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Walking down the hallway, my wife noticed a poster advertising two events. The first was a princess ball, a daddy – daughter “purity” banquet. The second was a medieval mother/son purity dance. (Dilly Dilly!) I’ve never been to a purity banquet, or any daddy/daughter event for that matter, so I have very little frame of reference. What’s the point?  Look, I’m not even comfortable going on a “date” with my daughters. I realize it’s only a metaphor, but why use THAT language? Call me old-fashioned, but I believe differentiation is a good thing. I’m not looking to be best buds with my kids; I’m their dad, not their friend. Hopefully, when they’re adults, we’ll have a good relationship and we can move into friendship, but not now. I want the thought of dressing up for a banquet with their dad to have a Jimmy Fallon “ew” factor—they need to have their own lives.

And what’s with the purity talk? Isn’t it healthy for teens to explore their sexuality, within limits of course? Is “purity” the only way we can talk about this limit? I can’t help but think of the long-term damage this does to young people. Constantly having to figure out the line between purity and impurity (or spoiled?), or at least having to feel anxious and guilty about crossing some imaginary line. Believing that sexual intercourse is best expressed with the covenant of marriage is not the same thing as insisting on purity. There has to be a better way than scare tactics to convey this to young people.

Is part of the problem the anxiety some Christians feel to “be Christian”? “God branding” is the way my wife put it. Somehow we have to prove to the world that, yes, we really are Christians. That yes, when you look at us, there’s something “different” about us. But is that what Christian faith is about? Making sure we “brand” ourselves as real Christians? The more I read scripture the more I see that God doesn’t want us to become some hyper spiritualized caricature; God wants us to be human. In Jesus Christ God has created a new humanity, a new people, to live in the world as creatures. The true mark of Christian identity is not some superficial form of sexual purity, it’s not plastering Christian phrases all over the walls, it’s love. Loving God means loving others, loving the created world, loving our embodied life. Loving God means we get to help young people live into their sexuality in healthy ways; it means teaching young people to love math and science, to love dance and poetry, to love basketball and softball. If we have to constantly brand our Christian identity, if we feel the need to market what makes us different then we have deeper issues.

I love my kids, and I want them to experience a deep love for God in Jesus Christ. But I don’t want to use some superficial nonsense to get there. Real life is rich and meaningful enough. That’s what I want for my kids—that they experience the deep joys and sorrows of life, because it’s in these deep joys and sorrows that the gospel speaks.

Jason Lief

Dr. Jason Lief teaches courses in Christian education and youth ministry. A Northwestern College graduate, he served as the chaplain for Pella (Iowa) Christian High School while earning a master’s degree in theology from Wheaton College Graduate School. He also completed a doctorate in practical theology from Luther Seminary. He previously taught theology and youth ministry at Dordt College for 10 years. Dr. Lief is the author of “Poetic Youth Ministry: Loving Young People by Learning to Let Them Go” and "Christianity and Heavy Metal as Impure Sacred Within the Secular West: Transgressing the Sacred.”

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