Remember the days when Christians used to blush over conversations about sex? Sermons on the Song of Solomon left us avoiding eye contact with our pastors and safe sex talks in public school meant guaranteed giggling after class. I guess we’re all grown up now. The generation of kids who once kissed dating goodbye and held fast to the promise that True Love Waits is no longer hanging its moral hat on the hook of sexual purity.
According to the National Association of Evangelicals, 80 percent of unmarried evangelical Christians between ages 18-29 admit to having had premarital sex, a shocking figure when measured against the number of pledges made in youth ministries and wristbands worn endorsing abstinence around the country throughout the late ’80s and early ’90s. For a generation fed a steady diet of “just wait until you’re married for sex,” why are so many of us losing our virginity before we say “I do”? What is causing the growing chasm between our Christian belief and sexual purity?
I suspect much of our early understanding of sexuality is at fault, being reduced to just saying no instead of developing a holistic view of human sexuality through a person’s entire lifespan, fully integrating it with God’s plan.
When I moved to New York City in the years following college, I was devastated to learn how many of my Christian friends were regularly hooking up at bars and sleeping with boyfriends and girlfriends with no plans for marriage. And more than that, they didn’t seem to feel bad about it. The subcultural sentiment was that abstinence is worth preaching through the college years as parental influence wanes and students bumble through the early years of adulthood. But for twenty and thirtysomething Christians, for mature adults who had yet to find the one and had been battling hormones for a decade-plus, waiting was child’s play. Celibacy amongst my Christian peer group was viewed as cute and commendable, but certainly not crucial.
Despite the disappointment I felt over my friends’ behavior, there wasn’t much room for judgment. At the core they were simply living out the compartmentalization of sexuality that was also present in my heart. From the day I received my True Love Waits Bible in junior high school, I locked up my sexual desire to be opened only in case of marriage. Like Prisca Bird wrote for the Good Women Project, I wore my virginity as a badge of honor, latching onto “the image of myself as the radical abstinence practitioner” and one who would remain chaste to “fight the good fight.” I was unable to view human sexuality as a gift, holy and blessed by God. By failing to embrace my sexual identity in the midst of tempering my desire, I inadvertently called evil what God had deemed good.
You see, promiscuity and abstinence can be two sides of the same coin. Both can hint at an insufficient understanding of God’s intention for sex, his blessing of it in the context of marriage, and his creation of his people as sexual beings. So preaching only abstinence is not the answer.
Harder Than the Olympics
We need a new conversation around sexuality in the church — one that doesn’t insist on the wait without the while. We need a conversation that acknowledges our sexuality along a continuum and prepares men and women of Christ to engage in their own sexual development, desire, and growth while they move throughout the seasons of life and relationship. It can’t be left at telling 15-year-olds to “just say no.” We need an open discussion around what it looks like to abstain at 33 when marriage is nowhere on the horizon or at 27 when engaged and just days from saying I do.
That’s why it’s helpful to have a new wave of Christians coming forward to reengage the public on the topics of sexuality and faith. This past May, when 29-year-old Olympic hurdler Lolo Jones talked about the difficulty of being a virgin into her late twenties, saying it was the hardest thing she’s ever done in her life — “harder than training for the Olympics” — we could almost hear the shouts of “could the Church get an Amen!” (See the video below.)
Jones’ acknowledgment of the tension of feeling sexual desire while also affirming a commitment to abstinence revealed an important dynamic in the vow of purity: it’s not easy. There will be temptation and desire while waiting. But as believers, we endure the struggle because we know that the testing of our faith always produces perseverance leading to godly character and a hope for the future (James 1:3, Romans 5:4).
Good Enough to Wait For
On the flipside, there can be joyful anticipation while waiting. One of the best examples in recent years of this is bombshell actress Meagan Good, who has long since been a movie vixen playing sexy roles in Jumping the Broom and most recently Think Like A Man. This spring Good, a Christian, publicly shared her commitment to abstain from sex until she wed her Seventh Day Adventist pastor and film executive husband DeVon Franklin. Despite her commitment, for the past year she has been able to exude sex appeal onscreen. Chastity doesn’t have to mean wearing a habit and ignoring our sexual identity. Though we exercise self-control, as responsible adults we are free to tap into our sexuality, own our appeal, and recognize our desire. Good’s story shows us that true love doesn’t wait; it develops.
Christian adults must carry on the conversation of abstinence to the next phase. It’s not just a youth issue. If we could more openly discuss the tingling we feel, the occasional knockout attraction we have to the opposite sex or the times where our sex drives lull, I believe we might find that we’re able to maintain purity much later into adulthood. Because when we don’t talk about it, we allow the normal ebb and flow of sexual desire to become associated with shame and guilt over what we’re experiencing. And since the desire won’t go away, we’re forced to relieve the shame by separating our morality from our behavior.
