(Photo by Selma Komisky)
Rewriting Dating Boundaries
By Megan Luebberman
The evangelical purity movement of the 1990s is known for creating the “purity culture” in which a string of rules regarding sexuality and dating are enforced. Allegedly, the rules were intended to be based on God’s standards and Biblical principles. The purity movement, in theory, was supposed to discourage premarital sex and uphold the ideals of 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 and similar verses.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified.For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
However, it also led to the creation of additional rules and rituals such as no kissing before marriage, courting instead of dating, and the use of purity pledges, rings, events, and the like. Today, we often see two extremes taken in terms of sexuality. There are stringent dating practices from Christians that aren’t Biblical or, contrastingly, the world’s very loose sexual practices that allow any type of sexuality, regardless of gender, timing, occasion, or marriage. The Bible is clear in such verses as “Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2) that sex is meant for a marriage between one man and one woman.
That part of the purity culture is accurate. Yet, the purity narrative’s tendency to condemn sex as bad in order to scare individuals away from it isn’t Biblical. In fact, the Bible portrays sex as a gift from God that should be treasured. Biblical passages such as ones in the Song of Solomon show how beautiful sex is between two people in love.
Additionally, dating practices are not clearly specified in the Bible, but purity culture tries to add limitations of its own on dating couples. Practices such as not kissing or even having physical contact at all before marriage have been portrayed as the way to stay ‘pure,’ but ultimately don’t have Biblical grounds. There may be something to be said about these practices if they help mitigate one’s lust for another. Yet, holding to these rules should be the choice of the individuals–not enforced for every couple. What works for some, may not be necessary for others. For example:
Christians are called not to tempt themselves or others and if physical touch or kissing may cause a couple to have premarital sex, it might be a good idea to abstain from those activities. Obeying God’s command about sex is what’s more important, and couple’s should do what it takes to keep from sinning.
A good rule of thumb for this is Mark 9:43-47.
Some couples may simply want to save more of their firsts for their married partner. There’s stories of couples who waited to kiss before marriage and were so thankful for it. They simply felt it more special for themselves, having more exclusivity in their marriage.
Other times it is a matter of conscience, similar to the situation in 1 Corinthians 10:25-31. If one is in doubt, and worries they might be sinning against God, it’s better safe than sorry. In everything, glorify God and put Him first.
Now, the world may look at Christian dating and marriage ideals as foolish and unnecessarily strict. Some of that may be the purity movement’s fault for pushing extra rules about sexuality or portraying sex as bad in general. Ultimately, the additional rules and ideas about sexuality that come with the purity narrative aren’t Biblical. They can be rewritten by individual couples to an extent as long as pre-marital sex remains off the table. A Christian’s job is to simply follow God, His word, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. Pray about relationship boundaries, follow the relationship standards of the Bible and glorify God in their relationship.