The unwanted daughter…and others

Her mother wanted a son…desperately. She already had two daughters close together in age, and was feeling overwhelmed enough without the prospect of another child.

Both girls were still in diapers, the oldest only at night. But in those days it meant cloth diapers that had to be lugged down multiple flights of stairs, boiled over an open flame, and then washed in nothing remotely as labor-saving a fashion as we now enjoy in America. 

It was a difficult time. The economy was in trouble. Her husband worked hard — and she often worked alongside him — but the best they could afford was sharing an apartment.

Pregnancy and childbirth were not easy for her, and especially not under those conditions.

If the baby was a son, it might be worth it.

After a long, tiring labor, her daughter was born. Exhausted, she turned her head and refused to even look at the baby, telling the midwife she had wanted a son, not another daughter.

Years later, I would hear the story, about how the midwife insisted, practically forced her to look at her newborn — and how the very sight of my mother’s little face captured my grandmother’s heart. My mother went from unwanted daughter to dearly beloved, cherished daughter. My grandmother told me years later, “Your mother was our sunshine and, when she married and left home, it was as if the sun had stopped shining.”

Although my grandmother, on moral grounds, would have never done such a thing, today women have sex-selective abortions. It is girl babies who are most often aborted.

A teenage girl I had the privilege of meeting was raped at 14, and became pregnant. I was raped at the age of 23, and went through a time that I can only describe as excruciating agony when I feared I might be pregnant by one of my rapists. I cannot imagine going through that at such a young age. I held her beautiful son when he was still a baby — an adorable, much loved little guy. She says he saved her life.

A woman I knew was in a marriage that was disintegrating to the point of ugliness. She already had two young children and then discovered she was pregnant. The timing was, needless to say, terrible. Her husband left her to raise her three little ones in less than ideal circumstances. When the baby was tiny, he was diagnosed as failure to thrive. No medical reason could be found. One of her best friends finally sat her down and told her gently, “Your baby knows he is not wanted. You have to start wanting him or he will die.” I was there. I will never forget seeing her look her baby in the eyes, weeping, asking his forgiveness, kissing his little face, promising to change her mind, to want him.

He thrived.

Another mother told me, “I’m so glad we didn’t undergo genetic testing,” as she showed me pictures of her adorable, happy toddler with Down syndrome. “I didn’t want a handicapped child. Can you imagine? I would have aborted her and she’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

Yet another woman told me of her crisis pregnancy, how it seemed as if her world had been shattered, turned upside down, torn apart, all her hopes and dreams demolished. “I felt like my life was ruined…forever.” Her pro-life friends somehow helped her through the difficult ordeal. “Now I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world. My child was so worth it.”

I used to give talks about breastfeeding at a high school extension program for pregnant teens and young moms. Some of them weren’t even in high school yet. It made my heart lurch to see little 13 year olds, their child bellies swollen with their own child. “Everyone wanted me to kill the kid,” one girl told me fiercely. “They even dragged me into an abortion clinic and would have forced me to have an abortion if I hadn’t threatened to start screaming. They made me leave. It’s a baby, you know? Just because no one asked for it doesn’t mean we should get rid of it.”

Years ago, I asked some older women about unwanted pregnancies. They seemed baffled. Most of them had pregnancies that they didn’t want — at first. They viewed that as part of womanhood. “We grow into love,” one told me. Another laughed, “We’re women. We change our minds!” After a pause, she said more seriously, “Our babies changed our minds.”

When pregnant with my daughter, I was screamed at by a complete stranger who found out I’d foregone prenatal testing. He informed me that it was my duty not to bring an abnormal child into the world — my duty to him, to society, and to the baby. I wrote him off as a deranged crackpot until I started hearing people say, “How could anyone bring a child like that into the world?” — referring to a child with deformed hands as if he was some sort of monster needing eradicating.