We’ve got to get talking and see ourselves afresh as sexual beings, moving gradually and prayerfully through stages of sexual expression until marriage where it’s fulfilled. Because “not yet” is much easier to digest than “no.” Our sexuality, today, is an integral part of who God has created us to be, and like all things must be celebrated while also put in submission to Christ.
CONTROVERSIAL CHOICE: Tyler Perry's decision to cast reality-TV personality Kim Kardashian became even more controversial after the starlet announced she was divorcing Kris Humphries, her husband of 72 days. (Photos: Newscom)
After a week of watching the fervent character assassination of Kim Kardashian in the comments section of his website, Tyler Perry recently turned the tables on his Christian fans asking why the reality star should be excluded from his latest film about faith, forgiveness and the healing power of God.
Though there had been some initial concern over Perry’s casting choice (due largely to Kardashian’s limited acting experience) the outrage over her role grew to epic proportions when it was announced that Kardashian was divorcing husband of 72-days, NBA player Kris Humphries, after a highly publicized and rumored to be profitable wedding. (Kim Kardashian’s mother Kris Jenner recently denied the reality star made a multi-million dollar profit off of the televised nuptials.)
Within days of the divorce news, thousands had signed a petition pleading to have the Kardashian shows removed from the E! Network and disheartened fans of the Madea creator left angry comments expressing their disgust and disappointment over his inclusion of the Keeping Up with the Kardashians star in the film. Currently, more than 100,000 people have signed the petition.
One Perry fan chided, “You now partner yourself with a woman who makes sex videos and takes the holy institution of marriage as a mere “performance” to acquire money and increased publicity. Truly, shame on your sir.” Another questioned Perry’s intentions for using Kim Kardashian, saying, “If you are looking for publicity, [and] using this as a stunt to promote your movie, by using this witch. I have lost what respect I have of you.”
Imploring fans to “hear him out,” Perry is now suggesting that fans consider the value of casting Kardashian. Reflecting on the moment he made the decision, he wrote on his website:
I thought, what better person! She literally has millions of young people following her. I thought and still do think, that it would be very responsible of her to be a part of this film. To have the young people that look up to her, see her in a film that is about, what happens in life when you make the wrong choices. Whether you’re aware of it or not, to be honest with you I wasn’t, millions of young people adore her and are following her every move.
And if not for the children’s sake, Kim Kardashian’s involvement in the The Marriage Counselor might simply be a transformative experience for her own life. Some commenters on Perry’s site are viewing things in an almost evangelistic light, taking a more optimistic defense of the filmmaker’s decision by pointing out that Kardashian’s role in the film could be the initial steps of spiritual healing in her life. “Good for you, Tyler for standing by your decision and not trying to play God,” one fan praised. “Kim has a road to walk with God and I am so thankful that you are not trying to stand in the middle of that. Being in your film will be planting seeds in her life and you will be doing His work!”
I’m not sure if her off-screen antics should now disqualify Kardashian from appearing in the film, but I sure wish Perry had made a stronger choice to begin with. Despite her popularity, perhaps he should have used this role to pump up a hardworking young actress who could use the limelight — maybe Joy Bryant or Tatyana Ali — instead of turning the spotlight on a woman who has more shine than she can sell.
What do you think? Is the questionable morality and limited acting experience of Kim Kardashian grounds for Perry to cut her from the film? Or do you agree that this could be the rich starlet’s chance at redemption?
The Marriage Counselor stars the young powerhouse actress Jurnee Smollet, as well as Vanessa Williams and Brandy Norwood.
PLAY THAT FUNKY SOUL: The Kashmere High School Stage Band, circa 1976.
The new Mark Landsman documentary Thunder Soul may be relying on the glitz of executive producer Jamie Foxx’s name to get attention at the box office, but this magnificent little film about the musical achievements of an all-black Texas high school stage band hardly needs Foxx’s help.
Like a PSA on the lifetime value of music education in secondary schools, Thunder Soul captures the reunion of Kashmere High School’s funk band 35 years later as the alumni get the band back together to perform a tribute concert for their famed band leader and accomplished jazz musician Conrad O. Johnson. “Prof,” as the students call him, served as a father figure, drill sergeant, and part-time life coach, for the group of mainly at-risk African American kids, pushing and inspiring them to grow into award-winning musicians who innovated the world of high school stage band music with their smooth James Brown-inspired sound.
ALL TOGETHER NOW: Conrad “Prof” Johnson conducts the Houtson, Texas, Kashmere High School Stage Band.
Once tapped to be a musician for Count Basie’s touring band, Prof eventually passed on the glamorous lifestyle of professional music, choosing instead to settle into marriage and a quieter life of purpose as an educator for a local high school. Or so he thought. It was at Kashmere High that his creativity blossomed, leading him to craft a catalog of songs for the school band that are still being sampled by contemporary DJs and artists on hip-hop records and pop tunes today.
