Sex is often seen as a bad word and an even worse sin. Purity culture has taught us for decades that submitting to sins of the flesh in the form of sexuality before marriage is a sin which God warns Christians against throughout the Bible.
However, verses condemning sex before marriage never actually address this issue. Concepts such as sexual immorality, adultery and impurity are used as examples for why any expression of sexuality before marriage is inarguably sinful behavior.
Eastern University upholds these standards by asking its students to adhere to the following policy “As a Christian community, Eastern University expects a sexual lifestyle that is consistent with our understanding of biblical teaching.
For our community, inappropriate displays of affection are not acceptable and sexual intimacy is prohibited outside of marriage between a man and a woman.” Our Faith Statement adds that “students can expect to be confronted, counseled, advised and when warranted, disciplined” as a result of not submitting to this prescribed sexual lifestyle.
Professors, faculty, students (Christian or non Christian) and parents can all agree on one thing: the issue of premarital sex is a complicated and largely disputed topic. Yet Eastern University upholds several policies around this ambiguous idea of “sexual intimacy.”
The concept of abstaining from premarital sex is a result of centuries of misinterpretation of biblical text. Verses addressing adultery (Exodus 20:14, Hebrews 13:4), sexual immorality (1 Cor 5-7, Acts 15:19-20) , and lust (Matthew 5:28, 2 Timothy 2:22) are referenced when discussing this topic. However, none of these verses, nor any in the texts of the Bible, actually address the idea of purity before marriage.
In fact, in biblical culture marriage was viewed very differently. A marriage was between a man and woman to ensure that, upon his death, the man would have children to receive his property, livestock and slaves. Within the concept of a biblically righteous marriage, men had multiple wives, and owned concubines to perform intimate sexual acts with outside of marriage.
There are several stories in the Bible where God commands His people to engage in sexual acts outside of marriage, such as the story of Ruth and Boaz. Our western cultural concept of marriage between one man and one woman did not exist in biblical times.
This non-biblical understanding of marriage is reinforced by the verses which address marriage and sexual purity. Over and over again, verses about sexual immorality and adultery are cited as God encouraging “purity.”
However, the idea of keeping oneself pure before marriage is not addressed, upheld or exemplified in the Bible. In fact, many theologians agree that sexual immorality addresses the heinous sexual acts of rape and incest. In biblical culture, the concept of adultery is one which is limited within marriage and only applied to the husband.
Christian women especially are held to this impossible standard where purity is more important than any other aspect of their faith. Such an understanding of faith devalues the importance of love, grace and faithfulness, as well as limits women to root their worth in an abstract concept of sexual morality, which is left undefined by the Bible.
The culmination of these ideas is not to say refraining from sex before marriage cannot be beneficial in any way, or to encourage students to run sexually rampant. Instead, it is to understand the gravity of reinforcing this damaging concept of purity, and to question whether it is of God or a product of a good-intentioned, yet inherently human (and thus flawed) culture.
As students and faculty of a Christian university, it is our responsibility to navigate these questions. Constantly challenging and addressing our faith and culture allows us to better understand God’s intentions and the way we should apply faith to our lives and institutions. Not in spite of, but instead because of our devotion to God, we must closely examine whether Eastern’s policy embodies the spirit with which we are called to live out our faith or not.
The policy at Eastern University does not address the complexity of a community which commits itself to “sexual purity.” It defines a concept which the Bible itself does not define, and aims to scrutinize students by this standard. Whether or not the policy is upheld does not affect the negative influence that reinforcing a culture of purity has on Christians today.
Making the conscious effort to honor God and choose true Christianity over popular culture is challenging, but I urge Eastern University to do so. By acknowledging the complexity of the issue and establishing moderation between the extreme concepts of disapproving of “displays of affection” and encouraging promiscuity, Eastern would stand firm in their adherence to God’s word. This would truly foster a community that encourages the love and grace of Christ through growth and an understanding of worthiness.