There is a fantasy that we would love to have. In that perfect dream world, all babies are planned and timed perfectly, and wanted even before conception. They are all perfect, and they grow up to be perfectly delightful little beings who bring us unmitigated joy and cause us great pride. There are neither too many nor too few of them, and they fit perfectly into our perfect lives — and provide us with beautiful pictures and lovely anecdotes to post on Facebook.

If we must have a handicapped child, at least he or she should be inspiring, the sort of child featured in heartwarming videos that go viral.

Real life is way more complicated and messy.

There is a sad story that I’ve heard over and over again all my adult life. The women and their circumstances change, but the basics remain the same. “I would have kept the baby if just one person would have advocated for it instead of for me,” is the way one woman told me. The saddest version I heard was from a woman who told me that, while waiting for her abortion, a TV in the clinic was showing live footage of a protest going on outside of another clinic. She told me that she thought, “Why couldn’t they have come here instead? They could have stopped me. They could have changed my mind.”

Preaching to the choir: gender confusion

Read the first post in this series: Redefining marriage

This is another call to repentance, another call that is not for those outside the Church. I’m not even sure it’s for everyone inside the Church. In fact, it may not even make sense to anyone but me. That’s because, more than anything else, I am “preaching” to an audience of one. Any finger-pointing is directed first and foremost back at myself.

This post, and any others in the series, are a reflection of some of my ongoing thoughts and concerns about marriage in general. At this point, I freely admit to being more short on answers than I’d like.

We have confused stereotypes and prejudices about gender with how God created men and women — and have dared slapped the label “God-ordained gender roles” on the resultant mess and nonsense.

We have searched out Scriptures to find “evidence” for our own pre-conceived notions about gender roles. We have twisted Scripture into convoluted evidence, and attacked anyone as “less than Christian” who called our carelessness and lack of logic into question.

We have attached gender to the evidences of the Holy Spirit’s work in a person’s life, even though Scripture does no such thing. The truth is that there are no male or female “fruit”, no male or female “gifts”.

We have confused cultural norms and practices with God’s will for men and women.

We have confused our own opinions and experiences, our own hopes and desires, with what God requires of us. (“I like men to be like this…I’m sure God feels the same.” “All the women in my family don’t do this, so no Christian woman should.” “I’m uncomfortable with this, so it must be wrong.”)

We have seen gender where there is no gender. Like the three year old boy I knew who insisted on drinking only from a “boy cup” and using only a “boy spoon”, we too often claim certain things are masculine or feminine, when they are neither. Courage is not a “masculine virtue”, nor is gentleness a “feminine virtue”. The Bible does not speak of gender-specific virtues or character traits.

Furthermore, God does not give either sex a free pass on certain sins because some people of our gender may find them especially easy to commit, or overwhelmingly tempting. Nor do we get to opt out of obeying God in those instances when to do so might cause our same-sex peers to look askance at us and call our gender identity into question. Too bad. Following Christ is not without cost.

Side note: if you are a woman, please don’t whine about “persecution” just because you are being accused of “acting like a man” when you don’t shrink back with fear or don’t insist with feigned helplessness that a man do something that you are capable of doing for yourself. If you are a man, please don’t whine you are being “persecuted” just because one of your buddies makes a joke about you being “whipped” when you try to love your wife as much as you love yourself.

We allow our culture to define masculinity and femininity for us. Oh, sure, we deny this, but the truth is that we merely tweak and attempt to “Christianize” the current cultural definitions. Thus, the red-blooded American Christian husband should be having all the mind-blowing sex he wants whenever he wants it — but only with his wife. Of course, she should be the Christian version of a “real woman”: voluptuous and sexy, wildly uninhibited during sex, but soft-spoken and gentle in every other setting. The truly godly wife should be her husband’s very own private porn star — incredibly skilled at performing every sex act he can imagine without him even having to ask — yet so innocent and pure that she not only never kissed another man, but never had a remotely sexual thought prior to marriage. But there is more. Men like sports; women like Pinterest. Men are from Mars; women are from Venus. Men are initiators; women are responders. Men need respect; women need love. We just recycle our cultural messages and repackage them with the “Christian” label.

