Bringing back purity and fidelity
I have hesitated to write anything on this subject, but it just seems to be begging for some kind of commentary. I hardly need to name it: Schwarzenegger, Strauss-Kahn, Letterman, Woods, Edwards, Clinton, Spitzer, Sanford, Berlusconi, Haggard, Gingrich, Bryant, Ensign, Hyde, McCain, Craig, Weiner, and, of course, the notorious racist Strom Thurmond, who paid an African-American woman for decades to keep quiet about their “love child” daughter. Talk about hypocrisy.
A recent Newsweek poll of 400 married men found that 21 percent admit to wanting to cheat on their spouse while traveling on business, and that eight percent actually do. Perhaps this is really nothing new. A portion of the male population has been behaving badly since the dawn of time.
Books and films portray sexual activity as one big game that has little or no consequences.
As a rather cynical friend of mine likes to say: “Some men think more with their glands than their brains.” This might even be a bit comical except for all the hurt, anger, and disillusionment it leaves in its wake. Spouses feeling horribly betrayed; children watching the security of home and family disintegrate before their eyes; and trust, the foundation stone of any marriage, shattered and scattered.
Sadly, our society today is swimming in a sea of mixed messages about sex, and many of them are both sick and distorted. The air waves broadcast programming that borders on the X-rated. Books and films portray sexual activity as one big game that has little or no consequences. Talk shows become ever more sensational in an effort to boost their ratings. Advertising literally drips with sexual imagery. And the promise of “instant love” is given if you just dial the right number.
According to a Minnesota Department of Education study, one in four ninth graders and three out of five high school seniors are “routinely sexually active.” We can only hope these numbers are inflated.
Speaking the truth as a pastoral act
So, what do we say about all of this? Or, more appropriately, what does the church say about all of this?
I would say we say exactly what the church has been saying for 2,000 years: Chastity (purity) before marriage and fidelity (faithfulness) during marriage. Such words today would sound naive and archaic were they not the timeless truths of scripture. These words of wisdom are immutable and given by a God who knows what is best for the creation.
Sometimes I think the church doesn’t say much on this subject because the facts seem to speak so loudly for themselves. Just look at society today. We have an epidemic of abortions, venereal diseases, shotgun weddings, extra-marital affairs, sexual addictions, sexual abuse, HIV infections, and unwanted teen pregnancies.
The toll illicit sex takes on the human family seems to know no boundaries. As self-centered, fragile human beings, we need guidelines. Without them, we tend to live only for the moment, giving little thought to the consequences of our actions. But practice these scriptural admonitions of purity and faithfulness and we avoid so much of the pain that society is today inflicting upon itself.
And remember, God gave his laws not because he is a kill-joy, but because he loves us and knows what is best for us. As someone once noted, it is not so much that we break the Commandments; it is just that the Commandments have a way of breaking us when we ignore them.
Live by the commands of God and discover the real joys of life. Centuries ago, St. Paul wrote: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is pure, … think on these things.” (Philemon 4:8)
These are words of wisdom then, now, and for all time.
Paul L. Harrington is campus pastor at Luther Seminary, St. Paul. He is the vice president of Metro Lutheran’s board of directors.