The abstinence only sex ed conversation has continued with Calah's newest post Dirty Sex. The launching part of her post is a comment from J on her original post, a comment she describes as vitriolic:
“And yes, both girls and boys who have premarital sex are dirty. They have been soiled and will not be pure for their future spouse, if they are called to marriage. What is wrong with saying this? Why is it wrong to make someone feel dirty or sinful if they have engaged in premarital sex (which is dirty and sinful)? It is shameful and dirty and their experience will be baggage that they bring into a future marriage.”
When I read J's comment this is what I thought:
“And yes, both girls and boys who have premarital sex are dirty. In a sense, if we're using the word "pure" and the opposite of that is "dirty." They have been soiled and will not be pure for their future spouse, if they are called to marriage. I can go with that, based on the previous understanding. What is wrong with saying this? Yes, what is wrong with that? Good, sincere question. Why is it wrong to make someone feel dirty or sinful if they have engaged in premarital sex (which is dirty and sinful)? Well, the intent should not be to make them feel dirty or shamed but we can't hide the truth by way of softening it. If we're talking about how premarital sex is sinful and someone has willingly engaged in it then they may very well feel dirty and shamed when they realize the wrong. So what is the best way to approach this? It is shameful and dirty and their experience will be baggage that they bring into a future marriage.” Agreed - it will be baggage to some degree or another.
But that's not what everyone else read/understood/assumed. Responses to this comment were things such as, "you apparently think that God gave His blessing upon you to shame someone that made a mistake," and, "You are showing less mercy in this comment than God himself shows," and "Only God can judge, not you. Only God can bring purity to your life after you have sinned. If God has brought purity to someone's life, how can YOU say that they are still soiled?" In other conversations people referred to this comment and said things like, "Don't even waste your time with her- she's never gonna get it!" and other tut-tutting at how unChrist-like the person is. (I don't say these things to pick on anyone or call anyone to defend their words, just to establish a context and to illustrate my point.)
Now, to establish a foundation, I strongly agree with the commenters who state that we cannot and should not make people feel shamed. But beyond that I didn't feel like there was much helpfulness in what people said to or about her.
This comment, "you apparently think that God gave His blessing upon you to shame someone that made a mistake," - while I agree with the bottom line - seems to be written in a tone of condescension. I would argue that it lacks just as much charity as he is accusing J of lacking.
And it always miffs me when people shout out, "Only God can judge!" It is true in the sense that only God can judge us fit for Heaven or Hell, but we are also called to judge, to assess, to see right from wrong and to call them as they are. Perhaps a better way of expressing that sentiment is "God is the ultimate judge" or "God is the only one who can truly judge the heart and our intentions" because we can judge people (their actions, decisions, opinions), and we all do day in and day out, and that's not a bad thing.
It also bothers me that the commenters are all assuming one thing: that all the people we're talking about have all repented, gone to confession, and received forgiveness. What if they haven't? Because when we use expressions like "we are cleansed by the Blood of the Lamb" and "our sins are washed/wiped away by God's mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation" then it's important to remember that those very words of "clean," "washed," and "wiped away" all have the same opposite: "dirty". Whether we like it or not, "dirty" is a natural word to use to describe that which has not yet been cleansed.
In the end, though, it comes down to this: I have found it to be incredibly difficult to balance justice and mercy. God has both and He lovingly and perfectly uses them and asks us to do the same. There have been many times in my life when I have found myself in the midst of a very difficult circumstance or interaction and I wonder what God's perfect justice and mercy would look like. Usually I don't know and so I err on the side of justice because my natural disposition is to be legalistic, to lean towards justice and the "right way". I want to know what is expected of me, what I'm to do, and how I'm to do it. I will then get it done. Often times at the end I can look back and see where I lacked love, compassion, charity, and mercy. When I say that I am working out my salvation with fear and trembling, trying to unwork the knots in my life, figuring out how to best live a Christian life I am being honest. I mean it and it is really hard for me!
Sometimes I will ask others, "Why is this wrong? I understand it to be correct so what am I missing?" Sometimes they answer me and sometimes they roll their eyes and consider me a lost cause.
Honestly, I still have legalistic opinions and questions on this whole matter. What about those who haven't sought God's mercy and are still sinning - having not yet been "cleansed" of their sins are they still "dirty"? Can we call them dirty? What do we call them? And what about people living the dangerous lifestyle of multiple sexual partners, quite literally spreading diseases? (Because, to use the OED definition Calah gave for dirty - "foul, unclean, sullied" - well that's pretty much how I think of a an outbreak of syphilis or herpes.) And are we just talking about vaginal sex here? Because what about anal sex? I think poor Rick Santorum would agree that there's at least one part of anal sex that is pretty much only dirty.
I realize that maybe I'm being legalistic, and maybe I'm lacking some point of view or theological knowledge that I should have, and maybe I'm going to offend people because there is a lack of clarity and charity in my thought. But I am asking this not because I'm a great big jerk, but because I know I'm a great big jerk and I'm trying to work on that.
So next time you read one of mine or J's questions (or right now! as you're reading this post!) and we just come off like a couple of Pharisees I hope that you give us the benefit of the doubt, show us some patience, and then give us a solid, clear answer that is delivered with intelligence, clarity, and charity. If I err on the side of justice, please err on the side of mercy and show me how that's done. If you want to tell me, "You are showing less mercy in this comment than God himself shows" please remember that while God has called me to "be holy as I am holy" I am not there yet and so yes, I will probably, unfortunately, often show less mercy, charity, compassion, understanding, patience than God Himself shows. Please remember I am not trying to be a stubborn, mean-spirited, caustic jerk - I'm trying to get this right and I'm asking you to help.