Good for the Gander
The recent sexual abuse scandals in Christian Protestant circles, and the “purity” subculture from which the scandal originates, have the internet finally talking, in Protestant circles, about the whole “purity” and modesty issue. Christian Protestants are finally waking up to what most of us already know: that a woman’s goodness, her value, and her worthiness before God aren’t tied to how men see her, or whether she’s “pure” because she dresses more modestly than a nun or a Muslim woman in burka and veil. A woman’s clothing, body, or behaviour (remember, these are good Christian girls. It’s unlikely they’re going to be engaging in anything more scandalous than a shake and a shimmy and a two-step when they hear a good song.) are not at fault for what happens inside a man’s skull. And most importantly, she’s not responsible for his actions. It’s good that people are waking up to these facts, but what I’m not seeing or hearing about is the other side of the discussion.
In secular culture, when we started talking about rape culture, and how women weren’t responsible for men’s thoughts or behaviours, it didn’t take long for someone to come up with the notion that it might be a really good idea to teach boys and young men that rape isn’t a really good approach when you are trying to impress a young lady.
I’ve yet to see that suggestion in the purity culture discussions. Nobody has questioned what responsibilities men and boys have in the requirement to be “pure” until marriage. From all I can gather, men in these groups have no responsibilities at all. They aren’t responsible for how much or little they wear, they aren’t responsible for the thoughts that go through their minds when they see a woman, and they aren’t responsible for their actions, whether that action is a polite compliment, a wolf whistle, or a rape.
Let’s get something clear: our Orthodox faith doesn’t distinguish between men and women when it comes to “purity” or modesty. The Fathers are clear, first of all, that modesty is more than sexual behaviour, dress, and deportment, that it’s related to our inner being and our humility before God, and dress and deportment should naturally follow a humble outlook on life, and reflect the inner state of the person. On sexual activity before marriage, they’re in complete agreement with Christ, St. Paul, and all of the Old Testament: you are responsible for your own behaviour before God, and you can’t lay it off on someone else. If you stumble, that’s your problem, not hers, his, theirs, or the weather’s fault. King David didn’t get a pass because Bathsheba was nude on a roof. She was engaged in a completely normal and accepted activity, and he couldn’t control his eyes or his lust. God was very clear on just whose fault that entire mess was, and it wasn’t hers.
But let’s also be honest. That’s the theory. In our day to day lives, in the raising of our children to be faithful, devout, and practicing Christians, how many of us actually teach our young men to dress, think, and behave in ways that reflect modesty, humility, purity, and devout, honourable behaviour? Do we point out to them that hanging around in shorts and net shirts (or strappy t-shirts) or topless is as immodest as shorts and crop tops on a woman? That standing around assessing and discussing the relative attractiveness of the women they see is not an okay thing to do? Or is that just the “boys being boys,” and they can’t help it if they have certain reactions to seeing an attractive woman, and what harm does it do anyway?
Guess what? It isn’t their fault if they have physical reactions, or certain thoughts enter their minds. Biology happens. The enemy sends thoughts to tempt us. But the Fathers are very clear that it IS our fault if we do anything more about it than dismiss the thoughts and wait for the physical stuff to subside. And it’s certainly their fault if they act in ways that degrade both themselves and the women they’re observing.
Do we teach them that commenting on a hot pair of legs is turning a child of God who is someone’s sister or daughter into an object of lust and desire? Or that hitting up a young woman at a party because she’s there and you’re horny and the guys are egging you on is as bad as actually having her? When Christ said that lusting after a woman in your heart is sinful, He didn’t mean that you blame her because she happened to be there. What He meant was that you’re treating her as an object, a thing, and that’s the sin – you’re leaving out the most important part of her. Her her. Her unique and particular being that is more than just a physical object for a man to slake his lust.
It’s hard enough for young women in this culture to remain innocent and pure, but it’s virtually impossible for men to do that. In fact, think about it. When was the last time you heard anyone refer to any boy over the age of 13 as innocent, or pure? Why not? Shouldn’t they be? Shouldn’t we be teaching them exactly the same thing that we teach our daughters? That bringing a pure, untouched and innocent body and mind to the marriage bed is the greatest wedding gift you can give her, and it’s the greatest honour you can pay to your bride?
God gave us sexual desire and the sexual act, not just to populate the earth and give Him more creatures to love, but as a way for our fallen, broken, and isolated selves to bridge the gap between us. To, in a small and momentary way, replicate the communion and the unity that we were created for. To connect with each other in a way that imitates, in a pale and minor sense, the communion and unity the Trinity knows, so that in the rest of our lives, our marriage can grow toward that icon of the Trinity it was created to be. When we engage in the most profound act of love and communion we are capable of, we establish a permanent spiritual connection between ourselves. If our sons engage in that behaviour before marriage, then they are bringing, spiritually, every sexual partner they ever had with them into the marital bed and into the marriage.
Why do we assume that it’s okay for a man to do this, when we say it’s so bad for a woman to do the same? Why don’t we teach our sons to treat every woman as the sacred vessel she is? Women were gifted by God with the task of knitting a fleshly body to meld with the soul created by Him during the act that is third in importance only to God’s creation of His most cherished beings – us –and to His taking on our flesh and becoming one of us.
If nothing else, the very fact that God chose to wear a body made by His mother ought to tell us that we are holy simply because He became one of us. Even though Christ’s body didn’t require a sexual act for its genesis, the very fact He chose to become flesh in the same way we do hallows the act that creates us, and no man should be engaging in that act for any reason other than to show his wife, and only his wife, the depth of love and respect he holds for her. If we don’t teach our sons to hold themselves as pure and involate as we teach our daughters, then we are failing them, our daughters, and God.
Posted by the Orthodox Christian Network. You can find the Orthodox Christian Network on Google+