We bludgeon one another with ungodly measuring sticks of what we claim is true masculinity and femininity. Those that do not measure up to our arbitrary standards are left feeling bewildered, emotionally battered, and inadequate — often with deep aching wounds at the very core of our being. I have experienced what a terrible thing it is to be convinced, by fellow Christians, that I fail to measure up as a woman, as a human being. Men who have been similarly bludgeoned insist that their wounds are even more devastating.

We tell each other lies about gender. We place burdens on ourselves and others that God never intended. We accuse. We condemn.

We allow gender to separate us when our very own Scripture teaches us that there is neither male nor female in Christ. Instead of focusing on Him, we prefer to focus on sex and gender. We prefer to divide rather than unite.

Instead of embracing the beauty of God’s creation, instead of seeing His image in every man and woman, we pit one sex against the other, shove each other into boxes, tear each other down, exalt ourselves, demean each other, insult each other, exploit each other, abuse each other.

We need to repent. We need to read the Bible without our lenses of prejudice. We need healing. We need to seek the Father’s heart about men and women, male and female. We need to reflect Him, instead of cultural stereotypes, even Christianized ones. There is a lot that needs repenting.

May God have mercy.

Preaching to the choir: Redefining marriage 

This is a call to repentance, but it is not for those outside the Church. I’m not even sure it’s for everyone inside the Church. In fact, it may not even make sense to anyone but me. That’s because, more than anything else, I am “preaching” to myself. Any finger-pointing is directed first and foremost back at myself.

The Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage did not take me at all by surprise. My only surprise is that so many in the Church seem to be reeling in shock, as if the decision was unexpected and caught them by surprise. This post is not just what may be the first one in a semi-planned series about my reaction to this ruling, but it reflects some ongoing thoughts and concerns about marriage in general. At this point, I freely admit to being more short on answers than I’d like.

Redefining marriage

Before any of us ever utter the words “redefining marriage” ever again, perhaps we should admit that most of have been guilty of doing that very same thing for a long time. Yes, we — the ‘choir’ — have been guilty of redefining marriage.

