Via Media

That’s the title of The Revealer’s Jeff Sharlet’s article over at Rolling Stone, in which Jeff infiltrates the world of young, hip evangelical Christians who’ve committed to chastity

Southern Baptist official Albert Mohler reacts, as does our CTWeblogging friend Ted Olsen, in a comment at The Revealer (scroll down) itself

The question is, in essence, why are these Young Abstainers so upfront and public about their commitment, about their struggle? Is there a political dimension?

I’m not so sure. I’ve got the Dummies answer to the question. The "movement" is unabashed and honest, and willing to talk about these issues straightforwardly because that’s the nature of the culture. We’re an open, blunt culture, at least where sex is concerned, and that’s the language, that’s the environment. It doesn’t seem to me to be much more complex than that. A culture in which a film (The Moon is Blue – 1953) is scandalous because it uses the word "virgin" is , of course, a reticent culture, and such is the language Christians will speak. As the culture gets more in your face, Christians must, if they are to be heard, even by each other, adapt to the same tone.

A few years ago, I was talking to David Scott, who was then the editor of Our Sunday Visitor. I think the subject of the moment might have been a film review written, as it happens,  by a friend of this blog, who may come forward if he/she likes, of American Beauty. (A movie which I hated, by the way, but that’s beside the point). The reviewer praised the movie  – with reservations, but those reservations did not include the sexual implications or content of the film, and readers were not pleased. Because, well, the average age of the OSV reader at the time was about 67, I think.

Our discussion revolved around the generational tolerance for various levels of cultural openness and content. Things that don’t bother me (perhaps unfortunately) do bother someone thirty years older. Words that weren’t mentioned in mixed company even thirty years ago…are. The culture is more open to addressing sexual issues openly, for good and for ill, and this is the culture in which these kids were raised (no matter how much their parents tried to shelter them), and so being publicly very real about sexual struggles is not a radical act.

I think the other thing that has changed, though, is the willingness of Christians (evangelical? All of us? I don’t know) to be publicly honest about failure and weakness. Christians have always sat in Church and listened to sermons about how sinful they are and how much they need to repent. Christians have always read books inspiring them to be better people. But in the public conversation, in the process of creating an image for what Christians were, there was a hard shell of propriety, a deep desire not to show any fractures to the world, despite the bumper sticker sentiment, "Christians aren’t perfect; just forgiven." I do think that the public image, as crafted and presented by Christians, of what the ideal Christian is, has shifted, or is in the process of doing so, and that image is far more likely to include public acknoweldgement of sin, temptation and weakness than it was a few decades ago.

That’s intriguing.

There are a lot of other questions that Sharlet’s article inspires. What, if anything, does this chastity talk among evangelicals, owe to Roman Catholic and Orthodox thinking? This guy? Is there any substantive shift in the way evangelicals are talking about chastity? Are they adopting a subtely sacramental tone? Is this perhaps another consequence of the insistence of engaging with the world rather than retreating from it?

And what about the Catholics, anyway? I’m sure there are some radical chaste Catholics out there making the scene, too.. and I’m not being sarcastic. Really!

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