On Charity and Chastity

Posted on February 17, 2012 by


What is Chastity?

As Christians, chastity is probably one of the most difficult tasks to undertake, as it tests the strength of our will. Many Christians fail or give up. Chastity instructs us to “flee from temptation,” and we are admonished to refrain from sex outside of marriage and other activities related to sex.

But we forget–chastity must go beyond sex and requires us to be mindful of the way we speak, the way we think, and the environments we place ourselves in.

Coming from the generation of free love makes this more challenging, since chastity competes with the current sexual mores of our society. When Christians are interested in chastity, they can either turn to people they know or to resources such as books and theological teachings. Unfortunately many people fail or provide poor witnesses as they become lukewarm in their faith. In my late teens, I turned to books aimed at young adults or young women to keep chaste.

Books such as “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” and “Passion and Purity” tend to showcase a very romanticized and idealized version of chastity most people can’t relate to. Sure, they drive home the fact chastity is imperative to the walk of a Christian. But why is it on this walk, the path appears to only be frequented by one? Aren’t virtues such as modesty and chastity supposed to be witnesses for others, and not only for one’s self? It is much easier for an individual to walk around with a glorified ego than to share with others the honest struggles and successes of their walk. If we can’t share to learn for ourselves, and allow others to learn from us, what is the point? I’m not talking about the holier-than-thou “sharing,” where a person tries to appear better than others. I’m talking about the honest, reflective, and confessional sharing that is part of being a Christian.

Chastity is not an individual endeavor. As modesty is a gift to others, so it is with chastity. The fervor for chastity gets lost when one believes they have to walk the path alone. Chastity is mistaken as a form of selfishness because our culture tends to focus virtues on the self, versus using them to the benefit of others.

Does Chastity Matter?

In our sex-saturated culture, chastity is often viewed with scorn and gets waved away as an archaic gesture. When it’s taken seriously, it bears more weight with women than with men, and chastity is focused on women based on their appearance. If a woman is attractive and still a virgin, she gets odd looks and her sexuality is questioned. If a less attractive woman isn’t a virgin, she is met with scorn. With a man, the scorn is multiplied and his personal character is viewed as tarnished by other women. Nonetheless a woman’s sexual history will be scrutinized far more, even if she only had one sexual partner in her lifetime. Clearly, chastity does matter but it becomes misconstrued in its practice. As Christians, chastity is required from everyone and it not a cafeteria. We are to teach each other and be our brother’s and sister’s keepers.

St. Paul did not ask us to be quiet in our witness, so why are we?

Charity

Chastity allows a couple ready to be married to look forward to experiencing the fulfillment of their sexual desires together. In some ways, it provides a level of mystery necessary for a marriage to be successful. Chastity is meant for our protection and as a way for us to hone in our sexual desires for the one person we spend the rest of our lives with– our spouse. Because it is about protecting yourself and others, in a way it is about giving others the gift of charity.

A charitable attitude is required for chastity because we are bestowing generosity and mercy to others. When one is chaste they remove potential obstacles causing harm, or “stumbling blocks”. By practicing chastity, we are charitable to others because we are obedient to God and demonstrate humility. Chastity is also good practice for discernment.

When I was younger, it bothered some men to know I was steadfast on remaining chaste. Even though chastity earned me no respect in their eyes, I would rather walk away knowing I made a decision based on obedience, than the flesh.

Chasing Chastity

How are we chaste? What is it in a person’s actions that says “chastity”?

Over the past couple years, I’ve learned a few hard life lessons. These lessons taught me about how I needed to be more cognizant of my communication, even if my actions were pure. Actions and communication must be congruous or else it sets the stage for accepting unchaste behavior in certain contexts. Let’s be serious here. We cannot extoll the virtues of chastity, modesty, and the like if we cannot keep what we say to each other in check, especially to the opposite sex.

If I am talking to a man and I engage in a conversation regarding a sexual topic, am I doing him a favor by engaging in it with him? Am I possibly giving him the wrong idea about what is acceptable to discuss with a married woman, to say the least? I might rationalize to myself and say the conversation was intended to be informative, philosophical, theological, or even a joke. But who am I kidding? I have to take a step back and understand what he is interpreting is going to be different from what I interpret. I can only control what I do and say, and the best course of action would be to keep what I say chaste. This may come across as pious or prudish, but if I am truly interested in imparting charity, a chaste demeanor is necessary.

It’s often a challenge for people who want to be married or will soon be married. The advice given to them to engage in conversations or behaviors more suited to a married couple is disturbing and unscriptural, to say the least. Often there is so much fear about a person or couple entering marriage with “sexual hangups”, but we forget a couple should learn about sex together. Sexual hangups tend to be a by-product of needlessly reconciling scriptural teachings with unrealistic societal expectations. A couple entering marriage should be confident with each other to start anew and learn to please each other. Doing this is often called “keeping the marriage bed chaste.” Chastity before marriage does not require holding opposing views on sexuality, yet it is often a problem with women. Many women take on uncharitable attitudes well before marriage, leading to these issues. Chastity and charity are not mutually exclusive, but few understand this.

Reserving sexual activity for marriage allows us to give our spouse a gift and do our part in protecting them. By keeping our words and actions chaste with the opposite sex, we give them the gift of respect and honor. In essence, we present to them an example of virtue: charity.

Posted in: Religion