  • We have redefined marriage by comparing it to authority structures that are the very antithesis of the loving, intimate, one-flesh, procreative union God defines marriage as being. How often have you read books or heard sermons claiming the husband is the captain and the wife is the first mate, or the husband is the CEO and the wife is the plant manager? Yet, if people who occupy these positions in real life treated each other like husband and wife, it would be considered a scandal and most would agree that everyone involved should lose their positions immediately! Worse than that, theses definitions and descriptions are found nowhere in Scripture.
  • We have redefined marriage as being mostly about personal happiness and fulfillment. We love to go on about about “finding true love”. We want to marry someone who will “meet our needs”, “speak our love language”, and “make us happy”.
  • We have redefined marriage as a right, and as the default setting for adult heterosexuals. We view singleness as a problem that needs to be puzzled out and solved (“I can’t figure out why she isn’t married yet”; “Why are men in our church so unwilling to get married?”) and we view single adults as not quite as adult as the rest of us — and therefore best shuttled off to singles ministries, where they will hopefully all marry each other, so that they can come back and be part of the normal folk.
  • We have redefined marriage as the happy ending in a romantic movie. Then, when it doesn’t live up to our unrealistic, Hollywood-fueled expectations, we cynically redefine it as the source of our unhappiness and lack of fulfillment.
  • We have redefined marriage by claiming that “wives submit” is the aspect most needing to be taught and emphasized, and that “husbands love” really means that husbands shouldn’t be physically abusive when they exercise their authority over their wives.
  • We have redefined marriage as a pragmatic, human-centered, and rather immature arrangement requiring one person (the husband) to have the “final say” or the “tie-breaker vote”. We assume disagreement is inevitable, and reaching mutual agreement is impractical or doomed to failure. Even worse, we act as if it is impossible for two people, both led by the same God, to reach the same decision.
  • We have redefined marriage as exempt from many of the Scriptural commands and teachings regarding how Believers are to treat one another. Many of us are more loving and kind-hearted to strangers next to us in the pew than to our spouses. We are willing to bear one others’ burdens, pray for others, weep with them, rejoice with them, treat them with preference and respect, mutually submit to them, encourage them, build them up, etc. — as long as the “others” are not married to us. We pretend that Christ’s high priestly prayer, and most of the epistles, doesn’t really apply to marriage, and that husbands and wives don’t need to treat each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.
  • We have redefined marriage as a lack of unity, and insist that being “of one mind and one accord” is impossible for a man and a woman. After all, supposedly men and women are from different planets (Mars vs. Venus), resemble totally dissimilar foods that no sane person would serve together at the same meal (waffles vs. spaghetti) and have entirely different needs (respect vs. love).
  • We have redefined marriage as being centered on pleasurable sex. I have encountered countless Christian books, articles, speakers, and counselors full of advice for how I could — and should —become more like the “smokin’ hot wife” of my husbands’ fantasies/needs, but can’t recall one Christian source of information about healthy, natural ways to increase fertility. I’ve also encountered numerous articles championing “purity” before marriage followed by lifelong monogamy because these practices supposedly guarantee a more pleasurable sex life.
  • We have redefined marriage as being far more about roles rather than about relationship.
  • We have redefined marriage by claiming that it turns any man into a “priest, prophet, and king”. (Of course, no one I’ve ever encountered claims that marriage turns a woman into a “priestess, prophetess, and queen”.)
  • We have redefined marriage in terms of culture, whether our current culture, some bygone culture, or some nostalgic, romanticized culture that exists only in books, old TV sitcoms, and our over-wrought imaginations.
  • We have redefined marriage by turning the covenant relationship God Himself created into an institution defined by the whims of human law. We have handed our marriages over to our governments to regulate, encourage, discourage, define, institute, and dissolve. Then we accuse those same governments of usurping the very authority we not only freely gave them, but insisted that they exercise over us.
  • We have redefined marriage by claiming that its most important aspect is that it is “traditional”, and between one man and one woman.
  • We have redefined marriage by not being far more concerned about whether our marriages reflect the extreme, sacrificial love Christ has for His Bride…whether our marriages reflect the radical unity and one-ness God requires of us…whether we are becoming more like Him…whether we are obeying Him with and in our marriages…whether our marriages really and truly honor Him. Marrying someone of the opposite sex is easy. Mimicking stereotypical gender roles isn’t all that difficult. (Doing it successfully — at least for me — is a different matter.) But having a marriage that glorifies God requires supernatural assistance.

I don’t know about you, but I have failed. As the Bible says of all of us, I have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. This is a serious matter. It is, in fact, deadly serious — no matter how much I try to deny and pretend away the gravity of sin. 

Repentance is what I need. The grace of God — and His daily assistance — is my only hope.

If any of the choir made it all the way to the end of this post…are you willing to join me in asking God to show us even more areas in which we need to repent? Are you willing to pray the following prayer with me, no matter how painful the result?

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
 [Psalm 139:23,24]

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.   [Psalm 51:10]

I don’t know about you, but I definitely know that I need to be searched, known, cleansed, and renewed.

May God have mercy.

The problem with “purity culture” is not purity

She was raised in an ultra-conservative Christian homeschooling family, with loving but legalistic parents. Or maybe they were more protective than legalistic; as an adult, she is still trying to puzzle that out. There is no doubt in her mind that they loved her and meant well.

