I was raised, as my mother would say, in the “fear and the admonition of the Lord.” I have been a devout Christian all of my life. But for far too many years, I worshiped at the altar of my own virginity.
Within my “sexual purity,” I lived and moved and had my being. For women (and only women, in my young understanding) it represented not only one’s closeness to God, but also one’s value to Him. And I was priceless -- a unicorn, thrilled young brothers throughout high school, college and law school would assure me. I loved every minute of it. These interactions reinforced ideas I had ingested about what it meant for a woman to be “worthy.” It made me self-righteous in the most literal way; by holding tight to my virginity, I had become a worthwhile woman. Through my actions, or lack thereof, I had made my own self valuable.
Until we—my virginity and I—inevitably failed each other.
It happened gradually, over years, the leaking out of my satisfaction. In my head, my virginity had made me some guarantees, that I would be happy and sustained until marriage (a bond which, of course, would make me happy and sustain me for the remainder of my life) and virginity was not delivering. I was in a 5-year-long committed relationship—engaged, in fact—and I could not remember the last time I was truly happy. I’d done everything right, and found a mate who agreed to wait for marriage with me, but, though it took years to end that relationship, I quickly realized that there was more to life and certainly more to a healthy relationship than consensual non-sex. After a $1,500 deposit on a reception hall and a year away from marriage, I ended that engagement and became very bitter. All of that waiting for nothing. I was angry at God and my god-proxy and sought to destroy them both. As you can imagine, one was easier to do than the other.
I picked a tall acquaintance who had big muscles and nice teeth because I had just discovered Chris Brown’s “Take You Down” video and thought this guy could emulate Brown’s moves, (in case you were wondering how seriously I was taking this). The two of us had a blissful 5-week practice run and then, predictably, it ended—and not well.
Suddenly, this person I had known socially for years and had paid little to no attention to was important, and not only important but everything. He had my value tucked away inside of him (don’t ask me where) and I had to consume him to get it back. Keeping this person in my life by any means necessary—the guy who was exactly who he had always been, minus braces—became my new measuring stick. If I could hold on to the Raider of the Lost Ark, then I could get my identity and my value back.
This is as attractive as it sounds. And even the most narcissistic guy I’d ever met had no interest in bearing the weight of being my replacement god. Which is exactly what I was (subconsciously) willing him to do. Give me value! Make me feel important! Wipe away my sins! Because if he loved me and we ended up together, then I had made the right choice to “gift” him my virginity, and however secure in myself my virginity had once made me feel, his validation could permanently solidify this feeling for me. Oh, girl.
I came to learn that neither virginity nor sex are “gifts” to be given; sex is a mutually shared, spiritual, physical and emotional experience. That in itself was a revelation too late blooming. But, more important, it would take two more years for me to truly understand what the faith I had professed forever actually looked like in practice.
One Sunday, one of my best friends posted a quote from a sermon she had just heard at The Village Church in Texas called, “Freedom from the Fear of Man,” by Pastor J.R. Vassar, and it stung me and then cut me wide open.
“We’re broken asking other broken people (who need to be fixed themselves) to restore our glory. … [Y]ou’re asking glory deficient and glory hungry people to satisfy you with the very things that they lack. It’s futility to seek this glory from men. It crushes them and leaves us empty. …[A]nd when you get liberated from your incessant need to be loved and honored, you can actually live with this new consuming desire to see God loved, to see God honored. So the ruling desire of your heart is to see the Father loved and exalted, like Jesus lived to see the Father loved and exalted…then you can focus on loving people, and not using them.”
This is Christianity 101, scriptures that I had grown up hearing and reading and studying. But after reading this quote and listening to the entire sermon online, these words finally made real-world sense to me. The entire purpose of Christ coming to earth in human form was to be the perfect sacrifice for our brokenness—because it is humanly impossible to fix ourselves. The emptiness we feel can never be permanently filled with money, fame, a career, a great spouse, great kids or even meaningless concepts like “sexual purity”. Whatever we are using to make us feel worthwhile will ultimately fail us, including the age-old practice of women hiding their full sexual history until after they are "covered" by marriage. What nonsense.
“Purity,” or closeness with God, from a Christian perspective, comes solely through relationship with Christ. That’s the point. Because of our mistakes and misdeeds and flat out screw-ups, we had been sentenced to death (eternal separation from God), but because Christ died in our place for all of our errors, past, present and future, we are free of that penalty. We are free from the need for validation from anyone or anything because Christ has already given us the ultimate validation by saying, “You are Mine and I love you so much that I died for you. I’m the one who makes you whole.” The pressure is off!
So what business does a Christian have believing or teaching others that any action we take—including abstinence from sex—determines our value to God? What part of the Word is that?
Let me be clear: I fundamentally believe what the Bible says about the damage to your soul that sex outside of marriage can cause. Biblically speaking, one of the purposes of sex is to create unity between spouses by joining two souls into one. Because sex is physical, spiritual and emotional, you can create soul ties to people your soul has no business ever being tied to, not to mention STDs, emotional baggage and unwanted pregnancies. God commands us to “guard your heart,” as protection, not punishment.
By all means: as Christians we must teach young men and women about sex, safe sex and the potential spiritual, physical and emotional consequences of sex, as the Bible explains pretty well. But we as a Church have to stop measuring holiness and worth by sexual activity.
Granted, virgin worship and denigration of women as ‘whores’ are not solely Christian issues; they are by-products of patriarchy, and Christianity, for too long, has been interpreted and practiced through a patriarchal lens, which has played a huge role in crushing women (and men, to a lesser degree) under the weight of this fundamental misunderstanding of where our value comes from. It is not biblical.
Instead, we ought to teach the truth: that Christ is who makes us holy and that no matter what we have or have not done, God not only loves us, but He delights in us and longs to be close to us. And most of all: there’s not a thing we can ever do about that.
Brooke Obie is an EBONY.com contributing editor and writes the column “The Spiritual Life”. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.