Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Some thoughts on chasity and obedience

Writing for Christianity Today, Gina Dalfonzo, in her article "Abstinence is Not Rocket Science" addressed the issue of abstaining from sexual relations until after you are married. She begins her article by writing about Elna Baker, a LDS young woman who wrote two articles for Glamour magazine. Baker's first article, Yes, I'm a 27 Year-Old Virgin. The title of her second article, written less than a year after the first, proclaimed, Guess What? I'm Not a Virgin Anymore!.

What caused Baker to change her viewpoint was that her throughout her life, at least up until the point she "gave in" and had sex outside of marriage, she did her best to live by what she described as "those rigid tenets" of her LDS faith because she believed that her adherence to these tenets would get her what she now says she "thought" she wanted, which was to meet a marry a fellow Latter-day Saint for time and all eternity in a LDS temple. She came close to realizing that, but it necessitated her relocating from New York to Utah, leaving behind a city and career she loved. So, it seems it was not merely a matter of getting what she wanted, but having it at little or no cost, without any sacrifice on her part.

Baker's experience might be explained in terms of LDS belief. In Section 130 of the Doctrine and Covenants, one of the three books other than the Bible revered by LDS as scripture, God, speaking to and through Joseph Smith, declares, just before proclaiming that God "[t]he Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's" that "There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated." If this tenet played a role in Elna Baker's decision, then it amounts to not being able to verify what she believed through experience. If God promises to give us certain blessings as the result our obedience, then we have every right to hold God to his word. More than critiquing LDS theology, I think Dalfonzo is quite correct to see in Baker's story "an appealing but dangerous belief," one often held by both Evangelical Christians and Catholic Christians alike- "Obedience will get you what you want."

What we want most of all is God, who is our origin and our destiny. As St. Augustine is endlessly quoted as recording in his Confessions: "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."

In his wonderful book, What Is the Point of Being a Christian, Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, in a chapter entitled "The Body Electric," which is one of the very best things I have read on chastity, points out that the central act of our faith is Jesus giving us His body in the Eucharist. He asserts, rightly in my view, that this has to be our starting point for our sexuality. He points out how difficult it is to live what the Church teaches about sexuality, in this instance, that it is wrong for to engage in sexual relations with anyone to whom you are not married. Nonetheless, our approach to matters of the body is positive, not negative. "The Christian claim is that to give one's body to another person is an act with an intrinsic meaning and that if we sleep around promiscuously we are contradicting the meaning of our bodies, which is bound to lead to frustration and unhappiness." Sex without commitment is lie. The lie, according to Radcliffe, consists of saying "something with our bodies which we deny with our lives." Sex without commitment, he continues, "is like saying to someone 'I love you,' and then forgetting a minute later that they exist." If not a minute later, as in very casual sex, but sometime later, as in many relationships that endure for some period of time. In either case, it seems to me, it is the same lie.

I appreciate very much Dalfonzo's wise and practical conclusion: "Sometimes obedience doesn't get us what we imagined. But then, ... God didn't say that it would. Our hope and consolation are—they have to be—that he is worth it. No other hope or consolation will do." A lot more can and probably should be said about obedience, what it is and why be obedient, but this will have to suffice for now.


  1. Thanks for this post- on a topic that I have been pondering and praying about. And once again, you and your blog become a source of greater invitation and conversion. Thank you - the words are inadequate for what I am attempting to express.

    Two things bracket this post for me today. One is the current copy of Newsweek with its cover story about sexual addiction. The other is a blog post from Jamie Arpin-Ricci. Jamie is a young Mennonite pastor who lives in community with others in Winnepeg, with Franciscan values. He is someone I have come to enjoy knowing and reading on the internet. In any case, he put up a Facebook post about sexuality that generated quite the comment thread and then this post entitled, Sexuality, Desire and Cheap Fidelity the other day.

    He makes some really good points and his words have also caused me to go more deeply on this. If you read my comments I make a reference to the phraseology known as "what's the big deal?" I find that is often used in reference to many conversations about sexuality. However, for me- as someone who was abused physically, sexually and emotionally, those words were often the catch-all for the times my childhood voice was raised. Later it was in emotional situations, when I tried to stand up for myself.

    All of which brings me (long-winded, sorry!) back to obedience and fidelity. What's the big deal about those things? If we paid attention and really sat with the words from Dalfonzo, Radcliffe and others, not to mention the Word of God, we might see what the big deal is after all.

    (I pray that this pre-coffee early morning comment makes sense!)

  2. Thanks, Fran. I posted this hastily and so went back and proof read it and made the needed corrections. Christian obedience is never a matter of adherence to strictures externally imposed. It cannot be. Otherwise, we are the new Pharisees about whom Mike Hayes wrote. It does matter, it matters for us now. I will check out your post, too. Presently, I am having a hard time keeping up with everything and everyone else. Over Advent I have decided not to worry about it!


God's love for us is tireless

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