The circles in which they traveled, especially as she approached her teens, emphasized — among other things — purity. Although her brothers got what came across to her as somewhat of a token, “Oh, by the way, boys and men need to stay pure also”, the real targets of the “purity message” were the girls. Whether or not her parents, pastors, youth leaders, and the authors of the books and articles she read intended to teach her the following, this is what she came to believe:

  • Purity is defined exclusively in sexual terms. Sexual deeds make you impure. Thoughts do too, but to a much lesser extent.
  • The single most important and valuable thing about a girl is her purity. It is the most precious gift she can give her husband, yet it is also owed him to the extent that she is robbing him should she squander her purity on anyone else.
  • Boys and men have many other things that are important and valuable about them, and many other things to offer their future wives. Their purity is of lesser value, does not define their worth, and is not the most important thing about them.
  • The most valuable thing about a girl or woman is her sexuality. It might be the only thing of value about her, unless she marries a man who also appreciates her homemaking skills. However, even the most amazing domestic talents and abilities will never make up for being sexually impure, broken, or lacking.
  • Men are far more valuable than women, because they are not judged and defined solely by their sexuality.
  • While it’s nice if your future husband does not have a sexual past, he does not owe you his purity. You have no right to be judgmental or unforgiving of anything he might have done. His past, if he has repented of it, should no longer matter.
  • A girl is not only responsible for guarding her own purity, but the purity of everyone who encounters her. She needs to scrutinize her actions and appearance at all times in order to make sure she is not causing anyone to stumble.
  • It is impossible for boys and men to maintain purity in their thought lives. In fact, there is no such thing. Males are wired in such a way as to be on the verge of sexually explicit thoughts and desires at all times, and thus the most seemingly innocent thing can set them off. For example, if a boy sees a girl with wet hair, he cannot help imagining her naked in a shower, begging him to have sex with her.
  • Men and boys are incapable of respecting a girl or woman that they want to have sex with. This would seem like a problem in marriage but, while it’s important for an unmarried woman to gain the respect of men, wives supposedly no longer need respect. Only husbands do.
  • Men and boys are incapable of respecting a girl or woman who has lost her purity. It’s kind of debatable whether the sex act in marriage causes a woman to lose her purity or not. After all, the fact that she “gives” her purity (as the greatest gift she could possibly give) to her husband implies that she no longer possesses it. Luckily she only needs love from her husband and not respect. Marriage apparently mysteriously transforms a woman that way.
  • Once a girl or woman loses her purity before marriage, she is ruined forever. She can repent and be forgiven by God, but her purity is gone, never to be regained. She has robbed and cheated her husband out of the only thing of real value about her.

The young woman I am writing about is not the only one to believe these things. Not by a long shot.

I would hope that readers would see this as a problematic message. Whether or not this is the intention of the proponents of “purity culture”, it is what many young women are learning in homes, churches, youth groups, books, articles, blog posts, homeschooling conferences, etc., often with heartbreaking and disastrous consequences. One need not search very hard on the internet to find tragic story after story. Some young women who were harmed by growing up with these pervasive messages are now speaking out quite strongly against not only “purity culture” itself, but the very idea of remaining sexually pure until marriage.

The problems with “purity culture” are legion, but I will address only three of them for now:

1. It sexualizes women and girls — even very young girls — and repeats our media-saturated culture’s false message that women’s value is measured by sexuality and little or nothing else.

I mentioned the creepy sexualization of little girls when I wrote about “Purity Balls” on my old blog. In many ways, “purity culture” robs little girls of their innocence by forcing them to view themselves as sexual beings when they should be running and playing and learning — free of concerns about their future wedding nights. We should be teaching them what it means to be a follower of Jesus now, as wonderful little girls, and how they are of infinitely more value to Him, and more beloved, than they could ever imagine.

We need to tell girls and women that their worth rests in far, far more than their sexuality. The most valuable, precious gift a woman can give her husband is herself, in all her fullness and complexity. Sexuality is a part of that, yes, but I must emphasize again that her worth is in her personhood — who she is in the totality of her being, her talents and abilities, her personality and character, her knowledge and wisdom, her life experiences, her accomplishments, her relationship with God, her morals and values, her thoughts and opinions, her hopes and dreams — all that and more makes her uniquely who she is — and that’s what she brings into marriage.