But it’s Prof’s lasting influence over the students’ lives, not the music industry, that looms largest in the film. Still eager to please the man who taught them so much of what they know, the alumni painstakingly turn the dissonance of decades passed and instruments left untouched into a stirring symphony paying appropriate homage to their 93-year-old professor. In awe of their ability to still play, Prof exclaims almost with a well-deserved wink of ego, “You mean they were taught so well, that they can remember what they did then … and do it?”
The answer is yes. And to hear the alumni speak, many of whom hadn’t touched a trombone or flute in over 30 years, those sacred hours spent in the band room during the 1970s were about more than just instruction on notes and harmony. Prof taught the students that they had the power and potential to play as well as any professional band, if they would only work hard. It was that inspiration that pushed many of the students out of the Fifth Ward of Texas with life sentences to poverty and raised them into adults who ultimately became doctors, lawyers, musicians, and even pastors.
Rhythmic and multi-faceted, the film itself is a bit like jazz — always progressing yet lingering over the notes. Landsman, aided by the phenomenal editing of Claire Didier, maintains the backbeat of the band’s story while weaving in colorful snippets of the Black Power movement, the racial segregation of the south, the cyclic nature of poverty in America, and the charm and intimacy of black families. Whether you love niche funk music or are simply a sucker for the sentimentality of a good underdog tale, Thunder Soul, even without a powerhouse star to headline the movie, is worth your time.
Thunder Soul opens today in Atlanta, Houston, and New York. Check the film’s website to find out when it opens in your area.
PLAYING LOOSE IN ATLANTA: "Single Ladies" cast members Charity Shea, Stacey Dash, and LisaRaye McCoy portray a group of friends whose judgment is often questionable.
If you sit around a group of black women long enough, you’ll quickly see that honesty is the hallmark of relationship in African American culture. A black woman won’t just tell her friend whether or not a new pair of jeans is flattering—she’ll give unsolicited commentary on the shoes, top, and earrings too. And while she’s at it, she’ll tell you exactly why she thinks you should drop that new guy you’re seeing and which ingredient was missing from your chili at the church potluck. It’s just the way things are. Black women are the originators of “keepin’ it real.”
Which is why I’m so confused and disappointed by the depiction of black women on the new scripted drama Single Ladies on VH1. Since when did black women become so … well, fake?
I first caught Single Ladies a couple of weekends back with my fiancé during a replay of the show’s two-hour premiere. At the time we weren’t hip to the fact that the show was originally produced by Queen Latifah as a film, but promptly snatched up by VH1 as a 10-episode series. So we sat there every 30 minutes of those two hours waiting for the credits to roll, rejoicing that one of our favorite actresses, Stacey Dash, was getting work again, yet wondering why she was playing a character nearly half her age and definitely half her intelligence on TV.
If you haven’t seen Single Ladies, the title no doubt a nod to Beyoncé, the show is like an old school CW-network hybrid of The Real Housewives of Atlanta and Sex and the City—except it’s on VH1, the network that brought us Flavor of Love starring Flavor Flav. The Washington Postcalled the series “embarrassing” and meant “for people who found Sex and the City too quick-witted and The Wendy Williams Show too intellectually stimulating” while The Root criticized the show for its lack of drama, calling it “knock-you-over-the-head obvious.” And while I agree with their critiques, my uneasiness with the show stems mainly from the Grand Canyon-sized hole in its moral center.
Like the pervasive urban pseudo-reality shows on TV today, and as with the show’s older mainstream sister Sex and the City, this new drama has the same inexcusable moral confusion that allows poor decision-making to be applauded as female independence. And while the show should be commended for giving work to black actresses like Stacey Dash and LisaRaye McCoy, who are often lost in the tiny creative crevice between our staple powerhouses like Angela Bassett and bombshell newcomers like Meagan Good, this urban soap does no favors for black culture by ignoring the very basic nature of what black female friendship involves—namely honesty and accountability. And beyond the cultural misrepresentation, the plotlines propagate an unhealthy example of what it means to be a loyal friend.
From the first episode of Single Ladies we see April (Charity Shea) cheat on her husband with the mayor, while Val (Dash) sleeps with two men within a short window leading to an almost-pregnancy, and Keisha (McCoy) dances in a rap video while stealing jewelry from the set. In each circumstance, the ladies cheer one another on in their bad behavior, covering, supporting, and empathizing with the consequences of their friends’ actions, but not holding them accountable to the role they played in bringing about their negative circumstances.
Maybe it’s a stereotype, but where is the tell-it-like-it-is and oh-no-she-didn’t we have come to expect as a basic tenet of how black women interact? For a group of supposedly best friends, how is it that no one is speaking the truth?
To the Galatians, Paul taught that tender rebuke is an appropriate response to sinful behavior in those we love. He wrote, “If someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. … Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” So it would seem that both culturally and spiritually, authentic friendship is filled with a healthy level of moral accountability.
VH1’s Single Ladies shows women co-signing on the bad behavior of those they love for the sake of being “ride or die” friends, but it doesn’t ring true. In a time when people are obsessed with reality TV, these fake friendships likely won’t make the ratings to stay on the air.