. I’m a masculinist out on front street.
If you think sexual history does not matter then you are living in a fantasyland completely unconnected with reality. Of course the guy you’re with NOW will tell you it doesn’t matter.



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Spinning

posted February 24, 2010 at 2:43 am


But… if there’s no real commitment, how could sex “make it so”? (To quote Jean-Luc Picard.) I don’t believe that the marriage ceremony is some kind of magic; it’s the intent of the heart.
As for Stephy’s post, well… you just try being someone who is single for a looooong time, or end up being a widow/widower, or divorced, and see how “kind” the church is to you. (Hint: unmarried people aren’t supposed to have sexual feelings, no matter what their age. It’s too embarrassing to talk about, I guess, or else people don’t want to admit to *their* true feelings.)
and way to go, evangelical church culture, for dumping it all on the woman. (though i’ve met guys who felt choked with guilt for premarital sex, too….)
Somehow this all reminds me of those passages about the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law. ;-)



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Raven

posted February 24, 2010 at 6:18 am


Yes, that wonderful law in Exodus, combined with all these attitudes, are what told me since I’d been raped I was now worthless as a wife to anyone, no matter how good I tried to be. “You poke it you own it”, right?
If this is Christianity I want none of it. I’m glad I left. I’m glad I have partners now who think I’m worth more than a little piece of skin.



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Your Name

posted February 24, 2010 at 1:27 pm


Jeremiah, I retract that. I don’t feel sorry for you, I feel sorry for any woman who has the misfortune to date you.
Anyway, for the rest of us that are looking for a relationship, not a Stepford wife to pop out Christian eugenic spawn, sexual history isn’t as important as Christians make it out to be. And making insinuations about people you don’t know on the internet? Not very original.
Sorry. Normally I try not to be nasty but you are a particularly irksome individual. You remind me of the Christian dudes in high school–and all of the reasons I didn’t date in high school. Best of luck to you, and I really do mean that sincerely. As for my current fiance, he is nothing like you and genuinely loves me beyond my “cherry”, to use your term. I’ve always avoided self-proclaimed “masclulinists” in my dating life, thankfully. I prefer egalitarians.
Spinning: the church is nice to you about sexual impropriety as long as you feel the appropriate amount of crushing guilt! But try telling someone you don’t have this horrible crisis on consciousness, or that you’re questioning why the obsession with sex in the first place? Prepare for some serious Amish-style shunning.



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Em

posted February 24, 2010 at 1:33 pm


What? The above post was me, not “your name”.
Raven: I avoided getting into THAT whole mess, but I’m glad to see someone else mentioned it. You’ve got to love OT law that dictated that a woman has to marry her rapist. Horrible, horrible, horrible.
But to answer that, Raven, that is NOT Christianity, it’s misogyny and I’m glad to say a good number of us “libber” Christians are well past it. I’m sorry for those attitudes and how they affected you, I really am. I have a friend who went through something similar and it made me so angry to watch people berate her for something that wasn’t her fault, when she needed love and understanding to help her heal. Any man who’s more concerned about your hymen than who you are is not worth a second of your time, anyway.



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Spinning

posted February 24, 2010 at 1:42 pm


@ Jeremiah: that bit about “sexual history” is just ugly, insensitive and way, way out of line.
It looks as if you don’t get that all relationships (sexual or not) are a two-way street.
Or that women might ask some of these same questions.
Dude: grow up – emotionally, that is.



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Still Breathing

posted February 27, 2010 at 7:05 am


I’ve just realised why I get called ‘a liberal’ – we were engaged for 2.5 years!



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WonderingAramean

posted February 28, 2010 at 11:22 am


I’d like to point out, as an Old Testament/Hebrew Bible scholar, that there is no evidence that the OT laws quoted above were ever practiced and there are strong indications that they weren’t (one being that they were written much much later than they purport to be and attempt to reflect village/rural life, but are written by people in the cities who have little to contact with the villages).
Furthermore, marriage in the OT was almost solely an economic and political transaction. The insistence of female virginity was to ensure the parenthood of the heir. As my mother use to say, “motherhood is a matter of condition, fatherhood is a matter of faith.” Since “salvation” in the OT was based upon the continuation of the line, one had to insure the “proper parenthood.”
As for the NT outlook… Jesus was a lot more open-minded and forgiving than many Christians I come across, and I’ve been attending church for more than 30 years.



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Anon

posted March 12, 2010 at 5:23 pm


Something important to consider when discussing this issue is that for many thousands of years, until the last handful of decades, really, marriage was a significant economic transaction for the parties involved, and having the economic and physical protection of a male was essential to the survival of a woman and her progeny. Doesn’t sound very modern and egalitarian, but there it is. In the more nitty-gritty world of the past, knowledge of parentage was literally a matter of life and death. The question of sexuality was linked to, but a bit different from, the question of marriage. Sure there was love and all that kind of stuff, but these customs we (often blindly) follow once had significant meaning and real-life reasons for being. Knowing the cultural context helps us to discern what the customs are really about, and although times have changed, the guiding principles behind these practices remain meaningful at some level. In other words, understanding the “spirit of the law” helps us relate that law to one’s present-day situation.
On the other hand, and perhaps eclipsing all this entirely, is the matter of temptation. “Doing it” or “not doing it” is an external preactice and is not a reliable reflection of the state of the heart, and God cannot be faked out (which certainly cannot be said of The Church– I would classify most “Christians” as more likely to believe a lying heart– especially one that shows a bit of religion– than a truthful one. But I digress). It is well within the realm of possibility for “Christian” couples to “do the right thing” according to Christian culture and make it to the marriage bed “intact” without ever really confronting the issue of sexuality and yielding their sensual desires to the transformative power of Christ. Which leaves them no better off than a couple of totally intemperate horndogs with no *real* self-control. It’s no secret that porn use is no lower in the church than in “the World”. Why the obsession? If Christians at large wrestle with God on this– which is always a one-to-one fight, mind you, which no amoung of sermonizing can replace, than why all the secrecy, the guilt? And then there are those who consider sex “no big deal”, but something seems to be missing from that equation. This attitude appears to prevail most among those, Christian and non-Christian alike, who somehow think God doesn’t involve himself in such mundane physical matters– or, “hey, it feels good and God wants us to be happy, so why not?” But this seems to deny the spiritual aspect of sexuality… as, indeed, we are creations of spirit and anything physical has a spiritual componant.
Temptation: Do it? Don’t do it? And, why? What does God say?
TO YOU?
Better to ask, better to wrestle until you are given peace with the answer, than to avoid the question.



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