Her sexuality is not a commodity that she sells in exchange for a wedding ring, or that her father sells on her behalf. Marriage is neither prostitution nor domestic service. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Any teaching or belief that even hints that it might be, or that virginity is owed as part of the transaction, is ungodly. Any boy who does not truly understand what is most precious about any woman — far, far more precious than her virginity — is not ready to be a husband…or at least not a very good one.

2. “Purity culture” has no idea what purity really is. Purity is not some treasure that girls are born with and that they need to guard desperately and fearfully until the day that they give it to their husbands. No one need weep on her wedding night, as one distraught “purity culture” young woman did, over the loss of what once defined and gave her worth.

Purity is not an intact hymen. It is not virginity. It is not a lack of sexual experience. It is not even saving your first kiss for the wedding. Purity is not a “thing” that you can give away or that someone can steal from you.

More times than I care to count, I’ve been told heartbreaking accounts of young girls being sexually abused, molested, and raped, often by people they loved and trusted. Such despicable evil perpetrated against a child damages and wounds his or her soul in a way that is indescribable.

It is all the more devastating if you believe that the most important thing about you, the precious gift you owe your future husband, has been stolen forever, obliterated and destroyed. Your body may heal. The deep wounds no one sees may heal as well. But your purity is gone forever. And, if you are a girl, so is most of your worth.

Of course that is a lie, an evil lie, from the very pit of hell itself. Unfortunately, it is one that many deeply hurting young girls have learned from “purity culture”.

Old Testament Jewish law had a lot of perplexing and burdensome commandments about cleanliness and purity. The good news is that, as followers of Jesus, we are no longer under that system of law. In Mark 7:14-23, Jesus declared all foods clean, teaching that what a person eats does not defile him or her. He was doing more than lifting the dietary law; he was teaching what makes a person defiled or impure:

Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from the outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart…That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.

To be very graphic, when a rapist invades the body of his victim, she may feel defiled, but she is not. He may have robbed her of her innocence, by the horrible evil he has inflicted upon her, but he has not robbed her of purity. He has defiled himself — long before he committed the sin of rape — not her.

The Bible talks about different kinds of purity: of heart, of devotion, of doctrine, and more. No one is born with pure devotion and pure doctrine, and then needs to avoid giving those forms of purity away prematurely to the wrong person. We would laugh if someone taught, “Save your doctrinal purity for your spouse, because it’s the most valuable gift you can give him or her!” No man except a lunatic would say, “Well, she started believing some really messed up stuff there for awhile, some actual heresies, and she lost her doctrinal purity. Thankfully, she repented and has seen the error of her ways but I’m sorry, I want to marry a woman who saved her doctrinal purity for me.”

I’m not making light of the fact that sexual pasts can invade the present. I firmly believe that avoiding sexual sin is a good, righteous, and important thing, but it is something that should be undertaken to obey God, not to avoid “losing the most precious thing one can give to one’s spouse”. Also, if we are going to emphasize purity, we need to emphasize true purity, in all its forms, and not just female virginity. We need to make sure those of us who are teaching purity are pursuing it as well — in our thoughts and our actions.

I would also argue that it is a sign of impurity when a father looks at his sweet, innocent little girl and becomes overly concerned about her hymen, as if it belongs to him until he turns it over — hopefully still intact — to another man. I would argue that it is a sign of impurity when a man buys his little girl a beautiful dress and takes her out to a fancy ball, the fulfillment of her sweet childish princess dreams — and then makes it all about sex. It takes a certain amount of impurity for a man to begin teaching his little girl that a fancy night out with a man always has strings attached, this time that she must promise him, “I pledge to remain sexually pure…until the day I give myself as a wedding gift to my husband…”

The lack of understanding of true purity is because of my next point.

3. “Purity culture” lacks a real understanding of the gospel.

