Okay, after having defended the right of college students to produce pornography on Saturday, let me win back some of my conservative readership with this post. (Fickle, fickle.)
A couple of weeks ago I posted two entries about Lauren Winner's Real Sex, a winsome and compelling argument for pre-marital chastity written by a young Episcopalian whose own pre-conversion sexual life fell well short of the mark (as she now defines that mark.) I didn't agree with everyone Winner had to say, but I thought the book was valuable and challenging.
Today I followed a link from dear Kendall Harmon's superb and invaluable blog to a piece by Astrid Storm, an Episcopal priest and blogger at the Society of Mutual Autopsy. (On a side note, I've heard complaints from folks at All Saints that my blog links to Kendall Harmon's; apparently, some are worried I'll corrupt the young with my sympathy for traditionalist views.) Anyhow, Storm's article, entitled Lauren Winner: Reformed Sinner or Canny Opportunist, delivers a vitriolic and unpleasant counterattack from a progressive perspective. Storm and I share a liberal attitude towards issues of sexual ethics, but I found myself wincing at her language in her post:
Just because sex is performed outside the context of marriage doesn’t mean that it is automatically promiscuous, vacuous, and self-serving. In attempting to provide all of humanity with a blanket formula for sexual/marital bliss, Winner glibly disregards the diversity and uniqueness of the individual and is thus every bit as dangerous as a physician who prescribes the same antibiotic to all of his patients, regardless of their particular illness.
Hey, I'm all for recognizing that different people have different emotional and spiritual needs; my words to my youth group last month made that fairly clear. But I also boil at the suggestion that advocating chastity is somehow dangerous! Even I, someone who doesn't oppose pre-marital sex in all instances, recognizes that there is considerably greater risk in pre-marital sex than in chastity! Leaving aside all of the physical issues (pregnancy, STDs, etc.), a successful commitment to pre-marital chastity breaks few hearts. Relatively few married folks I know -- maybe I don't know the right ones -- torture themselves with thoughts of the pre-marital romps they didn't have. Plenty of folks I know (one whom I know very well) are, at least at times, haunted by memories of a gift recklessly and selfishly squandered.
But the Rev. Storm doesn't stop there. She goes after Winner's own brave narrative of transformation and conversion, and she does with genuine viciousness in this extended quote:
As far as I can tell, Lauren’s brief flirtation with chastity encompassed the one-and-a-half year period of her courtship with her now-husband. She began having sex at 15, and kept in shape with a regular regimen of pre-marital bedroom calisthenics. Back in 2000, while I was in Divinity School, I actually became a temporary Winner fan when a friend sent me an article that Lauren had written for Beliefnet: “Sex and the Single Evangelical: The Church Lady versus the Evangelical Whore.” In it, Lauren boasted that she had been tumbling about recently in a king-sized hotel bed with her boyfriend. Maybe tumbling about with this particular boyfriend wasn’t the best example of thoughtful, premarital sex, but someone like Winner, I thought, just might be smart and bold enough to challenge the overly simplistic assumptions the church makes about sex outside of marriage.
So I looked forward to her next piece, which came out just months later in the decidedly more conservative Christianity Today. In “Solitary Refinement” she started talking more about chastity, even proclaiming that, at age 24, she might be called to a single and celibate life herself. Oh no. I waited in the hopes that she might still articulate a more nuanced theology of sex for young unmarried Christians like herself, but alas, Lauren did a turnabout, marching backwards instead of forwards, straight into the Dark Ages. Actually, she seems to have a history of flip-flopping; a devout Orthodox Jew, she converted to evangelical Christianity, and got a lot of journalistic mileage out of that role reversal. A year later, she published "Mudhouse Sabbath"—"a book about all those things I miss" about being Jewish. And now, the “evangelical whore” has morphed into her old nemesis, the Church Lady, and written a book about that transformation. Which leads one to ask what, exactly, is Lauren Winner—reformed sinner or trend-sniffing opportunist?
Short-lived beliefs and lack of credentials can be excused as just part of being young. But that's why youth calls for some judicious withholding of opinion until one’s views are tested over time. Perhaps there's no better place to learn that lesson than in the ordained ministry; when and if she starts mounting the pulpit as a priest (and from the tone of this book, preaching comes easily to her), Lauren may want to remember that credentials do matter when you’re standing up there, and they can make a big difference in how willing people are to listen to what you’re saying...
Am I the only one who finds this just plain nasty?
I'm particularly put off by the reference to Winner's turnabout, marching backwards instead of forwards, straight into the Dark Ages, and the charge of "flip-flopping." Gosh, where I come from, Rev. Storm, it's called a conversion narrative. These "flip-flips" happen with alarming frequency in Scripture and Christian history, Astrid, it's really remarkable. (The prodigal, Paul, Augustine, Francis, oh heck, our president himself.) When Winner left behind a lifestyle of moderate late-adolescent promiscuity to come to Christ she was indeed marching backwards in the sense that all of us who repent and convert are returning home to the God who loves us. To convert literally means to "turn-around", when we march forward, we continue in the same direction. I can only assume that Rev. Storm thinks little of repentance and conversion. Then again, if she's like some of my dear friends at All Saints, she doesn't think most human sexual behavior is worth repenting! Why make a u-turn when all the highways lead to the same happy destination, and have all the same lovely amenities along the way?
The bit about "trend-sniffing opportunist" hits especially close to home, because I've had that accusation thrown my way many a time. I have my own conversion narrative, and I've been frank about my own very serious failings. I've had a past, I've changed my life, and I've grown -- I hope -- in Christ. I've changed churches several times, and even now, worship in an Episcopal parish that I love mightily but am not afraid to critique. Like Winner, I'm relatively new to the whole concept of Christian obedience. Unlike Winner, I'm not yet ready to surrender to obedience wholeheartedly, partly because much of me is still invested in my old secular values and partly because I'm too afraid of offending those around me. (How's that for a candid assessment?) Of course, my Gemini/ENFP soul is cursed by ambivalence, so maybe I am as much of a real "flip-flopper" as Storm thinks Winner is.
I don't know how old Storm is, but I'm angry at her attack on Lauren Winner's youth:
Short-lived beliefs and lack of credentials can be excused as just part of being young. But that's why youth calls for some judicious withholding of opinion until one’s views are tested over time.
Gosh, C.S. Lewis just nails that old canard (about youth and maturity) in chapter five of The Great Divorce, when we meet the character of the Episcopal Ghost, who famously remarks:
I’m going to point out how people always forget that Jesus (here the Ghost bowed) was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he’d lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience. I am going to ask my audience to consider what his mature views would have been. A profoundly interesting question. What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature! I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Crucifixion. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was: what a tragic waste... so much promise cut short.
Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.
Lauren Winner challenged me in a very good way; in her speech, life, love, faith, and purity she sets an example for me (and I am a decade her senior). I honor her story of conversion, and as far as I'm concerned, her pre-conversion experiences make her narrative more, not less compelling and convincing. I'm oh-so-close to standing with her on the subject of chastity. And frankly, if I read more pompous drivel like this offering from Rev. Storm, I just might complete that journey.