In Isaiah 1:18, God says, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow.” In other words…pure as the driven snow…

In 1 Corinthians 6, we read a list of all the sorts of sinners who will not inherit the kingdom of God, followed by these words:

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

That’s the part of the gospel that the “purity culture” people seem to be overlooking. When God forgives our sins, He washes them away and we become pure. We negate the work of the Cross, the tremendous sacrifice our Savior paid, when we act as if purity has some source other than Him, and when we act as if the stain of sexual sin is so deep that God’s grace is insufficient to purify it.

Many of us who grew up in the church memorized 1 John 1:9, which says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Unfortunately, proponents of “purity culture” do not really believe that verse. If they did, more husbands would be honest in admitting, “I feel jealous and insecure because my wife had sex with other men in her past, and I’m having a hard time not holding it against her” — instead of maligning both the gospel and the character of their repentant wife by saying, “She was not pure when I married her.” To hear some men talk, one would think their wives had gone straight from working in a brothel to the wedding, without even bothering to take a shower in between. It doesn’t matter how long ago a woman’s sexual past may have been, or how fervently she pursued righteousness in the meantime, or how pure her devotion to Jesus — her husband still sees her as impure. The gospel means so little to him.

The irony is that few of these same men want a truly pure wife. What they want is a “whitewashed sepulchre”, all clean and beautiful on the outside but not so much on the inside. They want a wife who is pure in body but not necessarily in heart, a wife with a virginal body who will somehow automatically know how to fulfill her husband’s porn-driven masturbatory fantasies. Too much purity of conscience, too much innocence, too much devotion to God might get in the way of that.

As for the young woman at the beginning of this post…according to “purity culture”, she lost her purity, first because of what someone did to her against her will and then later by her own choice. After a few years living as a prodigal (I love prodigals!) she returned, not quite to the faith of her youth but to a new, more life-giving, fervent, simple yet profound, intimate faith. She eventually met a man who recognized her purity — along with many of her other wonderful qualities, including her approach to Christianity — and fell in love with her. Last I heard, they are living out their own happily ever after story, as far removed as possible from the false teachings of “purity culture”, and instead pursuing together what 2 Corinthians 11:3 refers to as “simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”.

When complimenting women

I’ve been in a number of situations where various men, who I prefer to believe were clueless as opposed to ill-intentioned, complimented women in a way that obviously caused them to feel awkward and uncomfortable. I have also heard men complain that women can no longer “take a compliment”. So I offer the following to any man willing to listen.

This is not a “how to flirt” list, nor is it “how to compliment your wife”. Instead, it assumes a non-romantic relationship, although some of the suggestions would apply to any relationship, and to women as complimenters as well as men.

  1. Consider the relationship. Just because a man may notice something about me does not make it appropriate for him to comment on it.
  2. With non-relatives, be very cautious about giving complements you would never give to a man. You would never say something like, “You’re such a sweet little man and you always dress in the cutest clothes!” You might say, “I appreciate how kindly you treat others. And I like that jacket. It looks great.”
  3. Treat the object of your compliment as a person, first and foremost.  You don’t need to keep reminding her that she is a woman, or act as if you can’t get past her femaleness. (See #2. The way I adapt these guideline is by not complementing a non-relative male on any masculine attribute — which would most likely be inappropriate anyway — and by not adding the slightest hint of a sexual overtone by emphasizing his gender. I might say, “You have a unique musical talent,” but I won’t say, “You are such a talented man.”)
  4. Don’t use “compliments” as a means of embarrassing women and girls. Be succinct and make sure the compliment is welcome. Compliment something you honestly believe the recipient would want you to affirm. If not, apologize (“I’m sorry if I was out of line” or “I’m sorry for embarrassing you”) and then be quiet. 
  5. Don’t be effusive and don’t gush. That’s just creepy.
  6. Make sure there is an altruistic purpose to your compliments. As Christians, we should encourage one another, but we need to be careful that we are encouraging the right things in the right ways. The compliment should be for her benefit, not yours. Don’t use flattery to manipulate. Try to never put a woman in the awkward place of wondering about your interest or motives, or being creeped out by your attention.
  7. Be specific. “You’re terrific” or “you’re nice” can sound like insincere flattery or an attempt at flirting. If sincere, it communicates nothing of substance, other than “I like you” — and such declarations are usually, depending on the circumstances, unnecessary or best left unsaid. (See #1) If the compliment is to be meaningful and beneficial to the receiver (see #6) then it needs to be specific: “Your tireless work behind the scenes does not go unnoticed or unappreciated”; “I admire how you stood up to that guy — that took courage and grace”; “You have a way of making us all feel welcome, as if we are your personal guests”; “You are so patient with our son, and so encouraging”; “You have a way with words and a level of insight I appreciate — your latest article is just one example”; “You made the unpleasant ordeal of picking out a new washing machine not an ordeal at all! You were so good at sizing up our needs and wants, and helping us find the right machine. You made it easy, so easy it was almost fun! You have a great sense of humor — I had no idea laundry could be so hilarious.”
  8. Compliment only what you have observed to be true. This can include repeating a compliment you’ve heard/read, as in, “Wow, your play sure got rave reviews!” or “Your parents told me you did great!” But don’t offer meaningless speculation or assume anything about her character, experiences, beliefs, future plans, etc. You might end up looking like a fool or — far worse — might inadvertently make her feel terrible.
  9. Keep your compliments appropriate to the context. If it’s a professional setting, be professional. Affirm her professionalism, work, knowledge, skill, etc. but don’t intrude on her personal life or pretend to “know” other things about her. (See #7. I don’t know any woman who, in her professional life, wants some relative stranger to insist, “I can tell you’re the sort of person who…” especially if he them spouts meaningless flattery.)
  10. Unless she is about 6 years old or younger, avoid words like “cute” or “adorable” — unless you are describing her kitten. Condescending “compliments” are insulting. 
  11. Try to understand that not every woman has a need or even desire to be affirmed by random men. I know that men are often hurt when women — even complete strangers — don’t “appreciate” their compliments. But, except for the most insecure and desperate among us, we don’t need male validation from every Tom, Dick and Harry as much as some men seem to think we do. Having a guy who barely knows me pronounce his positive judgment on me doesn’t necessarily feel like a “compliment” as much as intrusive and nervy. His opinion of me doesn’t matter as much to me as it does to him; often I’d rather he have kept it to himself. So don’t assume women and girls will respond with grateful enthusiasm to your compliments, and try to understand if they act annoyed and put upon. Most of us have already had to endure too much of men judging us and it’s hard to be gracious about it. Plus, there can be a lot of anxiety there too, for good reason — a seemingly “harmless” compliment can suddenly go terribly, terribly bad. However, well-mannered, meaningful, succinct, specific, and appropriate compliments tend to be welcome by almost everyone, male or female.
  12. Avoid the “back-handed” compliment. This means you shouldn’t include any insult or sign of disrespect, no matter how cleverly worded, into your compliment. “You’re not like other girls” is not a compliment, nor is, “You think like a man”.
  13. If you mess up, apologize and drop it. Never berate a woman for not responding as you had hoped. The words “Can’t you take a compliment?” should never cross your lips.

Edited to add this:

14. Or maybe I should call this 1A. Consider the relationship before you address people. I realize that there are cultural differences regarding when terms of endearment are appropriate or not. But, it’s a safe bet that, if we’ve just met and have never been formally introduced, that it’s a bit premature in our “relationship” for us to be considering each other as “dear”, “honey”, and “sweetheart”. Perhaps we should reserve those “sweet nothings” until we get to know each other a bit better. Unless, of course, you’re just being an absent-minded mom of many kids, who doesn’t realize that she now calls everyone — her kids, her husband, the dog, the cat, the mailman, and her pastor — “sweetie” or “honey”…either that or something that sounds like, “Math-Mi-I-Ben-Dan-Jesse…oh, never mind!”